July was an exhausting month for anyone paying attention to the current presidential election. Like many other Americans, I lived the weeks surrounding the Republican and Democratic National Conventions as a news addict trapped in a cycle of abuse — cramming nearly every spare weekday hour with analysis, op-eds, and internet commentary, crashing under a wave of hopelessness by Friday, and finally tuning out the world for the weekend to binge-watch fifteen episodes of HBO’s Veep as a sort of politics nicotine patch. Come Monday, the pattern would start anew. In my mind I was fulfilling a civic duty to stay informed, but the entire experience was pretty harrowing.
It didn’t take long for my politics habit to start impacting my day job. I zoned out while counting cells to listen to Terry Gross’s interview with the New York Time’s Amy Chozick about Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. I pretended to be reading protein expression data from Nature when I was actually reading polling data from FiveThirtyEight. Most notably, there was a distinct shift in mental priorities. After spending half a decade in graduate school studying only science, this suddenly-consuming focus on the executive branch of the United States government felt like an unpleasant fugue state. Most people who are in research at any stage are there in part because of a belief that the world can be improved by the accumulation of objective truths, or at least our best approximation of truths based on scientific evidence. In that regard, politics, —which is in some ways the exact opposite of “objective”—would appear to have no seat at the science table. We have yet to figure out a way to quantify patriotism.
In reality, the present and future of science are inextricably tied to government, both in terms of funding resources and research policy. The NIH invests over 30 billion dollars in medical research each year, financing roughly 300,000 researchers in more than 2,500 institutions throughout the nation. The recently-approved budget for fiscal year 2017 would increase this amount by $825 million, a welcome change after a decade of funding that saw budget cuts in twelve of the past fourteen years. It’s no secret that money for research project grants has been historically tight, especially following extensive sequestration of funds mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011. The only way for the United States to remain a leader in science is if Americans elect officials that continue to prioritize spending in research.
David Cameron looked tired but determined, as he took on the short walk from his front door to the podium opposite a battery of journalists that had congregated in front of London’s 10 Downing Street. On June 24, England’s Prime Minister announced that he will be stepping down from his post October as a consequence of the British people voting to exit the European Union (EU). Even though David Cameron went on to ensure that he will do his best to “steady the ship over the coming weeks” but that he will not be “the captain that steers [the United Kingdom] to its next destination”, it is hard to shake off the feeling that he chose this metaphor for more reasons than he cares to admit in front of the cameras.
As the shockwaves of the Brexit decision rippled through the continent, they inevitably also reached the European scientific communities, which are left in shock and confusion about the future. Because, like so many others, they were not expecting this outcome. Three months before the referendum the renowned scientific journal Nature (based in London) reached out to over 900 active researchers in the UK to ask them about their feelings toward a possible Brexit. A whopping 83% wanted Britain to remain in the EU, a number that is almost double that of the polls among the general population at that time. Most of these researchers explained their vote with the belief that Brexit would harm UK science, which, given the extensive ties between European scientific communities and the EU, seems very likely. According to Times Higher Education, UK universities have received roughly 1.4 billion euros (1.5 billion US dollars) of funding from EU programs per year; funding, that is bound to dry up once Brexit has been completed. Whether this impending gap can be filled by the UK’s domestic budget is unclear. It is specifically this state of limbo that makes UK researchers worry the most. Not even the EU’s Science Research and Innovation Commissioner, Carlos Moedas, has many words of solace to offer and notes that “all implications […] will have to be addressed in due course”
But it’s not only funding that worries UK researchers. Brexit could pose new moving and working restrictions for non-British EU nationals, which make up about 15% of the UK’s scientific community. The upcoming Brexit negotiations will determine whether they will be allowed to stay and work in the UK but the more important question might be, do they want to? In addition to the worries about EU funding in the aftermath of the referendum, there have been reports about xenophobic incidents at British research institutions such as the Royal Society of Chemistry, where some of the staff were told to “go home.”
Over the last decade, nationalist and anti-immigration parties have gained voters throughout Europe (Front National, Golden Dawn, Alternative für Deutschland, Lega Nord, and many more). Brexit is not the first case where citizens have decided in favor of legislation that jeopardizes international academic cooperation. In Switzerland, scientific collaborations are at stake after the passage of an initiative launched by the national-conservative and right-wing populist “Swiss People’s Party.” The initiative, entitled “Against Mass Immigration,” threatens the free-movement policy of the Schengen area (a group of EU and non-EU European countries with an agreement of free movement). In response, the European Union has expelled Switzerland from mutual science and exchange programs. To date, Swiss scientists are still in fear of the consequences resulting from the implementation of this initiative.
Free movement inside the Schengen area
Switzerland, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway are not part of the EU, but have signed the Schengen Agreement. Together with the EU-member states, those countries therefore form the Schengen area. Inside this area, border controls have been abolished and the principle of free movement is pursued, which immensely aids scientific exchange in Central Europe.
As the biggest EU Research and Innovation program ever created, Horizon 2020 made nearly 90 billion dollars of funding available to researchers between 2014 and 2020. The aim of the project is to further develop the European Research Area and to “break down barriers to create a genuine single market for knowledge, research and innovation.” Non-EU countries inside the Schengen area take part in EU projects such as Horizon 2020, and Switzerland plans to contribute 4 billion dollars to the project.
The “Against Mass Immigration” initiative
Switzerland’s semi-direct democracy is unique and practices direct democracy in parallel with the representative democracy voting system. A vote can be organized by the people to oppose any law newly accepted by the Federal Assembly, as well as to modify the existing constitution with a so-called initiative. In 2011, the “Swiss People’s Party” launched the “Against Mass Immigration” initiative, aiming to limit immigration through quotas. Even though no number was specified for such a quota, the idea stands in stark contrast to the free-movement policy of the Schengen area. The party’s arguments fueled the fear of unemployment, the financial crises and the refugee flow. These arguments are similarly exploited by many other nationalist parties in Europe or other people who would like to secure their countries by building walls. Unfortunately, Swiss citizens approved the initiative with a narrow majority of 50.3% in 2014.
Part XXI: Paul Nurse, 2001 Prize in Physiology or Medicine
All cells, in the end, are copies of copies. But unlike the loss of quality in the Xerox sense of making a copy, a cell needs to be perfect. It must faithfully and exactly duplicate its genetic information, gather extra membranes, energy and microtubules, and then begin a dramatic line dance to separate its two genomes during mitosis. This entire process—known as the cell cycle—ensures the timely and correct reproduction of cells that is crucial for the growth of any organism.
But from the time of Virchow’s famous 1850s epigram that all cells come from cells (Omnis cellula e cellula) through the birth of molecular biology in the 1950s, all a biologist could do was watch this central process of development. The awesome molecular logistics that made the cell cycle so precise and ordered were a mystery. Who, from a molecular perspective, was in charge? How did a cell know when to execute a particular phase of the cell cycle? These questions weren’t just idle puzzles, for by this time it already been suggested, that many cell proliferative diseases such as cancer might be manifestations of cell cycles gone horribly wrong.
In 1974, a young post-doc named Paul Nurse set out to explore the cell cycle in fission yeast (Schizosaccharomyces pombe). Fresh from earning his PhD, Nurse spent half a year learning the genetics of Sz. Pombe with Urs Leopold before joining the laboratory of Murdoch Mitchinson, a pioneer of fission yeast genetics in Scotland. Nurse was inspired by the work of Leland Hartwell, who devised a way to isolate mutants of budding yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) that were stuck in their progression through the cell cycle. Because such mutations were lethal, Hartwell relied on a quirk of yeast genetics that permitted temperature sensitive mutations: the yeast divided normally at lower permissive temperatures, but at higher temperatures, mutations would become apparent, and were usually lethal. Through the painstaking work of taking time-lapse photographs of many yeast mutants, Hartwell identified dozens of cell division cycle (cdc) mutants, each displaying a distinct problem in their cell cycle.
Nurse decided to apply a similar approach to rod-shaped fission yeast, which on paper, seemed tailor-made for such studies. Unlike budding yeast, fission yeast grows at a fixed diameter, and cells partition automatically once lengthened to roughly double their size. Nurse figured that cell cycle mutants would be unable to separate, and so should yield lengthened rods that were whole multiples of a single cell. Reasoning that such mutant cells were heavier, Nurse had the bright idea of trying to isolate them with a centrifuge instead of laboriously screening with the microscope.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil was selected to host the 2016 Olympic Games, the first time the host nation has been in South America. The 2016 Olympic Games opened on the August 5 and closed on the August 21, to coincide with the start of the host country’s soccer season. These Olympic Games are the 31st edition of the Summer Olympics, and four competition zones were assigned as sporting venues: Barra, Deodoro, Maracaña, and Copacabana. Fourty-eight are track and field sports and twenty-eight the total sports; among them we have two new categories: golf and rugby sevens. 205 countries are competing for the 306 medals on offer.
In particular, weightlifting has been assigned fifteen medals: eight for the male category and seven for the female category.
During these Olympics, weightlifting has become a very controversial sport because of the prevalent doping issues involved. The Comité International Olympique (from the original French name CIO) had to ban over fourty athletes from various countries including Armenia, Ukraine, Moldova, North Korea, Cyprus, Turkey and Kazakhstan.
Unfortunately, this issue has been around for a while. At the last world championships, in 2014, there were twenty-four positive for doping tests in the first thirty positions.
A re-examination of Beijing’s 2008 and London’s 2012 Olympic weightlifting drug tests found 20 more doping-positive athletes, including four Olympic champions. The empty seats and the crowd’s displeasure, were therefore not a surprise at the current Olympics. The mistrust can be said to be warranted due to the previous examples of drug cheating.
August 16th was the last day of the Rio heavyweight competition. Georgian, Lasha Talakhadze, won the gold medal and he now holds the world and Olympic records of 473 kg, previously held by Iranian Hossein Rezazadeh since the Sydney 2000 Games. Talakhadze lifted 215 kg in the snatch and 258 kg on clean and jerk. He benefited from the disappointing performance of Behdad Salimikordasiabi, who was able to achieve the snatch world record (216 kg), but failed at 245 kg in the clean and jerk category in three attempts.
Talakhadze also beat Armenian Gor Minasyan, who lifted 451 kg in total (210 kg snatch and 241 kg on clean and jerk). In the meantime, the Georgian celebration was completed by Irakli Turmanidze who claimed the bronze medal (207 kg for snatch and 241 kg clean and jerk). In fourth position was Armenian Ruben Aleksanyan (440 kg), followed by Brazilian Fernando Saraiva Reis (435 kg) in fifth position.
Most of us are amazed by the strength and skill of weightlifters, but what exactly is weightlifting? What do they mean when they mention the snatch and the clean and jerk?
Weightlifting is a sport in which the athletes lift weights loaded on a barbell. Weightlifting competitions have been in existence since ancient times and have been a part of the modern Olympic Games since the first edition in Athens in 1896. From the 1950s to 1980s, most of the weightlifters originated from Eastern Europe, particularly from Bulgaria, Romania, Poland and the Soviet Union. Since then, weightlifters from other nations including China, Greece and Turkey have dominated the sport and the nations with the best athletes at the current Olympic Games have included those of Russian, Bulgarian and Chinese heritage. Female weightlifting started to spread in the 1980s and was added to the Olympic program in the year 2000.
An interview with art gallery owner David Tunick
David Tunick Inc. is an art gallery located at 13 East 69th Street, specializing in fine prints and drawings from the 15th to the mid-20th centuries. The gallery boasts high quality and rare examples of works by Rembrandt, Dürer, Goya, Fragonard, Matisse, Picasso and many others. David Tunick, the gallery president, has been active in the field of works on paper since 1966. Mr. Tunick kindly agreed to answer email questions for Natural Selections.
BL: The information you provide for each Old Masters (and other) prints is detailed and exhaustive. Not only must you research the history of the physical print and the artist, but trace its provenance as well. How do you undertake such background work?
DT: We work at it, but some discoveries are luck. If by provenance, you mean its actual meaning, the history of ownership, we go about it carefully and methodically. We take note of every collector’s stamp, mark, notation, scribble, etc. on the recto and verso of the sheet. Can we identify them if we don’t know them? To do that we go to Lugt, Les Marques de Collections de Dessins et d’Estampes both in the old two volume hard copy and the augmented online version. If a mark is in there—there are thousands— we read about it, and that may lead to other sources. We want to add to our description of every print and drawing that comes in as much in the way of ownership history as possible. Sometimes that means looking in old gallery or sales catalogues, or correspondence with a museum, more often with a former owner or gallery owner, to see if there are further records in old files. Here’s an example of the luck part: recently a man unknown to us called me from France. He had seen an important 1950 Leger gouache on our website that had turned up on the wall of old master drawing collectors here in NY. It had been “missing” since 1971, when it was last seen in public in an exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris. The NY collectors asked us to sell it for them, and we were thorough in researching the provenance, but there were gaps. The man from France said he remembered seeing this Leger on his aunt’s wall when he was a child. He filled in all the blanks, which we went on to verify. It felt good, as if we had fulfilled a responsibility, in a way, to the work of art.
This month Natural Selections interviews Leslie Diaz, Associate Director CBC
My entire life. I grew up in the old Williamsburg area, in the pre-hipster era. I’ve always been a New Yorker born and raised.
Where do you currently live? Which is your favorite neighborhood?
I currently live on the Upper East Side, and my favorite neighborhood is Williamsburg because I have so many fun memories from growing up there.
What do you think is the most overrated thing in the city? And underrated?
For me the most overrated is Times Square. I think there are too many tourists and it’s almost impossible to walk around. I also think the quality of the restaurants there is terrible. Underrated, I think, the Bronx Zoo in winter. This is the absolute best time to see in action all of the cold weather animals, such as the polar bears, Siberian tigers and Snow Leopards. The Siberian tigers playing in the snow are a MUST see. Best of all, the zoo is usually empty so you have the entire park to yourself and you can treat yourself to a hot chocolate at the Dancing Crane Café.
What do you miss most when you are out of town?
NY is the city that never sleeps, there is easy access to public transportation 24/7, access to restaurants, and even clothing stores are open until late hours. I’ve never been able to find this convenience in any other city.
If you could change one thing about NYC, what would that be?
There are many beautiful luxury apartments nowadays, but they are displacing many of the native New Yorkers due to the expensive living costs. So, it would be great if the city could support affordable housing so that NYC can continue to accommodate a diverse population.
George Barany and Friends
This politically themed puzzle comes to you from a consortium of progressively-minded friends of Rockefeller alum (1977) George Barany, who is currently on the faculty of the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. For more about this specific puzzle, including a link to its answer, visit here. More Barany and Friends puzzles can be found here.
1. Guinness who played Obi-Wan Kenobi
5. Piece of Gail Collins’ mind
9. Controversial cab alternative
13. Bohr or Borge
14. Election contest, e.g.
15. Fear-mongerer’s feelings
16. Secretary campaigning in 2016 for a promotion
19. Word before and after “baby,” in a Sarah Palin slogan
20. They play ball in New York
21. “___ Got a Secret”
23. Magician’s cry
25. Rodeo ropes
28. “When there are no ceilings, ___” (optimistic vision from 16-Across)
32. José or Francisco’s leader?
33. Consigns, as the nuclear launch codes, say
36. It’s frozen in Frankfurt
37. Kids’ guessing game
41. Gourmet burger chain with a bird mascot
46. Dessert choice, especially on March 14
47. Kate Smith’s signature song (and patriotic closing words for 16-Across)
51. Bad atmosphere, as in a brutal political campaign
53. Like a fox, it’s said
54. Force in the OJ trial spotlight
57. Faith for Ghazala and Khizr Khan
60. Apropos sound bite from 16-Across
64. Old Peruvian
65. Calculus calculation
66. Sikorsky or Stravinsky
67. Okla. or La., once
68. Give a little
69. ___ Le Pew
Magic over St Lawrence river
Summer rhymes with sunny weather and long days. It also rhymes with vacations and no tight agenda. No matter if you are an early bird or a night owl, you might admire a magnificent sunrise such as this one in Sainte-Anne-des-Monts. Many of you have already been struck by the warm colors of a sunset, here over Montreal.
All Photos by Elodie Pauwels https://elodiepphoto.wordpress.com/
Senior Attending Physician
Leon Hess Associate Professor
Elizabeth and Vincent Meyer Laboratory of Systems Cancer Biology
Interview by Fernando Bejarano
Imagine that you are just out of graduate school and about to embark on a biomedical science post doc in a world-renowned research institute. You have your Ph.D., you feel self-assured, confident, and certain of your path in life. You are excited about this next step and don’t care how demanding it could be compared with your Ph.D. But in a moment of doubt, you pause to consider what it might mean to be an academic scientist: what have you gotten yourself into? Many thoughts and unanswered questions about your future career will run through your mind. “Will I be strong enough to withstand the pressure? Will the impact of my research be high enough? Will I publish in good journals fast enough?” Faster, Higher, Stronger… And you dive in, that moment when the Olympic motto expresses the career aspirations of a well-driven scientist.
Most would agree if I said that many of us dreamt from the start of achieving greatness in our careers, and embraced this motto just as if we were getting ready to run the Olympic marathon. Science can be compared to endurance running, where the stamina of researchers is tested and culminates with the ultimate goal, a groundbreaking, game changing publication that will help them secure a top academic position or that sought-after industry job.
Our guest, Dr. Sohail Tavazoie, is a great example of a top player achieving greatness in this scientific field, breaking records every step of the way. He received his Bachelor of Arts in Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California, Berkley. He also has an M.D. from Harvard Medical School and a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Harvard University. Tavazoie then spent time as an oncology fellow at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and conducted postdoctoral research in Joan Massague’s lab. During this time, he changed fields from developmental to cancer biology where he began to focus on the control of breast cancer by microRNAs. This was a fortuitous transition, because shortly after, he crossed Manhattan’s York Avenue to start his very own lab at The Rockefeller University. Dr. Tavazoie’s lab has been trying to understand different cellular situations where cancer cells are being regulated by small RNAs. Every project in his lab poses a new challenge. As a result of his continued success, Dr. Tavazoie has received much recognition and many honors: ASCO Young Investigator Award, Emerald He Foundation Young Investigator Award, and the Pershing Square Sohn Prize among others.
I met Dr. Tavazoie at his office, and what was supposed to be a ten minute chat turned into an afternoon of riveting conversation. Whether it was because I also work in microRNAs and tumor progression, or perhaps it was because I enjoyed his fascinating responses to our questionnaire, or maybe even, because he mentioned a fondness for Madrid, my hometown, I sat there enthused by his passion for science and his wonderful achievements in such a short career.
NS: Who, or what, inspired you to enter your field of achievement?
ST: It happened during a science summer program when I was in high school. John Roth, who was a bacterial geneticist, exposed me to science for the first time and that was what hooked me. Later, when I was in college, I got a job in a lab washing the glassware to pay for my college tuition. While I was there, I made a deal with the scientist from the lab I was in, half the time I would wash the glasses and half the time he would let me do research. That was great to do experimental science again during college, but looking back I would really say that it was my high school experience, when I was 16 and worked with John, who made bacterial genetics super exciting, that is what definitely got me hooked on science and I could never go back from that.
NS: Explain your work to a five-year-old.
ST: When people get cancer sometimes the cancer can spread to other organs in the body and that is called metastasis. When it is spread to other places, the cancer cells can grow in those organs destroying them and patients can die. The biological question is how is it that some of those cells that belong at the primary tumor site can colonize other tissues. Experiments have shown that out of every ten thousand cancer cells in circulation, roughly one is able to ultimately form a metastatic colony. We are trying to understand how this single cell is able to do that and how it can shift its gene expression program to be successful in colonizing other tissues. We have seen how those cells are able to change the lifespan of their RNAs. By increasing the stability of those RNAs of genes that promote growth and metastasis, and suppressing the genes that negatively impact on them, they are able to form the malignant colonies. We are interested in better understanding the process by which those cells are able to shift the level of those genes’ RNAs and we have seen that this can be achieved post-transcriptionally by diverse small RNA types. We have observed that similar gene regulatory mechanisms also operate in normal cells to control the levels of gene expression normally. Probably not for a five year old kid though.
NS: If you could sum up the most important characteristics of a scientist in three words, what would they be?
ST: A scientist should be passionate, rigorous and hard working.
NS: How does creativity play a role in science?
ST: I think that creativity plays two roles. The first is that creativity is important in the initial inception of what you are going to study and what you want to pursue, the biological question that you are interested in. Creativity also comes into play by enabling you to utilize new technologies and creating new approaches in order to specifically address your … questions.
NS: Scientists are not only focused on science. They are usually passionate people devoted to other extra-curricular activities. Do you have any other passions besides science?
ST: I used to. Right now my free time goes to my children…I used to play sports, I love[d] to run track and field, played a lot of basketball, skiing, rock climbing. Once you have children, things change and kids become your hobby. Right now, the kids drain all my free time, but every now and then, my wife and I take some time for ourselves and enjoy this beautiful city.
NS: What would you be if you weren’t a scientist?
ST: … I trained as a physician, I am a medical oncologist and I am still seeing patients at MSKCC. If I wasn´t a scientist I think I would do that full time. In my opinion, medicine has become … more and more scientific, and medicine and science have a lot in common. We need more effective cancer therapies for patients and that motivates me to continue to understand how cancer behaves. I think being a scientist is the best job one can … have, and being a physician would be the second best job.
NS: Did you have any big rejections in your life?
ST: Absolutely. As you grow up, there are things you aspire for that you don’t achieve. In track and field, there was always someone faster than me. During high school and college there were rejections. When I applied for grants there have been many rejections. There have been rejections also in paper submissions. I think rejections are key, because you want to know that not everything is easy and you need to get a sense that you can’t have everything you want. That you have to work hard for what you want. Life is many times not fair and you can work very hard and not get what you fought for. Rejection builds character and forces you to elevate your game. In science in particular, you need thick skin and can’t let frustration take over.
NS: Who, of all the historic or current personalities, would you most want to meet and why?
ST: That’s a good question. I would like to meet Oswald Avery of Avery-MacLeod-McCarty fame. He was a professor here … and they were the first [group] to show that DNA is constitutes the molecular basis of heredity. It is sad that he never got full recognition for that. From what you can read about him he seems to have been an outstanding scientist, an incredible thinker, and someone with tremendous integrity. I´d love to meet him and have a better understanding of his persona and how he could inspire the younger scientist[s] around him who transmitted his own approach.
NS: What’s your idea of a perfect holiday/vacation?
ST: I would say … in a Mediterranean beach resort with great food, enjoying time with my family and having time to read books about history and science that I am really into.
NS: Do you have any advice for young researchers?
ST: Take your time to find the question you are interested in. Talk to senior scientists who could be your role models and inspire you. Try to find out how they take their path in science. Try to push yourself into areas that are understudied. Find a good environment that allows you to grow and express yourself. One doesn’t have to stay in academia, if you find it in biotech [biotechnology companies], just go for it. There’s great science done in biotech, as it is in academia. Communication is a big part of science, so I would tell them to practice their teaching skills, it helps your lectures and your ability to write, and the better you communicate, the better scientist you will be.
“Cool” and “Awesome” are just two of many joyous exclamations I hear while I am trying to squeeze through the crowd of children, parents and other interested individuals filling up the NYU Kimmel Center to the brim. On Sunday, June 5, citizens from all boroughs came to Washington Square Park to engage in “Street Science,” a free educational experience, which concluded the World Science Festival hosted by NYU during the preceding week. The helpers and organizers were positively surprised by the huge interest in the event despite that it had to be relocated indoors due to an unfavorable weather forecast. At countless stations, helpers from NYU and other institutes inside and outside of the city demonstrated exciting experiments, interesting natural phenomena and brainteasing mathematical conundrums among other things designed to bridge the gap between STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) disciplines/topics and the (mostly) young audience.
Even though the excitement and the light-hearted nature of events like “Street Science” is sincere, the apparent need for such events does highlight current issues in STEM education in the United States. According to the 2012 report of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), which is rather fittingly titled “Engage to Excel,” the US is facing a shortage of up to one million STEM professionals by the end of 2018. The country has a history of relying on foreign professionals to satisfy those work-force demands. Increasing education and job opportunities in the foreign job markets pose serious threats for the domestic STEM job sector and, ultimately, the US economy. Therefore, in their report for President Obama, the experts from PCAST (whose roster reads like a Who’s Who of science and technology, and includes minds such as Eric Lander of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, as well as Google’s Eric Schmidt) make it clear that in order to close one gap, one has to close another. Specifically, in order to produce enough STEM graduates, the younger generation of today (including K-12 and college students) must be engaged early and made aware of the wonders of science and technology, and the importance of STEM issues for our everyday lives. Public science education events like “Street Science” but also the rising number of afterschool STEM programs, are practical steps in the right direction, but it will require continuous effort from both the public and the private sectors to keep STEM careers looking “Cool” and “Awesome” in the eyes of the bright minds of tomorrow.
Part XX: Paul Greengard, 2000 Prize in Physiology or Medicine
Of the 37.2 trillion cells in the human body (excluding microbes), there are about 100 billion, or about 0.2%, that are a breed apart. These supercharged cells are indeed just that, charged to carry electrical signals to communicate with one another. They are organized into a dense and almost unfathomably complex network that uses gobs of energy to act as a command center for everything humanly imaginable. These cells control your breathing, your ability to see, and initiate every movement you make. They are responsible for every idea you’ve ever had, every feeling you’ve ever felt, and every memory you’ve ever recalled.
I’m writing of course, of the neuron, the basic cellular unit of the brain. Because of their almost mystical properties, generations of scientists have dedicated entire careers toward understanding how neurons work. Nowadays, we call such devotees neuroscientists, but this wasn’t always so. When our next future Stockholm visitor got started, the basic truths outlined above were known about neurons. But they remained a black box: so little was understood about neuronal insides that neuroscience wasn’t yet a distinct field in the mid-1950s and early 1960s. For a newly minted PhD named Paul Greengard, this soon became an inspiring frontier.
Trained as a neurophysiologist at Johns Hopkins, Greengard was thoroughly grounded in the electrophysiological school that viewed neurons essentially as living electric cables. In other words, everything important about the brain could be explained through an electrical understanding of how neurons communicated with each other at short timescales. By understanding the biophysics of a firing neuron, it was believed that a largely complete understanding of the brain was possible. And yet, neurons weren’t inert conduits: to the biochemists, they contained scores of unique enzymes and molecules that at first glance had little to do with the rapid electrical wizardry for which neurons were famous. As living entities, they were likely much more complicated than electrophysiologists believed. Not surprisingly in this situation, neither side took the other seriously.
One feature of neurons as cells caught and kept Greengard’s attention: neurotransmitters. In the normal rapid communication between two neurons, an excited neuron releases specific molecules to stimulate a neighboring neuron, a bit like passing a message with a direct handshake. This fast synaptic transmission as it was called, was carried out in milliseconds. But there were dozens of other neurotransmitters that appeared to act much slower, on the scale of dozens of milliseconds to seconds, sometimes minutes. This slow synaptic transmission presented a bit of a puzzle. No one knew how it worked, or largely what it was for.
Greengard’s great insight was to pay attention to the biochemists. Starting from the premise that a neurotransmitter was a small chemical messenger between two cells, Greengard was encouraged by work with hormones, as a similar form of cellular communication. What made hormones remarkable was their ability to act at long distances, a hormone made in the pancreas could travel through the bloodstream and instruct a distant liver or muscle cell. Greengard hypothesized that neurons might be using similar principles, without the long distances. It was a bit like saying that in a world where quick handshakes were king, neurons were also using phones, fax and email to talk to one another.
The early neuroscience community was skeptical that any long distance communication was needed in a fast synaptic transmission world, but Greengard had a decisive edge. He knew from the biochemists that when a hormone reached its target cell, a specific enzyme called an adenyl cyclase was activated to make a molecule called cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP), and both the enzyme and cAMP could be reliably measured. Then at Yale, Greengard and his first postdocs tested to see if such an enzyme existed in the brain that could make cAMP. To their surprise, they found that the adenyl cyclase levels were not only higher in the brain compared to other tissues, but that a slow acting neurotransmitter called dopamine was needed to activate the enzyme. This was a first peek inside neuronal machinery, and it confirmed that the signaling that went on inside of neurons was consistent with other cell types. Suddenly an entirely different layer of communication and regulation of neurons was on the table.
Starting with a dopamine-sensitive adenyl cyclase, over the next three decades (and persisting to this day), Greengard and his laboratory, in no small part, created much of molecular and cellular neuroscience by charting the order of intracellular events triggered by a neuron engaging a neurotransmitter. First with biochemistry and neurophysiology, and later with molecular biology and mouse genetics, the Greengard lab showed that these slower signaling pathways didn’t replace the fast communication between neurons, but rather they modulated them: they acted like the knobs and dial settings that enabled the brain to run smoothly. These discoveries had enormous implications for a variety of neurological and psychiatric diseases associated with abnormal dopamine signaling, from Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, ADHD, and drug abuse. Molecular explanations of how drugs worked on the brain were now possible, not to mention inspiring whole new avenues of therapeutic intervention.
One might expect that as the neuron gave up many of its secrets, fewer would have been drawn to it. On the contrary; because of the efforts in Greengard’s lab, the neuronal muse continues to inspire current and future generations of scientists. Mystery yields to awe.
What were your science laboratory classes like when you were in grade school or high school? Did you ever get a chance to use a fluorescence microscope? Or sequence DNA? I never did. What if you had never been exposed to much laboratory science during your school years, would you have gone into the field? Probably not. This is the idea behind the BioBus. It’s a 1974 public transit bus converted into a mobile lab, with research grade microscopes. The bus’s staff and volunteer scientists travel to schools in in New York City and all over the country, particularly to underprivileged areas. Using the microscopes, they give hands on laboratory lessons in areas such as development, ecology and evolution. This gives young students a chance to actually perform a science experiment, something they might not normally have a chance to do. It spurs their interest in science and hopefully will help to develop the scientists of the next generation.
The BioBus was started in 2008 by Ben Dubin-Thaler, after getting his Ph.D. in Biology from Columbia University. The bus is retrofitted to use both solar power and biofuel. With the seats gutted, the bus has six different research grade microscopes, all with monitors, so that all the students can share their views with others. There is a light, a fluorescent, three dissecting and even an electron microscope, which only has a footprint of about two by three feet. In addition, there are two “MiScopes”, a camera probe attached to the dissecting microscopes to let the students examine their own skin, eyes, or whatever material they have. BioBus staff scientist Robert Frawley, formally of Cornell, notes “kids really like woven things since you can see the thread very clearly.” The scientists who conduct the labs are mostly volunteer, some from Rockefeller University and the other Tri-Institutions. They use fruit flies, snails, mollusks, skin cells, pollen grains and an organism called daphnia. It’s a transparent, microscopic shrimp-like organism that naturally lives in ponds and waterways in the area. It’s good for teaching anatomy since their anatomy is similar to human and visible. Under a microscope, one can see a daphnia’s heart beating and food moving through their digestive tract. The children get a chance to identify whatever organism they are working on by its DNA. The students do the pipetting to isolate the DNA and run a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), which replicates the DNA in order to make it visible on an electrophoretic gel. This gel is a method of separating the DNA bases into bands in order to determine the sequence. The scientist teacher will then show them a gel that has already been run. With an onboard computer, the students compare the DNA sequence they have derived with online databases to identify their organism. The lessons typically run about forty-five minutes.
Besides the metropolitan area, the bus has been as far west as Colorado and New Mexico. Sixty-five percent of their visits are to schools in low income neighborhoods. The students are mostly African-American, Hispanic and female; groups that are underrepresented in science professions. Statistics from the BioBus show that a dramatic improvement in the students attitude towards science. The bus serves over 30,000 children a year, from grade school through high school. They have been visited by Bill Nye, “The Science Guy,” and Nobel prize winner Martin Chalfie. He won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2008, for the discovery of green fluorescent protein, which is used as a marker for gene expression.
On a typical day, a scientist will meet the bus early in the morning at the first location they are visiting that day. They set up the microscopes and prepare the samples for the lessons. The first students can come on the bus at 8 a.m. Frawley relates “We have major points we want to address in our lessons, however teachers on the BioBus love to let students push the conversation with their questions and comments.” As they leave, the students get worksheets and stickers that say “Biobus Scientist.” The staff then has to clean up and set up for the next group. When the school day is done, they secure the microscopes and supplies and head back to the BioBase.
The BioBase is an extention of the Biobus opened in 2014. It is a bricks and mortar lab housed in The Girls Club on the Lower East Side. There they have after school, weekend and summer programs, too. A Regents class is offered in four one hour sessions. There is a small amphitheater for giving classes and presentations. The students will make posters from their work and present them. In the laboratory they have four dissecting scopes and two light microscopes, as well as two more MiScopes and a florescence microscope. There is some bench space, a sink, incubators, fish tanks, an under counter refrigerator, a table top centrifuge, and lab coats. In the fish tanks are organisms they collect from the East River, such as oysters and other crustaceans and many different microorganisms used in the lessons.
Most funding for the BioBus comes from private and corporate donors such as Regeneron, Lumenera and the Simmons Foundation. All of the microscopes are donated, which is equivalent to an amount in the six figures. There are plans to purchase a second bus. While there is a small staff, most of the scientists are volunteers. Rockefeller’s own Jeanne Garbarino has worked with them. For more information, go to www.biobus.org.
Starting any new exercise practice can be discouraging, and it’s no different when entering into a CrossFit gym, which can be a nerve-wrecking experience. Although in the current sports environment everybody is talking about CrossFit, there are those who don’t even know what kind of sport it is. CrossFit is a complete and efficient training package. Created by Greg Glassman in the USA in the seventies, CrossFit started gaining popularity when the first CrossFit gym (called Box) opened in 1995 in Santa Cruz (California), before reaching its height in popularity after 2008.Today, there are more than 8,000 gyms and fitness centers spread around the world where CrossFit is performed.
CrossFit is commonly advertised in four words as “the sport of fitness” with a combination of constantly varied, high-intensity functional movements. It can be thought of as a training philosophy that coaches people of all shapes and sizes to improve their lifestyle and cardiovascular fitness within an encouraging environment. A CrossFit gym is unlike a normal gym. There is only one work out, called “WOD” (described below), performed each day that is completely scalable based on your skill levels.
How is a CrossFit class organized?
- Warm up/ Mobility
Usually it starts with a warm up and mobility phase, which is conducted as floor exercises to activate different muscular groups in preparation for the workout. It’s important that this phase includes the use of small tools like foamrollers, elastic bands, and backballs for muscular massage. This phase is essential because it prevents injuries and makes the subsequent movements more fluid.
Within this phase different exercises that will be in the workout are explained then performed (see Table below), including instructions on the techniques underlying specific movements.
This phase represents the real workout. In this phase there is no time to sharpen your technique or to rest. Following the CrossFit principle of high intensity, athletes have to exert maximum effort in the given timeframe. Typically, this phase has different time periods of activity from five minutes up to 30 minutes. It’s considered the metabolic part of the workout, often called Metcon.
This phase is dedicated to exercise recovery, muscular lengthening and cool down. Under coach guidance stretching exercises are conducted, with a general duration of about ten minutes.
What are the CrossFit exercises?
A fixed list of exercises does not exist, instead during the training sessions different disciplines are interchanged with different functions and characteristics (see below).
|Rope climb||Clean and jerk|
In particular, CrossFit combines different sports and movements. You can move from weightlifting to gymnastic routines, or from cardio to running and climbing, amongst others. A variety of tools are used including barbells, medicine balls, rings, kettlebells, box jumps etc.
It’s important to remember that CrossFit’s goal is not aesthetic, like bodybuilding, but rather aims to achieve a good health performance base. The improvement seen in the body is a pleasant consequence of CrossFit and not the sole purpose.
Park rules for ALL parks: NO glass containers (baby bottles OK); alcohol; smoking; drugs; dogs off leashes YES blankets or towels (but NO plastic or tarps); restrooms; food vendors/stands
Bennett Park (Fort Washington Avenue and West 183rd Street, Pinehurst Avenue)
Thursday, July 21 Show starts at 8:30pm. – Ray
St. Nicholas Park – Historic Harlem Parks Film
Festival (St. Nicholas Plaza at St. Nicholas Avenue and West 135th Street) Shows start at sundown; seating area opens at 6:00pm.
Monday, July 18 – Within Our Gates (“earliest surviving feature by an African-American director”)
Wednesday, July 27 – The Wiz (1978)
Rodgers Amphitheater, Marcus Garvey Park
(East 120th to 124th Streets and Madison Avenue) Show starts at sundown; seating area opens at 6:00pm.
Monday, Aug 1 – Purple Rain
Morningside Park (114th Street at Morningside Drive) Show starts at sundown; seating area opens at 6:00pm.
Monday July 25 – Mavis Staples and the Staples Singers
Thomas Jefferson Park (First Avenue between 111th and 114th Streets) Show starts at 8:30pm.
Thursday, July 28 – Annie (2014)
Sherman Kreek Peninsula Park (10th Avenue, Between Academy Street and the Harlem River) Shows start at sundown; seating area opens at 6:30pm.
Wednesday, July 13 – Inside Out
Tuesday, August 9 – Fly Away Home
Randall’s Island Park (“at Touchdown of the 103rd Street Footbridge”) Shows start at 8:00pm. Sunday, July 31 – The Goonies
Sunday, Aug 28 – Inside Out (at Randall’s Island Connector) Show starts at 8:00pm.
Sunday, Aug 14 – The Good Dinosaur
103rd Street Community Garden (103rd Street east of Park Avenue) Show starts at 7:45pm.
Tuesday, Aug 30 – The Incredibles
Pier I Picture Show (Riverside Park South – enter at 66th Street at the Hudson River) Shows start at 8:30pm; seating starts at 6:30pm.
Wednesday, July 13 – Basquiat
Friday, July 15 – Un Flic (film noir in French)
Wednesday, July 20 – Arthur (1981)
Wednesday, July 27 – Dog Day Afternoon
Wednesday, Aug 3 – The Royal Tenenbaums
Wednesday, Aug 10 – “Audience vote” – Mary and Max or Carol or The Warriors
Wednesday, Aug 17 – Auntie Mame
Bryant Park (behind the 42nd St. Main Library) 42nd to 40th Streets, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. Shows start at sundown; gravel areas around the lawn open at 5:00pm (chairs and bench seating available); the lawn area opens at 6:00pm.
Mondays, July 18 – The Omen
July 25 – Three Days of the Condor
Aug 1 – Harvey
Aug 8 – High Plains Drifter
Aug 15 – The Big Chill
Aug 22 – Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
At this park only – BAG CHECKS are made before entering. So you should know, seats and lawn spaces are are taken fast; it’s best to send a friend to hold space with a blanket EARLY.
It isn’t often that a television series completely engages me, and I am able to watch entire seasons without losing interest. Peaky Blinders comes to Netflix from the BBC and centers on a gangster family with their many schemes and adventures in post-World War I Birmingham, England. I’ve watched the first two seasons and am half-way through the third and most current season. The show has been renewed for two more years.
Peaky Blinders focuses on the three brothers and a sister of the Shelby family, their aunt and her recently discovered teenage son, and various other characters, such as an Irish Major trying to stop the family’s efforts, but later secretly recruits them for business in service of the Crown. There are times of graphic and disturbing violence portrayed on the show, that is often cringe-worthy. What makes this first-rate television is that the characters have complex personalities and are portrayed by a cast of actors that display incredible depth. In addition, the show utilizes loud, in-your-face contemporary rock music at times, that lends an acoustic parallel to the physical violence or the inner torments of the tortured souls being depicted. Peaky Blinders boasts beautiful sets and the cinematography and direction is full-length film worthy.
The Shelby family is led by Tommy, a decorated World War I veteran played by Cillian Murphy. For the first two seasons he was hounded by Major Chester Campbell, portrayed with vehemence by Sam Neill. Their chess match, even the one that took place when Shelby and Campbell were allies, was a wonder to watch unfold. Murphy’s Tommy Shelby has multiple layers of personality conflicts as he tries, mostly in vain, to take the ever-growing success and wealth of the family into legitimacy, echoing Al Pacino’s Godfather lament “They keep drawing me back!” Murphy is sometimes shown onscreen for long periods where he is thinking or staring someone down. The viewer is taken deep inside his psyche and the actor displays an uncanny and frightening ability to show a man shutting down any sense of human emotion or decency when it is necessary. Series creator, Steven Knight, makes use of Murphy’s rich eye color to allow us to see inside his very soul.
The rest of the cast play their roles with equal depth. Tommy’s elder brother, Arthur, portrayed by Paul Anderson, provides many of the show’s most violent outbursts. Yet his moments of silent suffering and intense inner turmoil make what could have been a clichéd role into a memorable characterization of a shell-shocked veteran who is both out-of-control yet fully self-aware and thus in the throes of a deep-set, unique suffering. Annabelle Wallis plays Grace Burgess, recruited by the love-struck Major Campbell to go undercover to infiltrate the Shelby gang and whom subsequently falls hard in love with Tommy. She too could have been written in standard television language, but the actress exploits her beauty as a tool for displays of complex emotions in the face of conflict and ruinous life decisions.
The final episode of season two was one of the best written dramatic television shows I’ve ever seen. Taking place in 1922 at the Epsom racecourse, Tommy Shelby has timed a Winston Churchill and Major Campbell-sanctioned political murder down to the second, and as things go wrong and he has to adjust his playbook, the viewer is riveted by the fast on screen action. Various characters that have appeared on the show come together beautifully during this climactic play of circumstance.
The complexities of the Shelby clan as gangsters reminds me of HBO’s The Sopranos. James Gandolfini’s acting as crime boss Tony Soprano was awe-inspiring. There was so much to Tony’s character that it was riveting to just watch him fidget with his pasta with a fork. The violence on that show was also unheard of at the time for a television series and much of Peaky Blinder’s harshness is in a similar manner. Gandolfini’s character was always on the verge of seeing himself for what he was, but he never could quite reach that moment of realizing the monster within. Late in the series, his long-time psychiatrist cuts him loose, unable, she tells him, to treat him since he is a sociopath. There was also a fantastic scene where Tony takes a hallucinatory drug and when viewing a beautiful landscape yells out in a Eureka fit of joy, “I get it!” But the thing is, he never did.
Cillian Murphy’s Tommy Shelby “gets it” however and is at war with himself about what he must do to maintain his family’s businesses and integrity as he strives for legitimacy. He won’t deny his inner violence in that pursuit. Even the slow-witted Arthur gets it more than he wants to and chooses to altruistically kill at times to spare his beloved brother Tommy from having to do so.
Smaller roles in Peaky Blinders include one played by the great actor Tom Hardy as the leader of a Jewish gangster clan. Hardy steals his scenes with his fast-talking and scheming and his own brand of violence. Those of us who have marveled at Hardy’s movie career can only imagine the joy he is taking, in being part of this terrific television ensemble. It is also amusing that he appeared with Murphy in the heady film Inception. The press has made much of the fact that the late rock star David Bowie contacted the show’s creator towards the end of his life, offering his music for inclusion in the soundtrack. Those of us who are fans of this great series are in excellent company.
It’s that time of year again! This first in a four-part series, focused on the leading ladies of the Best Actress race, will take us up to January 2017 when Oscar nominations are announced. This year’s Best Actress selection was as stark white as last year’s, prompting many to have another heyday with #OscarsSoWhite. In the spirit of affecting change, several women of color are included here, even if it’s uncertain whether all of their films will have an Oscar-qualifying run. Also, it appears that the gap between films led by men versus women has further narrowed. Some of this year’s potential Best Actress contenders have already received high marks; could they hold on through the season? Last Oscar season saw two young actresses (Brie Larson vs. Saoirse Ronan) duke it out until the bitter end, but if you paid attention, the winner was no surprise. Unlike the previous year, the category featured only true leads (not supporting roles masquerading as leads), perhaps another sign of the changing times. What will this year’s story be? Will our top five continue to be true leads? We’ll look to answer these questions in the next couple of months, but let’s first examine last year’s Best Actress nomination results.
Of the seven roles that were discussed here, only three went on to secure Best Actress nominations: the aforementioned Ronan who was defeated by Larson, Jennifer Lawrence for Joy, and Cate Blanchett for Carol. Interestingly enough, some Oscar favorites Meryl Streep (Ricki and the Flash), Kate Winslet (The Dressmaker) and Marion Cotillard (Macbeth) failed to land nominations. The only snubbed performance was from Carey Mulligan whose film, Suffragette, was maligned early on when T-shirts worn by the cast (including Streep) were misinterpreted by the public as depicting a racial slur. The last nominee was Charlotte Rampling (45 Years).
THE QUEEN BEE: Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins (director: Stephen Frears): FYC: This British biographical comedic drama tells the story of the titular character (Streep), a New York heiress who aspires to become an opera singer, despite essentially being unable to carry a tune. Streep continues to be discussed every year in this column. The actress has racked up 16 Oscar nominations and three Oscar wins—two in lead (Sophie’s Choice in 1983 and The Iron Lady in 2011), and one in supporting (Kramer vs. Kramer in 1980). Early reviews of the film, set to open in the U.S. on August 12, have praised Streep’s performance, so it is a safe bet to pencil her in for now.
THE NEWCOMER: Ruth Negga – Loving (director: Jeff Nichols):
FYC: The British-American drama tells the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving (Joel Edgerton and Negga), an interracial couple who were sentenced to prison in Virginia in 1958 for getting married. The film received a standing ovation when it competed for the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and will campaign in several of the major categories this awards season, including Best Actress and Best Picture. Ethiopian-born Negga is a newcomer having just appeared on American television in AMC’s Preacher. She has previously been recognized by the Irish Television and Film Awards in her home country. Given the state of racial affairs at the Oscars and her performance’s Cannes reception, Negga stands a good chance of being nominated, unless she is bested by another woman of color (see below).
THE LOVER: Marion Cotillard – Allied (director: Robert Zemeckis):
FYC: A romantic World War II thriller based on the true story of a French-Canadian spy (Brad Pitt) who investigates his wife, a French agent (Cotillard), after learning that she may also be a Nazi spy. Cotillard has been on track for a second Oscar after her Best Actress win in 2008 for La Vie en Rose and last year’s nomination for Two Days, One Night. While thrillers are not often the stuff that Oscar dreams are made of, Cotillard shines in most everything she does and may be able to muscle her way into a nomination.
THE PERENNIAL: Jennifer Lawrence – Passengers (director: Morten Tyldum):
FYC: A sci-fi adventure revolving around two of thousands of spacecraft passengers, traveling to a distant colony planet, who are awakened 90 years early from hyper sleep due to a malfunction in their sleep chambers. In 2012, Lawrence won the Best Actress Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook after earning her first Best Actress nomination in 2011 for Winter’s Bone. She went on to net a Best Supporting Actress nomination for American Hustle (2014), and her third Best Actress nomination this year for Joy. If anyone can match Sigourney Weaver by getting a Best Actress nomination for a sci-fi film, it’s Lawrence. Further, being directed by 2015’s Best Director nominee for The Imitation Game and a December release bodes well for her chances.
THE MOTHER: Alicia Vikander – The Light Between Oceans (director: Derek Cianfrance):
FYC: In this drama, based on M. L. Stedman’s novel of the same name, a lighthouse keeper and his wife, living off the coast in post World War I Western Australia, rescue a baby from an adrift rowboat and raise her as their own. As the baby grows older, the couple encounters a woman (Rachel Weisz) who threatens to break-up their family. Vikander won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar this year for The Danish Girl and also earned Golden Globe and British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) nominations for that role as well as for her supporting role in Ex Machina. The actress was also recognized by a slew of critic bodies throughout the last awards season. With her career on the uptick, back-to-back nominations wouldn’t be out of the question.