Renewable Energy

Yvette Chin

When Sheikhs invest in solar, you know a paradigm change has arrived. A slew of sun-drenched Middle Eastern states, prompted by the now-favorable economics of renewable energy, and a concomitant cloudy outlook for fossil fuels, are looking to transition their oil-heavy economies towards solar energy production. Closer to home, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo too has a vision—expedited in no small part by the exigencies of climate change, economics & energy security—to secure a clean, affordable and resilient post-oil future.

Governor Cuomo’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) commits NY state to a Clean Energy Standard (CES) with the goal of meeting at least 50% of the state’s energy use with renewable sources such as solar, wind, hydropower and geothermal energy and reducing greenhouse gas emission levels from 1990 by 40% by 2030. This was prompted by the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan (CPP), which mandates a less stringent 32% reduction in carbon emissions from 2005 levels by 2030.

The pivot to renewables has many causes. First, cost is king and with renewables at least, cheaper is better. Advances in technology—cheaper, more efficient photovoltaic (PV) cells and wind turbines; souped up batteries to tide over times when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing—have brought down costs and increased reliability so much that the sector is competitive (as low as under $0.04/kWh) versus fossil fuels. Upfront investment costs are lowered by tax credits and net metering rules, which allows the sale of unused energy back to utilities to recoup expenses. Tax credits in particular were essential to the adoption of renewables, although the necessity of subsidies is receding as the industry is able to stand on its own merit. In December 2015, a divided Congress rallied to extend the 30% Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for solar energy & the 2.3-cent/kWh Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind energy for five years (through 2020), among a slew of renewable subsidies, to ensure successful implementation of the CPP. On current form, the importance of such subsidies will diminish further as innovation continues to drive down costs and bring about mass adoption.
Second, climate change and environmental concerns lend an urgency to the transition to clean and low-carbon energy sources. Credit Hurricane Sandy for the harsh reminder that ocean levels are rising and reclaiming low-lying flood-prone land. The energy sector appears to be a zero-sum game with the rise of renewables occurring at the expense of the coal industry where a projected 50GW of capacity is expected to be lost by 2022 and, indeed, completely phased out in New York state. The upheavals of this energy revolution have being manifested in the rise of populist presidential candidate Donald Trump, fueled in part by the loss of jobs in America’s Rust Belt. Advocacy groups such as the Sierra Club and ardent environmental activists are also playing a significant role in the adoption of low-carbon fuels. The Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign organized a community-based push for off-shore wind energy investment with a Clean Energy rally in lower Manhattan followed by personal testimonies from state-wide attendees to the Public Service Commission. These efforts paid off in the adoption of a 90MW offshore wind project, the largest in the country, in federally leased waters off Montauk, in a tie-up between the New York Power Authority (NYPA), the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) and Deepwater Wind, a private company. Moreover, the CES envisions establishing New York state as a clean energy powerhouse to safeguard the economic future of the state’s workforce by ensuring its technical expertise in the renewable energy sector. Slated to be one of the largest solar panel factories in the world, a 27-acre $750m SolarCity battery facility financed and constructed by New York state is another example of the economic thrust of the REV. The high-efficiency solar panels manufactured in the gigafactory produce electricity at a cost of roughly $2.5/W and production is expected to hit full capacity in late 2017.

The REV is expected to lower energy bills through localized power generation and distribution, furnish a greater choice of energy providers to reduce dependence on a central utility, advance net-zero energy efficient smart homes that can be controlled remotely, boost employment in the hi-tech renewables sector and improve overall quality of life from the greening of the energy industry.

Postdoc Retreat 2016

Juliette Wipf

This year’s Rockefeller Postdoctoral Association (PDA) Retreat was held from September 21 to 22 at the Interlaken Inn in Lakeville, CT. The Interlaken Inn is a charming country resort with great facilities and over 130 Rockefeller postdocs came to enjoy this getaway. Many supported the event with presentations, ranging in scope from social evolution in ants, aphids and their interacting microbiomes, through to visual signaling in Drosophila.

The PDA further organized a panel discussion focusing on non-academic careers, which was one of the highlights of the retreat. Candid responses to heartfelt questions were given by George Yancopoulos, the President and CSO of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc., who also gave the retreat’s keynote address, Nadim Shohdy (Director, Office of Therapeutics Alliances NYU Langone), David Pompliano (co-founder & CSO, Lodo Therapeutics), Imran Babar (Private Equity / Venture Capital, OrbiMed Advisors & VP of Scientific Affairs, Rare Genomics Institute), Yaihara Fortis-Santiago (Director of Science Alliance, the New York Academy of Sciences), as well as two Rockefeller insiders, namely our new President Richard Lifton and our Career and Professional Development Director, Andrea Morris. The speakers depicted the advantages of dropping into a non-academic field and attempted to boost our self-confidence for trying out such alternative career routes. In some cases maybe even out of a personal recruitment interest?

A bonfire by the scenic Lake Wononskopomuc brought the first day come to an unforgettable end. S’more roasting gave the postdocs energy after burning themselves out on the dance floor. After another round of talks in the morning, playing tennis, sunbathing by the heated pool, kayaking and swimming in the lake in the afternoon, everybody reluctantly made their way back to New York City on Thursday night.

Thank you PDA for organizing this event!

Culture Corner

Television Series Review: Mr. Robot and Gomorrah 

Bernie Langs

Caution: spoilers ahead!

 

There is a widely-held notion that television is presently in the midst of a golden age and that the quality and diversity in programming has never been better for the medium. One might generally associate the phrase “golden age” with eras of creativity in cultural history, such as the glory days of Ancient Greece or Renaissance Italy, while thinking of television more in terms of crassness and the lowest possible taste (think the Kardashians or the Housewives reality series). Yet I can’t deny that TV is offering many more stimulating choices these days than big Hollywood studio films. The best current television shows are filmed cinematically to big budget movie standards and the writing and scripts of these series offer superlative plot devices and new, untested ideas without falling into the trap of typical clichés that plague so much of our visual entertainment.

Two series in particular have hooked me into becoming a loyal viewer. USA Network’s Mr. Robot revolves around the exploits of a young, brilliant, socially-challenged hacker. The other, the Sundance Channel’s Gomorrah, is an import from Italy based around the inner workings of the criminal mob in the city and surrounding region of present day Naples.

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Twenty-four visits to Stockholm: a concise history of the Rockefeller Nobel Prizes

Part XXIII: Ralph M. Steinman, 2011 Prize in Physiology or Medicine

Joseph Luna

steinman_postcard

Photo Courtesy of THE ROCKEFELLER UNIVERSITY

A macrophage is on the hunt. Crawling and sniffing its way across a petri dish, this “big eater” lunges forward, its rolling membranes like tank treads, toward a colony of bacteria. A pall descends on the prokaryotes, and soon a membrane washes over them like a toxic blanket. The engulfed bacteria, momentarily stunned, find themselves in the belly of the macrophage and attempt to regain their bearings. They never see the army of lysosomes marching toward them, with acid knives drawn and thirsty.

Zanvil Cohn looked up from his microscope and snapped a photo of the battle below. This phenomenon of cells eating cells, or phagocytosis, was well known immunological territory. But armed with time-lapse microscopy, Cohn could record how the macrophage moved and ate in startling detail; with James Hirsch, Cohn discovered that lysosomes swooped in to digest bacteria when engulfed. Cohn and Hirsch ran a joint lab at the then recently renamed Rockefeller University that was an epicenter of macrophage research in the 1960s. Housed in the Southern Laboratory (now known as Bronk) and under the guidance of the eminent René Dubos, Cohn and Hirsch made landmark discoveries on how these cells defended against microbes, using the latest techniques to finally begin answering questions as old as immunology itself.

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Ostuni, A New Jewel in Italy’s Crown

Francesca Cavallo

Puglia, with its beautiful beaches and landscapes, stunning architecture and friendly people has become hugely popular as a holiday destination.

When most travelers think “Italian beach vacation,” they think of places like Portofino and Capri. Puglia is pretty much the exact opposite of those places and all the better for it. While the Italian Riviera and Amalfi Coast are well-groomed, glamorous, and sparkling, Puglia is rugged, simple, and totally laid-back. Its landscape, studded with farmhouses and miles of olive groves, reminds one of neighboring Greece. But its spirit remains 100 percent Italian. Located in the heel of Italy’s boot, Puglia is where Italians vacation. This summer I had the pleasure to visit this region, in particular my father’s hometown of Ostuni located about 11 km from the coast, in the province of Brindisi. This charming, fortified hill town is known as “la città bianca” (the white city) due to its whitewashed buildings and city walls, which give it a very exotic feel, more Greek or Middle Eastern than Italian.

view-of-ostuni-the-white-city

Photo Courtesy of OSTUNI THE WHITE CITY

The stark white of the town is broken up by some beautiful historical architecture, all of which stands out from its surroundings. The Messapii ancient Italian population founded the first nucleus of the city in seventh century BC on the top of a hill protected by walls, which also sheltered it from attacks, and provided for the construction of roads. Later, in third century BC, the Romans conquered it and today some Roman traces remain in farms built on the foundations of Roman villas. With the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Ostrogoths, Lombards, Saracens and Byzantines settled, in turn leaving visible traces of their occupation. The Aragonese created four-door access to the village of which today only the twelfth century Porta Nova is still evident, as well as the Thirteen Towers and Porta San Domenico, both built in the thirteenth century. With the Spanish rule in 1506, Ostuni began to experience a period of splendor by the granting of special favors by the Dukes. The decline of Ostuni began in the seventeenth century due to the debts incurred during the “Thirty Years War” (European conflicts from 1618 to 1648). King Philip IV of Habsburg sold it to the family Zevallos, merchants that then impoverished it. Moreover, the plague began to rage in the surroundings even if it did not directly strike the village, as the whitewash used to paint houses turned out to be a good and effective natural disinfectant. With the advent of the Bourbon dynasty in the eighteenth century, the city slowly began to flourish.

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New York State Of Mind

This month Natural Selections interviews Tiago Siebert Altavini, Postdoctoral Associate, Gilbert Lab.

Guadalupe Astorga

How long have you been living in the New York area? natural-selections-new-york-state

I’ve been living in NYC for five months now.

Where do you currently live?  Which is your favorite neighborhood?

I currently live in the Upper East Side and my favorite neighborhood is hard to choose because there are so many interesting neighborhoods in NYC. But, I really like the East Village, Hell’s Kitchen and some parts of Brooklyn.

What do you think is the most overrated thing in the city? And underrated? 

Overrated, I guess I still didn’t have the experience of being frustrated about something I was expecting. Underrated is the fact that you can go to the beach by subway. I don’t see much of a beach culture in NYC, I really like the beach, and it seems that people here don’t take much advantage of it.

What do you miss most when you are out of town? 

I haven’t been out of town much, just in Connecticut for two days. I’ve become used to the options of places to eat and interesting things to do on the weekends, so if I was out of town I would definitely miss that. I also got used to the agitation of the city, so if I was out of town I would miss that too.    

Has anything (negative or positive) changed about you since you became one of us “New Yorkers”?

Negative, I don’t recognize anything yet. Positive, I’m getting used to walking a lot, I can walk for more than one hour and I really like it.  

If you could change one thing about NYC, what would that be?

I would take out the cars honking, that’s one of the things that affects me the most, it’s very unnecessary and stressing.

What is your favorite weekend activity in NYC?

To explore new parts of the city, visit new neighborhoods without a particular goal, just walking on the streets of some place that I haven’t been yet. It’s a large city and it’ll take many weekends until I have explored enough to pick one favorite place and just keep going back there.

 What is the most memorable experience you’ve had in NYC?  

The arrival, the first days in NYC. This city is so impressive with all these skyscrapers, the agitation, the size, the cars and the noise. I have never experienced this before anywhere else.

Bike, MTA or walk it?

Walk! I haven’t ridden a bike much in NYC yet, it’s nice, but I like to walk, even if it takes longer, I’d rather walk.

If you could live anywhere else, where would that be? 

I would like to live in Europe, somewhere with cities much older than those in America and Latin America, with 1000 year old buildings, I would like to try that.

Do you think of yourself as a New Yorker?

I think I’m getting there, maybe a few more months. People have already asked me for directions in the street and usually I know the answer, so I think I’m on my way.

Lesson 2-New York City Dialect New York-ese

Aileen Marshall

Welcome back to our series on learning the New York dialect. Did you practice your vocabulary words from last month? As a recap, the letter T in the New York dialect is pronounced like a D. Our vocabulary words were dem, dese, and dose. Here are some more examples of these words used in a sentence.

I’ve got all dese leftover subway tokens, how do I get rid of dem?

Dose cars in da intersection are blocking da box.

Other common words in which the T is pronounced like a D are water and butter. Click on the links to hear them.

New York City has the best tap wada.

Barbara Streisand’s voice is like budda.

This month’s lesson:

In the New York dialect, the G is dropped in words ending in “-ing.” The syllable is pronounced “in.”

Here are some examples of “-ing” words used in a sentence. Click on the links to hear the pronunciation.

Are you doin’ anything tonight?

I have to go; I can hear my mother callin me from up the block.

Dose tourists are walkin’ too slow.

When learning any language, it helps to listen to as much as you can, to train your ear to pick it up. Try to pay attention to conversations you hear on the street and the subway. Also, watch episodes of Seinfeld and listen to the Jerry and George characters.

Watch next month for dropped R words.

Think Big Deal

GEORGE BARANY AND JOHN CHILD

George Barany is a Rockefeller alum (1977) currently on the faculty of the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities. John Child has had an interesting career and currently lives in Nepal. For more about this specific puzzle, including a link to the answer, visit here. More Barany and Friends crosswords can be found here.

Acrosscrossword-november

1. Actors Damon and Dillon

6. Brainstorms

11. F/X tech.

14. Enjoy the taste of

19. Rhone tributary

20. Old Pac. pact

21. Arles article

22. “Pygmalion” protégée

23. Baby boomer’s boom?

27. Place of safe haven

28. Element with the symbol Sn

29. They are each made of three bones

30. Sony co-founder ___Morita

31. “6 ___ Riv Vu” (1972 Broadway play)

32. Friends with ___

34. 24 horas

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Life on a Roll

 

The Vendée Globe

Elodie Pauwels

https://elodiepphoto.wordpress.com

Photo by ELODIE PAUWELS

elodiepauwels-francoisgabart

Photo by ELODIE PAUWELS

Les Sables d’Olonne is a French town located by the Atlantic Ocean and is particularly known for being the start and finish points of the “Vendée Globe.” This is a non-stop round the world single-handed boat race, which takes place every four years. François Gabart won the last race in 2012-2013, as immortalized by a plaque on the seafront.

Early November, about 25 skippers will travel along the channel from the large marina called Port Olona, crowded for the occasion, and then between both lighthouses towards the vastness of the ocean. The lucky ones completing the circumnavigation are expected to come back anytime from late January/early February 2017. Can’t you feel the call of the sea?

elodiepauwels-call-of-the-sea

Photo by ELODIE PAUWELS

Ten minutes with…Leslie Vosshall

Fernando Bejarano

vosshall

Leslie Vosshall Photo by Fernando Bejarano

Last year, gender inequality in science hit the headlines of numerous major scientific journals. Several remarks from notable scientists about their thoughts on women working in science brought up again the dearth of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields to the public consciousness. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, nowadays women make up almost half of the total US workforce and half of the college-educated workforce. However, women are much less represented in STEM fields, holding less than a quarter of the STEM jobs.

It is known that women hold a low share of undergraduate STEM degrees. It is curious that women with STEM degrees are less likely than their male counterparts to become STEM professionals. On the other hand, women with STEM majors are twice as prone as men to work in healthcare or education. One imagines that there are many factors contribute to this disparity of men and women in STEM fields, such as gender stereotyping, lack of female role models, less family-friendly flexibility, motherhood or even gender biased hiring.

There is considerable research demonstrating gender biased hiring practice in a variety of fields, but do these practices also plague the science field? A study published by Moss-Racusin et al. in PNAS (2012), tells us that these types of practices not only occur in science but they are more common than we imagine, happening frequently in a field where its members have been rigorously trained to be objective. You may be surprised to know that if your name is Jennifer your chances of working in science, technology, engineering or math are considerably lower than if your name is John. It won’t make much difference if your name is Mary, Lisa or Amy. There is a disparity when you compare yourself with other male opponents such as Charles, James or Brian. You will also make less money for the same job, and if you ever get a tenure track position in an elite institution you will be surrounded by many male colleagues. Such is the worrisome situation of women in science presented by this study.

However, looking at the career of our guest, you could think that things would be different if your name was Leslie Vosshall. Success seems to follow her around. She managed to thrive in a challenging environment, while achieving a meteoric rise to excellence in science. Her career could be considered as a perfect illustration of gender equality pursuit in biosciences. Born and raised in New York City, Vosshall received her B.A. in biochemistry from Columbia University, and her Ph.D. in molecular genetics from The Rockefeller University (RU). After graduate school she returned to Columbia University for her postdoc under the mentorship of Nobel Laureate Richard Axel. Leslie Vosshall has made important discoveries in the field of olfaction since her early days in as a neuroscientist. She started by decoding the olfactory sensory map of the very cute fly Drosophila melanogaster. Her scientific discoveries continue to unveil the mysteries of the brain, covering a variety of models from insect to human. After a successful postdoc, she came back to RU as an assistant professor, where she currently holds the position of Head of the Laboratory of Neurogenetics and Behavior. She spent years having fun with pheromone perception, odorant receptors, chemotaxis behavior, odor memories, and building a molecular architecture of smell in flies, mosquitoes and vertebrates. In another era, she could have been the most prosperous perfume chemist in all of Europe. Let’s say that with her proficiency, she would have blown away the sense of smell of Louis XIV! With the Sun King in her favor, I imagine her as one of the most influential people in the eighteenth century Versailles Court.

Once again, knowledge is power and whether in the eighteenth or the twenty-first century, it is no doubt that she is an outstanding female role. As a sign of quality, we can observe a consistency in her publications in top peer-reviewed journals. She also manages to share time with her family, including two children. During her career she has been the recipient of many awards and honors: the Prize for Innovative Research in Neuroscience by Duke University, the New York City Mayor’s Award for Excellence in Science and Technology and the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) among others. In 2015 she was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, quite an outstanding achievement reserved only for top leading researchers, and where every year only a few women are picked to be part of this select group of scientists.

I am certain that her career path was not easy; that it was hell until she got here; but also despite the draining effort, she enjoyed it all along. I assure you that she would not switch places with any male coworker, or have chosen a non-STEM career. Leslie Vosshall would do it all over again for gender equality in science, for a more family-friendly environment in STEM careers and for the future generations of women participating in life sciences.

This is what Leslie told us: Continue reading

TURN ON and TURN OUT!

Susan Russo

The Pew Research Center has over the past few years collected data from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, the United States Elections Project, and other national and international election authorities to estimate voter turnout in thirty-five nations in each of their last national elections. The countries studied are the members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD): Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

In six of these countries (Australia, Belgium, Greece, Luxembourg, Mexico, and Turkey), voting is compulsory, but the laws aren’t always strictly enforced and the penalty for not voting may be modest. For example, in Australia the penalty for not voting is the equivalent of US $20, which is waived if you can prove that you had no way to get to the polls or legally submit a ballot.

Of the thirty-five nations included above, the United States is thirtieth in this list (based upon the most recent national election and excluding the U.S. mid-term elections), with 53.6% of the estimated 241 million “voting-age” population voting in the 2012 Presidential election. However, we do rank above Switzerland, where the estimated turnout for the last national election was less than 39% (even though one section (“canton”) in Switzerland does have a compulsory voting law).

The highest voting percentages were in Belgium (87.2%), Turkey (84.3%), and Sweden (82.6%). Of course there can be serious political divisions, loss of confidence, and economic and social factors (as now in the United States) in every country, which can alter the turnout over the years. For instance, in 1992 Slovenia’s voting turnout was 85%, but was 54% in 2015. Japan, as well, had a high voter turnout (75%) in 1990, but fell to 52% in 2014. In addition, the voting-age population used to calculate these statistics includes people who are not eligible to vote (e.g. non-citizens) and the percentage of the population that is ineligible to vote may vary among the OECD countries.

The statisticians at Pew found that in the US, in 1996, when President Bill Clinton ran for his second term, the voting percentage was 48%, and in 2008, when Barack Obama was elected for his first term, the percentage rose to 57%.

A US Census Current Population Survey calculated statistics from the 2012 election, which report that the percentages of voter turn-out by region were Northeast 58%, Midwest 62.7%, South 55.7%, and West 53%.

SO GET OUT AND VOTE!!!!!

Twenty-four visits to Stockholm: a concise history of the Rockefeller Nobel Prizes

Part XXII: Roderick MacKinnon, 2003 Prize in Chemistry

Joseph Luna

mackinnon_2015-1449519982

Photo Courtesy of THE rockefeller university

In the early 1950s, two English physiologists named Alan Hodgkin and Andrew Huxley wrote a five-part magnum opus of papers formally describing the electrochemical basis of action potentials, those short lasting impulses that travel along nerve cells. Starting with electrophysiological measurements of squid giant axons, they formulated a precise mathematical model of how action potentials arise and propagate based on the movement of small charged atoms called ions, across a cell membrane. Hodgkin and Huxley made their way to Stockholm in 1963 for this work, having achieved a true breakthrough in neuroscience. Yet such a complete synthesis was more of a molecular starting point founded on a key assumption: the Hodgkin-Huxley model critically relied on the idea that the cell membrane underwent transient changes in ion permeability. In other words, the cell membrane possessed a highly optimized border control system that would permit some ions in (or out) at one specific time and place, but not at others. How such a system actually worked at the molecular level could only be guessed at. For their part, Hodgkin and Huxley dryly wrote that the “details of the mechanism will probably not be settled for some time.” Their assumptions turned into predictions—the richest of guides for future scientists, among them Roderick MacKinnon.

One vital element of the Hodgkin-Huxley model that captured MacKinnon’s fascination centered on potassium ions (K+) and the heroic feat they needed to pull off to escape the cell. With a radius of 1.38 Ångströms, these water-loving ions manage to cross a cell membrane that resembles a great wall of grease, over 40 Ångströms thick. This would roughly translate into a barrier eight stories tall for a human sized potassium ion—scalable perhaps by Superman, were the building not made of solid Krypton. K+ ions can’t manage such an exploit alone. To get around this, Hodgkin and Huxley postulated the existence of a channel that would ferret K+ ions out of the cell. Despite the idleness implied by the name, the channel they predicted was no ordinary hallway for K+ ions. For the Hodgkin-Huxley model to work, this channel needed to be a complex machine capable of differentiating K+ ions from among scores of other (often smaller) ions, and it also needed to open and close at precise moments. In other words, it was a very selective gate.

For MacKinnon, this presented a tantalizing puzzle to determine the molecular basis of ion selectivity. How did the channel conduct potassium ions, but not others, such as physically smaller sodium (Na+) ions? After undergraduate thesis research in Chris Miller’s laboratory at Brandeis University, MacKinnon took a slight detour to go to medical school, before finding himself back in the Miller lab, thirty years old and feeling behind as a scientist, for post-doctoral work. He quickly caught up, and found himself amidst exciting times for ion channel research in the late 1980s. As a postdoc, MacKinnon worked out the mechanism of how a scorpion venom toxin blocked K+ channels in skeletal muscle (it plugged the pore). The first K+ channel called Shaker was cloned from fruit flies around the same time. Performing a “let’s see what happens” experiment, MacKinnon determined that the scorpion toxin also blocked the Shaker channel. This was fortuitous, since it meant that the specific amino acids that interacted with the toxin could be mapped to help define the pore of the channel. It was a solid first step that harnessed the power of molecular biology to explain potassium selectivity. Over the next few years, MacKinnon with his newly established lab at Harvard, determined which amino acids were essential for potassium conductance, and in broad strokes, worked out what the channel ought to look like. They imagined a tetramer of protein subunits encircling a central pore that could open and close, and where each subunit contributed a loop of amino acids whose job it was to discriminate K+ ions. And yet, despite a wealth of biophysical and biochemical data, a satisfying explanation of how the channel conducted potassium much better than smaller sodium ions remained elusive. MacKinnon sought to “see” an ion channel.

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Culture Corner

Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism and the 2016 Presidential Election

Bernie Langs

I am close to finishing a masterpiece of historical and philosophical discussion written by Hannah Arendt (1906 – 1975), The Origins of Totalitarianism. My purpose in writing about this book is not to convince anyone to read it, because it is an extremely dense and difficult nonfiction tome. I subscribe to my belief in a “trickle-up” theory, that if certain opinions get into the public sphere, perhaps they will rise not only to the level of a wider public discourse, but eventually reach someone who has influence somewhere in the chain of actual political power.

the-origins-of-totalitarianism

Photo Courtesy of Harcourt Publication

Dr. Arendt’s book is a painstaking view on how Hitler and the Nazis and the likes of Joseph Stalin could create the totalitarian states in Germany and Russia, which depended on cooperation and coercion to their purposes of the existing political and military structures and personnel, along with crafting an agenda that would attract and integrate their general populations to their ideologies. I think that many of us believe we know how this happened. My personal narrative went something like this before I picked up this book: Hitler rode a tide of German resentment after its defeat in World War One, taking advantage of the harsh terms of the Treaty of Versailles, economic calamities such as monetary inflation and unemployment, and utilizing as “scapegoats” the Jewish population with relentless propaganda and attacks. The choice of the Jews for Nazi hate and annihilation, I believed, was the remnant and culmination of medieval Christian anti-Semitism which basked in physical attacks on Jews for hundreds of years.

Aristotle wrote in his work, Politics “…it is evident that the state is a creation of nature, and that man is by nature a political animal…Nature, as we often say, makes nothing in vain, and man is the only animal whom she has endowed with the gift of speech…And it is a characteristic of man that he alone has any sense of good and evil, of just and unjust…and the association of living beings who have this sense makes a family and a state.” I have always instinctively fought against and disliked this idea, mostly because I sense that if man is a political being, unlike the Greek’s belief that it leads to the common good, it is political nature that leads the species down the path to horrific events such as the Second World War and the Holocaust. And it was the “gift of speech” that was the incalculably helpful ally in the rise of the Nazis and the Bolsheviks that unleashed terror on the world that left countless millions dead.

After reading just the first few pages of The Origins, my idea of what caused the war (and why Hitler chose the Jews to attack) was shamefully exposed not only as overly simplistic, but downright ignorant. The first edition of the book appeared in the late 1940s and was revised over the next few decades for subsequent publications. I went in thinking I would take what I could from it, given that it is half a century old, and that in this current age of information, this is only Dr. Arendt’s view, and there are most likely many historians and social scientists who carefully refute her claims and ideas. But the real point is that Dr. Arendt doesn’t just study the post-Great War European climate to get to the causes of the unspeakable and well-organized slaughter, but meticulously traces it back to the late eighteenth century revolutions and the societies of the nineteenth century, showing how the situation slowly simmered to the boiling point of carnage. In this book we journey through France’s Dreyfus debacle and relive the nightmare of British imperialism. We follow both large and small political and social movements that are racist, jingoistic, hateful, and so on, some of which resonated with the populace of Europe, some that had no success, but all of which set the table for the rise to totalitarianism as practiced by Hitler and Stalin. There is an in-depth study of post-World War One stateless peoples of the European continent, noting how this sense of limbo experienced by millions gave rise to the horrific solutions offered by the Nazis. The Nazi ideology also finally gave an inclusive purpose to the listless masses of not only Germany, but other European nations as well, the breadth of which I had previously not been aware of.

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For Your Consideration – Ones to Watch, Vol. 2 Edition

Jim Keller

The storm of film festivals galore began at summer’s end with the one-two punch of the Venice (August 31 – September 10) and Telluride (September 2-5) film festivals. In recent years the former has been credited with birthing our eventual Best Picture winner into the world and so begins the Oscar race. In the second of a three-part series, we discuss the performances that are likely to feature in the Best Actor race.

billy-lynns-long-halftime-walk-joe-alswynThis year’s race feels peculiar in that at September’s end the festivals have not yielded any consensus of frontrunners. By this time last year we had already seen the performances of Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs) and Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl) by way of Telluride and Venice, respectively, and Matt Damon (The Martian) via The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Currently, we have little to go on because the films that have been shown have centered on a female, not a male, lead. Considering the Academy’s history of mostly nominating films for Best Picture that have a male lead, this is a very good problem to have. One thing is certain: in the wake of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, there are high hopes for Denzel Washington (Fences) and Dev Patel (Lion). This isn’t to say that there aren’t performances already out there that could become consensus decisions (Casey Affleck, Joel Edgerton, Ryan Gosling), just that it’s too early to tell what critic groups might circle back to.

Before we get to this year, let’s recap last year’s awards.

Of the eight roles that were discussed here, three went on to secure Best Actor nominations. The biggest story was that after 22 years, the Academy finally broke down and awarded the top prize to Leonardo DiCaprio for his searing performance in The Revenant. There really wasn’t much of a competition, given how overdue DiCaprio was for a win. But outside of Fassbender’s performance in Steve Jobs and Redmayne in The Danish Girl, Bryan Cranston (Trumbo) and Damon (The Martian) managed to sneak in. There was a short snub list comprised of Johnny Depp (Black List) and Michael Caine (Youth) as Fassbender’s other performance (Macbeth), and Ben Foster’s in The Program were not able to find early footing. Mark Ruffalo, the last actor discussed here, wound up being nominated in the supporting actor for Spotlight.

THE HEE-RO: Joe Alwyn – Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (director: Ang Lee):

FYC: Based on the novel of the same name by Ben Fountain, this drama concerns infantryman Billy Lynn (newcomer Alwyn) who recounts at a Thanksgiving Dallas Cowboys halftime show that he and his squad members made an appearance in during the final hours before the soldiers return to Iraq. Alwyn is as green as they come, with only a single screen credit to his name for the TV series documentary short, A Higher Education. As one of Lee’s many directorial strengths is getting brilliant performances from his actors (see Sense and Sensibility and Brokeback Mountain), there is reason to expect the same here. Having been shot at 120 frames per second, the highest frame rate for a film to date, all eyes will be on Lee’s film when it bows at New York Film Festival later this month.

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New York-ese, or a Guide to the New York City Dialect

Aileen Marshall

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Photo Courtesy of Daniel Schwen

People come to New York City for different reasons. Many come as tourists, others come to live and work here, not only from other parts of the United States, but from every corner of the globe. American citizens study standard American English in school. Visitors from other countries usually learn British English. Then they come to the city and hear phrases like “Hey, watcha doin?” or “Aw, fuhgeddaboudit”. Confused? Studies in standard English do not always prepare someone to interpret the New York City dialect. With that in mind, Natural Selections will be providing a new service. For the next few months, this column will give lessons in New York-ese. Each month will have a few new vocabulary words. Hopefully by the end, non-native New Yorkers will have a better idea what that man pushing past you on the subway is saying, or what those two hot dog vendors you just passed are fighting about.

Where did the New York City accent come from? Like the city itself, its origin is diverse. It was first studied and documented in the 1890s. The first influence was the Dutch. That’s why we refer to the stairs in front of a building as a stoop. Then the Irish, Scottish, French, German and Scandinavian groups came in and influenced our language. The term deli, used for a store where cold cuts, salads, and other prepared food is sold, is short for delicatessen, a German word. In the early twentieth century, Eastern European and Italian waves of immigrants added to the dialect. Yiddish words are often incorporated into the speech of a native New Yorker.

Linguists say it is the most recognizable accent in the world. Some famous speakers of the New York dialect include Woody Allen, Tony Danza, Fran Drescher, Robert De Niro, Cyndi Lauper, John Leguizamo, Rosie O’Donnell, Rosie Perez, Bernie Sanders, and Jerry Seinfeld, among many others.  Sadly, this accent is slowly disappearing. It is not heard in Manhattan as much as in earlier generations. Recent immigrants usually cannot afford Manhattan housing. Middle- and upper-class professionals from other areas of the country, who speak standard American English, make up most of the population of the main island. The dialect survives among working class natives of the metropolitan area, but linguists say there is a tendency among the millennial generation to try to drop the accent because of a perception of an association with a lack of education.

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QUOTABLE QUOTE

It is no easy task to be good. Anyone can act: get angry, give money, speak to friends, and so on. But to do something to the right person, to the right extent, at the right time, with the right motive, and in the right way, that is not easy.

(Aristotle, 384 – 322)

Second Monday in October

GEORGE BARANY AND MARTIN ABRESCH

George Barany is a Rockefeller alum (1977) currently on the Chemistry faculty of the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities. Martin Abresch is a graduate of the University of Wyoming, currently living in Seattle, and this is his first published puzzle.  For more information, including a link to the answer, visit here. More Barany and Friends crosswords can be found here.

Across
1. Name hidden by Hirschfeldcolumbusdaynaturalselectionscpuzzle
5. Piece of Gail Collins’ mind
9. Candy launcher?
13. Like jelly beans
14. Nice old man?
15. Ballerina Tallchief
16. Thorpe and Alexie, for two, and peoples honored by California and South Dakota with an October holiday
19. Pushkin dandy who kills his friend in a duel
20. His final game in pinstripes marked the only time during the 2016 season that he played 3rd base
21. Mid-sized?
22. Winter time in NYC
24. Symbol for viscosity or index of refraction
25. They’re gained by RBs, WRs, and TEs
26. Beauty, it’s said
31. Mighty companion
33. Perfect
34. It’s spun about
36. Attic, perhaps, to bats
39. Long-time host of “Scientific American Frontiers”
40. Nick name?
42. No-win situation
43. Nation formed from a successful slave revolt
45. “Quit it!”
46. Site of Nobel Peace Center
47. Sonorous disc
49. Some Rio 2016 competitors in sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball
51. West who said “I used to be Snow White, but I drifted”
53. ___ Jones
55. Word before diem or capita
56. Coffee vessel
57. Largest dwarf planet in the solar system
59. One who will stop watching … after just one more episode
64. 18-Down’s first book … and a possible wish for the name of an October holiday
67. Astronaut getup
68. Place for lovers?
69. Absolute ___ (temperature at which all molecular motion ceases)
70. Rural agreement
71. Scott in an 1857 case
72. Fr. holy women

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