Fighting Fatigue

Emma Garst

Sometime in the last ten years, Jess got a tick bite. Maybe it was at our local park, where we would sometimes have picnics and watch the deer stroll by. Maybe it was that time we spent a night in Big Sur, our lopsided tent parked on a thicket of brambles. Maybe it was at Point Reyes, when she waded into a field of perfect golden grass for a picture. In the picture her hands are raised up in a classic Facebook “yay!” position, her face lit-up in a happy cackle. The grass tickles just under her armpits. It would be years before she looked on these forays into nature with any scrutiny. In the meantime, she became a scientist.

Jess knew at an early age what a scientist looks like. Her parents, first generation Jamaican and Guyanese immigrants, met at MIT, and they tried to instill a love for science in their children. “People ask me if I felt pressured into science–but I actually feel grateful to my parents for making it a very clear option.” She smiles across the kitchen table where we are whiling away a morning. “Sometimes it amazes me that anyone can get into science because it’s so intimidating. There’s this very specific idea of what it looks like to be a scientist, what it is to be a scientist.”

Making good use of our proximity to Stanford, in high school she began working in a lab that uses fly genetics to study how the brain develops. She learned how to mate flies and how to pull out their brains under a dissecting microscope. But the real impetus for her interest in neuroscience came from the community around her. “We were all super sleep-deprived, even in ninth grade. I just saw how it was affecting people.”  Our high school was known for its high achieving students, but it was also known for less happy things – anxiety, depression, suicides. “I was curious why teenagers were like this – I knew the one thing that really defined us as teenagers in Palo Alto is that we were all sleep-deprived.”

Jess continued her studies in neuroscience at Princeton. She developed tools that allowed researchers to image neural circuits, making beautiful tangles of color. She also learned how to traverse the rarified world of Ivy League science as a black woman. “In many spaces, it’s not a priori obvious you should be there,” she explains. “You have to project confidence and a sense of purpose. … I’ve sort of developed that ability to always seem like I know what I’m doing.”

Throughout, she planned to use her training to study sleep. Jess is interested in sleep on a molecular level, and how sleep and psychiatric disorders are linked. However, in her sophomore year of college she started feeling fatigued. She would be worn out, like she was recovering from a cold, and wake up every morning with a headache. When she went to the doctor, he checked her for mono. When that came back negative, he told her to sleep more. She was a college student after all.

Despite the seemingly close relationship between sleep and fatigue, these processes affect each other in complicated ways. Muddling the matter is how we use fatigue interchangeably with tiredness and sleepiness in our everyday language. These symptoms can be caused by lifestyle or sleep disorders – someone who fights strong bouts of sleepiness throughout the day might need more sleep, or they might be narcoleptic. Someone who feels persistently weak, dizzy, and listless (signs of fatigue) might need more sleep, or they might be an insomniac. Beyond sleep disorders, both sleepiness and fatigue can be caused by acute infection (think flu) and chronic immune dysfunction (think lupus). As a symptom, fatigue can be crippling. As a tool for diagnosis, it is practically useless.

During Jess’s first year as a neuroscience graduate student at Harvard, her symptoms of fatigue started to get out of hand. It began to affect her work as a scientist. “[That] was the first time I consistently had moments when I looked at people, and they were disappointed in me,” she recalled. “That experience was scary.” After a year of rotations, Jess went on medical leave. She didn’t know what was wrong with her, and her health was going downhill. “It feels like you’re on a 21 speed bike but you’re stuck in first gear,” she explains. “You can go places, but there’s no way to work up momentum.” She thought medicine just might not have a solution.

Then in 2017, one of her doctors suggested she be tested for B. miyamotoi, a tick-borne pathogen recently discovered in the United States. B. miyamotoi is closely related to the bacteria which causes Lyme disease – but unlike Lyme, an infection is unlikely to cause a tell-tail bulls-eye rash around the tick bite. The Centers for Disease Control report fewer than 60 documented cases of B. miyamotoi in the United States.

Jess had it.

After a course of horse pill sized antibiotics, there are no more bacteria circulating in Jess’s blood–yet her fatigue persists. Since the apparent root cause of her sickness has been cured, Jess is in some ways back to square one. She has that nebulous diagnosis, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, a condition without a cause. Nevertheless, she is heading back to graduate school. “You know, I’m coming back from medical leave but I’m not actually better. I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing. No one has answers for that.”

“Right now I’m trying not to be in my scared place.”

The Elusive Egg Cream

Aileen Marshall

A New York Egg Cream. Photo Courtesy of Jason Perlow, Wiki Commons.

Egg Cream Components: Fox’s U-Bet, Seltzer and Whole Milk. Photo courtesy of Jason Perlow, Wiki Commons.

How many of you have heard of an egg cream? Do you know what it is? Have you ever had one? If you are of a certain age and from the metropolitan area, you probably remember this beverage fondly. An egg cream is one of those disappearing iconic New York City foods. Lou Reed even wrote a song about it. “You scream, I steam, We all want Egg Cream.” Ironically, it has neither eggs nor cream. It is simply milk, chocolate syrup, and seltzer. While that combination may not sound appetizing, if made right, it can be delicious.

Until the mid-twentieth century, combination candy store and luncheonettes were common in the city. These were the type of establishments where there were registers up front that sold candies, cigarettes, and newspapers. In the back was a lunch counter and maybe some tables where one could get sandwiches, burgers, fountain sodas, and ice creams. This was the kind of place where you would go for treats such as an egg cream, an ice cream soda, or a malt. In those days, it was common to make the soda by mixing the syrup with seltzer from a tap.

It is not clear exactly where the egg cream was invented. The most popular attribution is to a Brooklyn candy shop owned by Louis Auster in the 1890s. It is said he sold as many as 3,000 egg creams a day. Auster made his own chocolate syrup in batches in the basement. His egg creams were so popular that a large ice cream manufacturer offered to buy the rights to his syrup recipe. He felt the sum was too small, so he turned them down. When an executive from the ice cream company heard of Auster’s refusal, he called him an anti-Semitic slur. Auster was incensed and vowed to take his secret formula to the grave. It is said that Auster’s grandson made the last batch of his chocolate syrup in 1974.

The competing claim to the egg cream’s origin is that it started on the Lower East Side in the 1920s. This candy store’s owner, a man named Hymie Bell, liked to add vanilla ice cream to chocolate soda. From there he got the idea to make a drink with cream, chocolate syrup, seltzer, and eggs. Competing stores quickly copied this drink, but removed the eggs to make it cheaper.

Bell’s concoction is one hypothesis as to how the egg cream got its name. Others say it came from a man named Boris Thomashevsky, who was an actor in the 1880s. After returning home to New York from a tour in Paris, he asked soda fountain clerks to make a drink he had there, “chocolat et crème.” Possibly “et crème” sounded like “egg cream” to American ears. Another postulate is that Yiddish speakers would refer to the drink as “echt keem,” which means “pure sweetness.” This phrase got anglicized into “egg cream.”

The decline of luncheonette style eateries and drinks like the egg cream started in the 1960s. With the growth of mass produced sodas, there was less demand for soda fountains. Egg creams are difficult to bottle or can. The syrup tends to settle on the bottom and the bubbles dissipate. This drink is best when freshly made.

Egg creams are traditionally made in a small, preferably chilled Coke-style glass. Whole milk is needed to get enough creaminess. There is debate as to whether one should mix in the syrup or the seltzer after the milk. Adding the seltzer first will result in a white head; the syrup first method leaves a brown head on the drink. Some devotees insist it should be Fox’s U-Bet Chocolate Syrup in an egg cream. Fox’s was invented in Brooklyn in the early 1900s. What makes Fox’s syrup stand out to aficionados is the lactic edge from the milk powder in the syrup. It’s best to add the seltzer from a pump to help the frothiness, but you can also whip it up by hand. However you make it, you want to strive for a balance between creaminess, sweetness, and bubbles. Here is a simple recipe from Serious Eats:

2 tablespoons Fox’s U-Bet chocolate syrup

1 1/2 ounces whole milk

3/4 cup seltzer

In a tall glass, add chocolate syrup and milk. Tilt the glass slightly and pour (or spritz) the seltzer off your stirring spoon until you have a nice foamy head that’s nearing the top of the glass. Stir vigorously to mix the chocolate in and serve immediately.

If you don’t want to try to make one yourself, there are still places in the city where you can order an egg cream, such as the Times Square outpost of the famous Brooklyn eatery, Junior’s, or Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop on Fifth Avenue at 23rd Street. Another famous location for egg creams is Ray’s Candy Store on Avenue A, near 7th Street. In the outer boroughs, you can find the retro Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain in Carroll Gardens, the famous Eddie’s Sweet Shop in Forest Hills, on Metropolitan Avenue, near 71st Avenue. Queen’s also holds the last location of Jahn’s, the well-known ice cream parlor, in Jackson Heights on 37th Avenue at 81st Street. The price for an egg cream at these locations varies from $2 to $7. Keep an eye out the next time you are in a city diner or deli and see if they have an egg cream listed under beverages.

An egg cream is a traditional NYC treat. I would highly recommend rewarding yourself with one sometime after a hard day’s work.

Culture Corner

A Garden of Sports and Musical Delights

Bernie Langs

The period of the mid- to late- 1960s and early 1970s in America was the greatest window in history to experience childhood and adolescence. The whole world had the opportunity to enjoy the fantastic and exciting revolutionary developments in the arts at that time. A new creative sensibility and awakening was flowing out like fine wine as we took in the music of The Beatles and other pop and rock-and-roll groups; heard sounds in jazz from Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, and Freddie Hubbard; and listened to Leonard Bernstein as an international conductor demanding that his audiences give twentieth century atonal classical pieces the respect he passionately believed they deserved. Film directors such as Truffaut, Kubrick, Hitchcock, and many others churned out thoughtful masterworks, and television expanded its comedic and dramatic programing for the better.

Stateside, if one adds the element of sports, those of us growing up in the Tri-State area were doubly blessed with a Golden Age of baseball, football, and basketball championships. In addition, several legendary players graced the roster of the New York Rangers hockey team. It was my great fortune that from late childhood to my teen years, I was able to enjoy the best of sports and music because of my frequent visits with family and friends to Madison Square Garden in Manhattan. I also saw games at Shea Stadium, where I witnessed the New York Mets rise to a World Series victory, and I watched the Jets from field level seats win a playoff game against the Oakland Raiders, which brought them to the Super Bowl. I visited Yankee Stadium where I enjoyed seeing Whitey Ford pitch and attended a game where Tom Tresh hit three homeruns, one landing smack into the baseball glove of a lucky fan just rows away from my seat. When Nassau Coliseum opened in 1972, my father got tickets for us to see the Islander hockey team and my brother bought us tickets there for my first concert in the mid-1970s featuring Bob Dylan and The Band.

These places all had their appeal, but there was nothing like the magic of being inside Madison Square Garden when the New York Knicks were locked in battle against their rivals or as the Rangers furiously skated around the ice. In music, nothing could compare to when the Rolling Stones and other mega-groups bounced around onstage in passionate performances at the venue.

My earliest Garden memories are of attending afternoon Rangers games with my father, brother, and sister. Since the games were replayed in the evenings on television in the 1960s, we would stroll  by the announcers interviewing players between periods of action and later see ourselves on our fuzzy, black-and-white television at home. We went as a family to the final hockey game at the “old” Madison Square Garden in 1968, and I recall that the friend I brought returned from the restroom with a wooden sign in his hands reading “Men’s Room” and rationalized his vandalism as his chance to procure a vital piece of sports history. Seeing players such as Rod Gilbert and the talented goalie Eddie Giacomin are still among the happiest of my early memories. In addition, as a teenager I went to a Rangers’ game and sat with my father and his friend, the well-known retired NHL referee who made a name for himself as a TV hockey announcer, Bill Chadwick, known as “The Big Whistle.” I beamed in joy as Rangers fans casually greeted him with smiles and handshakes all evening.

We were fortunate at that time to witness the greatest basketball team that the New York Knicks ever assembled, featuring talented stars such as Walt Frazier, Dave DeBusschere, Willis Reed, Bill Bradley, and Earl Monroe. These gentlemen played as a unit and brought intelligence, grace and sportsmanship to the court. I went with a friend in the early 1970s to a game where future Los Angeles Lakers’ coaching genius Phil Jackson went to the free throw line for the Knicks towards the final moments of the game, a shot which would determine the outcome of the contest. The ball hit the front of the basket’s rim, bounced backwards to the backboard, and we collectively gasped as it fell through the hoop. The crowd erupted in a wave of sound so loud it was as if we were standing next to the engine of a jet plane. It was a unique moment of euphoria that only the sharing of a live sports contest can elicit.

The first concert I attended at the Garden was by the rock band, The Who, in 1974. My friends and I were huge fans, but being in high school out in the suburbs prevented us from going to the New York box office at the Garden the day tickets were on sale. A friend called his father in Manhattan where he was working at his business in the Garment District near the Garden on 7th Avenue. His dad waited a couple of hours outside in a line for the tickets with hundreds of young people, and he got us the coveted seats. The Who gave a great show in 1974 at the Garden, playing hits from their 1960s and early 1970s repertoire. A few months later, we again enlisted this wonderful man to do the same for The Rolling Stones. That afternoon, a teenager in queue marveled to his friend that the line for tickets was huge and around the block. My friend’s dad turned to them and to their surprise said, “This is nothing! You should have seen how long the line was for The Who!”

When we trekked a few months later to the Garden to see The Stones, the stage was custom-designed for the band’s New York dates. As we heard the opening guitar chords of Honky Tonk Women, a huge, tightly-shut, silver “flower” opened to reveal the band that had been hidden inside of it, with lead singer Mick Jagger riding atop one leaf as it descended. Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards often tell interviewers that they truly love playing the Garden and how special the energy is in the arena.

I understand how lucky I was to have had many opportunities for such pure and positive experiences in the late 1960s and early 1970s at live sporting and music events. It makes me think of Mick Jagger crying out onstage between songs: “Madison Square Garden – Top of the World!”

Pets of Tri-I

Pooja Viswanathan

For this issue, Natural Selections interviews House and Kima, the forever kittens who live with me (Freiwald lab, the Rockefeller University), and sometimes, with my partner, Scott Rennie.

Pooja Viswanathan: How old are you? In human years?

Kima: We don’t know exactly, but the humans guess about 1 in human years. In cat years, we are teenagers.

 PV: What are the names we gave you?

House: My name is Gregory Mouser House, MD. I was named after a very important and smart doctor that I remind my humans of.

K: My name is Kima Lima Greggs. I was named after a fictional character in the Wire, a TV show my humans like.

 PV: What is your first memory?

H: I wasn’t feeling well, I was very sick. The humans who found me looked very concerned, but they were talking about youth in Asia.

K: I remember a shop window and humans brought me inside that shop. You told me it was the Petco at Lexington and 86th.

PV: Do you remember when we first met?

H: We met on a Saturday afternoon. I was sleepy, but I was also hungry, so I was falling asleep with my head buried in the food bowl. Scott decided right away that I was going to be your kitten.

K: I was meowing with my older cat friends in my foster home when you and Scott came to visit. You had already decided to adopt me, so I knew you wouldn’t mind me pooping in front of you.

PV: What did you think of each other when you first met?

H: I thought she was a great playmate to have in my apartment. We wanted to play together instantly.

K: Hated him. Maybe you don’t remember, but he used to be smelly, and acted like he owned the place.

PV: Where do you live?

K: We live with you! In Scholar’s residence. Sometimes we live in Philadelphia with Scott. Scott is a postdoc at UPenn.

PV: If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would you live?

K: Anywhere that both of our humans could live together. With any other animals we might grow to tolerate.

H: Where there are lots of things to hunt.

PV: What are your favorite foods?

K: House will try anything once, even things that never moved like carrots or avocadoes.

H: Kima’s favorite food is whatever’s on my dish. She hates tuna though. Don’t try to give her tuna.

PV: What is your favorite weekend activity?

H: I like to chase Kima around.

K: I like quiet time to myself.

PV: Besides us, who is your favorite human in the Tri-I community?

K: Natalie is very sweet. She lives with us and feeds us when you’re gone.

H: Natalie, Sofia, Tara, Margie, Liz, Vero, Madi, and Ceren are a few I can think of right away.

PV: Do you have a funny story to share with us?

H: One time we went somewhere and came back with cones around our heads. It was fun to try to get them off. Kima looked so funny.

K: That wasn’t funny at all. You know what’s funny? Every time the humans flush the toilet, House thinks it’s a great big monster. He runs to the farthest corner of the apartment.

PV: Is there some way others can see more pictures of you online?

K: Yes, you have an Instagram account @majorpooper where you upload pictures and videos of us.

PV: If you could have any human ability, what would it be?

H: I have all human abilities.

K: I wish I could close the door on House whenever I wanted.

Natural Expressions


Come see Amy Huang and Lilian Nogueira of the Nussenzweig Laboratory on Wednesday, July 10th as they perform an arial lyra act in “Summer Heat: A Single Point Aerial Dance Co. Showcase.” The performance will be held at The Slipper Room on the Lower East Side with doors at 7 p.m. and the show beginning at 8 p.m. (21+). Tickets can be purchased for $25 online.


Join Megan E. Kelley of the Kapoor Laboratory at “The 5th Annual CCD Block Party” art show and music festival in Coney Island where she will be displaying her artwork. The Block Party features work by artists who have reimagined album covers as well as live music. This free event takes place Saturday, July 13th from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the Coney Island Brewery (1904 Surf Avenue, Brooklyn).


This month, Bernie Langs from The Rockefeller University Development Office announces the release of his song “Armoured Heart.” This newly recorded pop song was composed and performed by Bernie with nods to “For No One” by Lennon/McCartney. Check out the release on SoundCloud.


Email Megan E. Kelley at to submit your art/music/performance/sporting/other event for next month’s “Natural Expressions” and follow @NatSelections on Twitter for more events.

Life on a Roll

Bernie Langs

“The Lady and the Unicorn” tapestries are exhibited in Paris in the Musée de Cluny, also known as Musée du Moyen Âge–Thermes et hôtel de Cluny. The museum’s building, now undergoing a comprehensive renovation, served as a residence for the Abbots of Cluny and is the oldest surviving Parisian and Gothic-style townhouse. Dating back to the fourteenth century, it incorporates ancient Roman remains that are now part of the museum’s lowest level. The sumptuous and stunning Unicorn tapestries reduced tourists from around the globe to a hushed state of awe the day I visited in March of this year. The six intricate tapestries were woven around 1500 in Flanders from designs drawn in Paris and are recognized as masterpieces of the late Middle Ages.


Elodie Pauwels

The red walls of the Alhambra overhang Granada, Spain and hide several Nasrid-style palaces. This is the place Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile agreed to fund one of Christopher Columbus’ voyages at the end of the fifteenth century. A vivid description of life in and near the palace is offered by Washington Irving in his Tales of the Alhambra–a nice summertime read!

Graduating Class 2019

Sarah Baker

On June 13, 2019, The Rockefeller University will add thirty new alumni to its community, each with a freshly obtained Ph.D. The road to a Ph.D. is not an easy one and requires a combination of hard work, resilience, creativity, motivation, and probably some luck. Some of the graduating class have moved on to new jobs or postdocs elsewhere, whereas others are continuing their work at Rockefeller. This month, the Natural Selections editorial board honors them for their determination and accomplishments. Congrats to our new doctors!

Intimately tied to my time at Rockefeller are my greatest accomplishments, my deepest disappointments, and my fondest friendships—it’s been a ride I feel fortunate to have taken. – Annie Handler


RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars, Season 2, Episode 1, 52:10 – Robert Heler


I knew I would get to indulge in creative and exciting science during my time here, but I’m equally grateful for the time I had to enjoy so much of what NYC has to offer from brunch to Broadway and new best friends. – Melissa Jarmel


Rockefeller is the best! – Kouki Touhara


I didn’t realize how strong people’s feelings could be about free cookies. –Anonymous Graduate


Gender Harassment in Science: Instances of Everyday Harm

Emma Garst

*Identifying details have been changed to protect privacy.

When I met her, Laura* was the sort of postdoc who exuded professorial confidence. She was charismatic, a good writer and speaker, and an excellent experimentalist. Our professor sang her praises. Why shouldn’t he? She was talented and motivated.

Some lab members started joking that our professor was “clearly in love with her.” The joke spread; it was an easy way to release tension in a very competitive work environment.  I thought Laura was laughing along with everyone else, but when this ribbing continued for a couple of months, Laura turned to me in frustration and asked, “Can’t I just be good at my job?”

In 2018, the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) released a study on sexual harassment in the academic sciences entitled “Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.” The report reveals the shocking extent of gender-based harassment in the academic workplace.

Between 20-50% of female students in science, engineering, and medicine report experiencing sexual harassment. This number jumps to over fifty percent for women at the faculty level. The report further breaks down high-risk populations—women of color and LGBTQ+ individuals are more likely to experience harassment than white, heterosexual women.

In total this means that, excluding the military, women in academia are harassed at higher levels than in any other sector of society.

Harassment is not just unwanted sexual attention or sexual assault; it can be a culture of belittling comments or raunchy jokes. The most prevalent but most misunderstood form of sexual harassment is gender harassment. Gender harassment is described as “verbal and nonverbal behaviors that convey hostility, objectification, exclusion, or second-class status about members of one gender.” When I spoke with Kate Clancy, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois and co-author of the 2018 NASEM report, she had a more snappy way of putting it: “we call [gender harassment] the put-downs of sexual harassment, whereas unwanted sexual advances and sexual coercion are the come-ons.”

These put-downs are all around us—they’re insidious and difficult to articulate because they are so thoroughly normalized in our culture. The women who experience gender harassment and choose to speak up about it are labeled as “sensitive” and over-reactive. But gender harassment is sexual harassment. It is, in fact, the primary form of sexual harassment.

The NASEM report found that women are leaving science due to sexual harassment, and that jokes can be just as harmful to a woman’s career as more violent forms of harassment. The negative effects of gender harassment extend beyond the subject to witnesses, labs, and entire institutions. As the National Academies’ report states, “the net result of sexual harassment is therefore a loss of talent, which can be costly to organizations and to science.”

But why is gender harassment so damaging? “For most people [an unwanted sexual advance] is a rare event. I think for a lot of folks it’s easier to externalize it and say, wow, this guy is just…trying to date me or trying to make me feel bad,” says Clancy. “Whereas put downs are really easy to internalize because one, we don’t recognize them as harassment and two, they often end up making you feel like the problem is you.”

Gender harassment can be even more difficult to spot as a bystander. This was the case with Laura’s harassment—I absolutely laughed along with the group. Despite going to a women’s college, despite considering myself a “Good Feminist,” I didn’t even see what I was contributing to until Laura told me. I hadn’t considered the implications of the “joke” —that she hadn’t earned her praise, that she had been singled out as a favorite not because of her skill but because our principal investigator might be attracted to her.

In a way, Laura’s harassment was textbook—the harassment was coming from her peers (80% of gender harassment does). It was not a one-off joke, but instead lasted for a period of months (which, again, is common). And she didn’t feel there was a way to address the harassment, either through direct confrontation or an institutional route.

So what is it about academia that makes it so toxic for women and damaging to their careers?

One major factor is a culture of male dominance. This is easiest to understand in fields such as engineering and physics, where men vastly outnumber women. However in the biomedical sciences, where women have been earning more Ph.D.s than men for many years, the concept is more nuanced. Male domination in these fields refers to the fact that men generally hold higher positions than women, and that the field has historically been male.

Academia is also hierarchical. Institutions with a strong hierarchical power structure are more likely to foster sexual harassment. This is especially true when power is concentrated in a few individuals (for example, “superstar” professors), and those who report feel that revealing harassment will have lasting effects on their careers. The nature of our system causes students to rely heavily on the full-throated endorsement of their mentors—which leaves them little to no recourse if they wish to report inappropriate behavior.

The truth is academic science is highly competitive. People can be cruel to each other in all sorts of ways, due to professional jealousy, ambition, or just general stress. Everyone has an anecdote about being humiliated at lab meeting, or getting back an eviscerating review on a paper. Everyone has experienced some incivilities (officially defined as, “low-intensity deviant behavior with ambiguous intent to harm the target”).

Part of this is the broader culture of academia. “We tend to equate treating people like crap with being rigorous researchers,” Clancy points out. However, these incivilities are not evenly distributed; “There’s ample research that now shows, even though incivilities don’t seem to be gendered, they are actually quite gendered and racialized.…The folks that experience them most are typically women of color followed by white women, then men of color and white men,” Clancy says. Given that women and people of color also have their gender or race routinely used against them, it’s no wonder academia has a climate problem.

In the end, organizational climate is by far the best predictor of sexual harassment. Harassment flourishes where people who report it are perceived to take on risk, where there are no sanctions against perpetrators, and where reporters’ experiences are not taken seriously by their peers or institutions.

Sure, individuals harass. But that is a learned behavior that grows out of a culture of perceived ambivalence. Frequently an institution’s priority is “symbolic compliance,” which focuses on protecting the institution and avoiding liability, instead of ensuring the safety of its employees.

Any institution serious about the success of the women it hires must take decisive action to stamp out the toxic culture that dominates the scientific workplace. Without a concerted effort to reform the workplace, gender equality will always be a fantasy for the academic sciences.

It’s the accumulation of harassment over many years that causes lasting damage to women in science. I truly think that every one of Laura’s experimental successes was, at some point or another, reduced to “because he’s in love with you.” In a job that contains so much day-to-day failure, how horrible is it to take away the successes as well?

When Laura and I talked recently, she brought up one of the earliest, most formative experiences of her scientific career. She was a technician, straight out of college, and had gone to her professor to propose some experiments.

“Woah, watch out,” he said. “Girl scientist on the loose.”

Of course this affected the way she presents herself. Of course this caused her to think about how she is perceived by the scientific community. It was a joke. And it stuck with her.

In the end I moved on from the lab where I met Laura. She moved on too— out of science entirely.

I am a graduate student now. Recently, I received a small bit of positive feedback from someone I consider to be a mentor. Elated, I flounced into lab and showed the first person I ran into.

My labmate read it, and laughed, “he should have just asked for your number.”

Pets of Tri-I

Pooja Viswanathan

For this issue, Natural Selections interviews Fifi, the young cat who lives with first year graduate students here at The Rockefeller University, Sarah Cai, Lindsey Lopes, and Kathryn Eckartt. Fifi is extremely sweet and playful and I enjoyed our meeting. Please contact me if you have sweet, little nonhumans living with you. I’d love to meet them.

Pooja Viswanathan: How old are you? In human years?

Fifi: I turn one on June 14th! That makes me a teenager in human years, which my moms say makes sense because of my sometimes naughty behavior.

 PV: Is there a story behind your name?

F: The shelter that I was adopted from named me Fifi and the name stuck!

PV: What is your first memory?

F: I don’t remember a lot from when I was a baby, but the people at the shelter said that I was found as a stray in NYC when I was six weeks old, and some nice person brought me to the shelter.

PV: Who are your moms? When did you first meet them?

F: My moms are Sarah Cai, Lindsey Lopes, and Kathryn Eckartt. They adopted me last October. I met them while I was hanging out with a bunch of my kitten friends at the shelter, and it was love at first sight.

PV: How do they belong to the Tri-I community?

F: They are all first year graduate students at The Rockefeller University. Sarah just joined Titia de Lange’s lab, Kathryn is in Jeremy Rock’s lab, and Lindsey is still rotating.

PV: Where do you live?

F: I live in Faculty House. I don’t really know what that means, but I like to look out the window at all the cars on the FDR and York Avenue.

 PV: If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would you live?

F: Hmm, I’m a city cat, but I definitely wish that I could go outside! Maybe somewhere with a big yard and lots of birds to look at.

PV: What are your favorite foods?

F: I love snacks. Some of my favorites are cat treats, chicken, and black beans…but I’ll definitely try anything if you leave your plate unattended! Except veggies. I don’t like veggies.

PV: What is your favorite weekend activity?

F: What are weekends? Is that when the humans are home more? I like to hang out in my moms’ rooms and knock over things on their desks, dressers, or any flat surface. I also like to nap in the sun.

PV: Besides your moms, who is your favorite human in the Tri-I community?

F: I like pretty much everyone that I meet, especially if they give me snacks!

PV: Do you have a funny story to share with us?

F: Sometimes Lindsey dog-sits and one time I decided that I wanted to try out some dog food, so I jumped onto the bookshelf where the dog’s food was and knocked over the whole bag. I made a hole in the bag with my teeth so I could eat the food…dog food is yummy!

PV: Is there some way we can see more pictures of you on the interwebs?

F: Yes! Check out my Instagram @fifi_the_kitten.jpg

PV: If you could have any human ability, what would it be?

F: I would love it if I had opposable thumbs because then I could get into all the treat jars! My moms had to stop leaving treats out in plastic bags because I would chew through the plastic to get more treats when they weren’t looking.

The 73rd Annual Tony Awards

Melissa Jarmel

The 73rd annual Tony Awards will broadcast live on June 9th at 8 p.m. ET on CBS. James Corden is returning to host the show, so I expect the opening number this year will be as smart and delightful as his last. The full list of Tony nominations can be found here, but I wanted to highlight some of the new shows appearing on Broadway this year.

Aaron Sorkin wrote a play based on Harper Lee’s novel To Kill A Mockingbird that is currently being performed at the Shubert Theatre. This classic American story explores race and class in the South in the 1930s. If you’ve been a fan of Sorkin’s snappy dialogue and skillful rhetoric, you’d be remiss to skip out on this production even though it did not receive a Tony nomination for Best Play. This was a strong year for new plays on Broadway so it’s possible that a strange split vote resulted in this oversight, or rumor has it that it might have been an intentional snub due to the lawsuits that the production has been involved with that led to the shut-down of some community theatre productions. However, this production still accrued nine deserved nominations in other categories.

My favorite to win Best Play this year is The Ferryman, which transferred to the Jacobs Theatre from London last year. Jez Butterworth’s epic drama centers around the fictional Carney family in Northern Ireland. While exploring the often-complicated dynamics of family, Butterworth also weaves a compelling narrative about how the past traumas of a country can strangle a family’s progress for decades to come. It’s worth brushing up on 20th century Irish history before seeing this play to catch the meaning of references to historical events the characters discuss, but the interpersonal dynamics at play are also absorbing enough outside of the context of history. I didn’t check my watch once during this 3 hour 15 minute production (though there is an intermission).

I would also highly recommend Heidi Schreck’s What the Constitution Means to Me, which was a finalist for this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Drama. This play was inspired by her experiences as a teenager giving speeches about the U.S. Constitution for scholarship money. Heidi Schreck also stars in this play that explores how her understanding of the Constitution has evolved over time and the impact the Constitution has had on women’s bodies in America. Schreck does not shy away from talking about the specific traumas women in America have experienced as a result of past and current legislation, so a trigger warning is necessary.

Hadestown is the favorite to win Best Musical this year, but this is the only new musical nominated that I have yet to see so I don’t have a personal recommendation. However, I’ve heard great things about this musical adaptation of a folk opera concept album by Anaïs Mitchell that reimagines the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Ticket prices have recently soared for this show upon receiving positive reviews and Tony nominations, but they do offer a general rush and digital lottery.

All of the other nominees for Best Musical offer nostalgia or feel-good vibes, which may be reflective of what Broadway-goers need from art in today’s climate. Ain’t Too Proud—The Life and Times of the Temptations is primarily a jukebox musical that will have Temptations fans dancing in their seats, but the book is also deftly written to brilliantly convey the group dynamics at play during Motown’s heyday. Beetlejuice genuinely surprised and delighted me as someone who was not a fan of the movie. It’s very self-aware with a stunning set design, catchy music, and energetic acting from start to finish. I’d go see it again. I also still recommend seeing The Prom. But I hesitate to recommend Tootsie, a new musical comedy based on the movie from 1982. While I was laughing throughout this high-energy show with well-placed one-liners and brilliant acting, there was a part of me that was cringing and has cringed more as I’ve had time to process what I watched. For those not familiar with the story-line, a white, cis male who has a hard time finding work disguises himself as a female to get a job and drama ensues. The play seemingly acknowledges the problematic nature of this storyline throughout the show, but the tone in which the character presses on and faces minimal consequences lands a bit deaf. I guess I just don’t understand why we need another story right now about a white, cis male who pushes others around in order to get what he wants to only later justify it all in a self-congratulatory learning lesson for something everyone else has known for a while. But there were a lot of good jokes? Anyway, I think all of these productions will put on a good show for the Tony Awards so tune in on June 9th!

Natural Expressions


Santa Maria Pecoraro Di Vittorio of the Rice laboratory at Rockefeller will be performing as a violist with the Chamber Orchestra of New York directed by Salvatore Di Vittorio at three events this month:

On June 6th at 7:30 p.m., the orchestra will perform Mozart’s Flute Concerto No. 2, Il Sogno del Cielo, and Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall. The evening will include the work of two Resphighi Prize winners—flutist Tommaso Benciolini and composer Andrea Montepaone. Tickets and more information can be found on the Carnegie Hall Web site, with tickets from $40-50 ($30 for students with ID) or 25% off with the discount code CNY29834.

On June 7th at 7:30 p.m., you can hear Santa Maria Pecoraro Di Vittorio and the orchestra perform works by Vaughan Williams at the Adelphi University Performing Arts Center in Garden City, Long Island. In addition to Williams’ Eighth Symphony and Piano Concerto, the orchestra will play John Barry’s “We Have All the Time in the World,” which James Bond fans will recognize from the movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Tickets are $35 ($15 for students with ID) and can be purchased online.

On June 27th at the Cary Hall at DiMenna Center for Classical Music, the Chamber Orchestra of New York will host a special event “Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Di Vittorio’s Venus,” celebrating the orchestra’s recent recordings of two albums for Naxos Records. The night will begin with a an open rehearsal, followed by a performance that will include the work of Ottorino Respighi. The evening’s concert will be recorded and be followed post-concert reception with the performers, co-sponsored in part by Marchesi Antinori Wines and Antico Noe Panini of Florence. Tickets are $50 (21+) and can be purchased here.

Email Megan E. Kelley at to submit your art/music/performance/sporting/other event for next month’s “Natural Expressions” and follow @NatSelections on Twitter for more events.

Life on a Roll

Blue Lagoon

Elodie Pauwels

Turquoise blue waters! How could you not fall for this lagoon and surrounding islands near Kissamos in Crete, Greece? To enjoy the warm transparent waters and light sand of Balos Lagoon, you need to earn it: be prepared to reach the spot by boat or by foot, and cope with the absence of shade. Then you can spend hours drooling over countless shades of blue.

Resilience: Bouncing Back and Moving Forward

Emily Atlas


Sharon Milgram, Photo Courtesy of NIH OITE

“To become a successful scientist you must be resilient.” A phrase like this may sound familiar or perhaps even trite. Most would agree that the path to a Ph.D. (or M.D.) requires the ability to cope with failure and to regroup, restrategize, and reenergize after setbacks. However, is resilience a trait that can be learned? If so, how?

In mid-March, Sharon Milgram, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) gave a talk about “Becoming a Resilient Scientist.” The event was cosponsored by two organizations at Memorial Sloan Kettering: The Gerstner Sloan Kettering Women in Science and the Female Association for Clinicians, Educators and Scientists (FACES).

Milgram was an extremely engaging and entertaining lecturer who used her story-telling skills to impress upon the large audience of scientists and M.D.s the importance of self-reflection and subsequent intentional action to become more resilient. The graduate students introducing Milgram opened up the talk with a lighter mood, sharing that when Milgram had first applied to graduate school (with goals of becoming a professor of physical therapy), she was not accepted. When she applied again, she ended up enrolling in a cell biology program. Then, she had to take her qualifying exam twice (and delayed taking it the second time for fear of failing again). But now she has her own lab and leads the NIH OITE, a testament to the fact that failures or slow starts can be more than overcome.

Milgram began by asserting that we are all life-long learners, particularly as scientists, since we are often learning new techniques and working on new problems that require entering semi-uncharted (and often uncomfortable) territory. Milgram adapted a summary of the four stages of learning a new skill from management expert Ken Blanchard. When we first embark on learning something new, we are “enthusiastic beginners,” and generally have low competence but are very confident. We then move on to the “disillusioned learner” stage in which we are more competent, but lose confidence, perhaps because at this point, we are aware of how little we actually know. When we are at the disillusioned learner stage, we generally feel very uncomfortable. Here, it is key to be resilient and move forward in order to reach the stage Milgram called “cautious performer,” where our competence and confidence have both increased, and finally the stage of the “high achiever,” where we have mastered the skill at hand and hence are much more confident. As scientists, we are often cycling through these stages and it is key to remember that each stage is only temporary.

In order to keep moving forward when we are experiencing a time of low confidence, we have to acknowledge our emotions but not drown in them. Resilience is the ability to both adapt and grow through adversity. We must navigate through the obstacles with both “intention and skill.” Milgram emphasized that resilience can be learned, but only if we are willing to reflect on how we currently deal with adversity.

We need to learn to be resilient at a time when we aren’t facing major challenges, so that in the face of adversity we are prepared to tackle roadblocks. Milgram outlined a few steps we can take in order to become more resilient: First, we should try to learn from past experiences; journaling can be a good technique to reflect on times in which we have succeeded in moving forward and times we could have done better. Second, developing strong relationships with peers and mentors is key and helps to remember that we are part of a larger community; we are not in this alone. Third, it is crucial to use resources and be proactive. Every institution has resources available and we need to learn how to ask for help when we need it. In some cases, counseling is also an important resource for people to utilize. Finally, we should be thoughtful about how we approach setbacks in our lives and careers and become more mindful of the “self-talk,” often negative, that we engage in during times of setback.

Milgram then elaborated more on negative self-talk. Inspired by Marshall Rosenberg’s techniques of non-violent communication, Milgram asked us to imagine both jackals and giraffes (jackals conjuring up the image of vicious creatures, and giraffes, peaceful, graceful ones). After we fail at something, we often tell ourselves stories in “jackal” language, rather than “giraffe” language. Furthermore, the stories we tell ourselves are often far more negative than the situation warrants. We may experience cognitive distortions or automatic negative thoughts that make us feel hopeless. Our brain has a negativity bias, because being anxious and on high alert has evolutionary advantages, keeping us safe from danger. However, negativity can be harmful when we are not in danger, but are doing something new and uncomfortable.

Milgram delineated five types of negative self-talk, asking the audience to raise our hands if we identified with any of the five. The audience was filled with giggles at this time, as most people found themselves strongly identifying with at least one or two of the categories that Milgram described:

  1. All or nothing: We tell ourselves that if anything goes wrong, the whole endeavor was a failure.
  2. Catastrophizing: We exaggerate the implications of a failure and how it may affect a much bigger part of our lives or career.
  3. Mindreading: We make assumptions about what someone else is thinking (perhaps for example, after a conversation with a Principal Investigator). Milgram calls this a “special kind of fortune telling.”
  4. Minimizing: We downplay the importance of our accomplishments or positive qualities. This can also play into “imposter fears”—we tell ourselves “it was just luck.”
  5. Over-Generalization: We apply one negative event to others, assuming that because one thing went wrong, others will too.

To overcome these types of negative self-talk, the first step is to recognize and acknowledge them and then to talk back to them. Milgram suggests trying to think about our negative thoughts at a distance, thinking about how logical or scientific our fears and anxiety are, i.e., what evidence do we have to really back them up? Then, try to find inspiration from something positive, be it an affirmation, a phrase, even an image that strengthens you. Journaling and talking about our fears and anxieties is also very useful.

Pathway to resilience, Photo courtesy of American Psychological Association

The second part of Milgram’s talk focused on imposter fears, which are very common among students. People who fear failure, have perfectionist tendencies, and compare themselves to others are more likely to have imposter fears. External factors (such as messages from friends and family, or organizational culture) can also feed into imposter fears. Imposter fears are normal, but if unchecked they can seriously increase stress over the course of a career and ultimately result in self-sabotaging behavior, such as not applying for new opportunities or not studying. To overcome imposter fears, we need to normalize them by reminding ourselves that they are a common response to new situations, but we also need to find meaning in other aspects of our lives, so we are able to move forward and not let these fears hold us back. It is crucial to think about “what brings meaning to our days, months, years,” and ideally, we should find meaning in relationships or activities separate from our work; this helps us stay resilient. At this point Milgram addressed what she calls the “elephant in the room,” the fact that the culture in science and medicine doesn’t always value self-care, but she challenged us to fight against the culture and try to change it. At the end of her talk, Milgram summed it all up by reminding us that in order “to do well, we have to be well.”

Culture Corner

The Piero Tour in Italy

Bernie Langs


While familiarizing myself over the years with the pictures painted by the Masters of the Italian Renaissance, I have found that one artist stands out as singularly enigmatic in his body of work, Piero della Francesca (c.1415-1492). I have read various summaries about della Francesca in art history books and enjoyed Kenneth Clark’s detailed study where he analyzes how the artist’s few surviving works leave the viewer in a state of dumbstruck awe. I became deeply interested in the artist, after reading an essay by art historian Michael Baxandall which focuses on the visual tricks utilized by della Francesca in the “Resurrection” fresco and other ideas about its creator.

I first heard about “The Piero Tour” in early 2018 while vacationing in London. My wife and I had gone to see a performance of Oscar Wilde’s “An Ideal Husband” where we were glad to be among an audience mostly filled by natives of London or the United Kingdom, including to our delight the famous actor, Sir Ian McKellen. After the production, I spotted an impeccably dressed gentleman striding by holding the program booklet in his hand. I called out, “What did you think of the play?” initiating a twenty-five minute, robust discussion covering a wide range of cultural topics. When I mentioned the sublime collection of della Francesca’s major paintings I’d viewed that day at the National Gallery, the gentleman agreed that there is a mysterious quality to della Francesca like no other artist and he insisted that we must take The Piero Tour around Italy, centering on the city of Arezzo and surrounding smaller towns where the Master’s finest works are concentrated. In late 2018, my step-sister, Jen, was visiting New York from Milan with her Italian-born husband, Gui, and when I told them of our London conversation, Giu nodded and said, “Of course, The Piero Tour. I’ve done it and you have to go as well!”

Months later, I read a fascinating scholarly book by Professor Carlo Ginzburg who is currently teaching at University of California Los Angeles. In “The Enigma of Piero: Piero Della Francesca,” Professor Ginzburg combs through the historical record like an art history Sherlock Holmes to identify specific portraits embedded in della Fancesca’s frescoes and paintings and makes countless, detailed discoveries on the meanings of such masterpieces such as “The Flagellation,” which has defied narrative understanding for centuries. Professor Ginzburg also undertakes a complex deconstruction of the fresco cycle in Arezzo known as “The Legend of the True Cross.”

This March, my wife and I took a vacation in Italy, staying thirty minutes outside of Pisa in a quiet hillside area. We drove to Lucca, Siena, San Gimignano, and Pisa and enjoyed the art, food, and wine of Tuscany. When I had emailed Jen prior to the visit, she and Gui said they would meet us in Arezzo for a day trip, the plan being that they’d give us the truncated version of The Piero Tour.

Arriving in Arezzo on a brisk morning, the four of us made our way to the church of San Francesco to view della Francesca’s large set of frescoes, the above mentioned “Legend” cycle. The four of us stood in the uncrowded chapel space in awe, raising a pointed finger now and then to share the discovery of an unexpected detail. Most of our time in San Francesco was spent silently ingesting the power and beauty of this wonder of the world.

“The Legend” frescoes are a high point of Italian Renaissance art. The cycle is centered a thirteenth century tale of how the wood from the Garden of Eden was eventually used to construct the cross on which Christ was crucified. The Bacci family in Arezzo commissioned it in the mid-1440s and it was most likely completed in 1466. Scenes depicted in the upper registers include “The Queen of Sheba in Adoration of the Wood,” “The Meeting of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba,’ “The Death of Adam,” “Exaltation of the Cross,” “The Dream of Constantine,” and “Battle between Heraclius and Khosrau.” Professor Ginzburg’s book on della Francesca explains the meaning of these works, noting that the frescoes display events with Old Testament figures as well as those who lived in the pagan world at the rise of Christianity, such as Constantine the Great prior to his conversion to the new faith.  Ginzburg also describes how the Legend cycle depicts tensions, both religious and political, in the mid-fifteenth century Eastern and Western worlds of Europe and beyond, by pointing out in one example, that the portrait of Constantine the Great in the frescoes is none other than John VIII Palaiologos who served as the penultimate reigning Byzantine Emperor, ruling from 1425 to 1448. The emperor’s portrait is used to similar ends in della Francesca’s painting of “The Flagellation.” It is suggested by Ginzburg that those in the circle of della Francesca’s patrons knew and had met with Palaiologos.

Ginzburg explains why della Francesca chose certain real-life individuals for portraits strategically placed within the frescoes, discovering that these faces recur in other smaller paintings by the artist and with similar discrete intentions. But much of what I’d read slipped away from me while marveling at the art in San Francesco that morning. The beautiful colors of the landscape, garments, and skin tones are muted and reassuring, especially the blues and reds. Later in the day as we drove around the area, the cloud cover receded and the blue sky overhead taught me more about della Francesca’s eye and brushstrokes than anything one could read in a book. The sublime skies of his paintings singularly match those viewed in Arezzo.

The men and women depicted by della Francesca in “The Legend” frescoes exude an inner quality of delicate grace and refinement. As we continued through the day, I noticed this aspect in other paintings by him and many others of the region. Regardless of whether you buy into established Christianity or not, the paintings often teach a lesson on the finest qualities of mankind’s soul. Depictions of the so-called “higher” human attributes through the brush or by the chisel in statues, make them more than a fanciful display of the talent of an artist. This art acts to encourage us all to do better, be better people, and to think better of each other and our higher potential in life. Centuries-old divine attributes displayed by posed, static, artificially-created individuals, stories, or landscapes, can offer nothing short of essential life lessons that even my fellow hardened agnostics and atheists should gladly embrace, stripping away the religious context and retaining the best of the rest.

Leaving San Francesco, the four of us made our way to Arezzo’s cathedral, where Gui led us briskly down an aisle to stand before della Francesca’s more obscure fresco from 1460 depicting Saint Mary Magdalene. Mary’s garments are painted with simple, subtle tones, and her features, though individual, display della Francesca’s standard facial physiognomy, the broad nose, full lips, and heavy-lidded eyes, which may express anything from fatigue to resignation or perhaps a quiet inner state of enlightenment. “The Magdalene” was an overwhelming joy to behold and it felt very special to be in its presence in the magnificent cathedral.

We next drove to the Museo della Madonna del Parto located in the nearby town of Monterchi. della Francesca’s “Madonna del Parto” was most likely produced after 1457 and it only survives as a fragment. The fresco survived an earthquake in the late 1700s and has moved multiple times. The Museo has a nicely presented short film explaining the complex meaning of the work and gives detailed geometric graphics of how the master’s placement of the Madonna and two attending angels are set with mathematic precision. The “Madonna del Parto” is on view in the Museo as the only work in a small, white-walled room. It’s a beautiful painting of the pregnant Virgin, yet I was very much distracted by the modern setting. Much of its power and meaning was lost to me by not seeing in situ in a Gothic or Renaissance church among other surviving statues, frescoes, altar works, and paintings from the time period. I couldn’t make total sense of the art in its fragmented state, and could not coalesce an aesthetic or emotional reaction into some kind of whole.

We continued the tour by driving to the town of Borgo Santo Sepolcro (Sansepolcro), where della Francesca was born and where we later toured his unexpectedly large family home in the city. Sansepolcro was alive with Medieval and Renaissance reverberations all over its joyful streets. Two major works by the artist are on view at the Museo Civico de Sansepolcro, “The Polyptych of the Misericordia” and the extremely famous “Resurrection.” The oil painting of the former centers on the motif of the Virgin of Mercy. The Museo Civico is a more traditional museum than the one housing the “Madonna del Parto” and the “Misericordia” maintains an incredible power and force on viewing. After studying the painting for a long period, I suddenly recognized from Professor Ginzburg’s book the figure kneeling on the far left beneath the Madonna as della Francesca’s patron, Giovanni Bacci, who also commissioned with his family “The Legend” cycle in Arezzo. The mystery of della Francesca and his overwhelming power was stronger in the “Misericordia” than in any other we viewed that day. The central panel and its surrounding smaller pieces, as well as the predella (the smaller panels at the base of an altarpiece) and the tympanum (the pediment panel pictures above the main images) sweep deep to the mind’s interior defying translation into words or emotional adjectives.

“Resurrection” was painted in the 1460s for the city’s Town Hall, which is now the Museo Civico where it remains, though not in its original room. The detached fresco is displayed on a wall in a large space, which was undergoing renovation. It was the only work of art on view besides two small fragments that were reproductions of frescoes that are out on loan. I’d waited decades to see the “Resurrection” and although it was remarkable, once again, to view it in a white-walled space and not in a church or even with its artistic “family” of paintings in a museum, distorted my attempted meditation. In any case, it was incredible to actually see in person the well-known sleeping Roman soldiers, including a supposed self-portrait of the young della Francesca. The mysterious landscape background, half-alive in foliage and half-dead, is haunting. The image of Christ, climbing out of the sarcophagus in defiance of death elicited an odd reaction from me. Perhaps through a fault of memory of the reproductions in books, I had expected Christ to look fatigued and weak, but found his large body muscular in tone and in an almost inappropriate state of power given his recent trauma. I hope to return one day to the Museo to take more time studying this invaluable work of art.

During our visit, we took a detour to visit a small church built on the remains of the building where Saint Francis of Assisi retreated at times for meditation in the thirteenth century. The complex is embedded in the mountains of the area and in contrast to the countryside my wife and I had driven through during our stay near Pisa; with manicured, rolling hills speckled with graceful cypresses and other trees, this was a semi-wild, rolling forest and the view from the church revealed no other structures in sight. There were a couple of cars at the site, but we saw no other person inside or outside the tiny buildings. The view was spectacular, and out of nowhere we were joined by a friendly cat, who later accompanied us up the hill and back to our car. I joked that it was the ghost of the Saint, noting the irony that the man who had famously preached to the birds was now a feline.

After a relaxing dinner in Arezzo, we walked the dark streets towards the arches in the old walls leading to the car park. The wind and cold picked up and we were the only four people on the last cobblestone street lined with old stone buildings from the Middle Ages. Flags flying above rippled and crackled in the wind, and as we passed a sculpted display on the walls depicting the coats of arms of the old families of Arezzo, I mused that these statements of civic pride had stood there for hundreds of years and would be there for hundreds more. As my wife and I parted with hugs and smiles from our gracious guides, Jen and Gui, I was warmed by the idea that I’d had one of the best days of my life.

Piero della Francesca, “The Legend of the True Cross” (details), c. 1452-1466, Basilica of San Francesco, Arezzo

Piero della Francesca, Saint Mary Magdalene,1460, Duomo, Arezzo

Piero della Francesca, The Polyptych of the Misericordia (detail), c. 1460-1462, Museo Civico di Sansepolcro

Madonna del Parto (after 1457), detached fresco, Museo della Madonna del Parto, Monterchi

Piero della Francesco, Resurrection and detail of possible self-portrait of the artist, center, Museo Civico di Sansepolcro

Mountain retreat near Monterchi visited by Saint Francis in the 1200s with his “ghost” appearing as a friendly cat

Pets of Tri-I

Pooja Viswanathan


For this issue, Natural Selections interviews Malu, the dog who lives with Tiago Siebert Altavini (Gilbert Lab, The Rockefeller University) and Patricia Saletti. Malu speaks Portuguese and I only know 10 words of it, but her parents were willing and capable translators for our interview. I love animals, please write me at if you have pets!

Pooja Viswanathan: How old are you? In human years?

Malu: I’m 5, which in human years is about 36 years old.


PV: Is there a story behind your name?

M: Malu is actually short for Maria Luiza, which my parents only use when they are mad at me. That doesn’t happen often though.


PV: What is your first memory?

M: I’ll never forget the day I met my best friend, Nina. She lives with my grandparents and we spent much of our childhood together. We used to play a lot in the backyard. Unfortunately, I don’t see her much anymore because she lives in Brazil and I live here.


PV: Who are your parents? When did you meet them?

M: I live with Patricia and Tiago, my mom and dad. I met them in August 2013 when I moved in with them.


PV: How do they belong in the Tri-I community?

M: My dad works in the Gilbert lab as a postdoc. My mom is also a postdoc but works far away in the Bronx, but she has many friends in the Tri-I community.


PV: Where do you live?

M: I live in Scholars Residence, the tall building close to the university where my dad works.


PV: What are your favorite smells of New York City?

M: Oh, I love to smell everything. My mom always complains that we take too long when we go for a walk. I guess that’s why my dad does most of the walking with me.


PV: If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would you live?

M: Definitely in Brasilia so I could be close to my best friend, Nina. But I have to say I would be tempted to live closer to the beach. I love the beach, it’s like a huge dog park with all that sand.


PV: What are your favorite foods?

M: Chicken and carrots! Not necessarily together. I usually get chicken flavored dog food and whenever my dad is cooking I cry by the kitchen countertop to see if he’ll give a little piece of vegetable. If I hear him cutting carrots, I come running. I also like to eat fruits.


PV: What is your favorite weekend activity in New York City?

M: Going to the dog park. I don’t care much about the other dogs to be honest, but I get to play “catch the ball” a lot, which is my favorite game. I don’t go much anymore though. I got sick after going to one of these parks and now my parents are afraid of taking me again. I also like going to Central Park and to the beach.


PV: Besides your human roomie, who is your favorite human in the Tri-I community?

M: I have many friends in the area, but if I had to choose one, it would be Sofia from the Freiwald Lab. We used to be neighbors and I would play with her all the time. I usually stay with her when my parents are out of town. We play a lot and she teaches me Spanish.


PV: Do you have a funny story to share with us?

M: I tend to get very excited after my morning walk. When I come back from walking, I run around the house, play with my toys and try really hard to get everyone’s attention. One day I was particularly agitated and decided to jump on the bed. Now, the bed is too tall for me, but on that day I was feeling so energetic I was sure I could do it. I took some distance, ran towards the bed, jumped and hit the side of the bed with my chest and fell to the floor on my back. I didn’t get even close. I didn’t find it too funny at the moment but my parents laughed the whole morning.


PV: Is there some way we can see more pictures of you on the interwebs?

M: No, my parents say I’m too young for social media.


PV: If you could have any human ability, what would it be?

M: To open the door and go out by myself. I love going out, to the park, to parties, to trips. The problem is sometimes my parents don’t take me with them and I have to stay home by myself until they come back.

Natural Expressions


On May 10th, Collette L. Ryder of the Office of Sponsored Programs Administration at The Rockefeller University will be performing Rachmaninoff Vespers (All-Night Vigil, Op. 37) with the NYCHORAL group at St. Bartholomew’s Church. The New York Choral Society describes Rachmaninoff’s 1915 work as “quiet, reflective, and deeply moving…a majestic work that elevates the spirit by its expressiveness and captivates the listener with its sheer beauty.” The performance begins at 8 p.m. and discounted tickets ($35) are available by contacting Collette ( / x8054). Visit NYCHORAL for more information.


Digital Events

Bernie Langs of The Rockefeller University Development Office announces the release the music video, “Yeast Cell Growth Meets The Beatles.” This video, presented by John LaCava’s Sounds of Science and featured in the Imagine Science Film Festival, is a fusion of art and science, with laboratory films taken by Andrej Ondracka and music by The Beatles (composed by John Lennon/ Paul McCartney with a coda by Chip Taylor) performed by Bernie Langs. The video can be found on Bernie Langs’ YouTube page.


Email Megan E. Kelley at to submit your art/music/performance/sporting/other event for next month’s “Natural Expressions” and follow @NatSelections on Twitter for more events.

Life on a Roll


Elodie Pauwels

Perspective makes parallel lines look like they will join somewhere in the distance. The laws of geometry seem thrown into disorder! This distortion however only exists when the scenery is observed from a particular point of view. These kinds of pictures are an invitation to discovery and travel for me. What about you?

Geometrical corridor, Angoulême, France

Railway, Breda, The Netherlands

The Majesty of Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris

Jim Keller and Dom Olinares

Following the devastating fire on April 15th, let’s take a minute to remember how the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris was meant to be seen, in all its magnificent glory. These photos were taken during our trip to Paris last year.

As we watched the flames engulf the Cathedral on the news, including its timber central spire, we felt helpless. Our hearts ached for France and for the world.

Although the cause of the fire is still unknown, on April 16, the Paris prosecutor said that nothing his office had learned suggested a deliberate act. The investigators most strongly suspect a case of “accidental destruction by fire,” but they have not ruled anything out at this early stage.

Whatever the cause may have been, in the words of French President Emmanuel Macron: “We will rebuild Notre-Dame together.” Less than 24 hours after the fire had broken out, over €800 million had been pledged for the Cathedral’s reconstruction. True to his word, an international fundraiser was launched by Macron the very next day.

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