As a third year Ph.D. candidate in biology, I am constantly bombarded with questions from concerned loved ones: “When are you graduating?” or “What will you do with your degree?” My unexciting and somewhat embarrassing answer to these questions is always, “I don’t know;” and the truth is, how can I know? I have been immersed in an academic setting for twenty years now. I know little about life outside academia, and I’ll admit—I’m a little terrified about leaving a university setting. It’s hard to make an informed decision about your future when you know little about the options. My professors and mentors, as brilliant as they are, are really only suited to advise me on pursuing a career in academia. So, how does one break the mold? (more…)
A few weeks ago, I attended a report release at the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine in Washington, D.C. on best practices for educating children who are learning English. These reports are published after a preeminent group of experts reviews the evidence and reaches a consensus, so I knew it would be interesting. Slide 2 of the presentation was more than interesting – it was mind-boggling.
Indiana has the second-fastest growing population of school-aged children whose native language is not English (among states that have experienced a 200 percent growth in non-native speakers) . These students are known as “dual language learners” (DLLs), although they are more commonly referred to as “ELLs” (“English language learners”) in many school districts. My mouth fell open. (more…)
Astronomers have a favorite saying that if a picture is worth a thousand words, then a spectrum is worth a thousand pictures.
A spectrum is measured by the scientific technique known as spectroscopy, and unless you’re already familiar with the term, this may compel you to ask: what is spectroscopy? The short answer is that spectroscopy refers to the study of the interaction between light and matter. Today, the field of spectroscopy is incredibly broad and advanced, with applications in not just astronomy but also chemistry, physics, biology, environmental science, and even art! (more…)
Viral infections are the cause of many common illnesses, such as the flu and the common cold. The symptoms aren’t pleasant, and typically involve the well-known repertoire of coughing, sneezing, and achiness. But sometimes, symptoms from viral infections can be more severe. Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) infects most people before their second birthday. In many cases this infection does not cause serious illness in people with healthy immune systems. However, the number of hospitalizations and emergency room visits in children under five is higher by three times compared to instances caused by the flu . Additionally, 14,000 RSV-related deaths occur per year in the US in older adults . The best tool scientists have against viruses like RSV are vaccines.
The purpose of a vaccine is to trigger the body to create a long-lasting line of defense against a specific pathogen. This is accomplished by exposing the body to small pieces or a weakened version of the pathogen. Upon exposure to the infectious pathogen, the body will be prepared to fight it off. However, immunity isn’t created toward every pathogen equally. Some pathogens, like RSV, have no licensed vaccine. (more…)
Did you and your grade school friends ever find yourselves in intricate negotiations around the lunch table, trading that boring snack your mom packed you with the sweeter and more enticing dessert in your friend’s lunchbox? Well, similar to you and your childhood friends, plants also partake in such a trading of commodities around their own ‘lunch table’.
Plants use their packed lunch — newly photosynthesized carbon — to build biomass, such as new leaves, taller stems, and a larger root system, while also pumping some of these carbon compounds into the soil. In some cases, more than 10% of the carbon photosynthesized by the plant flows from plant roots out into the soil! This begs the question: why do some plants release such a significant amount of carbon to the soil? What advantage does this process (rhizodeposition) confer to the plant? Part of the answer lies in understanding the challenge plants face in acquiring nutrients such as nitrogen from the soil. (more…)
Maybe you remember reading the classic Dr. Seuss tale as a child, Horton Hears a Who! Or you may have also seen the 2008 movie adaptation on TV or at some recent family vacation? For those who haven’t, or whose memory might be a little fuzzy, Horton the elephant discovers, and becomes the sole champion of, an entire microscopic community living on a speck of dust: the fabled city of Whoville.
A similar champion for the hidden microscopic communities of our world can be found here at IU–a research scientist by the name of Natalie Christian from Dr. Keith Clay’s lab in the biology department. However, instead of a speck of dust, Natalie’s microscopic communities form inside of plant leaves, and instead of the Whos of Whoville, the inhabitants of these leaf communities are tiny fungi called endophytes, for which the Latin translation literally means “inside plant.” One of Natalie’s central research goals is to better understand the importance of these microscopic communities for the health and well-being of their host plants. (more…)
The Langlands Program has been progressing for a long time, with many of the big names in mathematics involved. Dr. Matthias Strauch, an Associate Professor in the Indiana University Mathematics Department, and I discussed some of the history of the field.
The story begins with linear equations, although the modern scope of research has flown far beyond. These are equations containing no squares or higher powers, no roots, no dividing by anything weird. (Dividing by numbers is fine, but not dividing by a variable.) These equations might be familiar, depending on how long it’s been since you took algebra.
Believe it or not, we can solve almost all of these. Only one thing can go wrong, and that is if, after grouping like terms, the coefficient on the x term is 0. Then solutions might not even exist. But when the coefficient is not zero, we get a solution. In fact, it has a formula.
Say we have a quadratic equation like , where a is nonzero. Now we have a more complicated formula:
But what if gets involved? Is there a formula then? (more…)
When we look around the world, we see order and symmetry. It’s evident in snowflakes, flowers, and beehives, just to name a few. Going beyond what the plain eye can see, we also know that several chemical structures consist of ordered atoms. For example, think of sodium chloride (more plainly known as table salt). Its patterned structure consists of alternating atoms of sodium and chlorine. Nature seems to have a good handle on producing materials which are ordered and symmetric, but as humans, how do we control the order in the materials we make? (more…)
As a young child, years before the first Harry Potter book was published, I sat at my mother’s kitchen table mixing together anything I could find into a tall glass and calling it a potion. Now, this was just pure imagination and I’m sure that none of my concoctions were palatable, possibly even so bad that I’ve blocked out having tried them, but why did I even partake in this activity? Why did I also make all sorts of rather insane looking robots out of empty tins leftover from dog food, popcorn, or cookies? Well, this may just be simple childhood creativity (before the internet came into existence), but it may also serve as a clue as to why some people choose to pursue a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) career, or even just possess a strong interest in STEM, over other options. (more…)
My grandfather was a big fan of the old sitcom Hogan’s Heroes, and to some extent, I’ve inherited his taste in comedy. The episode which sticks out in my mind the most, centers around a heavily guarded barrel of water. Numerous rumors circulate about why the barrel of water is so important, including one that the water is from the Fountain of Youth, but eventually it is revealed that the barrel simply contains “heavy” water. Prior to my days as a student of chemistry, this begged the question: what makes the water so “heavy”?
You may be aware that a molecule of water consists of three atoms: two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. Water becomes “heavy” when the hydrogen atoms in water are substituted with a rare isotope of hydrogen. In case you’re not familiar with isotopes, you can think of isotopes as being the same basic building blocks of a molecule, only with a tiny bit of extra mass. This brings me to our main topic of discussion: deuterium.
Both deuterium (D) and hydrogen (H) consist of one electron and one proton, but deuterium also has a neutron, which is what provides the extra mass in heavy water. More succinctly, it can be said that deuterium is an isotope of hydrogen. This subtle subatomic difference is all that distinguishes heavy water (D2O) from regular water (H2O), but the unique properties of D2O permit a myriad of applications in chemistry and physics. (more…)