Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Don't take it from me!

Any of you who have been reading this blog for a while know that many topics encourage students to not only study about science, but to go further and do science

Internship participant Jose Araujo from Cerrritos Community College works in the lab with USC Dornsife mentor Priscilla Antunez, a graduate student in the chemistry Ph.D. program and the recipient of an NSF graduate fellowship. Araujo's positive experiences during the internship inspired him to transfer to USC Dornsife where he is now majoring in chemistry. Photo by Richard Brutchey.

Jose Araujo from Cerritos Community College did just that.  He applied for a paid, eight-week Summer Research Internship in Solar Energy--a program offered by USC Dornsife professors Richard Brutchey, Stephen Bradforth and Mark Thompson.  Mentored by Priscilla Antunez, a National Science Foundation Fellow, Jose had an experience that transformed his career. 

Read his story and, like I said, "Don't take it from me!"

                                                             (Picture:  Jose Araujo and Priscilla Antunez in the lab.  Photo credit Richard Brutchey)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

This week's Sci-lights

It's spring break at USC, but the main artery of campus is lined with tables and umbrellas and lines upon lines of students.  Why?  Each of the students, dressed in their most impressive interviewing attire is waiting to speak to representatives from companies that are offering jobs or internships.  They are hoping for that face-to-face advantage and trying to say of be something memorable.

Today's Sci-light is going to focus on science but with a networking twist.  Our science highlights come from the web page or YouTube channel of local universities and cover research by university professors.  I just picked a couple of things that caught my eye.

Capturing CO2, an interview with Omar Yaghi
First up is Omar Yaghi from UCLA's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.  In his research, he is focusing on the development of new compounds called metal organic frameworks or MOFs.  In short a MOF is formed from inorganic and organic units.  The structure of the compound creates storage spaces for carbon dioxide and you can see those spaces in the molecular model in the picture to the left.  I know you're curious so to learn more, watch the full interview on YouTube.

Photo courtesy of The Lancet
The next research story is from USC.  Yes, I know I chose arch rivals.  Believe it or not, there are many faculty and staff who went to school in one place and are working in the other.  :)  Now onto the science!  An article by Suzanne Wu called, Lessons from Mummy, reports on the work of Professor Caleb Finch looking for clogged arteries in 137 mummies.  In case you're curious about why this is relevant work, atherosclerosis vascular disease is the leading cause of death in the developed world.  Curiously, the hunting and gathering days of humans were not kinder to the human body as in every population studied, artery plaque was found.  More facts are revealed in the article, so let the curious discover.

I said initially, that I had a networking twist on these Sci-lights and here it is.  Have you ever thought of looking at University research as a mechanism of expanding your understanding of research questions that could be asked?  In these two examples we have a classic cross-disciplinary approach to solving modern day problems.  Mummies informing us about our bodies and inorganic and organic chemistry getting together to assist in solving an environmental problem.

The point--use University websites to find out what professors are researching.  Why?  So that you can first see the breadth of research possibilities and then so that you can follow up with an email to the professor who is doing something you find amazing. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

This Week's Sci-light

Do you ever wish you could read minds? Scientists have figured out a way to tell whom someone is thinking about through brain scans.  Recently, they have figured out how to decode, from the brain, images like recalled memories or a certain number people have just viewed. Nathan Spreng is a Cornell University cognitive neuroscientist that, along with his colleagues, wanted to figure out if it was possible to create an image based off the information in people’s brains. 

Spreng and his team held an experiment in which they told the volunteers the personalities and names of fictitious people. The volunteers were asked to imagine those people and the brain scans showed lots of activity in the medial prefrontal cortex. The findings of the experiment suggest the medial prefrontal cortex is used to decipher and create personalities for people. These findings could help us uncover more secrets to how the brain works. For the full article go to Business Insider.

Friday, March 8, 2013

This week's Sci-light

        One things bees and humans have in common: we both like caffeine. Citrus flowers naturally have caffeine in their nectar and use it to keep their bee customers coming back for more. Seeing as bees visit so many flowers a day, it’s difficult to remember the location of certain flowers. A new study lead by Geraldine Wright, a Newcastle University neuroethologist, shows that caffeine boosts the bees’ memory and helps them remember the flower’s scent so they can later return for the java-like nectar.
        Plants produce caffeine because they use it as a defense mechanism to ward off insects with the bitter taste. The study measured the amount of caffeine in three species of the Coffea plant as well as four species of the citrus plant and they all contained caffeine. They also measured caffeine’s effect on the bees’ memory. They conducted an exercise and found that three times as many bees remembered a scent paired with caffeine twenty-four hours later, and twice as many remembered the scent three days later.
        In a way, bees get the better end of the deal when it comes to caffeine. We get an energy boost and a crash a few hours later, while they get a memory boost that can last for up to three days. For the full article go to Science.NBCNews. For more information go to National Geographic.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

An Active Role

For the last two weeks, I have been focusing on tips for a strong letter of recommendation--building professional relationships with your professors and including details so the letter is in business form.  What I'm really suggesting is that you take an active role in your education.

Perhaps school is a familiar place to you as you've been in school for what seems like all your life.  If you're returning to school after years of work, it can be an unfamiliar place.  Regardless, the word 'school' carries memories, feeling, and expectations and within a couple of weeks, whatever habits you've had in school before, can begin to influence your experience now.

Today's blog is about being aware of how you approach school and beginning to take charge of patterns that help or hinder you.  In many ways, it's approaching school as an adult making active decisions, rather than a child being subject to rules and controls.

CC/Flickr/B Tal

Just as an athlete prepares and trains for a contest first by setting a goal and creating a plan to achieve the goal, so a student must also prepare for the training of the mind by setting goals and implementing plans for achievement.  No one can tell you what your goals should be.  Personally, I hope that you are considering fields of work that engage you in science or technology or perhaps engineering and mathematics.  Why?  I recognize the importance of skillful people from many backgrounds in those positions and the need for creators of new knowledge in all of those fields.

But in the end, just as the athlete must set his or her course, so the student must define themselves.  To frame it one way, nothing to it, but to do it!