women in science (4)

Women's History Month, and CRISPR...

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Topics: Biology, Chemistry, DNA, Nobel Prize, Research, Women in Science

This year’s (2020) Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to two scientists who transformed an obscure bacterial immune mechanism, commonly called CRISPR, into a tool that can simply and cheaply edit the genomes of everything from wheat to mosquitoes to humans. 

The award went jointly to Emmanuelle Charpentier of the Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens and Jennifer Doudna of the University of California, Berkeley, “for the development of a method for genome editing.” They first showed that CRISPR—which stands for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats—could edit DNA in an in vitro system in a paper published in the 28 June 2012 issue of Science. Their discovery was rapidly expanded on by many others and soon made CRISPR a common tool in labs around the world. The genome editor spawned industries working on making new medicines, agricultural products, and ways to control pests.

Many scientists anticipated that Feng Zhang of the Broad Institute, who showed 6 months later that CRISPR worked in mammalian cells, would share the prize. The institutions of the three scientists are locked in a fierce patent battle over who deserves the intellectual property rights to CRISPR’s discovery, which some estimate could be worth billions of dollars.

“The ability to cut DNA where you want has revolutionized the life sciences. The genetic scissors were discovered 8 years ago, but have already benefited humankind greatly,” Pernilla Wittung Stafshede, a chemical biologist at the Chalmers University of Technology, said at the prize briefing.

CRISPR was also used in one of the most controversial biomedical experiments of the past decade, when a Chinese scientist edited the genomes of human embryos, resulting in the birth of three babies with altered genes. He was widely condemned and eventually sentenced to jail in China, a country that has become a leader in other areas of CRISPR research.

Although scientists were not surprised Doudna and Charpentier won the prize, Charpentier was stunned. “As much as I have been awarded a number of prizes, it’s something you hear, but you don’t completely connect,” she said in a phone call with the Nobel Prize officials. “I was told a number of times that when it happens, you’re very surprised and feel that it’s not real.”

At a press briefing today, Doudna noted she was asleep and missed the initial calls from Sweden, only waking up to answer the phone finally when a Nature reporter called. "She wanted to know if I could comment on the Nobel and I said, Well, who won it? And she was shocked that she was the person to tell me."

CRISPR, the revolutionary genetic ‘scissors,’ honored by Chemistry Nobel, Jon Cohen, Science Magazine, AAAS

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Black History Month...

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Illustration of Anthony M. Johnson working in an ultrafast laser lab; Ronald McNair playing the saxophone aboard the Challenger; Mercedes Richards in front of a computer.Illustration by Abigal Malate, American Institute of Physics

Topics: African Americans, Diaspora, Diversity in Science, Women in Science

Former First Lady, Secretary of State, and Presidential Candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton said "women's rights are human rights." Comparatively, Black History is American History. The insurrection at the Capitol wasn't just white privilege on-steroids, it was ignorance writ large. Not that the information isn't in their face for twenty-eight days, twenty-nine on leap years, but an ignorance born of willfulness, arrogance, hubris, and mental deficiencies.

The Middle Passage. December 7, 1941. The Holocaust. September 11, 2001. January 6, 2021. All is a part of our history, days that shall live in infamy. Days we commemorate in ceremony, observance, remembrance, and a commitment within our souls: never again.

You don't forgive anything by shrugging, and the victims of violence never forget. We've all been experiencing posttraumatic stress disorder for four years we would LIKE to forget, but we'd rather heal from, in the light of science, and truth.

The American Psychiatric Association has never officially recognized extreme racism (as opposed to ordinary prejudice) as a mental health problem, although the issue was raised more than 30 years ago. After several racist killings in the civil rights era, a group of black psychiatrists sought to have extreme bigotry classified as a mental disorder. The association's officials rejected the recommendation, arguing that because so many Americans are racist, even extreme racism in this country is normative—a cultural problem rather than an indication of psychopathology.

The psychiatric profession's primary index for diagnosing psychiatric symptoms, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), does not include racism, prejudice, or bigotry in its text or index.

Therefore, there is currently no support for including extreme racism under any diagnostic category. This leads psychiatrists to think that it cannot and should not be treated in their patients.

To continue perceiving extreme racism as normative and not pathologic is to lend it legitimacy. Clearly, anyone who scapegoats a whole group of people and seeks to eliminate them to resolve his or her internal conflicts meets the criteria for a delusional disorder, a major psychiatric illness.

Is Extreme Racism a Mental Illness? Yes. It can be a delusional symptom of psychotic disorders. Alvin F Poussaint, Professor of psychiatry.

When astronaut Mae Jemison saw actress Nichelle Nichols portray Lt. Uhura on Star Trek, her life was changed forever. Seeing an African-American role model helped steer Jemison toward a goal – she was determined to join NASA and become an astronaut. Years later, Jemison achieved her goal when she made history as the first African-American woman to go into space with the U.S. space program.

Jemison’s accomplishment had positive ripple effects, and now she is cited as a source of inspiration for so many African-American students who are themselves reaching for the stars, but Jemison is not alone. There are many African-American physical scientists, such as Jedidah IslerHakeem OluseyiChandra Precod-WeinsteinSylvester James GatesTabbetha DobbinsJC Holbrook, and so many others, who are doing important scientific work and also influencing countless students.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are essential components to the success of our fields. In recognition of that fact, the American Institute of Physics adopted a Strategic Framework in 2019 that aims to “advance the physical sciences with a unifying voice of strength from diversity.” Further, we are committed to becoming an institution that “leads the physical sciences community toward an impactful understanding of how to be more welcoming to, and supportive of, the full diversity of physical scientists throughout their [education and] careers.”

Black History Month, American Institute of Physics

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Rocket Science...

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The Fusion Rocket Concept. ITER

Topics: Mars, Nuclear Fusion, Space Exploration, Spaceflight, Women in Science

A physicist has come up with a new rocket engine thruster concept that could take people to Mars ten times more quickly.

The physicist in question, Fatima Ebrahimi, is the concept's inventor and is part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL).

Ebrahimi's study was published in the Journal of Plasma Physics.

An engine thruster based on solar flares

One of the main differences between Ebrahimi's new rocket thruster concept and other space-proven ones is that hers uses magnetic fields to boost particles of plasma out of the back of the rocket. So far, space-proven ones use electric fields to boost plasma.

Plasma is one of the four fundamental states of matter and made of gas ions and free electrons. Our Sun is a burning ball of plasma that uses a fusion reaction, for instance.

New Rocket Thruster Concept to Take Humans to Mars 10 Times Faster, Fabienne Lang, Interesting Engineering

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Physicists Look Like Me...

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Topics: African Americans, Diversity in Science, Women in Science

The National Society of Black Physicists stands with those that fight against systemic racism and for freedom, equality, liberty, and justice to become a reality for all of America’s citizens. Click the button below to read the statement from our president.

National Society of Black Physicists, Dr. Stephon Alexander, President

The Genesis of the National Society of Black Physicists, Dr. Ronald E. Mickens, Clark Atlanta University Department of Physics, NSBP Spring 1999

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