Being Social With The Social Scientist

Are you a postdoc or graduate student who has constantly been advised to network but have no clue where to begin or how to approach? Trust me when I say this, “You are not alone.” There are many postdocs and graduate students who have no formal help with resume crafting, interview preparation, or networking. Ironically, networking is a crucial element in building and developing one’s career.

Thankfully, we have some enterprising individuals who come up with solutions rather than complain about the problem. I had the brilliant opportunity to chat with one such individual Danielle Tomasello, Ph.D., the creator of The Social Scientist. Danielle is also doing a fellowship at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, associated with MIT.

Danielle, A fellow SUNY, Buffalo alum, says “I was very frustrated with how segregated the scientific fields are, and how impersonal networking events turn out to be.” The lack of a self-sustaining peer-led scientific community inspired Danielle to create The Social Scientist. On reaching out to her personal and professional connections with this idea, she was delighted with their advice and feedback. That got her initiative started; it has steadily been growing since, and how!

The scientific community is a closed one, and a fast-growing one at that. There has been a huge surplus of doctorates and post-doctorates in recent times. To add to this layer of complexity, obtaining sustainable funding has become increasingly difficult and there are more postdocs than faculty positions, making the competition fierce. Luckily, graduates have several options to choose from after receiving their degree. However, the major gap between possessing transferable skills and proving those in an interview to bag that perfect job is to find the perfect fit.

The Social Scientist proposes to bridge this gap by connecting current and prospective graduates with other science professionals. Danielle says, “What I think our field is missing are people who can give a complete view of their work, environment, and what it took for them to get here. Instead of cold calling or emailing, these contacts, working in diverse scientific positions, are readily available and willing to speak about their experiences. Specifically, this would provide contacts to science professionals that want to help others in order to create an engaging yet open scientific community. We want to support everyone from high school students to associate professors passionate about science.”

All 57 of The Social Scientist volunteers have different backgrounds and career trajectories. Inquirers have the ability to reach out to any of the volunteers from any career stage or domain in science. On being asked how Danielle will adapt her business model to the constant evolution in science and scientists, she replied, “as we continue to enlist future generations of volunteers, we will be able to accommodate these changes”.

Danielle believes that supporting one another will aid the scientific field. To practice what she preaches, Danielle collaborates with like-minded organizations, such as the Stem Advocacy Institute, The SciCommunity, Scismic, STEMS, and Career Support Group. With her brilliantly planned associations and with participation from the STEM community, she aims to grow her initiative. Her vision is to have a diverse set of volunteers so that she can provide a community for all STEM fields, and therefore accommodate each inquirer in their respective field. “I hope that within the following years The Social Scientist will grow into a large community that everyone can turn to for support. I picture a LinkedIn for STEM professionals,” Danielle says.

On being asked about the USP of the group, Danielle says, “Inquirers will be able to specifically contact a volunteer of their choice for a specific purpose.” In order to get their query, Danielle’s focus has been outreach since the past few months as she foresees her biggest hurdle is getting The Social Scientist brand to anybody and everybody in STEM.

This article was originally published on Club SciWri website: http://www.sciwri.club/archives/8976

About the Author:

Dolonchapa Chakraborty is a Postdoctoral Fellow at NYU Langone working on Infectious disease with a focus on cell wall metabolism to identify new targets for therapeutic attacks by Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a common opportunistic human pathogen. She also serves as the Co-Chair of National Postdoctoral Association’s Outreach Committee. She believes in the power of technical storytelling as an effective tool for scientific outreach and looks forward to practicing this art as an editor at Club SciWri. Follow her on Twitter.


Bioresorbable Electronics: Miniature Devices For Nerve Repair And Regeneration

Peripheral nerves that spread extensively in our arms, legs, and torso can get damaged due to an injury resulting from sports, road accidents, or occupational hazards (e.g. too much typing). Peripheral nerve injury constitutes 2–5% of all trauma cases, wherein the affected individual may experience weakness or numbness in the affected body parts1,2. Fortunately, unlike neurons – the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord – peripheral nerves can regenerate. The affected individual may require medical attention, in the form of painkillers and physical therapies or, in certain cases, surgical intervention. During a surgical procedure, it is common practice to electrically stimulate the nerves to promote regeneration. However, the surgeon must close the wound within a couple of hours, to avoid chances of infection. Thus, it is not possible to continue the electrical stimulation of nerves after the surgery.

In the last few years, we have witnessed the development of a new class of electronics: miniature bioabsorbable devices. These are made of porous silicon and silk, and can be designed to have a specific lifespan in the body. Originally, researchers from Northwestern University used this silicon-based “complementary metal oxide semiconducter” or CMOS to demonstrate its programmable non-antibiotic based bacteriocidal properties, as proof of principle3. The device, wrapped around the injured nerve, uses electrical pulses for nerve stimulation for a programmed number of days before it harmlessly degrades in the body. This research established a baseline of modeling approaches, starting materials, and designs of the various electronic components involved (sensors, power supplies etc.). In vivo tests established that the rate of disappearance of the device matched the theoretical prediction models.

Expanding on these findings, additional collaborative research from Washington University St. Louis and Northwestern University, recently demonstrated the ability of an implanted, bioabsorbable device, which can aid recovery of injured nerves with electrical stimulation4. The device, made of soft, flexible, dissolvable electronic materials, is kept charged wirelessly using a transmitter outside the body.

The team tested their device in studied rats with severed sciatic nerves, which regulate the flow of nerve impulses in the hamstring and lower leg muscles, in one of the hind legs. The severed nerve endings were stimulated using the implanted programmable device (dimensions: ~ 10 mm x 40 mm x 200 μm; weight: 150 mg) for 1 hour per day for 6 days. The researchers reported a 50% faster rate of nerve healing in the electrically stimulated animals, when compared to their unstimulated counterparts. The constituents of the implanted device were completely bio-reabsorbed in a controlled, time-defined manner, upon exposure to the physiological fluids in the tissue.

This promising research area is growing rapidly. Currently, research groups from the University of Wisconsin-Madison are extending this study for other applications, including rapid healing of skin and weight loss. Researchers at Rice University, Houston are trying to shrink the device further to make them implantable in the brain. Once successful, they hope to replace the large brain stimulators used to control tremors in Parkinson’s patients with these miniature devices.

Of course, the safety of the dissolved device components needs to be monitored for any possible side effects. In the future, bioresorbable electronic implants can power interventions across a wide range of clinical applications, with benefits to a range of targeted tissues and organ systems.

References

  1. Mackinnon SE. Nerve Surgery. New York: Thieme; 2015.
  2. Noble J, Munro CA, Prasad VS, Midha R. Analysis of upper and lower extremity peripheral nerve injuries in a population of patients with multiple injuries. J Trauma. 1998 Jul. 45 (1):116-22
  3. Hwang SW, Tao H, Kim DH, et al. A physically transient form of silicon electronics. Science. 2012;337(6102):1640-4.
  4. Koo, J. et al. Wireless bioresorbable electronic system enables sustained nonpharmacological neuroregenerative therapy. Nat. Med. 24, 1830–1836 (2018)

About the author: Maya Raghunandan obtained her Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from the University of Minnesota, Twin cities, USA. Currently, she is a cancer biology scientist at Université Catholique de Louvain, Brussels, Belgium. In her spare time, she writes about cool science discoveries in her jargon-free blog http://www.sciencesnippets.org/. Because science doesn’t have to sound complicated. Instead, it must be comprehensible for everyone.


Behind the scenes of “Skype a Scientist” with founder Sarah McAnulty

July 2019 will mark the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 spaceflight that successfully landed humans on the moon for the first time. In the last half a century, the world has seen stupendous success in the field of science and technology. We went from development of polio and smallpox vaccines to CRISPR technology, from first communication satellites to almost 24/7 access to the internet, from first and second generation of computers to smartphones, cloud computing, and AI. The list can go on. This is the result of decades of collaboration between scientists, governments, and citizens across the globe. More recently, however, there has been a growing distrust regarding science and scientists among non-scientists. While this may be attributed to a number of factors, it is important to rebuild the bridges of trust and confidence to ensure that decades of unprecedented scientific and technological advances are not undone.

We spoke with Sarah McAnulty, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Connecticut, who recognized this problem and launched an initiative called Skype A Scientist to encourage one-on-one dialogue between scientists and non-scientists. In this interview, Sarah discusses the inspiration behind this initiative, the challenges that she faced on the way, and the importance of science communication.Read more


Microbes cranking up the heat in the Arctic?

News about the changing climate of the planet has gathered heat in the past couple of years and rightly so! Our planet is getting warmer and the mercury has been steadily rising since the start of Industrial Revolution. The average global temperature has increased by about 0.8 degree Celsius since the 1880’s. More so, temperatures in the Artic have been rising at an alarming rate of 0.6C per decade over the last 30 years and is thawing the permafrost layers.

Permafrost is defined as soil that has been below 0 degree Celsius for at least two years. It comprises of sediments of plants and animals frozen over thousands of years ago and is reported to have almost 1,700 billion tons of trapped organic carbon.

Warmer temperatures and rapid thawing of the permafrost sediments makes the organic matter readily available for microbial decomposition. New findings suggest that microorganisms residing in the permafrost layer could contribute substantially to global warming.

Certain microorganisms in the permafrost environment have the ability to decompose organic carbon. Microbial breakdown of carbon occurs through diverse interdependent biogeochemical processes. In this unique niche, microorganisms work together as a community and are a part of an efficient food web. Members at the top of this food chain breakdown complex cellulose into simpler sugars that are passed down to fermenters. Consumers of the fermented brews, the methanogens, produce methane as the end product of their metabolism. Furthermore, there are also those who utilize methane and in turn release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It is well established that increase in emission levels of both these greenhouse gases contributes significantly towards warming of the earth’s atmosphere.

Typically, microbial activity in the permafrost is limited due to subzero temperatures and low nutrient availability, shielding the carbon from microbial decomposition and maintaining equilibrium in this delicate ecosystem. Rising temperatures and defrosting of the otherwise insulated sediments can accelerate the microbial decomposition and release of greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane creating a feedback that could impact the rate of climate change.

Next generation ‘omics’ technologies are playing a vital role in examining the magnitude of this impact. These techniques have enabled researchers to uncover carbon cycling mechanisms of the microbial communities that thrive within permafrost. Study of their genes and proteins is facilitating researchers identify the key players involved in the assimilation of organic matter.

Understanding their metabolism coupled with the biogeochemical data can provide insight into how the microbial residents in the permafrost are adapting to the altering conditions. Efforts to keep a track of these evolving populations will advance our understanding of the permafrost ecosystem and help scientists make informed predictions about the changing climate of our planet.

References:

  1. NASA Earth Observatory (https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/WorldOfChange/decadaltemp.php)
  2. Genome-centric view of carbon processing in thawing permafrost. Ben J. Woodcroft, Caitlin M. Singleton, Joel A. Boyd, Paul N. Evans, Joanne B. Emerson, Ahmed A. F. Zayed, Robert D. Hoelzle, Timothy O. Lamberton, Carmody K. Mccalley, Suzanne B. Hodgkins, Rachel M. Wilson,Samuel O. Purvine, Carrie D. Nicora, Changsheng Li, Steve Frolking, Jeffrey P. Chanton, Patrick M. Crill, Scott R. Saleska ,Virginia I. Rich & Gene W. Tyson. Nature 2018. Published 16 July 2018.
  3. Permafrost Meta-Omics and Climate Change. Rachel Mackelprang, Scott R. Saleska, Carsten Suhr Jacobsen, Janet K. Jansson, and Neslihan Taş. Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences. Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences Volume 44, 2016
  4. Climate change and the permafrost carbon feedback. E. A. G. Schuur, A. D. McGuire, C. Schädel, G. Grosse, J. W. Harden, D. J. Hayes, G. Hugelius, C. D. Koven, P. Kuhry, D. M. Lawrence, S. M. Natali, D. Olefeldt, V. E. Romanovsky, K. Schaefer, M. R. Turetsky, C. C. Treat & J. E. Vonk. Nature. 09 April 2015.

Author

Snehal Joshi 

 

Cover Image 1:

Photo by Anders Jildén on Unsplash


The Future looks Sweet for Tuberculosis

The facts: Tuberculosis (TB) is the ninth leading cause of deaths from a single infectious agent, Mycobacterium tuberculosis causing 1.8 million deaths worldwide in 20151. According to the World Health Organization drug-resistant TB is on the rise with a total of 490,000 people infected with a multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) strain in 20161. Superfluous use of antibiotics has given rise to multidrug resistant bacteria These ‘superbugs’ have become one of the major global public health threats. Precise and timely detection of the causative agent followed by the appropriate antibiotic treatment is an imperative aspect in combating MDR infections and could help in reducing fatalities in diseases like TB. Currently, the methods used for detecting an active TB infection include chest X-rays (for pulmonary TB), microscopic test, microbiological culturing and molecular methods. The culture-based methods can take several days before a result is confirmed. On the other hand, quicker molecular detection can be expensive to perform and are not easily accessible to patients from all socioeconomic backgrounds. Cheaper and rapid detection methods are needed to help bridge the gap between detection and treatment.

The science: M Kamariza and group developed a chromogenic assay based on the sugar trehalose for the detection of Mycobacterium tuberculosis. This simple dye based staining technique employs the use of trehalose conjugated 4-N,N-dimethylamino-1,8-napthalimide (DMN) to make DMN-Tre. Trehalose is a part of the outer membrane of the bacterial cells which upon staining with DMN-Tre take up the molecule and emit fluorescence. Because this molecule can be incorporated only by cells that are metabolically active, the test can distinguish between viable and non-viable bacteria in the sample. Preliminary data from this study also suggests that this method could be used for drug sensitivity screening. However future studies are warranted.

The potential: This test uses membrane properties unique to Mycobacterium and is thus specific also providing information about metabolic state of the bacterial cells. The primary reagent, DMN-Tre is shelf stable for weeks and the test can be performed with minimal chemicals and equipment. This inexpensive one-step point of care diagnostic test could prove to be a boon for clinical labs in economically challenged regions and is a promising step towards effectively managing the diagnosis and cure for tuberculosis.

 

References:

  1. World Health Organization (WHO) http://www.who.int/tb/en/
  2. Kamariza et al. “Rapid detection ofMycobacterium tuberculosis in sputum with a solvatochromic trehalose probe.” Science Translational Medicine. Published online February 28, 2018.

Author

Snehal Joshi 

 

Cover Image Photo by Drew Hays on Unsplash

Future is sweet

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

 


Embryonic stem cells to the rescue of the white rhinoceros

 

 

Backdrop: In May this year as the world bid goodbye to the last surviving male northern white Rhino named Sudan, all hope seemed to be lost on the efforts to conserve these mighty beasts. After his death, the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya now houses two female rhinos, the only two northern white rhinos surviving on the planet subjecting the species towards extinction.

The news: An article published yesterday in Nature Communications reported that researchers from the Laboratory of Reproductive Technologies in Italy successfully produced hybrid embryos by fertilizing eggs from a southern female rhino using the preserved sperms from the last northern rhino, marking a crucial step forward towards revival of this species1. These embryos are now frozen, and investigators hope to use them in the future for implantation into surrogate rhinoceroses. If this method can be further validated, researchers are hopeful that it can be extrapolated to create pure northern white rhino embryos as well. However, scientists also sound a word of caution and warn against potential complications and failures going ahead with this new finding and that it will be a long road before a calf is born.

The bigger problem: Wildlife experts say that it is not just science that will save this and other species from extinction. Poaching is a huge problem in Africa with over 1028 rhinos killed in 20172. We as a society and the governments together need to spread awareness and take efforts to save invaluable wildlife from becoming sheer exhibits.

 

References:

  1. Embryos and embryonic stem cells from the white rhinocerosThomas B. Hildebrandt, Robert Hermes, Silvia Colleoni, Sebastian Diecke, Susanne Holtze, Marilyn B. Renfree, Jan Stejskal, Katsuhiko Hayashi, Micha Drukker, Pasqualino Loi, Frank Göritz, Giovanna Lazzari & Cesare Galli. Nature Communications Volume 9, Article number: 2589 (2018)
  2. https://www.savetherhino.org/rhino-info/poaching-stats/

Author

Snehal Joshi 

Photo by Lucas Alexander on Unsplash


How VC's Evaluate Startup CEOs? Lessons for the Job Seekers

Recently I had a chance to be in an audience for a seminar organized by Osage University Partner (OUP) and Columbia Technology Ventures on how VC's evaluate startup CEOs given by OUP's Managing Partner, Mark Singer. Not only the talk was fascinating for wannabe entrepreneurs and people like me who are in the business of creating products beneficial to the society from academic early stage technology, I realized the message has enormous implications for those who are trying to transition from academia to either academic jobs or non academic jobs. This video kindly provided by OUP has lessons for everyone of us.

 

Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash


Stempeers 2018 in the Big Apple

Together with INet NYC, we are organizing the second edition of STEMPeers, a full-day career development symposium, that aims to help STEM graduates to network and receive career advice from experienced STEM professionals. We have ensured that the panelists and speakers at this year’s STEM Peers symposium are from multicultural backgrounds and we believe that participating STEM graduates will be inspired to learn from these diverse personalities. We are proud to share this news that STEMPeers-2018 will be hosted at the New York University on Saturday, August 25th.

Watch this space for the details.


CRISPR Barber shop

Recently, a million-dollar Kavli prize was awarded to biochemists Virginijus Siksnys, Emmanuelle Charpentier, and Jennifer Doudna, whose labs independently developed the CRISPR technology. Prabudhha Dey (@sketchartpencil) and Tanmoy Samaddar has a funny take on what CRISPR is all about.

This cartoon was published in our newsletter and can be found here.


There's no shame in leaving academia

There's no shame in leaving academia

Some people wish they had other career options, but most keep such thoughts to themselves. We tell students to take risks and try new things, and there is nothing like doing it yourself to see how hard that can be—but also how rewarding.

http://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2018/05/theres-no-shame-leaving-academia