What’s a STEM major? What’s an athlete?

I’ve always had a soft spot for athletes who were science majors in college. It isn’t easy to balance the demands of a physical training regimen along with a full course load, particularly when said course load includes a number of lengthy laboratory classes, so I’m impressed when someone tackles both. I don’t know why I haven’t been keeping an actual list of scientist-turned-athletes (or vice versa), except that I don’t really have any purpose for doing so. But apparently I’m not the only one who has an interest in scientist-athletes, so I’ll take a first pass at starting a list.

We should probably set some parameters first. For our purposes, I’m happy to keep these as broad as possible.

What is a STEM major? As a start, I looked at the US Census Bureau’s graphic, Where do college graduates work? A Special Focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (thanks, Chemjobber!) Declaring a major or field of study is sufficient, no degree needs to be completed (although we could probably tack on a column to indicate a completed degree).

Who is considered an athlete? How do we define what constitutes a professional athlete? It’s easy to say that anyone who makes it to the majors counts. Independent leagues of various sports should be included, as should Olympians. If we’d like to include as many female athletes as possible, we should consider college athletes as well… but the list could grow unwieldy.

Thoughts?

Advertisements

synthetic alternatives to mud

I recently wrote about alternatives to baseball rubbing mud for increasing tackiness on baseballs. These might be spray-on products, or they might be impregnated onto the surface of the ball itself. One area of knowledge that I wish I had a better grasp of (no pun intended): the leather tanning process. Based on my very rudimentary understanding of the leather tanning process, the goal is to displace water trapped within the collagen fiber bundles of the animal skin. This is achieved by replacing water molecules using either a vegetable tanning process, which uses tannin-based compounds (yes, the same tannins that you find in wine) or a mineral, particularly something chromium-based. What if, instead of using a naturally occurring tannin, you replaced this with a modified tannin molecule that has a moiety which provides an enhanced grip?

In fact, the leather manufacturer responsible for producing the leather used in NFL footballs has their own “Tanned-in-Tack”. I suspect that Mizuno, who uses Deguchi Northern Kip leather in many of their products, uses a similar tactic in producing baseballs for NPB. Many of these leather tanning processes are trade secrets, but some companies have patented their own leather tanning and treatment processes. For example, Wilson Sporting Goods has U.S. Patent 5,069,935, for waterproofing leather for making footballs. There is also U.S. Patent 4,689,832, for creating a partially de-tackified leather containing nitrocellulose and silicone resins. It’s an interesting area of work, and I’d love to revisit the process of leather tanning someday. Based on my own reading, I suspect that the best way to achieve a baseball having a tackier feel and a better grip is to adsorb a substance having enhanced grip during the leather tanning process. Rather than replace the rubbing mud with a spray-on product, let’s look at changing the material of the baseball altogether.

link dump

Trump pick for NASA chief doesn’t understand science – Fortunately, there is bipartisan opposition, mostly because Marco Rubio realizes that NASA has a significant impact on his state. But Bridenstine’s name has been floated out there for a few months now.

“When discussing climate change, Bridenstine uses a tactic perfected by the tobacco industry; specifically, the sowing of doubt to obscure science. The tobacco industry internally adopted the slogan “doubt is our greatest ally” in its efforts to hide that its products were killing thousands, which it achieved through sloganeering and PR statements honed to suggest it was unclear if the science was conclusive about tobacco’s effects. In the same vein, Bridenstine once said that the climate “has always changed,” and noted “periods of time long before the internal combustion engine when the Earth was much warmer than it is today.”

The Salon story takes a broader look at the tactics Republicans have used to propagate their anti-science rhetoric. This type of logic is dissected in the book Not a Scientist: How Politicians Mistake, Misrepresent, and Utterly Mangle Science, which I highly recommend.

Citing The Bible, The EPA Just Changed Its Rules For Science Advisers – The headline is exactly as it sounds.

“Pruitt used a story from the Book of Joshua to help explain the new policy.

On the journey to the promised land, “Joshua says to the people of Israel: choose this day whom you are going to serve,” Pruitt said.

Meanwhile, head of the House Science Committee Rep. Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican, says, “Today’s announcement shows that we have an administrator with common sense, commitment, and courage.”

 

oh my, such good apple pie

As I’ve noted previously, since having a child, I’ve had to make a number of concessions in the kitchen. My cooking is more functional than experimental nowadays; I hesitate to say that it’s not fun, but instead of taking pleasure in the process of creating, my focus is now on finding joy in feeding my family.

I’ve been eyeing the new BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts cookbook. So when Serious Eats posted Stella Parks’ Easy, Old Fashioned Apple Pie recipe, I knew it was just a matter of time. It wasn’t long before I found myself with a big bag of apples and a ravenous sweet tooth.

I purchased this apple peeler because it was reasonably priced; the reviews noted that it looks like a toy. So it wasn’t too surprising when my 3 year old came running over as soon as I took it out of the box. Yes, it looks like a toy, and doesn’t carry the same gravitas (or actual weight) as your standard metal apple peelers. But it was simple enough for Kai to use (with adult supervision of course; there are poky bits and sharp blades on this thing!) The mechanism is housed in clear plastic, so Kai enjoyed watching the bright red gears turn as he cranked the handle.

Another toddler friendly aspect of this project: this is such a low-fuss recipe, that the filling doesn’t require any cooking. You just let the apple slices, sugar, and spices macerate in a bag for several hours. So my little sous chef was happy to help combine the ingredients into a Ziploc bag, “massage” the apples every so often, and pour the filling into the pie pan. Even though I had a few missteps (mostly due to time constraints), the pie is still delicious (and totally appropriate for breakfast, right?)

 

link dump: birds

A few links about the impacts of humans on our feathered friends:

the specimens’ dirtiness tracked environmental turning points in the country’s history. Both feather and air pollution peaked during the first decade of the 20th century, when coal consumption reached its all-time high. The pattern then dropped off during the Great Depression, and rose during World War II as manufacturing ramped up again. But soon after the war, it decreased dramatically, marking the impact of regulations like the 1955 Air Pollution Control Act and the 1963 Clean Air Act. Fuldner and DuBay’s methods was so sensitive, in fact, they revealed a small dip in black carbon between 1880 to 1910. This could be traced back to early environmental reforms and anti-smoking initiatives, the researchers say.

Researchers had evidence that birds nests which had cigarette butts woven into them were less likely to contain bloodsucking parasites, but they were unable to establish whether this unusual construction material was specifically selected for its tick-preventing properties. They have now demonstrated that birds intentionally add cigarette butts to tick infested nests. A clever way to adapt to humans.

I’ve been known to map out a road trip for fast food. Apparently birds are doing the same thing.

 

from Sweden to your doctor’s office

I’m still ruminating over last week’s Nobel prize announcements. Although the general public is aware of the Nobel prizes, I’m not sure how well the scientific community is explaining the research awarded therein. To be fair, it’s difficult to convey the significance of an extensive, sometimes tedious, body of research in terms that anyone can understand. And it’s even more difficult to do so when the discovery doesn’t seem to have a practical, real-world significance.

One example of this: the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to two researchers who laid much of the groundwork for RNA interference, RNAi. While academic groups and handful of biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies were using RNAi as a research tool at the time, RNAi still faced a number of hurdles as a viable therapeutic. Ten years after the Nobel for RNAi was awarded, the article When a Nobel Prize brings a shower of hype: the roller coaster ride of RNAi took a look back at the progress and missteps in turning this Nobel-award winning discovery into an actual therapeutic. Finally, 11 years after the Nobel prize: positive Phase III results, Alnylam has a drug with the startling power to mute defective genes. Alnylam and the other biotech and pharma companies had been trying to make RNAi “druggable” for far longer than the 11 years since the Nobel prize was awarded in 2006.

Drug discovery is hard, you guys.

Why so few women Nobel winners?

The 2017 Nobel Prize winners were announced this week. If you’re interested in learning about the science behind the chemistry prize, I highly recommend this story and video about Cryo-EM and the winners of the 2017 Nobel in chemistry.

Beyond the science, though, something else really stands out…

The Absurdity of the Nobel Prizes in Science – “They distort the nature of the scientific enterprise, rewrite its history, and overlook many of its most important contributors.”

Nobel Prizes Should Reward Science, Not Scientists – “The science Nobels (in medicine, physics, and chemistry) present an antiquated, sexist, racist, and thoroughly incorrect view of science.”

Where are the female Nobel Prize winners? – “Only 17 women have been awarded a Nobel prize in the three science categories since the awards’ inception in 1901. There have been no black science laureates. Of the 206 physics laureates recognised, two have been women – Marie Curie (1903) and Maria Goeppert Mayer (1963).”

Why don’t women win Nobel science prizes? – This story does a great job at tackling the notion that the Nobel is intended to be a Lifetime Achievement Award, something to be awarded on the basis of a body of research conducted over the entirety of one’s career; “This scarcity of women (and black and minority ethnic men, for that matter) is often put down to the time lag between work being carried out and being rewarded with the highest accolade in science. The awards, it is argued, reflect the make-up of academic institutions way-back-when.” It’s this lag time which many use to wave off any gender disparities. However, the original intent of the Nobel was to recognize recent research; not to mention, it’s 2017, and there have been many notable women involved in all fields of scientific endeavors for generations now.

Even if you subscribe to the idea that the Nobel is a Lifetime Achievement Award, there is a need to help develop the pipeline so that there are more women put into a position where they will be seriously considered for a Nobel prize in the future. However, we aren’t making much progress on this front, either – only one woman won an NIH Director’s Pioneer Award this week. The Pioneer Award isn’t intended to be a Lifetime Achievement Award. Indeed, many of the recipients are mid-career researchers. If we aren’t providing early- and mid-stage awards to women, how can we expect their research to flourish?

All around, it wasn’t a great week for #WomeninSTEM. But at least we’re talking about the problem a little more openly now?