The Stories of Science we Never Considered

Author: Kristina Lenn
Editors: Christina Vallianatos and Whit Froehlich

I first read The Disappearing Spoon in 2012 while I was home from grad school on a break. As a chemical engineering student, nothing appealed more to me than a book about the periodic table. And I’m not referring to a typical chemistry textbook that discusses the different trends in the table as you go from left to right or top to bottom. This is a book that weaves together science, history, and the impact that the subjects of Mendeleev’s kingdom have had not only on the world but also on their discoverers.

Sam Kean, the New York Times best-selling author not only of The Disappearing Spoon but also of The Violinist’s Thumb, The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons, and Caesar’s Last Breath, has taken his passions for science, history, and writing and melded them together to create four books that were each Amazon’s top science book of the year. The books cover the periodic table, DNA, neuroscience, and the alchemy of air, respectively – all vastly different from one another yet equally enigmatic.

Continue reading “The Stories of Science we Never Considered”

The influence of epigenetics in breast cancer therapeutics

Author: Jessica McAnulty
Editors: Tricia Garay, Stephanie Hamilton, and Whit Froehlich

Most likely, you know of someone diagnosed with breast cancer, which affects 1 in 8 women in the United States. Some of the reasons this disease is so difficult to treat are the lack of targeted therapies (as there are different subtypes of breast cancer) and tumor resistance to treatment. Therefore, scientists are investigating novel therapies that act on a specific component of the cancer and/or prevent this resistance. One exciting therapy alters the expression of certain genes; a gene needs to be expressed, or “turned on”, in order for the cell to obtain information from the gene and produce a product. This therapy is a promising approach since cancers, such as hormone-sensitive breast cancer, are often due to genetic mutations that result in an increase in gene expression. It is thought that using this therapy to alter gene expression will reverse the breast tumor’s resistance to treatment.

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The Quantum Quandary

Author: Kristina Lenn

Editors: Alex Taylor, Zuleirys Santana-Rodriguez, and Whit Froehlich

My absolute favorite movie is The Imitation Game with Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley, and I love this movie for these reasons:

  1. The lesson of not giving in to naysayers is showcased throughout the movie.
  2. As a computationalist, I am proud to see my field obtain more visibility in the public eye.
  3. And duh – Benedict Cumberbatch!

However, one of my favorite scenes in the movie is when school-age Alan Turing is walking with his only friend, Christopher. Alan’s perceived oddities make him a target of ridicule among his classmates, but Christopher makes this very poignant statement: “Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.” Continue reading “The Quantum Quandary”

MARVELous Solar Cells

Author: Kristina Lenn

Editors: Christina Vallianatos, Andrew McAllister, and Sarah Kearns

Spoiler: For a better reading experience, make sure to see the amazing Doctor Strange!


I love Marvel movies, and they’re even more fun to watch as a scientist. In many of them, some energy source is at risk of falling into the wrong hands. Lest the source destroy not only the planet but also the entire galaxy, a bunch of unlikely misfits band together to ensure the energy source’s safety and security. The power source in question is something that has the paradoxical capability of both sustaining and destroying life, like the sun. Extraterrestrial battles take place with the brutish Hulk and the witty turbo-powered Iron Man. (Or, if you prefer Guardians of the Galaxy, you can fight with the smart-aleck Rocket and the cute-yet-somewhat-airheaded Groot.) The bad guys want to use this energy to have unlimited power; the good guys want to harness the energy in a more controlled manner.

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Where is Wonder Woman?

Author: Kristina Lenn

Editors: Stephanie Hamilton and Whit Froehlich

I hate to admit it, but I still have yet to see this movie that everyone is raving about and says is better than Man of Steel and Batman. But as a woman, I find it encouraging to have a female superhero join the likes of Spiderman and Superman who have many movies featuring their exploits. It’s nice to see that Hollywood is finally starting to portray women as more than damsels in distress needing male superheroes to come to their rescue.  Continue reading “Where is Wonder Woman?”

Chaos: Not Quite (but Almost) Randomness – Part 2 of 2

Author: Feng Zhu

Editors: Nayiri Kaissarian, Jimmy Brancho, and Noah Steinfeld

The first part of this post explained what chaos is, how it was first discovered in studies of the solar system, and why chaotic systems can be difficult to understand. In this second part of the post, we will explore what we can do to get a grip on such systems.

Continue reading “Chaos: Not Quite (but Almost) Randomness – Part 2 of 2”

Chaos: Not Quite (but Almost) Randomness – Part 1 of 2

Author: Feng Zhu

Editors: Nayiri Kaissarian, Jimmy Brancho, and Noah Steinfeld

What is Chaos?

Is our solar system stable, or will the orbits of the planets at some point collapse into the Sun? Closer to home: will it rain tomorrow?

Both these questions turn out to be surprisingly tricky to answer for the same underlying reason: the mathematical models we use to understand these systems are chaotic.

Continue reading “Chaos: Not Quite (but Almost) Randomness – Part 1 of 2”

Science Communication: A Duty of the Next-Generation Scientist

Author: Jessica Y. Chen (@BluntDrJChen)

Editors: Charles Lu, Ellyn Schinke, and Shweta Ramdas

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Edmund Burke

It’s frustrating, as a scientist, to watch from afar as the claims of anti-vaxxers are given credence in many parts of the country, despite ample evidence suggesting that they’re not correct.

Why and how can so many people be misled?

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So You Want to be a Scientist

Author: Kristina Lenn

Editors: Alex Taylor, Zena Lapp, and Scott Barolo

People say that “love” is probably the most abused word in the English language. I disagree. I think the word that is most misused is “genius.”

I taught engineering at Wayne State University for three years, and the class I taught that was most frustrating for the students was programming. Many of my students would come to me and say how discouraged they were; how they seemed to be behind everyone else; and how they thought they should already know how to do everything. My response was, “If you already knew how to do it, why would you need the class? It’s required for a reason.” In fact, many of them would look at me and say, “You hardly even think about the answer. You just start typing the code and it magically works.” I had to remind them that I’d been teaching for years and programming for almost a decade.

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Size Matters: Using oligonucleotide siRNAs for Targeted Therapeutics

Coming to you LIVE from the 3rd annual RNA Symposium: Advancing RNA Bioscience into Medicine. Follow us on Twitter or the tag #umichrna!

Live blogger: Sarah Kearns. Editor: Whit Froehlich.

Background

Neurodegenerative diseases and genetic conditions lack effective treatments. Patients with disorders like Huntington’s disease (HD) and congenital amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) thus have unmet medical needs. To begin to get to the heart of these disorders, researchers like Dr. Anastasia Khvorova, a professor at UMass Medical School, are looking for strategies to target RNA in order to develop treatments. Continue reading “Size Matters: Using oligonucleotide siRNAs for Targeted Therapeutics”