Science Policy For All

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Posts Tagged ‘STEM

Science Policy Around the Web – May 4, 2016

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By: Cheryl Jacobs Smith, Ph.D.

Science Education Policy

Are Science Lecture Classes Sexist?

Students of both sexes complain it is increasingly more difficult to get A’s in college science and math classes then in other non-science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) classes. However, women are suffering disproportionately to a “grade penalty” in sciences versus male college students.

A study from the University of Michigan, that has been submitted to the open access journal, PLoS One, observed that female college student typically earn half a letter grade lower in large, introductory math or science courses than in other classes at the university. In contrast, male college students only received a grade that was a third of a letter grade lower. Both sexes do worse in the introductory chemistry course, however, female college students experience a “grade penalty” more often than male college students.

What is interesting is that the reverse is true when looking at STEM laboratory grades and breaking it down by gender. Female college students do better overall in laboratory classes compared to lecture and even outscore their male counterparts. The author of the study, Dr. Timothy McKay, a Michigan professor of physics, contributes this difference the the fact that labs allow time for students to go at their own pace and polish up their reports without a ticking time clock — such as you have with in-class timed examinations. Why would women do worse on objective, timed tests? McKay speculates that something called “stereotype threat” is at play, whereby women may not perform at their best when they feel that they are in an environment where women don’t succeed. Timed tests add an element of stress, which can trigger this sort of self-doubting, counterproductive anxiety.

McKay is now conducting experiments to see if he can level the playing field. In some lecture classes, he is replacing a few high-stakes exams with biweekly in-class quizzes. The hope is that more frequent evaluation will lower stress levels and diminish self-doubt. He is also working with psychologists to program an online coaching system to send reassuring messages to female students, designed to reduce anxiety. (Jill Barshay, U.S. News).

STEM Education

Top business leaders, 27 governors, urge Congress to boost computer science education

Top businesses in the United States — Apple, Facebook, Target, Walmart, and AT&T—are calling on Congress to improve computer science education in all K-12 schools. The companies worry that the U.S. is losing its competitive edge in science among the nation’s youth in technological fields. A bipartisan coalition of 27 governors has joined the effort. They hope by supporting the teaching of coding and programming that this will draw in middle-class jobs to their states. Moreover, with children who are trained in computer science and math, they will be giving them the skills they need to be successful in a modern economy. “Our schools should give all students the opportunity to understand how this technology works, to learn how to be creators, coders, and makers — not just consumers,” they wrote Tuesday in an open letter to lawmakers. “Instead, what is increasingly a basic skill is only available to the lucky few, leaving most students behind, particularly students of color and girls.”

It is estimated that nearly 500,000 U.S. jobs require some level of computer-science understanding, yet three-quarters of the nation’s public schools do not offer any computer science courses, often forcing companies to turn to foreign workers for specialized skills. To make matters worse, the federal government has virtually no federal funding dedicated to enhancing computer science offerings in K-12 schools. For many schools, computer science education is treated as an elective: a nice-to-have option for the few students who are naturally inclined to seek it out. However, there is a push to treat computer science as a core subject instead, such as algebra or biology, to which every student is exposed. “It just seems so ridiculously obvious that our education policy has to include computer science as a basic. The fact that you’d even discuss it seems absurd,” said Barry Diller, chairman of the online travel company Expedia and of IAC, which owns websites including the Daily Beast, and the dating site

Business leaders say democratizing access to computer science will give students a leg up in the burgeoning tech fields but also in almost any job. “Computer science is not just about becoming an engineer, but teaching people how to think in a different way, in a critical way,” said Jack Dorsey, co-founder and chief executive of Twitter. “That can be helpful in any field.” (Emma Brown, Washington Post).

Science in Health

After ‘The Biggest Loser,’ Their Bodies Fought to Regain Weight

“The Biggest Loser” is a reality TV show where contestants who are extremely overweight compete in their weight loss efforts and whoever is ‘the biggest loser’ wins. Danny Cahill, winning contestant from Season 8 of NBC’s television show said, “I’ve got my life back. I mean, I feel like a million bucks” upon winning. However, in the 5 years since the show’s end, he has gained more than 100 pounds back despite his best efforts. In fact, most of the season’s contestants have regained most if not all the weight they lost. Surprisingly, some are even heavier now.

Kevin Hall, a scientist at a federal research center, had the idea to follow contestants from “The Biggest Loser” for six years. The project was first to measure what happened to people over that time period. Their stunning results showed the body’s resistance to weight loss. “It is frightening and amazing,” said Dr. Hall, an expert on metabolism at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, which is part of the National Institutes of Health. “I am just blown away.”

A person’s resting metabolism, which determines how many calories a person burns at rest, is set to the individual’s body weight set-point. Therefore, when a person deliberately loses weight, regardless of if they are a normal weight or not, the body will slow its metabolism to thwart their best efforts.

It was already known that those who deliberately lose weight will have a slower metabolism when the diet ends. So the researchers were not surprised to see that “The Biggest Loser” contestants had slower metabolisms when the show ended. What shocked the researchers was as the years went by and the numbers on the scale climbed, the contestants’ metabolisms did not recover. They became even slower, and the pounds kept piling on. It was as if their bodies were intensifying their effort to pull the contestants back to their original weight. These research findings give insight into the nation’s obesity problem and the struggles individuals go through to keep the weight off. (Tracey Yukich, The New York Times).


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May 4, 2016 at 9:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – March 8, 2016

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By: Swapna Mohan, DVM, Ph.D.

Kris Krüg via Photo Pin cc

Public Health Surveillance

Mystery cancers are cropping up in children in aftermath of Fukushima

After the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant accident in 2011 in Japan, a swift and efficient evacuation and containment plan ensured that human suffering was kept at a minimum. This included beginning a more thorough population surveillance for thyroid problems in Fukushima citizens under the age of 18. However, this thyroid screening for children and teens in the months that followed showed an unexpectedly high rate of thyroid related cancers. Anti-nuclear power activists concluded that it is the result of inhaled and ingested radioactivity from the Fukushima incident. However, scientists unequivocally disagree and stress that a majority of cases of thyroid abnormalities have not resulted from radiation exposure. Others indicate that it might be a result of overdiagnosis on the part of public health officials.  Since there are no baseline data from before the incident, it is impossible to verify whether this high report of cases is a direct result of radiation or are just indicative of a high number of thyroid carcinomas in children. Epidemiologists point out the error in comparing the results of this screening (where they used advanced devices to detect even unnoticeable abnormalities) to more traditional clinical screenings (where participants have already detected lumps or symptoms). In order to get a better idea of the baseline of thyroid abnormalities, scientists screened approximately 5000 children from other areas of Japan in comparable age groups. The data did not reveal a significant difference in the rate of thyroid abnormalities in the unexposed populations. This demonstrates that thyroid abnormalities in children is higher than previously thought and must be kept in mind when considering options such as complete or partial thyroidectomy. (Dennis Normile, Science News)

Global Health

A Zika breakthrough: Scientists detail how virus can attack fetal brain

The mechanism by which the Zika virus causes microcephaly in newborns has been described by scientists at Johns Hopkins University, Florida State University and Emory University. With lab grown stem cells, the researchers were able to demonstrate that the virus invades the brain cortex, killing the rapidly dividing stem cells there. This reduction in stem cell numbers in the cortex causes the brain to be malformed and underdeveloped. The study, published in Cell Stem Cell, is the first piece of evidence that conclusively ties Zika infections to microcephaly and developmental defects in newborns. Zika virus, known to induce only mild symptoms in adults, has been linked to an unprecedented increase in cases of microcephaly in babies born in Brazil last year. However, the link between the two had been so far, inconclusive. There was an alternate theory that the incidence of microcephaly could be caused by pesticide and use. This study showed the propensity that the virus has to neural stem cells over other cell types (such as fetal kidney cells or undifferentiated stem cells). The researchers observed that the virus used the rapidly dividing neural stem cells to replicate their numbers and in the end, this leaves the cells depleted and unable to grow properly. Scientists believe that getting a better insight into the pathogenicity of the virus on neural cells is essential for developing preventative and therapeutic measures to fight the disease. (Lena H. Sun and Brady Dennis, Washington Post)

STEM diversity

NSF makes a new bid to boost diversity

To understand why women and certain minorities are underrepresented in the science filed, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has launched an initiative aimed at increasing diversity in the scientific community. The 5-year, $75 million program named INCLUDES (Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science) targets proposals for scaling up involvement of underrepresented groups in science education and STEM fields. The proposals solicited for this initiative are required to outline an effective strategy for broadening participation by working with industry, state governments, schools and nonprofit organizations. While NSF has over the years, funded several similar initiatives aimed at increasing diversity, this one is expected to test out novel ideas and approaches. The initial response to this program has been largely positive, with commentators calling it “a bold new initiative” and having high expectations on its potential to strengthen the participation of underrepresented groups in science. (Jeffrey Mervis, Science)

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March 8, 2016 at 9:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – January 5, 2016

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By: Nivedita Sengupta, Ph.D.

Scanning electron micrograph of neutrophil ingesting methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. Credit: NIAID. Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Dual Use Research of Concern (DURC)

U.S. oversight of risky pathogen research could be better, draft report concludes

Gain of function (GOF) mutation studies that manipulate dangerous pathogens to develop treatment and vaccines can pose significant threat to public safety in event of an accidental or intentional release of the modified infectious agent. A recently released report by an expert advisory group, National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) to the U.S. government concludes that though just a small subset of the GOF studies pose such a risk, current policies regulating such studies required further policy supplementation.

The debate on GOF studies came into prominence in 2011 when two research groups reported GOF studies on H5N1 avian influenza virus resulting in a more virulent and readily transferable virus. This led to a controversy over publication of the results and fear of pandemic in case of escape of these agents from the laboratory. In 2014, the U.S. government suspended 18 funded GOF studies involving pathogenic viruses such as influenza and SARS. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) later exempted few of the studies while NSABB and National research council (NRC) continued to review the risks and benefits of such studies. Following the NRC meeting, NIH commissioned an independent firm to evaluate the risk and benefits of such studies.

The report submitted by the firm analyzed the probability of both lab accidents and security breaches and concluded that “only a small fraction of laboratory accidents would result in a loss of containment; of those, only a small fraction would result in a laboratory-acquired infection, and of those, only a fraction would spread throughout the surrounding community (or global population).” It further states that some types of GOF experiments may not pose any security threat. The report also highlights the regulatory gap overseeing this kind of research. There are some regulatory requirements for handling the lethal viruses and bacteria classified as select agents; however GOF studies involving MERS virus and seasonal influenza viruses does not seems to be regulated by any of the current policies.

The draft report also proposes multistep guidelines while making funding decisions on research proposals related to GOF studies. In the initial step, reviewers would evaluate three criteria to determine whether the study needs further special evaluation. Studies requiring further evaluation would have to undergo a seven step review process before making a funding decision. In the final step, all the funded studies would be regularly reviewed by the sponsoring institution and federal funding agencies.

Although the NSABB reports details a thorough risk benefit analysis and recommends a set of policy guidelines for research funding for GOF studies, it is expected to draw extensive comments during the upcoming NSABB meeting. However, some scientists believe that due to the perception of a larger scale benefits of these studies, the recommendations of the report may not lead to stricter policy guidelines. (David Malakoff, ScienceInsider)

Antibiotic Resistance

Spread of antibiotic-resistance gene does not spell bacterial apocalypse — yet

The worldwide emergence of bacteria resistance to colistin – one of the “last resort” antibiotics – was  recently reported in numerous countries. Colistin is one of the few antibiotics which are rarely used in humans as it can cause kidney damage; thus, bacterial resistance due to overuse in humans has not occured. However, mutations conferring colistin resistance have been previously reported in soil bacteria, and most recently it has been identified in plasmids, those small sections of circular DNA which are readily shared among bacteria. The ease of this transfer of plasmids between bacteria has resulted in the emergence of colistin-resistant bacterial species. As colistin is considered as a last resort drug, the appearance of resistant bacterial species has resulted in an outcry in the medical field.

However, not all researchers and physicians are considering this as the worst possible news, since colistin is not the only last resort antibiotic available. They suggest that even with the emergence of colistin-resistant bacteria, the drug can still be used for treatment in conjunction with other antibiotics. Moreover, they state that all antibiotics have a spectrum of activity and thus a larger dose may overcome the apparently resistant bacteria.

Even though the appearance of colistin-resistant bacteria now may not be the end of the antibiotic line, it is only a matter of time before that becomes fact. The last new class of antibiotics, lipopeptides, were discovered in the 1980s and the newest antibacterial compound teixobactin has a long way to go before it can be used beneficially as an antibiotic. Though a lot of antibiotics have been developed in past years, the functional basis of all these drugs are quite similar and thus may not work any better (or prevent resistance from occurring) than each other.

Government incentives for companies that continue to develop new antibiotics are a good thing, so long as bacteria do not quickly develop resistance against these new drugs. So, in addition to the important work of developing new antibiotics, we must also try to use our existing drugs in a better way and try to find a different alternatives to treat bacterial infections. In this regard, current policies for the proper use of antibiotics should be regularly revisited with preventing antibiotic-resistance in mind. This will require further policies which dissuade the misuse of antibiotic in farm animals and agriculture, as well as in hospitals. Furthermore, worldwide cooperation is needed to create global policies to prevent the misuse and overuse of antibiotics in the near future. (Sara Reardon, Nature Trend Watch)

Women in STEM

Why Are There Still So Few Women in Science?

The 2015 Noble prize in physiology or medicine was awarded to Dr. Youyou Tu for her discoveries regarding a novel therapy for malaria. The Noble prizes in Chemistry, Literature, Physics, and Physiology or Medicine were first awarded in 1901 and since then 18 women have received the Noble prize. Current statistics show that approximately 50% of doctoral candidates are women; however, less than 20% of them end up in a tenured research position. So what is the cause of fewer women in science? Clearly it is not the quality of work done by the women, as this has already been substantiated in many ways.

A significant reduction in number of women in science occurs during the postdoctoral years, after receiving PhDs and before reaching tenure. This drop in number of female scientists can be caused by a number of factors. For instance, the most widely accepted issue is trying to balance a career with motherhood. In addition, the current academic system does not make the job easier by demanding long hours at work to earn tenure, leaving little time for anything else. Even after overcoming all these obstacles the accomplishments of a woman is seen with bias and skepticism as mentioned by Dr. Virginia Valian in her book, Why So Slow? The Advancement of Women. Dr. Meg Urry, a professor of physics at Yale, thinks that the accomplishments of women in science are under appreciated in such a way that they themselves lose the confidence to continue further. Some of the other challenges faced by women in science are subtle but unique, and are so overtly ignored that it even escapes notice by women. Some of these challenges are unconscious institutional bias and lack of proper mentoring. A study done in 2012 found that both male and female professors would offer a job to the male applicant, when presented with identical curriculum vitae  of two imaginary applicants one male and one female. Moreover, if they did hire the female applicant, her salary was nearly $4,000 lower than male counterpart. This bias is not only limited to the salary and extends even to promotions and office space and professional interactions.

Though there are many policies in science to address these gender imbalances, current circumstances warrant that these policies be re-evaluated. One policy for all may not be the best way to deal with the present situation. Policies should be crafted to attempt to remove any bias in salaries, allocation of research space, and promotions, in addition to raising public awareness regarding importance of women in scientific field. This in turn, might result in motivating women to continue in the scientific field. (Eileen Pollack, The New York Times Magazine)

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January 5, 2016 at 9:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – October 9, 2015

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By: Rebecca A. Meseroll, Ph.D.

Refugee scientist relief policy

Program launched to help refugee scientists find opportunities in Europe

Many thousands of Syrian refugees have fled to Europe in recent months, and among those in crisis are scientists who had to leave their research behind. The European Commission has demonstrated its support for these refugees by launching an E.U.-wide program called Science4Refugees, which will allow refugee scientists to be matched with universities and other institutions that have volunteered to be a part of this initiative. The program will provide an online portal where refugees who are interested in jobs, internships, or other training opportunities at the institutions can get more information about available vacancies and upload their CVs. Refugee job seekers will not receive preferential treatment and must compete for available positions with all other applicants, but this approach should at least help increase refugees’ awareness of which institutions have vacancies and provide a centralized online location to apply for these jobs. Science4Refugees joins the ranks of other initiatives that provide relief for displaced scientists in individual countries around the E.U., including established programs such as the UK’s Council for At-Risk Academics, which was instituted in the 1930s to help scientists persecuted by the Nazis and the Scholars at Risk program in the Netherlands, as well new programs in Germany and France. (Tania Rabesandratana, ScienceInsider)

Women in STEM

‘Pretty Curious’ campaign criticized

In an effort to increase the involvement of women in science and technology, a London-based energy company, EDF Energy, recently started a program to foster interest in STEM among girls ages 11-16, but the initiative has garnered some objections because of its name – Pretty Curious. Some critics of the name bristle at the implication that girls place a lot of importance on being pretty and liking pretty things, and thus need to be tempted with prettiness to be interested in STEM. Others object to the use of ‘pretty’ as an adverb, as they believe it suggests the girls will be only fairly interested in STEM topics, rather than truly passionate. EDF Energy states that they chose the name intentionally to “to challenge the stereotypes around personal appearance that are often applied to girls,” as well as to draw attention to their campaign. Pretty Curious plans to hold workshops in the UK to teach girls technological activities and techniques, such as coding and 3D printing, as well as introduce them to various female role models who have succeeded in STEM fields. Whether the program will overcome its early controversy and help increase representation of women in science remains to be seen. (Chris Woolston, Nature)

Animal population control

New vaccine provides hope for single-shot animal birth control

A recent study by Li et al. in Current Biology presents a new method of vaccine sterilization for both male and female mice, which may be a promising technique for cheap, easy, and long-lasting animal population control for pets and wildlife. Pet populations tend to be controlled by spaying or neutering, but these procedures require anesthetization and can be costly. Animal contraceptive vaccines that are currently in use, such as GonaCon, have been used to sterilize deer and other wildlife, and work by eliciting an immune response to gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), which is required for production of sex hormones. These vaccines often lose their efficacy after several years if administered in a single dose. The new vaccine developed by Li et al. contains an anti-GnRH antibody encased in an inactive viral shell and uses the animal’s muscle cells to generate more antibodies, rather than the immune system. Because muscle cells are long-lived, they continue to produce antibody in over a long period of time without the need for a booster. When injected into muscles of the mice at a high enough dose, the vaccine conferred long-term infertility to the animals, although there is a two-month lag between injection and the onset of infertility, as the muscles ramp up production of the anti-GnRH antibody. Future study will be required to minimize the lag time and test the technique in animals other than mice before it can be used to control captive and wild animal populations. (Sarah C.P. Williams, Science)

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October 9, 2015 at 9:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – September 18, 2015

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By: Sara Cassidy, M.S., Ph. D.

photo credit: via photopin cc

Legislative policy

Turmoil in Congress could lead to government shutdown and a stall in scientific research

Planned Parenthood has received a lot of negative press surrounding a video of a high-level executive talking about fetal tissue collection and sale. Despite the fact that Planned Parenthood is completely within the law regarding such sales, and fetal tissue research (typically in the form of stem cell research) is also legal and funded by the NIH (in the form of grants to university researchers), and has real promise in saving individuals with devastating disease, some in Congress are using anti-abortion grandstanding and the threat of de-funding Planned Parenthood to hold up passage of a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government solvent. If a CR is not passed by Sept 30th, the government will likely experience a shutdown similar to the one experienced in 2013.

The government shutdown impedes science in a variety of different ways. When the government is unfunded, NIH cannot enroll new patients to the clinical center including children with cancer. In 2013, the FDA was forced to furlough approximately 45% of its employees, which jeopardized food safety, since they were no longer able to inspect food manufacturers or monitor food imports. And the government shutdown was felt in science beyond the DC metro area. Scientists applying to the federal government for grants and funding to conduct research, who would have otherwise had their applications reviewed in October, had to wait until January for review. The Washington Post estimates the likelihood of a government shutdown on Oct 1st as “well over 50%”to 70%.

Women in STEM

Miss Vermont uses the talent portion of Miss America 2016 to promote STEM

Alayna Westcom didn’t tap dance or sing for her talent in Atlantic City on Sunday night (9/13/15), she chose beakers and chemicals in an effort to wow the crowds with chemistry. Westcom has a B.S. in forensic science from Bay Path University and an M.S. in medical laboratory science from the University of Vermont. More recently, she completed an internship with the Vermont state medical examiner’s office. Westcott plans to attend medical school after her tenure as Miss Vermont with the goal of becoming a medical examiner herself. Since her victory as Miss Vermont 2015, she has traveled the state sharing her love of STEM with school children, hoping reach 10,000 by the end of the year. Her chemistry demonstration in last night’s competition mixed potassium iodide, hydrogen peroxide, and soap to produce a foamy eruption called “elephants toothpaste”. You can see the demonstration at the 2015 Miss Vermont pageant here. While Miss Vermont was not crowned Miss America on Sunday, her elevation of science was a welcome addition to the talent competition.

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September 18, 2015 at 9:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – September 11, 2015

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By: Agila Somasundaram, Ph.D.

Corals and Fish on Jackson Reef by Matt Kieffer via Flickr Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0

Climate Change

Warming Oceans Putting Marine Life ‘In a Blender’

Lobsters are thriving in Maine, while their numbers are dwindling in southern New England. The reason? Global Warming. The higher temperatures in the north may be speeding up their metabolism, but the waters may be too warm at the southern edge of their range. This is just one example of a global trend in changing temperatures. Because the ocean temperatures have been rising, many marine species are moving to more comfortable waters. Many species are moving towards the pole, away from the Equator, at an average speed of 4.5 miles a year, about 10 times as fast as land species are moving. Scientists are developing models to study what this reshuffling of ocean ecosystems will look like, and the picture seems stark. In a recent study published in Nature Climate Change, scientists analyzed the current ranges of about 13,000 species of marine organisms. If ocean temperatures continue to rise, species will move to stay in their ‘thermal niches’. The move might be easier for some, and not so for the others, depending on the obstacles that lie in their migration paths. Scientists also project that, if this happens, by 2100, the tropics will lose a majority of their species, and there will not be new species taking their place. It’s unclear how the existing ecosystems away from the equator would be affected by the arrival of new species. Some newly arrived species may outcompete the native inhabitants, and some may go extinct. “It’s a game about winners and losers”, says Dr. Jorge García Molinos, lead author of the study. Dr. Malin L. Pinsky says that movement of fish away from the tropics might have food implications. “Seafood in many of these countries is a very important source of nutrition. Climate change could leave a gaping hole in the oceans.” (Carl Zimmer, The New York Times)

STEM Education and Funding

Intel Ending Sponsorship Of Prestigious Science Contest For High School Student

Intel, the giant semiconductor manufacturer, has been a sponsor of the Science Talent Search competition, organized by the Society For Science, since 1998. But Intel will be ending its partnership with the competition after 2017. Science Talent Search is the most prestigious science and mathematics award for high school students in the U.S. Some of the past winners have gone on to win prestigious awards such as the Nobel Prize and the MacArthur Fellowships. The decision by Intel is puzzling given that sponsoring the competition costs Intel $6 million a year, about 0.01 percent of Intel’s annual revenue, and it generates goodwill to the organization. Intel moving away from this competition does not mean it is moving away from encouraging students about STEM fields. Intel is partnering with Turner Broadcasting to create a technology-based invention reality show called the ‘America’s Greatest Makers’. (Brakkton Booker, NPR)

Reproductive Research

Preemies’ Survival Rates Improve, But Many Challenges Remain

Extreme preemies — born somewhere between 22 and 28 weeks — have a better chance of surviving now than they did 20 years ago, doctors reported Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). But many of these babies still have severe health problems. The study was done by pediatrician Barbara Stoll and her colleges at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. The doctors found that the survival rate of preemies has risen from 70 to 79 percent between 1993 and 2012 due to improvements in treatments for these babies. Outcomes are still bad for very young preemies, born less than 25 weeks – 90 percent of babies who survive have severe health problems. While neonatologist Roger Soll of the University of Vermont College of Medicine says “The changes in outcomes are much less than might be expected given the substantial changes in practice and raise the question whether many of these changes in practice have been effective”, Stoll is more optimistic. “We hoped for small, steady improvements like this,” she says. “We are cautiously optimistic that the data show progress is being made.” Two major medical interventions have helped this progress: prenatal steroid treatments to help preemies’ lungs develop faster, and doctors’ willingness to surgically deliver extreme preemies. (Michaeleen Doucleff, NPR)

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September 11, 2015 at 12:00 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – April 10, 2015

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By: Kaitlyn Morabito, Ph.D.

photo credit: Asha Hall-10 via photopin (license)

Women in STEM

Women in engineering engage best with gender parity

The lack of women in STEM related fields has been a hot topic recently with many groups focusing on closing the gender gap. At the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, a social psychology researcher setup an experiment to gauge the role of female peers in female engineers participation in a group problem-solving activity. Within the groups of 4 engineers, different male to female ratios were utilized: 1:3, 2:2, and 3:1. Each group contained one female engineer subject and 3 evaluators who utilized a script in the problem-solving activity. Following the activity, the evaluators rated the female engineers on participation, confidence, interest and comfortableness. The female engineer also took a self-survey after she met her group, but before the activity started to measure how confident, anxious, challenged, or threatened she felt and the likelihood of her staying in engineering. When there were no other females in the group environment, the female engineers felt less confident and were more likely to view the activity as a threat and less likely to remain in engineering. The females who were in even groups, felt more confident, but were still less likely to participate the females who were in a mostly female group. This highlights how challenging it can be for a women to participate and succeed in a male-dominated field. The study has its caveats so the results may not be generalizable. The subjects were women who already chose engineering, the groups were small, and the interactions were scripted. However, it still emphasizes the role that female peers may have on other females. (Bethany Brookshire, Scicurious – ScienceNews)


Years after shutting down, U.S. atom smasher reveals properties of ‘God particle’

The Tevatron collider, which was shut down over 3 years ago, has provided more insight into the Higgs boson particle, which was discovered by the physicists working on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in 2012. The Higgs boson particle is essential to the standard model theory, which explains how particles get their mass. Scientists working on the LHC directly measured the mass of the Higgs boson particle and other quantitative measurements such as angular momentum. The subject of angular momentum or spin was determined to be zero spin and the parity was determined to be negative. Scientists using the Tevatron collider, however, used a more indirect approach by using the interaction of the Higgs particle with other particles (Z boson or W boson) to approximate the spin and parity of the parental Higgs particle. This indirect measure puts more strident limits on the hypothetical parity and spin of the Higgs particle. This data was slow to analyze due to the loss of personal to the LHC project and otherwise could have been published prior to the discovery of the Higgs boson particle. (Adrian Cho, Science)


Amid Protests, Hawaii Governor Says Construction of Thirty Meter Telescope is Paused

The company Thirty Meter Telescope stopped construction of a telescope on Hawaii’s Mauna Kea volcano. This telescope, standing at 180 ft, will be one of the largest in the world with scientists reasoning that the location is perfect for studying “the earliest years of the universe.” The one-week secession of building comes after a week of demonstrations by protesters who argue that the land is sacred to some of Hawaii’s natives. The opposition to the telescope project has existed since its initiation over a year ago, but really came to a head with the demonstrations beginning last week. The land on which the telescope is being erected is leased by the Thirty Meter Telescope company through the University of Hawaii. The Hawaiian Land Board approved the construction of the telescope on March 6th. The pause in construction will provide an opportunity for the opponents, university and government officials, and company to have a discussion of the future of the projects. (Caleb Jones, Huffington Post)

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April 10, 2015 at 9:00 am

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