Duke Research Blog

Following the people and events that make up the research community at Duke.

Category: Science Communication & Education (Page 3 of 23)

Meet the Newbie: Maya Iskandarani

Hello!

My name is Maya Iskandarani, and I’m a freshman at Duke from Miami, Florida—meaning I’ll probably be in trouble once the temperature in Durham drops below 50°.

Messing around with an electric circuit at the Center for Sustainable Development (CSD) at the Island School. Source: Island School Communications Team

Messing around with an electric circuit in the Center for Sustainable Development (CSD) at The Island School. Source: The Island School Communications Team.

Though I might be poorly prepared for “real” seasons, I’m no less excited to start my adventure at Duke. For now, my academic interests lie in Biology (particularly Genetics and Marine Science), Earth and Ocean Sciences, Neuroscience, Spanish, Arabic, and French. I’m also in the Genetics and Genomics cluster of the Duke Focus Program. As you can see, I have some intense self-reflection to do before I declare a major.

I’m a walk-on to the Duke Women’s Rowing team, and feel very lucky to start fresh in an awesome sport with fantastic coaches and teammates. I also participated in Project WILD this summer, camping for two weeks in Pisgah National Forest without much prior camping, hiking, or backpacking experience. Otherwise, I’ve fought my instinct to jump into a million cool extracurricular clubs and programs, so I can get a handle on this “college” thing before I bite off more than I can chew.

In high school, I was an editor for the school newsmagazine (s/o highlights), president of the International Baccalaureate Honor Society (IBHS), vice president of the environmental club, Gables Earth, and a scooper at Whip ‘n Dip, an ice cream shop down the street from my house. I trained with the club swim team Miami Swimming for six years, and competed for my high school swim team for four.

My first taste of research was volunteering with Dr. Claire Paris of the University of Miami in my junior year of high school. I spent a few weeks helping then-PhD-candidate Dr. Erica Staaterman (a Duke alumna!) complete her dissertation on the relationship between marine soundscapes and biodiversity. My role was small, but fascinating: I used a computer program to manually filter hydrophone recordings from coral reefs in the Florida Keys for boat noise.

Preparing for a boat dive off of Cape Eleuthera, with underwater slate in hand to take notes while observing the coral reef.

Preparing for a boat dive off of Cape Eleuthera, with underwater slate in hand to take notes on coral reef life. Source: The Island School Communications Team.

My experience in Dr. Paris’s lab spurred me to further explore marine science, so I applied to attend The Island School over the summer entering my senior year. I spent a month in the blazing heat of the Bahamas, freediving through the same crystal-clear waters in the mornings that I returned to study on SCUBA in the afternoons. Although I’m not quite set on Marine Science as a course of study at Duke, I absolutely intend to spend a semester or two at the Duke Marine Lab to figure it out.

My curiosity in nearly all academic subjects pulls me in a hundred different directions, a few of which I hope to follow through with as part of the Duke Research Blog team. I can’t wait to meet researchers who are passionate about their work, and, perhaps, discover a research passion of my own.

Meet the New Blogger: Shanen Ganapathee

Hi y’all! My name is Shanen and I am from the deep, deep South… of the globe. I was born and raised in Mauritius, a small island off the coast of Madagascar, once home to the now-extinct Dodo bird.

Shanen Ganapathee

Shanen Ganapathee is a senior who wishes to be ‘a historian of the brain’

The reason I’m at Duke has to do with a desire to do what I love most — exploring art, science and their intersection. You will often find me writing prose; inspired by lessons in neuroanatomy and casting a DNA strand as the main character in my short story.

I’m excited about Africa, and the future of higher education and research on the continent. I believe in ideas, especially when they are big and bold. I’m a dreamer, an idealist but some might call me naive. I am deeply passionate about research but above all how it is made accessible to a wide audience.

I am currently a senior pursuing a Program II in Human Cognitive Evolution, a major I designed in my sophomore year with the help of my advisor, Dr. Leonard White, whom I had to luck to meet through the Neurohumanities Program in Paris.

This semester, I am working on a thesis project under the guidance of Dr. Greg Wray, inspired by an independent study I did under Dr. Steven Churchill, where we examined the difference in early human and Neandertal cognition and behavior. I am interested in using ancient DNA genomics to answer the age-old question: what makes us human? My claim is that the advent of artistic ventures truly shaped the beginning of behavioral modernity. In a sense, I want to be a historian of the brain.

My first exposure to the world of genomics was through the FOCUS program — Genome in our Lives — my freshman fall. Ever since, I have been fascinated by what the human genome can teach us. It is a window into our collective pasts as much as it informs us about our present and future. I am particularly intrigued by how the forces of evolution have shaped us to become the species we are.

I am excited about joining the Duke Research blog and sharing some great science with you all.

New Blogger on the Scene: Meg Shieh

Hi everyone! My name is Meg Shieh, and I’m currently a Duke froshling. Where I come from cannot be answered in the standard 5-second or two- to three-word answer: I was born and raised in La Verne, California for almost thirteen years. The summer before 9th grade, my family and I moved to Kaohsiung, Taiwan; I’ve lived there for the past four years.

In Taiwan, I met my high school IB HL Chemistry teacher and Science Club advisor, Dr. Marilou Gallos. She was my greatest mentor in high school and piqued my interest in the sciences. I was the Science Club President, so I spent most of my time in her lab researching and conducting test drives on projects for members to complete. My school was also undergoing Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) at the time. I was made the sole student representative on our LEED Committee, so I was privy to the inner workings of the certification and construction processes. Besides giving school tours regarding LEED certification to visitors, I also wrote and published my first article on the USGBC website.

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Resting by a river in the Qilian Mountains

The summer before senior year, my IB HL Biology teacher, Mr. Robert Oddo, took me and eleven of my classmates to China on an Operation Wallacea research expedition. On our first day in the Qilian Mountains, my group was selected to go up into the mountains. We woke up at 5 AM and needed to be at the top of the mountains by 7 AM in order to observe blue sheep or bharal. I had never hiked before, much less climbed to the top of a mountain at more than 3,200 km above sea level. Based on the confusion amongst the guides, I surmised that they had never been up mountains in this area before. We ended up following the extremely narrow goat paths. Once we reached the top, I sunk to the ground and observed the blue sheep skull a ways down and blue sheep excrement. We were too late. For the rest of the trip, I measured the size of a mouse, made bait, set small mammal traps, performed mist netting, and held birds in my hand. I realized that field research is something to look into.

My current interests lie in Chemistry and Biology, but I’m also interested in Psychology and Russian. I hope to be involved in enthralling research here at Duke, so I’m always on the lookout for opportunities!

Outside of academics, I enjoy reading murder-mystery novels, hanging out with friends, and basking in the lit-ness of the Brown Common Room. I love acting as an Admissions Ambassador and being a part of Club Figure Skating and Best Buddies.

I am so excited to be on the Research Blog Team and cannot wait to attend events, interview researchers, and share stories with all of you!

Curiosity Takes Center Stage at Visible Thinking 2016

Whether traipsing through the Duke Forest in search of a specific species of moss, using tiny scissors to dismember fruit fly larvae, or spicing up learning styles with celebrity memes and puppies, the quest for knowledge has led Duke students to some interesting pastimes.

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Inquisitive students shared their research stories with peers at Visible Thinking 2016

On April 20, those inquisitive students and their faculty mentors gathered to share their stories at Visible Thinking 2016, the annual poster session showcasing undergraduate research from across Duke’s campus.

More than 130 presentations extended to all three floors of the Fitzpatrick/CIEMAS Atrium and featured research subjects spanning from monkey flowers and color-changing chemicals to cardinal numbers and the death of Odysseus.

“As researchers, we are all working on problems that we find fascinating,” said Nina Sherwood, associate professor of the practice in the biology department and advisor to two of the student presenters. “There’s an appeal to seeing others get bitten by the same research bug and feeling that same excitement!”

Atrium

Over 130 posters lined all three levels of the Fitzpatrick/CIEMAS atrium during Visible Thinking on Wednesday.

Duke junior Ben Brissette’s passion to help people with mental and physical disabilities couldn’t be contained in just one project, so he did two.

The neuroscience major split his time between Sherwood’s biology lab, where he bred fruit flies and dissected their babies in search of nervous system abnormalities, and the library, where he surveyed recent literature on special education reform.

Brissette said the two approaches – one quantitative and reductionist, the other qualitative and complex – gave him a more nuanced perspective on the issue of disability.

And he had to learn to take each at its own pace.

“With a literature review, if you want to read for forty hours straight you can,” he said. “But if you are working with flies, you abide by their schedule.”

Brissette wasn’t the only student pulling double duty on Wednesday. Junior Logan Beyer bounced between two posters as well; one on her psychology research, examining differences the brain’s response to noise in typical children and children with autism spectrum disorder, and the other on her work with the Thompson Writing Program, designing a website to help students with learning disabilities tackle the writing process.

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Two students ponder a research question during a quiet moment at the event.

Junior Abi Amadin became curious about her research subject while entering data for a large survey on stress as part of her work study position in the Department of Community and Family Medicine. What caught her eye was a measure called the household Confusion, Hubbub, and Order Scale CHAOS. Chaos in the home is a factor that can negatively impact childhood development.

So Amadin asked if she could analyze some of the data for herself, and found some interesting results: in the families surveyed, household measured chaos was correlated not with income or the number of people in a household, as expected, but with the number of children in the household.

“It was interesting to see the process that you go through in research – first posing a question, and then figuring out how to analyze it.” said Amadin. “I definitely learned a lot.”

According to Sherwood, students aren’t the only ones who learn from the experience.

“Undergraduates researchers are great because they bring fresh eyes and a fresh outlook,” Sherwood said. “From them we get some questions that are naïve, and others that are quite profound, but both force us to think and talk about our work in a bigger context.”

Kara J. Manke, PhD

Post by Kara Manke

Puhleeeeese Can We Win It All This Time?

The research analytics folks over at Thomson Reuters are once again running the “Metrics Mania” bracket challenge.

Cameron Crazies doing their thing.

Cameron Crazies doing their thing.

They start with the 64 universities whose teams have made the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, and then slice and dice their academic publishing records pair-wise to see which of the best college basketball schools can also kick butt in the academic journals. The contest is based on Thomson Reuters InCites, an analytics site designed to allow institutions to measure research output and benchmark their performance against peers.

Surely, you’re not surprised to learn that Duke is always in the Final Four of Metrics Mania?

How about if I told you we LOST in the finals the last TWO YEARS IN A ROW?

In 2013, Duke made the Final Four. But in that first-ever contest, UC Berkeley beat Harvard by 0.01 points in the finals, which I guess is the Metrics Mania equivalent of a buzzer-beater.

Then in 2014, covered on this blog, we lost to Stanford in the final. (Mascot: anthropomorphized pine tree.)

The 2015 NCAA basketball championship was Duke's fifth.

The 2015 NCAA basketball championship was Duke’s fifth.

Last year — also covered here with waning enthusiasm — we lost to Harvard. (HARVARD?!) but at least our ballers brought home a sweet trophy.

Bitter? Naaaaah, not us. That would be unscientific.

So, what’s it gonna be this year, Thomson Reuters? What combination of measures will put is in our rightful place atop the bracket at the end? The final four face “Category Normalized Citation Impact,” then it’s on to “# of Hot Papers” to pick the winner. We can hardly wait.

My Final Four prediction: Cal, Duke, Michigan, Michigan State. (Remember, this is based on science, not basketball.) Winner? No idea.

Come on back for results right here in two weeks.

UPDATE _ April 6, 2016. Oh yeah, the tournament. We sort of lost track after Duke fell out of the basketball contest. Well, it turns out we fell out of the academic publishing contest too, falling to Yale in the second round over something called “average percentile.”

Let’s see here…

“Winners from this round are determined by the Percentage of International Collaborations. The % of International Collaborations is the number of International Collaborations for an institution divided by the total number of documents for the same entity represented as a percentage.”

The % of International Collaborations is an indication of an institution’s ability to attract international collaborations.”

So there you have it. Our first failure to reach the Final Four in four years. Cal Berkeley won it all for the second time, out-earning Wisconsin on Number of Hot Papers.

Later, Thomson-Reuters.

Post by Karl Leif Bates

Karl Leif Bates

“Debugging the Gender Gap” in Tech

Lenna“Why isn’t Lenna wearing any clothes?” I implored my friend, shocked at seeing the shoulders-up nude photo of a woman on a mundane Monday in the Duke library. I had been going through a MATLAB tutorial on computer vision, and the sample image was, surprisingly, a naked lady. Apparently, when the USC developers behind a computer vision algorithm needed a sample face in 1973, someone just happened to walk into the lab with a Playboy magazine. The face of the woman on the centerfold, Lenna, has since become the default data for computer vision classes around the world. Because, of course, it’s totally normal to walk into an academic setting waving around a copy of Playboy, which would naturally be the first place one would go looking for a face.

Unfortunately, seeing female objectification in professional programming environments isn’t exactly an isolated incident. With the advent of the “brogrammer” culture, women have reported being exposed to workplaces in which male programmers share porn over open communication channels, according to CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap. When they’ve asked their male coworkers to stop, they were told, “Stop being such a girl.”

A showing of CODE was put on by RENCI, the Renaissance Computing Institute, and the

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The percentage of women earning degrees in computer science has been decreasing, rather than increasing, since the 1980s.

Carolina Women’s Center, on February 29 at UNC. RENCI, while addressing issues of staffing diversity within its own organization, was inspired to bring the issue to light in the greater UNC community. By 2020, we expect to see more than one million unfilled software engineering jobs. As of now, only 23% of technical jobs nationwide are filled by women, leaving a huge gap to fill in this important workspace.

The response of the largely female audience to the film was overwhelmingly positive. Lilly, a first-year math student at UNC, noted that the issues the film addressed were “obvious,” both in academic settings and in the online blogosphere. She appreciated the positive messages, such as in this GoldieBlox superbowl ad, that counter expectations of young girls to study more “social” subjects and encourage them to pursue science, technology, engineering and math. Addy, a first-year computer science student, noted that a supportive group of women in her CS401 class at UNC makes the dearth of women less noticeable.

Olivia, Tabatha, and Addy with a collage of "Why We Love Tech"

Olivia, Tabatha, and Megan with a collage of “Why We Love Tech”

Tabatha, a first-year computer science student at UNC, said that she feels intimidated in introductory computer science classes, where male students often have years of background knowledge that she doesn’t. She hesitates to show men her code until it is perfect, since she feels that as a woman, she has to prove that she is just as good as a man. This additional pressure and worry, CODE observed, often causes women to perform worse in quantitative classes. Tabatha, Megan, and Olivia attended the screening as part of a Women’s Studies class. Megan echoed Tabatha’s sentiment, relating that as a beginning programmer, she felt behind during HackNC, where most men already knew how to build apps.

Clearly, issues of female representation in tech persist into the university and industry level. However, CODE insists that we must remedy the problem during childhood, when girls receive societal messages that deter them from studying science and tech subjects.

If we’re going to be “changing/saving the world,” “making a better version of you,” and deciding how to “do the right thing,” (all rhetoric from the tech industry), we should probably have all genders and races represented in those responsible for effecting the change that will supposedly impact all of humanity.

For more information on CODE, check out shescoding.org.

By Olivia Zhuprofessionalpicture

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