Monday, November 30, 2020

Lessons for the U. S. From Another Nation, One Within our Borders.

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine, Society, Culture

Ed Hessler

Tribal areas in the United States and Alaskan Native populations have been given a pounding by the SARS-CoV-2 virus with one exception--the Cherokee Nation, a nation within the U.S., that is doing much, much better than the United States. This CDC report provides some details of the effects

An article in STAT by Usha Lee McFarling is a fascinating and illuminating story about how the Cherokee nation responded. I highlight only a few of the details she covers. There has been "a mask mandate in place since spring, free drive-through testing, the hospitals are well-stocked with PPE, and a small army of public health officers supported by their chief (Chuck Hoskin, Jr.), the Cherokee Nation has been able to curtail its Covid-19 case and death rates even as those number surge in surrounding Oklahoma which the White House coronavirus task force has described its spread as unyielding.

Hoskin enforced the mask mandate when Attorney General Barr visited recently to discuss a recent Supreme Court decision. This was four days after Attorney General Barr attended a White House Rose Garden ceremony--unmasked, of course.  Hoskin, is described as someone who is assiduous about listening to the science. I am reminded of Greta Thunberg who has long told policy makers and others to listen to not follow the science and to make decisions based on the information.

Hoskin, "says he is sure masks have saved lives and misery, implemented a mandate requiring Cherokee citizens to wear masks indoors and outdoors when around others, at the behest of his public health experts; the state of Oklahoma has yet to enact one. Firthermore he says, 'I admire Dr. Fauci. I feel I have several Dr. Faucis,' Hoskin told STAT, referring to Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. 'We acknowledged early on we should defer to the expertise of our public health staff to let them do what they do best.'” (emphasis added)

The Cherokee Nation, with about 140,000 citizens on its reservation in northeastern Oklahoma, has reported just over 4,000 cases and 33 deaths. There have been no cases of workplace transmission, Sequoyah High School has reopened, and elective medical and dental procedures have seen nearly full restoration.

There is a first-person account by Caddo Nation member Dion Francis on his bout with COVID-19 and the treatment he received at the Cherokee Nation hospital. Bill John Baker, a former Cherokee Nation principal chief has been given credit for transforming the Cherokee Nation health care system and the steps he took are described.

Lisa Pivec, senior director of public health for Cherokee Nation Health Services said "'I hope our response as a nation demonstrates what being in a tribe means. It's collectively caring for one another.'" Masking, distancing, avoiding crowds, washing/sanitizing hands are simple and very effective ways of slowing the spread of Covid-19.

Read the full article and re-learn lessons we entered the pandemic knowing and should have put into practice. We did have a plan, a plan that was highly regarded both here and abroad with the exception of an administration who wished it would go away. 

Plans are necessary and must be followed for in way too many instances personal selfishness is no match for personal responsibility. There are two Rs here: rights and responsibilities.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Masks: Source Control and Personal Protection of SARS-CoV-2

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine

Ed Hessler

The wearing of masks to prevent transmission of SARS-CoV-2 does two things, both good, no very good.

In a just released CDC Scientific Brief, "Community Use of Cloth Masks to Control the Spread of SARS-CoV-2" is reported the following news.

Masks are primarily intended to reduce the emission of virus-laden droplets (“source control”) and also help reduce inhalation of these droplets by the wearer (“filtration for personal protection”). The community benefit of masking for SARS-CoV-2 control is due to the combination of these effects; individual prevention benefit increases with increasing numbers of people using masks consistently and correctly.

And what about those mask materials? The brief comments on a few of the materials.." Studies demonstrate that cloth mask materials can also reduce wearers’ exposure to infectious droplets through filtration, including filtration of fine droplets and particles.... The relative filtration effectiveness of various masks has varied widely across studies, in large part due to variation in experimental design and particle sizes analyzed. Multiple layers of cloth with higher thread counts have demonstrated superior performance compared to single layers of cloth with lower thread counts, in some cases filtering nearly 50% of fine particles less than 1 micron . Some materials (e.g., polypropylene) may enhance filtering effectiveness by generating...a form of static electricity) that enhances capture of charged particles1 while others (e.g., silk) may help repel moist droplets3 and reduce fabric wetting and thus maintain breathability and comfort. (Bold added)

The brief concludes, "The prevention benefit of masking is derived from the combination of source control and personal protection for the mask wearer. The relationship between source control and personal protection is likely complementary ... so that individual benefit increases with increasing community mask use. ...  Adopting universal masking policies can help avert future lockdowns, especially if combined with other non-pharmaceutical interventions such as social distancing, hand hygiene, and adequate ventilation."

This endorsement by the CDC for wearing masks is the strongest yet.  In addition "An economic analysis using U.S. data found that, given these effects, increasing universal masking by 15% could prevent the need for lockdowns and reduce associated losses of up to $1 trillion or about 5% of gross domestic product."

We all win: you, me, everyone. 

Here is the website for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).


Friday, November 27, 2020

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art and Environment

Ed Hessler

Good morning from St. Paul, MN, November 27, 2020 on the 332nd day of the year. More than 90% of the year has passed, not by much--90.71%. 

In weeks  and days this adds up to 47 weeks and 3 days.   

Sunrise is at 7:26 am and sunset is at 4:34 pm.

Winter is on our doorstep. In five days, December 1, it will be meteorological winter and in 25 days, December 21, it will be the winter solstice, an astronomical season. Here is information about the difference between the two.

Today's quote. On December 15, 1907, a letter by Helen Smith of Wimbledon, ND appeared in The Dakota Farmer, an entry in a contest on how women managed farm homes without hired help. Ms. Smith lived on a 500-acre farm with 1-5 hired men, and six children under age 10. She won, This is from that letter. "[L]et me say right here that my little girl of 10 can bake cake, set table, wash dishes, and sweep with any housekeeper in the country, and when mama is working with her, and making a companion of her, she thinks 'tis  all pay,; and she is laying by  store of knowledge and ideas of management, that will be of use, too, some time in future years."--Barbara Witteman, Prairie in Here Heart: Pioneer Women of North Dakota. The letter is reproduced in full.

There are two poems for today. The first is by Bruce Guernsey.

Yesterday was Thanksgiving, a time when we once gathered with family and friends. This year was different. Asked to stay put many of us did just that. This next poem is a Thanksgiving favorite and I have sent it to others many times.  Thanksgiving will go on and we will sit at a table again with family and friends to share a meal and to be thankful. We can still be thankful. However, there so many "Ifs." between now and this "then."

The poem is by Joy Harjo, the first American Indian ever appointed Poet Laureate of the United States.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

The Man Who Feeds Parakeets Daily (100s of them, 3 Times/Day)

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature, Biodiversity, Wildlife, Society

Ed Hessler

"Lakshmi Narayan Reddy's home in the southern Indian city of Visakhapatnam has become a popular spot for the city's ring-necked parakeets (aka rose-ringed parakeet).

"Hundreds of the birds – which are a species of parrot – flock to his terrace three time a day, where he sprinkles grains of rice for them to peck.

"It's now become a daily routine and one that he has perfected over the last 14 years - much to the delight of his neighbours who often peek out of their windows and watch as the parrots gather on his terrace every day."

These birds demand a lot of attention to remain somewhat tame (see the Wiki entry above). They are very handsome.

Ah the green world, this time a gift from birds. (BBC video 1m 47s)

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Cosmic Graveyard

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Astronomy, Cosmology, Earth & Space Science

Ed Hessler 

I don't think I'd ever thought of space, the cosmos, possessing a graveyard. 

It does, of course, as Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD), shows in a graphic of cosmic collisions detected in 2019. The measurements are in solar masses and you will note that there are some big things out there. LIGO and VIRGO refer to the detectors which allowed scientists to observe these very large events. Those collisons result in gravitational waves.

The cosmic grave yard is widely dispersed!

APOD's illustration is fully explained and linked.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Whitewater Watershed Lego Model

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Watersheds, Water

Ed Hessler

This is a lovely and important contribution to our sense of what a watershed is.

The Whitewater Watershed Lego Model is the result of a partnership between Whitewater State Park and Winona State University.  Constructed entirely out of LEGO bricks (more than 26,000 of them) this is a built to-scale topographic model of the Whitewater Watershed. Many friends of the park were involved in its construction.

The permanent home of the model is the Visitor Center at Whitewater State Park but the model will travel around the community to libraries, farmers markets, and fairs to engage folks in water conversations.

Here is the link which includes a video showing its construction in quick-time. There is also a description of the project as well as information about a watershed education program at the Visitor Center.


Monday, November 23, 2020

COVID-19 Deaths: 250,000 Visualized

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine

Ed Hessler

The Washington Post has a few graphics which may help you visualize this country's Covid-19 deaths, surpassing more than 250,000 victims.

The Post noted that the outbreak has killed:

  • Four times as many Americans as have died in the decade-long Vietnam War.
  • Twice as many Americans as were killed over two years in World War I.
  • Nearly two thirds as many Americans as have died during four years of fighting in World War II.
  • More than one-third of an estimated 675,000 Americans who died in the 1918-19 flu pandemic, which was the worst in modern history.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Interview with Elizabeth Mrema, XS Convention on Biological Diversity.

Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

"Earlier (this late summer) Elizabeth Mrema was appointed executive secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), making her the first woman from Africa to lead the intergovernmental body.
"The CBD was created by a UN treaty, signed into force by nations in 1992, and helps to set global targets to conserve biodiversity.
"Mrema, a lawyer from Tanzania, now based in Montreal, Canada, takes on her new role after more than a decade in leadership positions at the United Nations Environment Programme — and at a crucial time. She will oversee the creation of a new global biodiversity agreement for the next decade, which is currently being drafted. The accord was expected to be signed at a meeting in Kunming, China, in October, but this has been postponed until next year because of the coronavirus pandemic."
The scientific journal Nature published this interview with her. Reading it will give you an idea of the nature--complexity--of this multifaceted issue, one that has multiple answers. Will speaking in the name of nature bring people together? She is hoping that it will. This is not a problem one nation or even region can solve. International cooperation is required.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Malaysian Giant Leaf Insect

Environmental & Science Education
Biological Evolution
Edward Hessler

This video from KQED (4m 21s) is about the Malaysian giant leaf insect that, while large, can be very difficult to see when it is in its leafy habitat--guava or mango trees..

This insect makes use of cryptic mimicry and protective resemblance to hide itself. In the accompanying essay Jenny Oh writes "'Cryptic mimicry' might sound like a magic trick. But it’s the ability of animals to conceal themselves. Also known as camouflage, the feature allows the leaf insects to use two different techniques: crypsis and protective resemblance.

"Crypsis refers to an insect’s color and how much it looks like its habitat, while protective resemblance describes insects that resemble a natural object such as a stick, stone or, in this case, a large leaf."

These insects are part of an interactive exhibit at the California Academy of Sciences. Oh's essay describes their maintenance and some of their biology.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Art and Environment, Poetry, Chilren, Early Childhood

Ed Hessler

From St. Paul, Good Morning on this 325th day of the year. Of course, the obvious thing to do is say it plain and simple: 10 months and 20 days have passed (88.80%).

Today there will be 9h 20m 57s of daylight with sunrise at 7:17 am and sunset at 4:38 pm. Darkness is beginning to pinch us. Two days ago, the sun set for the last time this year in Utqiagvik, Alaska(formerly Barrow) and will not rise above the horizon until January 23, 2021. It is located 320 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

This date is officially celebrated by the United Nations as World Children's Day.

Today's quote: We speak of owning land, but I believe that the land owns us. We claim it for a few short years, then relinquish it, but the land endures--and so do our memories.--Helen Baker Kjonas (Prairie in Her Heart: Pioneer Women of North Dakota, Barbara Witteman, 2001.

Today's poem is from Ted Kooser's weekly American Life in Poetry, #817. It is by James Crews.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Amber: An Animated Video

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Geology, Earth Sciences

Ed Hessler

This short animated video (3m 38s) from The Atlantic is about amber.

"Amber is precious, but its not a gem. It's fossilized tree resin--a substance that forms over millions of years, capturing ancient detail as the sap oozes. Amber specimens have led to a 'mind blowing' number of scientific discoveries, the writer Katharine Gammon says. 'The amount of detail you can get in fossilized specimens inside the amber is eons ahead of other types of fossils.'

"Why, then, has one scientist called for an ethical moratorium on the mining of amber?"

I would have preferred that the comparison with other fossil and fossilizing processes be more simply stated, "eons ahead". It is different and has its limitations, too. Scientists use what nature provides and are  grateful for it. But this is a peevish point. 

There is a link to Gammon's article on amber in The Atlantic.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Another Exclamation Point to Add to the Value of Science-Based Decision-Making at All Levels of Government

 Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature of Science, Health, Medicine

Ed Hessler

In a short statement, Marcia McNutt, the president of the National Academy of Sciences, and Victor J. Dzau, the president of the U S. Academy of Medicine address their alarm about political interference in science amid the pandemic, underscoring "the value of science-based decision-making at all levels of government."

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Corona Virus Vaccine Researchers: What They Do All Day

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine, Nature of Science, Science & Society

Ed Hessler

What scientists do day-by-day in their laboratories in the development of a COVID-19 vaccine is being documented on TikTok, Twitter and Instagram (hashtag #TeamHalo).

Their aim is to bring the public closer to their work, and answer as many pressing questions as they can.

It's a global effort, with scientists volunteering to post videos that highlight their efforts to curb the pandemic.

Here in a short video (1m 13s) from the BBC is a brief introduction.


Monday, November 16, 2020

October Images from the Journal Nature

Environmental & Science Education, Art and Environment

Ed Hessler

The journal Nature has chosen its sharpest images for October. 

Don't miss them.

I always like these because they include a short explanation of the paper on which the images were based. The diverse images include a "swimming shape" of a micro-boat, monkey with a mask (more plastic pollution ahead), and snail tongues (raspy).

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Oh Beautiful: Images of the Planet--Nature and Culture

Environmental & Science Education, Art and Environment

Ed Hessler

Images showcasing the world of culture and nature. These are the winning entries of the 2020 Siena International Photo Awards, an annual contest.

One "peep" may not be enough for they fill the eyes.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art and Environment

Edward Hessler

As of today, November 13, 2020, 88.89 percent percent of of the year has passed. It is day 318 or, if you prefer another measure, the day on which 457,920 seconds have ticked from our clocks. 

Sunrise is at 7:06 am and sunset which seems to occur with a louder thud each day, is at 4:45 pm leaving in its wake 9h 36m 48 s of daylight. And so far the sun is delivering its light after yesterday's snow, fog, mist.

It is time for a random act of kindness--never to be restricted though to only this day; it is an any day act-although on this day is celebrated, unoffical World Kindness Day.

Quote of the Day.  Labour to keep alive in your Breast that Little Spark of Celestial fire Called Conscience.--The Young George Washington's Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation. (This is the 110th , the last one, compiled by Washington when he was an adolescent--a good fire.)

And today's poem is by Calef Brown, from Dutch Sneakers and Flea Keepers.


Thursday, November 12, 2020

Soul of the Queen of Aethiopia

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Cosmology, Astronomy, Astrophysics, Earth & Space Sciences

Ed Hessler

A perfect image of the notion of brooding.


Forboding. Forbidding. The lull before the storm but which one?

Almost as if it knows something we don't. It doesn't of course, but it has been around long enough to leave the impression and our imaginations are rich enough to entertain the idea and add the details.

It is the first time I've ever seen or heard of the Soul Nebula aka Soul of the Queen of Aethiopia. This has stars--it is an active star nursery--but these have been digitally removed. 

Here it is bedecked with its many, many stars.

Looks much different.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Water Filtration Systems: The Maya Way

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Water, Watersheds, Sustainability, Technology, Archaeology, Pollution

Ed Hessler

In Smithsonian Magazine you can read a report about the complexity of a Maya water filtration system first developed more than 2000 years ago. "[R]researchers conducting excavations at the ancient city of Tikal in northern Guatemala have discovered traces of this millennia-old engineering marvel.. ... (It was constructed" not long after the settlement of Tikal began around 300 B. C."

It made use of crystalline quartz and zeolite (consists of silicon and aluminum) "to create...a molecular sieve capable of removing harmful microbes, heavy metals and other pollutants. (This system) remained in use until the city's abandonment around 1100. Today, the same minerals are used in modern water filtration systems." The use of zeolite in water purification systems has been thought to be a modern invention--the 20th century. 

This essay discusses other water purification systems developed much later in the northern hemisphere but not as sophisticated and speculates that this system was developed based on empirical observation, as well as reasons for water management practices. You may wonder about the need for removal of heavy metals, likely a side benefit of the use of zeolite filtering. The Maya painted many of their structures with mercury-laden paints.

The essay highlights some of the engineering practices found in the Next Generation Science Standards, too. There is a diagram showing how the system worked.

The Maya were millenia ahead of moderns and responded to a need, one solved by engineering and some science (the observation the water managers noticed).

Remarkable story; remarkable find, one that highlights inventiveness of humans.


Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Lysol in your Nose?!

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine

Ed Hessler

NPR's Goats and Soda* has another great COVID-19 related poster, titled A Handy Guide to Hand Sanitizers.  

"In your nose?" a questioner asks. NOT!

"Your best bet," according writer Fran Kritz "is the whole combination of protective measures: frequent washing or hand sanitizing your hands, especially if you come in contact with an item or surface that someone else might have touched, physical distancing and wearing a mask. (my emphasis).

The essay about the poster includes tips on using hand sanitizers as well as choosing them. Check the ingredients--wood alcohol- and methanol-based sanitizers are NOT safe. And suppose you are holding a party and wonder about using sanitizing aerosol. They don't work; they are meant to be used on surfaces on surfaces, besides even if they did work their effect is very short, The droplets are regulated by gravity and fall to the floor and other surfaces very quickly.

Lots of good information so for a refresher this one is short and answers typical questions. It also includes a video on SARS-CoV-2 virus behavior in the air.

*And maybe you've wondered about how this NPR program got its name. Playfully and fully answered here; a nice story to boot.


Monday, November 9, 2020

The Ice of Comet 67P Revealed

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Solar System, Astrophysics, Cosmology, Geology, Earth Science, Earth and Space Science

Ed Hessler

Six years have passed since the arrival of the Philae Lander on comet 67P. You may recall that the landing was very bumpy and bouncy, resulting in the lander finally perched on its side. This made it impossible for it to sample the comet's icy interior. Philae then went to sleep. 

End of story.


Those ingenious mechanics who work from one of Earth's space garages launched, so to speak, "a painstaking investigation (and) has reconstructed Philae’s final journey and discovered data that allows them to measure the strength of the ice inside the comet - the first time this kind of direct measurement has been made."

This is another incredible story of human ingenuity, know-how and patience in working out the details of many pieces of data. A film (5m 38s) from the British journal Nature, describes how this was done. It is an achievement.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Recipes for Sugar Reduction

 Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine

Ed Hessler

The problem is sugar isn't easy to replace.--Nicola Twilley

From an essay by Nicola Twilley (The New Yorker September 28) I learned that "in 1800, an average American would have lived and died never having encountered a single manufactured candy." How times have changed. Not only are candies of all kinds found everywhere but so are "sugar-sweetened yogurts, snack, sauces, dressings, cereal, and drinks that now line supermarket shelves."

Twilley reports on the redesign of sugar crystals--same taste, properties but with a difference. The restructured sugar crystals contain surprisingly and considerably less sugar.  We live "in a world that is increasingly wary of sugar reinforced by dietary guidelines from organizations such as the World Health Organization, rules that require disclosure of sugar content on labels (with many nations, both in Europe and South America, requiring health warning labels on products containing more sugar than dietary guidelines, rules with teeth: they are taxed.) and public opinion.

This has been followed by pledges from major food companies to reduce the amounts of added sugar. The timelines vary although Nestle announced sugar in their products would be reduced by 5% by the end of this year (2020). The race to reach these goals is well underway and Twilley reports on the hows challenges of such reductions. 

It turns out that sugar's "range of functionality" is broad. "Sucrose reduces ice-crystal formation in ice cream; it adds crispness to baked goods, volume to dough, and a mouth filling viscosity to drinks; it improves emulsion stability in dressings; reduces grittiness in chocolate, and even increases shelf life. ...Sugar is simply too integral to every aspect of our cuisine for any other molecule to be an adequate substitute"--namely the sugar wannabees, the substitutes which are ubiquitous today.

These started with saccharin (made from coal-tar in the 1880s followed by a long period of no competitors to Splenda (developed in 1976) to aspartame "in the 1980s" (Twilley reports that Donald Rumsfeld was in charge of its launch! Who knew?) and others. Today food scientists are looking for naturally occurring sugars which are surprisingly common leading to a branch of food science known as rare-sugar research. 

This research led to a breakthrough in 1991, "when Ken Izumori (Kagawa University), "found an enzyme capable of flipping the orientation of three of the carbon atoms in fructose"--it is one-half of the sucrose molecule the other, glucose)--"turning it into a completely different sugar, allulose since been found to occur naturally" but in what I'd call trace amounts (e.g., figs and maple syrup).

We don't digest allulose so it is truly zero-calorie. And its properties? Wow! Twilley describes one, "a blueberry-cobbler flavored protein bar that was jaw-achingly sweet. " Furthermore, allulose "carmelizes, it flubbs, it stablizes and it delivers both mouthfeel and crumb structure in baked goods. ... while remaining "sufficiently alien to pass through the human intestine without being digested or fermented." The F.D.A. has determined--it took five years--that "for the purpose of nutrition labels, allulose wasn't a sugar."

In Twilley's discussion of  "an artifact of the F.D.A. approval process" the amount of allulose allowed in a product must be reduced. It must be "combined with other ingredient...each of these ingredients has its own issues: odd flavor, late or lingering sweetness, a cooling sensation, digestive repercussions; growing obesity rates and diabetes (we are headed toward a world  in which half of us will be overweight or obese within 15 years, and an estimated one in every six Americans will be diabetic.); and metabolism.

One reformulated product with the playful name Incredo (99% sucrose but reformulated with air pockets thus reducing the amount of sucrose to hit the tongue) is not so easy to work with and the company manufacturing it, Doux-Matok, requires a staff member to travel along when it is first requested by manufacturers to teach them how to use it with success whether in baking or in reformulating products.

Sweetness is complex than I knew. Receptors producing that sensation are found in other body organs and systems, e.g., "the digestive tract, and even in the central nervous system, in skin, in the testes, and in the lungs." Even the tongue is more complex: one of the two kinds of sweet receptors  "responds to  "molecules that taste sweet only if they contain calories." Reducing calories, then is not likely to stand alone independent of metabolic effects.

On this,Twilley quotes Australian food scientist Russell Keast. "'Anytime we think we've got one over on our biology, there will be collateral damage somewhere.'" This quote is a keeper.

In the end, Twilley wonders whether we shouldn't just face up and eat less sugar after reflecting "about all the money and the scientific ingenuity that had gone into" the development of these products. This has been done with salt "without anyone noticing" (British potato chips by half!) Sugar has a much higher threshold and we are quick to notice such changes.

Twilley ends by noting, "just as the only good substitute for sugar is sugar, the only good way to eat less of it, sadly, is to eat less of it." (My emphasis.)

Twilley's essay joins science, technology and science in personal and societal concerns, revealing links not often discussed and which directly and indirectly touch all of us in ways we know and in my case, didn't know. It is first-rate reporting. 

And, of course, it should come as no surprise that that economics is a motivating force among the developers. This wasn't stated nor did it need to be in my opinion.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

A Profile on Damien Fair (MacArthur Fellow) and Rahel Nardos, University of Minnesota

 Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature of Science

Ed Hessler

As you know there was a local MacArthur "genius award" (a MacArthur Fellow)--the amount is  $625,000 over five years to be expended any way the recipient decides. No strings.  The local recipient is Damien Fair, a University of Minnesota neuroscientist and M.D.. Fair has been studying brain development of children. Here is information from the MacArthur Program about Dr. Fair.

Dr. Fair has plans for how the award will be used--"to support his wife's life's work." Rahel Nardos is also an M.D. with a much different specialty: urogynecology.

STAT's Meghan Keshavan has a profile on both of them, focusing on their career paths and on their plans. She writes  "After traveling the country and the world together, pursuing their respective careers, the duo now wants to combine forces. They’re brainstorming ways to support maternal health to improve the outcomes of women’s children — studying, perhaps, how certain environments during pregnancy might impact early brain development. Or maybe they’ll build new training programs abroad to improve medical expertise in countries that need it. Fair and Nardos haven’t quite decided yet." 

Fair grew up in Minnesota and decided to become a physician assistant, not interested in becoming a doctor. Nardos grew up in Ethiopia. The two met at Yale University where both were in school.. When Nardos finished medical school she attended an OB-GYN residency program at Washington University. By then Fair had decided on neuroscience and became a graduate student at Washington University.. Fair was branded a "superstar" by his advisor Bradley Schlaggar. Nardos was encouraged by L. Lewis Wall to return "to Ethiopia to work with women who had experience trauma during childbirth." So with their son they packed up and returned to Ethiopia where Fair finished his dissertation.

This was followed by fellowships and post-doctoral work at Oregon State University. Fair turned down a similar fellowship offered by his former mentor at Washington University, to support his wife's surgical career. He was recently recruited to the University of Minnesota (Fair grew up here and his wife has relatives here. They also now have a 2nd child, a girl.). "The couple," according to Keshaven, "is in the process of building up the infrastructure of their new posts: Nardos will serve as the first director of global women’s health at the UM’s Center for Global Health and Social Responsibility. And Fair will lead the university’s Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain, which was launched this May with a $35 million gift — and with the goal of helping to diagnose, treat, and prevent neurodevelopmental disorders in children and adolescents."

Fair's list of talents, interests and abilities is long. He is technically oriented and "loves software development," especially involving large data sets. In addition, he and Nico Dosenbach who studies children with autism and ADHD, co-founded a computer software company Nous Imaging which has developed a product "meant to monitor patient movement during brain MRI's--in order to help keep brain images as clear and accurate as possible." Routinely about 20% are damaged and beyond use currently. This technology will make more of this imaging useful.

Keshaven's essay is a great piece of reporting on two important superstars who will make major contributions in their fields.

And now both of them are living in and working in Minnesota! 


Friday, November 6, 2020

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry

, Art and Environment

Ed Hessler

It is November 6th 2020, the 311th day of they year. Those seconds keep ticking by--26,820,400 adding up to 84.97% of the year. The sun rose at 7:17 am and sets at  6:42 pm giving us 11h 25m  09s of a lighted sky. My the dark seems no longer to creep up and surprise us as much as it seems to pounce.

Life would be different without the saxophone and November 6th is its day.

Today's quote. “The future belongs to the curious. The ones who are not afraid to try it, explore it, poke at it, question it, and turn it inside out.”--Masthead, Canadian Science Fair Journal

And today's poem is by Katie Manning.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Coping with Anxiety in a Time of Grim Headlines

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine, Society

Ed Hessler

A comic on coping with headline anxiety during the age of COVIID-19 created by NPR art director and illustrator LA Johnson is based on a conversation between podcast producer Keisha Dutes and neuroscientist/psychiatrist Judson Brewer, M.D.

See it here and listen to the podcast, too. More informaiton about the people just mentioned is linked at the bottom of the NPR page although Brewer's link didn't work so I post it in case you run into the same problem.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Herds and Lockdowns Not Herds OR Lockdowns

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine, Society

Ed Hessler

When a post begins with a glossary the prospects of what follow don't seem promising. I have a reason though; I wanted to shorten the post to the essentials. These may help you understand the basis for points Bloomberg Columnist Faye Flam makes in an essay entitled "Lockdown or herd immunity." Flam starts with a discussion of herd immunity, the Great Barrington Declaration, which pushed a herd strategy and a rip-roaring response, exactly the opposite recommendation, known as the John Snow Memorandum. Both are recommendations made by two groups of epidemiologists. So here we go.

Herd immunity: Herd immunity occurs when a large portion of a community (the herd) becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. As a result, the whole community becomes protected — not just those who are immune.

Great Barrington Declaration. As infectious disease epidemiologists and public health scientists we have grave concerns about the  Great Barrington Declaration. damaging physical and mental health impacts of the prevailing COVID-19 policies, and recommend an approach we call Focused Protection.  ...The most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity, is to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk. We call this Focused Protection. 

John Snow Memorandum. Any pandemic management strategy relying upon immunity from natural infections for COVID-19 is flawed. Uncontrolled transmission in younger people risks significant morbidity(3) and mortality across the whole population. In addition to the human cost, this would impact the workforce as a whole and overwhelm the ability of healthcare systems to provide acute and routine care.

Furthermore, there is no evidence for lasting protective immunity to SARS-CoV-2 following natural infection(4) and the endemic transmission that would be the consequence of waning immunity would present a risk to vulnerable populations for the indefinite future. Such a strategy would not end the COVID-19 pandemic but result in recurrent epidemics, as was the case with numerous infectious diseases before the advent of vaccination. It would also place an unacceptable burden on the economy and healthcare workers, many of whom have died from COVID-19 or experienced trauma as a result of having to practise disaster medicine.

Faye Flam, as usual, provides some needed perspective which was reprinted a few days ago in the Star Tribune, October 24. I link you to its reprinting in the Richmond Times Dispatch after not being able to find it in the Star Tribune on-line. I'm working from a real newspaper copy.

We start with the no strategy approach for the COVID-19 pandemic of the current administration and move in hyperdrive to a coherent, realistic strategy. I like this one since it is based on a single word "and" not on "yes, butism."

Three points.

--Whatever the percentage of the population infected with COVID-19, this will slow down transmission. That effect is likely to be local but it can't help but help.

--Flam writes, "Here's the thing: The more precautions we take the lower the level of natural immunity we need to slow the virus."

--Flam ends with this sensible bottom line. "[T]he U.s. needs a strategy rather rather than an ever shifting set of rules. And maybe a place to start is acknowledging that social distancing and herd immunity are complements, not opposites."