|Malika Jeffries-EL looks to one of the most abundant elements to solve one of the world’s most pressing problems. Boston University’s BU Research recently spoke to Prof. Jeffries-EL about a life in chemistry, her favorite element, and seeing her work in lights.
Her love affair began at science camp. Like many young scientists before her, she fell hard, smitten by the elegance and beauty of the periodic table. “Back then, I was like, ‘Oh my God, there are all these different atoms!’” she recalls. “You can mix them together and make all these different molecules! I could be all day with this.”
Today, Prof. Jeffries-EL is looking for new materials that could fill a pressing need for cheaper, simpler, flexible semiconductors. As the world grows ever hungrier for laptops, iPhones, solar cells, and lights, the race for next-generation semiconductors is on. She is betting on organic polymers—long molecules comprised mostly of carbon.
BU Research: What is a polymer, anyway?
Jeffries-EL: A polymer is what we call a macromolecule, with molecules being some of the smallest things that make up, well, everything.
Wait. But no, that’s not true, is it?
Well, okay, yeah, if you want to talk physics, you can break things into particles. But if we go chemistry-style into the periodic table, we have our atoms; and if you can bind atoms together in various fashions, you can make molecules. So H2O is a molecule. It’s composed of three atoms: two hydrogens and one oxygen. A polymer is the type of molecule you get if you string a bunch of smaller molecules together. If you think about a pearl necklace, a pearl would be your molecule but the necklace would be your polymer.
So why do we care about polymers?
|Ta-Nehisi Coates delivered the keynote address at the University’s 149th Charter Day Convocation in Cramton Auditorium on Friday, March 4, 2016.
“There is no geographic quadrant, no place on the globe, nowhere in this world, that I’ve felt is more beautiful than Howard University,” Coates said.
In his remarks, Coates expressed deep appreciation to his predecessors, and encouraged today’s students to revel in the beauty and the empowering aspects of campus life.
“I knew that when I was here that I was not just experiencing a present beauty of an institution. I was experiencing the beauty of a heritage, going way, way back,” Coates said. “That put a pressure on me, a kind of responsibility. Beauty is not free.”
Coates majored in history and studied at Howard from 1993 to 1999. A national correspondent for The Atlantic, Coates published a memoir, The Beautiful Struggle, in 2008, and his New York Timesbest seller, Between the World and Me, in 2015. Coates is the recipient of the National Magazine Award and the Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism. He received the George Polk Award for his Atlantic cover story, “The Case for Reparations.” In addition, Coates was presented the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation MacArthur Fellowship in 2015. Coates also received the highly acclaimed 2015 National Book Award for Between the World and Me.
This year’s Charter Day celebration marks the 149th anniversary of the charter enacted by the United States Congress and approved by President Andrew Johnson on March 2, 1867, that established Howard University.
|Calestous Juma‘s new book bears a compelling cover image: a modern lightbulb shattering a traditional one from within.
Innovation and Its Enemies: Why People Resist New Technologies, forthcoming in July 2016 by Oxford University Press, shows that many debates over new technologies are framed in the context of risks to moral values, human health, and environmental safety. But it argues that behind these legitimate concerns often lie deeper, but unacknowledged, socioeconomic considerations.
The book explains the roots of resistance to new technologies and why such resistance is not always futile. Juma draws from nearly 600 years of economic history to show how the balance of winners and losers shapes technological controversies. He outlines policy strategies for inclusive innovation to reduce the risks and maximize the benefits of new technologies.
Using detailed case studies of coffee, the printing press, margarine, farm mechanization, electricity, mechanical refrigeration, recorded music, transgenic crops, and transgenic animals, Juma shows how new technologies emerge, take root, and create new institutional ecologies that favor their establishment in the marketplace. He uses these lessons from history to contextualize contemporary debates surrounding technologies such as artificial intelligence, online learning, 3D printing, gene editing, robotics, drones, and renewable energy.
Innovation and Its Enemies ultimately makes the case for shifting greater responsibility to public leaders to work with scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs to manage technological change, make associated institutional adjustments, and expand public engagement on scientific and technological matters.
“[An] outstanding treatise on how new technologies are created and why they are so often not initially accepted by society,” says Robert Langer, David H. Koch Institute Professor at MIT. “I loved reading it.”
Calestous Juma is Professor of the Practice of International Development and Director of Science, Technology, Globalization, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University. He was a 2014-2015 Visiting Professor in the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP).
Table of Contents:
1. Gales of Creative Destruction
Reviving a tradition that was dormant for more than two decades, this year’s 42nd annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration at MIT began with a silent march by several dozen students, faculty, staff, and administrators solemnly making their way from Lobby 7 to the annual luncheon at Walker Memorial Hall.
There, MIT President L. Rafael Reif began his introduction of the speakers by reminding the assembled crowd that here on campus, “this has been quite a year – an extraordinary year. On topics from race, inclusion and social justice, to climate change, this year our students have, in many ways, become our teachers.”
Citing one example of such teaching, Reif recalled a meeting with leaders of two associations of black students, who he said “were thoughtful, creative, persistent, specific, collaborative, constructive, and serious. … They set the tone for mutual respect — and they earned tremendous respect in return.” The groups came with a series of very specific recommendations — and then continued by getting deeply involved in the process of figuring out how to implement those recommendations. They will produce a progress report this spring, he said, which will be made public.
“I am confident that we are on a path to sustained and meaningful change,” Reif said. “As one of our student leaders put it recently, ‘It is wonderful to see the gears of MIT go to work on a problem,’ and I could not agree more.”
Reif said that student leaders “are making a powerful case that a more welcoming, more inclusive MIT would be better for absolutely everyone. They are right! And I look forward to working with them to make this vision real.”
Keynote speaker Freeman Hrabowski has for 24 years been president of the University of Maryland at Baltimore County, which was named by U.S. News and World Report as one of the nation’s most innovative universities. His innovations there, Reif said, included a mentorship program for minority scholars which has resulted in an extraordinary success rate in getting students into advanced degree programs in science, math, and technology — so much so that MIT four years ago adopted its own version of the program.
Bringing about these kinds of profound institutional changes, Hrabowski said, involves the entire university community looking inward at its basic values and saying “all of us must be involved if we are to pull people in who have not been historically represented. … We must hear their voices, we must think about who we are and who we want to become.”
Hrabowski recalled a time when he was 12, sitting in the back of a church, and he heard an inspirational talk from Martin Luther King Jr. himself, which led him to want to take part in demonstrations that he knew might lead to his arrest. His parents, who had urged him to go to the talk, were fearful about the possible consequences of that action, especially spending time in jail at his young age, but they reluctantly allowed him to go. He was indeed arrested and spent five days in jail.
“I was absolutely transformed” by King’s words, Hrabowski said, “because his message was this: That the world of tomorrow could be better than the world of today, and that I, a child, could be part of bringing about that transformation. It wasn’t just about what he would do or what my parents would do.”
Even after his horrible experience in jail, he said, he came out feeling empowered, knowing that even as a child, his actions could be part of making a real difference. Speaking to the students in the audience, he said “you do have the right and the ability to speak truth to power” — the theme of this year’s MLK lunch.
Real change has taken place, he said — the diversity represented there in the room, he said, would have been hard to find in Boston in the 1960s. Voting rights and other important legislation have made a difference, and rates of college graduation for minorities, for example, have increased about tenfold since then. “Every group has gotten better off as a result of that,” he said.
Everyone is struggling
Quoting the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, Hrabowski said “the joy always comes after the struggle.” Anybody who is trying to achieve anything substantive in the world is struggling, he said. “We have to keep working at it. … Nothing takes the place of hard work and attitude.”
“I challenge MIT,” he said: “Be the best, not just for STEM but for humankind. Watch your thoughts, they become your words. Watch your words, they become your actions. Watch your actions, they become your habits. Watch your habits, they become your character. Watch your character, it becomes your destiny. Dream!”
Itoro Atakpa, a junior in mechanical engineering, talked about her own experiences as an African-American student at MIT and urged her fellow students to be involved in improving the feeling of inclusiveness for everyone on campus. “We have to be proactive in helping each other to understand. This is the only way to identify and address the resources that are missing here,” she said.
Atakpa said that students should spread the message of inclusiveness like a kind of benign contagion. “I challenge you to infect others with your voice,” she said. “The voices in your head don’t have to be a silent and personal affliction; they should be an epidemic on the grounds of our campus. Because you are the revolutionary, you are the difference. And I know from experience that once someone catches wind of your emotion and listens to your thoughts and ideas, the virus of your voice is chronic and incurable.”
And graduate student Sergio Hiram Cantu said, “we need to help empower others.” Being accepted to MIT, coming from one of the nation’s poorest cities, “felt like winning the lottery,” he said. And when he arrived here, “to my surprise, MIT felt like a family to me.”
But he added that “even though MIT has come a long way, we still have a long way to go” in making everyone feel welcomed, included, and supported. “You have a lot more power than you realize,” he implored. Quoting from Martin Luther King, he said, “if you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. Whatever you do, keep moving forward.”
|Wesley Harris delivered the keynote address at this week’s Princeton University Martin Luther King Day observance. In 1968, Professor Harris became the first African-American to receive a Princeton PhD in engineering. Among his many positions at MIT, Professor Harris is AeroAstro former department head at MIT and currently the Charles Stark Draper Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
Princeton University honored Martin Luther King Jr. during the January 18, 2016 ceremony featuring reflections on the civil rights leader’s legacy, remarks on the continued quest for racial justice in the United States, musical performances, and a recognition of community and campus service efforts.
In his keynote, Professor Harris spoke of his experiences growing up in Richmond, Virginia, in the 1940s and 1950s, and how a personal encounter with King shaped his life.
“The opportunity to speak at Princeton in celebration of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is an honor,” Harris said. “For this opportunity, and much, much more, I remain grateful to Princeton…So how did I get to Princeton and what impact did Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. have in the process?” Harris said, recalling the Richmond of his childhood.
|Dr. Jacquelyn Taylor, the Yale School of Nursing’s newly appointed Assistant Dean of Diversity and Inclusion, is lead author of a recent study published in Scientific Reports. The study, titled “A Genome-wide study of blood pressure in African Americans accounting for gene-smoking interaction,” focuses on the interaction genetics and the negative of lifestyle behavior of cigarette smoking on increases in blood pressure.
The study appeared on January 11, 2016 in a Nature Publication of Scientific Reports (Vol. 6).
Cigarette smoking has been shown to be a health hazard. In addition to being considered a negative lifestyle behavior, studies have shown that cigarette smoking has been linked to genetic underpinnings of hypertension. Because African Americans have the highest incidence and prevalence of hypertension, we examined the joint effect of genetics and cigarette smoking on health among this understudied population. The sample included African Americans from the genome wide association studies of HyperGEN (N = 1083, discovery sample) and GENOA (N = 1427, replication sample), both part of the FBPP. Results suggested that 2 SNPs located on chromosomes 14 (NEDD8; rs11158609; raw p = 9.80 × 10−9, genomic control-adjusted p = 2.09 × 10−7) and 17 (TTYH2; rs8078051; raw p = 6.28 × 10−8, genomic control-adjusted p = 9.65 × 10−7) were associated with SBP including the genetic interaction with cigarette smoking. These two SNPs were not associated with SBP in a main genetic effect only model. This study advances knowledge in the area of main and joint effects of genetics and cigarette smoking on hypertension among African Americans and offers a model to the reader for assessing these risks. More research is required to determine how these genes play a role in expression of hypertension.
|Physicist Dr. Jim Gates makes an appearance in a 30-second TV commercial for TurboTax 2016.
According to the ad, “It doesn’t take a genius to do your taxes. More specifically, it doesn’t take a world-renowned string theorist on the verge of discovering computer codes writ into the very fabric of the universe.”
|Jacquelyn Taylor was recently appointed assistant dean of diversity and inclusion at the Yale School of Nursing, where she serves as an Associate Professor of Nursing and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Nurse Faculty Scholar in the Division of Primary Care. She is licensed as a PNP-BC, RN, and FAAN.
Dr. Taylor holds a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and a doctorate in nursing, all from Wayne State University in Detroit. She is currently a 2015-2016 MLK Visiting Associate Professor, hosted by the MIT Department of Biology.
Jim Gates to speak on matters re: US President’s Council of Advisors on Science & Tech, climate-change policy
|Professor Jim Gates will be speaking on matters related to the U.S. President’s Council of Advisors on
Science & Technology and some of its policy statements surrounding Climate Change at The Big History Anthropocene Conference in Sydney, Australia on December 10, 2015.Held at Macquarie University, the conference brings together “leading Australian and international academics and researchers from the natural and social sciences to explore the most pressing issues of our time”. This “transdisciplinary exploration” will cover:
Prof. Gates serves on President Barack Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, and on the Maryland State Board of Education. Known for his work on supersymmetry, supergravity, and superstring theory, Prof. Gates is a member of the board of trustees of Society for Science & the Public. In 2013, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, becoming the first African-American physicist so recognized in its 150-year history. President Obama awarded Prof. Gates the Medal of Science, the highest award given to scientists in the U.S., at a White House ceremony in 2013.
Prof. Gates’ lifetime career is in direct opposition to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s recent comments during oral arguments in a critical case about affirmative action: “Most of the black scientists in this country…come from lesser schools where they do not feel that they’re being pushed ahead in classes that are too fast for them.”