‘A poster child’ for diversity in science: Black engineers work to fix long-ignored bias in oxygen readings

Read the full story at Stat.

Like many people who are Black, Kimani Toussaint was concerned when he learned that the pulse oximeters relied on so heavily by physicians to treat and monitor Covid-19 patients didn’t work as well on darker-skinned patients.

Unlike many people who are Black, he could do something about it. Toussaint is an optics expert whose lab at Brown University creates precision techniques to image and assess biological tissues. This was a problem he was built for.

Now Toussaint and his doctoral student Rutendo Jakachira are literally using tricks of the light to develop a next-generation pulse oximeter they hope will work well on patients of all skin tones, not just those with lighter skin.

Meanwhile, Valencia Joyner Koomson, a Black associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Tufts University, is working on a different solution: “smart” oximeter devices that are adaptable and less sensitive to skin tone.

SIU research team wins $1.33M NSF grant to train sustainability-focused geoscientists

An interdisciplinary research team at Southern Illinois University Carbondale is creating a scholarship program aimed at bringing a sustainability mindset together with science and engineering training to target low-income transfer students who will become the next generation of geoscientists. The team members, left to right, include Justin Schoof, Leslie Duram, Ruopu Li, Harvey Henson, and Wendell Williams. (Photo by Russell Bailey)

Source: Southern Illinois University

by Tim Crosby, Southern Illinois University

Sustainability is for everyone, and a Southern Illinois University Carbondale research team is creating a scholarship program aimed at bringing that mindset together with science and engineering training to target low-income transfer students who will become the next generation of geoscientists.

Led by Ruopu Li, associate professor in the School of Earth Systems and Sustainability, the team has secured a $1.33 million grant from the National Science Foundation for a project “Converging Earth Science and Sustainability Education and Experience to Prepare Next-Generation Geoscientists.” Li and the rest of the team will use the grant to fund Earth-Sustainability Scholarships of up to $10,000 each for at least 40 low-income transfer students pursuing bachelor’s degrees in geography and environmental resources, and geology. The students will also receive research-based support services, and may be eligible to develop their own grant-funded sustainability projects.

“It’s an exciting education research experiment that is expected to support four cohorts of sustainability-minded next-generation geoscientists,” Li said. “If successful, this project may be used as a model for earth science education in the U.S. and the rest of the world.”

The program runs for five years, from this coming January to December 2027.

Leadership for the future

Li said a sustainability-minded STEM workforce is vital for the nation as it attempts to strategically develop natural resources, promote economic growth and make informed decisions in a rapidly changing world.

“Our project will develop an educational pipeline to broaden the participation of low-income students by reducing financial pressure and improving learning opportunities and outcomes at SIU,” Li said. “We also hope it will establish an educational prototype that supports academically talented and low-income transfer students to become sustainability-focused earth science degree graduates.”

Geoscientists will need to apply their knowledge and techniques to solve pressing environmental issues by creating and evaluating various options and approaches, Li said.

“Nowadays, sustainability is often promoted as a strong organizing principle for modern education programs,” Li said. “But historically, there has been a disconnect between sustainability and earth science training in our postsecondary education. That prevents future generations from recognizing the important issues and opportunities with sustainable development and responsible use of natural resources.”

Support services for student success

Students in the program not only will receive significant financial aid, but they also will get strong, structured support services including cohort building, leadership development, multilevel mentoring networks, and research and experiential learning. Such an approach requires all students to pursue problem-based research projects under the supervision of a faculty mentor on sustainability capstone projects, for example.

The program also will allow the SIU team to create a mini-grant program for students, with up to 10 awards to cover costs for creative earth science projects in faculty mentors’ labs each year.

A psychological model geared for success

The team also includes co-principal investigators Harvey Henson, associate professor in the School of Education and the School of Earth Systems and Sustainability; Leslie Duram, professor in the School of Earth Systems and Sustainability, Justin Schoof, professor and director in the School of Earth Systems and Sustainability, and Wendell Williams, associate vice chancellor for enrollment management. The STEM Education Research Center assisted with the grant funding.

The researchers will govern the entire approach using the psychological theory of planned behavior, or TPB. Under this theory, which seeks to link beliefs to behaviors, researchers adopt the view that three core components – positive attitude, subjective norms and perceived behavioral control – largely shape an individual’s intentions and actions in pursuing goals. The researchers will use services and activities associated with TPB’s core components to drive students toward graduation.

Overall, the grant will promote research and teaching excellence as it seeks to bring together social science, Earth science and sustainability as an exemplar for a next-generation science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.

SIU poised for success

The project directly supports the university’s strategic plan, Imagine 2030, and its pillars for sustainability and research and innovation. Li said it also provides an important collaborative opportunity for faculty.

Schoof said the interdisciplinary nature of the grant will bring added strength to the project.

“It will bridge faculty from the Geography and Environmental Resources and Geology programs in the School of Earth Systems and Sustainability to work together for better Earth science education, while also increasing overall student enrollment,” he said.

Don’t walk on by: how to confront bias and bigotry aimed at others

Read the full story in Nature.

Bystander-intervention programs use humor and other tools to call out bullying and harassment in science.

A car ban will improve the state of the climate, but is it ableist?

Read the full story at Treehugger.

Recently, I sent an appreciative tweet about fellow Treehugger Lloyd Alter’s argument for banning cars from our cities as a means to reduce the urban heat island effect. But a minute after I sent out my tweet, I noticed a Twitter friend of mine discussing some strangely familiar language. 

Car bans, she said, were ableist and marginalizing, and the environmental movement could probably do better. It was a point worthy of discussion, so I sent it further out into the world.  

Charles Henry Turner: The little-known Black high school science teacher who revolutionized the study of insect behavior in the early 20th century

Turner was the first scientist to prove certain insects could remember, learn and feel. Courtesy of Charles I. Abramson, CC BY-ND

by Edward D. Melillo, Amherst College

On a crisp autumn morning in 1908, an elegantly dressed African American man strode back and forth among the pin oaks, magnolias and silver maples of O’Fallon Park in St. Louis, Missouri. After placing a dozen dishes filled with strawberry jam atop several picnic tables, biologist Charles Henry Turner retreated to a nearby bench, notebook and pencil at the ready.

Following a midmorning break for tea and toast (topped with strawberry jam, of course), Turner returned to his outdoor experiment. At noon and again at dusk, he placed jam-filled dishes on the park tables. As he discovered, honeybees (Apis mellifera) were reliable breakfast, lunch and dinner visitors to the sugary buffet. After a few days, Turner stopped offering jam at midday and sunset, and presented the treats only at dawn. Initially, the bees continued appearing at all three times. Soon, however, they changed their arrival patterns, visiting the picnic tables only in the mornings.

This simple but elegantly devised experiment led Turner to conclude that bees can perceive time and will rapidly develop new feeding habits in response to changing conditions. These results were among the first in a cascade of groundbreaking discoveries that Turner made about insect behavior.

Across his distinguished 33-year career, Turner authored 71 papers and was the first African American to have his research published in the prestigious journal Science. Although his name is barely known today, Charles Henry Turner was a pioneer in studying bees and should be considered among the great entomologists of the 19th and 20th centuries. While researching my book on human interactions with insects in world history, I became aware of Turner’s pioneering work on insect cognition, which constituted much of his groundbreaking research on animal behavior.

Humble beginnings

Turner was born in Cincinnati in 1867, a mere two years after the Civil War ended. The son of a church custodian and a nurse who was formerly enslaved, he grew up under the specter of Jim Crow – a set of formal laws and informal practices that relegated African Americans to second-class status.

The social environment of Turner’s childhood included school and housing segregation, frequent lynchings and the denial of basic democratic rights to the city’s nonwhite population. Despite immense obstacles to his educational goals and professional aspirations, Turner’s tenacious spirit carried him through.

As a young boy, he developed an abiding fascination with small creatures, capturing and cataloging thousands of ants, beetles and butterflies. An aptitude for science was just one of Turner’s many talents. At Gaines High School, he led his all-Black class, securing his place as valedictorian.

Turner went on to earn a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Cincinnati, and he became the first African American to receive a doctorate in zoology from the University of Chicago. Turner’s cutting-edge doctoral dissertation, “The Homing of Ants: An Experimental Study of Ant Behavior,” was later excerpted in the September 1907 issue of the Journal of Comparative Neurology and Psychology.

Despite his brilliance, Turner was unable to secure long-term employment in higher education. The University of Chicago refused to offer him a job, and Booker T. Washington was too cash-strapped to hire him at the all-Black Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Alabama.

Black and white photo of a large brick high school building.
Sumner High School in St. Louis, Mo., circa 1908. Missouri Historical Society

Following a brief stint at the University of Cincinnati and a temporary position at Clark College (now Clark Atlanta University), Turner spent the remainder of his career teaching at Sumner High School in St. Louis. As of 1908, his salary was a meager US$1,080 a year – around $34,300 in today’s dollars. At Sumner – without access to a fully equipped laboratory, a research library or graduate students – Turner made trailblazing discoveries about insect behavior.

Probing the minds of insects

Among Turner’s most significant findings was that wasps, bees, sawflies and ants – members of the Hymenoptera order – are not simply primitive automatons, as so many of his contemporaries thought. Instead, they are organisms with the capacities to remember, learn and feel.

Black and white engraving of a variety of bees from 1894.
Bees were not well understood at the turn of the 20th century. Illustration published by Popular Encyclopedia, 1894. mikroman6/Moment via Getty Images

During the early 1900s, biologists were aware that flowers attracted bee pollinators by producing certain scents. However, these researchers knew next to nothing about the visual aspects of such attractions, when bees were too far from the flowers to smell them.

To investigate, Turner pounded rows of wooden dowels into the O’Fallon Park lawn. Atop each rod, he affixed a red disk dipped in honey. Soon, bees began traveling from far away to his makeshift “flowers.”

Turner then added a series of “control” rods topped with blue disks that bore no honey. The bees paid little heed to the new “flowers,” demonstrating that visual signals provided guidance, when the bees were too distant to smell their targets. Although a honeybee’s ability to detect red remains controversial, scientists have determined that Turner’s bees were likely responding to something called achromatic stimuli, which allowed them to discern among various shades and tints.

Lasting legacies of an underappreciated pioneer

Turner’s astounding range of findings from three decades of experiments established his reputation as an authority on the behavioral patterns of bees, cockroaches, spiders and ants.

As a scientific researcher without a university position, he occupied an odd niche. In large part, his situation was the product of systemic racism. It was also a result of his commitment to training young Black students in science.

Alongside his scientific publications, Turner wrote extensively on African American education. In his 1902 essay “Will the Education of the Negro Solve the Race Problem?” Turner contended that trade schools were not the pathway to Black empowerment. Instead, he called for widespread public education of African Americans in all subjects: “if we cast aside our prejudices and try the highest education upon both white and Black, in a few decades there will be no Negro problem.”

Turner was only 56 when he died of acute myocarditis, an infectious heart inflammation. He was survived by two children and his second wife, Lillian Porter.

Turner’s scientific contributions endure. His articles continue to be widely cited, and entomologists have subsequently verified most of his conclusions.

Despite the colossal challenges he faced throughout his career, Charles Henry Turner was among the first scientists to shed light on the secret lives of bees, the winged pollinators that ensure the welfare of human food systems and the survival of Earth’s biosphere.

Edward D. Melillo, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of History and Environmental Studies, Amherst College

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Xcel Energy to test resilience hubs in three Minneapolis neighborhoods

Read the full story at Energy News Network.

The utility will spend nearly $9 million integrating solar, batteries, and microgrid technology at three community sites as part of a broader grid modernization plan recently approved by state regulators.

Has the ‘great resignation’ hit academia?

Read the full story in Nature.

A wave of departures, many of them by mid-career scientists, calls attention to widespread discontent in universities.

Haskell Indian Nations University receives $20 million National Science Foundation research award for Indigenous science hub project

Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland today announced that Haskell Indian Nations University, a Bureau of Indian Education-operated Tribal University in Lawrence, Kansas, is the recipient of a $20 million award from the National Science Foundation for an Indigenous science hub project. Funded under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, the award is for five years and is the largest research award ever granted by the NSF to a Tribal college or university.

The project will create The Large Scale CoPe: Rising Voices, Changing Coasts: The National Indigenous and Earth Sciences Convergence Hub, a space for the convergence of disciplines and epistemologies where Indigenous knowledge-holders from diverse coastal regions will work with university-trained social, ecosystem and physical Earth system scientists and students on transformative research to address coastal hazards in the contexts of their communities.

“The Rising Voices, Changing Coasts hub to be located at Haskell Indian Nations University is a tremendous step forward in supporting Tribal communities as they address challenges from a rapidly changing climate,” said Assistant Secretary Newland. “This is an exciting and much-needed opportunity for scientists and Indigenous knowledge keepers to collaborate on how Indigenous people in coastal areas can build resiliency to the dynamic forces resulting from climate change.”

The Rising Voices, Changing Coasts hub’s goals are to improve modeling and prediction of coastal processes to support decision-making by Indigenous communities, develop a framework for cross-cultural collaboration that can be adopted in the future, train the next generation of Indigenous researchers, and increase the infrastructure at Haskell needed to support future large research projects.

The hub will focus on place-based research in four regions: Alaska (Arctic), Louisiana (Gulf of Mexico), Hawai‘i (Pacific Islands), and Puerto Rico (Caribbean Islands). It will combine Indigenous knowledge, modeling capabilities, archeological records, geographic information system techniques, socio-economic analysis and hazards research. Together, these data, transdisciplinary analysis and convergent findings will enhance fundamental understanding of the interconnected physical, cultural, social and economic processes that result in coastal hazards and climate resilience opportunities, and increase the accuracy, relevance and usability of model predictions on multi-decadal timescales.

The Haskell Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit serving the university, secured the project’s funding. “This award is wonderful and critically important today,” said Haskell Foundation Director Aaron Hove. “It cements Haskell’s leadership role in Indigenous Climate Change research and demonstrates what a small institution can accomplish when it builds relationships with internationally known research institutions like the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Scripps Research Institute and large research universities.”

“This research hub is a significant part of the growing recognition that traditional ecological knowledges and Indigenous knowledges should be a part of the science that is being done today regarding global climate change,” noted Dr. Daniel R. Wildcat, Haskell faculty member and the hub’s lead investigator. “It is a game changer for Indigenous peoples. We have been advocating for years that we need a seat at the table in scientific discussions regarding climate. I think the funding for this hub allows Indigenous knowledge holders to build their own table and invite leading academic trained scientists to take a seat.”

In addition to Haskell Indian Nations University, as the lead institution, partners in the hub are: NCAR and its Rising Voices Center for Indigenous and Earth Sciences, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Indigenous Peoples Climate Change Working Group, and community partners in the four targeted regions.

Racial and ethnic disparities persist in NSF funding decisions

Read the full story at Chemical & Engineering News.

Over the past 2 decades, the US National Science Foundation (NSF) has consistently funded White researchers at higher rates than researchers from other racial and ethnic groups, according to a new study that has not yet been peer-reviewed (OSF Preprints 2022, DOI: 10.31219/osf.io/xb57u).

The study also found that White principal investigators (PIs) have secured NSF funding at increasing rates since at least 1999, a finding that contrasts with a common sentiment among White researchers that they have had more difficulty acquiring funding over time, says Christine Chen, a postdoctoral researcher at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, who led the work.

Plan S funders embrace journal-free versions of peer review

Read the full story at Research Professional News.

The Plan S open-access initiative has announced its support for newly emerging ways of producing research papers, in which peer review takes place independently from publication in journals or on platforms.

Plan S said on 6 July that most of its funders—who require the researchers they support to make resulting papers openly available immediately—will consider scholarly work that has been peer-reviewed without publication in a journal or on a platform to be of “equivalent merit and status” as papers published in these traditional venues.