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Forensics: Hard Science, Not Glamor

January 6, 2010 | CUNY Lecture Series, John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Television shows such as CSI:NY and Law and Order, have fueled the public’s interest in forensic science careers because of their thrilling depiction of detective work. But Prof. Lawrence Kobilinsky, chair of the Department of Forensic Science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, says people have a distorted view of the field. “It’s not glamorous,” he said. “There are times when evidence has to be collected from a dumpster where a decomposing body may have been.” He added, “The people that do the work are not always beautiful, tall, thin, and blond, carrying a badge and a gun while chasing a suspect.” In his lecture “Genes in the Courtroom: Science and Justice for All,” part of the Serving Science Cafe series, Kobilinsky explores the revolutionary impact DNA technology has had on forensic science since its introduction in 1985.
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Mercury Rising — and Rising

April 8, 2012 | CUNY Lecture Series, John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Mercury — a complex environmental pollutant — is still on the rise. Indeed, it’s the only pollutant in the U.S. and around the globe for which advisories continue to increase, according to Anthony Carpi, professor of environmental toxicology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. When Mercury from natural or manmade causes, such coal-fired plants, leaves the atmosphere it “undergoes this hopscotching effect,” says Carpi, who recently led a team of researchers through the Amazon to study mercury mobility, “where a source in China could impact water resources in northern Canada.” The winner of the 2011 U.S. Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring, Capri’s talk focused on mercury levels in the Amazon, as part of the Serving Science Cafe lecture series.

A Sunny Day You’ll Be Happy to Miss

May 4, 2011 | CUNY Lecture Series, Hunter College

When the sun runs out of hydrogen — about 5 billion years from now — it will become a planetary nebulae, an expanding shell of thin, ionized gas. “It’s going to be pretty for a distant observer, says Kelle Cruz, professor of physics and astronomy at Hunter College, “but the outcome will not be pretty for us.” In a Serving Science Cafe Series lecture, “Using the Solar Neighborhood as a Petri Dish for the Universe,” Cruz describes how the sun will puff out its outer layers and expand, exposing its hot stellar core and, as a result, the Earth will most likely evaporate. “One of the reasons I study the solar neighborhood,” says Cruz, “is because the sun is going to shine for another 5 billion years, but at its end we’re going to need to go some place else.”
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New Model for the Urban Classroom

March 22, 2011 | CUNY Lecture Series, Hunter College

Reform at both the local level and system-wide is needed for New York City public schools to succeed, according to Pamela Mills of the Math and Science Partnership in New York City. “We believe the urban classroom is too complicated to expect a single person to solve the problems,” says Mills, principal investigator for the partnership, which studies student performance in grades K through 12, and is funded by the National Science Foundation. In her lecture, “Be Bold, Be Brave: Changing the Educational Landscape,” part of the Serving Science Cafe Series, Mills emphasizes learning through partnerships by adopting a new model called the Peer-Enabled Restructured Classroom, or PERC, where students help other students, while teachers teach, to build a community of learning.
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Development Heats Up the Earth

February 15, 2011 | Baruch College, CUNY Lecture Series

Human population growth has long been linked to global warming, but according to Deborah Balk its impact may be overemphasized. “Future population growth does have a role,” says Balk, the associate director of the CUNY Institute for Demographic Research and professor at Baruch College School of Public Affairs. “But climate change is mainly driven by economic productivity.” In her lecture entitled “The Rising Tide and Climate Change in Our Increasingly Urban World,” part of the Serving Science Cafe Series, Balk explains that the fertility rate actually decreases as an area industrializes and continues to develop. “And it’s that development that will, in fact, keep emissions rising.”
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Birds, Dolphins and Mimicry

December 28, 2010 | City College, CUNY Lecture Series, Hunter College

The ability to learn and mimic vocal sounds is rare in nature but found in certain birds and in dolphins says Diana Reiss, professor of psychology at Hunter College. “There’s been a lot of anecdotal reporting over the years that dolphins are highly mimetic,” says Reiss, an expert on dolphin cognition. City College associate professor of biology, Ofer Tchernichovski, who studies brains and vocal learning in birds, says birds, which are capable of vocal learning, even “dedicate” part of their brain to produce and learn bird songs. In a lecture, “Bird Culture and Dolphin Intelligence: How we learn from animal behavior,” part of the Serving Science Cafe Series, Reiss and Tchernichovski discuss their own research, and their collaborative study at the Baltimore National Aquarium to decode dolphin vocalization.
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Judges in Robes … and Lab Coats

November 16, 2010 | CUNY Lecture Series, John Jay College of Criminal Justice

For more than 70 years the court opinion in Frye v. United States set the standard for scientific evidence: It would be admissible in court if it was based on science generally accepted as reliable in the scientific community. But in 1993, a landmark decision by the Supreme Court in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, ruled the decision on scientific evidence would rest with the trial judge. In a lecture entitled, “Judge and Jury: Psychology in the Courtroom,” part of the Serving Science Cafe Series, Margaret Bull-Kovera argues that the Daubert ruling was too broad and judges are ill-suited gatekeepers of admissible scientific expert testimony. “Guess how many judges have training in science?” asks Bull-Kovera, professor of psychology at John Jay College of Criminial Justice. The answer: “Not many.”
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Greenland’s Hottest Year Ever

October 13, 2010 | City College, CUNY Lecture Series

With its massive — and melting — ice sheets, Greenland is the ideal laboratory for scientists studying the effects of global warming, says Marco Tedesco, assistant professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the City College of New York. This summer, scientists recorded Greenland’s hottest year ever, a “spectacular, catastrophic year in the arctic,” according to Tedesco, who spoke on “Glacial Meltdown and the Impact of Global Warming,” at the University’s Serving Science lecture series. “Since we started observing Greenland, using satellites in 1979, there’s been a strong increase in both melting and surface temperature,” he says.
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Two Sides of Protein Amyloids

April 12, 2010 | Brooklyn College, CUNY Lecture Series

Protein amyloids, partly-crystalline protein fibers formed from identical sequences in molecules of the same protein, are best known for their link to neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, says Brooklyn College biology Chair Peter Lipke. “Protein amyloids were discovered as the hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease,” said Prof. Lipke at the Serving Science Cafe Lecture Series. “Cells in the central nervous system look for amyloid formation and try to get rid of them, but if they can’t, the cells commit suicide and lead to terrible medical consequences.” In his lecture “Protein Amyloids in Yeast Infections, Sherry, Mad Cow Disease, Ale, and Alzheimers,” Prof. Lipke said they can also be put to good use, as when beer, champagne or sherry yeasts use amyloid proteins to stick together, enabling brewers and vintners to easily remove the aggregates from the brew.
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The Air We Breathe

March 16, 2010 | City College, CUNY Lecture Series

Aerosols — suspended liquid or solid pollutant in the atmosphere — drastically affect health and climate, says City College Professor Fred Moshary, a leading expert in environmental monitoring whose research team at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – Cooperative Remote Sensing Science and Technology Center has been analyzing pollutants in order to control them. “When you inhale these particulates, they can penetrate quite deep and trigger asthma attacks and affect the pulmonary system, ” he says. At the Serving Science Cafe Series, Prof. Moshary delivered the lecture “Sensing and Sensibility: Monitoring a Changing Environment.”
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