Podcasts

Science Briefs

Spine-Tingling Research

May 4, 2017 | City College, Science Briefs

“The brain has to talk to the spinal cord in order to make any kind of movement,” says Jack Martin, medical professor at the CUNY School of Medicine at The City College of New York, “so after a spinal-cord injury, those connections become impaired. That results in a reduced ability to make the kinds of movements we are accustomed to,” says Martin. To help change that, the New York State Department of Health awarded Martin a $4.27 million grant to look into brain development and the recovery of movement function after brain or spinal injury. The grant brings his research awards since October 2013 to $7.97 million.  “Normally nerve cells communicate with one another by way of what are similar to little electrical impulses,” Martin says. “We found out that if you increase the number of those impulses you can get the nerve cells to make new connections,” he says. Martin and his colleagues have been experimenting with neuromodulation to activate nerve cells. “The reason we’re excited with this neuromodulatory approach is that it can be noninvasive,” Martin says. “I see our work as a piece to a larger puzzle, which is to try to repair neural circuits.” 

Brain Teaser

April 20, 2017 | City College, Science Briefs

“I personally am very excited about this idea of brain decoding, this idea that we can measure brain activity and figure out where your thoughts are,” says Lucas Parra, professor of biomedical engineering at CCNY. “I work in the lab with electroencephalography. It records electric brain signals … how we perceive sound, images … speech. We’re looking at what happens when you’re watching movies or when you’re playing video games,” Parra says. “We get a sense of are people engaged, are they paying attention, will they remember what they saw weeks later. … Different modalities allow you to analyze different kinds of neuro processes associated with decision-making and things that are maybe more downstream from the initial perception.”

Gardens Yes, Nitro No

December 28, 2016 | City College, Science Briefs

“There’s a big movement … to change what people do in their yards,” says Peter Groffman, ecosystems professor at the CUNY Advanced Science Research Center, referring to the use of lawn fertilizer. Fertilizer contains nutrients like nitrogen which washes into waterways, hurting aquatic life. Flower-growing homeowners’ habits may change, Groffman says, if they can keep “the benefits” of having a lawn.

Minority Participation Not Immaterial

November 22, 2016 | City College, Science Briefs

Materials science research needs more minority students and teachers, says City College Chemistry Professor Maria Tamargo, who with colleagues won a $5 million, five-year National Science Foundation grant to create a center to diversify the field of discovering and designing new materials. Recruiting and preparing diverse students and creating a master’s program are part of the strategy to bring more minority students to CUNY’s Ph.D. programs.

Sex and the Single Mole Rat

November 21, 2016 | Science Briefs, The College of Staten Island

The difference between a human and a naked mole rat? Genetically, not much, says College of Staten Island Associate Professor Dan McCloskey, whose focus is social neuroscience. Thirty-five million years ago mole rats started to burrow underground, leading to a social system in which a queen did most of the breeding and the rest of the animals worked. “Re-creating a day in the life” of these mole rats can teach us more about humans and the brain, McCloskey says.

Grease Is the Word

October 25, 2016 | Medgar Evers College, Science Briefs

Nobody seems to like brown grease, but if you heat it up enough, you’ve got something, says Medgar Evers College assistant chemistry professor Lawrence Pratt: an alternative source of fuel. “Someday petroleum will run out,” he says, and food waste heated to 350 celsius and above is a potential replacement. “We can’t continually rely only on fossil fuels.” Pratt and his compatriots at Medgar Evers College experiment with heated brown food grease. “This stuff does not come from coal, petroleum or natural gas,” says Pratt. “It comes from waste. We need energy from algae. We need solar, we need wind,” he says.

Give Him Some Space

October 24, 2016 | Lehman College, Science Briefs

Kim Kardashian may have broken the internet, but Lehman assistant astrophysics professor Matt O’Dowd has given a digital performance of The Quantum Experiment That Broke Reality. O’Dowd is the host of the PBS digital series Space Time, which has covered other scientific topics including Is an Ice Age Coming? and Why Haven’t We Found Alien Life? O’Dowd has a particular interest in using the Hubble Space Telescope to research black holes, which he calls some of this universe’s most important but least understood phenomena.

Get That Healthy Glow

October 21, 2016 | City College, Science Briefs

Shining a certain kind of light on body tissue produces a glow that shows changes in the tissue, including cancer. The use of such biomedical optics will some day be able “to detect disease directly without taking tissue from the body,” says Robert R. Alfano, a distinguished professor of science and engineering at City College. “It’s sort of like ‘Star Trek,’ ” he says. “They scan your body, and you can get information directly.”

Dainty Robot

October 20, 2016 | Baruch College, Science Briefs

Baruch associate biology professor David Gruber was at a National Geographic Explorers meeting showing video of deep sea coral reef research when a fellow Explorer wondered if he had heard of soft robotics and whether that tool could be used in Gruber’s work. “There’s no biologist who’s using squishy robot fingers to go underwater,” Gruber says. He changed that by trying out the technology during a weeklong expedition on reefs deep in the Red Sea using Baruch’s remotely operated submarine. With the soft robotics, one can “work delicately with deep coral reef organisms,” Gruber says. And who knew Baruch has a submarine?

Boom Box

September 29, 2016 | Science Briefs, York College

“People that want to do us harm can hide dirty bombs inside cargo containers and try to get past security,” says York College physics professor Kevin Lynch. He and fellow York physics professor James Popp are trying to keep that bomb from going off — on the relative cheap. The two professors are using a $300,00 grant from the Air Force to use “off the shelf equipment” and electronics developed for smartphone technology to develop radiation detectors.