Sex and the Single Mole Rat
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.
An Electric Feeling
“When you grasp an object and sense it and touch it, what you’re really doing is applying pressure to it with your fingertips and then sensing the deformations in your fingertips. Electric fish do that with their entire world, not with pressure of their fingertip but with this electric field,” says Chris Braun, a professor of psychology and animal behavior at Hunter College. Braun’s research focuses on the correlation between brain activity and behavior, asking “how do you take a bunch of cells and wire them together so they can compute interesting things about the outside world.” With the electric fish, Braun and his team spotted some patterns in their behavior leading them to investigate the brain of the fish in order to better understand the observed behavior, saying “it’s a neat opportunity to find evolution of circuits that really change behavior.”
Minority Participation Not Immaterial
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.
“By converting waste materials, we can get energy and chemicals from them. What those process still yield is an ash. We’ve discovered the ash and the char have a very unique property where they can perform like a well-engineered catalyst,” says Marco Castaldi, a professor of chemical engineering at The City College of New York. To explore that ash further, Castaldi was awarded a Fulbright Global Award, embarking on a multi-year research project in collaboration with universities in France and Italy. “What was really great about it was I was able to combine the sustainable waste management of my research with the catalysis.” With more years remaining on the project, Castaldi has high expectations for what he and his European peers can accomplish. “We want to not only learn from our European colleagues on the best gasification and combustion processes but we want to transfer some of our ideas and knowledge about what can be done with the catalyst side of these things and see what they think.”
The Current Cap
“We take engineering and we take science and we translate that into something that is meaningful to patients,” says Marom Bikson, a professor of biomedical engineering at Center for Design and Innovation on The City College of New York campus. Bikson and his team were awarded $1.8 million from the National Institute of Health to work on devices that alleviate neurological disorders in the brain through targeted electric currents. The currents are delivered through a small device that is placed over the patient’s head. “We’ve figured out a way to do this so that the current can be delivered to one part of the brain, let’s say the part of the brain that’s involved with pain manifestation.” Through this technology, Bikson strives to create solutions to patients without the use of medicine. “I’ve seen again, again technology, not so much drugs, come in and essentially give them their life back.