Mammals will have to take a seat in history books after a group of international scientists discovered a flying reptile with the oldest recorded opposing pollex – commonly known as a thumb.
In a report released Monday, scientists announced the finding of the ‘Monkeydactyl’ that lived 160 million years ago in a forest ecosystem in China during the Jurassic era.
Nicknamed the ‘Monkeydactyl’ by a friend of one of the report’s authors, the species is a pterosaur and scientifically known as Kunpengopterus antipollicatus. Pterosaurs were the first known vertebrates to evolve powered flight, according to the report.
The fossil was found in China in September 2019, with both hands having thumbs preserved in an opposed way, according to report co-author Fion Waisum Ma.
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Ma, a doctoral student at the University of Birmingham, said researchers used CT scans to enlarge the hands and look at anatomical features on the computer because of the small size of the fossil.
“The finding of the opposed thumbs isn’t something that happened after its death,” Ma said. “This discovery means opposed thumbs first appeared on Earth 160 million years in a flying reptile.”
Although women make up about half of the U.S. workforce, they have long been underrepresented in many STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math).
Given that boys and girls perform similarly in STEM, this means a lot of STEM talent is being left untapped. Until we are successful at including diverse women and girls in STEM, we will be unable to address STEM labor shortages or stay globally competitive in research and development.
Our failure to include all available STEM talent in our workforce is even more dire for women of color. For example, Hispanic women represent 7 percent of the total U.S. workforce, but just 2 percent of STEM workers.
Various efforts have attempted to address these gender gaps in the last few decades, including the creation of STEM toys targeted at girls, large-scale research efforts, government funding, and afterschool programming. Despite this, the gaps haven’t narrowed as quickly as needed. In a 2022 review in the journal Social Issues and Policy Review, Drs. Sophie Kuchynka, Luis Rivera, and I explore (1) why these gaps persist and (2) ways to bridge them in K-12 education through policy and practice.
Why Do Gender Gaps in STEM Persist?
Features of the systems we live in and of our own social and psychological functioning serve to keep gender gaps in STEM alive.
1. Macrosystem influences.
Macrosystems, like our educational, economic, and justice systems, uphold gender stereotypes about the superiority of boys and men in STEM. STEM textbooks, for example, disproportionately portray male role models in STEM, sending the message that STEM is for boys. Further, system-justifying myths perpetuated in the media, such as the protestant work ethic and the myth of meritocracy, lead people to believe that the representation of men vs. women in STEM is just, and a result of differences in interest, aptitude, or hard work.
2. Microsystem influences.
The macrosystems we live in influence the smaller social systems closer to us (microsystems), like our families, schools, and peer groups. They also affect our individual psychology—how we see, interpret, and act on our social worlds.
Being raised in a world where STEM is associated with boys and men may implicitly lead parents to use less scientific language with daughters compared to sons, for example. It can also affect the amount of air time boys vs. girls get to work out their ideas in STEM classrooms. Eventually, these messages can be internalized by girls, negatively affecting their STEM self-image, interest, and participation.
How to Improve STEM Education for Everyone
Based on our review of macrosystem and microsystem factors that sustain gender-STEM inequities, we make several recommendations for K-12 STEM policy and practice to optimize success for all children.
In terms of practice, we recommend:
Classrooms be designed to promote relational and collaborative learning. Teachers should emphasize gender-inclusive classroom norms that promote positive working relations between girls and boys.
Classes should teach the history of gender inequality and bias so teachers and students can actively work to create equitable and inclusive STEM environments.
Teachers should encourage cooperation between children, and vary the roles students are assigned so they do not automatically adopt traditional gender roles in the classroom.
Teachers should promote active learning and growth mindset strategies. Cross-discipline evidence indicates that active learning, rooted in constructivist theories, is more beneficial in STEM education.
STEM should be reframed as helping students achieve communal goals through scientific collaboration. Emphasizing socially-meaningful aspects of STEM can help stimulate STEM interest in girls, because they tend to place more value on communal than dominance goals.
Classes can utilize near-peer mentorship programs, which pair students with similar mentors slightly more advanced than them. These near-peer mentors can be especially important for marginalized students who often feel isolated or excluded in STEM.
Schools should expand STEM evaluation metrics beyond traditional and standardized tests to include the assessment of skills like motivation, empathy, problem-solving, and adaptability, which are closely tied to positive educational outcomes.
Click here to read the full article on Psychology Today.
It’s undeniable that representation matters and the idea of what a scientist could or should look like is changing, largely thanks to pioneers like Afro-Latina scientist Dr. Jessica Esquivel, who is breaking barriers for women in STEM one step at a time.
Dr. Esquivel isn’t just extraordinary because of what she is capable of as an Afro-Latina astrophysicist — she’s also extraordinary in her vulnerability and relatability. She’s on a mission to break barriers in science and to show the humanity behind scientists.
Dr. Esquivel makes science accessible to everyone, no matter what you look like or where you come from. As one of the only Afro-Latina scientists in her field, and one of the only women who looked like her to pursue a Ph.D. in physics, Dr. Esquivel knows a thing or two about the importance of representation, especially in STEM fields and science labs.
Women make up only 28% of the science, technology, engineering, and math workforce in the U.S. Those disparities are even more severe when you start to look at minority populations.
“When you start looking at the intersections of race and gender and then even sexuality, those numbers drop significantly,” Esquivel told CBS Chicago. “There are only about 100 to 150 black women with their Ph.D. in physics in the country!”
Fighting against the isolation of uniqueness
Dr. Jessica Esquivel recalls being a nontraditional student and being “the only” when she entered graduate school for physics — the only woman in her class, the only Black, the only Mexican, the only lesbian — and all of that made her feel very isolated.
“On top of such rigorous material, the isolation and otherness that happens due to being the only or one of few is an added burden marginalized people, especially those with multiple marginalized identities, have to deal with,” Dr. Esquivel told BeLatina in an email interview. On top of feeling like an outsider, isolation was also consuming. “Being away from family at a predominately white institution, where the number of microaggressions was constant, really affected my mental health and, in turn, my coursework and research, so it was important to surround myself with mentors who supported me and believed in my ability to be a scientist.”
While she anticipated that the physics curriculum would be incredibly challenging, she was definitely not prepared for how hard the rest of the experience would be and how it would impact her as a student and a scientist.
The challenges she faced professionally and personally made her realize early on just how crucial representation is in academia and all fields, but especially in STEM. “It was really impactful for me to learn that there were other Black women who had made it out of the grad school metaphorical trenches. It’s absolutely important to create inclusive spaces where marginalized people, including Black, Latina, and genderqueer people, can thrive,” she said.
“The secrets of our universe don’t discriminate, these secrets can and should be unraveled by all those who wish to embark on that journey, and my aim is to clear as many barriers and leave these physics spaces better than I entered them.”
When inclusion and equal opportunities are the ultimate goal
Dr. Jessica Esquivel isn’t just dedicating her time and energy to studying complex scientific concepts — think quantum entanglement, space-time fabric, the building blocks of the universe… some seriously abstract physics concepts straight out of a sci-fi movie, as she explains. On top of her research, she put in so much extra work to show people, especially younger generations of women of color, that the physics and STEM world is not some old white man’s club where this prestigious knowledge is only available to them. Dr. Esquivel is an expert in her field; she knows things that no one else currently knows and has the ability and the power to transfer that knowledge to others and pass it down to others. There is a place for everyone, including people who look like her, in the STEM world, and she’s on a mission to inspire others while working to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in the STEM space.
“Many of us who are underrepresented in STEM have taken on the responsibility of spearheading institutional change toward more just, equitable, and inclusive working environments as a form of survival,” she explains. “I’m putting in more work on top of the research I do because I recognize that I do better research if I feel supported and if I feel like I can bring my whole self to my job. My hope is that one day Black and brown women and gender-queer folks interested in science can pursue just that and not have to fight for their right to be a scientist or defend that they are worthy of doing science.”
Former Empire actor and red carpet scientist Terrence Howard is currently visiting Uganda as part of a government effort to draw investors from the African diaspora to the nation. He is claiming he has what it needs to change the world.
According to Vice, Howard made a lofty presentation on Wednesday, July 13, addressing officials and claiming to have developed a “new hydrogen technology.”
Famously, Howard argued in Rolling Stone that one times one equals two, and now he says his new system, The Lynchpin, would be able to clean the ocean and defend Uganda from exploitation via cutting-edge drone technology. The proprietary technology he announced in a 2021 press release is said to hold 86 patents.
“I was able to identify the grand unified field equation they’ve been looking for and put it into geometry,” he shared in front of an audience of Ugandan dignitaries. “We’re talking about unlimited bonding, unlimited predictable structures, supersymmetry.”
“The Lynchpins are now able to behave as a swarm, as a colony, that can defend a nation, that can harvest food, that can remove plastics from the ocean, that can give the children of Uganda and the people of Uganda an opportunity to spread this and sell these products throughout the world,” he added.
Howard, who briefly quit acting in 2019 only to come out of retirement in 2020, has seemingly made rewriting history a personal side hustle. According to Vice, he made nebulous claims that rapidly went viral on social media, saying, “I’ve made some discoveries in my own personal life with the science that, y’know, Pythagoras was searching for. I was able to open up the flower of life properly and find the real wave conjugations we’ve been looking for 10,000 years.”
While his latest claims have yet to be clarified, Howard was invited to speak by Frank Tumwebaze, the minister of agriculture, animal industries, and fishery.
This article is part of Upstart, a series on young companies harnessing new science and technology.
Vijay Ravindran has always been fascinated with technology. At Amazon, he oversaw the team that built and started Amazon Prime. Later, he joined the Washington Post as chief digital officer, where he advised Donald E. Graham on the sale of the newspaper to his former boss, Jeff Bezos, in 2013.
By late 2015, Mr. Ravindran was winding down his time at the renamed Graham Holdings Company. But his primary focus was his son, who was then 6 years old and undergoing therapy for autism.
“Then an amazing thing happened,” Mr. Ravindran said.
Mr. Ravindran was noodling around with a virtual reality headset when his son asked to try it out. After spending 30 minutes using the headset in Google Street View, the child went to his playroom and started acting out what he had done in virtual reality.
“It was one of the first times I’d seen him do pretend play like that,” Mr. Ravindran said. “It ended up being a light bulb moment.”
Like many autistic children, Mr. Ravindran’s son struggled with pretend play and other social skills. His son’s ability to translate his virtual reality experience to the real world sparked an idea. A year later, Mr. Ravindran started a company called Floreo, which is developing virtual reality lessons designed to help behavioral therapists, speech therapists, special educators and parents who work with autistic children.
The idea of using virtual reality to help autistic people has been around for some time, but Mr. Ravindran said the widespread availability of commercial virtual reality headsets since 2015 had enabled research and commercial deployment at much larger scale. Floreo has developed almost 200 virtual reality lessons that are designed to help children build social skills and train for real world experiences like crossing the street or choosing where to sit in the school cafeteria.
Last year, as the pandemic exploded demand for telehealth and remote learning services, the company delivered 17,000 lessons to customers in the United States. Experts in autism believe the company’s flexible platform could go global in the near future.
That’s because the demand for behavioral and speech therapy as well as other forms of intervention to address autism is so vast. Getting a diagnosis for autism can take months — crucial time in a child’s development when therapeutic intervention can be vital. And such therapy can be costly and require enormous investments of time and resources by parents.
The Floreo system requires an iPhone (version 7 or later) and a V.R. headset (a low-end model costs as little as $15 to $30), as well as an iPad, which can be used by a parent, teacher or coach in-person or remotely. The cost of the program is roughly $50 per month. (Floreo is currently working to enable insurance reimbursement, and has received Medicaid approval in four states.)
A child dons the headset and navigates the virtual reality lesson, while the coach — who can be a parent, teacher, therapist, counselor or personal aide — monitors and interacts with the child through the iPad.
The lessons cover a wide range of situations, such as visiting the aquarium or going to the grocery store. Many of the lessons involve teaching autistic children, who may struggle to interpret nonverbal cues, to interpret body language.
Autistic self-advocates note that behavioral therapy to treat autism is controversial among those with autism, arguing that it is not a disease to be cured and that therapy is often imposed on autistic children by their non-autistic parents or guardians. Behavioral therapy, they say, can harm or punish children for behaviors such as fidgeting. They argue that rather than conditioning autistic people to act like neurotypical individuals, society should be more welcoming of them and their different manner of experiencing the world.
“A lot of the mismatch between autistic people and society is not the fault of autistic people, but the fault of society,” said Zoe Gross, the director of advocacy at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. “People should be taught to interact with people who have different kinds of disabilities.”
Mr. Ravindran said Floreo respected all voices in the autistic community, where needs are diverse. He noted that while Floreo was used by many behavioral health providers, it had been deployed in a variety of contexts, including at schools and in the home.
“The Floreo system is designed to be positive and fun, while creating positive reinforcement to help build skills that help acclimate to the real world,” Mr. Ravindran said.
In 2017, Floreo secured a $2 million fast track grant from the National Institutes of Health. The company is first testing whether autistic children will tolerate headsets, then conducting a randomized control trial to test the method’s usefulness in helping autistic people interact with the police.
Early results have been promising: According to a study published in the Autism Research journal (Mr. Ravindran was one of the authors), 98 percent of the children completed their lessons, quelling concerns about autistic children with sensory sensitivities being resistant to the headsets.
Ms. Gross said she saw potential in virtual reality lessons that helped people rehearse unfamiliar situations, such as Floreo’s lesson on crossing the street. “There are parts of Floreo to get really excited about: the airport walk through, or trick or treating — a social story for something that doesn’t happen as frequently in someone’s life,” she said, adding that she would like to see a lesson for medical procedures.
However, she questioned a general emphasis by the behavioral therapy industry on using emerging technologies to teach autistic people social skills.
A second randomized control trial using telehealth, conducted by Floreo using another N.I.H. grant, is underway, in hopes of showing that Floreo’s approach is as effective as in-person coaching.
But it was those early successes that convinced Mr. Ravindran to commit fully to the project.
“There were just a lot of really excited people.,” he said. “When I started showing families what we had developed, people would just give me a big hug. They would start crying that there was someone working on such a high-tech solution for their kids.”
Clinicians who have used the Floreo system say the virtual reality environment makes it easier for children to focus on the skill being taught in the lessons, unlike in the real world where they might be overwhelmed by sensory stimuli.
Celebrate the Children, a nonprofit private school in Denville, N.J., for children with autism and related challenges, hosted one of the early pilots for Floreo; Monica Osgood, the school’s co-founder and executive director, said the school had continued to use the system.
Click here to read the full article on New York Times.
Radiologists assisted by an AI screen for breast cancer more successfully than they do when they work alone, according to new research. That same AI also produces more accurate results in the hands of a radiologist than it does when operating solo.
The large-scale study, published this month in The Lancet Digital Health, is the first to directly compare an AI’s performance in breast cancer screening according to whether it’s used alone or to assist a human expert. The hope is that such AI systems could save lives by detecting cancers doctors miss, free up radiologists to see more patients, and ease the burden in places where there is a dire lack of specialists.
The software being tested comes from Vara, a startup based in Germany that also led the study. The company’s AI is already used in over a fourth of Germany’s breast cancer screening centers and was introduced earlier this year to a hospital in Mexico and another in Greece.
The Vara team, with help from radiologists at the Essen University Hospital in Germany and the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, tested two approaches. In the first, the AI works alone to analyze mammograms. In the other, the AI automatically distinguishes between scans it thinks look normal and those that raise a concern. It refers the latter to a radiologist, who would review them before seeing the AI’s assessment. Then the AI would issue a warning if it detected cancer when the doctor did not.
To train the neural network, Vara fed the AI data from over 367,000 mammograms—including radiologists’ notes, original assessments, and information on whether the patient ultimately had cancer—to learn how to place these scans into one of three buckets: “confident normal,” “not confident” (in which no prediction is given), and “confident cancer.” The conclusions from both approaches were then compared with the decisions real radiologists originally made on 82,851 mammograms sourced from screening centers that didn’t contribute scans used to train the AI.
The second approach—doctor and AI working together—was 3.6% better at detecting breast cancer than a doctor working alone, and raised fewer false alarms. It accomplished this while automatically setting aside scans it classified as confidently normal, which amounted to 63% of all mammograms. This intense streamlining could slash radiologists’ workloads.
After breast cancer screenings, patients with a normal scan are sent on their way, while an abnormal or unclear scan triggers follow-up testing. But radiologists examining mammograms miss 1 in 8 cancers. Fatigue, overwork, and even the time of day all affect how well radiologists can identify tumors as they view thousands of scans. Signs that are visually subtle are also generally less likely to set off alarms, and dense breast tissue—found mostly in younger patients—makes signs of cancer harder to see.
Radiologists using the AI in the real world are required by German law to look at every mammogram, at least glancing at those the AI calls fine. The AI still lends them a hand by pre-filling reports on scans labeled normal, though the radiologist can always reject the AI’s call.
Thilo Töllner, a radiologist who heads a German breast cancer screening center, has used the program for two years. He’s sometimes disagreed when the AI classified scans as confident normal and manually filled out reports to reflect a different conclusion, but he says “normals are almost always normal.” Mostly, “you just have to press enter.”
Mammograms the AI has labeled as ambiguous or “confident cancer” are referred to a radiologist—but only after the doctor has offered an initial, independent assessment.
Radiologists classify mammograms on a 0 to 6 scale known as BI-RADS, where lower is better. A score of 3 indicates that something is probably benign, but worth checking up on. If Vara has assigned a BI-RADS score of 3 or higher to a mammogram the radiologist labels normal, a warning appears.
AI generally excels at image classification. So why did Vara’s AI on its own underperform a lone doctor? Part of the problem is that a mammogram alone can’t determine whether someone has cancer—that requires removing and testing the abnormal-looking tissue. Instead, the AI examines mammograms for hints.
Christian Leibig, lead author on the study and director of machine learning at Vara, says that mammograms of healthy and cancerous breasts can look very similar, and both types of scans can present a wide range of visual results. This complicates AI training. So does the low prevalence of cancer in breast screenings (according to Leibig, “in Germany, it’s roughly six in 1,000”). Because AIs trained to catch cancer are mostly trained on healthy breast scans, they can be prone to false positives.
The study tested the AI only on past mammogram decisions and assumed that radiologists would agree with the AI each time it issued a decision of “confident normal” or “confident cancer.” When the AI was unsure, the study defaulted to the original radiologist’s reading. That means it couldn’t test how using AI affects radiologists’ decisions—and whether any such changes may create new risks. Töllner admits he spends less time scrutinizing scans Vara labels normal than those it deems suspicious. “You get quicker with the normals because you get confident with the system,” he says.
Click here to read the full article on MIT Technology Review.
The fossilized skeleton of a T. rex relative that roamed the earth about 76 million years ago will be auctioned in New York this month, Sotheby’s announced Tuesday.
The Gorgosaurus skeleton will highlight Sotheby’s natural history auction on July 28, the auction house said.
The Gorgosaurus was an apex carnivore that lived in what is now the western United States and Canada during the late Cretaceous Period. It predated its relative the Tyrannosaurus rex by 10 million years.
The specimen being sold was discovered in 2018 in the Judith River Formation near Havre, Montana, Sotheby’s said. It measures nearly 10 feet (3 meters) tall and 22 (6.7 meters) feet long.
All of the other known Gorgosaurus skeletons are in museum collections, making this one the only specimen available for private ownership, the auction house said.
“In my career, I have had the privilege of handling and selling many exceptional and unique objects, but few have the capacity to inspire wonder and capture imaginations quite like this unbelievable Gorgosaurus skeleton,” Cassandra Hatton, Sotheby’s global head of science and popular culture, said.
Sotheby’s presale estimate for the fossil is $5 million to $8 million.
Hawaii is trying to prepare its K-12 students to fill the massive shortages of jobs in STEM-related fields.
The Hawaii Space Grant Consortium, a community educational program supported by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, has partnered with schools across the state to implement robotics in the classroom.
“We’re trying to build this pipeline from K-12 and eventually have the students go on to college to build robotics or satellites, and eventually, hopefully, work at NASA as engineers,” said Adria Fung, robotics engineering education specialist at the consortium, during a session at the 2022 International Society for Technology in Education conference.
Fung created a robotics curriculum that schools across the state are using to prepare students for the STEM workforce. The Hawaii Space Grant Consortium provides lesson plans, resources, and support for the teachers so that they’re easily able to implement the curriculum into their classroom.
The curriculum is based on VEX IQ robots and is aimed at grades 4 through 8. Using the robots, educators can teach students robotics engineering concepts such as gear ratios, speed, and torque.
Fung, who formerly taught at a middle school and led a robotics competition team, developed the robotics curriculum after she realized that when robotics concepts are only taught during after-school robotics clubs, then not as many students are introduced to the material and the ones who do not understand the underlying concepts of robotics as well.
“Students just want to build and test and code and refine their robots, but without any kind of concepts or knowledge,” Fung said.
“There’s not a lot of teaching time after school,” she added. “So that’s why I try to use the classroom time to teach the robotics engineering concepts so they can implement it in their competition robots after school if they choose to.”
The curriculum is not just for STEM educators. It’s designed so that teachers from all subject areas will be able to implement robotics into their classrooms easily, Fung said.
“Whether they teach math, or social studies, or English, [they] can easily apply robotics into those fields,” she said.
For example, for social studies in Hawaii, students are learning about the history of voyaging and about a canoe called Hōkūleʻa that traveled the world using only traditional navigation techniques.
Click here to read the full article on Education Week.
A rocket built by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin carried its fifth group of passengers to the edge of space, including the first-ever Mexican-born woman to make such a journey.
The 60-foot-tall suborbital rocket took off from Blue Origin’s facilities in West Texas at 9:26am ET, vaulting a group of six people to more than 62 miles above the Earth’s surface — which is widely deemed to make the boundary of outer space — and giving them a few minutes of weightlessness before parachuting to landing.
Most of the passengers paid an undisclosed sum for their seats. But Katya Echazarreta, an engineer and science communicator from Guadalajara, Mexico, was selected by a nonprofit called Space for Humanity to join this mission from a pool of thousands of applicants. The organization’s goal is to send “exceptional leaders” to space and allow them to experience the overview effect, a phenomenon frequently reported by astronauts who say that viewing the Earth from space give them a profound shift in perspective.
Echazarreta told CNN Business that she experienced that overview effect “in my own way.”
“Looking down and seeing how everyone is down there, all of our past, all of our mistakes, all of our obstacles, everything — everything is there,” she said. “And the only thing I could think of when I came back down was that I need people to see this. I need Latinas to see this. And I think that it just completely reinforced my mission to continue getting primarily women and people of color up to space and doing whatever it is they want to do.”
Echazarreta is the first Mexican-born woman to travel to space and the second Mexican after Rodolfo Neri Vela, a scientist who joined one of NASA’s Space Shuttle missions in 1985.
She moved to the United States with her family at the age of seven, and she recalls being overwhelmed in a new place where she didn’t speak the language, and a teacher warned her she might have to be held back.
“It just really fueled me and I think ever since then, ever since the third grade, I kind of just went off and have not stopped,” Echazarreta recalled in an Instagram interview.
When she was 17 and 18, Echazarreta said she was also the main breadwinner for her family on a McDonald’s salary.
“I had sometimes up to four [jobs] at the same time, just to try to get through college because it was really important for me,” she said.
These days, Echazarreta is working on her master’s degree in engineering at Johns Hopkins University. She previously worked at NASA’s famed Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. She also boasts a following of more than 330,000 users on TikTok, hosts a science-focused YouTube series and is a presenter on the weekend CBS show “Mission Unstoppable.”
Space for Humanity — which was founded in 2017 by Dylan Taylor, a space investor who recently joined a Blue Origin flight himself — chose her for her impressive contributions. “We were looking for some like people who were leaders in their communities, who have a sphere of influence; people who are doing really great work in the world already, and people who are passionate about whatever that is,” Rachel Lyons, the nonprofit’s executive director, told CNN Business.
Mayim Bialik, best known as the current host of Jeopardy! and as Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler in the smash series The Big Bang Theory, is an honest-to-goodness Renaissance woman.
She’s a neuroscientist, a mother, an animal rights activist and mental health advocate.
An author, actor, game show host and, with the release this spring of As They Made Us, a movie director.
And she’s not done yet.
The Renaissance Woman
In the tradition of Renaissance women from all eras, Bialik is ever diversifying her ambitions, her skill-set, her scope. They’re grounded in science, technology, engineering, the arts and math. Bialik said she didn’t take to science until her teens, when a tutor helped her build a model of a cell out of Styrofoam.
“I could touch that Styrofoam cell,” she told ScienceNewsforStudents. “It was just amazing. It was amazing that it thrilled me the way looking at art thrilled me.”
Nowadays, she added, “I try to put a positive face on STEM and a female face in STEM.”
Bialik, 46, who is modern Orthodox Jewish and a strong supporter of Israel, earned a bachelor of science degree in neuroscience and a doctor of philosophy degree in neuroscience from UCLA. Her dissertation was titled, “Hypothalamic regulation in relation to maladaptive, obsessive-compulsive, affiliative and satiety behaviors in Prader–Willi syndrome.” We’ll break that down later.
She started her acting career as a teen, with roles in Pumpkinhead and Beaches, as well as guest appearances on The Facts of Life, Beauty and the Beast and Webster. In 1994, she earned a major role in Woody Allen’s comedy film, Don’t Drink the Water. She also played the title character of the NBC sitcom, Blossom.
She worked steadily in Hollywood for the next decade before landing her role on The Big Bang Theory, in which she played Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler. She was nominated for Emmy awards in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 and won the Critics’ Choice Television Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series in 2015 and 2017.
In 2021, it was announced that Bialik would host the primetime version of Jeopardy! After Mike Richards stepped down from hosting the syndicated version of the show, Bialik started hosting that version, too, sharing duties with Ken Jennings. Moving forward, it’s unclear how producers will handle the hosting situation, but Bialik said it’s a joy working on the show.
“One of my biggest challenges is I’m so impressed that people know the answers that they’ve asked me to tone down how excited I am when people get them right, which I think is a great note to get,” she told DailyBeast.
Advancing STEAM Through Activism
She also hosts a podcast, Mayim Bialik’sBreakdown, that focuses on debunking the misconceptions surrounding mental health and neurodivergence with the help of friends, guest experts and media personalities.
Bialik is a vegan and a founding member of the Shamayim V’Aretz Institute, a Jewish organization that advocates for the ethical treatment of animals.
Another cause close to her heart is increasing opportunities for girls and women to pursue STEAM educations and careers.
“It’s an incredibly enlightening way to view the world once you’ve been trained in STEM,” Bialik has said. “It’s a smart career choice, and it’s a creative and exciting lifestyle to be a scientist.”
Bialik has written books — such as Girling Up: How to be Strong, Smart and Spectacular — geared toward empowering girls and women, partnered with toy companies to create STEAM-friendly toys for girls and teamed with DeVry University and the HerWorld Initiative to get high school girls excited about STEAM, among other ventures.
“I love encouraging young women to embrace the sciences,” she has said.
What’s her advice to parents and counselors?
“Educate ourselves by using the resources in libraries and online to find new ways to understand our world. Also, encouraging kids to see the hidden STEM opportunities all around them. When we cook or bake, it’s math and chemistry. When we observe weather patterns or even changes in our body, these are all wonders of the STEM awareness kids naturally have!”
Bucking the Stereotypes
Remember her dissertation? In case you scientists, or budding scientists, are wondering what “Hypothalamic regulation in relation to maladaptive, obsessive-compulsive, affiliative and satiety behaviors in Prader–Willi syndrome” means, here’s a breakdown: Abstract Prader–Willi Syndrome is a neurogenetic disorder that causes obesity. The hypothalamus regulates aspects of the nervous system. “Satiety” refers to satiated, or absence of hunger. So Bialik was intrigued by the links between the nervous system, consumption behaviors and obesity in those who deal with Prader–Willi Syndrome.
A mouthful, for sure. But interesting, yes?
Bialik, it seems, bucks easy, simplistic stereotypes, intersecting her social, emotional passions and strengths with the two roles she’s most famous for: actor and scientist.
Has the film she’s directed furthered that tendency? That’s up to viewers to decide, as is a thumbs-up-or-down.
The movie centers on a divorced mother juggling her family’s needs and her own quest for love. Dustin Hoffman, Candice Bergen and Simon Helberg star.
“It’s very vulnerable,” she told TV and radio host Ryan Seacrest. “It’s not an autobiography, but it’s totally things that are based on my life and some things did happen and other things didn’t and… here we go!”
Here’s a passage from film critic Christy Lemire’s review in RogerEbert.com: “As They Made Us is most effective in its gentle, intimate, everyday moments, and Bialik mercifully refrains from melodrama…”
Lemire continues, saying the film “is clearly a personal debut effort for Bialik, but she shows enough confidence behind the camera to make you curious about whatever other stories she has to tell.”
Which provokes, for Bialik fans, a pressing question: What’s her next chapter?
At age 9, Nalleli Cobo was experiencing asthma, body spasms, heart palpitations and nosebleeds so severe she needed to sleep in a chair to prevent herself from choking on her own blood.
Across the street from her family’s apartment in University Park in South Central Los Angeles was an oil extraction site owned by Allenco Energy that was spewing fumes into the air and the community around her.
After speaking with neighbors facing similar symptoms, she and her family began to mobilize with their community, suspecting that was making them sick. They created the People Not Pozos (People Not Oil Wells) campaign. At 9 years old, Cobo was designated the campaign’s spokesperson, marking the start of her activism and organizing career.
In March 2020, Cobo, the co-founder of the South Central Youth Leadership Coalition, helped lead the group to permanently shut down the Allenco Energy oil drilling site that she and others in the community said caused serious health issues for them. She also helped convince the Los Angeles City Council and Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to unanimously vote to ban new oil exploration and phase out existing sites in Los Angeles.
After pressure from the community and scrutiny from elected officials, Allenco Energy agreed to suspend operations in 2013. The site was permanently shut down in 2020, and the company was charged in connection with state and local environmental health and safety regulations. There are ongoing issues around cleaning and plugging up the oil wells.
Cobo co-founded the South Central Youth Leadership Coalition in 2015 to bolster efforts against oil sites and work toward phasing them out across the city.
That year, the youth group sued the city of Los Angeles, alleging violations of the California Environmental Quality Act and environmental racism. The suit was settled after the city implemented new drilling application requirements.
Cobo, now 21, was recognized Wednesday for the environmental justice work that has spanned more than half her life. She received the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize, which is awarded annually to individuals from six regions: Europe, Asia, Africa, Islands and Island Nations, North America, and South and Central America.
“I did not want to answer the phone because it was an unknown number,” Cobo, who was getting bubble tea when she received the call about the prize, told NBC News in a Zoom interview Wednesday. “I didn’t even know I was nominated. I started crying.”
During the 1920s, Los Angeles was one of the world’s largest urban oil-exporting regions. More than 20,000 active, idle, or abandoned oil wells still reside in the county, and about one-third of residents live less than a mile from an active oil site.
Studies have shown that living near oil and gas wells increases exposure to air pollution, with nearby communities facing environmental and health risks including preterm birth, asthma and heart disease.