Visual representation of darker skin is key
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doctor showing a darker skinned patient some information on a digital tablet

MNT spoke with Dr. Nada Elbuluk, a dermatologist specializing in skin of color, about education, trust, and the underrepresentation of People of Color in research.

Disparities and inequities pervade every area of health, and dermatology is no exception. In fact, insufficient visual representation of conditions that affect darker skin, coupled with many other inequities in healthcare, has led to particularly stark disparities in health outcomes for People of Color.

Although skin cancer tends to affect more non-Hispanic white people than non-Hispanic Black or Asian people, when it does affect People of Color, doctors tend to diagnose it at a much later stage.

For example, doctors diagnose around one-quarter of melanoma cases in African American people when the cancer has already spread to nearby lymph nodes. This is according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

The condition is harder to treat at these later stages, resulting in poorer outcomes for People of Color. The 5-year survival rate for people with skin cancer that has not spread to the lymph nodes is 99%, but this drops to 66% if it does spread.

According to the most recent statistics from the American Cancer Society, white adults in the United States with melanoma have a 5-year survival rate of 92%, while this rate drops to just 67% for African American people.

Systemic discrimination and the bias that the medical community displays toward white skin also mean that white people are twice as likely to see a dermatologist, for example, than Black and Hispanic individuals. This is according to a study from 2018.

Furthermore, the current pandemic has made cancer screenings even more infrequent, which could exacerbate these disparities. For instance, diagnoses of melanoma dropped by more than 67% in 2020 as a result of COVID-19.

In this context, Medical News Today spoke with Dr. Nada Elbuluk — a skin of color expert, practicing dermatologist, and dermatology professor at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles — about the causes of health disparities in dermatology and how to remedy them.

We also spoke with Dr. Elbuluk about Project IMPACT. This is a global initiative that she helped launch to reduce racial disparities and bias in dermatology education and medical practice. Dr. Elbuluk is Project IMPACT’s director of clinical impact.

Continue on to Medical News Today to read the complete article.

It’s time to take reproduction in space seriously
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A stork in an astronaut helmet

By Miriam Kramer, Axios

Before humans can settle off-Earth, scientists need to figure out how — or even whether — people can reproduce in space.

Why it matters: Powerful figures in the space industry like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos have dreams of a future where millions of people live in space, which would naturally require a self-sustaining population of humans somewhere other than Earth.

  • “It has been [more than] 20 years since the last systematic experiments on vertebrate reproduction and development in spaceflight,” Gary Strangman, the scientific lead at the Translational Research Institute for Space Health, told me.
  • “Yet we are now actively planning missions and building rockets to reach the Moon and Mars. Reproduction will almost certainly be relevant to a three-year mission to Mars. And we don’t want to discover serious adverse effects by accident.”What’s happening: Scientists have sent a number of experiments to the International Space Station in recent years to try to answer various questions about what it might take for mammals, and eventually humans, to reproduce in space.
  • A study published in June found freeze-dried sperm from mice sent to the ISS weren’t adversely impacted by the environment in low-Earth orbit, producing healthy pups back on Earth after its return.
  • An earlier Russian experiment sent male and female rats to orbit, allowing them to breed. Two of the female rats became pregnant, but neither resulted in a live birth.

Yes, but: More in-depth studies are needed in order to figure out just what it would take for humans and other species to have babies off-Earth, and some scientists say there hasn’t been enough attention paid to funding and performing these types of studies.

  • “There’s always been a bigger problem to solve,” Virginia Wotring, a professor at the International Space University, told me. The focus instead has been on the technology needed to get to orbit, life support and funding for deep space efforts.
  • “The risks of spaceflight are (reasonably) well-understood, but the consequences of those risks on conception, pregnancy, birth and development are barely understood at all — in any species, but particularly in mammals, and even more so in humans,” Strangman said via email.
  • Women have been historically underrepresented among astronauts, making it harder to study how important parts of reproduction like birth control, menstruation and ovulation may work.

The big question: What are the major factors that could limit how and whether humans can have healthy babies in space?

  • Mouse sperm and embryos haven’t been adversely impacted by the radiation environment on the ISS, but as humans push to farther-afield destinations like Mars, that could change as the radiation environment gets worse.
  • Gravity may also be important in physically arranging the cells in an embryo. Researchers are now analyzing an experiment on the space station where astronauts cultured frozen mouse embryos to see if they needed gravity to develop. (The results of that research haven’t yet been made available.)
  • But it could be even more simple: Mammals are sensitive to stress, making it difficult to mate even on the ground, Teruhiko Wakayama, a researcher focusing on reproduction in space, told me.
  • The ethical issues surrounding studies of human reproduction also limit experiments in space, according to Strangman.

What’s next: A number of studies being proposed in the coming years could help answer those outstanding questions around reproduction in space.

Click here to read the full article on Axios.

NASA investigates ‘unusual’ carbon signature on Mars
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By , C|NET

When the words “intriguing,” “Mars” and “ancient life” show up in the same NASA statement, my ears perk up. On Sunday, NASA talked up a new study looking at “unusual carbon signals” measured by the Curiosity rover in the red planet’s Gale Crater.

Curiosity hasn’t found proof of ancient microbial life on Mars, but scientists aren’t ruling it out as one possible explanation for the rover’s findings. Powdered rock samples studied by the rover show the kind of carbon signatures that are connected to biological life on Earth. But Mars may be telling a very different story.

The study is set to be published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.

Carbon is a key element in life on our own planet, so it’s important to study how it appears on Mars. “For instance, living creatures on Earth use the smaller, lighter carbon 12 atom to metabolize food or for photosynthesis versus the heavier carbon 13 atom,” NASA said. “Thus, significantly more carbon 12 than carbon 13 in ancient rocks, along with other evidence, suggests to scientists they’re looking at signatures of life-related chemistry.”

Curiosity heated up rock samples in an onboard lab and used its Tunable Laser

Spectrometer instrument to measure the gases released by the samples. Some of the rock samples had “surprisingly large amounts of carbon 12” compared with what has been found in the atmosphere of Mars and in Martian meteorites.

According to a statement from Penn State, the researchers proposed several explanations: “a cosmic dust cloud, ultraviolet radiation breaking down carbon dioxide, or ultraviolet degradation of biologically created methane.”

The cloud idea connects back to an occurrence when the solar system passed through a galactic dust cloud hundreds of millions of years ago, which could have left carbon-rich deposits on Mars. The second idea suggests ultraviolet light could have interacted with carbon dioxide gas in the Martian atmosphere and left molecules with the distinctive carbon signature on the surface.

A biological origin idea could have involved bacteria releasing methane into the atmosphere that was then converted into molecules that settled back down on Mars, leaving behind the carbon signature Curiosity found.

Click here to read the full article on C|NET.

NASA Invites Media to Launch of New Mega-Moon Rocket and Spacecraft
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Mega Moon Mission. An aerial view of Launch Complex 39B with Exploration Ground Systems’ mobile launcher for the Artemis 1 mission on the pad. The mobile launcher, atop crawler-transporter 2, made its final solo trek from the Vehicle Assembly Building on June 27, 2019, and arrived on the surface of pad B on June 28, 2019, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The mobile launcher will remain at the pad over the summer, undergoing final testing and checkouts. Its next roll to the pad will be with the agency’s Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft in preparation for the launch of Artemis 1.

By NASA

Media accreditation is now open for launch and prelaunch activities related to NASA’s Artemis I mission, the first mission in exploration systems built for crew that will travel around the Moon since Apollo. Approximately a week’s worth of events will lead up to the launch of the agency’s Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft, targeted for no earlier than March 2022 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The uncrewed Artemis I mission will launch from Kennedy’s Launch Complex 39B and is the first integrated flight test of NASA’s Artemis deep space exploration systems. The first in a series of increasingly complex missions, the mission will provide a foundation for human deep space exploration and demonstrate NASA’s commitment and capability to establish a long-term presence at the Moon and beyond.

NASA will set an official target launch date after a successful wet dress rehearsal test – one of the final tests before launch involving fuel loaded into the rocket – currently planned for late February.

U.S. media must apply by 4 p.m. Monday, Feb. 7, and international media without U.S. citizenship must apply by 4 p.m. Monday, Jan. 31. A copy of NASA’s media accreditation policy is online.

The agency continues to monitor developments related to the coronavirus pandemic, and Kennedy will grant access to only a limited number of media to protect the health and safety of media and employees. Due to COVID-19 safety restrictions at Kennedy, international media coming from overseas must follow quarantine requirements.

NASA will follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the agency’s chief health and medical officer and will immediately communicate any updates that may affect media access for this launch.

Media who would like to bring large vehicles (satellite trucks, microwave trucks, etc.) or any manner of infrastructure (scaffolding, stages, etc.) must notify the Kennedy media team by filling out a forthcoming survey. The survey will be distributed to media once the accreditation window for this launch has closed.

All parties requesting to bring stages, scaffolding, or raised platforms will be required to submit plans, including access limitations/controls, height/width/length, configuration, capacity, and load ratings of the elevated structure and any training, inspection, or other pertinent requirements.

Click here to read the full article on NASA.

What STEM Careers are in High Demand?
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What STEM Careers are in High Demand

Have you ever wondered what the outlook might be for your STEM career five or even ten years out? Or maybe you are a current student weighing your options for a chosen career path and need to know the type of degree that is required.

Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education labor trends and workforce studies experts have culled through the BLS data and have summarized the outlook for several select STEM careers.

With the right information in-hand — and a prestigious research experience to complement your education — you can increase the confidence you have when selecting a STEM career.

Software Developers
There are over 1,469,000 software developers in the U.S. workforce either employed as systems software developers or employed as applications software developers. Together, employment for software developers is projected to grow 22 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Software developers will be needed to respond to an increased demand for computer software because of an increase in the number of products that use software. The need for new applications on smart phones and tablets will also increase the demand for software developers. Software developers are the creative minds behind computer programs. Some develop the applications that allow people to do specific tasks on a computer or another device. Others develop the underlying systems that run the devices or that control networks. Most jobs in this field require a degree in computer science, software engineering, or a related field and strong computer programming skills.

Software developers are in charge of the entire development process for a software program from identifying the core functionality that users need from software programs to determining requirements that are unrelated to the functions of the software, such as the level of security and performance. Software developers design each piece of an application or system and plan how the pieces will work together. This often requires collaboration with other computer specialists to create optimum software.

Atmospheric Scientists
Atmospheric sciences include fields such as climatology, climate science, cloud physics, aeronomy, dynamic meteorology, atmosphere chemistry, atmosphere physics, broadcast meteorology and weather forecasting.

Most jobs in the atmospheric sciences require at least a bachelor’s degree in atmospheric science or a related field that studies the interaction of the atmosphere with other scientific realms such as physics, chemistry or geology. Additionally, courses in remote sensing by radar and satellite are useful when pursuing this career path.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), computer models have greatly improved the accuracy of forecasts and resulted in highly customized forecasts for specific purposes. The need for atmospheric scientists working in private industry is predicted to increase as businesses demand more specialized weather information for time-sensitive delivery logistics and ascertaining the impact of severe weather patterns on industrial operations. The demand for atmospheric scientists working for the federal government will be subject to future federal budget constraints. The BLS projects employment of atmospheric scientists to grow by 8 percent over the 2018 to 2028 period. The largest employers of atmospheric scientists and meteorologists are the federal government, research and development organizations in the physical, engineering, and life sciences, state colleges and universities and television broadcasting services.

Electrical and Electronics Engineers
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are approximately 324,600 electrical and electronics engineers in the U.S. workforce. Workers in this large engineering occupation can be grouped into two large components — electrical engineers and electronics engineers. About 188,300 electrical engineers design, develop, test or supervise the manufacturing of electrical equipment, such as power generation equipment, electrical motors, radar and navigation systems, communications, systems and the electrical systems of aircraft and automobiles. They also design new ways to use electricity to develop or improve products. Approximately 136,300 electronics engineers design and develop electronic equipment such as broadcast and communications equipment, portable music players, and Global Positioning System devices, as well as working in areas closely related to computer hardware. Engineers whose work is devoted exclusively to computer hardware are considered computer hardware engineers. Electrical and electronics engineers must have a bachelor’s degree, and internships and co-op experiences are a plus.

The number of jobs for electrical engineers is projected by BLS to grow slightly faster (9 percent) than the average for all engineering occupations in general (8 percent) and faster than for electronics engineers (4 percent) as well. However, since electrical and electronics engineering is a larger STEM occupation, growth in employment is projected to result in over 21,000 new jobs over the 2016-2026 period. The largest employers of electrical engineers are engineering services firms; telecommunications firms; the federal government; electric power generation, transmission and distribution organizations such as public and private utilities; semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturers; organizations specializing in research and development (R&D) in the physical, engineering and life sciences; and navigational, measuring, electro-medical and control systems manufacturers.

BLS notes three major factors influencing the demand for electrical and electronic engineers. One, the need for technological innovation will increase the number of jobs in R&D, where their engineering expertise will be needed to design power distribution systems related to new technologies. They will also play important roles in developing solar arrays, semiconductors and communications technologies, such as 5G. Two, the need to upgrade the nation’s power grids and transmission components will drive the demand for electrical engineers. Finally, a third driver of demand for electrical and electronic engineers is the design and development of ways to automate production processes, such as Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems and Distributed Control Systems (DCS).

Data Science and Data Analysts
Technological advances have made it faster and easier for organizations to acquire data. Coupled with improvements in analytical software, companies are requiring data in more ways and higher quantities than ever before, and this creates many important questions for them, including “Who do we hire to work with this data”? The answer is likely a Data Scientist.

When trying to answer the question “what is data science,” Investopedia defines it as providing “meaningful information based on large amounts of complex data or big data. Data science, or data-driven science, combines different fields of work in statistics and computation to interpret data for decision-making purposes.” This includes data engineers, operations research analysts, statisticians, data analysts and mathematicians.

The BLS projects the employment of statisticians and mathematicians to grow 30 percent from 2018-2028, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. According to the source, organizations will increasingly need statisticians to organize and analyze data in order to help improve business processes, design and develop new products and advertise products to potential customers. In addition, the large increase in available data from global internet use has created new areas for analysis such as examining internet search information and tracking the use of social media and smartphones. In the medical and pharmaceutical industries, biostatisticians will be needed to conduct the research and clinical trials necessary for companies to obtain approval for their products from the Food and Drug Administration.

Along with that of statistician, the employment of operations research analysts is projected by the BLS to grow by 26 percent from 2018-2028, again much faster than the average for all occupations. As organizations across all economic sectors look for efficiency and cost savings, they seek out operations research analysts to help them analyze and evaluate their current business practices, supply chains and marketing strategies in order to improve their ability to make wise decisions moving forward. Operations research analysts are also frequently employed by the U.S. Armed Forces and other governmental groups for similar purposes.

To learn more about other flourishing careers in STEM, visit bls.gov/ooh to learn more.

Source: Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education

A viral image of a Black fetus is highlighting the need for diversity in medical illustrations
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medical illustration of a Black fetus in the womb.

By Harmeet Kaur, CNN

At first glance, the image looks like a standard drawing that could easily be found in the pages of a medical textbook or on the walls of a doctor’s office.

But what sets apart the illustration of a fetus in the womb that recently captured the attention of the internet is a simple, yet crucial, detail: its darker skin tone.

The image, created by Nigerian medical student and illustrator Chidiebere Ibe, struck a chord with countless people on social media, many of whom said that they had never seen a Black fetus or a Black pregnant woman depicted before. It also brought attention to a larger issue at hand: A lack of diversity in medical illustrations.

(While most fetuses are red in color — newborns come out dark pink or red and only gradually develop the skin tone they will have for life — the medical illustration is intended to represent patients who aren’t used to seeing their skin tones in such images.)

Ibe said in an interview with HuffPost UK that he didn’t expect to receive such an overwhelming response — his fetus illustration was one of many such images he’s created as a medical illustrator, most of which depict Black skin tones. But it underscored the importance of a mission he’s long been committed to.
“The whole purpose was to keep talking about what I’m passionate about — equity in healthcare — and also to show the beauty of Black people,” he told the publication. “We don’t only need more representation like this — we need more people willing to create representation like this.”

CNN reached out to Ibe for comment, but he did not expand on the topic further.
Ni-Ka Ford, diversity committee chair for the Association of Medical Illustrators, said that the organization was grateful for Ibe’s illustration.
“Along with the importance of representation of Black and Brown bodies in medical illustration, his illustration also serves to combat another major flaw in the medical system, that being the staggering disproportionate maternal mortality rate of Black women in this country,” she wrote in an email to CNN.

What medical illustration is
Medical illustrations have been used for thousands of years to record and communicate procedures, pathologies and other facets of medical knowledge, from the ancient Egyptians to Leonardo da Vinci. Science and art are combined to translate complex information into visuals that can communicate concepts to students, practitioners and the public. These images are used not just in textbooks and scientific journals, but also films, presentations and other mediums.

There are fewer than 2,000 trained medical illustrators in the world, according to the Association of Medical Illustrators. With only a handful of accredited medical illustration programs in North America, which tend to be expensive and admit few students, the field has historically been dominated by people who are White and male — which, in turn, means the bodies depicted have usually been so, too.

Click here to read the full article on CNN.

Leland Melvin’s Making Space Inclusive
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featured cover story Leland Melvin is pictured in a collage of photos with crewmembers and reading books to children

Interview and Story By Brady Rhoades

On a day he’ll never forget, astronaut Leland Melvin saw 24 sunsets in 24 hours. He flew over his hometown of Lynchburg, Va., and thought of his family, his modest and healthy upbringing; seven minutes later he was over Paris.

It wasn’t lost on him that he was African-American and his crew members included women, Russians, people from all walks of life.

“It made me contemplate my existence,” he said. “My faith was stronger, more magnified, and doing it with people we used to fight against.”

An Unusual Route
Melvin, 57, and, in his post-astronaut career, a prominent advocate for STEAM, did not take the usual route to space. He was a wide receiver in the NFL, but he suffered a career-ending injury and Act II of a remarkable life journey was on.

Since childhood, he’d been interested in engineering, though he was known for his exploits on the gridiron. He starred at his high school, at University of Richmond and, in his short stint in the pros, for the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys.

Along the way, he earned a bachelor of science degree in chemistry and a master’s degree in materials science engineering.

It’s been said that luck occurs when preparation meets opportunity.

Melvin’s post-NFL opportunity came at a job fair. A recruiter tracked him down and told him, “You’re coming to work at NASA.”

A Team Player

This was in the 1980s. Melvin said his mental image of NASA involved white men with crew cuts. He wasn’t far off. “Historically, NASA has been myopically focused on a certain mindset,” he said. He became part of a sea-change in the world’s most esteemed space organization.

“The biggest part of succeeding in a NASA culture is to be a team member,” he said. “Just like sports and mathematics. That’s why diversity is so important. You look at things in a different way. To work at NASA, you have to allow yourself to be heard.

Reading Is Fundamental and NASA teamed up for an African American History Month celebration. Leland Melvin, a former astronaut and NASA's Associate Administrator for Education shares his experiences travelling in space and read-aloud the book, The Moon Over Star by author Dianna Hutts Aston in Washington, D.C.
Reading Is Fundamental and NASA teamed up for an African American History Month celebration. Leland Melvin, a former astronaut and NASA’s Associate Administrator for Education shares his experiences travelling in space and read-aloud the book, The Moon Over Star by author Dianna Hutts Aston in Washington, D.C. Photo Credit: (Photo by Marvin Joseph/ The Washington Post via Getty Images)

People sometimes don’t speak up because they’ve been marginalized.”

Melvin started his career in aerospace working in the Nondestructive Evaluation Sciences Branch at NASA Langley Research Center in 1989. In 1994, he was selected to lead the Vehicle Health Monitoring team for the NASA/Lockheed Martin X-33 Reusable Launch Vehicle program. In 1996, he co-designed and monitored construction of an optical nondestructive evaluation facility capable of producing in-line fiber optic sensors.

He became an astronaut in 1998, after sustaining a traumatic ear injury during underwater training exercises and, eventually, being cleared to fly despite his lifelong impairment.

He flew two missions – 565 hours of total log time – on the Space Shuttle Atlantis as a mission specialist on STS-122, and as mission specialist 1 on STS-129. The STS-122 mission was accomplished in 12 days, 18 hours, 21 minutes and 40 seconds, and traveled 5.2 million miles in 203 Earth orbits. The STS-129 mission was completed in 10 days, 19 hours, 16 minutes and 13 seconds, traveling 4.5 million miles in 171 orbits.

Associate Administrator for Education and Astronaut Leland Melvin talks with school children during the “Build the Future” activity where students created their vision of the future in space with LEGO bricks and elements inside a tent that was set up on the launch viewing area at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla.

While in space, he completed a football pass to another astronaut. He also took hundreds of jaw-dropping photographs.

Mission Possible
After hanging up his space boots, he was appointed head of NASA Education and served as the co-chair on the White House’s Federal Coordination in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM} Education Task Force, developing the nation’s five-year STEM education plan. Leland was the United States’ representative and chair of the International Space Education Board, a global collaboration on learning about space.

He uses his life story as an athlete, astronaut, scientist, engineer, photographer and musician to help inspire the next generation of explorers to pursue Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics (STEAM} careers.

The STS-122 and Expedition 16 crewmembers gather for a photo in the International Space Station.
The STS-122 and Expedition 16 crewmembers gather for a photo in the International Space Station. Photo Credit: NASA

One of his mantras is, “Data over bias.” Bias separates people. Data-sharing brings them together and leads to advances in STEAM and in society.

Space exploration, he said, is about “going someplace you haven’t been and getting over your biases.” It’s a universal win-win, or what he calls “Mission Possible.” And Melvin trusts it will lead to even bigger things. “We’re not going to have a colony on Mars, but we are going to have a human outpost,” he said, preferring the latter term.

Starring in the NFL and flying in outer space are two colossal endeavors. He’s the only human being to do both. He’s also authored two books, “Chasing Space: An Astronaut’s Story of Grit, Grace, and Second Chances” and “Chasing Space: Young Reader’s Edition.” He’s an accomplished photographer (visit LelandMelvin.com for images}.

On the same website, he gives kid-friendly lessons on, among other things, how to build a rocket racer and how to dissolve the coating on your candy in a really cool way.

He plays the piano in his spare time. And he loves his dogs, who appear on the cover of both his books.

Space shuttle Atlantis crew mission specialists Leland Melvin (R), Rex Walheim (2nd R), European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Hans Schlegel (2nd L) of Germany and ESA astronaut Leopold Eyharts (L) of France outside the Operations and Checkout building on February 7, 2008 as they board the Astrovan to launch pad 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla.
Space shuttle Atlantis crew mission specialists, including Leland Melvin (R), outside the Operations and Checkout building  as they board the Astrovan to launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Photo Credit: (STAN HONDA/AFP via Getty Images)

During his interview with Diversity in STEAM Magazine, he was busy feeding his dogs. We asked him what this world- renowned astronaut, explorer, athlete, photographer and teacher has learned from his pups.

“Presence,” he said. “We need to live like our dogs. Chill. Get something to eat. Yawn. Smile. Be like your dog.”

Speaking of presence, he drives home the importance of looking up and around as much as looking down at your devices. Imagine, for instance, an astronaut so fixated on the instruments inside the vessel that he or she forgets to appreciate the majesty of outer space. On a recent hiking trip, Melvin witnessed several young adults busy on their digital instruments.

“Right out there in nature!” he laughed. “There’s a balance between tech and digging your feet into Mother Earth.

World’s first living robots can now reproduce, scientists say
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The C-shaped parent xenobots collect and compress loose stem cells together into piles which can mature into offspring.

By Katie Hunt, CNN

The US scientists who created the first living robots say the life forms, known as xenobots, can now reproduce — and in a way not seen in plants and animals.

Formed from the stem cells of the African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis) from which it takes its name, xenobots are less than a millimeter (0.04 inches) wide. The tiny blobs were first unveiled in 2020 after experiments showed that they could move, work together in groups and self-heal.

Now the scientists that developed them at the University of Vermont, Tufts University and Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering said they have discovered an entirely new form of biological reproduction different from any animal or plant known to science.

“I was astounded by it,” said Michael Levin, a professor of biology and director of the Allen Discovery Center at Tufts University who was co-lead author of the new research.

“Frogs have a way of reproducing that they normally use but when you … liberate (the cells) from the rest of the embryo and you give them a chance to figure out how to be in a new environment, not only do they figure out a new way to move, but they also figure out apparently a new way to reproduce.”

Robot or organism?
Stem cells are unspecialized cells that have the ability to develop into different cell types. To make the xenobots, the researchers scraped living stem cells from frog embryos and left them to incubate. There’s no manipulation of genes involved.

“Most people think of robots as made of metals and ceramics but it’s not so much what a robot is made from but what it does, which is act on its own on behalf of people,” said Josh Bongard, a computer science professor and robotics expert at the University of Vermont and lead author of the study.

“In that way it’s a robot but it’s also clearly an organism made from genetically unmodified frog cell.”

Bongard said they found that the xenobots, which were initially sphere-shaped and made from around 3,000 cells, could replicate. But it happened rarely and only in specific circumstances. The xenobots used “kinetic replication” — a process that is known to occur at the molecular level but has never been observed before at the scale of whole cells or organisms, Bongard said.

With the help of artificial intelligence, the researchers then tested billions of body shapes to make the xenobots more effective at this type of replication. The supercomputer came up with a C-shape that resembled Pac-Man, the 1980s video game. They found it was able to find tiny stem cells in a petri dish, gather hundreds of them inside its mouth, and a few days later the bundle of cells became new xenobots.

“The AI didn’t program these machines in the way we usually think about writing code. It shaped and sculpted and came up with this Pac-Man shape,” Bongard said.

“The shape is, in essence, the program. The shape influences how the xenobots behave to amplify this incredibly surprising process.”
The xenobots are very early technology — think of a 1940s computer — and don’t yet have any practical applications. However, this combination of molecular biology and artificial intelligence could potentially be used in a host of tasks in the body and the environment, according to the researchers. This may include things like collecting microplastics in the oceans, inspecting root systems and regenerative medicine.

While the prospect of self-replicating biotechnology could spark concern, the researchers said that the living machines were entirely contained in a lab and easily extinguished, as they are biodegradable and regulated by ethics experts.

Click here to read the full article on CNN.

The Top 5 Growing Career Fields In 2022
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A group of diverse engineers huddled around a project

By Ashley Stahl

When it comes to the future, uncertainty is the only certainty. Think about remote work. Way back in 2019, it was slowly gaining acceptance even as most managers resisted.

In 2020, companies and their employees were forced to adapt. Today many workers have traded long commutes for casual strolls to their home office. For companies hoping to attract top talent, remote work is now an enticing benefit, and non-negotiable for many.

Most of us experienced a bit of emotional whiplash when the summer of freedom petered out and offices delayed reopening. Predicting which careers will flourish in our post-COVID world isn’t easy. Still there are some definite trends. Of course if you’re already loving your career, I’m not suggesting a radical course correction.

However, if you are considering a change, here are the top five growing fields in the years ahead.

1. Healthcare

The COVID-19 pandemic had an outsized impact on health care workers. Some caught the virus, many became ill or even lost their lives. After enduring a months-long onslaught of patients, studies suggest over one-third are thinking about leaving the profession. Although there has been a shortage of skilled nurses for years, the pandemic made it even worse. That’s one reason healthcare is a top field of the future.

There will be a need for at least 500,000 more Registered Nurses by 2027. You’ll have to earn a bachelor’s of science or an associate’s degree in nursing along with a license. If you love travel, becoming a travel nurse can mean earning a six-figure income along with signing bonuses. In fact, there’s a range of healthcare jobs that offer travel opportunities. In the top five for fastest growing professions, nurse practitioners are R.N.s who have also earned a master’s degree. Able to do many of the things a doctor does like prescribe medication, nurse practitioners are less likely to be burdened by the average physician’s debt load –– which can easily exceed 200K. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2020 the median pay for a nurse practitioner was almost 112K.

2. Information Technology

Of course IT has been a growth field for years. What’s different is that an increased focus on remote work and smartphone development has increased demand for software and app developers. Although this field has traditionally required a bachelors of science degree, companies are now recruiting people who learned to code online. So if you’re thinking about a career change and are tech orientated, you may want to consider taking some coding classes. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) The Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) predicts that by the end of the decade, the software development field will grow by 22% –– which means over 300,000 new jobs with a median salary over six figures. And if you tend to be introverted, software or app development is a great career choice.

3. Supply Chain Management

You probably aren’t surprised to find that this is a growth field. The panic buying that began before last year’s lockdowns upended the just-in-time delivery methods that so many retailers had long relied on. Jobs in this field include Purchasing Agent, Logistics Analyst, and Distribution Manager. Although many start out with a bachelor’s degree, top earners have graduate degrees as well. Industrial engineers are also plentiful in this supply chain management. So if you are skilled with math, statistics, and engineering principles and love making systems work more efficiently, this could be the right field for you.

4. Financial Management

Careers in this field are expected to grow by 15% over the next decade. Financial managers are hired to examine a company’s spending and income while looking for ways to maximize profitability. Fortune 500 companies often seek candidates with an MBA –– although smaller organizations hire financial managers with bachelor’s degrees. The median income approaches 120K. Management consultants enjoy similar high rates of growth and high median incomes.

5. Actuarial and Statistician

Actuaries enjoy an almost 20% growth rate by the end of the decade and a median income over six figures. If you enjoy data and statistics, this could be the perfect high-growth field. Most work for insurance companies, deciding whether or not to insure a potential customer. Being able to evaluate risk is an in-demand skill. Actuaries often have a degree in actuarial science and have passed a series of licensing exams. Statisticians fulfill a similar role for companies by analyzing data and projecting future sales, profits, and obstacles to growth. Data Scientists, who help companies better utilize information, enjoy a projected 30% growth in employment by 2030.

Of course the best job for you may not be the highest paying, nor one with the fastest growth. The key is leveraging your skill set and achieving the best possible outcome. Besides, how many would have guessed the number one fastest growing occupation? According to the BLS, it’s motion picture projectionists.

Read the complete article posted on Forbes.

A Second HIV Patient Has Cleared the Virus Without Antiviral Drugs
LinkedIn
Computer animated HIV virus

According to a report published Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine, a now 31-year-old woman who was diagnosed with HIV in 2013 only took antiretroviral therapy for six months during pregnancy to prevent transmitting the infection to her baby. Yet multiple sophisticated tests looking for genetic evidence of HIV in the patient’s blood showed no intact virus in her cells, says Dr. Xu Yu, who led the research team reporting on the case. She’s a principal investigator at the Ragon Institute of Massachusetts General Hospital, MIT and Harvard, as well as an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. The findings suggest that the patient’s immune system was even able to clear the reservoirs of HIV that allow the virus to continue replicating for decades. Current anti-HIV drugs can lower virus levels to undetectable levels but can’t completely rid the body of these lingering reservoirs of the virus.

“There is no way to ever say we have proof that there is not a single virus in this patient,” says Yu. “The only thing we can say is that after analyzing a large number of cells from the patient, with the technology in our lab we cannot reject the hypothesis that the patient probably reached a sterilizing cure by natural immunity.”

There have been previous reports of patients who stopped taking anti-HIV medications and achieved undetectable virus levels for years, including Timothy Ray Brown, who’s also known as “the Berlin patient,” and Adam Castillejo, “the London patient.” Both, however, had been diagnosed with cancer and benefited from having a stem cell transplant to treat it, which replaced their immune cells with ones from donors that included cells that could block HIV infection. They also likely continued to harbor latent reservoirs of HIV, which have been eliminated in the patient Yu is describing.

The woman is the second patient to apparently clear the virus in this way. Yu’s team described the first person, known as “the San Francisco patient,” in 2020. This second patient, who’s from Esperanza, Argentina, is working with Yu’s team and continues to provide blood samples for ongoing research studies. She is currently pregnant with her second child, and Yu and the patient’s doctors are discussing whether her remarkable, apparently virus-free condition means she won’t need to take anti-HIV drugs before and during delivery (which guidelines currently recommend for pregnant women who are HIV positive). The Esperanza patient will also provide the team with samples of her breast milk so the scientists can determine if it contains any virus.

Yu’s team has analyzed 1.5 billion blood and tissue cells from the Esperanza patient since 2017, searching for any hints of whole genetic virus material that would indicate a virus that could potentially still be active and replicate again. But they failed to find such evidence. They did, however, find fragments of viral genes that indicated this patient was infected with HIV at one point. They found similar clues in the San Francisco patient.

Yu cautions that the findings may not be generalizable to most HIV patients. Both of her patients belong to a group known as elite controllers, or people who are able to suppress HIV at very low, often undetectable levels with their immune systems, without the help of anti-HIV drugs. Researchers around the world are studying these people intensively; it’s not clear what percentage of those infected with the virus are able to naturally contain it with their immune systems, but Yu believes that the two patients she described suggest that there may be more. She’s hoping that hearing about the first two will encourage others to get tested and studied, so scientists can better understand what aspect of their immune systems are providing such an effective way to block HIV.

“Many immune factors could be playing a role,” she says. “Now that we have a second case, there are probably many cases out there that may not know they have a sterilizing cure. Some may not even be aware they are infected. We are hoping to attract more patients; if we have a cohort of these extremely rare cases, then that will allow us to really analyze their immune responses in more depth and breadth and hopefully give us a hint about what immune factors contribute most to this status. Then we can apply what we learn to the general population.”

Click here to read the full article on Time.

Scientists took the first steps toward pig-to-human kidney transplants
LinkedIn
For the first time, surgeons successfully attached a kidney from a genetically modified pig to a human patient

By 

For the first time, surgeons successfully attached a kidney from a genetically modified pig to a human patient — a major scientific breakthrough, and one that could open up a new way to provide organs to sick people.

Scientists got the kidney from a pig genetically engineered so that it wouldn’t produce a sugar called alpha-gal, which the human immune system attacks and would trigger the body to reject the organ. Surgeons at NYU attached the organ to a brain-dead patient on a ventilator whose family agreed to the experimental procedure. It was connected outside of her body to blood vessels on her leg, and observed over a period of 54 hours.

The recipient’s body didn’t immediately reject the kidney, and the kidney functioned normally for the hours it was attached. “There didn’t seem to be any kind of incompatibility between the pig kidney and the human that would make it not work,” said Robert Montgomery the director of the NYU Langone Transplant Institute, according to The New York Times. “There wasn’t immediate rejection of the kidney.”

There are still many open questions: it’s not clear if the organ would last over an extended period of time inside the body. While the kidney worked for the time it was attached, organ rejection can happen over years — and can happen even if the donor and the recipient are perfect matches. The details of the procedure haven’t been reviewed or published in a medical journal.

Experts are also considering the ethical implications of this type of animal-to-human procedure. Karen Maschke, a research scholar at the Hastings Center, has a grant to develop ethics and policy recommendations for clinical trials of these transplants.

But the procedure was still a landmark step in efforts to perform animal-to-human transplants, called xenotransplantation. Animal heart valves have been used in human procedures for decades, but those can be chemically treated to kill living cells and prevent rejections. Organs, made of living tissue, are more complicated. Proponents of the efforts envision a steady supply of organs from animals, which could help the thousands of people on waitlists for transplants. They could be a lifeline for the hundreds of thousands of people with kidney failure who rely on dialysis.

Click here to read the full article on the verge.

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Upcoming Events

  1. City Career Fair
    January 19, 2022 - November 4, 2022
  2. AEC Next Technology Expo & Conference, International Lidar Mapping Forum, and SPAR 3D Expo & Conference
    February 6, 2022 - February 8, 2022
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    February 9, 2022
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Upcoming Events

  1. City Career Fair
    January 19, 2022 - November 4, 2022
  2. AEC Next Technology Expo & Conference, International Lidar Mapping Forum, and SPAR 3D Expo & Conference
    February 6, 2022 - February 8, 2022
  3. From Day One
    February 9, 2022
  4. The Small Business Expo–Multiple Event Dates
    February 17, 2022 - December 1, 2022
  5. From Day One
    February 22, 2022
  6. CSUN Center on Disabilities 2022 Conference
    March 13, 2022 - March 18, 2022