Category Archives: Profiles

Why we need to build our own tsunami

Nobody likes tsunamis, but earthquake engineer Tiziana Rossetto at University College London (TEDx Talk: Engineering against tsunami) is hard at work building one of her own. Don’t worry — it’s not going to destroy your coastline. It’s a scale model designed to help Rossetto and other engineers better understand the precise sequence of events that take place during and after a tsunami. That could help them build better coastal defenses and more resilient buildings — and perhaps even tame the terrible toll of the next big one. Here’s why Rossetto’s ideas matter: Continue reading

Photo: Lucas Laursen.

Cave detective hunts for clues to past sea level

A yellow splash of light from Bogdan Onac’s headlamp bounces around the dripping orange walls of a cave like a frenetic firefly. At the other end of the beam, the University of South Florida paleoclimatologist explains that the walls of this cave, on the Mediterranean island of Majorca, have collected a bathtub ring of minerals as brackish water washes in and out. “Majorca is like a Gruyère,” Onac says, its underlying limestone filled with holes just like the cheese. Continue reading

Astronomer Finds Rewards in Outreach

Cameron Hummels in his observatory, 2009. Photo: Lucas Laursen.

The telescope room atop Pupin Hall at Columbia University offers a stunning view of the night sky and the New York City skyline. Astronomy Ph.D. candidate Cameron Hummels even considered moving his desk and computer up to the rooftop shed before concluding that his computer would not last long without heat or air conditioning. As much as Hummels would like to be near the telescopes all the time, the discoveries he wants to make also require computers, and there’s a lot at stake: “I love the fact that I could potentially make a difference,” he says, “in how we identify the underlying principles of nature.”

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Creativity and Persistence Overcome Failure

Science Careers KouzaridesTony Kouzarides tells the story of his early career as a comedy of errors. He started his Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge in the U.K. in 1981 studying the cancer-inducing potential of human cytomegalovirus. After a year of inserting part of the virus’s DNA into target cells, the cells showed almost no signs of cancer. He couldn’t rule out that other parts of the virus might do it, but he also couldn’t publish his early results. What he could publish by the end had more to do with genetic sequencing, an area he did not want to pursue.

After a short postdoc at Cambridge sequencing cytomegalovirus, he landed a second postdoc in a lab in New York studying oncogenes. There, he spent 2 years developing an unconfirmed and unpublishable hunch. On the strength of that record, he deadpans, he unsuccessfully applied to lead his own research group.

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