Science Forward Fall 2017

Dr. Edyta Greer, Macaulay Honors College, Fall 2017

Author: Paul Menestrier

Blog Post #3

Overall, I enjoyed this course very much; I found it to be engaging and interesting, and i would definitely recommend it to others. It was very clear that time and effort were dedicated to running the class (as demonstrated by the fact that a double space nested in my sources was spotted). I think some aspects of the class could be improved upon, however, even if kept as it currently is, I would absolutely retake the course.

For the good:

-The website was laid out in a clean and helpful fashion. I had no issues with it.

-The lab sessions were interesting and very entertaining. I definitely feel like it was necessary to complete at least one expriment within the science-based IDC.

-The 3D printing experience was one of a kind. It was a fascinating learning experience and a great skill to know. If it weren’t for this course, I don’t think I would have ever taken it upon myself to learn or experience 3D printing, so I am very grateful for the opportunity. I certainly will not forget it.

– The presentations were a great aspect of the class. From the PMOPs, to the poster presentations, to the plagiarism presentation, and the history of drugs and healthcare innovations, I was able to absorb a lot of information in an enjoyable and engaging way.

-We were very well prepared for the STEAM festival.

For the bad:

-The BioBlitz Diversity Report felt like a filler assignment that didn’t add to the class or teach anything. It was also quite a pain to complete. I understand that it’s purpose might be to incorporate the BioBlitz, but given the theme of our class, I don’t think it was necessary (unlike many other IDCs throughout Macaulay which use the BioBlitz as the backbone for their course).

-In regards to the poster creation phase, I enjoyed listening to the presentation about scientific posters, however I think it would be tremendously helpful if, in addition, there could be some guidance about creating posters specifically designed for our class and our projects. There was a lot of confusion when it came time putting the posters together (section titles, what should go where, etc.) and I think that could be cleared up with a quick mention and examples of how to structure our poster for the 3D project. This way, I think we would be able to shorten the time dedicated to practicing and critiquing our poster presentations.

-The three science senses were confusing because, as we found, they’re not clearly defined categories as there is plenty of overlap between them. I don’t think it added anything to the course.

-I was pleasantly surprised by the STEAM Festival as I didn’t have very high expectations for it. It was very interesting to listen to the presentations of others and run into other Macaulay students that I hadn’t seen since Macaulay orientation. I was disappointed that there was no longer the competition for best poster (because I think our class would’ve killed it). I know this isn’t related to our class, but I thought the “maker space” portion of the Festival was useless. It seemed like a filler piece geared towards a kindergarten arts and crafts class. It was wasteful.

-My aspirin contained way too much salicylic acid for my taste 🙂

Thank you for a great semester! I feel very fortunate to have been able to take this course with the both of you.

Blog Entry 2: Thinking About Lab

Performing laboratory experiments in school is extremely important in fortifying the understanding of the scientific process and appreciating the rigor it requires. In addition to fostering a scientific mind, laboratory experiments introduce some basic concepts, materials, and reasoning employed, which can be the starting point to scientific creativity.

To elaborate on the second point, although laboratory experiments are certainly structured and are performed in heavily controlled environments, they act more than just a set of instructions to be completed in order to produce an expected result. Laboratory experiments also teach and inspire in learn-through-example manner. For example, physics experiments in school are often repetitions of experiments performed centuries ago to prove or uncover laws or values that we take for granted today. The formula for torque, the magnitude of gravity on the surface of the earth, and the diameter of earth can be calculated with an outstanding degree of accuracy with very basic materials. The same can be said for any science. For instance, many chemistry experiments can be safely performed by students, yielding the very same outcome: demonstrating to students what can be done, proven, or calculated with a scientific mind, creativity, and (not always fancy) materials. These laboratory experiments demonstrate to students their potential, and stir up excitement especially for younger students. If a middle-schooler can calculate the mass of the earth, then what can’t he or she do? Thus, laboratory experiments are pedagogically useful, not because of the direct result or conclusion that they yield, but because they demonstrate examples of what can be done, and encourage creativity by example.

Whether laboratory experiments are necessary for a course like ours is a complex question to answer. On the one hand, all that I have aforementioned applies and points demonstrates the benefit a lab brings to the course. On the other hand, I assume every student in the course has performed experiments in school for years, and therefore the two additional labs in this course are subjected to the law of diminishing returns, minimizing their benefit. For that reason, I do not believe a laboratory experiment is necessary for this course as it provides very little pedagogical benefit, although it can be easily argued that it does foster fascination for the material.

From this laboratory experiment, I hope to gain mostly the experience and knowledge of how to create aspirin. I would also experience the reactions of the experiment first hand, such as visualizing the cristallisation of the aspirin for the first time.

Although this lab is very scientific as it is based heavily in chemistry, it’s difficult to imagine what a lab in a non-science course would ressemble. Perhaps the lab for history or literature course would be placing yourself in the situation of a writer or a general in a time of war and analyzing the situation from their point of view. Would this fulfill the same role as a science laboratory experiment? It certainly might promote creativity and fascination for the material, but I’m not certain it would be as effective as there would need to be an initial fascination to get the ball rolling, so to speak. Science labs also focus heavily on factual evidence and scientific rigor, where as I would imagine non-science labs allow for more creative expression and flexibility.

The style of academic writing for a lab report also differs from the writing employed in an English or history class. The reason for the difference is that lab report writing style is meant to accurately, clearly, and efficiently convey information. The beauty of the style is irrelevant, as the content is the most important aspect of the lab, and any beauty in the delivery style of that content does not contribute any benefit. That is why the style of academic writing differs between the subjects, and why it is perfectly acceptable for lab reports to be dry and tedious.

Final Draft: A More Effective Limb Splint (Elina, Jacqueline, Paul)

Download (PDF, 2.97MB)

Limb Splint Annotated Bibliography

Download (DOCX, 170KB)

Vinca Minor


Vinca minor, otherwise known as the common periwinkle or the myrtle, is a perennial evergreen plant native to Europe. While its exact origin is still contested, the most prevalent theory is that Vinca minor originated around the Mediterranean, South of Switzerland and between Portugal and Turkey. It is often used as an ornamental ground cover and is a widespread invasive species in much of the continental United States. However, it was also introduced to the US for its medicinal properties.

Vinca minor contains dozens of alkaloids, a group designating organic chemical compounds containing basic Nitrogen atoms. The most important of the compounds that can be extracted from the Vinca minor is vincamine (shown on the bottom left). Vincamine is an indole alkaloid found in the leaves of the plant that has a vasodilation effect on the human body. The compound specifically increases blood flow to the brain and is often taken as an anti-aging supplement. It is important to note that these effects have not been conclusively proven. The most famous derivative of vincamine is vinpocetine (shown on the bottom right). This derivative has show anti-convulsive, anti-inflammatory, vasodilation, and memory enhancing effects. Studies on vinpocetine have been largely inconclusive as well, and the Food and Drug Administration has not approved the drug for use. Both vincamine and vinpocetine are rarely used in professional medical settings. The majority of their medical use stems from people self-administering the compounds via the consumption of tea brewed from Vinca minor leaves. The predominant use of Vinca minor has been, and seems to always be, its ornamental property as a low maintenance shrub.

Limb Splitting Poster Idea

I work at my community’s volunteer ambulance service as an EMT, so this healthcare issue personally affects me on the care provider side. I will be writing about the treatment administered for possible limb fractures, with the exclusion of femur fractures.

Just last week, I had a patient with a possible wrist fracture. The main treatment for a limb fractures is simply to splint and immobilize the limb in question. For those of you unaware of how shamefully outdated and mind-bogglingly simple this treatment consists of, let me enlighten you. The “splint” is just a light piece of wood with some padding, wrapped and sealed in a thick plastic layer. The splinting process consists of immobilizing the limb by wrapping it to the splint with a roll of gauze.

This system is often met with with reluctance and disapproval, as it requires some movement to the injured limb. Though I am slightly uncoordinated, even the most graceful and attentive caregiver cannot properly splint a limb without causing unnecessary movement. This movement not only causes pain, but can also worsen the injury.

I believe that this system can be improved on, because right now, it does not live up to expectations. An improvement would allow me to become a more effective EMT, and would minimize the pain and any further injury to the patient. Players in the healthcare system could very easily improve this situation by making an easy-to-use splinting device that minimizes movement during its application.

My concept is a mat consisting of long pieces of plastic aligned together in a parallel fashion. There would be joints connecting the pieces of plastic, allowing the mat to wrap around the injured limb. Perhaps there could even be a inflation padding system at the center of the wrapped mat, providing added comfort. I believe that this system could be an effective solution to the current splinting process.

Blog Entry 1: The New Mystery – Maybe Miracle – Drug

I found The New Mystery – Maybe Miracle – Drug, published in December of 1971, to be extremely fascinating article, full of controlled excitement and optimism.

While the article was longer than I initially anticipated, I felt as though it was very thorough and could not have been shortened very much. Certainly, it is much more factual and technical than the grand majority of New York Times articles posted today, however I think the richness of the article derives from its completeness, and perhaps some might say its boringness. Even just attempting to recall the doctors and researchers quoted or mentioned gives an idea of how much work went into extracting information from numerous trusted sources. In the first two pages alone, the article either mentions or quotes Dr. Sultan Karim, Dr. Reimert Ravenhold, a Catholic laywoman, a New York Biochemist, employees from The Upjohn Company, Dr. Maurine Golbiatt, Professor Ulf S. von Euler. Prof Sune Bergstrom, Dr. David Weisblat, and Dr. W. Vogt. Clearly this article was thoroughly researched and carefully crafted, as opposed to being churned out by the author and publisher. And while the article required my full attention and some rereading, finishing it was fulfilling. I actually felt as though I learned and understood prostaglandins to a very basic degree.

Continuing the compare and contrast of this article to current journalism trends, I fully appreciated the nuanced view that the article tied in towards the end. There was no definitive statement given to tie up the ending; instead, counterarguments were given:

  • “Some prostaglandin research has not yet advanced beyond the stage of fascinating speculation. Prostaglandins in excess seem to [do some bad things].”
  • “(…) Scientists recognize that they really know very little about [prostaglandins].”
  • “Even in their relation to the body’s hormone system, the prostaglandins present a confusing picture.”
  • Finally and most importantly: “Although the therapeutic dividends of prostaglandin research promise to be extraordinary, there seems little disposition to rush imperfectly understood drugs into the marketplace. As Yale’s Dr. Speroff says: ‘The future of prostaglandin research may well have a critical relevance to human welfare. …Enthusiasm is justified but enthusiasm has to be tempered by caution to avoid poor studies, inefficient effort and premature use.’”

YES! This is the type of nuanced and well-researched journalism that should be prevalent nowadays. The article made brief mention of opinions in the section about the use of prostaglandin in contraception and abortion, however the majority of the article was reserved for factual information and testimonies from reliable sources. There were no definitive conclusions, or clickbait openings and endings. As I mentioned in the first sentence of this post, the author employed controlled excitement and optimism. Clearly, prostaglandins offered great potential at the time, but I felt Lawrence Galton, the author, restraining himself from easily making potentially misleading overstatements. By doing so, he stops readers from jumping to false conclusions, or having misrepresented ideas in mind. The article’s ending was very open, providing the analogy of the field of prostaglandins being a vast territory, where the scientific community is only at the frontier. While this ending may frustrate some, as no concrete conclusion is being provided, I found it to be restrained and absolutely valid.

The fact that this article was published in 1971 makes it all the more fascinating as we can now approach it in hindsight. From my blurry recollection of my medical studies in France, I vividly remember my plump, rosy-faced professor lecturing at length on “prostaglandines” and their effects on the female body during different stages of pregnancy. Perhaps the joy I found thinking “oh yeah, I remember hearing about that” gave me an unfair bias towards enjoying the article, however, the point remains: the author was right. The information that was fresh and groundbreaking nearly 50 years ago is being taught today as introductory material. While the territory is large, the scientific community has certainly made strides in discovering and mapping out areas past the frontier.

This article, although outdated, was a great choice as its message (specifically the one I extracted), was more important than its content. The shocking thoroughness and dull nuance of this article speaks to the quality of the articles we’ve been fed in our lifetime, and have grown accustom to. Perhaps the molecular structures were unnecessary for the general readership this New York Times article was geared to, but the content was factual and well-presented, clear of any blatant bias or overstatement. Presented in this fashion, the readers make use of their own science senses to process, in their own way, the information in The New Mystery – Maybe Miracle – Drug.

EpiPen Paraphrase Exercise

Allergies are the cause of great concern in many schools across the United States. As we continue to designate nut-free zones in cafeterias, and ban latex balloons from school grounds, a question remains: what happens if a severe allergic reaction occurs? In the most severe of cases where a person’s airway is closing, antihistamines like Benadryl won’t do the trick. In that case, epinephrine is the life saving drug that needs to be administered immediately. An EpiPen is an epinephrine auto-injector, available in most schools, that makes it simple and relatively harmless to inject epinephrine. One of the major problems, however, is that many times the emergency action plans of nurses conflict with set guidelines, leading to ineffective and under-treatment of sever allergic reactions (Wahl et al. 2015, 97). To fix this critical problem, nurses must be trained to use EpiPens, so that they may respond effectively and without delay or confusion. This would allow to keep our children safe from fatal allergic reactions while on school grounds, and ease some of our concern.

Marijuana extract helps some kids with epilepsy, study says

Popular Report:

Marijuana extract helps some kids with epilepsy, study says

Marchione, Marilynn. “Marijuana extract helps some kids with epilepsy, study says.” Associated Press. May 24, 2017. Accessed September 06, 2017.,-study-says.

Primary Literature:

Trial of Cannabidiol for Drug-Resistant Seizures in the Dravet Syndrome (paywall)

Trial of Cannabidiol for Drug-Resistant Seizures in the Dravet Syndrome (Full article obtained through the Baruch Library)

Devinsky, Orrin, J. Helen Cross, Linda Laux, Eric Marsh, Ian Miller, Rima Nabbout, Ingrid E. Scheffer, Elizabeth A. Thiele, and Stephen Wright. 2017. “Trial of Cannabidiol for Drug-Resistant Seizures in the Dravet Syndrome.” The New England Journal of Medicine 376, no. 21 (2017): 2011-20.