Topologist Emille Lawrence focuses on a field of math in which a triangle, a rectangle, and a circle are all considered the same shape: a closed, one-dimensional shape with one hole inside of it. Topologists define a shape by its dimension, by the number of holes that run through it, and by its orientation. To a topologist, dimensions matter. Lawrence has studied braid groups and, more recently, has worked with spatial graphs, exploring the different ways one can position a graph in space.
“I went into science because I thought nature was really cool.” When he was nine, physiological ecologist Manuel Lerdau volunteered at a nature center near his Maryland home, cleaning out the cages of injured animals that couldn’t be released back into the wild. A few years later, he got a job catching and banding migratory birds after school. Moving further afield, he took a year off from college to study birds and primates in the tropical forests of Borneo.
Mechanical engineer Julia Lintern applies her creative powers to everything from puppets and clothing to cars and planes. These days, Lintern’s job is to make sure planes are safe, from take-off to landing.
“Everything I do is with chocolate,” says Haroon Malak, Analytical Support Scientist and Radiation Safety Officer at Mars, the company that makes M&Ms®, Snickers®, and Twix® bars, among many other products.
Paul Mirel builds devices that investigate the Big Bang. As a Systems Engineer at Wyle Information Systems, he does engineering work for the NASA PIPER (Primordial Inflation Polarization ExploreR) mission. The polarization-sensitive microwave telescopes he creates measure light left over from the Big Bang.
You might think of microbes as “germs”: tiny organisms that make people sick. But our bodies contain ten times more microbes than cells of our own. Many of those microorganisms in our bodies and other microbes living in the soil, air, and water of our planet help keep us healthy. Environmental microbiologist Luke A. Moe studies ways microbes make certain chemicals less dangerous and how they help plants obtain nutrients from the soil.
For Eric Pallant, Professor of Environmental Science at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania, a career as an environmental scientist started out as a practical pursuit, but has turned into a lifetime spent solving problems, making the world a better place, and teaching young people to do the same.
Pentland teaches computers to use huge numbers of simple observations to make insights about the world—some that humans can make easily, like telling your best friend’s face apart from your mother’s, and some, like who you’re likely to make friends with soon, that humans can’t make at all.
Raindrops, so many raindrops. . . and when they were harvested from roofs in Texas, environmental scientist Phoebe Romero calculated how many barrels of rainwater they would produce and how many fields could be irrigated by those barrels. In the Texas hill country, rainwater harvesting is a key to sustainability. Metal roofs have a higher run-off than asphalt roofs and produce more usable rainwater. Romero used both math and mapping to predict where cisterns (rain barrels) were best placed for collection.
What’s the fastest speed you have traveled without leaving the ground? Even in a zooming car on the highway, most people never go faster than 60 or 70 miles per hour (mph). Imagine climbing into a sports car and driving at a rate 100 mph faster than that. Mechanical Engineer Rachel Rothman, Chief Technologist and Engineering Director at Good Housekeeping, got that “roller-coaster stomach-drop sensation” at the Virginia International Raceway when an editor from Car and Driver accelerated the sports car they were testing (a McLaren) to more than 160 mph.
Hopefully when you walk through a park or along a sidewalk or when you bike along a designated bike lane, you enjoy the walk or ride and don’t think much about all of the things that could go wrong if it were poorly designed. You might admire the view, look for a friend, or wonder how long it will take you to get where you’re going. You’re probably not thinking “If it rains, will the water pool on this path?” Or “Will the pressure of the higher ground on one side of this wall cause it to collapse?” We’re free to enjoy the parks and transportation systems of our cities and towns because civil engineers like Tamara Skeeter have put all sorts of careful work into making them as safe and comfortable as possible.
Geologists study Earth and its history. Our planet is mainly made up of rocks and water, both of which are important in the work of a glacial geologist. Glaciers form when unmelted snow becomes increasingly dense over hundreds of years. They can become parts of ice sheets, huge collections of glacial land ice that cover more than 50,000 square kilometers (over 20,000 square miles). Glacial Geologist Lauren Miller Simkins studies ancient glaciers and ice sheets. Knowing more about how ice behaved on Earth’s surface in the past can help us better understand what it’s doing now and what we can expect in the future.
Immunologist Kent Teague grew up in the Ivory Coast, a country in west Africa. His father worked as a minister and his mother as a musician and librarian. Soon after they moved from Lausanne, Switzerland to the Ivory Coast with their three-year-old son, Kent developed malaria.
What do the table you sit at, the packages you get in the mail, the building you live in, and lifesaving medical devices you see in hospitals have in common? All of them are created by people like Yamilée Toussaint, who studied mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Throughout the Milky Way galaxy, planets orbit hundreds of millions of stars other than the Sun. And in galaxies beyond our own, stars orbit enormous black holes millions or even billions of times the mass of the Sun. Telescopes on high mountains and deserts and in space help scientists gather data about these planets, stars, and black holes. And Scott Tremaine, a theoretical astrophysicist at the Institute for Advanced Study (where Albert Einstein worked from 1933 until 1955) uses that data to help us “see” even more.
“It will soon be possible to change your DNA not just for medical reasons, but at will — should that be legal?” ask Molecular and Cell Biology Professors Fyodor Urnov and Jasper Rine in the description of “Biology for Voters,” the course they teach together at the University of California at Berkeley. Genetic engineering, making changes in animals’ (including humans’) DNA, raises ethical questions, like the ones Urnov and Rine explore in their class. But in the field of biomedicine its value is becoming quite clear.
“I love my job: it’s fun and hugely satisfying,” says Biostatistician Andrew Vickers, a cancer researcher at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, in New York City. “There have been studies of statisticians,” he adds, “and they have some of the highest levels of job satisfaction of any profession.” Why do people in his line of work like their jobs so much? Vickers explains that he gets to “peer into columns of numbers and extract from them information that helps people live longer, healthier lives.”
Orangutans spend a good deal of time alone or looking for food with their infants. Vogel and her colleagues follow orangutans for whole days, studying “how primates make a living in the forest.”
When Lucianne Walkowicz was a child growing up in Los Angeles, she loved to conduct “experiments” at home using materials she found close at hand, in her family’s kitchen and elsewhere.
Alexander Walts builds critical parts of machines that help detect X-ray radiation in outer space.
Every day, often without thinking about it, we walk or drive or ride our bikes over roads and bridges and take trains and buses. We also send water we use to wash our clothes, bodies, and dishes into pipes that take it to the sewer and beyond. We don’t tend to notice the systems of roads, tracks, and water transportation and purification that make these activities possible … until slow traffic or stopped-up or leaky pipes remind us how great it is when these systems work well.
Bioengineer Derek West works with tiny particles of gold, particles so small that you can’t see them.
Can studying math and computer science help a person write well about movies and other forms of art?
“I’ll never forget getting picked up from the airport in Nairobi.” On the way to the campsite, “we saw giraffes and zebras … moments after landing. It was just amazing and I thought ‘How could you ever leave here?'”
Does the height of the world’s tallest tree help it survive? How do changes in California’s climate affect trees? Global Change Ecologist Xi Yang uses drones, spectroscopy, and satellite and airplane images to help us understand how plants like redwoods survive in different environments.
On July 21, 1982, Antarctica’s weather reached the coldest temperature ever recorded: -128.5 degrees Fahrenheit / -89.2 degrees Celsius. Northice, Greenland reached the coldest temperature recorded in the western hemisphere: -87 degrees Fahrenheit / -66.1 degrees Celsius.
If someone tells you that you have a major histocompatibility complex, you might reply with an insult or worry that they’re calling you crazy. But that person has one, too. The major histocompatibility complex (MHC) is part of the immune system, which helps keep us healthy by protecting us from viruses, bacteria, chemicals, and natural allergens that can make us sick. Immunologist Martha Zúñiga studies MHC molecules, using transgenic mice to explore how they work. (What are transgenic mice? Read on to find out.)