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Atomic energy Potent mix of chemistry and art expands minds across the disciplines
A head for science New formula aims to give every Skidmore student an edge
Scientific edge Alumni in science careers share experience and advice
Environmental problem-solvers Student club combines science and advocacy
President's perspective Science matters

 

 

Scientific edge

Even when Skidmore’s science programs were smaller than today’s, students went on to make large impacts in research, technology, health, and other fields. Alumni working in science range from a New York City medical examiner to the CEO of one of the world’s largest mining companies; here are reflections and advice from just a few of them.






In a nutshell, what’s the nature of your work?
I am interested in the causes of asthma. My research focuses on how leukotrienes, which are chemicals generated by the body’s immune system during inflammatory and allergic reactions, control the development and function of mast cells, which trigger wheezing attacks. Leukotrienes bind to different receptor proteins on mast cells to either increase or decrease their rate of cell division. Leukotrienes can also control mast cells’ output of chemical mediators that contribute to the duration and severity of asthma attacks.

What have been some defining moments of your career?
My lab discovered that the gene coding for the enzyme that allows mast cells to make leukotrienes could be “turned on” by a protein called interleukin 4. This provided a potential explanation for why people with asthma make more leukotrienes than other people. Also, we made the discovery that two of the receptor proteins for leukotrienes functioned as a pair, with one counteracting the other’s function. This provided insight into the purpose for each receptor and the reason some drugs, which only block one of these receptors, don’t work well for all asthma patients.

What developments in your field will have the greatest impact on the careers of students in the sciences?
I think the most exciting development is the rapid acceleration with which laboratory observations can be translated directly into understanding the causes and devising potential treatments for human disease. This results from remarkable technological breakthroughs in molecular biology, genetics, and biophysics. Skidmore students in the sciences will have opportunities to make progress at a more rapid pace than I could have envisioned.

What advice would you offer Skidmore students in the sciences?
Shoot for the moon! If you love what you do and work hard, the rest will follow.






In a nutshell, what’s the nature of your work?

One of my research projects is about improving the effectiveness and efficiency of wastewater remediation of heavy metals. The work uses a “bubble column” apparatus containing water and metal ions. A compound is added to the solution to complex the metal, which then rises to the top of the column as inert bubbles are introduced at the bottom. The heavy metal contaminant can then be removed. The other project uses a technique called surface-enhanced resonance raman scattering to study copper chlorophyllin (CuChl), a derivative of chlorophyll. Applications of CuChl include use in artificial photosynthesis and as a dietary food supplement, colorant, deodorizer, and wound healer. (A paper about this second project was just accepted for the Journal of Colloid and Interface Science.) I also give talks about climate change.

What have been some defining moments of your career?

At a recent environmental symposium I spoke with another researcher about other applications for the bubble column. We’ll be collaborating now, with his research group synthesizing biodiesel (derived from waste vegetable oil) and my group purifying it.

What developments in your field will have the greatest impact on the careers of students in the sciences?
The continuous development of cutting-edge technology and instrumentation, particularly having to do with lasers.

What advice would you offer Skidmore students in the sciences?
Do research early and in several areas of your discipline, to gain a wide range of technical expertise and information. And take as many science courses as possible, because you really can’t predict where your career path will take you.







In a nutshell, what’s the nature of your work?
I counsel patients in an outpatient setting. I work with people who are pregnant or planning pregnancies, regarding their chances of having a child with a birth defect. I also talk to people with cancer or a family history of cancer, to discuss genetic testing options for their own treatment purposes and to provide information for their children and the rest of the family. Additionally, I help train students in genetic-counseling graduate programs at Wayne State University and the University of Michigan.

What have been some defining moments of your career?
I think not getting into medical school turned out to be the best thing that ever happened. I love what I am doing, and not working physician hours has been important to me and my family. Many patients have left an imprint on me over almost twenty-five years in genetic counseling. I have helped some through pregnancies when we knew their baby would not survive, and counseled others as they made very difficult decisions regarding their pregnancies. Some of my cancer patients have not developed cancer or were diagnosed early and cured because they had genetic counseling and learned their various medical management options.

What developments in your field will have the greatest impact on the careers of students in the sciences?

The mapping of the human genome, and the techniques that allowed that to happen, have opened up an entire new world of testing options. There has been exponential growth, and it’s changed the field of genetic counseling for the better.

What advice would you offer Skidmore students in the sciences?
Study hard and get good grades—the professional competition is fierce. Also, take advantage of opportunities to develop relationships with professors and assist them with their research, which can be helpful in getting into graduate school.






In a nutshell, what’s the nature of your work?
When you hear “LED,” you usually think of a dim light source that lights up your cell phone, or an indicator in the dashboard of your car. Luminus Devices manufactures a much different and brighter kind of LED, based on a technology called photonic lattices that I developed during my doctoral work at MIT. Our products, called PhlatLight, are being used to illuminate Samsung’s big-screen DLP TVs as well as LCD TVs and portable projectors that can be connected to your iPod. And we are now exploring using PhlatLight for general lighting.

What have been some defining moments of your career?
The first measurements of prototype LEDs I built at MIT using photonic lattices that showed higher brightness. After four years of work, it was incredibly rewarding to see that pay off. Also, the decision to start Luminus. After completing my PhD I had a choice between taking a great job offer and starting a company. Starting Luminus was very risky; but it’s been an incredibly rewarding experience, not to mention a hell of a lot of fun.

What developments in your field will have the greatest impact on the careers of students in the sciences?
Materials science is constantly evolving with the discovery of new materials, like biodegradable plastics. And with computer-simulation processing speeds increasing exponentially, the rate of discovery is faster than ever. Today’s materials scientists must be theoreticians and experimentalists simultaneously to understand both the physics and the applications of new materials.

What advice would you offer Skidmore students in the sciences?
You actually have an advantage going to a school like Skidmore instead of a traditional engineering school. You learn to examine problems from all perspectives and to be creative—invaluable assets that many science students never obtain.






In a nutshell, what’s the nature of your work?

My work focuses on identifying patterns of neural and behavioral responses to facial stimuli (e.g., expressing different emotions) and reward stimuli (e.g., monetary cues). I compare these processes in adults and adolescents, and among adolescents with anxiety disorders as well as those at risk for developing them. The goal is to learn what triggers the onset of these disorders and try to identify early in development those individuals at greatest risk for developing anxiety.

What have been some defining moments of your career?
Being awarded a career development grant by the NIMH to conduct my research. Also the papers I’ve published that focus on adolescents at risk for anxiety due to their early life temperaments. We found that measures of shyness collected in very early childhood may relate to differing patterns of neural activation measured in adolescence.

What developments in your field will have the greatest impact on the careers of students in the sciences?
I was trained in developmental psychology, but my field has been moving in the direction of using neuroscience to better understand development. I think that will change the coursework and research opportunities available for Skidmore students.

What advice would you offer Skidmore students in the sciences?
Take courses in as many different areas as possible, because what you learn in one can transfer in unforeseen ways. And find mentors who can help you determine the career options available for science majors.