Heyl Scholarship Winners Announced

Eight students from Kalamazoo County high schools and one Kalamazoo College first-year student will receive Heyl scholarships to attend Kalamazoo College in the 2018-19 school year, majoring in math or science.Heyl Scholars

The prestigious scholarships, available to accomplished Kalamazoo-area math and science students who meet certain requirements, cover tuition, rooming and book fees. The scholarships were established in 1971 through the will of F.W. and Elsie L. Heyl. F.W. Heyl was the first director of research at the Upjohn Co. and taught at Kalamazoo College.

Honored at a dinner at the College, the scholarship winners are (from left): Evelyn Bartley (Loy Norrix High), Eva DeYoung (Loy Norrix High), Sam Ratliff (Kalamazoo College), Madeline Guimond (Loy Norrix High), Molly Ratliff (Loy Norrix High and Kalamazoo Area Math and Science Center), Alina Offerman (Loy Norrix High), Syeda Tooba (Parchment High and Kalamazoo Area Math & Science Center), Tatianna Tyler (Kalamazoo Central High) and Thomas (Jake) Fales (Kalamazoo Central High).

Five other students received Heyl Scholarships to attend Western Michigan University’s Bronson School of Nursing.

K Author Chronicles Dangers of Never Being Out of Season

Kalamazoo College alumnus Robb Dunn
Robb Dunn

Biology professor (North Carolina State University), scientist and science writer Rob Dunn ’97 has a new book out. Never Out of Season: How Having the Food We Want When We Want It Threatens Our Food Supply and Our Future, was reviewed by Raj Patel in and article titled “Seeds of Destruction.” The review appears in the April 16, 2017, New York Times Book Review. Patel finds the book an engrossing review of human hubris relative to agricultural production. Medicine effectively treating high blood pressure may barely register in a patient’s consciousness. But he will know if it fails catastrophically, however brief that moment of recognition might be. Such unconscious dependence characterizes most of us relative to the people (and their efforts) who manage the diseases and pests that threaten modern agriculture and the world’s food supply. There have been catastrophic failures in the past, and Rob covers several, most notably, the 1845-49 Irish potato famine, a devastation (millions died) more artificial than natural, caused by failures both political and scientific. Among the latter, the fear of scientists to speak truth to power and a contempt for the botanical ingenuity of indigenous science. Concludes Patel: “There are biologists today who stare into the abyss of global crop failure, and stand ready to protest commercial and governmental venality. We can hope that Dunn’s book encourages them to be less humble toward the interests they serve, and offer more humility toward the knowledge of indigenous people, on whose shoulders they stand.”

K Professor Co-Edits ‘Computational Neurology and Psychiatry’

Péter Érdi, the Henry R. Luce Professor of Complex Systems Studies, is the co-editor of a new book titled “Computational Neurology and Psychiatry.” He also is the co-author — along with two K alumni, Takumi Matsuzawa ’16 and Tibin John ’15 — of a paper included in that book. The paper is titled “Connecting Epilepsy and Alzheimer’s Disease: Modeling of Normal and Pathological Rhythmicity and Synaptic Plasticity Related to Amyloidβ (Aβ) Effects.”

Computational Neurology and Psychiatry
Péter Érdi is the co-editor of a new book titled “Computational Neurology and Psychiatry.”

Sometimes seeing more is a matter of new ways of looking. Such “new ways of looking” include the emerging scientific fields of computational neurology and computational psychiatry. The key word is “computational.” Researchers apply math and computer science to create computer models that simulate brain structures and brain activities associated with specific disorders (epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease, for example). Such simulations and new techniques of analyzing the copious amount of data that emerges from such simulations have the potential to reveal elements of brain structure and function associated with disease and disorders, elements that have heretofore been a mystery. In other words, these “new ways of looking” may result in seeing what’s never been seen before.

Computer modeling also offers advantages of cost and convenience compared to older ways (animal experimentation and laboratory set-up) of trying to model and see brain structure and (mal)function.

A book that pioneers these new scientific fields is exciting and important, says Péter:  “Adopting advanced computational methods such as modeling and data processing raises hopes that one day we will more effectively treat neurological and psychiatric disorders.”

In other news, Péter has been appointed vice president for membership of the International Neural Network Societies.

Soccer Boys, Dinosaur Men

Jeff Wilson '91 in Niger
Jeff Wilson ’91 in Niger

When the Wilson boys were kids, it was soccer over sauropods. Neither brother, Jeff or Greg, was particularly interested in dinosaurs.

Interests evolve over time. Today Jeff (Kalamazoo College class of 1991) and Greg are paleontologists and professors at the University of Michigan and the University of Washington, respectively. Both men will be speakers at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum (KVM) 2017 summer of dinosaurs. An article on the two (“Brothers in Paleontology”) appears in the Winter 2017 issue of museON, the magazine of KVM. At K Jeff majored in biology and studied abroad in Madrid, Spain. He was an outstanding Hornet soccer player–a four year letter winner, named All American (second team) one year and NSCAA-All Mideast Team two years.

In graduate school both Jeff and Paul studied and worked with renowned paleontologist Paul Sereno (University of Chicago). Sereno will speak about the intersection of arts, history and science in paleontology at the KVM on June 3, 2017.

Jeff and Greg specialize in different areas of the field. Jeff studies the paleobiology of sauropod dinosaurs, the largest land animals every to have existed on earth. His brother focuses on the small early mammals who coexisted with the dinosaurs.

In 1999, LuxEsto published a story about Jeff, who at the time was a paleontology doctoral student at the University of Chicago. Prior to that article Jeff had joined Sereno on five dinosaur expeditions, two in the Tenere Desert of central Niger in West Africa. (See photo of Jeff on one of these expeditions) Jeff was part of the team that discovered a new species of dinosaur called Sucomimus tenerensis, a 34-foot “crocodile mimic.” Jeff’s dinosaur expeditions have taken him throughout the world. And soccer has played a role in some of these trips. Jeff calls it a “universal language” very useful in building relationships when people lack fluency in one another’s first languages.

The Wilson boys sort of flipped the more predominant chronology–not so much interested in dinosaurs as kids, but big-time interested as adults. Why do so many kids love dinosaurs? LuxEsto posed that question to Jeff in 1999. “They’re big; they’re extinct’ and they attain heights we could never attain,” he said at that time. “They are the superheroes of animal life.” And, perhaps most important, “They are the gateway to a mysterious and strange world that is lost to us.”

Showerdough and Sourdough

Rob Dunn '97
Rob Dunn ’97

Rob Dunn ’97 is at it again; it being another citizen-science project (or two). And it (or they) are the subject of a fun and wonderful piece by Nicola Twilley, “What’s Lurking in Your Showerhead,” that appears in the December 8 issue of the New Yorker magazine.

Rob is an evolutionary biologist and professor at North Carolina State University. Twilley is one of 500 participants in his lab’s Showerhead Microbiome Project. Those volunteers (in Europe and the United States) swab the gunk in their showerheads and send the samples Rob’s lab. Twilley found it a tad gross, but Rob wonders if it’s a good thing–those microorganisms in our showerheads. Turns out our bodies are full of other bodies–we depend on them. In fact, those other bodies’ cells (in or on us!) may outnumber our own, making me more other than myself. Wow! Whether or not what’s in our showerheads is good (or not so good) for us remains to be tested. First we have to see what’s in there in order to ask the right questions. Rob’s full of those; he’s a K grad. He’s also interested in the effect (for good or ill) on our “showerdough” of different water treatment processes.

Please forgive that “showerdough” malapropism; there’s a reason for it. Rob’s second current citizen-science project is all about the affect of microorganisms on sourdough and, ultimately on the taste of sourdough bread–across space and time. Some really interesting things may be going on there! Read Twilley’s article to find out. Citizen-science is nothing new to the Dunn lab. He’s done projects on belly button lint, human facial mites, insects in the kitchen, and household dust. Robs the author of three popular science books and was featured (“The Ant on Aldebaran”) in the Fall 2015 LuxEsto.

Profile of Courage

David FranceIn May of 2013 alumnus David France ’81 returned to Kalamazoo College’s campus to present his Oscar-nominated documentary “How to Survive a Plague.” David has recently written and published a book of the same title, How to Survive a Plague: The Inside Story of How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS. On November 21, the New York Times published a rave review of the work by writer and former editor of the New Republic Andrew Sullivan.

“A question has always hung over the reaction of gay men to the plague that terrorized and decimated them in the 1980s and 1990s: Why did they not surrender?,” writes Sullivan. “David France’s remarkable book tries to answer that question.”

The answer, David articulates in his history, is a courage that not only ended a plague but also revolutionized medicine, a kind of courage as remarkable as it is rare in human history.

After graduating from K with a degree in political science, David moved to New York City to study philosophy at the New school. A mysterious disease was killing many people around him, and no one was writing about it. So he began to investigate.

“I had only one science class at K, and I had to take it twice,” he told Elaine Ezekiel in May 2013. “Suddenly I’m interviewing bench researchers trying to see if their work offered any hope.” David trained himself about the virus and about the bench and clinical procedures as well as the federal bureaucracy involved in the development of medicines. He also relied on what he learned as a news editor for The Index.

David also had experience with the need to summon courage. He and his friends had established the College’s first gay and lesbian support group. “It was a dangerous time,” he said. “We had to meet off campus. There were constant threats of violence.” For an Index article that interviewed friends about what it was like to be gay at K David had to use pseudonyms to protect the sources.

Sullivan suggests the combination of David’s qualities, contacts, breadth of expertise and curiosity make him the indispensable author of this profile of extraordinarily persistent courage.

“It took years to gain traction, but the courage of the resistance turned out, over time, to be as persistent as the virus itself,” wrote Sullivan. “And the merit of this book is that it shows how none of this was inevitable, how it took specific, flawed individuals, of vastly different backgrounds, to help bring this plague to an end in a decade and a half.”

Sullivan lauds David’s passion and fairness.”You wonder, of course, how many of those deaths could have been avoided. France makes a strong case for the staggering insouciance of government at all levels, especially in the early years. He’s brutal about bureaucratic incompetence and political cowardice. And yet he is also fair enough to show that the science of disabling a dazzlingly resilient retrovirus was fiendishly difficult and that by 1982, 42.6 percent of gay men in San Francisco and 26.8 percent of gay men in New York had already been infected. The community’s own adoption of safer sex — and the vital gains activists made in pushing for cures and treatments for various opportunistic infections — made the most difference in preventing further catastrophe. But in the end, science takes time. Some made it over the line before the war ended. Many never made it. Some of us live lives still haunted by that distinction.”

Photo of David France by Ken Scheles

K Alumna Elected to ACS Director Post

Christina BodurowChristina C. Bodurow ’79, senior director of external sourcing in the medicines development unit at Eli Lilly & Co. (Indianapolis), has been elected the District II Director for the American Chemical Society for 2017-2019. District II includes counties in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina. At K Christina majored in chemistry. She served in student government, participated on the Hornet tennis and swimming teams, and played in the Jazz Band. She studied abroad in Erlangen, Germany. Christina earned her Ph.D. in organic/organometallic chemistry at Princeton University (1984). After graduate school she began her career at Eli Lilly in the chemical process research division. She led the early phase development of a number of neuroscience medicines, including the global submissions of nine new chemical entities. Kalamazoo College congratulates Christina on her ACS election.

K Joins WMed to help local students dream big and enter pipeline to health science careers

SC07417Kalamazoo College welcomes 24 local high school students to campus this week for Early Introductions to Health Careers Level II (EIH-II), a cooperative program between K and Western Michigan University Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine (WMed).

The program intends to foster biomedical science and health career aspirations for underrepresented minorities and disadvantaged high school students, grades 10-12, in Kalamazoo County. Students will participate in interactive-presentations, hands-on lab experiments, note-booking, and be exposed to physicians, health professionals in allied health, and basic scientists.

The program is designed to improve students problem solving and critical thinking skills and “help them dream a little bigger and have fun,” said Dawn DeLuca, Healthcare Career Pathways Coordinator, Office of Health Equity and Community Affairs. According to DeLuca, EIH-II is part of Kalamazoo County’s first pipeline educational initiative for health professions. It also includes EHI Level I, a program for elementary school students, and Kalamazoo Education Enrichment Pre-Med Summer Program (KEEPS), a program for students in their first two years of college.

SC07430Two Kalamazoo College students are involved in KEEPS, which aims to add to the development of current undergraduate students who are science majors and interested in pursuing health professional careers through their participation as mentors and teaching assistants. The K students and high school students will also spend time with current WMed students, which include eight K alumni.

Laura Furge, Ph.D., associate provost and Roger F. and Harriet G. Varney Professor of Chemistry at K is leading EIH-II students through numerous presentations and experiments in K’s Dow Science Center this week. Among students’ activities will be learning basic lab safety and practices, talking about sodas and calculating how much soda they drink, conducting extraction and HPLC experiments, learning about enzymes via “toothpickase” activity, looking at the structure of proteins through 3D printing, and hosting a notebook competition and poster tour in Dow.

SC07426“Pipeline, pre-professional and enrichment programs are an important strategy for addressing the educational achievement gaps and diversifying the health professions and shortage of underrepresented minorities in the health professions,” said DeLuca.

“We believe it may also contribute to reducing health disparities in students’ communities through their improved knowledge about health, social determinants of health, and active citizenship through service learning with community organizations.”

Heyls On Their Way to K (Mostly)

2016 Heyl Scholars
2016 Heyl Scholars who will attend Kalamazoo College or WMU School of Nursing. Front row, from left: Shukrani Nsenga, Loy Norrix HS; Anna Roodbergen, Vicksburg HS; Brianna Harrison, Kalamazoo Central HS; and Hannah Laurin, Kalamazoo Central HS. Second row, from left: Taylor Ashby, Kalamazoo Central HS; Kento Hirakawa, Portage Central; and Kelsi Conroy, Kalamazoo Central HS. Back row, from left: Michael Orwin, Portage Northern HS; Matthew Krinock, Portage Northern HS; and Samuel Maddox, Gull Lake HS. NOTE: Two Heyl Scholars were not pictured.

At a dinner last evening Kalamazoo College feted the dozen 2016 Kalamazoo county high school graduates who earned Heyl Scholarships for Kalamazoo College (science and math) or Western Michigan University (nursing). The scholarship covers tuition, book costs and room charges. The winners are (l-r): front row — Shukrani Nsenga, Loy Norrix; Anna Roodbergen, Vicksburg; Brianna Harrison, Kalamazoo Central; Hannah Laurin, Kalamazoo Central; second row — Taylor Ashby, Kalamazoo Central; Kento Hirakawa, Portage Central; Kelsi Conroy, Kalamazoo Central; back row — Michael Orwin, Portage Northern; Matthew Krinock, Portage Northern; and Samuel Maddox, Gull Lake. Not pictured are Julie Zabik and Marjorie Wolfe, both from Loy Norrix. Harrison, Conroy and Laurin will attend WMU. Nsenga, Roodbergen, Ashby, Hirakawa, Orwin, Krinock, Maddox, Zabik and Wolfe are on their way to K! (Photo by Tony Dugal)

Life’s Imperative: Social Justice in Science

Social Justice Conference AudienceA seed—call it science-and-social-justice—has been germinating in the mind of Regina Stevens-Truss since December of 2009. In truth, Stevens-Truss (the Kurt D. Kaufman Associate Professor of Chemistry) has been thinking on that matter long before then. But the occasion of that December seven years ago—a faculty workshop sponsored by the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership (ACSJL) on the topic of incorporating social justice into the undergraduate curriculum—and a conversation at the event with Harvard University professor Jonathan Beckwith (well known for uniting social justice and science in his science courses) gave Stevens-Truss a language for her thinking.

That small seed has come to fruition in several ways over the years, most recently (in a very big way) with the April 2016 Science and Social Justice Think Tank (SSJTT), which gathered from across the country some 60 experts and advocates for social justice consideration in the conduct of research and science education.

The SSJTT, like so many previous fruitions, was sponsored by the ACSJL. “It is so vital to have the social justice center here,” says Stevens-Truss. On the issue of science and social justice, as with so many others, the center provides “a language, a name, if you will, a platform for what needs to be done, and the national reach to do it,” says Stevens-Truss. Language, platform, reach. “The social justice center is indispensable.”

According to Stevens-Truss, in recent years scientists and science educators have improved in the area of science and ethics. Both groups have become better at considering and carefully answering questions like: am I doing research (or teaching research protocols) in a way that respects the human rights of research subjects as well as the integrity of the scientific process? Comparatively, science has been less effective in its consideration of social justice matters.

“We must become better at framing and answering social justice questions,” says Steven-Truss. Is the research we are considering good for society? Who will benefit? Will different communities benefit disproportionately? Will there be adverse burdens to bear and, if so, who or what communities are most likely to bear those burdens?

Social Justice Conference ParticipantsA similar battery of social justice questions for science educators certainly includes this one: What course content is required to ensure that students from various backgrounds see themselves as stakeholders in science to a degree that is sufficient to keep them involved in the discipline?

That last question inspired at least one living ancestor of April’s SSJTT. In 2011 Stevens-Truss, Beckwith and Lisa Brock, academic director of ACSJL and associate professor of history, began collecting the syllabi of science courses that integrate social justice. Two K undergraduate students and a Harvard graduate student searched colleges and universities across the country and compiled the various ways science professors fit social justice into the academic content of their courses. The trio made these ideas available as a resource to all on science and social justice website, part of ACSJL’s Praxis project.

Work on the SSJTT soon followed. Eliza Jane Reilly, deputy executive director of the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement; Karen Winkfield, radiation oncologist at the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, and Anne Dueweke, director of faculty grants and institutional research at K, joined Stevens-Truss, Beckwith and Brock to form a planning committee. Senior Shannon Haupt, an environmental activist and anthropology and sociology major, served as project assistant.

“We wanted to gather professors, scholars, scientists, public health and environmental leaders working where science and social justice intersect,” says Brock. “We also sought experts on diversity in the STEM fields and people thinking about changes underway in society and science.”

SSJTT participants engaged with three questions: What benefits will accrue when social justice is included in undergraduate, graduate and medical school science courses? What are specific strategies for integrating social justice issues into scientific research? What disciplinary and institution reforms will most effectively advance social-justice-in-science nationally?

“We need to train the next generation in a way that these questions are second nature,” says Stevens-Truss. Particularly gratifying for her was the liberal arts diversity of the SSJTT’s presenters and participants. Attendees included researchers, science professors, policy makers, lawyers, journalists, writers and philanthropists.

“Our evening keynote speakers were a writer [and English professor Debra Marquart, “Owning Our Future: A Poet’s Response to Extraction”] and a visual artist [Mary Beth Heffernan, “Ebola, Culture and Social Justice Through the Lens of a Photographer”],” says Stevens-Truss.

Such diversity matters a great deal, she added, because social justice connects to art, poetry, the social sciences and the hard sciences, a fact with “deep implications for how we teach and practice science.” The committee is currently tackling how to extend the SSJTT’s momentum. The Praxis Center will help. And the language, platform and reach of the ACSJL will be critical.

Stevens-Truss has long been an activist, albeit (perhaps) without the sobriquet. Her work on campus with Sukuma, locally with Sisters in Science, and nationally in a program that connects practicing scientists and middle school teachers comprise distinct expressions of her preoccupation with matters of social justice and science. And now, through the Praxis Center and programs like the SSJTT, the cause and (yes!) its activists have a growing magnitude and unity.

“As scientists and educators we must help each other see our impact on people,” says Stevens-Truss, “and on communities. Especially the marginalized people and communities who often are the most adversely affected by our choices in boardrooms, laboratories, classrooms and scientific funding committees.”