Archive for December, 2014

Student_BlogIn a recent study by H Damon Matthews et al. of Concordia University, it was found that the United States was the global leader in green house gas emissions. These gases have been proven to build up in the earth’s atmosphere and trap heat over time. Their accumulation has led to changes in the global climate and the United States’ government must not only take responsibility, but also make significant strides into lowering these harmful emissions.

The energy sector is responsible for approximately a third of the United States green house gas emissions. While there are several different energy sources for the production of electricity in the U.S., the reliance over others is unequal. In 2013, the U.S. depended on fossil fuels for 67% of electricity, nuclear power accounted for 19%, and renewables sources made up for 14%. A solution to be considered to reduce the amount of green house gases is to balance the United State’s energy profile by making the three sources responsible for a third of all energy production each.

The U.S. relies too much on fossil fuels for not only its energy needs, but also for in the transportation and industry sectors. Divided amongst coal, natural gas, petroleum, and other gases, fossil fuels produce the most green house gasses than all other forms of energy production. Efforts have been made to put scrubbers on emission towers to trap targeted gasses and to use clean coal, but the data still shows this is not enough.

Renewable energy sources like solar and wind only contribute to about 4.4%, while hydropower is responsible for 7% of all electricity production. Technology for solar and wind energy are still in the infancy state, and both have very strict limitations to how energy is acquired. There are also some drawbacks to these forms of energy Very toxic chemicals are produced with the production of solar cells and wind turbines have been responsible for numerous deaths of birds that fly into the blades. Hydropower sees very little promise in being expanded, as most locations in the U.S. that could be dammed have already been so.

Nuclear energy is a very controversial energy option for American citizens. It is one of the cleaner alternative energy sources, but there are serious drawbacks as well. No green house gases are emitted from nuclear plants when electricity is generated; however, the energy source does produce radioactive waste that would take tens of thousands of years to decay into a harmless product. Currently the US has 100 operational nuclear reactors of 62 plants. Many of these would need to be updated in terms of infrastructure and technology that could be very costly.

There is no easy fix for the energy solution in the United States, as time, money, and patience will be tested. However, there are great benefits if we balance the dependency of all energy sources. If the technology for wind, solar, and nuclear power makes significant advancements, not only will green house gasses be decreased for the energy sector, but other sectors might see a decrease as well. The U.S. must begin making bigger strides in the energy sector for not only the sake of the current generation, but for future generations as well.


Matthes, Damon H., et al. National Contributions to Observed Global Warmings.               IOP Science. 15 Jan. 2014. Web. 7. December 2014.

National Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Environmental Protection Agency. 11 Sept. 2014.    Web. 4 Dec. 2014.

Overview of Greehouse Gasses. Environmental Protection Agency. 2 July. 2014.               Web. 4 Dec. 2014.

 What is U S. Electricity Generation by Each Source? U.S. Energy Information       Administration.  13 June 2014. Web. 3 Dec. 2014.


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Student_BlogThere are famous architects whose names probably well‐known even to people who are far from architectural profession: Zaha Hadid, Norman Foster, Frank Gehry, Santiago Calatrava, Renzo Piano, Jean Nouvel and quite few others. They have received Pritzker prizes and their creations are distributed around the world on postcards and tourists brochures. After all, buildings that we construct now and that will stand for years to come will represent our times to future generations, right? Maybe it is true and nothing else matters except a masterpiece that left for centuries to admire, argue about, or even hate but never remain neutral about it.

That is right that it is much easier to criticize one’s work than to create your own. It is also true that great minds usually face negativism and jealousy so we should be grateful for those who in spite of criticism and misunderstanding create if not beautiful but definitely unusual architecture that we call now – signature architecture.

I do not want to discuss either uniqueness or ugliness or beauty of starchitects’ creations but rather to look at what is behind it and how design affects lives before during and after it becomes a structure. Several publications in the Architectural Record caught my attention recently. There is a certain trend between architects that can be summarized in one phrase: ‘I gave you a beautiful design of a structure or building – deal with it. It is not my responsibility how you build, maintain and use it’. I ask myself: Should an architect think or at least take into considerations complexity of the building process and what costs – both financial and human – it will request? Should he or she care how it was erected and what the process required?

“It’s not my duty as an architect to look at it,” Zaha Hadid told The Guardian in February of 2014. (http://www.vanityfair.com/online/daily/2014/08/zaha‐hadid‐worker‐conditions‐lawsuit). She said it after was asked about her opinion on the fact that more than 500 Indian and 382 Nepalese workers had died in the preparations for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar during last two years. Zaha Hadid designed a stadium for the event where some of those people might work but according to her, she has “… nothing to do with the workers”. Is that right? It is true that the client chooses a construction company who is responsible to hire workers and takes care of the whole construction process but an architect’s responsibility is not over after a building is designed. Architects have to maintain proper site and construction work observation and schedule to insure that the work is done properly and to approve necessary adjustments. Especially in cases when a project is done by a famous architect who has enormous weight in decision making process. A client, who paid a very high fee to a starchitect still wants to save money and have work done within a timeframe and budget, which leads to hiring workers from poor and low social classes and very often immigrants from neighboring less developed countries. Construction companies prefer to hire larger amount of workers, which is cheaper than improving construction technological processes. An architect is involved in the construction company selection process and can make a difference if he or she wants it, which means an architect “has something to do with the workers”. And especially prominent and accomplished architects. As a co‐founder of Who Builds Your Architecture? Group, Mabel O. Wilson, says: “Zaha does have some leverage, precisely because she is a highly visible person.” (http://archrecord.construction.com/features/2014/1406‐architecture‐and‐labor.asp)

Another characteristic of a “signature architecture” is a level of complexity of the building structure, schedule requirements, and challenging materials. Difficult and very demanding assembly of complex structures poses high risks of mistakes during construction of such structures and needs very professional and trained personnel not only at managerial level but all levels of workforce involved in the process. Labor conditions and housing of construction workers are directly connected to workers health conditions and should be in accordance with complexity of work they have to accomplish within a tight timeframe.

There are promising efforts in architectural community to raise awareness and ethical concerns in the profession. One example of that is a group in New York called Who Builds Your Architecture? Another one is a situation in Qatar being now monitored by the United Nations Human Rights Council. Frank Gehry’s efforts in Abu Dhabi on the construction site of his extension of the Guggenheim museum is yet another great example how changes are possible when there is willingness to make them. Gehry’s firm is working together with local officials to improve the situation there. (http://archrecord.construction.com/news/2014/09/140922‐Frank‐Gehry‐Works‐to‐Improve‐Worker‐Conditions‐on‐Abu‐Dhabi‐Site.asp) Those actions demonstrate that voices can be heard and can make a difference not only in construction industry but in society by creating a ripple effect of enabling social and cultural sustainability through personal responsible behavior.

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Student_BlogWhen we see a stray can in our private gardens we do not hesitate to pick it up.  It is considered common sense to prevent our children from playing in a lawn drenched in pesticides. Yet, because Earth is so unfathomably large, most of us quickly treat pollution and environmental degradation as if they are someone else’s problems rather than our own.  But the Earth is ours.  It is our only home and the provider of everything we need to survive.  It is therefore essential that we translate the compassion we feel towards our private homes into a sense of concern on the grander scale.  The quality of every individual’s life is inextricably linked to the health of planet earth, and currently, we are locking ourselves and our children in a garage with a running car.

Today, most people have come to accept that climate change is real.  The problem is that the majority still believes it is not human-caused.  They cannot seem to accept that the human race is capable of influencing something as seemingly all-powerful and uncontrollable as the climate.  Aside from scientific data, this assumption of human insignificance is immediately debunked by simple reflection on the power of the atomic bomb, or the fact that 20% of the Amazon Rain Forest has been cleared in just forty years of deforestation for the purposes of farming and urbanization (Wallace).  This demonstrated power is then validated by 97% of scientists who believe global warming exists and is human caused (Vaidyanathan, 2014).

As a passionate biochemistry student who is pursuing a carrier in research for environmental biology and bioremediation, it pains me to see that a public controversy still exists over an issue that enjoys so much scientific consensus.  The perpetuation of this unnecessary doubt is bolstered by corporate lobbyist groups in the oil industry, and it is frightening to see how effective their propaganda is.  There is a disproportionate disconnect between the 97% consensus of scientists and the public perception of scientific consensus: one third of people still believe there is “a lot of disagreement between scientists on the fundamental causes and existence of global warming” (Marion, 2013).  This perceived disagreement then results in the staggering 59% of Americans who still either do not believe global warming is human-caused or “do not know” (Marion, 2013).  This is detrimental to environmental reform because the public comprises the electorate that determines our democratic representatives in government.  If the public questions the existence of a problem, then officials elected to office will similarly lack the drive to take action through regulatory programs, research funding, and proliferation of accurate information.  Essentially, a misinformed populous results in a misguided government.

The corporate strategy of marketing scientific confusion to consumers is not new. The tobacco industry denied links between smoking cigarettes and lung cancer until the early 1960’s despite mounting evidence from research teams such as Wynder & Graham and Hill & Doll that began to reveal the negative health effects of smoking in the 1930’s (Brandt).  Similarly, scientific data trends have suggested that global climate change is human-caused since the 1930’s.  As research continuously revealed the detrimental effects of various industrial pollutants, a general scientific consensus on global warming was reached by the late 1970’s (Weart, 2014).  It is now 2014 and 59% of American’s still do not believe in human-caused global warming.

Striking similarities exist between the tactics used by oil companies today and the tobacco industry of the 20th century to maintain this public confusion.  The misinformation campaign begins with a marketing strategy.  When health science became the tobacco industry’s primary rival, they cleverly claimed the arena by putting science on their side. The Tobacco Industry Research Committee (TIRC) was created and used as a propaganda machine to produce and publicize invalidated “scientific data” that countered the anti-tobacco movement.  The oil industry has learned well from their predecessor.  In 2013, over 140 million dollars was spent by lobbyist groups in the oil and gas industry (Annual, 2014).  The oil and gas misinformation campaign is also strongly supported by multiple other groups such as the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the Institute for Energy Research who all spread the seeds of unmerited doubt about global warming.  All of these organizations are financially linked to the oil industry (Global).  To gain credibility, the tobacco industry then funded vocal critics of the anti-tobacco movement, such as the renowned researcher, C.C Little (Brandt).  Along the same vine, the oil industry is infamous for funding public representatives and corporate scientists to vocalize misinformation or false-conflict about global warming.  For example, in 2007, “scientists and economists have been offered $10000 each by a lobby group funded by one of the world’s largest oil companies to undermine a major climate change report [published by the UN’s IPCC]” (Sample, 2007).  The power of the tobacco and oil industries stems also from their inherently close ties to our government.  Tobacco had been a key part of the American economy since the 1700’s when colonists used it for trade (Brandt).  It then grew to be a fundamental tax base which caused our government to rely on the industry for revenue.  This reliance was exasperated by the apparent emotional benefits cigarettes gave war veterans from WWII, leading President F.D. Roosevelt to claim tobacco was necessary for our victory (Brandt).  A similar power is held by the oil industry, which has been established as one of the central ingredients to America’s prolific industrial economy as well as a necessary agent for our national security.  With such a powerful historical reputation, funding is disproportionately distributed to oil and gas as opposed to green energy.  “In cumulative dollar amounts, over the lifetimes of their respective subsidies, the oil, coal, gas and nuclear industries have received approximately $630 billion in U.S. government subsidies, while wind, solar, biofuels and other renewable sectors have received a total of roughly $50 billion in government investments” (Even, 2014).  Just as Americans had become physically addicted to nicotine, we now have become economically addicted to oil.

The tactics used repeatedly by industrial corporations to smother disagreeable scientific data is disturbingly shortsighted, a blatant devaluation of public health, and an illegitimate damper on scientific progress.

Just as the tobacco industry advertised to America’s youth with no regard to increasing our future generations’ susceptibility to lung cancer and cardiovascular disease, the oil industry continues to push for dirty energy with no regard to the public health risks caused by natural disasters, extreme heat, poor air quality, increased diseases rates, and the turmoil from flooding and other invasive land changes caused by global warming (Union; 2011).  Future generations are sacrificed for fast money.

Just as the tobacco industry manipulated cigarette design to fool regulatory safety tests rather than removing carcinogens, oil companies ferociously fight regulations on carbon filtration systems and find loopholes to avoid lawsuits, such as the fracking industry’s exemption from “key federal environmental regulations” that protect our drinking water (Fracking; 2014).  Public health is sacrificed for money.

Just as the tobacco industry spent immense resources to stop scientists from effectively warning the public of the dangers of smoking, the oil industry is preventing the public from effectively creating a cleaner, healthier, and more efficient society.  Scientific progress is sacrificed for money.

The list of corporate injustices committed by the oil and gas industry is virtually endless and it is sickening how dramatically greed can warp humans’ capacity for compassion.

Evidence of melting ice caps, increased ocean acidity, endangering species, excessive droughts, and unprecedented extreme weather shows that global warming is already causing harmful environmental changes.  We are experiencing global warming as we speak, but the doubt spread by the oil and gas industry dissipates our motivation to take action.   The oil and gas industry has learned to protect its wealth using the strategies of ingenious predecessors.  We, the people, must now learn from former scientific and humanitarian activists how to prevent the successful application of manipulative misinformation, because the Earth is our home, and it needs a major renovation.



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Student_BlogThe rate at which science is progressing is really breathtaking. About 50 years ago, one could imagine of what we have achieved today. Earlier, computers were the size of many rooms. With the intervention of mobile technology, we are able to produce computers that can fit into our pockets. We can know what’s happening all around the world at our fingertips. With Google glass, get the ability to carry a computer in our glasses instead of having to carry one in our hand. You can just say, ‘Ok Google’ and Google will do everything for you at your command. The word Google has replaced the word search.

However, how much of this power is man actually using to solve the problems of mankind? Are all these inventions and gadgets really so useful to us? Newer version of phones and tablets are released every few months claiming to have better sophisticated technology. And, as a result, people replace their gadgets almost every year or even few months. How are the old gadgets being disposed? Some of these gadgets do contain significant amount of lead and lead disposal is one the primary concerns of these days. Tons of e-waste generated worldwide constituting cell phones, computers, music devices and other electronic devices like microwaves and refrigerators contaminate the environment with toxic chemicals and adversely affect people who come in contact with them.  This is a global moral issue where each one of us using electronics is a shareholder.

These gadgets constantly capture our attention. So much so, that we find it necessary to check our phones even in the middle of the night. We are living in our individual bubbles where each person is more interactive with the person inside the gadget than the person next to her/him. We have become busy documenting rather than experiencing. For example, the moment we see good scenery, a pleasant sight, we take our phones and share a picture of this via Facebook, Instagram etc. We have become slaves of this technological advancement instead of using the technology wisely. We no longer tend to enjoy the present moment fully.

So is technology bad? Has science ruined our life style? Being a student of Computer Science, I greatly admire all the research involved in developing these tools and gadgets. I am very much fascinated by the effort that goes into making them.

But we also need to consider certain ethical issues regarding the same. We cannot argue that technology merely creates new tools. For example, Google Glass is a vey novel invention. But it comes with an issue of privacy. Anyone with a Google glass can be videotaping you or taking pictures of you without your consent or even without your knowledge! Is this ethical or moral? We might have to pause and think how technology is being used. Every product comes with its pros and cons. But it’s important to consider all of them wisely and cautiously before proceeding. It’s not only about research but also as users of the results of this research. It is of utmost importance now than at any other time in history because of the nature of progress of science and technology.

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Student_BlogWith the advent of Internet, daily lives have been changed worldwide. In the case of education people have been learning through online services like Coursera, Khan Academy, and iTunes U. They can even earn degrees with distance learning through universities like MIT, Georgia Tech. It has also changed the way to communication with co-workers, friends, and families. It allows one to shop from anywhere and anytime from the comfort of their home using computers and even mobile devices. The way people bank has changed completely since the last 20 years. These services have become so popular that one cannot imagine living without it anymore.


In spite of many advantages, however, we have been exposed harmful information on the Internet. Rumors can be one of the harmful information and it can be reached without difficulty at you via email, SNS (Facebook, Twitter). There are some examples for supporting rumors exist everywhere.

Karl2For instance, the MTA, the official Twitter of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York, debunked against rumors warning people wake-up with saying that ‘rumors is rumors.’ John Herman at BuzzFeed wrote that Twitter is better understood not as an always-accurate newswire saying that “Twitter fights off infection just like the human body, which is covered with bacteria and constantly exposed to new germs and viruses but has antibodies and white blood cells to subdue them.”

People sometimes get fed up with it. Social media will contain some false information, which might lead spread quickly in the world. Should we stop the use of social media? Or is there any way for user to be protected from false information at social media. They don’t even know whether this information is true or not. Even looks as if there was nobody care about the accuracy of information. We often come across issues of accuracy due to the ease of accessibility. Who is responsible for the authenticity and fidelity of the information available online? Ethically this includes debate over who should be allowed to contribute contents, and who should be held accountable if there are errors in the content of it.

Another example of this false information is Reputation Management System. Do you believe in restaurants’ reviews on Google, Yelp, or Trip Advisors? If it is false, should we stop use these services? How do people consider and handle harmful information?

As a caution to people using the internet and its services, one must realize that there seems to be no one out there certifying that any particular piece of information is valid or trustable. We should exercise our own judgments along with sound practices when either dealing with things on social media, or perhaps a shopping website which one is visiting for the first time. As far as our responsibility is towards other users of the internet, we could think twice before we go ahead and share content on social media.



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Student_BlogOver the last two decade, the field of genomics has advanced tremendously due to the improvement of DNA sequencing technology. The first DNA sequence took fifteen years and three billion dollars to produce, while nowadays a sequence can be obtained in four days for less than $1000. Traditionally, medical research has aimed to provide “one size fits all” drugs that are able to treat any person. However, complex diseases such as cancer have shown that such methods can have significant downsides, and that personalized treatments are needed. Decreasing sequencing costs brings the ideal vision of personalized medicine closer than ever before, as doctors will be able to use the DNA sequences of their patients to provide more specific treatments. However, as these technologies become more widely used in research and medicine, many ethical questions will arise about their use. The following is a discussion of two of these questions: should research participants receive their sequencing results? And should their relatives be involved?


Should research participants receive sequencing results?

When the three billion base-pair human DNA is sequenced, the results are produced in the form of large text files that are incomprehensible without analysis. Within these results, sensitive information about the subject’s normal genomic variation as well as disease risk factors are contained. For sequencing results to be useful, proper analysis in a laboratory setting would be required; however, this process is expensive and subject to misinterpretation even with scientific training. In the case of a participant with a deterministic mutation, a mutation that will definitely cause a disease, such as Huntington’s disease, the answer may be clear: to disclose the results if requested. However, DNA mutations are rarely deterministic. More often than not, multiple gene mutations along with certain environmental factors are required to cause a certain disease. This view is not presented by the media whenever genomic discoveries are reported, where it is often stated that scientists have discovered a gene “for” intelligence, obesity, diabetes…etc. Thus, presenting these results to research participants may not be appropriate, given the lack of certainty for the majority of the data. Such results could also have serious long lasting effects on a participant’s or patient’s quality of life. If a patient’s DNA has risk factors that are associated with cancer, his or her doctor may recommend MRI, CT, and other types of scans every six months. To the patient, this may seem like a definite truth: that he or she will definitely get cancer at some point in the future, and the only possible choice is more screening to prevent it. However, a person’s DNA can contain multiple cancer risk factors without causing any sort of tumors. For deterministic mutations, a person’s quality of life can be effected simply by knowledge of their existence. If a person had the mutation for Huntington’s disease, decisions about every aspect of his or her life may be dramatically influenced based on that knowledge. When his genome was sequenced, James Watson, who is widely considered the father of molecular biology and one of the discoverers of the DNA structure, chose not to learn whether he is at risk of Alzheimer’s or other late onset neurodegenerative disorders.

As the costs of sequencing decreases, its commercial use will also spread. One of the earliest companies to provide sequencing to the public was 23andMe. Just by providing saliva samples, consumers were able to obtain their DNA sequence, annotated with explanations only at functionally known areas of the genome. This service was stopped by the FDA in 2013, claiming that 23andMe’s annotation was not validated properly. This is an extension of the same problem discussed above, even with analysis from 23andMe, their results were not appropriately conveyed to the consumers. This is drastically different from medical tests, where errors of interpretations are much rarer. Regardless of the accuracy of their results, 23andMe required consumers to sign a consent form that allows for the anonymous disclosure of their DNA sequences to research databases.


Should relatives of participants be involved?

Due to the inherited nature of DNA, relatives of research participants can be effected by sequencing. Should they then be involved in the research process? Currently, relatives are not considered to be research subjects of studies and their consent is not requested. However, while relatives cannot be personally identified by the participant’s DNA, many of their physical characteristics and inherited diseases can be predicted. It may be the case that the researchers who sequence that DNA only use the results for their intended purposes. However, sequences can be used in the future to measure characteristics which neither the participant nor relatives agreed to, such as intelligence or personality traits. Currently any DNA sequence that is used for research purposes is anonymously incorporated in online databases. But as the field of genetics advances, predicting relatives’ DNA sequence and identifying them through the participant’s DNA may become possible, stripping the anonymity from those sequences. This can be exploited by employers as well as insurance companies, which can raise ethical and legal issues for the relatives as well as the participant. For example: insurance companies may force those with deterministic mutations to pay excessively high premiums, knowing that they will be inflicted with a disease at some point in their lives.

DNA sequencing is the most revolutionary medical tool since the invention of antibiotics, and its effects will be much more far reaching. Questions about privacy, informed consent, and sharing of DNA sequencing results will continue to arise, as these aspects directly affect participants or patients and indirectly effect their relatives. Moreover, this technology will heavily influence preventative medical care by promoting more testing for those with disease risk factors and decreasing testing for those without. Current sequencing techniques produce massive amounts of data, of which only a fraction is understood. Regardless of the context, clinical or research, the solutions to the ethical problems that arise will be of great importance in setting standards for the future use of this technology.

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Dr. Paula Stefan of Georgia State University spoke on September 10, 2014, regarding economic influence on scientific research in America.  She said that economics in research was a balance of incentives versus costs, simple factors which affect the pursuit of scientific knowledge.

For instance, ninety percent of all research in animals involves mice.  But what do mice cost?  The answer is anywhere from $60 to $3500, depending upon the type of mouse and disease to be studied.  In fact, the need for certainty and for integrity in the selection of those animals is so great that a single breeder has emerged as the best source for those pursuing research.

And breeding alone is not the only expense.  The maintenance cost of mice is 10 to 18 cents a day per mouse.  Dr. Stefan estimated that $1 billion annually is spent on keeping laboratory mice in America.

A company called Cyagen breeds mice in China charging as much as $28,000 a pair for breeding.

The National Institute of Health provides 60 percent of all research funding in America.  Its budget doubled from 1998 – 2002.

There is about $60 billion spent on scientific research in America each year.  But Dr. Stephan said, this has led to American universities being so focused on getting funding that competing research – research which either does not qualify for funding, or which does not pass the scrutiny of government agencies – goes wanting.  The result is that the universities here have become like shopping malls, where students wanting to do research are limited to those projects being funded at the schools.

This has resulted in a relatively narrow focus of research and a relative glut of doctoral students who study more and more the projects they are told to research, and less and less the projects which interest them truly.

In an ironic scheduling, the University of Houston presented a seminar on September 12, 2014, on how graduate students could qualify for National Science Foundation grants during their education.  A panel of professors, some with a history of funded projects and some who have served on screening committees, told students the way to write up funding requests, and of the need to tailor a project to the extent that a screening committee would want to even consider a project, much less actually fund it.

With Dr. Stefan’s observations freshly in mind, it seems that projects need to pass through many filters before being funded.  As those filters sift through the idea, it becomes more an image of the filters, and less the idea originally seen by the student.

View the webcast of Dr. Paula Stephan’s seminar

Link to NSF Research Fellowship Seminar

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