On a list of the most controversial topics in science, genetically modified organisms would easily be close to the top. Concerns about their safety and effect on naturally bred species continue to dominate scientific and policy discussions. Prof. Sarah Davidson Evanega, plant breeding and genetics, however, is assured of their safety and maintains that they could play an important role in fighting global food insecurity. Speaking at the Food Security and Global Growth: The Big Picture conference on March 4, Evanega detailed the manner in which climate change threatens global food security, emphasizing the ramifications for farmers. “A Tanzanian farmer, Selma, that our team spoke to, spent $300 — half of her annual income — on preparing and planting her two acre maize field.
Science is not about standalone discoveries. Scientists share hypotheses, findings and conclusions to help build a concrete picture of the world. To enable such discussion and deliberate science’s role in shaping public policy, the American Association for the Advancement of Science held its annual conference on Feb. 16 in Boston. The theme this year was ‘serving society through science policy.’
Discussions such as these run the risk of harboring a political slant.
In October 2016, an article began circulating social media outlets with the headline “Obituary: Great Barrier Reef (25 Million BC-2016),” announcing the abrupt death of one of the most diverse and complex ecosystems in the world. Understandably, ecologists and nature enthusiasts alike cried out in alarm. The pinnacle of environmental beauty that had made it into every introductory ecology textbook had passed away, another casualty to the seemingly unstoppable force of climate change. There is no doubt that action needs to be taken immediately if humans ever hope to impede the potentially disastrous effects of climate change, however those who use the recently ‘deceased’ Great Barrier Reef as their first piece of evidence are missing one critical detail. “The Great Barrier Reef definitely sustained some of the biggest impacts its seen from warming events, but it’s definitely not dead,” said Prof. Drew Harvell, ecology and evolutionary biology.
If planet hopping is your notion of a relaxing vacation, then a recent NASA discovery may be for you. On Feb. 22, NASA announced that it had found seven earth-size planets orbiting a single star in the constellation Aquarius. Scientists named this exoplanet system TRAPPIST-1, for the Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope they used to make the discovery. Located at a miserly distance of 40 light years from Earth, TRAPPIST-1 includes three planets located in the ‘goldilocks’ zone, within the distance range for liquid water to exist.
While Punxsutawney Phil predicted six more weeks of winter on Feb. 2, the nation had been experiencing one of the warmest months in decades. The United States Geological Survey has attributed the early advent of spring to the result of climate change. The Trump Administration, however, has no plans of taking this threat seriously. President Trump has famously tweeted that climate change is a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese and the recent reports of increasing federal budget cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency have been met with concerns.
In under 60 years, computer programming has gone from excruciately producing punch cards to instantly creating algorithms that can recognize people in photos. What lies ahead? At Cornell’s weekly computer science colloquium Philip Isola, a postdoc in the electrical engineering and computer sciences department at UC Berkeley, attempted to shed light on that very topic. “My goal is to make systems that can understand the visual world and see the same kind of richness and structure that we see. So, in the talk I was trying to convey one approach to that: learning without having expert knowledge of what you are trying to imitate,” Isola said.
In fall of 1991, eight men and women were sent to live in a three-acre glass and steel dome in the middle of Arizona’s scorching desert. Referred to as Biosphere II, the complex aimed to model the Earth’s biosphere — even containing a field to grow crops. The two year experiment was designed to test if humans were capable of surviving in an artificial ecosystem. Less than a year later, the project lay abandoned. The level of oxygen dropped drastically to levels seen on Mount Everest.
What do Yellow Fever, Dengue Fever and Zika have in common? Not only are they extremely deadly diseases, the three share a common vector: Mosquitoes. For years, researchers have sought ways to reduce the probabilities of transmission and the severity of each virus. Genetically modified mosquitoes that lead to the collapse of entire mosquito populations and vaccines have only recently been introduced and their results are still uncertain. To augment such efforts, the Northeast Regional Center For Excellence in Vector Borne Diseases was launched last month, led by Prof. Laura Harrington, entomology.
Imagine being able to find out where your roommate gets their lamp, fridge or chair simply by taking a picture of it. Thanks to Sean Bell ’16, Prof. Kavita Bala, computer science, and their work in the field of computer vision, an app may soon exist to solve that exact problem. Bell was inspired by the disconnect between computer vision research conducted by the academic community and tools available to the general public. Consequently, he founded Grokstyle, a company that is in the midst of developing an application that recognizes objects, specifically furniture. The name Grokstyle stems from the word ‘Grok’, meaning to understand deeply, thoroughly and intuitively.
On a gloomy Saturday afternoon, most Cornell buildings are eerily silent. Not Carpenter Hall. To the uninitiated, its basement seems more like an off-limits factory workspace. But inside, a shiny golden droid, Star Wars’ C3PO, casually rests against a pillar. Right opposite, a mini-rollercoaster fully equipped with a seat to simulate its sudden drops blocks out the clutter of electrical wires.