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Science, math, engineering and technology higher education related posts, including: post about higher education itself and research at universities.
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STEM Graduates in the USA: 465,000 Women and 451,000 Men

STEM baccalaureate degrees in the USA in 2010 (reported by NSF in 2014):

Field Women
  
Men
Science (including math) 442,000 343,000
Engineering 23,000 108,000
Health 193,000 36,000
Total 658,000 586,000



If you exclude health, women still lead 465,000 to 451,000.

The same data for master’s degrees:

Field Women
  
Men
Science (including math) 86,000 72,000
Engineering 14,000 49,000
Health 97,000 22,000
Total 197,000 147,000



Excluding health the totals are: women 100,000, men 125,000.

In 2005, 235,197 women received undergraduate science and engineering degrees, compared to 230,806 for men. In 2005, 53,051 women received masters science and engineering degrees, compared to 66,974 men. All increased a large amount from 2005 to 2010 and degrees awarded to women increased much faster than the increase seen for men.

As I predicted in 2008 (Women Choosing Other Fields Over Engineering and Math) the trends continued and resulted in large imbalances in favor of women at the undergraduate level for science related degrees.

At the masters level women continue to increase degrees (nearly doubling from 2005 to 2010 excluding health). The relative gains (compared to men) at the masters level are small in that 5 year period, but it seems to me the news is mainly good. I expect women will show relative gains at the masters and PhD levels going forward, though those gains may well be slower than they were at the undergraduate level.

STEM fields continue to show large gender imbalances (with women and men dominating certain fields and being relatively rare in others). Continuing to provide opportunities for talented and interested students to explore their field of choice is important for the students well being and for the well being of society. We want to take advantage of the great minds we have and not have people excluded from pursuing their dreams.

Related: Alternative Career Paths Attract Many Women in Science FieldsThe USA is Losing Scientists and Engineers Educated in the USA

iPhone Addition as Alternative to Expensive Ophthalmology Equipment

Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have developed two inexpensive adapters that enable a smartphone to capture high-quality images of the front and back of the eye. The adapters make it easy for anyone with minimal training to take a picture of the eye and share it securely with other health practitioners or store it in the patient’s electronic record.

The researchers see this technology as an opportunity to increase access to eye-care services as well as to improve the ability to advise on patient care remotely.

The standard equipment used to photograph the eye is expensive — costing up to tens of thousands of dollars — and requires extensive training to use properly. Primary care physicians and emergency department staff often lack this equipment, and although it is readily available in ophthalmologists’ offices, it is sparse in rural areas throughout the world.

“Adapting smartphones for the eye has the potential to enhance the delivery of eye care — in particular, to provide it in places where it’s less accessible,” said Myung. “Whether it’s in the emergency department, where patients often have to wait a long time for a specialist, or during a primary-care physician visit, we hope that we can improve the quality of care for our patients, especially in the developing world where ophthalmologists are few and far between.”

“A picture is truly worth a thousand words,” he added. “Imagine a car accident victim arriving in the emergency department with an eye injury resulting in a hyphema — blood inside the front of her eye. Normally the physician would have to describe this finding in her electronic record with words alone. Smartphones today not only have the camera resolution to supplement those words with a high-resolution photo, but also the data-transfer capability to upload that photo securely to the medical record in a matter of seconds.

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Many Great, Free, Online Courses in Science, Engineering and More

The video, above, provides an overview of an online course, Calculus: Single Variable, via coursera from the University of Pennsylvania. This course provides a brisk, entertaining treatment of differential and integral calculus, with an emphasis on conceptual understanding and applications to the engineering, physical, and social sciences.

Robert Ghrist is the Andrea Mitchell University Professor of Mathematics and Electrical & Systems Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania. Coursera offers many courses in all sorts of disciplines including: Introduction to Genetics and Evolution (Duke), Scientific Computing (University of Washington), Principles of Economics for Scientists (California Institute of Technology), Game Theory (Stanford University and The University of British Columbia), A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior (Dan Ariely, Duke University), The Modern World: Global History since 1760 (University of Virginia), Microeconomics for Managers (University of California, Irvine), Data Analysis (Johns Hopkins University), Fundamentals of Human Nutrition (University of Florida), Algorithms, Part I (Princeton University), The Ancient Greeks (Wesleyan University), Astrobiology and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life (University of Edinburgh) and Epigenetic Control of Gene Expression, (University of Melbourne).

All the classes are free. These courses, and many more, are extremely appealing. I signed up for 2. I would be interested in signing up for much more but I worry about having the time to commit to keeping up with the coursework. I hope the first two go well and I can sign up for more in the future.

Related: Top Online Graduate Engineering Programs in the USAOpen Source Education CurriculaScience and Engineering Education ResourcesExploring Eukaryotic Cells

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Drug Company Funding Taints Published Medical Research

Science provide the opportunity for us to achieve great benefits for society. However, especially in medical research money can make what are already very difficult judgments even less reliable. Add that to a very poor understanding of science in those we elect and you have a dangerous combination. That combination is one of the largest risks we face and need to manage better. I wish we would elect people with a less pitiful appreciation for science but that doesn’t seem likely. That makes doing a better job of managing the conflicts of interest money puts into our current medical research a top priority.

How Drug Company Money Is Undermining Science by Charles Seife

In the past few years the pharmaceutical industry has come up with many ways to funnel large sums of money—enough sometimes to put a child through college—into the pockets of independent medical researchers who are doing work that bears, directly or indirectly, on the drugs these firms are making and marketing. The problem is not just with the drug companies and the researchers but with the whole system—the granting institutions, the research labs, the journals, the professional societies, and so forth. No one is providing the checks and balances necessary to avoid conflicts.

Peer-reviewed journals are littered with studies showing how drug industry money is subtly undermining scientific objectivity. A 2009 study in Cancer showed that participants somehow survived longer when a study’s authors had conflicts of interest than when the authors were clean. A 1998 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found a “strong association” between researchers’ conclusions about the safety of calcium channel blockers, a class of drugs used to reduce blood pressure, and their financial relationships with the firms producing the drugs.

Most of those in the system have an interest in minimizing an effort to clean this up. It is just more work they don’t want to do. Or it goes directly against their interest (drug companies that want to achieve favorable opinions by buying influence). The main political message in the USA for a couple decades has been to reduce regulation. Allowing research that is tainted because you find regulation politically undesirable is a bad idea. People that understand science and how complex medical research is appreciate this.

Sadly when we elect people that by and large are scientifically illiterate they don’t understand the risks of the dangerous practices they allow. Even if they were scientifically illiterate but understood their ignorance they could do a decent job by getting scientific consultation from experts but they don’t (to an extent they listen to the scientists that those that give them lots of money tell them to which does help make sure those giving the politicians cash have their interests served but it is not a good way to create policy with the necessary scientific thinking needed today).

Related: Problems with the Existing Funding System for Medical ResearchMedical Study Integrity (or Lack Thereof)Merck and Elsevier Publish Phony Peer-Review JournalAnti-Science PoliticsStand with Science, Late is Better than Never

Key Indicator for Malignant Melanoma Found

Skin cancer detection breakthrough

The researchers found that certain biochemical elements in the DNA of normal pigment-producing skin cells and benign mole cells are absent in melanoma cells. Loss of these methyl groups — known as 5-hmC — in skin cells serves as a key indicator for malignant melanoma. Loss corresponded to more-advanced stages of melanoma as well as clinical outcome.

Strikingly, researchers were able to reverse melanoma growth in preclinical studies. When the researchers introduced enzymes responsible for 5-hmC formation to melanoma cells lacking the biochemical element, they saw that the cells stopped growing.

“It is difficult to repair the mutations in the actual DNA sequence that are believed to cause cancer,” said Christine Lian, a physician-scientist in the Department of Pathology at BWH and one of the lead authors. “So having discovered that we can reverse tumor cell growth by potentially repairing a biochemical defect that exists — not within the sequence but just outside of it on the DNA structure — provides a promising new melanoma treatment approach for the medical community to explore.”

Because cancer is traditionally regarded as a genetic disease involving permanent defects that directly affect the DNA sequence, this new finding of a potentially reversible abnormality that surrounds the DNA (thus termed “epigenetic”) is a hot topic in cancer research, according to the researchers.

In the United States, melanoma is the fifth most common type of new cancer diagnosis in men and the seventh most common type in women. The National Cancer Institute estimates that in 2012 there will be 76,250 new cases and 9,180 deaths in the United States owing to melanoma.

Thankfully scientists keep making great progress in understanding and finding potential clues to treating cancer. And big gains have been made in treating some cancers over the last few decades. But the research successes remain difficult to turn into effective solutions in treating patients.

I am thankful we have so many scientists doing good work in this difficult and important area (cancer).

Related: Webcast of a T-cell Killing a Cancerous CellNanoparticles With Scorpion Venom Slow Cancer SpreadDNA Passed to Descendants Changed by Your LifeResearchers Find Switch That Allows Cancer Cells to Spread

Virus Kills Breast Cancer Cells in Laboratory

Some very exciting and good news from Penn State. Researchers have found a virus that kills breast cancer cells. It is great to read about research breakthroughs like this. Of course, most of these announcements never become practical solutions, unfortunately. And if they do it is many many years later and almost always in much less exciting ways than the headlines. Still, the percentage that do make it through the process into workable solutions provide us great benefits.

Virus kills breast cancer cells in laboratory

Adeno-associated virus type 2 (AAV2) is a virus that regularly infects humans but causes no disease. Past studies by the same researchers show that it promotes tumor cell death in cervical cancer cells infected with human papillomavirus. Researchers used an unaltered, naturally occurring version of AAV2 on human breast cancer cells.

“Breast cancer is the most prevalent cancer in the world and is the leading cause of cancer-related death in women,” said Samina Alam, research associate in microbiology and immunology. “It is also complex to treat.”

“We can see the virus is killing the cancer cells, but how is it doing it?” Alam said. “If we can determine which viral genes are being used, we may be able to introduce those genes into a therapeutic. If we can determine which pathways the virus is triggering, we can then screen new drugs that target those pathways. Or we may simply be able to use the virus itself.”

AAV2 does not affect healthy cells. However, if AAV2 were used in humans, the potential exists that the body’s immune system would fight to remove it from the body. Therefore, by learning how AAV2 targets the death pathways, researchers potentially can find ways to treat the cancer without using the actual virus.

In ongoing studies, the Penn State researchers also have shown AAV2 can kill cells derived from prostate cancer, mesothelioma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. A fourth line of breast cancer cells — representing the most aggressive form of the disease — also was studied in a mouse breast tumor model, followed by treatment with AAV2. Preliminary results show the destruction of the tumors in the mice, and researchers will report the findings of those mouse studies soon.

The fight against cancer has many promising breakthroughs. We have made some great progress. Still the fight is extremely difficult and we have many more frustrations than successes.

Related: Webcast of a T-cell Killing a Cancerous CellSynthetic Biologists Design a Gene that Forces Cancer Cells to Commit SuicideResearchers Find Switch That Allows Cancer Cells to Spread

Harvard Steps Up Defense Against Abusive Journal Publishers

For a decade journals have been trying to continue a business model that was defensible in a new world where it is not. They have becoming increasing abusive with even more outrageous fees than they were already charging. As I said years ago it has become obvious they are enemies of science and should be treated as such. The time to find mutual beneficial solution past years ago.

Harvard University says it can’t afford journal publishers’ prices

Exasperated by rising subscription costs charged by academic publishers, Harvard University has encouraged its faculty members to make their research freely available through open access journals and to resign from publications that keep articles behind paywalls.

A memo from Harvard Library to the university’s 2,100 teaching and research staff called for action after warning it could no longer afford the price hikes imposed by many large journal publishers, which bill the library around $3.5m a year.

he memo from Harvard’s faculty advisory council said major publishers had created an “untenable situation” at the university by making scholarly interaction “fiscally unsustainable” and “academically restrictive”, while drawing profits of 35% or more. Prices for online access to articles from two major publishers have increased 145% over the past six years, with some journals costing as much as $40,000, the memo said.

More than 10,000 academics have already joined a boycott of Elsevier, the huge Dutch publisher, in protest at its journal pricing and access policies. Many university libraries pay more than half of their journal budgets to the publishers Elsevier, Springer and Wiley.

Research Libraries UK negotiated new contracts with Elsevier and Wiley last year after the group threatened to cancel large subscriptions to the publishers. The new deal, organised on behalf of 30 member libraries, is expected to save UK institutions more than £20m.

These journals have continuously engaged in bad practices. Scientists should publish work in ways that enrich the scientific community not ways that starve the scientific commons and enrich a few publishers that are doing everything they can to hold back information sharing.

In 2008 Harvard’s liberal arts faculty voted to make their research open source.

Related: Fields Medalist Tim Gowers Takes Action To Stop Cooperating with Anti-Open Science CartelScience Commons: Making Scientific Research Re-usefulMIT Faculty Open Access to Their Scholarly ArticlesMerck and Elsevier Publish Phony Peer-Review JournalOpen Access Journal Wars

How Lysozyme Protein in Our Tear-Drops Kill Bacteria

A disease-fighting protein in our teardrops has been tethered to a tiny transistor, enabling UC Irvine scientists to discover exactly how it destroys dangerous bacteria. The research could prove critical to long-term work aimed at diagnosing cancers and other illnesses in their very early stages.

Ever since Nobel laureate Alexander Fleming found that human tears contain antiseptic proteins called lysozymes about a century ago, scientists have tried to solve the mystery of how they could relentlessly wipe out far larger bacteria. It turns out that lysozymes have jaws that latch on and chomp through rows of cell walls like someone hungrily devouring an ear of corn.

“Those jaws chew apart the walls of the bacteria that are trying to get into your eyes and infect them,” said molecular biologist and chemistry professor Gregory Weiss, who co-led the project with associate professor of physics & astronomy Philip Collins.

The researchers decoded the protein’s behavior by building one of the world’s smallest transistors – 25 times smaller than similar circuitry in laptop computers or smartphones. Individual lysozymes were glued to the live wire, and their eating activities were monitored.

“Our circuits are molecule-sized microphones,” Collins said. “It’s just like a stethoscope listening to your heart, except we’re listening to a single molecule of protein.”

It took years for the UCI scientists to assemble the transistor and attach single-molecule teardrop proteins. The scientists hope the same novel technology can be used to detect cancerous molecules. It could take a decade to figure out but would be well worth it, said Weiss, who lost his father to lung cancer.

“If we can detect single molecules associated with cancer, then that means we’d be able to detect it very, very early,” Weiss said. “That would be very exciting, because we know that if we treat cancer early, it will be much more successful, patients will be cured much faster, and costs will be much less.”

The project was sponsored by the National Cancer Institute and the National Science Foundation. Co-authors of the Science paper are Yongki Choi, Issa Moody, Patrick Sims, Steven Hunt, Brad Corso and Israel Perez.

Related: full press releaseWhy ‘Licking Your Wounds’ WorksHow Bleach Kills BacteriaAlgorithmic Self-Assembly

Top Online Graduate Engineering Programs in the USA

Online degree programs are growing quickly in popularity in the USA. Over 6 million students took online courses in 2011. The costs of traditional education continue to rise at extremely high rates – schools have done a horrible job of dealing with this. I personally, don’t understand how they have done so horribly on this measure. Administration costs have exploded. Building vanity projects that costs tens of millions of dollars add little to student achievement and waste limited resources driving up costs.

We really need to find administrators that will reduce administrative staffing levels and costs. Let some schools continue on the ego driven spiraling costs, but let us at least find some who will focus on reducing education costs and providing good education at reasonable costs. For engineering, more than maybe any other discipline, I can excuse some of the costs. But given the universal failure to manage costs I think the failure to manage costs is the primary issue (the extra demands for spending on engineering education, I understand).

The failure to stop the lavish spending has greatly increased the demand for online education. Given the unreasonable cost increases for traditional education many are priced out of considering that option. Given how unable schools have proven to be at providing good education for reasonable rates the last few decades it is reasonable to assume online education will continue to gain popularity. I don’t see the top tier schools facing much competition from online efforts (even if some students are drawn away there are plenty wanting to upgrade their school choice at whatever the cost – as the administrators know as they continue to drive up costs).

One danger is that online education is hardly a proved commodity yet. Both in terms of what you learn and the acceptance and desirability of degrees. So right now students are having to make guesses that are more challenging with online programs than the traditional choices. US News and World Report has selected 3 online engineering master’s programs for the honor roll.

Related: Engineering Education in the 21st CenturyHow the Practice and Instruction of Engineering Must ChangeGlobal Engineering Education Study

Dennis Hong, Virginia Tech Mechanical Engineering Professor, Leading Robotics Innovation

Dennis Hong is the U.S. star in humanoid robotics

Hong came by his interest in science naturally. He was born in 1971 on the exclusive Palos Verdes Peninsula, outside Los Angeles, and his father, Yong Shik Hong, worked as an aerospace engineer at the federally funded Aerospace Corp. The family returned to Seoul in 1974 so the elder Hong could lead South Korea’s short-range missile program, at the bidding of then-President Park Chung Hee.

Korean fathers of that era were strict and remote. Hong’s father was engaged and intellectually indulgent. He installed a work bench in Dennis’s room when he was 4, complete with a hammer and saw. He led the children in chemistry experiments and brought home model airplanes from America.

Dennis Hong built things with scraps of wood and metal and bits of plastic. He disassembled toys and stored the parts in a chest beneath his bed.

“We spent a lot of time building things and breaking things,” said Julie Hong, Hong’s older sister. “He was the one who broke things the most and built things the most.”

Hong traveled to America to complete his university study, following his father’s credo, “Big fish must swim in the big sea.” He earned a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering at the University of Wisconsin and a master’s and doctorate at Purdue.

Dennis’ success illustrates several themes repeated in posts on this blog: the USA attracting talent from overseas, kids curiosity and exposure to science and engineering leading to great things, the value of strong science and engineering programs and professors. Robotics continue to progress very quickly. The economic impact of robotics is large already (largely in manufacturing) and will continue to grow dramatically. Likely robots will find their way into much more diverse areas over the next 2 decades. The Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory, lead by Dennis Hong, seems poised to play a big role in that future.

Related: Robocup 2010, Robot FootballSoft Morphing Robot FutureEvolution of Altruism in RobotsToyota Develops Thought-controlled Wheelchair

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I Always Wanted to be Some Sort of Scientist

A nice simple post by a soon to be Dr. of Genetics and Molecular Biology on what being a scientist is like for her. I like her take, which I think is much more accurate than some of the generalities people use. The main reason people (men or women) become scientists because they want to be scientists.

photo of almost-Dr. Caitlin

Photo the almost-Dr. Caitlin

The truth is science requires you to be social. We share ideas, techniques, and equipment. A good scientist knows her limitations and uses someone else’s expertise when her own is not enough. The modern scientist communicates not only through conferences and journals, but also through blogging and Facebook.

When a non-scientist (usually my parents or some other close relative) asks me about what I do, they inevitably want to tie it back to how I’m curing a disease and saving the world. I am not curing a disease or saving the world.

I study science because it’s cool. I study basic science — asking questions for the purpose of learning the answer. That doesn’t mean what I do isn’t important. Lots of ground-breaking medical advances have been made just because someone asked a question no one else thought to ask.

To all you ladies fighting the good fight in other fields, keep at it, because the numbers are going up for women with advanced degrees.

I’ve always wanted to be some sort of scientist. When I was in elementary school I wanted to be a paleontologist because dinosaurs are awesome (and so was “Jurassic Park”). When I was 11, I read the Hot Zone and knew I wanted to be a biologist. Though there were times that I flirted with the Dark Side, i.e., medical school, but mostly only because when my teachers figured out I was good at science they said go to medical school. No one even suggested becoming a scientist.

Great stuff. Good Luck, Caitlin.

Related: Movie Aims to Inspire College Students With Tales of Successful Minority ScientistsKids on Scientists: Before and After Talking to Real Live ScientistsWomen Choosing Other Fields Over Engineering, Math, Physics and Computer Science

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