The Future of Fuel

One of the major focuses of my blog is Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). An area that has long been of great interest globally is energy. Fossil Fuels have been the chief energy source for our planet’s ‘First World’ countries, but with increasing world populations there is concern that we will exhaust our natural global supplies. What are our options going forward? The following contributed post is entitled; The Future of Fuel.

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Image Credit: Unsplash

Whether you believe in climate change or you are one of the <1% of people who remains unconvinced, what is clear is that our fossils are running out. With the USA now considering expanding the search for oil to the Arctic, it is obvious that at some point we are going to stop finding reserves that have taken millions of years to appear.

If science fiction is to be trusted, we need to find alternative energy solutions if we want to continue to develop incredible technologies.

Clean energy sources such as wind turbines, solar panels and other methods are all idea for producing electricity. The downside of this is that for technologies not connected to the grid, large batteries will be required to store the energy while disconnected. This means that all types of transport will have to balance being weighed down with the distance they are able to cover.

Why is Clean Energy for Travel So Important?

At the moment, the aviation industry contributes around 2.5% of carbon emissions each year and this is set to rise to around 22% by 2050. This is an enormous problem because while global demands for fast air travel increase, the threat to the environment is significantly raised.

A similar problem is presented in ocean travel. Ships crossing the seas take passengers and goods around the world but every trip introduces pollutants to the water. While you might be able to use oil water separators to limit pollution the amount of oil that escapes, the fact is that the risk of any oil spillage is still very much present.

Even short car journeys are ever more problematic as the air quality of large cities deteriorates as more and more people choose to drive themselves rather than take a bus or train. There have already been rapid advances in electric car technology but much more research is required if we are to achieve the infrastructure necessary for a full transition.

What Are Our Options?

More investment into methods to create clean electricity is already underway, especially in China where a capacity of around 130 GW has already been installed, knocking their already ambitious targets out of the water. This is great news as it means that greener technologies such as electric cars, buses and trains are much more likely to succeed.

But what about air travel?

Well, the research may be in its infancy but there are some promising results coming from experiments into what is being termed ‘ionic wind technology’. With this theory, it could be possible to launch and fly planes long distances in a carbon neutral way and, crucially, with no moving parts. Rather than a combustion engine, the plane uses long thin stems of wire to pass an electric current. This current ionizes atmospheric nitrogen which, when it collides with “normal” neutral air generates thrust.

We may be not be looking at warp drives or ion drives just yet but with the ideas that are floating around at the moment, Science Fiction may not be so unbelievable after all.

Johnson C. Smith University opens its new center for multidisciplinary STEM education and research revisited

I originally published this piece on October 23, 2015 – a shorter version on the Examiner and then this extended version on Dr. Matthew Lynch’s Edvocate. My alma mater Johnson C. Smith University had recently opened its new Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) center at Homecoming 2015. It was a very impressive facility compared to those that were available to me and my classmates when I was a student there from 1995-99.

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“The collaboration was strong between the administration, the faculty, and the students to make sure that we had a building that not just reflected the heritage and history of the past, but also what the future would be for this great University,” said Harvey Gantt, one of many speakers on hand for the opening of Johnson C. Smith University’s (JCSU) new Science Center. “Dr. Carter actually had a lot to do with choosing the design approach,” Mr. Gantt continued. “We gave him several alternatives, and when we showed him a rendering of this elevation of the building, in less than 10 seconds, he said, ‘That’s what I want on this campus!’”

On Friday, Oct. 23, JCSU opened its new Science Center with a Grand Opening and Ribbon Cutting ceremony as a part of its 2015 Homecoming festivities. The ceremony took place on the walkways between the University’s new structure and its older Rufus Perry Science Hall. The ceremony consisted of:

• A welcome by Monroe Miller (Chairman of the JCSU Board of Trustees);
• An invocation by current student Sydney Henry (Class of 2017, Biology and Chemistry);
• Remarks by: Steve Keckeis (Vice President of Messer Construction), Malcolm Davis and Harvey Gantt (Principal and Principal Emeritus of Bergman Associates), student Jennifer-Lynn Phipps (Class of 2016, Computer Science Information Systems), and Charlie Lucas (Board Member of The Duke Endowment) and finally;
• Closing Remarks by Dr. Ronald L. Carter (President of JCSU).

“The time has now come to cut the ribbon to a new world experience. I can just hear the voices of the freedman who put the bricks in place by night over at Biddle Hall. As they look over here, I can hear them saying this day, ‘Well done! Well done! Well done! Our future holds high,” said Dr. Carter during his closing remarks prior to chanting three times, “J-C!,” to which the audience replied, “S-U!,” the signature call and response of the University’s students and alumni.

While the new Science Center will now be the hub on campus for all scientific coursework and research, the older Perry Science Hall will now be the home for the new Metropolitan College, JCSU’s new department for educating non-traditional students. Some features of the new Science Center include:

• 10 fully equipped labs for Biology, Chemistry and Physics courses and research;
• Four Centers for new science and technology curricula including: the Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainability, the Center for Bioinformatics/Biotechnology, the Center for Medical Informatics, and the Center for Analytical Research and;
• Seven classrooms of various sizes and setups which stay true to JCSU’s commitment to small class sizes and individualized faculty attention.

“This building has been a vision for almost five years. Magdy Attia, Perrin Foster, Monroe Miller, Tom Baldwin and I would sit and dream about it. We knew that it had to be somewhere here on this part of the campus. That vision just had a momentum and Magdy would sentence it in very eloquent ways such that donors started paying attention and saying, ‘This can be done,’” Dr. Carter said afterwards during the open house. Throughout the ceremony, he and the other speakers emotionally paid homage to Dr. Magdy Attia who recently passed away. Dr. Attia, once a Computer Science faculty member and then an Administrator, was a key figure in the conception of the new Science Center.

“Opportunity awaits those who want to work,” said Jennifer-Lynn Phipps in closing to the audience at the ceremony. Ms. Phipps will graduate in 2016, and then work for John-Deere as an Information Technology Integrator. “Remember Smithites we are not only here to smash the mold, but we’re also here to develop ourselves and change the world!”

One of the more intriguing aspects of the new Science Center is the Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainability. The Center is focusing its work on: Wind, Solar and Bio-fuels, and Food Security, specifically helping lower income communities have better access to quality food. Dr. Philip Otienoburu is in large part the University’s expert in Environmental Science issues, a distinction once held by the late Dr. Joseph Fail, Jr.

“It’s all about energy sustainability. We’re looking at future generations and how the environment is going to be protected from the different things that we do to it,” said Dr. Philip Otienoburu. “Long-term sustainability involves not only environmental issues but also social and economic issues as well. How are people going to build resilient communities as the climate changes for instance? How are people going to feed themselves? As you will see a lot of our programs here involve, ‘Food Security.’ This is why we have the Aquaponics and Community garden which is a partnership between JCSU and the surrounding neighborhoods.”

Aquaponics is a polyculture system of agriculture where you grow crops and cultivate fish in one closed loop. The waste produced by the fish, which is for the most part Ammonia, is used to fertilize the crops,” said Dr. Phillip Otienoburu discussing a component of the University’s Energy

Sustainability research work. “In Aquaponics, you use bacteria to make the biological conversions to convert Ammonia into Nitrites, and then the Nitrites into Nitrates which the plants need to grow. We’ve been doing this for about three years now during which we have expanded into Haiti, where we were looking to help communities that were devastated by the earthquake in 2010.”

“The science education here at JCSU has become much more technologically advanced since the late 1990s. As you can see in this building the instruments have become much smaller and in some ways more affordable and we’re able to generate more data. That said, it still involves engaging nature, collecting data and constructing good experiments,” said veteran Chemistry Professor, Dr. Timothy Champion.

“While we still have quite a few students coming in wanting to do Pre-Med, some do change their minds and think about getting Ph.D.s once they have a chance engage the science and do some research,” Dr. Champion continued. “At least in the Biology and Chemistry side though, we also need to prepare some of them for the job market. We can’t fall into the trap of trying to produce copies of ourselves – that is more Ph.D.s. If a student doesn’t go to a Graduate or Professional school there are still jobs out there, so a lot of what you’re here seeing is our wanting to build more sellable skills for the students that they can immediately apply to the job market.”

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As you can see below, I wrote a story about how I earned my STEM degree which focused on my graduate studies at the University of Michigan, post JCSU. I’m currently working on a piece revisiting what I learned at JCSU as it was a also a valuable part of my journey. There were numerous learning points there scientifically.

If you’re a JCSU alumnus and have a background in one of the STEMs, I’m starting a Facebook group called “JCSU Alumni STEM”. I envision it as an ecosystem where we as alumni can give back to JCSU’s current students through: answering any questions, helping them find jobs, and also simply serving as a science forum for the Golden Bull community. If you have something to offer, please join when the group opens up.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. If you enjoyed this one, you might also enjoy:

The story of how I earned my STEM degree as a minority
A look at STEM: What are the Basic Sciences and Basic Research?
The transferrable skills from a doctoral degree in the basic sciences
• A look at STEM: What is Regulatory Science?
• A look at STEM: What is Inhalation Toxicology?
• A look at STEM: What is Toxicology?
• A look at STEM: What is Pharmacology?

If you’ve found value here and think it will benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right-hand column in this post and throughout the site, or add the link to my RSS feed to your feedreader. Lastly, follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

The keys to learning college-level Physics

“Physics is a different way of looking at the world.”

A key principle of my blog is Creating Ecosystems of Success, and a key focus is awareness of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields. Several years ago, I tutored in the former Northern Virginia Tutoring Service to earn some extra income outside of my federal science career. The subject that gave me the most business year after year was International Baccalaureate (IB) and Advanced Placement (AP) General Chemistry for high school students – both college-level courses.

On a few occasions I tutored some students in Physics – the ‘Grandfather’ of all the sciences. Physics has a special place in my heart as it was a milestone for me during my growth as a student. I didn’t take to ‘Physical Science’ as an eighth grader, and I struggled with high school Physics as a junior. Midway through my junior year, I figured out what was going on and ended the year respectably. I discovered that I could succeed in a ‘quantitative’ science course.

With a younger cousin now taking IB Physics as a freshman in high school and struggling early on herself, I’ve decided to craft a piece about the keys to learning college-level Physics. As a Pharmacologist/Toxicologist, I’ve tried to be as accurate as possible in this piece. Please excuse me if I’ve misspoken about anything or even leave a comment below this post.

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“Physics is a different way of looking at the world,” my father, a Physics major himself in college said when I was a junior in high school and didn’t understand the class initially. It was a vague explanation and I still didn’t get it. My teacher at Hutch-Tech High School in Buffalo, NY also didn’t give a nice comprehensive explanation of what the class was about before going into his discussion of “Scalars” and “Vectors”. He was a very robot-like, studious-looking, middle-aged gentleman, with a graying beard and glasses who almost never blinked as one classmate humorously pointed out one day.  To give him the benefit of the doubt, I’ll say that he might’ve given us a nice introduction and perhaps I just wasn’t paying attention.

In terms of my cousin who is struggling with Physics, one of the first questions I asked her coincidentally was if she knew what Physics was all about. She of course quickly answered, “No.” When learning anything, I believe that context is critical because it lets us know the ‘why’ and makes attacking the ‘how’ much easier. I explained to her that Physics itself is a broad field, but most importantly that it’s a way of mathematically explaining the natural world around us: calculating the masses of things, the speeds of objects, understanding how light and sound travel, understanding gravity, etc.

When NASA, SpaceX or their collaborators and competitors send astronauts and rockets into space for example, there’s a whole series of calculations that need to be performed and worked out ahead of time. Understanding “Time Dilation” in outer space requires some knowledge of how gravity and light work together. This gives us insight as to why individuals age more slowly in low-gravity environments. Calculating how fast a football ball travels, understanding the acceleration of cars, building high-speed rail systems, building bridges and buildings, and understanding how cell phones work – this all involves Physics.

Partway through my junior year struggles, something ‘clicked’ and I realized that we were being asked ‘word problems’ – problems where we were given multiple pieces of evidence and then having to solve for an unknown – usually having to use an Algebraic equation. I’ll use an example from the ‘Mechanics’ chapter of most Physics curricula. Mechanics deals with the movement and speeds of objects and thus involves concepts like: ‘Force’, ‘Momentum’, ‘Velocity’, ‘Acceleration’, ‘Friction’, and ‘Inertia’. The word problems typically involve giving two to three pieces of the puzzle and then asking the student to solve for the unknown.

An example is being given the mass of car, the speed of the car and then being asked to determine its Momentum (p). To answer the question, students must understand what Momentum is in terms of ‘units of measure’. In this case, Momentum is represented as: mass (m) * velocity (v) – the units usually being kilograms (kg) for mass and meters per second (m/s) for velocity:

p = m (kg) * v (m/s)

The measurement of speed is a ‘rate’ and in the United States, we typically measure speed in miles per hour (m/h). Canada uses kilometers per hour (km/h). Most Physics curricula express it as m/s. Underneath the Mechanics umbrella there is also Acceleration (a) which is very, very close to Velocity except for one subtle difference – the units are meters per second squared (m/s²). Instead of Momentum (kg*m/s) this one little change creates the unit for Force (F) (kg*m/s²) which is referred to as the “Newton”. The actual formula is:

F = m (kg) * a (m/s²)

This is just a piece of Mechanics. There are many more calculations in the: Circuits and Electricity, Dynamics, Kinematics, and Thermodynamics chapters just to name a few. This meticulousness with formulas and units of measure is what my father meant by, “looking at the world differently.” He meant looking at the world mathematically and in terms of formulas, laws and ‘constants’. And with that, I’ll discuss some simple keys to excelling at college-level Physics. They are as follows:

Understanding Physics at a high level: While the goal is to understand the world in a mathematical way, context is critical in my opinion because otherwise you’re just needlessly doing calculation after calculation. Again, my high school Physics teacher may have given us a nice comprehensive introduction and I was either daydreaming about basketball or girls, but my first memories of the class were ‘Scalars’ and ‘Vectors’ as described above. Once I got older and understood that Physics is everywhere, and its great history, I developed a great respect for the field and those who work in it.

Understanding the scientific and mathematical relationships: At some point during my junior year of high school, the ‘light bulb’ in my brain turned on. I realized that most of the questions we were being asked involved a principle of some sort and there were corresponding equations and formulas. The examples cited above involved Mechanics but there are many other modules in Physics. Students must be able to quickly read a question and identify which principle and the corresponding formula/equation being called upon. From there it’s pretty much ‘plugging and playing’.

Students must become meticulous about the units measure and your calculator must become your ‘best friend’ just like in Chemistry. Some questions give the student two different units of measure and the units for the answer may be a combination of the two, a constituent of the two, or something completely different if a ‘physical constant’ value is involved – the speed of light or sound for example or the Earth’s gravitational constant. Some questions even involve multiple equations. You get the point, and this is what makes the final key is so important; practice. By the way, many teachers and professors allow their students to write down their equations and formulas and bring them to the tests eliminating the need to memorize them.

Being disciplined about practicing the problems and seeking help: The final important key in my opinion, is taking the time outside of class to go over the practice problems and being ruthless about it. Depending on how long a given test is, students will usually only have about an hour to complete the questions. For that reason, it’s critical to be able to identify what’s being asked quickly, and then being able to quickly calculate the answer. To do that, students must practice as many problems as possible in their spare time – if the teacher assigns only the odd numbers in a chapter, then the student must also be willing to do the even numbered questions to master the principle.

Religiously doing the practice problems takes a certain amount of discipline, foresight and drive. More importantly it also builds confidence. This is the point I tried to drive home to my cousin and others in her situation. If students are confused about something when practicing their problems, they should seek out their teacher or a knowledgeable peer for more help. Once again, a key pillar of science is asking questions and knowing when you’ve arrived at the boundaries of your own personal knowledge.

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“I want to congratulate you. You’ve really turned things around this year,” my high school Physics teacher said to me late in my junior year. His words surprised me, and they showed that he was paying attention to how his students were doing. He saw me flounder early in the year, and then start to grasp the material as time went on. My early grades in the class were in the mid- to high-60s, but I recovered to finish in the high-70s to low-80s. As an undergraduate, I knew what to do immediately and scored in the 90s both semesters.

So, there you have it. Keep in mind that this is for high school and college-level Physics and it can get much more complex. There is for example “Calculus-Based Physics“, which gives me the chills just thinking about it. I imagine that the keys I gave still apply though the material is far more complex.  Lastly Physics in addition to being a prerequisite class for many STEM-hopefuls, it’s also a bit of ‘gatekeeper’ course which can derail the dreams of many Medical School hopefuls and other aspiring healthcare professionals.

Undergraduate Physics is as far as I went, though some of the principles did come into play once I started my graduate research. For the sake of this piece though, like Chemistry, students can get overwhelmed and lose hope once they fall behind early, which is dangerous because some may never want to participate in the STEMs afterwards.

Thank you for taking the time read this blog post. If you enjoyed this piece, you might also enjoy:

The keys to learning college-level Chemistry
The story of how I earned my STEM degree as a minority
The transferrable skills from a STEM degree in the basic sciences
A look at STEM: What is Pharmacology?
A look at STEM: What is Toxicology?
A look at STEM: What is Inhalation Toxicology?

If you’ve found value here and think it will benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right-hand column in this post and throughout the site, or add the link to my RSS feed to your feedreader. Lastly, follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

The keys to learning college-level general chemistry revisited

The first principle of my blog is Creating Ecosystems of Success, and a key focus is awareness of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields. A key class for many STEM-hopefuls is ‘college- level’ General Chemistry, both in high school and college. Some students, particularly those attending very competitive high schools, take college-level Chemistry and struggle with it.

Several years ago when I tutored part-time, I worked with several students in Northern Virginia where taking ‘Honors’ and ‘International Baccalaureate’ (IB) General Chemistry as freshman and sophomores was a normal occurrence. For three to four years, I worked in the former Northern Virginia Tutoring service where I consistently coached lost and struggling students, and helped them confidently finish their classes strong.  The service was run by my mentor and fellow blogger Dr. Ralph G. Perrino (Dr. Perrino’s blog).

I originally published this piece on the Examiner back in March of 2013. I’ve decided to republish this revised version as tutoring was a fun and rewarding experience for me, which also helped me earn some extra income. I myself didn’t fully grasp General Chemistry back at Hutch-Tech High School as a sophomore. It wasn’t until I was an undergraduate at Johnson C. Smith University (JCSU) that I understood and mastered this exciting quantitative science. I went on to use that knowledge in my graduate studies, in my federal science career, and eventually as a tutor.

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After starting my federal science career, tutoring not only allowed me to supplement my income, but it was a very educational experience for me as well. When applying to work as a tutor through the Northern Virginia Tutoring Service, I listed Biology, Chemistry, and Physics as my areas of expertise. I had some experience with all three disciplines in my undergraduate and graduate studies.

Chemistry by far was the course that generated the most demand for me, specifically ‘Honors’ and ‘International Baccalaureate’ (IB) Chemistry. IB courses are basically ‘college-level’ and can be quite a jump for some high school freshman and sophomores. Even some upperclassmen struggle in them. These classes are particularly problematic when the students fall behind in them early, lose confidence, and when the subject area falls outside of Mom and Dad’s areas of expertise – hence the need for a tutor.

The students who needed my help weren’t ‘slouches’ by any means. Most of them resided in Virginia’s Arlington and Fairfax Counties.  Fairfax County is one of the wealthiest counties in the nation – a county with a very strong school system where 90% of its students matriculate to college. The parents’ vigilance and drive to assure that their children do well academically is also a hallmark of this county. This was manifested in their willingness to invest some of their hard-earned money into tutors – sometimes several at one time for multiple children. Those parents were very impressive.

When working with the students, my initial goal was to approach them with a positive and optimistic attitude. Patience, understanding and a bit of humor were parts of my approach as well.  These were particularly important for students who had lost hope. After this initial part, we dove into the actual science and turning their grades around. There were four key principles that I stressed to my students: time management, taking initiative, practice and attention to detail.

The kids I worked with were ‘high achievers’ and typically juggled multiple classes, and in some instances, multiple Honors/IB courses. They were also involved in a plethora of after school activities (sports and clubs of all kinds), which often caused a bit of an overload. In cases such as these, time management for each class, especially the demanding classes, was very, very important.

The next principles I instilled were taking initiative and the importance of practice. College-level courses require students to assume more responsibility for their studies with less coddling by teachers. This is especially important for quantitative sciences like Chemistry and Physics, which are calculation-intensive and require rigorous practice. I stressed to my students that this was the only way to feel confident at test time, when students were tasked with working their way through several pages of complex problems, usually within 45 minutes to an hour.

The argument that teachers aren’t ‘teaching effectively’ in these subjects may be partially true in some instances, but what’s also true is that the teachers can’t do everything. They can’t make the students practice what they’ve learned after hours and on weekends – arguably the most important part their learning. This is where the most meaningful part of students’ learning takes place as was the case for me as an undergraduate when the light-bulb turned on one Sunday afternoon in Charlotte, NC.

Finally, I impressed upon my students the importance of learning to pay attention to several key details. Chemistry tends to start off with ‘concept-based’ learning: the trends of the “Periodic Table of Elements“, the micro-particles that comprise atoms, and then chemical bonding. With the balancing of chemical equations, the class becomes more ‘critical thought-based’.

The ‘quantitative’ phase starts with the “Stoichiometry” chapter which permeates throughout the remaining chapters. This is the phase in which the calculator becomes one of the student’s ‘best friends’ as they must calculate decimals, express numbers using ‘scientific notation’, and sometimes calculate ‘log’ values. When calculating acids, bases and pH values, students also must be able to use the ‘^’ calculator function in some instances, which admittedly confused me as the tutor once. An important part of this phase is understanding and being able to convert ‘units of measure’ – converting grams to kilograms, and then grams to moles, Celsius and Fahrenheit to Kelvin, and so on.

The calculation of moles, percent compositions, percent yields and so on, leads the class to become highly quantitative and the students then must also keep track of various equations/formulas, and chemical/physical constants, while also integrating concepts from earlier chapters. This continues into the “Solutions”, the “Gas Laws”, “Kinetics” and “Thermochemistry” chapters. While specific calculations are used throughout the course such as the conversion of grams to moles, some chapters have their own unique equations, formulas and units of measure such as ‘millimeters of Mercury’ (mm Hg) in the Gas Law chapter which is a measure for atmospheric pressure.

Examples of chemical/physical constants include “Avagadro’s number”, and the “Universal Gas Constant”, which itself has many different values depending upon the units used. As we progressed through the chapters, one thing I constantly had to remind my students of was always keeping their Periodic Table of Elements handy. I consider this the student’s first best friend in the class, as it has pieces of information about every element necessary to answer questions in even the more advanced chapters.

This all sounds like a lot right? Again, it can be particularly problematic if the parents have no experience in the area. Once lost, students typically need extra help in the form of spending more time with the teacher or working with a tutor. When the above-mentioned keys are introduced and the student buys in, he or she can gain confidence, get back on track and find the class to be fun. Tutoring caused me to have to relearn some material I’d forgotten over the years, and to learn concepts we hadn’t covered when I was an undergraduate.  In some instances I was learning along with the students I tutored.  This was fun for me and created a sense of adventure.

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If you’re a STEM-professional, tutoring is a really good way to generate a second income depending upon the demand for your knowledge set in your area or elsewhere. With the technology available to us today, tutors can work with students remotely in some instances without having to physically be there. In either case, helping students to understand their subject matter, and ‘to get over the hump’, is a very rewarding feeling, and an accomplishment all in itself.  It’s also gratifying when the parents thank you and stay on their children about when their next tutoring sessions will be.

What also helped me out during my tutoring experience was that I could go back and ask one of my veteran undergraduate Chemistry professors questions when I got ‘stumped’.  In some instances, I needed to be refreshed on some of the nuances of some of the problems I was doing with my students. I don’t think he’ll mind me mentioning him, and I’m very thankful that he was willing to provide guidance when I didn’t know what to do. This underscores the importance of not burning your bridges and maintaining relationships with your professors long after you’ve earned you degree.

My former professor also pointed me in the direction of the Chemistry Olympiad Exams for challenging and fun practice problems. You can download the yearly exams as pdfs for free.  The answers are in the back, so you can go over them yourself or with your student, and even work your way backwards to figure out the right answer, if either of you answered the question incorrectly.

Thank you for taking the time out to read this blog post. If you enjoyed this one, you might also enjoy:

The story of how I earned my STEM degree as a minority
The transferrable skills from a STEM degree in the basic sciences
Don’t Be A Mad Scientist: Avoid These Stupid Lab Mistakes
A look at STEM: What is Pharmacology?
A look at STEM: What is Toxicology?
A look at STEM: What is Inhalation Toxicology?

If you’ve found value here and think it will benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right-hand column in this post and throughout the site, or add the link to my RSS feed to your feedreader. Lastly, follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Understanding The Man-Machine-Theory Of Mind Explained

The first principal of my blog is Creating Ecosystems of Success, and two of my key focuses are Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), and Health and Wellness. The brain and or the mind is arguably the most critical organ in our bodies. Mastery of the mind is key in the maintenance of proper mental health, and excelling at any task whether it’s in the realm of: academics, athletics, or business. The following guest post discusses this and is entitled; Understanding The Man-Machine-Theory Of Mind Explained.

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Image Source: No attribution required

What is the mind?

As most of your 100 billion neurons flash intermittently in search of an answer, you realize that in the very process of thinking you are turning to your mind for the solution. While the fact that we are blessed with the incredible ability to think and reason is incredulous enough, what is even more startling is that the mind is capable of much more than simple retrieval of information. Wealth Creation Mastermind’s guide to the kybalion explains a few interesting theories about how the mind works.
A lot of people associate the mind to be a singular and simple concept. When you don’t know something, you turn your mind “on” and the answer “appears”. Because of our conditioning, a lot of us are stuck in this vicious cycle of assigning simple tasks to our mind and not leveraging its true power.

The Mind Explained

The mind is known as the seat of human consciousness. However, the true answer of what the mind is eludes us as we are discovering profound things about it every day. The mind is the most powerful multi-tool you will ever own. It is like a cosmic Swiss knife which has several tools, some of which can even transform your reality and reshape your life.

Most of us have been conditioned from a very young age to be “realistic” about goals – a strongly inculcated belief system of what we can and cannot do. This leads individuals down the path of inaccurate conclusions of who they are and what they are actually capable of in real life. This path typically leads you to wasted potential and regret.

The most successful people you see around you are those of them who took the first critical step towards their journey – they started to believe that they could. This process of mental transmutation, materializing your own reality, is a very real phenomenon and you can use it to make it work for you as well.

Balancing The Mental Ecosystem

The mind is a complex ecosystem that is powerful and resilient, but with a catch – you are the fulcrum that it rests on. What you think and feel about yourself has an impact on what you become. This is because thoughts are self-perpetuating cycles and they manifest itself in ways that are hard to imagine. If you think that you’re failing your way through life, then that is what you’ll end up becoming.

One way out of this is to make a list of all the things that you feel are positive achievements that you’ve been able to garner. Read this list out to yourself (aloud if you’re alone) when you’re feeling down. Something as simple as this can build confidence and redirect your mental thought flow to a more positive place.

Rework Your Self-Belief System

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Self-belief is a powerful tool that you can use to tide you over the worst of times. When this falters, you will find that you are left listless and floundering even when it comes to day to day activities. A lot of us are more talented than we can imagine but if this talent needs to surface, you need a healthy self-belief system.

Search for things that reinforce your self-belief. Don’t hang around with people who mock you for your goals. All that doubts and sarcastic company do are hold you back from your true potential. Don’t be the person who calls it luck when things go your way – believe that you deserve it and work towards getting more opportunities.

Draw Positive Conclusions

People tend to give themselves a hard time – they come to negative conclusions when things don’t go their way. When people are too critical of themselves, they tend toward negative labeling which is again a self-fulfilling condition. You’re setting yourself up for the very goal that your label indicates. Thankfully, you can unlearn all these negative habits and change your perception for the better.

Know that sometimes you are more wrong about you than a lot of other people. It helps to talk to people to understand what they feel about you. Challenge negative views of yourself by stepping out of your comfort zone and meeting challenges head-on. The most important thing you can do is try, the results will eventually work themselves out.

Summing it up

These are just a few things that you can try to unlearn the mental hurdles that have been preventing you from achieving the success you deserve. Hone your mind to accept failures as lessons and keep striving to better yourself.

Having a positive outlook does not magically transform everything around you in a flash. What it does is to encourage you towards optimistic thoughts which can lead to productive behavior. Given time, you will notice that a lot of things about you have changed… and for the better!

Don’t Be A Mad Scientist: Avoid These Stupid Lab Mistakes

One of the focuses of my blog is awareness of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics fields. If you’re in a STEM and are working in a laboratory setting, it’s particularly important for novices to understand how to properly conduct one’s self. The following contributed post is thus entitled; Don’t Be A Mad Scientist: Avoid These Stupid Lab Mistakes.

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It doesn’t matter which of the basic sciences you are working in; common sense needs to be your number one priority. Science is about creating answers, not mistakes, but if in your folly you make any of those stupid lab blunders, then you are going to create both chaos to your experiments and put yourself at risk of accident and injury. Yikes!

Mistake #1: Mislabelling something

You’re not an idiot; you have trained in your field, so you will know what most things are. But then again, you may have lacked concentration and mislabelled a test tube, or you may not quite know the difference from a certain chemical from another, especially if they look the same. The wrong combination could result in something calamitous, be that a failed experiment, or something far more explosive. Therefore, don’t assume you know what something is without doing some research first, and for goodness sake, concentrate when you’re labelling, for the sake of everybody working with you.

Mistake #2: Using faulty equipment

You aren’t going to get the desired results if your equipment isn’t up to scratch. Not only can you create a chemical disaster if something is leaking where it shouldn’t be, but you will be forced to start your experiment again if you have used something as simple as an uncalibrated pipette. Always check your equipment beforehand, and if you need to buy something new, or if you need to call on the expertise of someone like this pipette repair service, then do so.

Mistake #3: Wearing your lab coat out of the lab

Who knows what nasty stuff has gathered on your lab coat during your experiments! The last thing you want to do is take that troublesome gook out of the lab and into the cafeteria or the outside world, as you may cause significant harm to another. Remember to wash your coat too, no matter how much you like the pretty colours that have accumulated!

Mistake #4: Not wearing your protective gear

You are dealing with acids, chemicals, and other toxic substances. You are touching them, surrounding yourself with them, and bearing your beady eyes down upon them. We know we shouldn’t have to say this, but we will anyway. Always wear your safety gear! Letting any kind of toxic formula get into your eyes, onto your skin, or into your nasal passageway, could be tantamount to personal disaster. Make it a rule to have what you need to hand as you enter the lab, so you don’t forget to put on what you need to be wearing.

Mistake #5: Having your lunch in the science lab

You may as well be swigging from a test tube! There is a place to eat your lunch, and that’s nowhere near your workbench. In fact, you should be out of the lab and at your designated eating area. You don’t want to poison yourself by letting even the smallest amount of a chemical touch your food, even if you have washed your hands like a good boy after taking off your gloves. And who knows what might happen if you let any of your cheese sandwich fall into your experiment. You could destroy the world! Or, at the very least, your experiment!!

In all things, practice common sense. You might look like a mad scientist, but that doesn’t mean you have to behave like one! Take care if you are in the lab today, and thanks for reading.

The story of how I earned my STEM degree as a minority

“It’s my job to prepare you for wherever you go after you leave my lab. When you go into a company, no one is going to tell you if your presentations and writings are sloppy. You won’t get promoted and you’ll never know why!”

In my post entitled, Who will benefit from Apple’s $350 billion investment?, I cited data stating that less than 10% of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) degree holders are African American – a staggering number as these are some of the highest paying careers today. With the first principle of my blog being “Creating Ecosystems of Success”, and one of my focuses being awareness of the STEM careers, I wanted to tell my story.

Thus far I’ve published posts discussing the ‘Biomedical’ sciences I’ve been trained in, ‘Regulatory’ science, the ‘Applied’ sciences, and the ‘Transferrable’ skills learned when earning STEM degrees. In these posts I’ve attempted to make these sciences easily understandable for students and families with backgrounds like my own (see the story of my blog). Potentially the most important story of all though is how one becomes a STEM professional.

I’m a firm believer in teaching the ‘how’. It’s important to encourage participation in the STEMs, but as a student who walked into my training not fully  understanding the opportunity in front of me, I think it’s also important to share what went into earning my STEM degree in a very open and honest way – the good, the bad and the ugly – no fairy tales and no magic. In this post, I’m thus revisiting both my learning points science-wise, and some personal challenges during the process as an African American male coming from Buffalo’s east side. The latter challenges may surprise you.

The majority of the visuals used in this piece are materials from my thesis. Click on any of them to enlarge them. Lastly in this piece I refer to my thesis project without getting into its specifics. I describe it in greater detail in my Basic Sciences and Basic Research post.

Learning how to do science

I fell in love with “Life Science” in the seventh grade at Campus West in Buffalo, NY. I followed that love into Hutch-Tech High School where I majored in ‘Biotechnology’ (AP Biology). At Johnson C. Smith University (JCSU), I distinguished myself as a ‘A’ student in my core courses as a Biology major which led to my participation in the Ronald E. McNair Program, where I worked two summers in a Hepatic (Liver) Physiology lab.

It was my first time performing ‘Basic’ scientific research (see my Basic Sciences and Research post). I earned an undergraduate fellowship from the Environmental Protection Agency my last two years at JCSU. This precluded my participation in the ‘Minority Access to Research Careers’ (MARC) Program where I would’ve worked on a research project year-round, and would’ve gained more valuable experience.

Having participated in the McNair Program, I decided to pursue a Ph.D. in Pharmacology, thinking that working in a Pharmaceutical company like Pfizer or Merck would provide stable employment. Thus, the sole focus for my science training was finding a job. While a Ph.D. in Pharmacology would help me get there, I didn’t completely understand what the road to a Ph.D. in this particular STEM field entailed, as I didn’t yet know how to do science fulltime.

“Anwar has never done rigorous scientific research before,” my Graduate Advisor, a fellow Western New Yorker, wrote in my evaluation for my second lab rotation within the Department of Pharmacology of the University of Michigan. He gave me an ‘A’ which I was happy about, though based upon his statement, I wasn’t sure how I’d done in the lab. Did I perform adequately over those four months? Did I underperform, but still received an ‘A’ just because? Either way, he allowed me work under him for my thesis project – perhaps seeing some potential in me.

What made me want to stay in his lab? After my summers in the McNair Program, I knew something about the enzyme my Graduate Advisor’s lab worked on; “Neuronal Nitric Oxide Synthase” (see my Basic Sciences and Research post). I was also encouraged by two more senior students in another lab to stay based upon my advisor’s: talent, his productive track record and the productivity of his students.

By the way, in the coming years when prospective students would visit our department, my Graduate Advisor was always very adamant about the prospects getting the current students’ perspectives on the department. I think his reasons were that doctoral research is a significant life and time commitment as you’ll see later, and it’s in a student’s best interest not to walk into a department ‘blind’. Ideally, they should have a feel for the overall climate of their prospective department; its culture, its faculty and whether its students go on to establish their own careers.

The Basic Sciences and Basic Research are worlds all in themselves, worlds I initially didn’t know how to succeed in. Aside from some of my teachers in high school, there were no STEM professionals in my ecosystem in Buffalo. Also, once again, while my summers in the McNair Program gave me a taste of this new adventure I was embarking upon, they didn’t show what the experience would be like fulltime.

What qualities and attributes were needed to earn my Ph.D. in the STEM field I had chosen? One very important quality/value I received from my home ecosystem was that of hard work and the importance of doing quality work. I’ll credit my mother for this and her many years of making us do chores at home, which instilled a sense of personal responsibility and pride in my work. Also, the adversity-filled experience on my high school basketball team taught me how not to quit on things when they got hard – another valuable tool. Lastly, I was always naturally very malleable personality-wise, and open to being taught.

My Dad’s words about excelling in my coursework helped me to get into Graduate School and were useful until the end of my coursework. Once the fulltime research phase began however, it was a whole different ballgame, as working for my Graduate Advisor required a host of other ‘tools’.

I myself was a ‘project’ going into my Graduate Advisor’s lab – one which needed to be built from the ground up. There were plenty of challenging times for both of us as my first two to three years were spent literally just figuring things out. Fortunately, he was willing to teach me as long as I was willing to do the work and be taught. What do I mean by figuring things out? The following is a summary of what I learned as I worked on my thesis project:

• Learning to ask questions, to be inquisitive, and to talk about science

I added this learning point in last, but it may be the most important of all. I’ll credit the whole department for teaching me this lesson. One classmate and one professor stand out here. Verbally asking questions is essential to doing science. In my Basic Sciences and Basic Research post, I described how our experiments were questions themselves, but it’s also very important to be able to verbally ask questions of peers about their science both one on one, and in group settings in a respectful way.

During graduate school, I sat in on numerous seminars, and I was initially afraid to ask questions in front of everyone else. Part of it was a fear of sounding foolish. The other part of it was that while I’d excelled in my coursework as an undergraduate, I didn’t regularly talk about science with my classmates at my undergraduate institution. Over time I overcame my fears and got to the point where getting my questions answered superseded everything else.

• Seeing and understanding the science through my Advisor’s eyes

“You’re going to have to drive the project!” My biggest learning point was learning to see the science through my Graduate Advisor’s eyes, and not just in terms of obtaining my Ph.D. and finding a job. There was an ‘art’ to science, a thought process, a methodology, a culture and a lifestyle. It took about five years of training to get to the point where I could start see the science the way he saw it, and even talk about my project the way he talked about it.

I needed to understand the science in its entirety and appreciate the process, and all the challenges involved. I needed to approach my research like a professional; to design my experiments systematically and proactively – to think about the limitations of our experiments and the data we generated, to think of the next steps, and to always think about the final published paper.

• Doing science in the lab everyday vs. learning about it in a classroom

There’s a major difference between learning about science in a classroom setting, and actually doing quality science fulltime. For me that involved being proactive about my work, and being consistent in everything I did experimentally, in my writings and my presentations. Our experiments were questions, the results were the answers, and we needed the answers in a timely fashion. Everything needed to be approached with a sense of urgency, and in a way, time was our enemy. It also involved thinking about the project when outside of the lab – something my Advisor and his peers and competitors did – sometimes at the expense of other things.

I was now out on the edges of science in the ‘trenches’, trying to discover new knowledge. A major part of this involved approaching my thesis project like a job. And in many ways it was, as my peers and I received stipends. It wasn’t a high-paying job in terms of salary, but instead the payment was knowledge and wisdom which would equate to greater financial compensation later.

• Graduate Research is in part a job or an apprenticeship like one of the skill trades

“This is your job now!” My Graduate Advisor and I had this conversation after my completing two years of coursework and starting my thesis project fulltime. I hadn’t made the connection yet that my research involved being in the lab 100% of the time. It required being on time in a job-like setting where I’d work on my project daily at a work bench – sometimes at night and on weekends. The data generated from my project would be published in scientific journals, as well as when my Graduate Advisor sought to renew his own research grants. Finally, it would be the basis for my completed dissertation, in addition to a record of my productivity after eventually leaving his lab.

• Learning to Multitask

I had to learn to work smart, and not just hard. My Graduate Advisor instilled in me the ability to multitask and to, “have multiple things going at once,” as he always emphasized. In addition to working on my own project, I was also responsible for growing the stocks of proteins that the entire lab used, which was a huge responsibility. I was also the lab’s “Chemical Safety” officer who was responsible for all the lab’s waste disposal – chemical and radioactive. Multitasking was what he did on a grander scale all year. As a student, it seemed unfair at the time, but it’s a skill that has transcended our lab into other arenas, as with everything he taught us.

• Learning to Compete

“You have to know where the line is, and then do your best to stay above it,” my Graduate Advisor told me years later after I graduated. Though I didn’t understand it at the time, he was teaching his students how to compete and survive. It’s not widely discussed, but science is about competition, especially in academia where at any given time, multiple labs around the country, and even around the world, are working to make the same scientific breakthrough. It’s an arena where ultimately, the group who makes the finding first gets the fame and notoriety, and future grant funding.

There was such a thing as being ‘scooped’. This is when another lab made the finding first, leaving its competitors to either disprove it, to add something to it, or to work on something else altogether. Because my Advisor was so talented and hungry, it never happened to us, but I saw it happen to some of my peers and their labs. Nothing was guaranteed. Just like he had to fight and claw to keep his lab running, I also had to fight and claw to push my project through to completion. I further had to fight and claw to stay in the department and finish my degree. Science and life are about competition.

“I know that I drove you guys pretty hard,” my Advisor shared with me years after I graduated, which we both smiled about. At times he was very abrasive, aggressive and very demanding of us. It was for a reason though and I realized during my training that working for brilliant and driven people is hard, but if you can stay in the process and take their coaching, you’ll be better off for it later.

My Graduate Advisor attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as an undergraduate, the University of Michigan for graduate school, and then the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for his own postdoctoral training before becoming a professor at the University of Michigan. We never talked about MIT in my ecosystem in Buffalo, and I just started understanding my Advisor’s pedigree towards the end of my training. His father was a scientist as well, and he thus had exposure to science at an early age, and even earned a couple of patents before starting college. Don’t get me wrong, having parents in the STEMs isn’t a necessity to getting into one of the fields yourself, but the early exposure can pay huge dividends later.

This is a good place to state that my Graduate Advisor, his peers, and scientists at most research universities are driven by their scientific research, and they’re always thinking about it; late at night, and even on family vacations. The argument can be made that their research is their purpose for living. The truly talented ones are further tough enough to withstand any environmental changes such as when the second Bush Administration cut the NIH’s budget, causing many labs around the country to downsize or perish altogether, while others figured out how to survive.

“You all are very different than we were! When I was a graduate student, we fought over the latest issues of the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (JPET),” said one of the more senior and celebrated faculty in our department who was jokingly said to have invented the Heart. He felt that we weren’t studying up on our field enough in our spare time beyond our core curricula. Most of us were only doing the minimum reading and studying, something my Graduate Advisor also stayed on me about during my training.

Learning to manage my life outside of the lab so I could do science

The accompanying newspaper clipping is from one of Buffalo’s local weekly black publications, The Challenger. My mother proudly submitted the story and that’s her handwriting on the top of the clipping. It was a big deal back home and she even shared with me that I’d exceeded her expectations which was very gratifying. When looking at the clipping, it’s something to proud of, but what you don’t see there is that there were a host of personal learning points outside of the lab as well – experiences which could’ve derailed the whole thing.

Being African American and ascending in education and a career often leads to discussions of “forgetting where you came from”. So, I want to close with what I learned about how life outside of the lab can affect one’s ability to do science and be a professional. Sometimes it’s actually necessary to leave certain parts of your old life behind. I learned on numerous occasions during my STEM training that I had to protect both my project and my life. That is, I had to make strategic decisions in my personal life that would increase my chances of finishing my degree and surviving to talk about it.

While working on my thesis I got involved in a very chaotic romantic relationship which compromised my mind, spirit and overall well-being at times; nearly derailing my project and potentially adversely affecting my Graduate Advisor’s entire lab all at the same time. There was one day I consider a near death experience – something I’ve discussed with friends and relatives only in bits and pieces. Fortunately, I survived, but this type of thing wasn’t restricted to my significant other.

There were two instances involving two close friends whom I consider my second and third brothers. One incident transpired over a Thanksgiving holiday and the other a Christmas holiday – both of which involved nearly getting pulled into violent confrontations late at night at nightclubs and parties in my hometown of Buffalo, NY. One friend had too much to drink and in the process of having his own fun, inadvertently splashed another guy with his beer. The guy who got splashed was unhappy about it and started following us around the venue. While I thought bullets might fly, my friend got away with just getting punched and knocked out temporarily. Fortunately, we both made it home safely.

In the second incident, another buddy wanted to stay and confront some guys over a female outside of a nightclub. Apparently, he was looking at the guy’s lady and there was an initial confrontation I didn’t see inside the venue. My friend didn’t want to appear afraid and wanted us to take our time leaving. When I realized what was going on, I wanted to leave immediately – something he and I clashed over afterwards. Fortunately again, nothing happened, and we got out of there safely.

Neither of these incidents were worth the potential price to be paid. Neither my significant other, or either of my friends considered the possibility of my showing up to the lab in a cast, with a black eye, or with teeth missing, or maybe being laid up in a hospital, unable to continue my research. The take home message from all of this is that you must be your own best advocate in life. None of us can avoid tragedies, but there are some things we can avoid.

You must protect what you’re doing, sometimes from people around you in your family circle, friends or significant others, because someone else’s selfishness and bad decisions can hinder your life and professional aspirations. In my case it was earning my STEM degree and starting my career.

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“Give a man fish and you’ll feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

I included this famous quote from the Chinese Philosopher Lao Tzu because the road to my STEM degree was literally like learning how to fish. The opening quote from this piece is from one of my many talks with my Graduate Advisor. In some ways our relationship evolved into that of a father and a son which I’m very, very grateful for as not every student had this. I saw several peers leave partway through their graduate training without their doctorates either due to a loss of hope, or irreconcilable differences with their advisors. Some were African American, but not all were.

This is my STEM story and there are many others out there. I want to point out that the point of telling this story was not for my glorification. As I said in the opening, I think it’s critical to explain all sides of the process in addition to simply encouraging students to get involved in the STEMs solely because of our under-representation as African Americans, and because of the monetary benefit. The how is very, very important. If you’re a STEM professional, I encourage you to also tell your story to STEM-hopefuls in an age-appropriate way.

I’d like to end this story by acknowledging the late Dr. Minor J. Coon.  Dr. Coon was not only a member of my Thesis Committee (on the program above), but he was also a legend and a pioneer the in the study of Phase I Drug Metabolizing Enzymes – Cytochrome P450s particularly.  Dr. Coon actually trained my Graduate Advisor who subsequently suggested asking Dr. Coon to be on my committee – something that surprised me as we all looked upon him with great reverence.  Growing up on Buffalo’s east side, I never dreamt of being a part of such a well accomplished tree of scientists.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. If you enjoyed this post you may also enjoy:

A look at STEM: What are the Basic Sciences and Basic Research?
A look at STEM: What is Regulatory Science?
The transferrable skills from a doctoral degree in the basic sciences
A look at STEM: What is Inhalation Toxicology?
A look at STEM: What is Pharmacology?
A look at STEM: What is Toxicology?
A look at STEM: What is ADME/Drug Metabolism?

If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right-hand column in this post and throughout the site, or add my RSS feed to your feedreader. You can follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, and Twitter at @BWArePowerful. Lastly, you can follow me on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Exploring The Key Issues With “The Cloud”

Two key focuses of my blog is Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), and Business and Entrepreneurship. Many businesses and organizations are moving towards cloud-based storage systems for increased efficiency of operations, but what are the issues with this new technology? The following contributed post is thus entitled; Exploring The Key Issues With “The Cloud”.

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Over the last few years, a lot of companies have been touting their cloud data services. Offering the chance to have all of your work, emails, and other important information stored on servers across the world, these businesses promise to be able to make it much easier to access and use these important parts of your work. Of course, though, like any new technology, the cloud isn’t all fun and games, and there are some serious issues with some of the services which can be found out there. To help you to see these problems, this post will be exploring some of the most prominent.

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Getting There: Data migrations are a notoriously challenging part of enterprise computing. Moving all of your on-premises information to servers isn’t an easy process, and most people will need the help of a cloud migration solutions company to help them. While this makes it much easier to get information where it needs to go, it will also cost some money, and this is rarely factored into the quotes which will be given out when you are approached by a cloud service.

Downtime: While a lot of work has been done to make sure that the servers hosting your data are able to run all the time, with plenty of redundant power and storage space, along with multiple networks in case one fails, a cloud company can’t control your internet connection. If you find yourself without this for a day or two, you could be left completely unable to do your work. These issues often come by surprise, making it impossible to save the data you’ll need as a precaution.

Security: Along with keeping servers running all the time, most cloud companies invest a small fortune into their cyber security. You will probably be accessing your data wirelessly at some stage, though, and this puts everything at risk. Of course, data breaches have become commonplace in the modern world, too. If this were your business’s information, you could be left to deal with some very unhappy clients or customers as a result.

Training: Finally, as the last area to consider, not a lot of people feel confident to use systems like this. When you have everything online, the process of accessing data can be a lot more complicated than what users are experienced with. This means having to train any employees you have to make sure that they can use the cloud securely and without wasting any time. There are loads of companies out there which can provide this to you, but it is something a lot of businesses would rather not have to pay for.

With all of this in mind, you should have the chance to think a little more deeply about the choice you have to make when it comes from moving from your own servers to the cloud. Of course, it isn’t all bad, the benefits it can provide can be huge, but it might not quite be the right time to make the switch if you’re worried about it.

Invest In Crypto The Right Way

Two of the key areas of my blog are Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), and Financial Literacy and Money. Cryptocurrencies are a new technology that are impacting global markets in terms of conducting business transactions and serving as investments themselves. The following contributed post is thus entitled; Invest In Crypto The Right Way.

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If you are keen to make whatever money you can in whatever way you can, you’re probably thinking about cryptocurrency at least some of the time. This relatively new kind of currency is all the rage at the moment, and as such it has been developing something of a spike in many of its markets as well. The truth is that if you want to get in crypto trading, now is a good time to start – or at least a better time than next week or next year. But you need to know what you are doing first to make sure that you are actually going to get it right, and that is what we are going to look at today. Here are some of the things you should consider if you are to invest in cryptos in the right way.

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Choose Your Wallet

First of all, you will want to think about getting hold of a wallet which you can store your crypto coin in. a lot of newcomers find this part of the process particularly bewildering, but the truth is that it is not that hard to wrap your head around once you get going with it. There are a few different kinds of wallets, but the most secure ones are those which allow you to use two-factor authentication to gain access to them. By utilising and making the most of this kind of security, you can be sure that your wallet is going to be perfectly safe, which will help if you have any anxiety about getting started with the crypto world. Then it’s just a matter of choosing a wallet that seems good for you personally. It’s a good idea to go for one that gains you interest for BTC, so that you can make even more of your coin.

Buy Your Coin

Then you will need to go out and buy the coin that you want to buy. There are now several ways to do this. The best and safest is to go and find a crypto ATM, which are now cropping up in many major cities around the globe. With these machines, you merely purchase crypto with cash or card as you would anything else, and have the coin deposited into your wallet straight away – owing to the usual checks. Or you can consider using an online exchange which set you up with someone who you buy from via bank transfer. In either case, you can be sure that these are two of the safest ways to get hold of your crypto coin.

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Get Trading

In order to really make the most of your crypto, you need to make sure that you are trading it in the right way. The easiest way to do this is to use an approved app which does the actual trading for you, as this way you can be sure that you are going to be able to get it right. Or you can do the research, and make those decisions yourself – which can be less safe, but is much more satisfying when you get it right.

A look at STEM: What are the Basic Sciences and Basic Research?

One of the focuses of my blog is awareness of the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields. Thus far, I’ve written posts covering the “Biomedical Sciences” I’ve been trained in including: Pharmacology, Toxicology, ADME/Drug Metabolism, and Inhalation Toxicology. I’ve also written a post discussing “Regulatory Science” in the Public and Private sectors, in which I discussed the “Applied Sciences” and “Research and Development”. In this post I want to discuss the “Basic Sciences” and “Basic Research”, the foundations from which we receive all our new scientific knowledge.

The foundations of any of our commercial scientific and technological innovations are the Basic Sciences and Basic Research. A simple Google search led me to a site which stated that the four major Basic Sciences are: Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics and Physics. Many people consider Physics to be the ‘Grandfather’ of all the sciences because each of the others rest upon its shoulders in some way. Any of the other Basic Sciences fall under one of these four branches.

For Biology for example, many of the sciences underneath its vast umbrella include: Biomedical Sciences, Agricultural Sciences, Environmental Sciences, etc. Within the Biomedical Sciences there are the sciences I’ve written about, as well as: Cellular and Molecular Biology, Genetics, Microbiology, Virology, etc. The same is true for Chemistry under which there are: Analytical Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Physical Chemistry, etc. While Physics is its own discipline with its own subdisciplines, as you’ll see later, its principles permeate throughout the other major sciences, especially when you’re carrying out ‘Basic’ scientific research.

Basic Research is simply the pursuit of new knowledge and the understanding of a specific area of focus. As described throughout my blog, my Ph.D. is in Pharmacology, with two and a half years of training in its sister science, Toxicology. In the Basic Research world scientists known as ‘Principal Investigators’ run labs at major research institutions, like the University of Michigan, where they have specific research areas of interest.

Principal Investigators ask specific research questions in their areas of focus through their research projects. They arrive at their answers for these questions through experiments and report their results in papers published in scientific journals. To carry out their research, which I’ll describe later, Investigators usually receive grant funding from federal sources such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), or from the Private Sector. As you’ll see there is a business side to research, both in academia and in the private sector.

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As described in my Pharmacology post, there are numerous sub-disciplines within Pharmacology. My Graduate Advisor’s area of focus was ADME/Drug Metabolism which involved some aspects of Biochemistry and Cell Biology based upon the questions he was asking. For the remainder of this post I am going to discuss my thesis project in his lab to give readers a feel for what Basic Research is and why it’s important. Some of the terms I’m going to use will be on the esoteric side, but I’m going to do my best to keep the discussion as simple as possible.

The title of my thesis project was the “Labilization and Proteasomal Degradation of Neuronal Nitric Oxide Synthase” – a mouthful for anyone unfamiliar with the field. If you google me, you’ll find two ‘first author’ publications that I published in my Graduate Advisor’s lab with the assistance of my lab mates; fellow students, postdoctoral scientists, senior scientists, and technicians. I’m crediting the entire lab because, while I was the first author on these papers and it was my thesis project, my colleagues also contributed their expertise and man-hours. Everything in our lab was done as a team. I also contributed to my lab mates’ work. My two first author publications are:

Ubiquitination and degradation of neuronal NO-synthase in Vitro: Dimer stabilization protects the enzyme from proteolysis published in Molecular Pharmacology and;
Tetrahydrobiopterin protects against Guanabenz-mediated inactivation of neuronal nitric oxide synthase in Vivo and in Vitro published in Drug Metabolism and Disposition.

What does all this mean? In simple terms, our bodies are made up of numerous organs, systems and tissues. These are, in turn, made up of cells, nucleic acids and proteins which do the work on the ground level in our bodies. When we become ill, infected with a bacterium or a virus, poisoned by a toxicant, or develop cancer, there’s an underlying biochemical change that has occurred on the cellular level. It could be the enhanced production of viral particles, DNA damage leading to tumor formation, inhibition of an enzyme’s function, or the breakdown of key cell signaling pathways.

In Type II Diabetes, for example, the cells of our bodies become nonresponsive to endogenous ‘Insulin’, which naturally allows them to take up glucose from our bloodstreams. The breakdown of this intracellular signaling pathway leads to the hallmark maladies associated with Type II Diabetes. Pharmaceuticals likewise exert their therapeutic effect by modulating these same cellular processes. But how do these processes occur? And how do pharmaceutical companies design drugs we use to treat diseases? The answer is Basic Research.

My Graduate Advisor, a Pharmacologist and a Biochemist in training, was very interested in how exogenous chemicals could selectively control the fates of proteins within cells. Prior to my entering in his lab, he discovered that an anti-hypertensive drug called ‘Guanabenz’ could inhibit the metabolic activity of the protein “Neuronal Nitric Oxide Synthase” (nNOS), and then cause the loss of the protein itself in rat penile tissue. Other chemicals also inhibited the protein’s activity but didn’t cause a loss of the protein. So again, there was something unique to each chemical and their effect on the protein in the cell. There was a trigger that made the protein go away in certain instances. But how was this all happening?

In my earlier posts, I discussed how animals are used as models for studying human health based upon shared organ systems and metabolic pathways. My thesis project investigated this phenomenon in rat penile tissue using an in vitro system, meaning that it all took place in test tubes in a ‘cell-free’ system where we could mimic the cellular environment and control the conditions of our reactions. This allowed us to ask questions we couldn’t ask in cell or animal models.

My first finding was that our protein of interest had to undergo a major structural change for it to degrade. Chemicals like Guanabenz triggered this structural change by causing the breakdown of the homo-dimeric active protein form to its inactive monomeric form. Other chemicals prevented this structural change and protected the protein from degradation. What was even more fascinating was my second finding. This structural change was triggered by loss of a specific intracellular Cofactor which was important for maintaining the homo-dimeric form of the protein. It was the loss of this cofactor that triggered the subsequent toxicity in the rat penile tissue.

My project was a very ‘mechanistic’ project in that we were going down into the ‘weeds’ to figure out how the effect in the whole animal occurred. Why was this important and what could be done with this information? Several things. It could be used to create new drug targets, and it could also be used to predict and understand similar toxicities by chemicals with similar structures. These are all things Chemical and Pharmaceutical companies, and Regulatory Agencies consider when bringing new products to the market and when protecting human health.

During my thesis I performed ‘Bench Science’. I literally had a work bench and performed experiments every day, working to generate quality data I could publish. As I worked to answer my research questions, I also learned a wealth of research techniques and technologies, in addition to learning how to perform scientific research (discussed in the next post). While it was a biological project in nature, my thesis project involved the use of numerous analytical chemical tools and technologies, many of which involved some understanding of Chemistry and Physics.

In this section I’m going to introduce a few terms commonly used in the research world which were foreign to me when I started. ‘Assay’ for example, is just a fancy term for an established and widely used experimental method. The others will be explained throughout and should be easy to follow. The devices and technologies described are hyperlinked.  The methods, tools and processes I utilized during my research included the following:

Cellular and Molecular Biology techniques: We used numerous cell models to: generate large quantities of our protein of interest for our in vitro experiments, and we had other cell lines to ask questions about the fate of the protein within cells. The latter involved inserting (transfecting) the DNA of the protein of interest into cells. This involved the use of Cellular and Molecular Biological techniques, and the use of Cell Incubators and, in some instances, Orbital Shakers to culture (grow) the cells, depending on the cell line.
Stoichiometry: This key aspect of General Chemistry was a critical part of all our experiments. Specifically, it was central in the calculation of ‘Molar’ concentrations when preparing the numerous ‘Chemical Reagents’ that were used including: buffers, cellular media, solvents, matrices, resins and so on.
Column Chromatography and Protein Purification Methods: We used numerous protein purification methods, particularly Affinity and Size Exclusion chromatographic methods to create clean preparations of our proteins of interest and other preparations. This allowed us to study its activity in isolation, its protein levels and ask questions about any structural changes.
Gel Electrophoresis and Protein Detection Methods: We used electrophoretic and antibody-based detection methods for measuring actual protein levels for visual analysis and quantification. The bread and butter technique of my experiments was called the ‘Western Blot’ analysis, whereby the proteins in my in vitro assay were separated by size, then detected, and finally, quantified using a radio-labeled antibody. One of techniques used in the lab was the Protein Assay, which allowed us to quantify the amount of protein in various preparations using a 96-Well Microtiter Plate Reader; arguably the workhorse for not just our lab, but also for neighboring labs. The Microtiter Plate Reader contained a Diode Array that measured changes in absorbance which helped inform us of the concentrations of the protein preparations (Beer’s Law). One of the 96-Well plates used in the Microtiter Plate Reader is picture below without any dyes or solutions.
Enzymatic Activity Assays: We used numerous assays to measure the activity of our protein. The primary assay used for measuring the activity of the protein was the “Oxy-Hemoglobin Assay” where we measured the conversion of Oxy-Hemoglobin to Met-Hemoglobin. We used this conversion to quantify the amount of Nitric Oxide produced by our protein with and without inhibitors/inactivators. This assay relied u9pon measuring changes in absorbance and thus, once again, the Microtiter Plate Reader was the primary tool for asking questions about the activity of our protein of interest. In some instances, other methods were used to measure activity as described next.
Physical and Analytical Chemical and Detective Methods: Consistent with most ADME/Drug Metabolism labs, a tool we heavily relied upon was High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) – a classic detection tool used for measuring the following: cofactors, molecules, metabolites, and proteins; based on their chemical properties and how they behaved in specific organic and non-organic solvents. Later in my thesis project, our lab purchased several Mass Spectrometers, which is the most sensitive chemical detection tool. However, my projects didn’t require me using them.

In addition to understanding the fundamental principles of one’s field, a major part of understanding Basic Research and Science is understanding the instruments and technologies used. As the researcher, understanding these technologies is critical to understanding what your data are and are not telling you. If you’re listening to a peer’s seminar, or reviewing their publication, understanding the technologies also helps you understand their work. In some instances, a researcher’s understanding of the technologies gives them ideas about combining them to ask unique questions.

What’s the measure of how good a scientist is? It’s their publication and funding records. The top scientists and their labs continuously come up with good ideas, then publish their work in competitive scientific journals. When scientists continually come up with good ideas and continue to publish quality work, they’re more likely to continue to secure funding and ascend in their field. The reciprocal is true for scientists who don’t come up with good ideas and don’t publish.

It’s worth noting here that the rules for publishing are different in the Private Sector vs. Academia. Research projects in the Private Sector are usually geared towards innovation and selling a product. As a result, research findings are considered ‘Intellectual Property’ which companies own and may not want to disclose out of fear of losing a competitive advantage to other companies in their sector. The research projects are also very focused, and the scientists have less freedom in terms of what they can work on. Employment is also heavily dictated by that particular company’s economic health and overall direction.

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A byproduct of training in the Basic Sciences and performing Basic Research is acquiring the knowledge and expertise which the Applied Sciences and the Private Sector use to bring new products to the market. The training can also be used to form Consulting groups (see my Regulatory Science post). If a scientist is thoroughly trained, he or she will also acquire a separate set of skills described in my blog post entitled; The transferrable skills from a doctoral degree in the basic sciences. In my case, the discipline was Pharmacology, but this applies to pretty much any of the other Basic Science and Basic Research disciplines.

How long can it take to earn a degree in a STEM? It depends on the STEM. The path I chose took roughly 5-6 years. That length of time was impacted by my first learning how to do research (discussed in my next post), and then working through the complexities of my project. If the systems and tools for asking your scientific questions are already established, then it’s a clearer path. If you’re establishing your methods for the very first time though, it could take a little longer.

If you’re building upon someone else’s work, you must also hope that they’ve reported their methods and results honestly and accurately. If so, their work will be easier to reproduce. The hard part when doing Bench Science is that many experiments don’t work initially, and it can take time to get your systems to the point where you can start generating quality, publishable data. During my thesis, I easily performed hundreds to thousands of experiments. It took time to establish my systems and their conditions, and then it took more time to generate quality, publishable data to answer my scientific questions.

The Basic Sciences and Basic Research are vast. This post just focused on one aspect of Pharmacology – a Biomedical Science. Whether it’s a: pharmaceutical, an industrial chemical, a medical device, a GMO crop, a Blockchain Technology application, or one of Elon Musk’s new SpaceX rockets, someone had to do the underlying research which gave rise to the innovation. I’m going to close by reiterating something from my Pharmacology and Toxicology posts, which is that each Basic Science has its own professional society and annual meeting. Thank you for taking the time out to read this blog post. I hope I was able to give you an understanding of Basic Sciences and Basic Research.

The next posts in this series will talk about my personal journey towards becoming a Scientist and earning my STEM degree. If you enjoyed this post you may also enjoy:

A look at STEM: What is Regulatory Science?
The transferrable skills from a doctoral degree in the basic sciences
A look at STEM: What is Inhalation Toxicology?
A look at STEM: What is Pharmacology?
A look at STEM: What is Toxicology?
A look at STEM: What is ADME/Drug Metabolism?

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