<![CDATA[The Johns Hopkins News-Letter]]> Thu, 22 Feb 2024 01:43:54 -0500 Thu, 22 Feb 2024 01:43:54 -0500 SNworks CEO 2024 The Johns Hopkins News-Letter <![CDATA[Inaugural JHU Major Fair introduces students to departments and faculty]]> The inaugural JHU Major Fair took place on Friday Feb. 16 and was hosted by the Student Government Association (SGA) to introduce Hopkins students to various departments and new opportunities. Roughly 300 people attended the fair over the course of the afternoon, and over 40 different majors and minors were represented at the event. Majors spanned departments in both the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences (KSAS) and the Whiting School of Engineering (WSE), and ranged from Film and Media Studies to Mechanical Engineering.

KSAS Senator Tim Huang, who created the event, elaborated on his hopes for the Major Fair in an email to The News-Letter.

"I hope that students go out of their comfort zones and truly explore new opportunities that are available to them," he wrote. "Our school has the option to switch majors at any time, and I believe all students should truly pursue what interests them."

Huang stressed the importance of the fair for freshmen in particular. WSE students are required to declare their major by the end of their first year, while KSAS students have until the end of their second year. The Major Fair was designed with this in mind.

"The major fair is at the midpoint for many freshmen, where they have gotten used to life at Hopkins and are exploring new opportunities," Huang wrote. "This fair serves as the breaking point for students to declare their major."

Freshman Rose Chen voiced her reasons for attending the event in an interview with The News-Letter.

"I want to learn about my major, public health, and any other major I'm potentially interested in, to double major," Chen said. "I'm a freshman, so I'm looking for more public health opportunities. I'm also looking for an economics major or another [department] I might be interested in."

The Major Fair took place in the Glass Pavilion and the Great Hall in Levering Hall from 1-5 p.m. A QR code was displayed for each represented program, which directed students to the undergraduate department page.

Sophomore Elyjah Bassford shared that although he had already declared a History major, he was interested in learning more about the various opportunities offered at Hopkins.

"I'm here to see the particular opportunities that are unique to each major, and the benefits from engaging with them," he said in an interview with The News-Letter. "[I'm] generally just looking around."

Upon entering the Glass Pavilion, students were greeted with a check-in table, where they received a map of the 36 majors present in the building - the remaining were featured in the Great Hall. Majors in similar fields, such as Writing Seminars and English, were placed near each other for student convenience.

Attending students were encouraged to approach different tables, many of which exhibited flyers, posters, brochures or QR codes for various department-affiliated events or programs. Students were able to engage with faculty and ask questions about the majors or minors they were interested in.

Professor Richard Brown, Director of Undergraduate Studies and an associate professor in the Department of Mathematics, attended the Major Fair as a representative for his department. In an interview with The News-Letter, he discussed his goals for the event.

"If people are interested in mathematics, there are ways to tie math into any other discipline. It's a way of teaching someone how to think analytically or reason deductively," he said. "It intersects all disciplines. We're very adaptable and ready to work with someone as a double major, so we're hoping to generate more math majors through [the Major Fair]."

The event also drew attention to the various resources offered by each department on campus. As a joint partnership between SGA, the Life Design Lab, Orientation & First Year Experience and the Academic Offices at KSAS and WSE, the Major Fair may become a recurring event at Hopkins.

Huang described his ambitions for the Major Fair in future years in his email to The News-Letter.

"The Major Fair is actually brand new - as the creator of the event, I really want this to be a fixture of Hopkins in years to come," he wrote. "We need more student-faculty experiences like this."


Students attended the Major Fair on Feb. 16, where they were able to explore a variety of major and minor opportunities at Hopkins.

<![CDATA[The biggest NBA trade deadline moves]]> This year's trade deadline came and went with very little activity. Most of the contending teams in both conferences stayed put with their roster, except for a few in particular. Here are some of the biggest moves and why they are so important.

Daniel Gafford to the Dallas Mavericks

Last Thursday, the Mavericks struck a deal with the Washington Wizards to bring in Daniel Gafford. I believe he will be an absolute game changer for them as they seek to make a playoff push.

Let's talk about what he brings to the team. For starters, Gafford is one of the biggest lob threats in the entire league and is near the top of the league in assisted field goals in the paint. In Washington, he hasn't played with a fantastic lob and pick-and-roll passer since Russell Westbrook was his teammate in 2021. Now he is playing next to Luka Dončić, one of the best playmakers and passers in the league himself.

Part of what makes Dereck Lively so valuable to the Mavericks is the same quality -his ability to finish above the rim. The Dončić-Lively pick-and-roll tandem ranks 11th in the entire league amongst passing duos, so just imagine what the addition of Gafford will do for Luka and this Mavs offense.

Royce O'Neale to the Suns

The Phoenix Suns only had to give up three second-round picks and a few non-rotation players to acquire Royce O'Neale from the Brooklyn Nets. The Suns don't have room for roster flexibility, because they have so much money tied up in their big three of Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal. The new collective bargaining agreement that was agreed upon last year makes it tougher for teams to build a competent roster with multiple star players, so as a result, the Suns were relying upon non-shooters at the wing position.

O'Neale is shooting 38% from three over the last three seasons, which is a very good volume and efficiency. In addition, O'Neale has played with Kevin Durant before in Brooklyn and was a quality defender. But, perhaps the biggest improvement Royce will have on this Suns team will be his short roll passing and defense in small ball lineups.

Royce made his Phoenix debut last week, and in the Kings game, he really showed his value to his new team. Against Sacramento, Suns head coach Frank Vogel played Royce at center against Domantas Sabonis. Despite being only 6 feet 6 inches and being very undersized compared to Sabonis, he held his own in the post, and it allowed for Phoenix to switch Sacramento's handoff actions, which they previously couldn't do with Jusuf Nurkić or Drew Eubanks.

As for offense, it allows for Durant and Booker to operate with more space, because O'Neale can shoot threes. Durant's reaction to O'Neale's huge threes in the game really show how much of a value add he is to this team. Lastly, O'Neale's short roll passing in these spots makes him an upgrade over Josh Okogie in the pick-and-roll. His accuracy and greater scoring threat make it tougher for defenses to scheme against doubling Booker and Durant in a postseason setting.

Pascal Siakam to the Pacers

The Indiana Pacers are already a very good team, so adding Siakam raises their ceiling to another level.

Siakam is one of the best transition scorers in the league, which is perfect for one of the fastest and most efficient transition teams in the league. There was a Pacers play from earlier in the season that sticks out to me, where Indiana, after grabbing a defensive rebound, scored in three seconds without the ball ever touching the ground.

Rick Carlisle is one of the most creative coaches in the league, so he loves drawing up plays that maximize spacing and shooting. On JJ Redick's podcast, Pacers all-star guard Tyrese Haliburton talked about how he expects to be used more as a screener in stack actions now that Siakam is on the team.

I'm not sure if there's a team in the NBA that runs more Spain pick-and-rolls than the Pacers. So having someone that can be used as a screener and is tough to keep out of the paint makes this such an exciting trade. Siakam is also one of the best passers at his position, which adds another dimension to this Pacers offense, because previously, the guys that were paired with Tyrese Haliburton were primarily play finishers instead of shot creators.

Since the all-star break, the Pacers are sixth place in the Eastern Conference but are only 2.5 games out of fourth place. With Haliburton coming back from injury and Siakam finding his rhythm with his new team, I can see this pairing seeing much success in the second half of the season.


Felton gives his three biggest trade deadline moves and predicts how those players will make an impact on their new teams.

<![CDATA[Faculty host seminar on interpretations of gender and sex in Islamic Society]]> Continuing a series of seminars in the Islamic studies colloquium, the University's Program in Islamic Studies hosted an event titled "Sex, Gender, and Islam," co-sponsored by the Women and Gender Studies department, on Monday, Feb 19. The event featured Ahmed Ragab, an associate professor at the School of Medicine.

Ragab is a historian, physician and documentary filmmaker whose research focuses on the history of medicine in the pre-modern Middle East and the Islamic world. His talk was grounded in Sunni orthodox literature and the queer history of Islam. Ragab began with his research on classical sources for religious opinions on gender and sexual ethics and then connected them to contemporary narratives.

In an interview with The News-Letter, Ryan Calder, event organizer and director of the undergraduate program in Islamic Studies, explained the purpose of the event.

"We wanted to bring more awareness to the Islamic Studies Program and hope the attendees engage with our faculty and learn more about their work," he said. "Such events are geared towards undergraduates who might be interested in taking on a minor in Islamic Studies."

Ragab began the talk with an examination of the two anchor points around which political narratives on gender and sexual ethics are centered. He cited the first anchor point as the Quran story of Lut's People: Lut was a prophet sent to people who failed to heed God's message. The narrative details how Lut's house was surrounded by the people, demanding he surrender his guests, who were angels in disguise. The angels revealed themselves to Lut, instructed him to leave with his family and warned him that the town would be destroyed.

According to Ragab, many exegetes agree that the people of Lut had a preference for sex between men. However, there is a consensus that such characteristics were not the direct cause of the punishment of these people; instead, the reason was that they did not heed the message of God.

The discussion then transitioned to an analysis of particular texts around this narrative by Hadith reporters. Ragab described these narrations and the problems in them.

"Exegetical narrations lump the deeds of the people of Lut along with various other things, many of which are considered at the time as almost mundane," he noted. "The list in this tradition makes it quite weak in proving an attorney's point."

Ragab explained that the weaknesses of many traditions make them impossible to apply as a basis for legal verdicts.

The second anchor point revolved around two groups: intersex people - those whose genitals, chromosomes or reproductive organs do not fit into a male/female sex binary - and men who dress and act like women. Ragab presented perspectives by several scholars and the associated nuances.

"There is a differentiation between people who are dressing and behaving in this way as part of their nature, which is permissible, and those who do it out of pretensions or fashion, in which case it is prohibited," he said.

Junior Madeleine Grabarczyk, a Classics major and Islamic Studies minor, reflected on the topic of gender and sexuality in Islamic texts.

"I found it interesting that we often think of gender and sexuality as being understood in the binary from a historical perspective, while there are historical records showing that how we conceptualize these ideas [was] quite dynamic over the centuries," she said in an interview with The News-Letter.

To connect with contemporary narratives, Ragab presented various websites offering legal opinions that mention the two anchor points discussed. He also highlighted the distinction between different online spaces issued by legal entities and others that are less credible.

Ragab concluded the talk by presenting a view of the historical context of gender nonconformity and queerness in Islamic societies.

"I argue that while sex and gender did not exist in that same differentiation in Islamic text, there is a clear understanding of the difference," he stated. "The collapse of the two terms can be traced back only to writings of Islamic Law in the 19th century following contemporary trends."

Many undergraduate attendees commented that they could relate some aspects of the discussion to their personal interests.

"I thought the idea of epistemic religious decline concerning gender and sexuality was interesting and often reflected in my studies," Grabarczyk said.

In an interview with The News-Letter, Renee Wu, a junior double majoring in International Studies and Sociology with a minor in Islamic Studies, talked about what she took away from the seminar.

"I study a lot about the relationship between Islam and democracy, as well as Islamism and post-Islamism," she said. "Today's lecture certainly strengthened my understanding of a pluralistic form of Islam in its early days and helped me understand how the jurists draw supportive statements from different Islamic texts."


Ahmed Ragab from the School of Medicine was invited to speak about his research on the queer history of Islam.

<![CDATA[Addressing the replication crisis in computer science]]> The Department of Computer Science hosted Jessica Sorrell, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Engineering and Applied Science, for its seminar series on Feb. 15. In her talk, titled "Replicability in Machine Learning," Sorrell examined a new approach to formalize a definition of replicability for machine learning algorithms.

Replicability -the ability for a research study to be repeated and obtain the same results - is an important process in validating scientific experiments. Sorrell highlighted how the replication crisis of the 2010s brought into the spotlight how researchers conducted scientific experiments. She quoted a 2016 study that surveyed 1,576 researchers in the natural sciences: 70% of scientists were not able to replicate another researcher's experiment, and more than half were not able to replicate their own.

"We might hope that, as computer scientists and machine learning researchers, we're running our experiments in very controlled environments," she said. "But there's increasing concern about replication within machine learning as well."

Sorrell then explained where difficulties may arise in replicating machine learning studies. Often, source codes may not be publicized, so a replication effort must also include reverse engineering the experimental code. There is also increasingly disparate access to computing resources.

"Frequently, we'll see experiments published by groups like OpenAI or Google that have access to computing resources that the vast majority of junior learning research labs certainly do not have. It's just impossible to then even conduct this experiment," Sorrell stated.

There are also privacy concerns emerging from sharing data that may include personal identifiable information. Sorrell, however, decided to focus on the issue of ambiguity and what can count as replication.

She gave an example from a reinforcement learning setting, where an agent has to learn to walk. One experiment created an upright figure that was balanced on two legs. The other experiment produced the same figure, but it was slightly unstable and not fully upright. She questioned whether the second figure can even count as a measure of replicability. Sorrell's research then tried to formalize a universal understanding of replicability.

"When we talk about replicability, what we mean is that another team of researchers should be able to obtain the same results that are published in a particular paper using their own data," she said. "When trying to formalize what it means for an algorithm to be replicable, we started with this idea in mind."

Sorrell then presented the algorithm that she developed, in conjunction with several other collaborators, to define reproducibility.

She started by examining a randomized algorithm, a technique that uses randomness for training a machine learning model. This algorithm is replicable for any distribution, if you can draw two samples from the data and feed that to the algorithm as an input for two independent runs.

"Then I give my algorithm randomness," she said. "We're then fixing the randomness between both fronts, but we're resampling the input data. We'll say that the [algorithm] is replicable with high probability if we do this, and we get the exact same output."

According to Sorrel, this work has been able to create replicable algorithms for several statistical analyses, including finding heavy hitters or approximating medians of distributions. She also highlighted that she received a lot of inspiration from the literature on differential privacy.

Differential privacy is a mathematical framework designed to assess the potential extent of data leakage when an individual contributes their data to a dataset. She explained the major difference between replicability and differential privacy.

"For differential privacy, we're not saying anything about a distribution or where this data is coming from," Sorrell said. "Whereas for replicability, we're making a distributional assumption because we're saying something about two samples drawn from the same distributions."

While replicability and differential privacy do not mean the same thing on paper, differential privacy's logical framework and background theory can help researchers better understand how to approach questions of replicability.

Sorrell concluded her talk by detailing her interests in machine learning more broadly, especially in areas of privacy and fairness. She highlighted how many current machine learning models demonstrate systematic biases. One example includes underdiagnosis bias in artificial intelligence algorithms that are used to classify chest radiographs.

"[Something] troubling is the use of predictive models in child welfare cases. There's this tool that's called the Allegheny Family Screening Tool, [which is] used to guide decision-making around when to follow up with children's child welfare cases. It's intended to predict how likely it is that a child needs to be removed from the home," she said. "It's being questioned by the Department of Justice because they've shown that the tool might be biased against folks of color and disabled folks."

In the future, Sorrell hopes her research can help develop tools that allow existing regulatory bodies to investigate and audit machine learning models.

"I'm interested in questions such as what notions of algorithmic fairness actually enable efficient audits and repair," she said. "I also want to understand when we can allow our regulatory bodies to propose changes to models without potentially making these models exploitable."

Ama Koranteng, a fourth-year doctoral student in Computer Science, said she attended the talk to learn more about how Sorrell was studying replicability from a theoretical lens.

"One of my big takeaways is there are a lot of questions that need to be answered about the replicability of these [machine learning] algorithms," she said in an interview with The News-Letter. "I was almost intimidated by the number of issues that seemed to exist, but it's cool seeing that there are theoretically based approaches to answering these questions and ensuring their workability."


Jessica Sorrell highlighted the different reasons why machine learning algorithms might be difficult to replicate.

<![CDATA[Book recommendations: Love is (still) in the air (kind of)]]> Just because the Day of Love™ has passed doesn't mean you need to be missing Valentine's Day. Here are some book recommendations, in no particular order, to remind you that love doesn't have to come around just once a year!

Before we get into it, I should preface: Some of these recommendations are customary to what you would expect to find on a romance "To Be Read," and some are a little unusual. All that means is that there's something here for everyone! Even if you're not someone who tends to pick up a stereotypical romance, I implore you to carry on reading, because you might find something here that's right up your alley.

1. Pride and Prejudice or Persuasion, by Jane Austen

I couldn't write a romance book recommendations article without starting with the queen of romance herself, and the two that I'm nominating here are my favorites from the British novelist's bibliography. If you're looking for an enemies-to-lovers book, look no further than the classic Pride and Prejudice. Having popularized the trope, the novel is intentional in slowly building the relationship between Lizzy and Mr. Darcy, so you definitely won't be left wondering where the "enemies" part fits in. On the other hand, if you're seeking something more along the lines of exes-to-lovers, Persuasion is the perfect pick. Hold out for that final letter-writing scene… it's worth it.

2. The Flatshare, by Beth O'Leary

There are a lot of romance books out there that just throw the protagonists together so that they're suddenly in love. In The Flatshare, however, our couple doesn't even meet until about halfway through the book, communicating instead via Post-It notes left around their flat (not only do they share a flat, they share a bed - yes, it's the one-bed trope, but not in the way you think). Personally, I'm obsessed with this fresh take on a meet-cute. Even more than that, I really appreciated that Tiffy and Leon had their own lives going on; there was more to the book than just their relationship. I read this in one afternoon, and you can bet it had me giggling.

3. The Broken Wings, by Khalil Gibran

My Goodreads account will prove that I reread this book at least once a year, if not more, just to feel something! This book is both heartwarming and heartbreaking. Set at the turn of the 20th century in Beirut, Lebanon, The Broken Wings follows the tender courtship of a young man and his first love, the gentle and angelic Selma - though Selma has been promised to another man. Gibran's writing is beautifully poetic and really makes you believe in true, honest and faithful love. I would really recommend reading this a few times (it's quite short) to be able to pick up on Gibran's lyricism. Disclaimer: Bring along your tissues.

4. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, by Patrick Süskind

I'll be honest. This is the book that I had in mind when writing my introduction. Is it a little misleading to include this in a list of book recommendations titled "Love is (still) in the air"? Maybe. But that's where the "(kind of)" comes in. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is set in 18th-century France and opens with the birth of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, an orphan with an extraordinary sense of smell. In this novel, love translates into obsession, compulsion and mania. Grenouille's only aim is to chase the next best scent, and he will do anything to bottle it up (literally), including murder. Keep your mind open while reading this; some of this is genuinely disgusting, but there's a lot to be learned about the human psyche.

5. The Stationery Shop, by Marjan Kamali

This isn't a typical romance book recommendation either. It is political, often lonely and painful and the couple does not end up together (this isn't a spoiler). But, there is also sincere love here. Told from the perspective of an elderly Roya, the novel reminisces on her early romance with Bahman, whose courtship began in Mr. Fakhri's stationery shop amid the political turmoil of 1953 Tehran. The leading question throughout this novel is: Why aren't Roya and Bahman still together? The Stationary Shop explores themes of womanhood, revolution, family and society, all while reminding us that sometimes, though love wasn't enough, it doesn't mean it wasn't worth it.


Mulani provides a diverse range of book recommendations to keep the spirit of love alive after Valentine's Day.

<![CDATA[U.S. Department of Education opens Title VI investigation into alleged anti-semitism on Hopkins campus]]> Editor's Note: This is a developing story and will be updated as more information becomes available.

The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) initiated an investigation into the University on Tuesday, Feb. 13 over its alleged failure to respond to campus anti-semitism, which is in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Title VI prohibits discrimination based on one's race, color or national origin, including harassment based on a person's shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics. As a higher institution receiving federal financial assistance from the Department, the University's potential violation of Title VI is within the jurisdiction of OCR.

In an email to The News-Letter, a University spokesperson emphasized the University's commitment to upholding its core values through enforcing University policy and the student code of conduct.

"Johns Hopkins University abhors anti-Semitism and discrimination of any kind. We strive to foster a safe, respectful, and inclusive environment for each member of our community," they wrote. "As an academic community, we are guided by the principles of academic freedom and the right to free expression for every member of our community, including their right to protest, demonstrate and share their views."

The investigation adds the University to a growing list of institutions currently under Title VI shared ancestry investigations. OCR first announced the list on Nov. 16, 2023 after increasing reports of discrimination on university and K-12 campuses following the breakout of the Israel-Hamas war on Oct. 7. The initial list included seven K-12 schools and institutions of higher education facing complaints that included both antisemitic and anti-Muslim harassment.

Since then, OCR has added 58 additional institutions to the list, including Harvard University, Northwestern University, Yale University, Brown University, Stanford University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Hopkins is part of the most recent batch of institutions added to the list, along with Jefferson Parish Schools, Pacific Lutheran University, Natick Public Schools and Chicago Public Schools.

The investigation emerged from a complaint filed by conservative newspaper Campus Reform Editor-in-Chief Zachary Marschall, who has previously filed similar complaints against a number of institutions. According to an article published in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Marschall claims that his complaints are grounded in his conversations with Jewish college students, who are too scared to file complaints themselves. An article published in Campus Reform explains the foundations of Marschall's complaint against Hopkins in particular.

"[The] University has not done enough to respond to anti-Semitism on campus, which is leaving Jewish students feeling 'unwelcome and unsafe,'" the article wrote.

The article does not include details of the complaint, but it makes references to two open letters written by University faculty and Teachers and Researchers United calling for a ceasefire. The article points out that the faculty letter received praise from The Maryland office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which Campus Reform claims has connections to Hamas.

According to the letter from OCR to Marschall regarding the complaint, Marschall also alleged that Hopkins failed to respond to incidents of harassment during the 2023-24 school year. However, the letter does not provide further information on the specifics of the incidents.

In an email to The News-Letter, senior Yael Klucznik, a member of Hopkins Hillel, emphasized that the complaint came unexpectedly for the Jewish community at Hopkins.

"Initially, we had no idea as to how or why this complaint was filed, especially because it did not come from Hopkins students themselves," she wrote. "Some students are upset because this investigation can sound inflammatory, and as though antisemitism on our campus is thriving. We are worried the investigation can portray Jewish student life as worse than it actually is, and drive away Jewish prospective students."

Yet, Klucznik conveyed that she is personally grateful for the investigation to be taking place. From her perspective, although the situation at Hopkins is not as violent and prominent as other universities, the University has not properly addressed nor held affiliates responsible for antisemitic remarks.

In their email, the University spokesperson explained that while they do not have the full details of the complaint yet, they will cooperate fully with OCR to review any allegations. The spokesperson acknowledged reports of anti-semitism in the past school year and shed light on the University's investigation process.

"Our campuses have not been immune to the rise in religious hate that has occurred around the nation and the world in recent months," they wrote. "We too have seen an increase in reports of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia since last October, including incidents of anti-Semitic graffiti on our campuses. We take these reports very seriously and refer them for review and investigation by our Office of Institutional Equity."

Klucznik shared her personal experience with the Office of Institutional Equity (OIE) in recent months.

"Over the last four months I have experienced severe bullying and antisemitic tropes that were reported both to the Office of Institutional Equity and to a national recording site called hate.org. OIE has stated that my incidents do not fall within their definition of harassment," she wrote. "OIE has also failed to recognize the definition of antisemitism and has abstained from using the word in all of its reviews."

Klucznik also found that many other Hopkins students shared her experience.

"Many other Jewish students have faced harassment and doxxing, where through a similar experience their cases were dismissed by OIE," she wrote. "That's why I think this investigation will put pressure on our university to do more to protect Jewish students, and it will hopefully bring to light so many cases that were thrown under the rug."


The University faces a Title VI investigation over alleged mishandling of anti-semitism reports on campus.

<![CDATA[Hopkins graduate student union organizes picket protest]]> The University's graduate student union Teachers and Researchers United (TRU-UE) hosted a picket protest in front of Homewood Campus on Tuesday, Feb. 20. Members protested for a better contract with the University, with provisions including better compensation and the establishment of a closed union shop.

TRU-UE is affiliated with United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE), a nationwide trade union with over 35,000 members. Union members picketed with signs from both UE and TRU during their protest.

Organizers of the event led practice pickets around the front of campus, with union members holding signs and chanting for fair compensation. The event organizers gave speeches and read complaints from fellow union members regarding the University's administration.

One of the lead organizers, Janvi Madhani, explained the purpose of the picket and their disagreements with University administration in an interview with The News-Letter.

"Our members of TRU-UE, which represents over 3,400 graduate workers at Hopkins, are demonstrating for a fair contract," she said. "We have three demands for this picket. We will not settle for a contract that does not meet the demands of a union shop, the recognition of our work as work and fair compensation in the form of fair wages and benefits."

Other union members commented on the importance of these three provisions, especially the creation of a union shop. This would enforce union membership for all graduate students at Hopkins within an agreed upon time period.

Madhani, a fourth-year graduate student in Physics and Astronomy, further commented how the union has been in negotiations with the University for almost nine months. No deal has been agreed upon, as she claimed the University has been stalling on the Union's three core previsions.

Madhani also spoke about the importance of unions for graduate students, commenting on unsafe working conditions and other issues.

"The whole reason we unionized is because existing University structures fail to protect graduate workers. Without a union, we have no way of having a fair say in our working conditions, ranging from unsafe lab environments and abusive advisors to discrimination in the workplace," she said. "Almost 86% of our membership is rent burdened, meaning we're not able to make a fair wage. When we bring these up through existing University procedures, we are ignored. We had to collectively organize together to meet these demands as a union."

In an interview with The News-Letter, union member Andrew Eneim voiced his displeasure with the University administration and failure of previous negotiations.

"After bargaining for nine months and over 40 negotiation sessions, we still don't have [a] contract and we're not getting the progress that we should from a world class institution like this," he said. "We should be able to be treated as world class employees."

TRU-UE picketed at the Hopkins East Baltimore campus earlier in the day. They were joined by dozens of union members, as well as supporters from the local community and other unions affiliated with Hopkins.

Justin Otter, an event organizer, explained the union's support from other Baltimore organizations in an interview with The News-Letter.

"We've had hundreds of [graduate] workers here at Hopkins show up, in addition to some folks from other unions that are represented on campus, like Unite Here, which represents food service workers who work in the dining halls here at Hopkins," he said. "We're trying to bring together not only our own members, but use their collective power of organized labor throughout Baltimore, [and] the community."

Otter highlighted that this event was a practice picket, meaning that the union was not on strike. If a strike were to occur, passersby would be asked not to cross the picket. The union has not released a statement on whether they plan to organize a strike.

Following the announcement of the picket, the Hopkins administration agreed to begin another round of negotiations with TRU-UE. Otter was hopeful about the changes that the new round of negotiations could bring and claimed that the union's activities had spurred the University's willingness to negotiate.

"They caught wind of this picket [and] scheduled some last minute additional bargaining sessions. We know they're afraid of us," he said. "We know that we have power in the collective. Every time we've done actions [like] rallies, marches and testimonials, there's been commensurate movement at the table. And if there's not, we're ready to escalate our fight."

Otter encouraged undergraduate students to stand alongside union members in picketing and protesting against University administration.

TRU-UE, which has existed for almost a decade, has previously been successful in negotiating terms for graduate students, such as better health and safety standards. The union plans to enter another round of negotiations with the University administration soon, with an official date and time to be announced.


Graduate student union leaders gave speeches and organized a picket line for a better a better contract.

<![CDATA[SGA discusses initiatives to connect with student body]]> The Student Government Association (SGA) convened for its weekly meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 20.

Black Caucus Senator Tyler Turner proposed possible strategies to integrate SGA into student life with a presentation titled Making Connections. Some ideas outlined were giveaway events and Senator Chats - 15-minute conversations between SGA members and students to discuss improvements for issues on campus in a natural manner.

Chair of Programming Shalala Leny introduced the SGA Storytelling Event Funding Bill, which will provide funds for an event in which school administrators would share their stories with SGA members. The bill was tabled.

Leny also presented the SGA Closet Organization Funding Bill, which aims to organize the SGA Closet. Senior Class Senator Mufasa Cruz Moreno pointed out that the issue about the storage was raised multiple times before, so action should be taken as soon as possible. The bill passed unanimously.


Black Caucus Senator Tyler Turner suggested that SGA should engage in casual conversations with students about their concerns.

<![CDATA[University leadership seeks to abolish elected faculty body]]> When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, the Johns Hopkins University campus shut down. Students fled home. The libraries locked their doors. Labs closed. Research ground to a halt.

The pandemic affected everyone, but for untenured assistant professors, it was a potentially career-ending event. Hopkins, like most research-intensive universities, has an up or out system: Faculty hired onto the tenure track have six years to prove themselves by their scholarship, teaching and service. They are either promoted with tenure, or they lose their jobs.

The stakes were high not just for individual faculty, but also for the institution. We had hired the best and brightest faculty, including more female faculty and underrepresented minority assistant professors than ever. We risked losing a generation of scholars - the University's future - if we could not find ways to help get their research programs back on track.

On the Homewood Campus, it fell to a body called the Homewood Academic Council to develop a set of policies to support our faculty. The Academic Council dates from the University's founding, a creation of Daniel Coit Gilman himself. Over the decades, this group of elected faculty has worked closely with the University's president, provost, deans and senior administration to oversee matters related to curriculum, faculty appointments and promotion, department quality and much more.

Although the provost and deans attend Academic Council meetings, only elected faculty vote. It's a unique quirk of Hopkins governance, one that few if any of our peer institutions share. This dynamic empowers faculty here at Hopkins and makes them equal partners with the administration in developing and overseeing academic policy. Indeed, many longtime faculty credit the Homewood Academic Council with giving our campus its unique culture of collaboration and interdisciplinarity, plus its sense of intellectual community.

So when, in the spring of 2020, the provost and deans proposed an immediate one-year extension of the tenure clock, they could not enact that policy by themselves. It took a vote of the Homewood Academic Council to make it official.

The Council realized a one-year extension was not enough, however. To develop an appropriate response, the Council decided - on its own authority - to study the issue and propose a set of mitigation strategies. We convened several meetings, inviting assistant professors to share their experiences and suggestions. We surveyed the entire faculty. We met with department chairs.

We took our responsibilities seriously, as a body representing the faculty. Throughout this process, we worked collaboratively with the deans to develop policy. We built consensus and undertook a set of delicate negotiations with the deans' offices.

The solutions weren't perfect - there was no perfect solution to the challenges posed by the pandemic - and it's hard to know how junior faculty experienced the process. But I like to think that, at the very least, our efforts sent a message about the kind of institution we are: a group of empowered faculty that cares about its colleagues, works to build policy from the ground up and does not leave major decisions regarding faculty status to overburdened deans who don't always see the University as faculty do.

But it wasn't just COVID-19 policy that the Academic Council oversaw.

Some years ago, when covered grades were abolished for first-year undergraduates, the decision came before the Academic Council. It took an affirmative vote of elected faculty to make the policy official.

When we noticed disparities in promotion files for teaching and research track faculty - those not on the tenure track - the Academic Council created a working group to collaborate with the deans and create a new policy to better standardize untenured career tracks. Here again, it took a vote of the Academic Council to make the new standards official.

When colleagues asked for information about gender pay disparities, we convened administrators who could share data with us, making them aware that this was an issue of concern to us.

When we decided that departments should add a section on their diversity efforts in their self-studies, we consulted with the deans and voted to change existing policies.

When we streamlined the existing promotions process, changing it from a two-step to a one-step process to dramatically speed it up, we discussed the changes extensively, built consensus and enacted the new policy.

We faculty could do these things - we were empowered to enact policy this way - because faculty votes matter in the Academic Council. It takes a motion, a second and a majority vote to make academic policy. Even the agenda of Academic Council meetings are set in a meeting between the secretary (an elected faculty member), the provost and deans.

This is not faculty governance; it is shared governance. The deans and provost always occupy a central place in crafting academic policy. Given their function executing the University's academic mission, the deans and the provost must support any policy for it to succeed. Because a faculty vote is required to make policy at Hopkins, however, administrators must work collaboratively. They have to build consensus: to negotiate, deliberate and persuade us. When they fail to persuade, they cannot simply change academic policy on their own authority.

The Homewood Academic Council, as I experienced it, thus embodied the principles articulated by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP): Universities are bound together by "an inescapable interdependence among governing board, administration, faculty, students, and others," and governance is therefore "based on community of interest and producing joint effort."

Shared governance means that in some matters - the maintenance of institutional resources, for example, or the allocation of endowment investments - the University's president and board of trustees will have primary responsibility. In other areas, however - particularly those related to curriculum, research and faculty status - faculty hold primary authority.

Alas, this system of shared governance at Hopkins is now under assault.

Late last year, Dean Ed Schlesinger of the Whiting School of Engineering (WSE) and President Ronald J. Daniels coordinated a public exchange of letters with the aim of dissolving the Homewood Academic Council. In mid-November, Dean Schlesinger wrote to President Daniels requesting that the School of Engineering secede from the Academic Council. To replace it, he proposed three separate faculty advisory bodies for the Whiting School of Engineering.

Dean Schlesinger claimed that he "consulted with" the WSE Senate before requesting the split. What his letter failed to note, however, is that the Whiting Faculty Senate did not support a split at the time and has never voted in favor. Nor has Whiting faculty voted in a referendum to break apart the Homewood Council.

Nonetheless, President Daniels replied three weeks later, approving Dean Schlesinger's request, adding that his "proposed academic bodies for the school are part of an overall university structure that ultimately reports to the Provost, President and Board of Trustees."

Then, Dean Christopher Celenza of the School of Arts and Sciences followed suit last week - dispensing even with Dean Schlesinger's performance of faculty consultation. Without ever soliciting the opinion of elected faculty bodies, he wrote to President Daniels to "request that the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences (KSAS) be afforded the opportunity to do the same" as WSE, thus advocating a complete dissolution of the Academic Council.

Those of us who have been following changes in governance here at Hopkins have watched as President Daniels has, over his long presidency, accumulated power at the expense of other University constituencies. Even at an institution in which power has become centralized as it has at Hopkins, however, the idea that an epistolary exchange between a dean and university president could unilaterally dissolve an elected faculty body seems quite extraordinary.

In the past, changes to the Academic Council, including its composition, always ran through the Council itself - the body elected to represent the faculty. In the present, by contrast, they run around the Academic Council. The difference highlights a critical dimension of university governance: the distinction between a faculty body that serves a purely advisory role and one that is an equal partner with the administration in making academic policy.

The schools of Engineering and Arts and Sciences stand now at a critical juncture. Will elected faculty bodies continue to exercise power over matters of curriculum, research and faculty status, or will that power fall to the University's unelected administrators?

Dean Schlesinger, Dean Celenza and President Daniels have shown what system of governance they want to impose on Hopkins. Their actions speak very clearly.

Theirs is a University in which deans and president do not work with faculty but exercise power over them. It is a University in which matters of essential faculty prerogative can be decided without a faculty vote but by the mere performance of consultation - an optional one at that.

Their Johns Hopkins is a University in which deans and president can dissolve an elected faculty body as a king could once dissolve Parliament. In its stead, they appoint members to advisory committees of their creation, charged with hashing out the details of outcomes they have already determined.

Their Hopkins is an exquisitely hierarchical institution, where all power flows down from the top. It is, as President Daniels so eloquently wrote, "an overall university structure that ultimately reports to the Provost, President and Board of Trustees."

Their vision of the University stands in sharp contrast not just to AAUP principles, it also breaks with the traditions Daniel Coit Gilman established nearly 150 years ago when he helped build the country's first research university: an institution where faculty and administration would work together to create knowledge and train the next generation.

Dean Schlesinger and President Daniels have shown us what kind of University they want to create. In response, faculty will either bow down in cowed acquiescence or will stand and insist on their status as equal participants in university governance.

The next few months will determine which vision of our University prevails.

François Furstenberg is a professor of history at Hopkins, a former member of the Homewood Academic Council and current secretary of the University's AAUP chapter.

<![CDATA[SGA discussses community outreach]]> The Student Government Association (SGA) convened for its fourth meeting of the semester on Feb. 13. They began with a three minute moderated caucus to consider whether they had sufficient turnout to begin voting, as only 26 of 47 members were present. Since turnout was over 50%, it was decided that a quorum was present. SGA then initiated voting producers on the position of chief advisor, which was discussed in the last meeting. Through paper ballot voting, the motion was rejected by a vote of 13 against, 10 for and one abstaining.

SGA then moved on to cabinet reports. President Ryan Chou announced that a new Teams channel was created for upcoming speaker events. Vice President Jackson Morris also spoke on opportunities for Hopkins students to meet members of the Maryland State Legislature in conjunction with the Committee on Civic Engagement.

After, members were encouraged to volunteer for SGA's Valentine's Day Tabling event and to register for the Major Fair on Friday, Feb. 16. By the end of the meeting, 301 people had registered in total.

SGA played a video by Student Services. In the video, students around campus were asked about their opinions on SGA and how they handle student concerns. Common concerns among students in the video included inaccessibility to mental health services. Director Connie Weng then led a discussion on suggestions for updates to the SGA website. Members recommended ideas such as updating the website's front page and including a brief description of SGA's functions.

Finally, SGA initiated a first reading of the Spring 2024 Bylaws Update Bill. Discussions centered on amending the role of the SGA Vice President to increase clarity and distinguish the roles of the SGA President and Vice President. SGA also began the first reading on a second bill, the SGA Closet Organization Funding Bill Spring 2024. The bill will be voted on next week.


SGA watched a video by Student Services and brainstormed ways to alleviate student concerns.

<![CDATA[JHMI bus rides]]>

It takes roughly 40 minutes to get from Homewood Campus to the medical campus. Those are 40 minutes spent crowded among strangers as you sit through rush hour traffic, but they're also 40 minutes of freedom. 40 minutes where it would be incredibly inconvenient to pull a laptop out and start doing homework, so your only responsibility is to hang onto a railing and try not to fall.

I have come to see my commutes as reprieves - breaks in the middle of busy days. I often spend them gazing out the window, watching the scenery of a new city pass me by. The brick and cobblestone buildings are incredibly unlike the Floridian suburbs I'm used to back home, and I've loved watching the cityscape evolve as the seasons change. The bus rides' unlikely serenity has also made them the perfect space in which to write poetry. I've come to love taking this time to appreciate and write about my days and surroundings.

The bus rides are also intrinsically social. Hundreds of Hopkins students and affiliates use the JHMI as their main source of transportation, so it's no wonder I often encounter people I know during these rides. I love running into friends and spending the bus rides catching each other up on our days.

Despite being a shared hallmark of all our Hopkins experiences, though, most of the bus rides are spent in complete silence. We each get on, settle into a seat, put our earbuds in and bask in the awkwardness of this all. In many ways, it's a lost opportunity to connect with others who share our schedules and environments. Upon realizing this, I challenged myself to start talking to these strangers. I wanted to meet people in my community and learn about their stories.

Over the next few weeks, I tried to speak with the commuters who sat next to me. It was always intimidating to start conversations, especially when doing so meant disturbing the quiet peace of the bus, but I was surprised by how open most people were to these discussions. I spoke with people from all walks of life, from students to senior citizens. I talked to freshmen taking the route for the first time and nurses with years of experience. I met a magazine salesman on his way to the campus bookstore and a student-volunteer who had just watched a stent removal procedure for the first time. At one point, I even ended up in a conversation with my biology professor's husband!

Some of these people came to Baltimore from across the world, and I even had conversations in foreign languages. We spoke about our cultures, our hometowns and our future goals. I learned about the degree programs that brought these people to Hopkins and about the struggles and achievements of their time here.

I got glimpses into their lives, from the seminars they had seen that day to the research they were working on. These strangers taught me about cognitive science and hematology - about ophthalmology and business.

Over time, I began to ask people for general advice or life lessons. I received all kinds of responses: to stay safe, work hard and follow my gut. One recent graduate even launched into a conversation about getting into medical school, where he emphasized the importance of "building yourself, not just your resume." However, the most common response to this question was about networking. People shared the joys of connecting with strangers and meeting others of all backgrounds - precisely what this endeavor of mine was meant to do.

These conversations built community between us. They often transcended the interviews for The News-Letter they began as, and evolved into a way for strangers to connect. Some of the conversations turned into group discussions, and they carried on without my involvement for the rest of the ride. I also ran back into people I'd spoken with, and it was great to wave at familiar faces.

So, next time you take the bus, take a moment to talk to those around you. We're all busy, but it's often worth taking a break from our work to focus on our communities. And if you see me, come say "hi" - I'd love to hear your story.

Sara Kaufman is a freshman from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. majoring in Biomedical Engineering. Her column focuses on the experiences she's had and lessons she's learned outside the classroom.


Kaufman reflects on her experiences talking to strangers on the JHMI.

<![CDATA[ Cities should be made more walkable and pedestrian-friendly]]> A city gets its personality from its people - likewise, people are heavily influenced by where they call home. In the complexity of modern life, we often forget about this simple, symbiotic relationship - what we give to our city is what we get. In this light, making cities more walkable and pedestrian-friendly gives back to a city that has already given us so much. Walkable infrastructure would reduce the cloud of dust and carbon by reducing the number of vehicles on the road, while also providing pedestrians with the opportunity to enjoy the cities culture and history in a different way. While my romanticized aspirations for walkable infrastructure giving life to a city may sound fanciful, there are indeed tangible health and economic benefits of building more walkable cities: cleaner air and less congestion as well as economic mobility for historically marginalized communities.

The American metropolitan centers were always designed to facilitate car traffic, with little room for pedestrians to walk. With the expansion of American urban spaces during the automotive boom of the early 1900s, infrastructure facilitating cars was the need of the hour. While this undoubtedly was a factor in the country's economic growth, it came at a price. There were more cars on roads that couldn't support them, and these cars contribute to climate change as carbon-producing hotspots. It is not surprising that, if the nearly 280 million cars, SUVS and pick-up trucks on American roads were its own "country," they would be the sixth-largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions in the world. A walkable community less dependent on cars could help mitigate the impact of transportation on climate change.

It is, however, unrealistic to direct everybody to abandon driving - no one is asking you to walk your 30-mile commute from your house in the suburbs to your office on main street (there's public transport for that!). It's shorter drives, to whatever destination, that possess the ability to be walkable. A pedestrian-friendly city, with protected sidewalks, proper crosswalks across major public roads and clear marked signs, could help promote folks to leave their gas guzzlers and walk their commute - if nothing else, just the thought of sitting in an unmoving car on Pratt Street at the exit of I-95 should be motivation enough! Not to mention the immense health benefits from walking, including reducing the burden of chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes, as outlined in a report by the Surgeon General of the United States. Fewer cars for shorter distances would reduce emissions, make our air cleaner and let those with longer commutes get on with their day!

In talking about public infrastructure, it would be remiss of me to not mention my undying love for public transportation. While you may see me sportingly don a Metro-themed holiday sweater on occasion or have had the bad luck of being subject to my intricate plans of getting to obscure destinations in the cheapest way possible, I would be doing a disservice to those affected if I didn't mention the state of transportation inequity. Baltimore is no stranger to a lack of transportation for historically marginalized communities - just pick up a bus map of the city one day and see where most buses are concentrated. A lack of transportation can be stifling to economic growth and can leave communities stuck in a cycle of poverty. Walkable infrastructure, while not a substitute for reliable public transportation, can be a form of equitable transport embraced by all. It will hopefully not be subject to partisan problems that have terminated projects for reasons only known to those in power.

Investing in walkable infrastructure, which adds to existing roads and doesn't require major engineering like light-rail or Metro projects, can bring back life to neighborhoods where residents may have also given up. By improving connectivity between hubs like grocery stores, medical centers and schools, while also greatly improving accessibility to small businesses, simple investment could see an absolute revitalization of neighborhoods. During my work with the 21st Century Cities Initiative at Hopkins, an organization that fields the annual Baltimore Area Survey, I learned, through analyzing people's responses in (now) publicly available data, the extent to which people have felt "let down" by infrastructure projects that see no fruition. It is truly disheartening to see the strain on relationships that a lack of access to transportation can create - a problem that can be alleviated through investment in equitable walking infrastructure.

Any progress towards change begins with accepting the problem first. If community leaders and government officials can accept that a car-centric 20th-century model of urban planning cannot work for a city with a growing population and many historically marginalized communities, we may finally see the improvements we so desperately need. It may not be the flashiest of improvements, but it's bound to not get in your way (whether you're driving, biking or walking). It has the potential to reduce cars on the road (with the optimistic in me hoping to see its effect on climate change), make us healthier and bring life to communities that need it the most. And if these reasons are not enough, if you'd indulge the romantic in me just one last time, what better way to take in a city than by walking through it?

Raghav Agrawal is a sophomore majoring in Economics and Environmental Studies from Mumbai, India.


Agrawal argues that making cities more walkable will provide health and economic benefits, as well as revitalize communities.

<![CDATA[On throwing yourself the perfect 21st birthday party]]> Celebrating your birthday in college can be a weird experience. When I was in elementary and middle school, my parents planned parties each year. They invited my friends and found fun activities for us to do together. As my sisters and I matured, these parties became family dinners or game nights with friends.

While I enjoyed and was grateful for those memories, my birthday was never a day I looked forward to in concrete terms. Birthdays are fun, but I looked forward to mine less than other holidays or family gatherings. Thus, when I got to college, I never emphasized my birthday. As a freshman, I awkwardly made cookies with some friends in the echoey Wolman kitchen. As a sophomore, I took my friend group to sushi and ice cream. While my second college birthday was far better than the first - mostly due to the people I was surrounded by - it was still a low-key experience.

However, for my 21st birthday, I knew I needed to go all out. While turning 21 is arbitrary, it is the rite of passage that fully marks you as an adult in American society: capable of voting, getting drafted into the military, and most importantly, legally getting drunk. This is not a responsibility to take lightly and requires proper preparations to do right. Here are my recommendations to craft your perfect experience.

Make sure that your friends will be there. While birthday parties are about celebrating the person whose birthday it is, they are also opportunities to tell those you care about how much they mean to you. We all exist in relationships with others, and my college experience has been irrevocably changed by my friends. Your birthday should be an opportunity to sing, dance, laugh and have fun with your friends.

Helpful Tip: If you want to become friends with someone, consider blindly inviting them to your birthday. What's the worst that could happen?

Pick a fun theme. Every party needs a theme, otherwise, it's just a casual get-together. No one wants a birthday casual get-together. So find something dumb, get some cute decorations, double down on it and refuse to elaborate when people ask questions. My 21st was themed around The Great Gatsby, clearly indicated by the note on the invitation that said: "Green Lights Encouraged, Not Required." If someone doesn't understand the theme, too bad. It's not my fault you didn't get through high school English.

Get food and drinks. While the focus should be on having a good time, food and drinks help - and are a must at a 21st birthday party. Get pizza, cake, candy, chips or whatever else you want. For drinks, the more the better. I personally enjoyed peach soju, tequila and prosecco - having a sparkly wine makes for a very dramatic moment at midnight. If you or any of your friends don't drink, that's ok, get non-alcoholic options like sparkling grape juice or cider, Diet Coke and lemonade (you need mixers anyway). Justify drinking so much with your grandfather's shot glasses or a game.

Take lots of photos. This is a night you want to remember - even if you aren't physically capable of remembering all of it. Take photos. Better yet, have someone else take photos. They'll probably do a better job than you would in this state anyway.

Do something unexplainable the night of. This is a 21st birthday party, don't be sober. Furthermore, savor the relaxed mental state and do something goofy that will make no sense to anyone the next day. For example, suppose a friend comes to your party with a green cloak - following your encouragement to bring a green light. Get really excited by the thought of wearing a cloak, run back to your bedroom and offer $20 for the cloak on the spot. If they say no, bully them into it. Frankly, it's rude to bring a cloak into someone's house and not give it to them.

Helpful Tip: It's ok, even encouraged, to beg for your money back the next day. It's rude to take money from your friends when they're drunk. And yes, the cloak still belongs to you.

Have a good playlist. You need music to craft the perfect vibe for your party. If this is your talent, go all out making the perfect playlist. It's not mine. Stealing a playlist from a party you went to in September also works. Just make sure that there are niche songs on there to cater to different friend groups.

Make a drunken toast. Make sure to tell all of your friends how much it means to you that they are in your life. While you would be 21 with or without them, it is the people who surround you that make the night worth celebrating. The less prepared the speech the better - speak from the heart. Your friends will know your intentions even as your words slur.

Hopefully, these suggestions make your 21st as meaningful as mine. Birthdays are kind of dumb but if there's an opportunity to treat yourself and your friends to a good night, I can't recommend it enough.

Happy birthday! Have fun and drink responsibly!

Zachary Bahar does not condone excessive drinking.


Your 21st should be a special one - just make sure you prepare enough food for everyone!

<![CDATA[Hypothesis testing in lab and on the slopes]]>

As I stood at the top of a ski slope in a terrain park, I looked down upon the 20-foot jump that my friends and I wanted to hit. One critical question arose in my head: How fast should we hit the jump?

For those of you who didn't grow up surrounded by snow or haven't tried out park skiing, hitting a jump in the park has two important caveats - you should never overshoot or undershoot. Hitting it too fast will lead to overshooting, which can send you flying past the landing and result in knee pain or even an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury. Hitting it too slowly will lead to undershooting, which means landing too early and slamming onto the "knuckle." This can hurt a lot, trust me, but, determined to find the sweet spot and make it back home without any knee pain, I asked the skier next to me.

"Just send it at a medium-ish pace," he replied.

The rising scientist in me knew that the answer wasn't so simple. From my experiences in research, I knew that I shouldn't leave the fate of my knees up to chance. Instead, I should understand the science that can justify the most optimal speed to take off in order to land safely.

How did I find an answer to this question? Let me share my research experience at Hopkins with you.

In the summer after freshman year, I joined Xinzhong Dong's lab, where we have been investigating Mas-related G-protein coupled receptors. With no prior wet lab experience, I was really intimidated by the thought of entering into a space dedicated to scientific research.

However, after spending around half a year in the lab, I realized that research is not that daunting. The research process can actually be found in everyday life - including skiing.

Research is precise. To generate reliable and accurate data, each step must be nicely controlled to isolate the effects you aim to measure. Furthermore, this process should be reproducible to yield the same results. The need for precision in scientific research means there is little room for human errors, demanding meticulousness and patience.

How did I apply this to the slopes? Through observing other skiers and reflecting on my past experiences, I hypothesized that speed was important in a successful landing. I quantified it as the number of turns I made before hitting the jump, which is easy to measure for multiple trials. After observing other skiers, I refined my hypothesis that the optimal speed to hit the jump would require two small turns before full sending to the takeoff.

Research can be high risk sometimes. The samples you are working with can be the accumulating result of months of work. One slip or addition of the wrong reagent means that all the culminating work might need to be redone. Therefore, it is always important to be careful when running experiments because scientific resources are limited and valuable.

Nevertheless, taking risks can still be crucial in research. Like my favorite catchphrase in skiing - "Full send or nothing" - once you think you have sorted everything out, go for it. It can be daunting to pipette your first reagents into cell samples, and running an experiment independently is definitely not a small feat. But if you never take the first step, you will never be able to perform an experiment or make any new findings!

Similar to research, skiing also requires taking risks. After refining my hypothesis, it was time for me to test whether two small turns preceding the jump would result in a successful landing. Although I was risking the possibility of hurting my knees, I would never know the feasibility of my hypothesis until I experimented with it myself.

Research happens in a collaborative environment that encourages collective efforts. In fact, the crucial point of research is to build on and contribute to an existing pool of literature. Researchers communicate with each other all the time through conferences, journal publishing or just a casual lunchroom conversation. Researchers must elaborate on scientific findings and articulate their implications in a way that is accessible to a broad audience. After all, research leads to new information and spreads these findings to expand human knowledge, and none of that can be achieved by a single person.

The ski park is also a collaborative space like the research community. After successfully landing my jump after making two small turns, I knew that my hypothesis-testing process could help my friends hit that jump. Therefore, I shared my experience to help them find the right speed at which they should hit the jumps.

Through my research experience at Hopkins, I have not only debunked my initial hesitations about scientific research but also gained a greater appreciation for scientists' tremendous contribution to expanding our current understanding of the world. I also learned that the processes and skills I developed in research are omnipresent throughout our everyday lives. So perhaps my thoughts and reflection can inspire you to also get involved in research or to employ what you have learned in your research experience in your everyday life!

Research on the Record spotlights undergraduate students involved in STEM research at Hopkins. The goal of the column is to share reflections on the highs and lows that Hopkins students experience in their contributions to undergraduate research. If you are an undergraduate researcher interested in being profiled, reach out to science@jhunewsletter.com.


Miao shares her discovery of the parallels between two of her interests, research and skiing.

<![CDATA[A surreal portrayal of marriage in Peabody Chamber Opera's performance of Svadba]]> If you're like me, you're getting to the age where, just every once in a while, someone you knew from school gets married. Just this morning, I saw a post from a girl I was close friends with back in elementary school celebrating her marriage. I was shocked. In my memory she's still a child, just a little girl with pigtails and glasses, and now she's starting a whole new phase of her life. This terrifying and exciting transition from girlhood to womanhood, and the role of marriage as the boundary between the two, is explored in Ana Sokolović's contemporary opera Svadba.

Svadba was performed by the Peabody Chamber Opera at Theatre Project on the weekend of Feb. 16-Feb. 18. The opera is Serbian, and in Serbian, Svadba translates to "marriage." The story follows a bride-to-be, Milica (played by Celine Mogielnicki in the performance I saw), and her five bridesmaids on the night before the wedding.

The opera was strange and surreal. The story is told in a non-linear way, a collection of vignettes of the six women excitedly getting ready for the wedding. At times it felt like I was being enchanted by a group of mystical witches. At other times, it felt like I was just watching a group of young women giddily spending a night hanging out, chatting and getting ready for a big celebration. I felt drunk on the music, ungrounded from reality and utterly captivated.

This opera is sung a cappella, meaning largely without an orchestra or other backing instruments. But there are actually very few intelligible words and sentences in the opera at all. Much of what is sung by the singers are simple sentences that overlap each other or are sung in rounds, with the words themselves unintelligible. Each word, each fragment of language, is instead enlivened by its sound rather than its literal meaning. For example, at one point, all the performers sang a whole section of a song with just the words "zigga zigga," which created an interesting sonic texture.

The music itself was dissonant and beautiful. It was difficult to pick out different melodies (this is definitely not the kind of opera where tunes get stuck in your head), but the textures and interestingly dissonant chords were entrancing. There were moments where the singers sounded like slide whistles or ambulance sirens, others where they sang while blowing raspberries. At one point, the bride and her oldest friend (McKey Monroe) were almost hissing at each other during an argument.

They also incorporated percussive elements into the mix at times. They stamped their feet, banged metal utensils against bowls, tipped rainsticks and blew on small ocarina-like instruments. All of these different elements made it unlike any musical performance I'd ever seen before.

In an interview with The News-Letter, graduate student Eden Bartholomew, who played Danica the maid of honor, spoke about the unique challenges that came with the nonsense words incorporated into the opera.

"I would say the most challenging part and the most fun was getting to make unconventional sounds and instill meaning into them," Bartholomew said. "And to get them to have subtext so that people will understand what we're saying even if we're not saying words."

Over the course of the performance, we see moments where the women portray different stages of their lives. Their girlish selves were portrayed in moments where they played patty cake on stage, when they teased each other and bound around on the stage and when they held hands to dance in a circle. We also get glimpses of young adulthood, like seeing the girls going out and having an encounter with a group of men, but the majority of the focus is on those sweet girlhood years. And we see the beginnings of womanhood in moments where Milica is left alone in the middle of the stage, her bridesmaids' backs turned from her, as she looks ahead to leaving her family and starting a new life.

On the website where the score can be purchased, Sokolović described the importance of weddings in her composer's note.

"A wedding is an important turning point in every woman's life, usually steeped in tradition and always signifying change and juncture. Milica's rite of passage is universal, an archetype of human experience," Sokolović wrote.

The opera characterizes marriage as a cause for mourning. The phrases "I am my mother's only child" and "Our friend, you are leaving us" were sung several times during the opera in piercing, haunting tones. It's the end of the carefree friendships of girlhood.

But marriage is also something to embrace. At the end of the opera, Mogielnicki gives a long and haunting aria as Milica. In it, her voice is stunningly powerful and strong. It filled the entire space of the theater with its rich sound. The piece was sung calmly and steadily, and yet, with an undercurrent of something that was wondering and mournful and hopeful all at once. And maybe that's what marriage is.

It goes without saying that the singing was excellent. This is the Peabody Institute after all. But throughout the whole opera, I was shocked at the sheer quantity of words and sounds the singers had needed to memorize. I never heard a single misplaced note. And while these singers were creating this mind-boggling music and quality of tone, they were also acting and hitting their marks in the choreography. The choreography was wonderfully dynamic as well, and the costume design was great.

I wonder though, in a world where people are waiting longer and longer to get married, is marriage still the same marker of transition to womanhood as it once was? Svadba originally came out in 2011, so it's a fairly contemporary piece. Though the small traditions of the night before marriage - the late night conversations, excitedly getting ready, the feeling of nervousness - may never change, so much else about how we see marriage is changing. Maybe marriage is no longer the boundary between girlhood and womanhood as it used to be. However, it's still a monumental transition in people's lives.

Svadba is a surreal, beautiful opera about growing up and leaving the life you once knew. It was definitely strange (the friends I went with compared it to Midsommar except without the horror), but I loved it. Whether you get married right out of high school or are happy to stay single your whole life, I think that the themes and emotions will find a way to resonate with everyone.


Svadba culminates in the marriage of Milica, as her bridesmaids look on, singing her into the beginning of a new life.

<![CDATA[This weekend in Blue Jay Sports: Feb. 16-18th]]> This past week has been incredible for Blue Jay sports across all modalities! Join us as we discuss some of this weekend's sporting events and look at what's next for our teams.

Women's lacrosse (WLAX): W (17-13)

Women's lacrosse continued their outstanding run in the championship with a 17-13 away win over Duke University this weekend. The team shone at Koskinen Stadium with several players achieving a multi-point game: Junior Ashley Mackin topped the board with five points (4 goals, 1 assist), while graduate student Bailey Cheetham (2 goals, 2 assists) and Ava Angello (3 goals, 1 assist) earned four each. Congratulations to Hopkins WLAX on their great start to the season!

Men's lacrosse (MLAX): W (13-7)

The men's lacrosse team hosted Loyola University Maryland at Homewood Field this weekend for the 60th installment of this fan-favorite game. Hopkins inaugurated the scoring in the first quarter with 6:19 left in regulation, with an unassisted goal from sophomore Matt Collison. Overall, the Blue Jays had 45 shots on target, with 30 of those being shots on goal. A fourth quarter drive gave the Jays a comfortable lead, as Hopkins scored three times with less than three minutes left in regulation. Graduate student Jacob Angelus topped the score sheet with three goals and four assists as the Jays took a 13-7 home win.

Women's tennis (WTEN): W (9-0), W (4-3), W (9-0)

Our women's tennis team met Muhlenberg College this Saturday in Pennsylvania, walking away with a perfect win record. The Blue Jays dominated the score board, winning all three of their doubles matches (8-1, 8-0, 8-0), as well as all of the single games. Our athletes then traveled to Lehigh University, where they won four of the six singles matches to secure a 4-3 win. The team then went on to win 9-0 against Franklin & Marshall College, bringing their tally up to 150 consecutive wins in the Centennial Conference!

This strong start to the season comes after a preseason vote, where Hopkins WTEN was elected the favorite to win the Centennial Conference.

Men's tennis (MTEN): W (8-1)

Men's tennis also had a great weekend, kicking off the season with a 8-1 over Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania. Additionally, senior Daniel Ardila is now ranked a joint 25th in Centennial Conference history with 44 doubles wins, as well as 73 total career wins. Hopkins MTEN also received recognition in this season's preseason vote, gaining three first-place votes and finishing with a predicted second place in the conference.

Women's basketball (WBB): W (71-57)

Hopkins women's basketball bested Swarthmore College at the Goldfarb Gym after an outstanding performance by sophomore guard Elisabeth Peebles as they celebrated their Senior Day. She racked up 32 points, a career-best performance, and was joined in the scoresheet by sophomore Kendall Dunham (11 points) and junior Jadyn Murray (10 points). The Blue Jays, who won a shared title with Gettysburg College, were awarded the No. 1 seed position, meaning Hopkins will host the forthcoming Centennial Conference championship for the second time in a row.

Men's basketball (MBB): L (70-71)

Hopkins men's basketball narrowly missed out on a win on Senior Day, after a late game winner sent the Swarthmore College Phoenixes ahead. After a layup by junior John Windley with 10 seconds left on the clock gave the Blue Jays a one point lead, Swarthmore organized a quick response, sending a rapid inbound attack that took the win with less than two seconds to spare. The result awarded Hopkins with the No. 2 seed in the Centennial Conference - stay tuned for the semifinal game next week!

Women's swimming (WSWIM) at the Blue Jay Invitational:

Led by an outstanding performance from its juniors, the Hopkins women's swimming team had an inspiring weekend at the Blue Jay Invitational here at Homewood Campus. To start, Kristin Cornish posted an automatic qualifying time in the 1650 Free, which also set a new pool record. Then, fellow junior Cameron Roche won the 200 Back event, setting an NCAA B time of 2:01.91, followed by a strong performance by Taylor Rohovit that earned her a win in the 200 Breast and an NCAA qualifying time. Freshman Julia Tuinman, junior Hannah Fu and freshman Kate Petitt also posted career-best times.

Men's Swimming (MSWIM) at the Blue Jay Invitational:

Hopkins men's swimming established three new NCAA times and four new pool records in their last home meet of the season. In the first event of the day - the 200 Medley Relay - freshman Andrew Gilbert, sophomore Avery Clapp, senior Jay Heymann and sophomore Christian Mayr swept to victory and broke the first record. The next record was broken by graduate student Ike Shirakata, whose performance in the 200 Individual Medley also posted a NCAA B time. Later in the afternoon, senior Kellen Roddy made the second NCAA time as he broke the pool record in the 1650 Freestyle, followed by the last record of the day as graduate student Brandon Stride won the 200 Breast with a NCAA qualifying time of 2:01.55.

Keep an eye out for the Hopkins swimming teams at the 2024 NCAA Championship, which is set to take place from March 20-23!

Women's Fencing (WFENCE): 6W

Hopkins women's fencing crushed it at their event this weekend, winning an incredible six out of six matches. The weekend started with a stunning 20-7 win against the host team (Drew University), before going on to beat Hunter College and Vassar College by 24-3 and 19-8. Our athletes finished the day off with a shutout win over Yeshiva University, as well as wins against the Stevens Institute of Technology and Wellesley College to bring home another Eastern Women's Fencing Conference Championship! Our congratulations to the team for their amazing performance and hard work!

Men's Fencing (MFENCE): 4W, 1L

Men's fencing traveled to the Stevens Institute of Technology this weekend and won an impressive four out of five of their matches. The team closed out their day with two shutout wins against both Yeshiva University and the Army, followed by a 26-1 win against the Navy. After this Sunday's events, sophomore Spencer Grossman Smisek now ranks 24th in Hopkins history with 160 foil wins. Be on the lookout for the MFENCE team as they travel to the Temple Invitational in Pennsylvania a week from now!


Hopkins Women's Fencing won their fifth consecutive EWFC title in a row, as Hopkins Sports dominated across the country.

<![CDATA[New paper demonstrates link between black holes and early star formation]]> Supermassive black holes have long fascinated physicists and astronomers. Almost every large galaxy has a supermassive black hole located at its center, and with solar masses ranging from 100,000 to billions or even hundreds of billions, these structures bind galaxies. As gas falls ontoits accretion disks, it heats up and releases powerful waves of electromagnetic energy. How do these cosmic maelstroms emerge? What could enable their formation?

An international group of cosmologists led by Homewood Professor of Physics and Astronomy Joseph Silk proposed a novel solution to this question in a paper recently published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. Silk's team proposes that not only did supermassive black holes dominate the composition of the early universe, but they also seeded stars and developed galaxies.

Recent data from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), capable of looking farther into the early universe than any of its predecessors due to infrared sensors, left scientists confused: The early universe was filled with both far more supermassive black holes and luminous galaxies than expected. Silk's team analyzed this data and concluded that these two factors are directly related: The existence of supermassive black holes leads directly to luminous galaxies.

Silk discussed these findings in an interview with The News-Letter.

"What we have discovered - it's a new idea - is that the presence of black holes is often correlated with those same galaxies which contain very luminous and very large star formations. We think it's extremely unlikely these things are independent of each other," he said. "As you go back in time, the galaxies that surrounded black holes have relatively fewer stars than today. This suggested to us two things: One is that the black holes most likely came first. Second, if that were the case, then the energy they produce when they collect gas from their surroundings, stimulated large amounts of star formation."

Black holes form when massive stars implode on themselves. The team hypothesized that the first black holes were concentrated in the center of early galaxies, where dense gas clouds enabled rapid star formation. As these first stars died and created black holes, they were drawn gravitationally towards one another, coalescing in the galactic center and merging. This process continues leading to increasingly massive black holes. Gas from the galactic nucleus also falls onto the developing black hole, giving it even more mass.

As these supermassive black holes form, they begin pulling the gas around them into an accretion disk, a region of hot gas circling the black hole and releasing jets of ionized particles. These jets spur the creation of new stars.

"When the black holes form, they're uprooting lots of gas from their surroundings, and they act like these incredible factories of energy. Gas falls on the black hole and gets converted into a high energy outflow of very, very hot gas," Silk explained. "This happens because the black hole acts like a gigantic furnace with directionality attached to it because it's spinning very fast. That tends to jerk stuff out. The outflows overwhelm the gas clouds nearby, crush them and turn them into stars."

This process continues until the black holes reach a critical mass at which point their energetic outflows are so overwhelming that, rather than crush surrounding gas clouds into stars, they clear them out, dispelling their contents. At this point, the black hole prompts star formation to cease.

Silk emphasized that this theory, like many in astronomy, is driven by observation. New theories emerge hand in hand with new telescopic technology - such as JWST - that enable more accurate observations.

"We've had a very difficult time extrapolating from what we observe with the Hubble [Space] Telescope to these further away, earlier-in-time regions of the universe. We had various theories interpreting what [the Hubble Space Telescope] found, and they failed to predict this new phenomenon," Silk said. "In astronomy, we play catch up: We find these amazing things with our new telescopes and then interpret them, model them and do our best, only to find out that - when you take another step back in time - it's very hard to predict what you'll see."

Over his career, Silk has authored over 700 papers and earned countless laurels in the astronomy community. He recently released Back to the Moon: The Next Giant Leap for Humankind, which offers an impassioned argument in favor of lunar science. His current project investigating the development of early black holes has been ongoing for over a decade, but now the tools available are capable of surveying the past unlike ever before. Silk's recent paper concluded with a set of observations to be taken in the coming years to further validate this theory.

"This particular project dealing with how you make black holes and how they interact is something I've been working on for at least 10 years now. It's only with the [JWST], that we finally have the data to really test these theories and refine these theories," Silk said.


Cosmologist Joseph Silk explores the role of supermassive black holes in the early universe in a recent paper.

<![CDATA[An annotated playlist of Baltimore's musical history]]> If you want to know a place - I mean, really know a place - then here is what you do: You start by walking around, making sure to pay close attention to everything you see. Absorb it all, even (especially) small things, like cracks in the sidewalk where the grass shoots out. Then, when you get back to someplace comfortable, sit down and do some research on the history of the place. It may sound tedious, but this is part of it. Get to know the people who have lived there and the things that have happened, especially those that interest you. Then go for another walk. I promise it will feel different the second time.

In the spirit of this ritual, I have compiled a list of songs from Baltimore. I hope this will provide background and help you know the place a little better, like it did for me. By no means is this a complete history of Baltimore's musical legacy (in fact, it is only a fraction) but it does form a path of musical stepping-stones from Baltimore's early jazz days to its indie-rock shoegaze scene. The annotations are a combination of my own comments on the songs along with some historical background on the artists and their connection to Baltimore.

If you are reading the online version, click here to listen to the playlist.

"I'll Be Seeing You," by Billie Holiday - 1956

Billie Holiday is one of the most legendary jazz singers. She spent her childhood here, living in the Sandtown neighborhood until the age of thirteen. It was a rocky time for Holiday, and her experience of Baltimore was very likely tainted. Yet it was around this time that she was exposed to jazz and blues, specifically the music of Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith, whom Holiday later cited as inspirations in her autobiography Lady Sings the Blues. You can hear the influence of Holiday's life in this song: its melody, her voice and the background audio crackle with ache and the rhythms of Baltimore, the place where she was first exposed to jazz.

"Joey, Joey, Joey," by Ethel Ennis - 1963

Another product of Baltimore's rich jazz scene is Ethel Ennis, also legendary though less well-known. She rose to fame quickly for her smooth authentic vocals - in fact, Billie Holiday herself praised Ennis for using her natural voice and not faking it - but turned down a life of fame in favor of personal and creative freedom. After touring in Europe, Ennis returned to Baltimore, where she was (and is) beloved and celebrated. This song, as well as most of Ennis's music, belongs to the more joyous side of jazz. It is funny, full of flair and invention both in the vocals and background trumpet, dancing around the one word "Joey." All in all, it's a playful song that adds color to the history of Baltimore and its jazz culture.

"Didn't Want To Have To Do It," by Cass Elliot - 1964/65

Cass Elliot of The Mamas & the Papas is an instantly recognizable folk voice. Her words are rounded at the edges, and her melodies are comforting. Perhaps a part of this comes from her upbringing in Baltimore, itself a community bound together by its folk: Her father worked to manage a food wagon that delivered lunch to local construction workers, while her mother was a nurse. Though she did not write this song, the folksy sensibilities from Elliot's Baltimore childhood seem to have translated into her singing, which softens the delivery of each line.

"Watermelon In Easter Hay," by Frank Zappa - 1979

Baltimore's mustachioed avant-garde rock god had a reputation not just in Maryland, but in all of music culture. His weirdness permeates all of his work, whether it borrows from acid jazz, blues or rock. But, as Zappa said, "I never set out to be weird. It was always other people who called me weird." Growing up in Baltimore, he lived next to a chemical warfare facility where his father worked. The nearby facility stored large quantities of mustard gas, requiring Zappa and his family to keep gas masks handy - you might even hear influences from that "toxic" life in this song (which, coincidentally, might have the greatest guitar solo of all time).

"Cornflake Girl," by Tori Amos - 1994

The Peabody Institute admitted Tori Amos when she was five, making her the youngest student to ever study there. When she was eleven, they rescinded her scholarship and dismissed her just as quickly. Reasons ranged from "musical insubordination" and a preoccupation with rock to a refusal to read sheet music. Following this, Amos wrote an album titled Y Kant Tori Read and from there rose quickly to '90s alternative stardom. "Cornflake Girl" is my favorite Tori Amos song, with its floating melodies and messages about growing up as a girl. In the piano instrumentals, you can hear some of the classical training Amos received at Peabody - and in everything else, you can hear the rebelliousness that got her dismissed.

"A Soft Seduction," by David Byrne - 1996

Talking Heads frontman David Byrne was raised in and around Baltimore. He enrolled at the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design but dropped out after one year, feeling alienated from the upper-class student body. Byrne then briefly attended the Maryland Institute College of Art. There is something hauntingly Baltimorean about this song in particular, although it is unknown whether or not that was Byrne's intention in writing it. Still, looking at this city, its alleys and its people, it is hard not to think of his lyrics:

"But night reveals what daytime hides / Who lingers on, who sleeps outside / The soft seduction, the strong attraction / Somewhere downtown / A junkie's song, a dancer's knees / The laws of chance strange as it seems / Take us exactly where we most likely need to be."

Something about the lyrics and melody, not precisely charming nor off-putting, evokes particular images of Baltimore nightlife: metal banisters, empty benches, scrappy filth and beauty.

"Rational Bohemian," by Mary Prankster - 2002

Along with crabs and Old Bay, the beer company National Bohemian (or Natty-Bo) has become a shorthand for Baltimore, an instantly recognizable icon for the place. Singer-songwriter Mary Prankster, equally iconic and tied to Baltimore, played off of this name in the song title "Rational Bohemian" - though it is not entirely clear what direct connection it has to the brand. The entire song is tightly packed with bizarre wishes and phrases, rhyming intermittently. Because the song is so enigmatic, we are left to assume that Prankster chose to associate this song with Baltimore for some personal reason. Something about "stars and garters" and "cerebral petting zoos" reminded her of how she sees the city.

"Somewhere Tonight," by Beach House - 2015

When Victoria Legrand of Beach House moved from Paris to Baltimore to visit a friend, she "partied, raged, went crazy, and thought it was a great place." So she stayed, and soon met Alex Scally, forming an intimate friendship and musical collaboration. The two wandered around Baltimore's indie-rock underground for a while, experimenting with sounds and lyrics, before releasing their first album, Beach House. I like to imagine what Baltimore's musical underground looked like just under a decade ago when I listen to their music. It is like tapping into the wispy undercurrent of the city, letting it swirl and settle into my understanding of the place.

Each time I think I know Baltimore, I learn something new about it, and I feel like I understand the city all over again. I highly recommend that you listen to these songs and see if things change the next time you look around - but don't stop there. Once again, this playlist is only a fraction of Baltimore's rich history. Do some more research and your perspective might just shift.


Photo of Billie Holiday, who lived in Baltimore during her childhood.

<![CDATA[Science news in review: Feb. 18]]> As the midterm season begins to pick up, we recommend taking a breather and reading about this week's biggest headliners in science and technology: Smoking causes even more harm than previously anticipated, SpaceX is launching a spacecraft to reach the moon, scientists discovered a reason behind long-lasting allergies and newly engineered beef-rice may help address food insecurity.

Permanent effects of smoking extend beyond the lungs

Smoking has long been known to cause long-term respiratory illness. Building on top of existing literature, a recent study published in Nature found that smoking can have a persistent impact on the immune system even after individuals have quit smoking.

A team of researchers at the Pasteur Institute in Paris used blood samples from 1,000 healthy individuals in Brittany, France and exposed them to agents that are known to activate the immune system. They then measured the agents' impact on cytokine production, which can reflect inflammatory responses in the body.

The study revealed that cigarette smoking, even after quitting, may have a significant impact on cytokine responses comparable to the effects of age, sex and genetics. The team noted correlations between smoking, cytokine responses and DNA methylation patterns, suggesting alterations in genetic activity due to smoking-induced chemical modifications.

SpaceX and a possibly historic moon landing

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off at 1:05 a.m. EST from NASA's Kennedy Space Center on Thursday, Feb. 15, carrying a spacecraft heading for the moon. It has been estimated to make a soft landing on Thursday, Feb. 22.

If successful, this mission could mark the first U.S. soft moon landing since the Apollo era and the historic debut of a commercial vehicle on the lunar surface. Soft landing means a slow and controlled descent of a spacecraft on the lunar surface that aims to minimize damage to the spacecraft. The spacecraft, developed by Intuitive Machines, is a part of NASA's Artemis campaign, which aims to bring the first woman and first person of color to the moon to explore more of the lunar surface than ever before.

The mission is being conducted under a contract with NASA and is part of NASA's recent shift toward utilizing commercial partnerships for space exploration.

The reason behind long-lasting allergies and the discovery of a new immune cell

Two independent groups of researchers identified a specialized immune cell called type 2 memory B cell (MBC2) which contributes to long-term allergies in humans for years - often over a lifetime.

Our immune system is responsible for initiating protective responses to possibly dangerous pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites. Allergies start in the immune system. When someone is exposed to an allergen like pollen, the immune system can overreact by producing antibodies that can initiate symptoms such as itching.

In general, memory B cells are responsible for holding a memory of a specific antigen, allowing one's body to quickly produce antibodies to defend against repeated infections.

The newly discovered MBC2 cells are specialized to produce antigens specific to proteins often found in common allergens and maintain the memory of allergens. This finding may lead to treatments to eliminate long-term allergies.

Beef... rice? A new laboratory grown food

Lab-grown meat products have been on the rise as a possible alternative to the environmentally harmful process of raising livestock.

Earlier this week, a South Korean research team published their findings in Matter. Using a standard technique of growing animal cells in an extracellular scaffold, this group of researchers was able to culture beef on a porous scaffold of rice, creating a unique hybrid called beef-rice that has more protein and fat than regular rice.

The team hopes their work will be used to address food insecurity and reduce the environmental impact of raising livestock by providing a nutritious alternative to regular beef. If scientists can further boost the nutritional value of beef-rice and scale up production to make it more affordable, the new food could become a sustainable and cost-effective alternative to regular meat products.


A new study reveals smoking's long-lasting effects on immune system function and genetic activity even after individuals have quit smoking.