Why you should care
Because we may be on the brink of major discoveries.
2016 was a hot year for science. And when it comes to some of the brightest minds, you heard about them on OZY first. We brought you the Vatican’s in-house astronomer, two millennial geniuses and a pediatric geneticist who’s changing how we think about science and gender. On the horizon, it seems? A potential way to alleviate symptoms of Alzheimer’s, open-sourcing cures with old experiments and kicking antiobitic resistance to the curb. As 2016 comes to a halt, read up on the highlights from last year and what their stories might mean for the next 365 days.
The Modern Master of Sex
Little Drian Juarez didn’t play like other boys. Instead of Tonka trucks and wrestling, he preferred Barbie dolls and dressing up in his mother’s clothing. Whenever he asked for a dab of her lipstick, she told him it was “inappropriate for little boys.” Other kids made fun of everything from his mannerisms to his tone of voice. Some threatened to beat him up. “Something is wrong with me,” he thought. “Something is different.”
Juarez was born male, but he felt female.
Eric Vilain, a pediatric geneticist at the University of California, Los Angeles, probes the brain and genome for what determines whether Juarez and others feel male or female, and whether they’re attracted to the same or opposite sex. Last June, Vilain’s lab presented a model to predict homosexuality, and he hopes to test whether kids can outgrow gender dysphoria, challenging the recent push among parents to help them transition as early as possible. In fact, he remains skeptical of the very concept of gender identity, a stance that has sparked controversy in the communities he studies. READ MORE.
This Millennial Might Be the Next Einstein
One of the things the brilliant minds at MIT do — besides ponder the nature of the universe and build sci-fi gizmos, of course — is notarize aircraft airworthiness for the federal government. So when Sabrina Pasterski walked into the campus offices one cold January morning seeking the OK for a single-engine plane she had built, it might have been business as usual. Except that the shaggy-haired, wide-eyed plane builder before them was just 14 and had already flown solo. “I couldn’t believe it,” recalls Peggy Udden, an executive secretary at MIT, “not only because she was so young, but a girl.” READ MORE.
The Vatican’s In-House Astronomer
To get to Brother Guy Consolmagno’s office, you take a train heading southeast from Rome. It winds its way away from Vatican City for an hour, into a bucolic setting that holds Lake Albano and the tiny town of Castel Gandolfo. Once you get off the train and walk through the streets, you look for a little bronze plaque whose Latin simply reads “Specola Vaticana.” Open the doors and you’re in the Vatican Observatory — a secret lab in a volcanic crater, just what every budding scientist dreams of. READ MORE.
The Doctor Who Wants You to Be a Research Parasite
No one needed to drag 12-year-old Atul Butte to Macy’s. At the time, department stores carried some of the latest and greatest in technology, aka personal computers, and young Atul was smitten. He’d bring spiral notebooks from home filled with computer programs and type the programs in code while his parents — from India, settled in South Jersey — did their shopping.
After Butte’s parents splurged on a new Apple II Plus, the rest was history: a computer science degree from Brown, summers at Apple and Microsoft, an M.D. (inspired by National Geographic articles on medical technology). Throw in a Ph.D. from MIT, for a whopping 17 years of post–high school education, and you’ll find that Butte is still tinkering. Only now he’s at the cutting edge of medicine and big data. READ MORE.
The Solution to More Antibiotic Resistance — More Antibiotics?
Have some pity for your ancestors. Prior to the remarkable medical advances of the past hundred years or so, life was nasty, brutish, short and utterly terrifying — it’s a wonder anybody ever left the hovel. Sexually transmitted diseases were incurable and often fatal, up to 25 percent of mothers died in childbirth and a scrape could lead to a deadly infection. Thankfully, the Age of Antibiotics dawned in 1928 when Alexander Fleming fooled around with some mold juice at a London hospital and ended up with penicillin, transforming medicine and vastly improving the lives of billions. But humanity now is teetering on the edge of a new era: the Age After Antibiotics, as increasing numbers of bacteria develop resistance to increasing numbers of drugs.
Are you scared yet? The medical community is. Scientists are scrambling to find solutions to this urgent public health concern, and some new research suggests a surprising potential solution: even more antibiotics. READ MORE.
The Millennial Astrophysicist Who Found a Planet With Math
Konstantin Batygin made the decision of which college to attend with the intention of keeping his band together. (When a guy at Costco recognized him from a rock show, he thought, “With this kind of momentum, we can’t quit!”) Day One at UC Santa Cruz, an unknown “drifter” told him, “You should do astrophysics — that shit is dope.” He did so. Today, his office has thug-life posters on the door and big-kid toy planes on the shelves. He wears a shark-tooth necklace, and he uses the word hashtag out loud. Oh, and this millennial just turned the astrophysics universe upside down when he predicted the existence of a new planet in our solar system. READ MORE.
Could Light Alleviate Alzheimer’s Symptoms?
Around the time he was diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease, 55-year-old Brian Leblanc spent all day “just doing nothing.” The former marketing and public relations executive dozed in his recliner, often for hours at a time. At night he felt restless. He awoke at 3:30 every morning, unable to fall back asleep. He forgot to eat and shed more than 50 pounds. One day, unable to recall whether he had eaten lunch, Leblanc made a decision. “I didn’t want to go down that hole any longer,” he says. “I decided I’m going to do something each and every day to make a difference.” READ MORE.