Brainy Quote of the Day

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Dr. Jarita C Holbrook...

Dr. Jarita C. Holbrook, Astronomers of the African Diaspora

Topics: African Americans, Civil Rights, Diaspora, Diversity, Diversity in Science, History, Women in Science

Birthplace: Honolulu, Hawaii
Pre-doctorate education: B.S. Physics (1987), California Institute of Technology; M.S. Astronomy, (1992) San Diego State University
Doctorate: Ph.D. Astronomy & Astrophysics (1997) University of California, Santa Cruz
Area: History and Cultural Studies of Astronomy

Jarita C. Holbrook, received her degree in 1997 from the University of California at Santa Cruz. A National Science Foundation postdoctoral research fellow at UCLA, her interest is mainly in contemporary and historical African astronomy and cultural astronomy. Holbrook has traveled to Africa and the South Pacific to document celestial navigation techniques there and how new technologies have modified those techniques.

Experience (since the Ph.D.)

1998 NSF Minority Postdoctoral Research Fellow, UCLA.

Oct 98 - Oct 00 Minority Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Biological, Social,Behavioral, and Economic Sciences, National Science Foundation
Aug 99 - Nov 99 Visiting Faculty, Department of Seamanship and Navigation, United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, MD
May 99 - July 99 Cultural Astronomer, Celestial Navigation Fieldwork, Kerkennah Islands, Tunisia, North Africa
Oct 98 - Jan 99 Visiting Faculty, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Colgate University, Hamilton, NY
August 1998 Cultural Astronomer, Celestial Navigation Fieldwork, Moce Island, Fiji, South Pacific
Oct 97 - July 98 Visiting Scholar, Center for the Cultural Studies of Science, Technology, and Medicine, History Dept., UCLA
Sept 1997 Visiting Scientist, Research on organic compounds in comets, NASA Ames Research Center
July 1997 Cultural Astronomer, Celestial Navigation and Astronomical Artifacts Fieldwork, Tunisia, North Africa.
June 1997 Professor, Physics Dept., North Carolina A&T State University, Greensboro, NC
2000 Minority Postdoctoral Research Fellow in The UCLA Center for the Cultural Studies of Science, Technology, and Medicine


Current Projects:

* African Astronomy & Culture
* Celestial Navigation in Three Cultures: Fiji, Tunisia, and the United States
* Celestial Navigation in East Africa
* Celestial Aspects of African Art

Research Interests: The night sky continues to fascinate people all over the world. How people think about the sky, use the sky, and depict the sky is immensely varied. Assuming that these variations reflect social and environmental differences, I use sky lore and sky knowledge as a way to probe cultures other than my own. Oftentimes, I decipher the science behind the myths: For example, moon goddess myths often speak of the goddess growing larger and then shrinking and growing larger again. This reflects the observed waxing and waning of the moon which occurs over 29.5 days.

As an applied anthropologist, I am thinking through ways in which my research can be of benefit. As a BARA member, I study indigenous knowledge systems and practices primarily to uncover the science in order to better understand the limitations of their effectiveness. This can be important in 'development' settings because quaint practices are then scientifically validated and transformed into practices that work. These practices then can be left intact or modified rather than destroyed.

Related links:

Black Sun: A Documentary
#P4TC: Survival Strategies...April 9, 2013


The 5,000 pencil-size robots will fit snugly inside 10 wedge-shaped petals. Here, one of those wedges is fully stocked with 500 robots, each of which will swivel independently to gather light from a known group of space objects, including distant galaxies.
Credit: DESI Collaboration

Topics: Astronomy, Astrophysics, Dark Energy, Space Exploration, Spectrograph, Robotics

A 45-year-old telescope is going to get a high-tech upgrade that will enable it to search for answers to the most perplexing questions in astronomy, including the existence of dark energy, a hypothetical invisible force that might be driving the expansion of the universe.

The Nicholas U. Mayall Telescope in Arizona closed earlier this week to prepare for the installation of a 9-ton device that will feature 5,000 pencil-size robots aiming fiber-optic sensors at distant galaxies.

Every 20 minutes, the swiveling robots will reposition to allow the instrument — called the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI) — to capture a new portion of the sky. Ten extremely powerful instruments called spectrographs will then analyze the light from the distant objects captured by the sensors and create what has been described as the largest and most detailed 3D map of the universe to date.

"We started with a conceptual design for the instrument in 2010," Joseph Silber, a DESI project engineer who works at the University of California's Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, said in a statement. "It's based on science that was done on the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (BOSS) instrument. But it's all done robotically instead of manually."

How 5,000 Pencil-Size Robots May Solve the Mysteries of the Universe, Tereza Pultarova,

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Alice Ball...

Alice Ball - see link below

Topics: African Americans, Civil Rights, Diaspora, Diversity, Diversity in Science, History, Women in Science

This is Alice Ball, the pharmaceutical chemist who in 1919 developed a medical treatment for Leprosy and gave hope to millions. Her drug was the premier treatment for Leprosy until the 1940’s when antibiotics were developed. Before Alice, Leprosy was considered a hopeless disease. In the US people found to have Leprosy were forcibly removed from their homes and detained indefinitely in remote colonies. Alice’s treatment allowed hundreds of detainees to at last be paroled from the detention centres and go home to their families.

Born in 1892, Alice is the granddaughter of Iconic photographer JP Ball. She graduated from the University of Washington and the University of Hawaii with degrees in pharmacy and pharmaceutical chemistry. Her master’s thesis was titled The Chemical Constituents of Piper Methysticum and involved extracting active ingredients from kava root. Her chemistry work here was so impressive that she was enlisted by US Public Health Officer Dr Harry Hollmann to work her magic with chaulmoogra oil.

For centuries, Indian and Chinese health practitioners have been using chaulmoogra oil to treat leprosy but with limited success. The oil could be applied topically however that would mean it wouldn’t penetrate deep enough into the body; at best, it provided sufferers with some relief. Oil is not soluble in water therefore injecting was extremely difficult near impossible. Patients described the oil injections as ‘burning like fire through the skin’.

This is where Alice comes in. She was enlisted to use her unique skills and techniques to extract the active ingredients from chaulmoogra oil. She isolated the chaulmoogric acid and hydnocarpic acid contained in the oil and created the first water soluble injectable treatment for leprosy. At aged 24 she had managed to do something that had “thwarted researchers for years”.

Meet Alice Ball – The pharmaceutical Chemist who developed the first effective treatment for Leprosy, Women Rock Science on Tumblr

Ready for S.E.T.I...

Credit: fotocelia Getty Images

Topics: Commentary, Existentialism, SETI

It is my observation we haven't quite mastered terrestrial encounters with other hominids of differing cultures or shades of Melanin. So, an actual encounter with extraterrestrial life would be at this moment in our existence daunting. We're not ready, for extraterrestrials, or very frequently, each other.

When ‘Oumuamua, a mysterious interstellar object, swept through our solar system last October, it elicited breathless news stories all asking the obvious question—is it a spaceship? There were no signs it was—although many people seemed to hope otherwise.

Throughout history most strange new cosmic phenomena have made us wonder: Could this be it, the moment we first face alien life? The expectation isn’t necessarily outlandish—many scientists can and do make elaborate, evidence-based arguments that we will eventually discover life beyond the bounds of our planet. To true believers, what may be more uncertain is whether or not such news would cause global panic—which depends on how our minds, so greatly influenced by our Earthly environment and society, would perceive the potential threat of something utterly outside our familiar context.

If it’s a discovery somewhere in between the extremes of an extraterrestrial microbe and rapacious, hostile aliens laying siege to Earth, will people respond differently based on the era or society they live in?

Our brains are wired with ancient circuits to defend us against predators. But as we navigate through the world, experience can also shape what we come to accept or to fear and how open we are to novelty. This study only looked at U.S. responses but two neuroscientists think the results might have been very different around the world. “If you look at societies that are much less open and much more xenophobic and so on, they might perceive [finding extraterrestrial life] as much more negative and unsettling,” says Israel Liberzon, a professor of psychiatry, psychology and neuroscience at the University of Michigan who was not part of the study.

“Culture may be a strong determinant of how we respond to novelty,” says Cornelius Gross, a neuroscientist at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory–Rome who studies the neural circuitry of fear and was also not involved with the research. “People came to America because they were novelty seekers, so we’ve selected for [that] and then continued to foster novelty seeking and place it very high on our list.” Furthermore, Shostak says, a person’s religious beliefs could play a powerful role in shaping their reaction to learning that humanity is in fact not as universally special as many traditions hold.

Is Humanity Ready for the Discovery of Alien Life? Yasemin Saplakoglu, Scientific American

Monday, February 19, 2018

Slavery and the American University...

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library/Library of Congress
“Halting at Noon,” a wood engraving showing a slave drive through Virginia in the early nineteenth century, 1864

Topics: African Americans, Civil Rights, Diaspora, Diversity, Diversity in Science, History, Women in Science

Without modification, the title is the name of a book in the NY Review of Books. Apropos, considering the times we live in.

It's interesting that my Alma Mater was birthed in 1891, some 27 years after the end of the Civil War. It has established itself as a primary source of STEM graduates, and still graduates more African American engineers than any other institution.

Others, some noteworthy have a more sullen history. It is thus understandable, that the institution of white supremacy had in its underpinnings self-regulated "justifications" from clergy and academia. It makes a "self-evident truth" that white culture has clung to as its only solace in an unfair system even to themselves. It is a faux orthodoxy that has prepared us for this unique moment of authoritarian fascism.

We were in Tennessee (Bill Moyers as a young staffer with President Lyndon B. Johnson). During the motorcade, he spotted some ugly racial epithets scrawled on signs. Late that night in the hotel, when the local dignitaries had finished the last bottles of bourbon and branch water and departed, he started talking about those signs. “I’ll tell you what’s at the bottom of it,” he said. “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.” Source: Snopes - LBJ: convince the lowest white man quote

According to the surviving records, the first enslaved African in Massachusetts was the property of the schoolmaster of Harvard. Yale funded its first graduate-level courses and its first scholarship with the rents from a small slave plantation it owned in Rhode Island (the estate, in a stroke of historical irony, was named Whitehall). The scholarship’s first recipient went on to found Dartmouth, and a later grantee co-founded the College of New Jersey, known today as Princeton. Georgetown’s founders, prohibited by the rules of their faith from charging students tuition, planned to underwrite school operations in large part with slave sales and plantation profits, to which there was apparently no ecclesiastical objection. Columbia, when it was still King’s College, subsidized slave traders with below-market loans. Before she gained fame as a preacher and abolitionist, Sojourner Truth was owned by the family of Rutgers’s first president.

From their very beginnings, the American university and American slavery have been intertwined, but only recently are we beginning to understand how deeply. In part, this can be attributed to an expansion of political will. Barely two decades ago, questions raised by a group of scholars and activists about Brown University’s historic connection to slavery were met with what its then-president, Ruth Simmons, saw as insufficient answers, and so she appointed the first major university investigation. Not long before that, one of the earliest scholars to independently look into his university’s ties to slavery, a law professor at the University of Alabama, began digging through the archives in part to dispel a local myth, he wrote, that “blacks were not present on the campus” before 1963, when “Vivian Malone and James Hood enrolled with the help of Nicholas Katzenbach and the National Guard.” He found, instead, that they preceded its earliest students, and one of the university’s first acts was the purchase of an enslaved man named Ben. In Virginia, a small consortium founded three years ago to share findings and methods has expanded to include nearly three dozen colleges and universities across North America and two in European port cities. Almost all of these projects trace their origins to protests or undergraduate classes, where a generation of students, faculty, archivists, activists, and librarians created forums for articulating their questions, and for finding one another.

Slavery and the American University, Alex Carp, New York Review Daily

Planet Xs...

RX J1131-1231 is about 6 billion light-years away. It is a lensed quasar; gravitational lensing caused by an intervening elliptical galaxy (center, yellow) has magnified and multiplied the image of RX J1131 into four images (pink) as seen with the Chandra X-ray Observatory.
X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ of Michigan/R.C.Reis et al; Optical: NASA/STScI

Topics: Astronomy, Astrophysics, Exoplanets

Discoveries of exoplanets in our galaxy exceed 3,700 to date, but if that’s not enough for you, astronomers are now probing outside of the Milky Way to find exoplanets in other galaxies. A group of researchers at the University of Oklahoma has just announced the discovery of a large population of free-floating planets in a galaxy 3.8 billion light-years away. Their results were published February 2 in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The researchers used a method known as quasar microlensing, which has traditionally been used to study the disk-like regions around supermassive black holes where material gathers as it spirals in toward the event horizon. When a distant quasar is eclipsed by a closer galaxy, the intervening galaxy will create several magnified replica images of the quasar. These replicas are further magnified by stars in the interloping galaxy to create a final super-magnified image that can be used to study the quasar in detail.

Astronomers report a possible slew of extragalactic exoplanets
Mara Johnson-Groh, Astronomy Magazine

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Long Walk...

Black Panther Costumer Designer Ruth E. Carter on Three Decades of Dressing Superheroes

Topics: African Americans, Afrofuturism, Black Panther, Diaspora, Diversity, Diversity in Science, History, Martin Luther King, Speculative Fiction, Star Trek, Women in Science

The cultural reference: James Meredith shot after staging a "long walk" (his solo March Against Fear) from Memphis, Tennessee to Jacksonville, Mississippi encouraging voter registration for African Americans in the south.

I was proudly part of the online record-breaking purchase on Fandango. I started a Facebook group for the movie. Sadly, there are groups formed to boycott it, by people of color uncomfortable with the idea the Black Panther, like Pharaoh in ancient Egypt would be considered a god. There will be the sad/mad/pound puppies that foam at the mouth and howl at the moon at any speculative fiction that doesn't look like a spliced clone of James T. Kirk and Han Solo. They're the same group of spoiled narcissists that had something to say about Voyager's Captain Janeway; Deep Space 9's Commander, then Captain Benjamin Sisko and Michael Berman on Discovery. It's old, it's long and tiresome. But this is a movie I've been waiting for my entire life. Black Panther came out when I was barely out on the planet in 1966 - I was four years old. I am 55 now.

“Wakanda is a small country in Africa notable for never having been conquered in its entire history. When you consider the history of the region, the fact that the French, the English, the Belgians or any number of Christian or Islamic invaders were never able to defeat them in battle…well it’s unprecedented.” The Black Panther - Marvel Knights DVD limited series.

I don't have a vivid memory of Medgar Evers or Malcolm X - just what people told me, what I read and documentaries or dramas that I've viewed.

I do have a vivid memory of the life and death of Martin Luther King, Jr. I recall he was a Trekkie and talked Nichelle Nicholes out of quitting the show. I have a memory of Nichelle Nicholes and William Shatner sharing the first interracial kiss on Plato's Stepchildren, and how like in many markets in the south it was blocked in North Carolina (I wouldn't see it until I was an adult when it went into syndication reruns). I have a memory of the hot tears of five-year-olds in a segregated kindergarten that felt like we'd lost our favorite grandfather or uncle at the news he was no more from teachers that shared our grief. I have a vivid recollection of Confederate flags that paraded on pickup trucks in East Winston-Salem, NC... in celebration of Dr. King's assassination. For those of us in my age group, we resolved to not make his death in vein. If he would look upon our lives, we were determined to make him proud.

I recall the tears my wife shed on the election of the country's first African American president and the memory of her grandparents. Her grandfather "Paw-Paw" almost died in Shreveport, Louisiana at the hands of two white Klansmen for ATTEMPTING to vote. Serendipitously, it was two other white males that sped him to the hospital and saved his life. He, nor his bride "Mother Dear" lived to see the fruition of their labors in the personification of the country's first black president. The republic had existed 232 years, and with the exception of changing parties, managed to keep the office of Chief Executive distinctly white and (so far) exclusively male. Barack Obama was the seventh candidate we had all seen. Running for president as a black candidate was a running joke: you could run, you just couldn't WIN. The death threats and secret service protection he needed as a candidate said something was different this time.

The white backlash was immediate, as if a membrane had been jostled on a sensitized nerve. The rumble started with birtherism, "praying for the president" (reference Psalm 109:8-10); witch doctor effigies during the debates on affordable healthcare (that in hindsight benefited the complainers); screaming citizens at the border in the direction of brown children (the mortar for mythical border walls); and a beautiful, bright and loving African American family - the personification of the Huxtables before the downfall of Bill Cosby - routinely compared to animals and gorillas by people who haven't looked in the mirror, lately.

So, it is in this juxtaposition of previous, audacious hope; the resurgence of overt, de facto nationalistic, white supremacy racism, and a future in the hands of rank incompetents and xenophobes that we look forward to this movie. I don't know what will occur in the aftermath. I can only hope for a good, UPLIFTING and entertaining film.

The photo above says everything we've endured in our long walk. We'll do so as always, going forward in dashikis and "straight outta Wakanda" t-shirts with our backs rod straight. I'd like to think - like Star Trek - Dr. King would have loved it.

"Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can't ride you unless your back is bent." Martin Luther King, Jr.

#P4TC: Slow-Walking Wakanda... August 16, 2015

Related links:

Box Office: 'Black Panther' Is Still Tracking For Record-Crushing Opening, Scott Mendelson, Forbes
Black Panther Set to Break Barriers, MSN video
Will ‘Black Panther’ Smash the ‘Deadpool’ February Box Office Record? MSN