Lunch with a Scientist


Lobby of the EBII building on NC State’s Centennial Campus. Grab a lunch and head to class.

At noon on Sunday, during the CASW New Horizons portion of ScienceWriters 2012, convention-goers who have signed up in advance will jump on some buses for a 3-mile ride to NC State’s Centennial Campus.

You must be registered for ScienceWriters 2012 to participate, please.

It’s a free lunch, you’ll learn something amazing,  and we’ll be back to the Convention Center by 2 p.m.

Each scientist will have his or her own classroom, so you’ll really be able to hear and ask questions while enjoying your lunch. Pick the brain of one of these two dozen North Carolina researchers, then tell him or her what YOU do.

Please review these delicious menu options carefully, note the session number you want, then follow the link to SignUp Genius to grab your seat.

Jump to:

Behavior & Psychology



Physics & Astronomy




1. Invasive Species, Climate Change and Drinking Water

Jim Vose, USFS co-director of the Center for Integrated Forest Science and Synthesis in Raleigh, talks about the relationship between forests and water, and the reliance of most urban areas on forested watersheds that users may be unaware of. What is the future of this system under assault from invasives such as the hemlock wooly adelgid and a changing climate? Can forests be managed for resiliency? <signup>

2. From Tapeworms to Tigers: The Wild Life of Our Bodies

From urban ant colonies to the untamed jungle of the human bellybutton, biologist and author Rob Dunn of NC State University is an explorer and chronicler of the unknown. Dunn’s writing focuses on the stories of the scientists behind the science, who they are, what they do and how and why they did it.  His latest book, The Wild Life of Our Bodies, examines the long human relationship with other species (be they tapeworms or tigers) and how changes in those relationships are affecting our health and well-being. <signup>

3. The Biology of Hagfish

Susan Edwards, of Appalachian State University, isn’t highly complimentary of the 500-million-year-old species she studies: “They are quite disgusting-looking little creatures. They have no eyes, no jaws and live at the bottom of the ocean where their job essentially is to clean dead and decaying flesh.” Yet the Hagfish may have some important things to teach us about metabolism and waste ammonia. <signup>

4.  Polyamines and Vibrio cholerae Biofilms

Biofilm is a self-produced matrix that gives a colony of bacteria a survival advantage by being highly tolerant to environmental assaults, including antimicrobial compounds. Ece Karatan, of Appalachian State University is interested in environmental signals that regulate the formation of biofilms. Her team studying how polyamines affect biofilms formed by the pathogenic bacterium Vibrio cholerae, the cause of cholera. The physiology of this pathogen and biofilm formation in general might someday be used in devising additional therapies for cholera and biofilm-related infections. <signup>

5. The Hygiene Hypothesis

A growing body of research suggests there may be a dark side to clean living. William Parker of Duke University is building evidence that super-sanitized lifestyles may have curtailed some diseases but created new ones. The prevalence of asthma, allergies, and a number of autoimmune-related ills — from rheumatoid arthritis to Type I diabetes — has skyrocketed in recent decades, especially in wealthy countries.  Parker is one of hundreds of scientists who are trying to figure out exactly what makes healthy immune systems tick, and why modern living has run them amok. <signup>

(National Park Service via Wikimedia Commons)


6.  The Promise of Metabolomics

Susan Sumner of RTI International is using metabolomics to assess how people differ in sensitivity and response to various drugs. She heads an NIH-funded regional metabolomics core identifying individuals’ risk for disease and their response to treatment in areas such as obesity, drug-induced liver injury, infectious disease, and reproductive and developmental biology. She is also identifying biomarkers for the early detection and diagnosis of disease to monitor therapeutic treatments, and to provide insights into biological mechanisms. <signup>

7.  The Stealth Pathogen Bartonella

The bacterium Bartonella is best known for causing cat scratch disease, but according to Edward Breitschwerdt of North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine, it is also responsible for a host of serious illnesses in humans that may have been misdiagnosed due to lack of awareness. Twenty years ago only two species of the bacteria Bartonella were known, but today there are 26. This bacterium has co-evolved with dogs, cattle, squirrels — even groundhogs, and is being transmitted to humans by fleas, lice, and possibly ticks. Breitschwerdt is a proponent of the “One Medicine” approach to researching vector-borne diseases that has opened the way for important discoveries in human medicine. <signup>

8.  Sickle Cell Disease, Misunderstood Since 1910

A quarter of adults with Sickle Cell Disease visit emergency departments more than six times a year for treatment of pain. Because of the frequency of their visits, they are often perceived by ED nurses and doctors as potential drug addicts who are seeking prescriptions for powerful, habit-forming painkillers. Paula Tanabe of Duke University studies ways to improve the quality of care for sickle cell patients in emergency departments. She is reviewing the knowledge deficiencies many doctors and nurses have about SCD as well as studying other factors such as myths about the disease and barriers to care, such as racism and stigma. <signup>

9. Subtypes of Breast Cancer

Breast cancer isn’t just one disease but at least five different diseases, some more aggressive and resistant to treatment than others. So why do some women get certain types of breast cancer? What roles do genetics and racial differences play? And why does the most aggressive of the subtypes often strike young black women? Each subtype has its vulnerabilities to therapy, says Lisa Carey of UNC-Chapel Hill. By designing clinical trials to test novel drugs, she aims to change the way breast cancer is treated, pushing the field toward a system of personalized care in which doctors can identify a patient’s cancer and know how each tumor will respond before a patient begins treatments. <signup>

10.  Next-Gen Sequencing in Health Care

James Evans of UNC-Chapel Hill spearheads an effort at UNC to apply next-generation sequencing technology to human health. The four-year, $6.4 million NIH-funded study will also address  technical, logistical, psychosocial and ethical issues that arise from its use on patients. The study involves about 750 patients who will have whole exome sequencing (WES) to capture the complete set of protein-coding sequences within the human genome. Evans’ team will evaluate WES as a diagnostic tool and how frequently sensitive information is found, and also assess the impact such information has on patients and families and how to best handle it in ways that take account of patient preferences.<signup>

11.  HIV Prevention with Antiretrovirals

In May 2011, the HIV prevention world was rocked by results from an international clinical study, known as HPTN 052, which showed that treating HIV-infected people with antiviral therapy prevents them from transmitting the virus to their partners. Myron Cohen of UNC-Chapel Hill led the study, which the journal Science named the 2011 “Breakthrough of the Year.” Cohen, an internationally recognized authority on the transmission and prevention of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, is now considering the plausibility of applying treatment-as-prevention at the population level.<signup>

12.  Osseointegrated Prosthetics

Ola Harrysson of NC State University is a pioneer in osseointegration, a process that fuses a prosthetic limb with an animal’s (or human’s) bones. The prosthetics his team have developed create a stronger, permanent prosthetic limb. Harrysson is working toward custom manufacturing, using rapid prototyping to custom-design prosthetics and plates for bone realignment surgeries. <signup>

13.  The Virtual Lung Project

The Virtual Lung Project led by Richard Superfine at UNC-Chapel Hill brings together experts in physics, computer science, applied math, chemistry and cystic fibrosis  to model the human lung with the goal of helping patients. The project team is learning how tiny hairs on the lung cells push mucus upwards to carry viruses and bacteria out of the lung. For children born with birth defects that prevent them from breathing normally, researchers are taking medical images of the child’s airway and calculating how air moves through. A surgeon can then perform “virtual surgery” in a computer and see how changes in the child’s airway will improve the simple act of breathing. <signup>


14. What Giant Turtles Tell Us About Our Past  …And Our Future?

Picture a turtle the size of a Smart Car, with a shell large enough to double as a kiddie pool. Edwin Cadena, a Ph.D. candidate at NC State University and his team found the fossilized remains of this 60-million-year-old South American giant  Carbonemys cofrinii, (“coal turtle”) in a Colombian coal mine. Its skull measures 24 centimeters, roughly the size of an NFL football. This and other giant prehistoric creatures can tell us about life just after the death of the dinosaurs, and perhaps help us predict – and maybe even prevent – the extinction of current species. <signup>

Headquarters of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIH) in the Research Triangle Park.


15.  New Views on Smog

Chemical engineer Will Vizuete of UNC-Chapel Hill tries to mimic real-world conditions to figure out how smog and airborne particles become toxic with time and exposure.  His group’s research has shown that diesel exhaust aged in sunlight over a day provokes an inflammatory response in lung cells five times greater than fresh exhaust fumes. Vizuete’s team discovered that nontoxic particles combined with gases found in a typical urban atmosphere makes normally harmless particles toxic to lung cells. Vizuete’s work has implications for most environmental regulations governing particulate matter, where the rules now only consider particle mass and size, which don’t play a role in toxicity. <signup>

16. From Mice to Men

Jef French of the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences, explains how scientists  translate findings from mice to humans and why there is a need to ensure that we have diverse mouse strains and populations to mimic human populations to help us set safety standards. <signup>

The Great Smoky Mountains (Duke University photo)

Behavior and Psychology

17.  Children’s Mental Illnesses And The Great Smoky Mountains

Many mental illnesses begin early in life, a fact that is just beginning to emerge from neuroscience and psychology studies. Psychiatrist and epidemiologist Helen Egger of Duke University and her colleagues run the Great Smoky Mountain Study, which has been following 1,420 individuals from an 11-county area of western North Carolina since 1993. They began looking at the mental behaviors of subjects as young as two. The study links children’s life stories with their genes leading scientists back to square one in defining what  we mean by mental illness in young people.<signup>

18.  No Meat For Sex, & Other Chimp Tales

While it may have been comforting to think that we can blame prostitution on evolution, it turns out that chimpanzees don’t trade meat for sex, despite  anecdotal evidence for the behavior. Evolutionary anthropologist Ian Gilby of Duke University and his team reviewed 28 years of field observations from four chimpanzee communities in Uganda and Tanzania  and found no evidence that the presence of oestrous females affected whether males hunted or not. Gilby made this discovery and is working on others, using his own observations and those from a 50-year archive of Jane Goodall’s field notes, which resides at Duke.<signup>

19. Voters Favor Deep-Voiced Politicians

Whoever’s got the deepest voice may get the most votes in the 2012 election, according to Rindy Anderson of Duke University, who also studies bird song. In a 2012 study, she found both men and women prefer deeper voices, which apparently suggests a person is competent and trustworthy. Now, they plan to test the idea during the 2012 elections. The work fits with Anderson’s larger question of how birds use their voices to compete for the ladies. <signup>


Supernova 1987a blowing smoke rings, just to show off in front of the other stars.

Physics & Astronomy

20. Is Our Galaxy Overdue For A Nearby Supernova?

Our Galaxy does not seem to have had its share of recent supernovae, compared to other similar galaxies in the universe. While two or three per century seems typical, Stephen P. Reynolds of NC State University says there’s evidence for only about ten in our neighborhood over the last two millennia.  What would happen to us if there was a supernova in our Galaxy? Which stars might be the next to explode? Reynolds will discuss his team’s discovery of the remnant of the most recent supernova in our Galaxy, only about 100 years old, and their continued study as it evolves. <signup>

21. Neutrinos, Up-Close and Interactive

Physicists are getting their closest look yet at neutrinos and their interactions with matter, without a need for massive particle accelerators or expensive detectors. Duke physicist Kate Scholberg is studying these tiniest subatomic particles using a virtual, 3D environment. The simulations in a lab at Duke allow physicists to see the particles and interact with them in new ways. The research may also give insight into how neutrinos change their flavors, a phenomenon that could explain why the universe is made of much more matter than anti-matter.<signup>

22. Metamaterials — To see or not to see

After the media excitement about the possibility of real-life invisibility cloaking with some optical engineering known as metamaterials, much of research seems to have gone into… stealth mode. Progress, however, continues to be made. Michael Fiddy, a UNC-Charlotte optical scientist and co-director of an NSF Center for Metamaterials, reports on some of the non-classified results that he and his colleagues have made, not just in manipulating light properties to hide objects, but also in revealing what is hidden in the clouds, human tissue and other generally fuzzy parts of reality. <signup>

23. Lasers, Optics and Electronics

Michael Escuti of NC State University has developed liquid crystal “polarization gratings,” which consist of a thin layer of liquid crystal material on a glass plate. They have potential applications in laser radar and free space communication, which uses lasers to transfer data between platforms – such as between satellites or between aircraft and soldiers on the ground.  The gratings may enable high resolution spectral/polarization cameras, for compact and low-cost imaging for aerial vehicles, satellites, and biomedical imaging. His team is also working on a low-loss light switch that is very transparent when open and very dark when closed. <signup>

24. What happened before the Big Bang?

Cosmologist and theoretical physicist Laura Mersini-Houghton of UNC-Chapel Hill goes even past the Big Bang in her search for the origins of the universe. The Albanian-born scientist will talk about the dizzying world of cosmic bounces, rips and multiple universes, the answers she’s found in the cosmos, how scientific theories become mainstream and the challenge of working as a woman in the field of physics. <signup>

One Response to Lunch with a Scientist

  1. Judith Randal says:

    Though I signed up for the session with a scientist who will be discussing polyamines and vibrio cholera biofilms, the sessions that will be devoted to Bartonella, Prosthetics, Invasive species, climate change and water also intrigue me.
    Is there a chance I could at least get handouts on these topics–for that matter on any of the topics being offered whose sessions I will not be able to attenc.

    Thanks, Judith Randal

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