Happy Holidays! As this year comes to end, we can’t help but reflect on the past year of great science that our LSU faculty and student researchers have produced. In 2018, our researchers discovered a group of lizards that have lime-green blood, created a more environmentally friendly Mardi Gras bead, and reached out to young girls in the Baton Rouge area to get them excited about chasing science. Our faculty and students collaborated with researchers across LSU’s campus and across the nation. Our researchers are also sharing their ideas and discoveries to audiences through TED Talks and science podcasts.
Join us as we take a look back at the top 10 science stories of 2018! In no particular order, this list also represents the top 10 blog posts of this past year. Enjoy and Geaux Science!
#1 Biodegradable Mardi Gras Beads
Carnival season is just around the corner! Who doesn't love Mardi Gras beads?! We cheer for them, count them, collect them, treasure our best finds... and then throw the rest away. Tens of thousands of pounds of plastic Mardi Gras beads enter the environment every year. After the parades, most of the discarded beads end up in streets, drains, and landfills. But LSU biologist Naohiro Kato is passionate about developing an innovative way to solve this problem by creating Mardi Gras beads... that can biodegrade!
Did you know that biodegradable Mardi Gras beads can be produced right now with technology and materials currently available, but it would cost 3 - 10 times more than to produce petroleum-based Mardi Gras beads?
#2: Encouraging Girls to Chase Science
In 2018, the LSU College of Science made strides to reach out to young girls in the Baton Rouge area who are interested in science, namely with our first ever Girl’s Night at the Museum in March. We invited 30 girls in grades 4 through 6 to join us at the LSU Museum of Natural Science for night of exploration and discovery. The girls had the opportunity to meet and chat with some of LSU’s women scientist and do fun experiments and crafts with student organizations. They also got a behind the scenes tour of the museum.
Cidney Collins, a student at Westdale Heights Academic Magnet School, loves science and has a special interest in taking care of our home, Earth. “If girls want to be scientists, they can try really hard. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. You can!,” said Cidney.
#3: Photographing the Hidden Universe
Have you ever imagined what outer space looks like? The big, dark abyss that is our universe is filled with brilliant and colorful stars, galaxies and constellations that Connor Matherne can’t keep his eyes (or camera lens) off of.
A graduate student and undergraduate alum of the Department of Geology and Geophysics, Connor is an accomplished astrophotographer who has seen and captured some of outer space’s most breathtaking spectacles. His work has been featured by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the websites AstroBin and Amateur Astrophotography. His images were also published in The Astrophotographer’s Guidebook: A Complete Guide to the Best Astrophotography Targets of the Year.
“The Milky Way is probably my favorite thing to look at in the night sky just because how vast and spectacular it looks,” Connor shared. “It’s the only thing that I’ve ever felt is really awe-inspiring looking at. The first time I saw it, I got tears in my eyes.”
#4: Diversity Makes Our Science Better
At LSU, we believe diversity makes our science better. To celebrate Diversity month in April, we talked to three scientists who are advocates for diversity and believe diversity in all forms fosters better ideas and collaborations.
We spoke with LIGO gravitational wave researcher Gabriela Gonzalez, LSU chemist and diversity and inclusion expert Zakiya S. Wilson-Kennedy, and LSU alum and P&G beauty scientist Rolanda Wilkerson and asked them about their experience with Diversity in the respective fields.
“Diversity makes everything better, including science. Like combining spices to make a dish taste great, you need different ideas to make progress in science, both to come up with new theories to explain experiments, and to make experiments sensitive enough to learn about the Universe (far away and around us, big and small),” said Gabby. “People use the phrase ‘thinking outside of the box’ to describe being creative, but I think it’s better to think about having a large box with lots of different people inside.”
#5: Green- Blooded Lizards
We bet you’ve seen red blood and maybe even blue and purple blood, but have you ever seen green blood??? Researchers at LSU recently discovered a group of lizards in New Guinea that have lime-green blood. Prasinohaema are green-blooded skinks, a type of lizard, that somehow thrive with what would be toxic human levels of biliverdin, a green bile pigment. We humans do have some biliverdin in our blood, but these lizards have levels of biliverdin 40 times higher than those in humans.
“In addition to having the highest concentration of biliverdin recorded for any animal, these lizards have somehow evolved a resistance to bile pigment toxicity,” Zach said in an LSU press release. “Understanding the underlying physiological changes that have allowed these lizards to remain jaundice-free may translate to non-traditional approaches to specific health problems.”
Read more about these green-blooded lizards and the research being done on them from doctoral candidate Zachary Rodriguez and his major professor, Chris Austin, of the LSU Department of Biological Sciences in one of our most popular blog posts of 2018.
#6: It’s Science. It’s Art. It’s Crude Life.
While we were experiencing some unusually icy weather last January, the Crude Life Portable Museum popped into the LSU Museum of Natural Science to showcase their collection of endemic species from tiny fishes, insects, and aquatic mammals that were affected by climate change and the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
Crude Life is the brainchild of LSU postdoctoral researcher Brandon Ballengée, a scientist and internationally renowned artist who teamed up with Prosanta Chakrabarty, Associate Professor and Curator of Fishes at the LSU Museum of Natural Science, to explore biodiversity changes in the Gulf of Mexico on the heels of the 2010 oil spill and climate change. This museum combines artistic elements with scientific research to educate the public on the Gulf of Mexico biodiversity over time.
“We’ve been chipping away at creating the Crude Life museum for two years now,” Brandon said. “We want to add a few more pieces, but it’s almost complete. Now we are focused on getting the museum out into the community, taking the trunks to schools, Mardi Gras parades and other community events to teach people about the Gulf of Mexico biodiversity, oil spill and climate impacts. Hopefully it helps people feel inspired and more connected to the Gulf.”
Read more about how the Crude Life Portable Museum was created and the importance of educating people on the effects that climate change and the Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill has on species in one of our most popular blog posts of 2018.
#7: The Artist of Surgery
Being a plastic surgeon requires scientific expertise and skill, but it also requires a certain artistry and ingenuity to give patients the precise results they want and need. Biological Sciences alum Dr. Sam Sukkar owns The Clinic for Plastic Surgery in Houston, Texas, and has 18 years of plastic surgery experience. He has completed over 5,000 procedures. He and his team pride themselves on providing the best patient care and procedures to fit their patients’ needs and expectations.
LSU runs in the Sukkar blood as Sukkar’s two siblings also attended LSU and went on to become doctors. If you’re thinking the three have some sibling rivalries between them, you’d be right! Two of Dr. Sukkar’s children are currently attending LSU, and he hopes they get as much out of their experience here as he did.
“At this point in our lives, we realize that much of our success was created and nurtured at LSU,” said Sam. “It is truly an honor to give back so that the next generation will be able to have and enjoy what we did.”
#8: Undergraduate’s Experience Observing at CHARA
Could you imagine wrapping up your freshman year of college by going to the center with the world’s most powerful interferometer, Center for High Angular Resolution Astronomy (CHARA), with a world-renowned LSU astronomer? Sophomore Ian Sager doesn’t have to imagine it, he lived it! Ian traveled to Los Angeles, California with Dr. Tabby Boyajian, Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy and discoverer of Tabby’s Star, and her team of graduate students, this past August.
“Dr. Boyajian gave a talk about her star at the honors college, and I just knew that I had to introduce myself and ask for an internship right on the spot, not even having finished a semester of freshman physics,” said Ian. “Much to my surprise, she said yes for the summer, and the rest just fell into place. She took me under her wing, and she, along with her grad students, have already taught me so much more than I could have imagined.”
#9: Big Fish at TEDxLSU
Every March, researchers from all disciplines take the stage at TEDxLSU. We’ve had plenty of our researchers grace the TEDxLSU stage and share their work and lives as scientists. This past March, Biological Sciences graduate student, Julie Butler, gave a talk on the fish she studies, Astatotilapia burtoni.
Julie got advice from TEDxLSU veteran and TED Senior Fellow, Prosanta Chakrabarty. He is a curator of fishes at the LSU Museum of Natural Science and has learned a lot about presenting his research from TED.
“Scientists often think they can speak to any audience in the same exact way, and that the value of their research will come to their audience naturally no matter how lofty. That is so wrong,” Prosanta explained. “You need to know your audience and understand that not everyone knows what you are talking about. It takes real skill to connect to your audience. TED is SciComm bootcamp, and you come out with muscles in places you didn’t know you needed them.”
#10: Summer Hair, Do Care
One of the most frustrating hair conditions is dandruff, and it can be even more frustrating to try to control. LSU Chemistry Alum, Rolanda Wilkerson is a hair chemistry expert who shared her knowledge on dandruff causes and treatments from her years of experience at P&G. She works with dermatologists, clinicians and beauty scientists at P&G to research and report on the latest and emerging skin and hair science and technology.
“The LSU College of Science helped to accelerate, nurture and advance my career path because it exposed me to various aspects of chemistry that strengthened my understanding of fundamental research,” said Rolanda. “This has helped me tremendously as I work not only for a beauty care company but also a consumer products company that utilizes all aspects of chemistry/science to develop products that touch the lives of people all over the world.”
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