Domain of Tales

Dominion of Curiosity

New Digs: Fracking and the Continued Effect of Rachel Carson’s Writing on Environmental Activism

“Do you want milk?  Which is a remarkable question in jail,” said Sandra Steingraber at a talk in the Alvin O. Kuhn Library’s 7th floor on Monday April 29th at University of Maryland Baltimore County.  The talk had been delayed twice: once from the “snow storm we didn’t have” as Steigraber said.  The second time was because Steingraber was in jail.

She served ten out of the fifteen days she was sentenced for trespassing onto a facility for natural gas storage near Seneca Lake in New York.  This all ties into her talk at UMBC.  She came to talk about how Fracking, a process of exploding the earth’s layers of bedrock to search for natural gas and other fossil fuel-based resources, is the new hot-topic environmental issue.  To explain the need to act, she compares herself as a modern Rachel Carson.

“I might be the youngest person alive to remember Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring,” said Steingraber.  “As a three year old, even though I couldn’t read it, I would recognize the cover.”  Steingraber reminisced over her father teaching the book to his classes when she was a kid.  He attachment to Carson began at a very early age.

Rachel Carson is the author of three books and numerous environmental essays.  Most prominently is her book, Silent Spring, which focuses on the dangers of the pesticide and environmental poison, DDT or dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane.  This poison was originally used in World War II to prevent outbreaks of typhus (from fleas) and malaria (from mosquitoes).  When the war ended, the government, having a great deal of the chemical left, had to find a market for it.  Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was the strongest proponent against DDT use, and rightly got it removed from the market.

“Fracking is the DDT of our age.  It is Ubiquitous and heavily promoted and considered harmless,” said Steingraber.  We are using more and more of our fossil fuels.  Researchers are searching for alternative methods that only prolong the age of prehistoric corpses.

Here Sandra Steingraber and the Horseflies put on a performance in New York to get the fracking message out there:

For more Information on Fracking feel free to check this out:


Making Bacteria Visible: Exploring the Long-Term Effects of Hormonal Contraception

            “We have ten times more bacteria than human cells on our body,” said Khalil Ghanem, MD, an Associate Professor of Medicine in the Division of Diseases at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.  Ghanem and Barbara Wilgus, CRNP spoke about their newest study, The Hormonal Contraception Longitudinal Study on Monday, March 4th, 2013 at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC).

            Their research joins a prolonged effort to survey and understand the various bacterial colonies on our bodies called microbiomes.  Researchers working on The Human Microbiome Project theorize that these microbiomes affect out health, physically and psychologically.  At present, the exact effects of the bacteria are unknown.  One day Ghanem says, we will be able to use these microbiomes to assist in the diagnosis and treatments of various diseases such as cervical cancer or aids.

            The study is funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and will cost roughly eight million dollars.  Ghanem and Wilgus focus specifically on the vaginal microbiome and its changes during the use of hormonal contraception, such as the pill or Nuva Ring.  In this study, they aim to monitor the changes within the vaginal microbiome over a two year peiod.  Their study will not directly use the information they acquire.  Instead this data will be used in ongoing research within the vaginal microbiome.

            When asked why they picked the two-year timeframe, Wilgus said, “Statistics show anywhere from 15-30% of women don’t want to take birth control after two years or so.” Setting these parameters, they study can monitor these changes within the average time period that a woman is on hormonal birth control.

            This Hormonal Contraception Longitudinal Study is called a cohort study, one that simply monitors changes over time instead of randomly assessing for certain experimental goals.  The group’s goal is to study about 400 women aged between 16-35 years old.  Currently they have about 85 participants.  The study takes place on the examination table and at home where participants are asked to gather some of the samples.  They then bring those tests into the office during their appointments.  The participants benefit from connecting more with their bodies. 

            The longitudinal study does have its share of difficulties as well.  The study of the human microbiosphere is new, and there is not great deal of pre-pioneered information to assist researchers.  Also, the sheer amount of data accumulated during the study is a challenge in itself.  Ghanem said, “We use mathematical models to understand the data.  To know what’s happening we need mathematicians, I.T. guys, and computers able to graph these things.”

            The testing started in March 2011, and continues now with the first batch of women coming to the end of their two years.  Although there isn’t a great deal of usable results as of yet, the test continues.


If you’re interested in more information or joining the study, please contact The Hormonal Contraception Longitudinal Study at: (443) 909-6954, or by e-mail at:

The Fur Factor: Ethics of Animal Testing

Animal testing has been through many phases throughout the years.  The present time is one in which animals aren’t used as frivolously as they were in the past.  “We need to make sure that we’re using animals in the most appropriate way,” said Joane Zurlo, Director of Science Strategy at Johns Hopkins Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing, explaining the increased focus on humane research.

Zurlo visited the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) classroom on Monday, February 11th to give a talk on the modern day uses of animals in research.  “We’re learning more now about which animals are best for modeling specific diseases,” she said explaining why animals are still used for various tests. 

Zurlo went on to discuss The Three R’s of Animal Research proposed first by Russell and Burch in their book, The Principles of Humane Experimental Techniques.  The first is Replacement.  If the experiment can be done without animals, then the goal is to do it that way.  The second, Reduction, works to reduce the number of animals used within specific experiments.  The third is Refinement, and this principle demands the humane treatment of animals in the lab.

With these guidelines in place, science and ethics work together.  “Animal welfare and research go hand-in-hand,” Zurlo said.  Lab veterinarians are often responsible for taking care of the animals.  “Scientists will sometimes do research without ever seeing the animals.”

Zurlo advocates against this sort of mentality.  Although she believes that “benefit [from the experiment] and low harm to the animal makes it worth experimenting,” she feels that researchers should know the whole animal and not just the genetics.  The recognition of the living entity is important to being better able to follow the three R’s (Replacement, Reduction, and Refinement), but the question still remains: “How do you make advances in the scientific fields unless you have something to experiment on?”

King Underground: The Discovery of the Remains of Richard the Third

On September 5, 2012 ULAS (The University of Leicester Archaeological Service) discovered of what experts believe to be the remains of King Richard III, the last Plantagenet king of England.  This archaeological dig was commissioned by the Richard III society, and only vaguely hoped to discover the body of the long-dead king.  What is now a parking lot and a playground in the heart of Leicester city had once been a Franciscan friary, the one where Richard III was supposedly interred.

The beginning of this project started in March 2011.  The archaeologists took extensive surveys of the area.  They were able to determine the likely location of this medieval friary through the use of old maps and various forms of scanning equipment.  Over a year later in August of 2012, they began the dig.

The team started with five goals in mind.  The first was to find the remains of the Franciscan friary.  Without truly knowing if the location was accurate, they took their best guess by opening the ground underneath a social services parking lot.  It was a success.  Not only did they find the friary, but they also managed to complete their second, third and fourth goals (Identifying clue to the position and orientation of the building, locating the church within the structure, and finding the choir inside the church).

On September 5th, through the permissions of local government, the ULAS team dug up a skeleton with a curved spine, much like the king was described from legend.  This accomplished their fifth and final goal, the one they had never expected to complete.  The team was able to test this by using DNA samples from a distant ancestor of Anne Neville, Richard III’s sister.  So far, all of the tests have been coming up positive.  As more tests continue, we will be able to see the truths and illusions around this king.  The story of the king’s legend may have ended long ago, but the story of his life is just now beginning.

This video is from ULAS and documents the process of the 5 steps mentioned above:

For more information and to continue following this story, please visit: The Search for King Richard III

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