ISSUE 22 | APRIL 2022
TABLE OF 6
hics t E
17 21 22
6 10 13
how to speak tech Sabrina Merola
the war on lyme disease Anthony Esposito
music and how it affects our mood AI and art
all the swimmers are yellow Victoria Gomez
the science of us Christian Zavier Rosa
one fish, two fish, few fish, no fish
Cover Art by Meera N. Patel 2 2
CONTENTS N ew s Uma Wahab
the environment clarissa Portocarrero
the shark tank of prescription drugs abigail adera
wtf is an nft caleb heathershaw
onions, pirates, and spies Ainsley hilliard
Bitcoin and the blockchain
Go with your gut ashley zonghetti
Data crunchers emily danzinger
The compassionate trailblazer
24 28 30
32 34 36
Letter from the Editor Hello Scientifica Readers, My name is Megan Piller (she/her/hers) and I am honored to be the new Editor-in-Chief for Scientifica Magazine. Before I share my inspiration for Issue 22- Tech Takeover- I want to take the time to acknowledge the incredible work done by Anam Ahmed during her time as Editor-in-Chief. She did so much to advance the vision of this magazine and inspired everyone under her leadership to innovate and authentically create. Although she may have only been in the role a short time, her legacy and influence will live within the very heart of the magazine for years to come. We wish her all the best and can’t wait to see what she does in the future! The theme for Issue 22 was inspired by the incredible technological innovations we have seen and will continue to see over the course of our lifetimes. Technology has ingrained itself into the very fabric of our society becoming as necessary to our daily functioning as the air we breathe. Not only do we see technology in our academic and social lives, but in our finances, the clothes we wear, and the food we eat. Issue 22 serves to acknowledge the power technology has over us and explores the consequences of this power. Megan Piller Microbiology & Immunology, Public Health, Class of 2023 Editor-in-Chief, UMiami Scientifica
Letter from the Editorial Advisor
Technology has always played a central role in the evolution of our society. It is important for our youth to have early exposure, as the future they will live in will need this knowledge. It serves a role in every facet of our lives from “computers” that now fit in your pocket or on your wrists, to microchips and devices that are implanted in our bodies. Healthcare has benefited from these advances as diagnostic imaging have allowed physicians the ability to diagnose and treat a number of conditions with greater accuracy and speed. This issue not only highlights the impact of technology in healthcare but also in various STEM related fields. Enjoy this issue as it is the first under the leadership of our new Editor-in-Chief, Megan Piller and we all look forward to seeing what her and her team of undergraduates have in store for us. Scientifica is always looking for willing undergraduates to join their team. Lastly, I’d like to congratulate the magazine for receiving a Gold Crown Award at CSPA. Their work in 2021 competed against over 800 entries and they won in the hybrid general magazine category amongst being recognized in ten specific categories for our articles and design. Please congratulate them when you see them in the “wild”.
Megan Piller Abigail Adera Snigdha Sama Meera N. Patel Isabella M. Lozano Caleb Heathershaw Gaby Torna Avery Boals Ainsley Hilliard
C o r e T e a m
Roger I. Williams Jr., M.S. Ed. Director, Student Activities Advisor, Microbiology & Immunology Editorial Advisor, UMiami Scientifica
EDITOR IN CHIEF MANAGING EDITOR COPY CHIEF ART & DESIGN DIRECTOR ART & DESIGN DIRECTOR DIRECTOR OF WRITING & CREATIVE WRITING DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC RELATIONS DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY DIRECTOR OF DISTRIBUTION
SCIENTIFICA STAFF 2022 Board of Advisors Barbara Colonna Ph.D. Senior Lecturer Organic Chemistry Department of Chemistry Richard J. Cote, M.D., FRCPath, FCAP Professor & Joseph R. Coutler Jr. Chair Department of Pathology Professor, Dept. of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology Chief of Pathology, Jackson Memorial Hospital Director, Dr. Jonn T. Macdonald Foundation Biochemical Nanotechnology Institute University of Miami Miller School of Medicine Michael S. Gaines, Ph.D. Assistant Provost Undergraduate Research and Community Outreach Professor of Biology Mathias G. Lichtenheld, M.D. Associate Professor of Microbiology & Immunology FBS 3 Coordinator University of Miami Miller School of Medicine Charles Mallery, Ph.D. Associate Professor Biology & Cellular and Molecular Biology Associate Dean April Mann Director of the Writing Center Catherine Newell, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Religion Leticia Oropesa, D.A. Coordinator Department of Mathematics *Eckhard R. Podack, M.D., Ph.D. Professor & Chair Department of Microbiology & Immunology University of Miami Miller School of Medicine Adina Sanchez-Garcia Associate Director of English Composition Senior Lecturer Geoff Sutcliffe, Ph.D. Professor of Computer Science Yunqiu (Daniel) Wang, Ph.D. Senior Lecturer Department of Biology *Deceased
Section Editors ETHICS NEWS RESEARCH HEALTH PROFILES
Aarohi Talati Yashmitha Yazmin Quevedo Christian Rivera Aarohi Talati
Writers Abigail Adera Jackson Baer Emily Danzinger Anthony Esposito Amanda Fischer Victoria Gomez Caleb Heathershaw Ainsley Hilliard Sabrina Merola Megan Piller Clarissa Portocarrero Christian Rosa Uma Wahab Ajay Zheng Ashley Zonghetti
Designers Anam Ahmed Sneha Akurati Cherri Chen Stephanie Do Nascimento Lara Gomes Carolina Hernandez Naynika Juvvadi Geethika Kataru Isabella M. Lozano Meera Patel Zelda Rosenberg Gaby Torna Varsha Udayakumar
Photographers Ajay Zheng
Copy Editors Fatima Al-Hanoosh Hanna Ebrahimi Kelci Grooms Olivia Hennon Kiara Khemani Joaquin Martinez Sophia Meibohm Rodney Michel Sarah Mohammad Shirley Pandya Sydney Plowman Jasmine Tebbi Leonor Teles Elena Thomson Justin Yang
Artists Anam Ahmed Sneha Akurati Cherri Chen Stephanie Do Nascimento Isabella M. Lozano Meera N. Patel Gaby Torna
. How to Speak Tech . An A to Z Guide
by Megan Piller Illustration & Design: Meera N. Patel
Wow! I wish I had an app for this guide...
C E 6 6
Artificial Intelligence (AI): Machine or software technology that mimics human intelligence through its ability to learn, recognize speech, plan, solve problems, and self-correct. Apportunity: When an app, typically on a mobile device, has the ability to perform a widely desired action.
Blockchain: Database that serves to maintain a secure and decentralized record of transactions for systems such as the cryptocurrency Bitcoin. Bitcoin: Decentralized digital currency that relies only on peerto-peer software and cryptography first introduced to the market in 2009. Biometrics: Physical characteristics unique to each device user, often used in place of traditional passwords for user verification. This definition includes FaceID used to access our iPhones and fingerprint verification to access accounts on our computers.
Cache: A computer’s way of storing information, often temporarily, so it can be quickly accessed. Cookie: Unfortunately, it's not the delicious baked good we all know and love. Rather, it’s a very small data block left on a user’s device by a website that stores information sent by that specific website to be accessed each time they return to that site.
Data Analytics: The science of examining raw data to draw conclusions about that information Data Mining: Act of examining large sums of data found in user databases or websites in order to determine a user’s behaviors, interests, and patterns.
Encryption: Conversion of data into a code that is inherently difficult to decipher to keep data private and protected.
F H J
FinTech: A catchall term, created by combining “financial” and “technology,” to describe the use of technology to deliver financial services and/or products to consumers.
Green Technology: Yep, this one is exactly what it seems. Green technology includes any environmentally friendly innovation or technology that relates to a broad range of sectors including health and energy efficiency. GIF: Otherwise known as graphics interchange format is a never ending loop of images or video clips.
HTML: Known as Hyper-Text Markup Language, is basically the skeleton of a web page meaning it directs the general architecture or structure of a website.
IP Address: an abbreviation for “Internet Protocol” Address and is the numerical label assigned to every technological device that uses the internet. In other words, it’s a device's unique fingerprint.
Monetize: Typically defined as charging money for a product or service. However, in the case of the tech world it often involves extracting money from users without their explicit understanding (i.e. monetizing user’s data). Metaverse: Non-physical world in which individuals are capable of interacting with one another through various forms of virtual technology (not to be confused with Marvel’s fictional Multiverse).
NFC: Near field communications (NFC) is a way in which data can be transferred wirelessly from one mobile device to another. We all employ this data transfer system when we use tap and pay services like Apple Pay.
Open Source: Quality of software that allows for users to access their source code therefore allowing for customization. Examples of programs that utilize open source software include Mozilla Firefox and WordPress.
P R S
Rea rd Ca
Privacy: Concept of maintaining control over your own information and data; something that is virtually nonexistent in this day and age. Phishing: When fraudulent emails are sent by scammers posing as businesses, organizations, or individuals in order to manipulate the recipient into giving them money or private information.
RAM: Random Access Memory, often referred to as RAM, is the location where your computer stores data for the various programs it runs. Responsive: A web design style that allows a website to adapt to each device users are viewing it on (e.g. when you view the same website on your phone, computer, and tablet this site uses responsive design).
Single Sign-On (SSO): A service that permits a user to use one set of login credentials to access multiple applications. The service authenticates the end user for all the applications the user has been given rights to and eliminates further prompts when the user switches applications during the same session (a.k.a. that annoying thing we have to use to access our Blackboard or CaneLink). O SS
URL: Short for “uniform resource locator” is more commonly referred to as a web address — a specific string of characters that refers users to a source or webpage.
VPN: A service that protects one’s internet connection and online privacy. Its main purpose is to allow individuals to connect to public WiFi networks without the risk of compromising their personal data.
Wired In: The act of being “wired in '' is when one works with headphones on, often indicating that you don't wish to be disturbed. This phrase is a bit outdated given that most of our headphones no longer require a wire (e.g. AirPods). Wearables: Technological devices capable of being worn by users such as smartwatches and fitness bands.
Zombie Mode: A state of limited movement as one stares at their phone. In other words, it’s something we all have witnessed on the Hurry ‘Canes Shuttle at one point or another.
The War on Lyme Disease:
Hide and Seek with Crispr by Sabrina Merola Illustration & Design: Meera N. Patel
game of hide and seek between the ectoparasite and the bacteria: a never-ending cycle of this invisible war produces the infamous Lyme disease. The microorganisms that cause this illness seem to come straight out of the woodlands, awaiting their chosen host. Two methodologies at the University of Nevada, Reno, combined with revolutionary technology, are rising to the potential of eradicating Lyme disease, a tick-borne infection caused by bacteria. Possible or impossible? Ticks are well-known arthropods that are derived from the family of arachnids. There are two classifications of ticks: Ixodidae (hard tick) and Argasidae (soft tick). There is an extensive range of tick species that can transmit tick-borne diseases including, Lyme disease, Heartland virus, Ehrlichiosis, Anaplasmosis, Borrelia mayonii disease (similar to Lyme disease), Babesiosis, and more. Ixodes scapularis, termed the black-legged or deer tick, is the queen in this worldwide game of chess, the most powerful piece, yet sometimes overlooked. Humans are represented by the king, the most valuable piece on the board. In this disease mechanism, the goal of the pawn, the Lyme-disease-causing bacteria, is to get to the other side, where it can resurrect either the Queen, Bishop, Rook, or Knight. The pawn wants the queen, just as the bacteria aims to infect the ticks. Once the queen has been returned, it has one mission, and that is to call checkmate over the king. If checkmate is reached, we lose the game and have been infected with Lyme disease. If we win, we have avoided a close call. Ticks are only the vectors for the transmission of the disease; they are the accomplice of the transaction between the bacteria: Borrelia burgdorferi and Borrelia mayonii, the main suspects responsible for transmitting Lyme borreliosis, otherwise known as Lyme
disease. Some symptoms associated with this terrible disease include, rashes, arthritis, Bell’s palsy, swollen lymph nodes, fever, chills, severe headaches and many more. In 1998, SmithKline Beecham manufactured LYMERix, a vaccine against Lyme disease. It explicitly targets the surface protein A of Borrelia burgdorferi. While it worked for a brief time, it was discontinued in 2002 because its conferred protection against the illness gradually declined over time. Today, there are no vaccinations to combat Lyme disease, but a phase 2 clinical trial by Pfizer and Valneva is currently underway. After successful data was recently reported from both companies, it has officially advanced to phase 3 with the addition of a third vaccination shot to boost antibody production in individuals. Two researchers, from the University of Pennsylvania and Yale University respectively, have successfully developed the first mRNA vaccine that selectively targets antigens present in the saliva of the Ixodes scapularis tick. At the University of Massachusetts Medical School’s MassBiologics, a preventative yearly vaccination for Lyme disease, named Lyme PrEP, is being developed and investigated. This monoclonal antibody treatment specifically introduces an anti-Lyme antibody to expose the immune system before being initially infected, and is enrolled to begin phase 1 trials. However, vaccine production is not all that is done to attentuate the spread of Lyme disease. Monika GuliaNuss and Andrew Nuss at the University of Nevada established the following two approaches that may potentially eliminate the pathogen that causes Lyme disease and prevent
spikes in cases. Nonetheless, although the experimental trials were successful, both pairs of delivery methods are exceedingly intricate. Considering the many actors in these processes, we need to investigate these further to improve the protocol of gene editing in ticks. The first of these, embryonic microinjection (EM), is a significant approach of germline editing that permits direct gene transfer. It is a mechanism for the precise integration of transgenic DNA into the genome of the vector (ticks) for gene editing. This integration is conducted by components of CRISPR-Cas9: the Cas9 protein and the single-guide RNA (sgRNA) that jointly form a ribonucleoprotein complex. Cas9 is the boss of the single-guide RNA. In every CRISPR-Cas9 procedure, the single-guide RNA is “programmed” and given a blueprint to track down and be complementary to that specific genome sequence in the target cell. The single-guide RNA is connected to Cas9 through embryonic microinjection, both are introduced to the nucleus, and the genome modification stages begin, once the Cas9 protein endonuclease, frequently referred to as, “molecular scissors”, cleaves the DNA at the precise target site creating a double-stranded break (DSB). Researchers can manipulate the gene sequence to their liking, through either a knockdown (often referred as “gene silencing” to suppress the expression of a gene), knock-in (the insertion of a gene into a specific locus in the genome) or knockout (the permanent deletion of a gene) for the genome modification. Following the completed job by Cas9 and sgRNA, the double-stranded break is then repaired by the contractor via either homologydirected repair (HDR) to perform gene knock-in or non-homologous end-joining (NHEJ) to facilitate gene knockout. Germline modification unlocks new doors for the assembly of new transgenic DNA strains, which is exactly embryonic microinjection achieves with the insertion of the DNA sequence directly into the target cell (embryo). A glass micropipette injects DNA straight into the embryo, while a holding needle grasps the embryo in place under the inverted microscope. There are many elements that drive the mechanism for Receptor-Mediated Ovary Transduction of Cargo, abbreviated as reMOT control, and Branched Amphiphilic Peptide Capsules (BAPC)- assisted CRISPR delivery, the second pathway of germline editing. As previously mentioned, (NHEJ) proceeds with restoring the double-stranded break, abbreviated DSB, as part of the CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing process. The adult injection for CRISPR-Cas9 deliverance directly inserted in the Ixodes scapularis germline and NHEJ is the repair mechanism used for gene knockouts, even if it is the most error-prone and not as meticulous as HDR. Can we have trust in what we don’t know? CRISPR-Cas9 has helped us find a few of the missing clues to completing the puzzle, but it is a promise scientists may never be able to make. The major difficulties are in the optimization techniques that must be updated to best suit the non-model organism research. There are considerable factors that need to be studied to minimize flaws and maximize efficiency, including penetration techniques (embryonic microinjection and injection in gravid ticks), the duration of time for collection of the eggs, incubation time and conditions, etc. One tick in front of a generation of progenies all created based on one CRISPR-Cas9 application. Is there a boundary? Can we truly live in
a harmonious world without the continuous spread of diseases from species so microscopic they are nearly invisible? Considering both experimental trials: embryonic microinjection and reMOT control, able to modify and edit the genome, any desired or unintended outcomes are heritable, the significant results hopefully will hold promise. While there is not a definite solution yet, there are doors opening in new directions with every new proposition. Dr. Arba Ager, an associate professor in the field of parasitology, shared his perspective on the “hide and seek” interventions of CRISPR in Ixodes scapularis. “....[CRISPR-Cas9] shows some promise, but I think it’s got a lot more work that has to be done. Not many people are working on that, the trouble is there’s not much money available, and that type of work is pretty expensive,” Ager said. “I think it’s going to be very difficult to really make a big impact because the ticks are very hardy, and to get that out there, there’s a lot of animals that have that. the cycle going on with the rodents and the deer, even though the deer and the rodents are very close to people’s houses nowadays, the cycle goes on and those animals move around, especially the deer, and there going to be spreading this over quite a range, so I think it’s a pretty tough nut to crack.” The cycle really changes according to the weather, because when it’s warmer there are a lot of the nuts that the rodents feed on, that are produced, and they really can store up a lot more and reproduce better, I mean these rodents reproduce every three weeks, so the climate change impacts on the life cycle a lot, the normal seasonal climate change that changes a little bit every year,” Ager said. The rising questions increase in number when considering phenotypic screening because the development of treatments and therapeutics is heavily based on a person’s genotypic and phenotypic traits. These characteristics can be studied by observing gene function, expression, and role in tick transgenesis via labeling from the enhanced green fluorescent protein, abbreviated EGFP, which is the universal transformation marker utilized in biological research. An additional essential aspect to consider is the complete comprehension and analysis of genetic editing effects in the Ixodes scapularis species on the DNA, RNA and protein levels across generations, as these implications are heritable. As CRISPR-Cas9 applications are broadening across a diverse range of species, it is pivotal to utilize other genetic engineering tools, such as Transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALEN) and Zinc finger nucleases (ZFNs). With increased experimental trials being conducted, the greater researchers will have the capability to understand the key biological processes, the functions of certain genes in different species that haven’t been researched upon adequately and the mutations that can arise and those effects and functions
regarding that particular organism. Although scientists and researchers have made significant contributions to the scientific field of medical entomology, there is not nearly a sufficient amount of information on the molecular machinery underlying the genome and transgenesis of Ixodes scapularis and its ability to transmit Lyme disease. Have we found the beginning of a road that, if blocked off, can prevent catastrophe from striking innocent individuals in endemic states?
by Anthony Esposito Illustration: Sneha Akurati
ave you ever been in a bad mood while driving your car but then your favorite song comes on and instantaneously your mood gets better? For me, it’s an immediate visceral response that generally starts with loud singing and lots of hand gestures, maybe some beating on the dashboard or a few fist pumps. By the end of the short duration of the song, I typically find that I have become happier and less irritable. While we know music to be a great form of entertainment, it has also been found to have a psychologically therapeutic effect. Not only does research support the idea that music serves as a way to improve one’s mood, but it also has the incredible ability to change our mood. Why is music such a powerful mood enhancer? Music is capable of evoking different emotional reactions in different people. Compelling data exists which indicates that when people listen to certain types of music it can improve how they are feeling. At times, people may not even realize they are using music to regulate their emotions, but simply pop their headphones in to distract themselves, maintain their concentration, or to just let loose. Depending on the genre, a song can elicit feelings of joy or sadness, and even bring back fond memories from our past- or those we would rather forget. With today’s growing levels of anxiety and depression, particularly among our youth, delving into the connection between music and mood is an important area of investigation especially considering we are so often in the presence of music whether it is from our own playlists or those of strangers. In the past century, many psychological studies involving music and emotion have been conducted. Researchers from Stanford University have shown that music affects brain function in a similar manner to that of medication in many circumstances. Music awakens the part of our brain that creates dopamine- a neurotransmitter known to human behavior and mood. This hormone is credited as being the “feel good” chemical through its interaction with the pleasure and reward center of our brain. The impact of music is both neural and behavioral suggesting that it has an effect on brain function that is automatic. Some studies have shown evidence that individuals who show consistent emotional responses to musical stimuli have a stronger white matter connectivity between their auditory cortex and other areas associated with the processing of emotions.
Given this information, it makes total sense that music can be used to improve our overall well-being. Research has even shown that listening to symphonic music regardless of the listener’s music preferences can lower levels of cortisol, the human stress hormone. Not only does it lower cortisol levels, it has also been found to help us feel more relaxed. If you happen to be having trouble relaxing and de-stressing, an inexpensive and efficient fix might be to play some of Beethoven’s and Chopin’s masterpieces. Sound too good to be true? It just might be. As research into this field continues, several studies have shown that not all music has a positive impact on our moods. For example, some of classical music’s heavier compositions by Strauss and Wagner have been shown to increase levels of sadness while some hard rock compositions were found to make listeners feel aggressive via a surge in the stress hormone, adrenaline, which is produced within the adrenal gland. Studies have also shown that individuals who suffer from depression may not be able to choose music wisely and in a healthy manner. Rather, they can inadvertently use music as an unhealthy coping strategy to ruminate on negative feelings and experiences or even go as far as withdraw socially. An awareness of how certain music affects our moods is beneficial to control and cope with our feelings, especially in stressful situations. It seems plausible that a main factor that is influential in improving one’s mood is based on one’s ability to select music that makes them feel better and not worse. Thus, it is important to take note of the effects particular genres have on your emotional well-being. It is undeniable that most people seem to love listening to music. So your favorite playlist- whether it’s rock, R&B or hip hop- may be just what you need to improve your mental state. It has been scientifically proven that music can help us to feel happier, become more relaxed, and even help us focus on tasks more readily. Although, the negative aspects of listening to certain types of music must be considered. Research indicates that for some individuals, the trend reverses and music instead is associated with a worsening of mood. The key appears to be self-awareness and the ability to choose your music wisely. With these factors in mind, the next time you catch your favorite song on the radio, identify these feelings and see if you are in the majority of people who can see beneficial effects from listening to music!
AI AND ART by Jackson Baer Illustration & Design: Stephanie Do Nascimento
he past few months have shown a massive rise in the trend of non-fungible tokens, or NFTs. They represent specific images, sounds, and other digital items that are owned and distributed by individuals online. NFTs can be created by anyone, and bought and sold on websites like OpenSea in exchange for cryptocurrencies, such as Ethereum, which can be converted back to the standard currency of the user’s country. Their rise in popularity was rapid, and some have sold for the equivalent of millions of dollars. A certain subset of NFTs, though, are not just created by “anyone.” Perhaps a better term would be “anything.” Artificial intelligences have been programmed to generate items for NFTs, that are then placed for sale exclusively online.
Steven Thaler and/or Creativity Machine
In a salient sign of our technological progress, one programmer went as far as attempting to copyright an image on behalf of his AI. The work was a piece of art, uniquely created by what the AI’s author dubbed Creativity Machine. The programmer argued that, because Creativity Machine made the art without direct human input, it should be able to register its own work. In February, the U.S. Copyright Office released its decision on the case; in the end, Creativity Machine was determined to not possess “the nexus between the human mind and creative expression,” and was therefore disqualified from applying. However, as AI becomes increasingly capable of making original works, the time has come to ask, what exactly makes the human mind so different from AI? At what point will the Copyright Office begin to question the fairness of disallowing AI to own their work? For many years, it has been simple to tell apart a robot and human in terms of behavior. The most consistent identifying difference between humans and machines has been that
unique element of emotion. Artistry and other “feelings”-associated activities have long been considered too complex for robots to achieve via software. Now, though, that difference is much less pronounced. If it was not stated that Creativity Machine made the image, one could easily assume it was digitally drawn by a human artist. With that foundational concept facing novel challenges, the traditional rules will need to evolve with the times. That is not to say that Creativity Machine has feelings, and that AI should be treated as human; Creativity Machine was created solely to gather information on artworks and produce something based on its learned skills. There was not an original expression or meaning behind the image. However, this usage of AI to develop NFTs marks an important steppingstone in its development. Artificial intelligence systems are one of the most rapidly advancing technologies to ever exist. A common smartphone--that sits in nearly everyone’s pocket--is millions of times more powerful than the computers that first
put man on the moon in 1969. Phones can now remotely download and stream a seemingly infinite amount of information and content, all while taking up such a small amount of space. Even in just the past 20 years, phones have drastically changed. If in around 50 years AI went from making simple calculations to running large-scale analytics and making art, in the next 50 or so years, AI will likely advance much further. Likely even to the point where they will autonomously make a request to the Copyright Office. Creativity Machine’s NFT serves as a sample of where technology is heading, and even though AI has not reached the level of humans in terms of general intelligence, that future becomes more real with each passing day. If a certain amount of emotional depth is demonstrated by another AI, the world may very soon have legitimately recognized artists that were created, not born. There is a great amount of uncertainty on how it presently can be achieved, but the significant differences between human and AI may cease to exist.
All the Swimmers Are Yellow by Amanda Fischer Illustration & Design: Lara Gomes & Meera N. Patel
hen the bulb goes dark and my bed becomes my fortress, I whisper, “Jesus… Jesus” to make my demons flee. My eyes try gauging the chasm of my unseeable ceiling, boundless as a sky without any stars, and I think. I think about the man I sleep with every night, the man who hardly sleeps with me at all and I dream about our baby. I imagine who I thought she’d be, who I wish she still had the chance to become. She might have had eyes that looked just like mine, hazel and squinty in the act of lying. Or she might have had her daddy’s eyes—dark and void as nights like these. It’s here beneath suffocating white blankets that I dream for her an impossible future, one with quavery first steps—her chunky baby toes flat to the aged and scraped hardwood of our first real home—and I do it all in the dark. But mostly, I think about what it would be like to love her, even though I already do, and I try to quiet my dreams from waking the man that lay worlds away beside me. I think until the blackness of my bedroom becomes a fog-like gray haze, and when my ceiling fan comes into a semi-distinguishable shape, I close my eyes to sleep. It’s here in the purgatory between nightfall and sunrise that memories seem to haunt me the most. Flashbacks invade my dream state, forging past the protective barriers of my semi-conscious mind like ruthless soldiers captivating a territory and demanding to be seen. Talk about ego. I can see my past as if for the first time, and I feel all over again the trickling sensation of red streaming down beyond my knees. I swear I felt the cessation of heartbeats—hers first and then mine—a stillness so trembly as if stop and go had somehow managed to meet. It was in cold sweats that I lay there, weak and ghostly in complexion. And my body horseshoed around the base of the toilet, reminding me of the dreadful early mornings (and late mornings and afternoons and nights) I spent queasy in the first few weeks of pregnancy. My angle of vision, looking up into the twists and grimy crevices of the backside of the toilet, made me feel like an inadequate cleaner. As the damp skin of my left cheek lay chilled and smushed flat to a white porcelain tile, the death of her escaped me. Nothing could hold her in; nothing could keep her from forging her way out, not even laying sideways as if I had the power to defy gravity. God, why would you take her from me? She wasn’t my first baby. She wasn’t even my second. But she was the only one I wasn’t sure I wanted—until I was. And she was the only one I never got to nurse. At fifteen weeks when I lost her, I already had a bump—one I somehow knew confidently was not just a food baby—and I clutched it as she passed. My right hand took the of the curvature of my swollen abdomen, gently caressing the parts of me that still spoke of her. And I laid there for a long while.
She was gone by the time David came home from work, our two older children in tow after soccer and band practices. I can still hear his echoing voice calling out to me, sending a tremor through my body as it awakens the muscles that store detailed memories from that night. Mina! God, Mina! He alarmingly closed our bathroom door, his back shoved flush against it with terror wiped all over his face. God, he was a mess. He took only a momentary pause, a silent hesitation, before locking the door and making me feel like what had happened needed to stay hidden. He tore his suit jacket from his body, sprawling it out across the dried burgundy tiles, before reaching for me. The red wasn’t liquid anymore—it wasn’t really even red; it was lifeless, two-dimensional at best, making me question how long I’d been lying there. I wondered, “At what minute had she died? At what hour?” Such vivid dreams often haunt me to the point of waking, jolting my eyes open to stare again at my ceiling in the dark. I can’t sleep anymore. I think maybe I’ll just get up. David’s snoring could drown out the thundering of every freight train passing by our home in the night. Our children, on the other hand, can hardly sleep through the sound of the Nespresso machine as I make my coffee each morning. This contrast leaves me confused sometimes—usually on pre-sunrise mornings just like these—making me tiptoe across the beige carpet of our bedroom in a soundless escape, just to step on every creaking stair board outside my sons’ door, instead of the other way around. My youngest is now awake. “Mommy? Is that you?” he whisper yells from beneath his comforter. Frozen, I pause my breath, tensing all my muscles to keep from making another sound. A muffled giggle escapes his bedroom. “Mommy, I know you’re there!” I let out an audible sigh, a smile manipulating my cheeks—the first in a while. “Hi, baby. You caught me,” I tell Mason as he pulls me in for a hug. I squeeze my whole body into his cozy twin-sized bed, my back leaning off the edge of his mattress as he lays sprawled out taking up most of the bed space with his stretched-out limbs. His four-year-old arms try sweetly to spread the warmth of his blankets across my body. “Your toes covered?” he wonders. I close my eyes, holding him near, as a sleepiness washes over me, a welcomed kind of tiredness that my own bed never seems to offer anymore. Just as my body begins to settle into a new rest, his tiny bones jolt to a rising position,
his forehead leaning down to press against mine as he excitedly proposes, “Coffee time?” I would definitely be the one to raise a four-year-old who loves coffee. So we climb our way down thirteen groaning steps— secret agents (per Mason’s request) furtively executing orders from a faceless, nameless higher-up that rewards us for our dangerous missions. “Shhh! Quiet like a mouse,” he warns me. “If we get caught, our mission will be ter-min-amated!” Something about the way his blue eyes widen as he confidently stumbles over the word “terminated” makes me swoon a little. His dark, tamed eyebrows rise to his hairline as he nods his head and waves his hand around, as if to say, “Follow me, Mom.” He is my wild child. He proceeds to make us lattes—a true café owner in the making—and we spend five minutes or so practicing latte art with frothed milk. A leaf for his (decaf, of course) and a heart for mine. More like a blob and a blob. I agree to turn a television show on for him. Too early for interactive momming. It’s in the quietness of this simple morning—cartoons becoming white noise, the soundtrack to my wandering thoughts—that I find myself shuffling around downstairs, staring longingly at my Grandma Dottie’s vintage loveseat in my living room. It has a sort of curvature to it that feels inviting and yet a color that somehow feels cold. It is a deep forest green. Nobody really touches it, not unless it’s Christmas or storytime or someone’s birthday. It has always been this way. But the thirty-three-year-old me still remembers what it felt like to be six-year-old me when it was time to sit in the forest green chair. Grandma Dottie would hobble across the stained oak flooring of her farmhouse, relying on the sturdiness of her metal cane to move her delicate body from one chair to the other. She would fall into the velvet cushions of her loveseat with an audible sigh of relief as she’d glance at me with a wrinkly smile and pat her lap. “Come here, sweet pea.” She’d read me a book I sometimes read now to my own babies, called Swimmers for the Moon. It begins, “Some nights, when the moon is just right, the ocean surface becomes like a shiny mirror. And therein that water, way down in the deep, there are fishies you can’t see that throw parties in the dark.” The yellow spine of the book pokes out beyond the edge
of the shelf it rests on, surrounded by blue books and white books and pink ones. The starkness of yellow beside every other color reminds me of the bedroom I started decorating for our baby. Yellow swatches still cover the almost-nursery walls like different shades of sunshine streaming in from every window. And I hate it. As my right shoulder leans pancaked against the case opening of my living room, Mason interrupts my daze. “Mommy? Are you sad?” Dammit. “No, baby, I’m alright,” I tell him. “Just sleepy ‘cause it’s early.” The sun is beginning to rise, shining softly across the tips of his buzzed cut hairs and they glisten. “Mommy, are you and Daddy gonna get a divorce?” he questions, eyes welling up with a contagious tear-fall. A tightness consumes me, shocking me with the fact that he even knows what that is. Who could have told him this? “You are?!” he wails. His cries echo through the useless walls of our old, noise-transmitting house. My hesitation must have convinced him he was right. But he isn’t right. At least I don’t think so. I sweep him into my arms, his little body wrapped around the faint remnant of my slowly-fading belly bump and I offer reassurance again and again to counteract such fear. But his cries refuse to be silenced. Thunderous footsteps seem to shake the ceiling above our heads and the stairs begin to creak. If David were playing “secret agent,” his mission would surely be ‘ter-min-a-mated.’ He groggily hobbles into the living room where Mason and I sit huddled together on Grandma Dottie’s forest green chair and he looks at me disapprovingly. “What’s going on, buddy?” Mason doesn’t answer. “Mina, why’s he so upset? It’s six in the morning.” As David rubs his two fisted hands against his dark closed eyes, I realize I have to tell him that Mason asked me if I was sad. I have to pat the open space on the seat beside us and invite him to join. I have to tell him that I hesitated when Mason asked me about divorce. And so I do. It’s in the midst of careful explanation that I realize my word choice doesn’t really matter. Mason asked. He saw me. And he felt it. The change in nature of our home is evident, even to the littlest of members and it nauseates me to think I haven’t hidden it better.
As David and I take turns reassuring Mason of the confidence we have in our marriage, our eyes refuse to meet. We speak instinctively, as if reading from the same monotonous script—Mom and Dad perfectly in sync. But what about husband and wife? What about Mina and David? *** It’s here in my sons’ bedroom, half-past seven o’clock, that I find myself thinking again of the conversation that stole from me such a peaceful morning. It’s bedtime now, once again almost dark and Mason and Jacob want me to read Swimmers for the Moon. “Some nights, when the moon is just right,” I begin, “the ocean surface becomes like a shiny mirror. And therein that water, way down in the deep, there are fishies you can’t see that throw parties in the dark.” It’s the fanning motion of the pages, the brief array of storybook illustrations that remind me most of reading this book as a child. Jacob peers into the water-mirror on the paper, blue eyes widening as he grins at his own reflection and I think about Grandma Dottie watching my six-year-old self do the same. I remember even more the discomfort that flooded me when she told me the truth about its author before she passed away. She told me, “Mina, this book was written by my friend.” And what a friend he was. Their love story was nothing but a fit of boredom. My grandfather was off serving in a war, fighting on the brink of death, as Grandma Dottie searched for pastimes in Detroit. A soggy blue flyer hung sulkily off the damp pinboard of a quaint supermarket on a rainy Saturday morning in June. It advertised a local writing class for adult beginners. She told me she wore a rose-colored dress on her first day of the workshop and that it had white buttons that went from bottom to top. She remembered because she sewed them and because she re-sewed them every time another one fell off. “He wasn’t a very handsome man,” she repeated, “but his personality was golden.” Golden. I’m not entirely sure how they got from strangers to lovers (and cheaters)— Grandma Dottie wasn’t one to encourage her lifestyle, per se—but somewhere between her stories of love and of loss, she always seemed to argue that sometimes wrong felt right. And I think sometimes I agree. As Mason’s eyelids begin to cover increasingly more of his vision, I try matching the projection of my voice to his growing
entertain them at all. I dropped Mason and Jacob off at David’s office, sent them straight in to greet him at his desk and I left them there without telling David that I was going. I wandered into a local coffee shop. “Cultivate,” it was called. “Where all are welcome,” it said on its modern antique door. And it was there that I saw him. Connor Simmons, a man of history’s past. His eyes were still the same, moody and mysterious as they’d always been. Enticing. His arm reached out for mine, probably to pull me in for a friendly hug and all I could notice was his lack of a dad-bod—nothing like David. He must not be married, I thought. “Mina!” he welcomed me with a familiar embrace, one with the scent of sandalwood and of musk. I swear sometimes I smell things that make me feel as if I’ve been teleported to a previous moment in time, like one second I’m in the here and now and the next, I smell an aroma I didn’t even realize I remembered and feel a sensation I didn’t remember having ever felt. And yesterday, my body remembered, or maybe it was my mind and all of a sudden I was there in a moment. I was transported to a younger me, lying peacefully in Connor’s bed in downtown Philadelphia, waiting patiently for him to come back with sesame bagels from Walnut Street. I could see myself engulfed by charcoal-colored sheets— they clung to the curves of my pre-motherhood morning skin—and I felt no urgency to get up. Sunlight streamed through industrial windows, brick walls surrounding me in what felt like the most picturesque loft I’d ever seen. These are the memories I’m not supposed to remember, a past life I’m not supposed to miss. But it’s here that I now lie in an unending state of missing. In the dark of night, I dream about a man I used to know and about the woman I might now be if I had pursued a life with him. It’s here that I rest rigidly, my body firmly maintaining an arm’s distance, as I dream simultaneously about the husband I used to think loved me well, the man who lies next to me nightly. I still dream for our baby an impossible future, one with first cries and with bicycle riding without any training wheels and with first dances and with heartbreaks—these were the moments I was supposed to console her through. I imagine who I thought she’d be, who I wish she still had the chance to become. And I think about how Grandma Dottie must be holding on to my own Dottie now. I think about what heaven must be like for them and how I’d like to be there someday. And I hope to God I’ll get to hold her. I think until the blackness of my bedroom becomes a fog-like gray haze and when my ceiling fan comes into a semidistinguishable shape, I close my eyes again to sleep.
es e my e y ls
level of sleepiness. “They swim and they swim and they swim,” I whisper. “And every fishy keeps dancing in the dark.” Wise words from Grandma Dottie’s lover. And what a fishy friend he was. The quietness of the empty upstairs hallway brings me comfort after tucking Mason and Jacob into each of their beds. The solitude offers peace and yet my belly reminds me that I am lonely. My feet shuffle longingly across the vertical slats of flooring outside our baby’s would-have-been room and it’s here against her doorway that I sink to the floor and rest my head beneath the knob I cannot gather the strength to open. I find myself here nightly, yearning for a closeness that this space cannot offer, searching here for a remnant of her I know I’ll only find in our backyard. But I cannot go there. Not in the dark. I cannot even go there in the light. On the night that she escaped me, it was more physically painful than I feel comfortable re-imagining, more gruesome and instinctual than I thought my body could be capable of; this was betrayal. My abdomen contracted forcefully against my will, demanding me to deliver her before she was ready. And I saw her. I saw the makings of her semi-formed body. And I held her. God, why couldn’t this have happened sooner? Why couldn’t it have just been blood? David found her when he unraveled my arms and he gasped at the sight of her silence. “Mina, how could you do this?!” he wailed. “How could you not call someone? Anyone at all to try and save her?!” Was he stupid? I wondered. Had he not known that babies this young had no chance to survive? His yelling turned to sobbing as he cursed me for having never wanted her in the first place—punishment is what I get for regret at the initial sight of two pink lines on a drugstore pregnancy test. But I didn’t want this. I did want her. We covered her sweet body in a blanket I had monogrammed for the day we thought we’d bring her home from the hospital. “Dottie,” it said in yellow cursive letters. In the attic, I had an etched wooden box, one for collectible dolls I’d pointlessly saved for years and we buried her in it. We buried her together, alone. More than just dreaming for her an impossible future, I find myself still dreaming for me a sacred service—one with a burial that honored her more publicly than David cared to endure—one where I could explain to my children and my family and my friends the waning bump of my abdomen without having to use any words. Leaning here against the coldness of Dottie’s doorway, I’m summoned to reality by a swooshing rush of air that busts through a vent across the hallway. I shift to my hands and to my knees, lifting myself from the ground to wander back to a bed that doesn’t wait for me, to a room whose bulbs have already gone to rest. And so I turn out the lights in the hall, my own little forging into the nighttime before I trudge to the space beside David in our bed. I lie beside the husband I sleep with every night, the man I can hardly imagine sleeping with again at all and I stare into the abyss of our ceiling. I think about my life and about the routines I find myself entertaining daily. I think about how yesterday I didn’t
The Science of Us by Victoria Gomez
Design: Isabella M. Lozano
ou bring out the scientist in me.
The unmet escape velocity in me.
The four billion years in the making in me.
The no going back event horizon in me.
The dopaminergic reward pathway in me.
The free body everything in me.
The selective serotonin reuptake inhibition in me.
The quantum entanglement in me.
The enzyme helicase who just wants to unzip your genes in me.
The cosmological singularity, spaghettification in me.
The positive feedback loop in me.
The most uncertain principle in me.
The powerhouse of myself in me.
The moving fast time dilation in me.
The elevated annealing temperature in me.
The drawing conclusions the only way I know how in me.
The unconditional positive regard in me. The promise of a correlation coefficient in me.
I am at odds with your probabilities, and I am deviated by your standards.
The glory of a statistical significance in me.
I am lost in your pizza-crust universe, adrift in your untranquil sea. I am tending towards chaos, shifted to red, dotted by blue.
Your every action has my reaction.
I am decaying, endless half-lives left and yet none at all.
Your energy is my activation.
Falling and floating, displaced by your weight, caught in the net of your
Your structure determines my functions.
Your creations can destroy me.
I am an uncontrolled experiment, blinded by your methods, confounded
Our fusion is all but cold, our hypothesis all but null.
by your variables.
Our selection is natural, our events dependent.
I stand here with no q.e.d’s, no if and only ifs.
In your eyes I see supernovas, in your smile I see fire.
I surrender to the science of us, to the questions I can’t answer.
In your laugh I hear a shock wave, in your name I hear the stars. I want your haploids to meet mine and see what they make.
Tell me how I can explain the world around me, when the world around
I want to approach your infinity, no limit to be found.
me is you.
I want your entropy, your flashpoint, your zero-sum game.
You bring out the ground control to Major Tom in me. The million questions, twenty answers in me. The carried error, unchecked signs in me.
One Fish, Two Fish, Few Fish, No Fish How is our seafood caught and how have species declined? by Christian Zavier Rosa Illustration & Design: Anam Ahmed 22 22
resh sushi, steamy clam chowder, tuna sashimi— these dishes mark just a few of the many seafood delicacies that we just can’t get enough of. We may just love it a little too much; our consumption rates cannot sustain our current habits for much longer. Fresh seafood is often considered a delicacy with a high ticket price for consumer pockets and negative implications for marine ecosystems. According to an NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) report, in 2019 alone, Americans consumed over six billion pounds of seafood, making the US the world’s second-largest consumer, closely following China. While their destination is the same, we cannot say the same of their journeys- these billions of pounds of seafood include those that are locally sourced and caught, imported, farm-raised, and commercially caught. It is important to note that some avenues of harvest from the ocean to your dinner plate have greater environmental effects than others. When researching methods of seafood harvest, it is critical to acknowledge the pressure certain fisheries place on the species they are harvesting and the habitat they are harvesting it from. One of the most destructive techniques used in commercial fishing is the practice of trawling. Trawling is a form of fishing where a commercial vessel drags large nets along the seafloor to target mid-water column and bottom fish. Thousands of pounds of fish can be caught at once, and, if left unregulated, can severely deplete fish stocks. Although safety measures have been adapted to mitigate the effect of by-catch (members of species that were unintentionally caught), trawling can harm and kill marine mammals, turtles, and non-target fish. Commercial fishermen are not to blame for trying to keep up with the exorbitant demand for seafood, but the data surrounding harmful fishing practices should influence methods of sustainable harvest. Compare the devastating effects of trawling to those of spearfishing, an eco-friendly, albeit less effective practice. Usually embraced by recreational fishermen, it is the act of using a spear and a trigger mechanism to pierce the flesh of a marine organism. The most common type of spearfishing utilizes a speargun with heavy-duty rubber bands that catapult a metal spear through prey. Spearfishing results in very little by-catch since one would only intentionally spear what they are after. Both recreational and commercial limits on this practice apply depending on the region, adding to the practice’s sustainability and awareness of environmental impact. Nowadays, not all the fish on your plate comes from open waters. Aquaculture (fish farming) has come a long way since its first largescale operations in the 1980s. According to the NOAA, “Aquaculture supports seafood production, year-round jobs, rebuilding protected species and habitats, and enhancing coastal resilience.” Globally,
aquaculture supplies over 50% of seafood used for human consumption. Some farming techniques incorporate the natural environment to aid in food production. Oyster farming, in particular, is a great example of a naturally-occurring fishery. Initially, Oyster eggs are fertilized in the lab and mature until they grow to 0.5 millimeters. Oysters are then grown in the same areas as natural oysters and thus do not need to be fed. Once they reach a size of six millimeters, they are placed in baskets along coastlines and allowed to continue to grow for 18-24 months. This variety of harvesting methods for various species are important for collecting data on species populations sizes and management. Being aware of environmental impact and species trends throughout time aids scientists and government officials in engineering seafood management methods and policy. It is important to be aware of how your seafood was caught and the long-lasting effects surrounding its capture. This information might be disheartening for those who wonder if their consumption of seafood is inherently negative, given the question of how few fish are left. It does not have to be so- the consumption of seafood is a crucial source of protein and fats for a range of populations worldwide and irreplaceable. However, we do have to be proactive with sourcing our fish and ensure we do it ethically and sustainably. Inspecting populations of tuna, salmon, and shrimp in the wild helps paint a picture of where we could be heading into the next century. When analyzing Pacific Bluefin Tuna stocks, scientists found that over 97% of stocks have declined with only 2.6% of their original size remaining. Sockeye salmon stocks vary depending on the pacific region, with some being severely under target population levels; in 2019, commercial landings of sockeye salmon totaled 290 million pounds and were valued at approximately $466.5 million. Although Shrimps have high spawning rates, some populations in South America are under sustainable levels and would benefit from better management. It is clear that there are harmful and relatively less so methods of seafood harvest as we see that some marine species are under much stress, while others remain at target levels. In summary, should you worry the next time you buy a poke bowl from a sushi restaurant? Probably not, but asking questions about harvest methods and species can help make you a more informed consumer.
The Environment The Forgotten Sufferer of Conflict and War
by Uma Wahab Illustration & Design: Cherri Chen
he environment has been one of the many silent casualties of conflict and war, and arguably the most critical. This is not to say conflict’s other victims are not important, but the environmental damage that conflict propagates could potentially catalyze the deterioration of everything else. The industrialization of conflict and the war machine marked the beginning of serious environmental consequences. Environmental damage as a result of conflict has already begun to result in worsening health problems, dangerous living conditions, increasingly unstable political systems, and economic distress for those who have been impacted by war. There is a tendency to focus on the humanitarian crisis of war and ignore the environmental crisis, the inaction regarding the latter only exacerbating the former. Weapons Environmental damage due to war starts before any physical conflict and doesn’t stop after it ends. The manufacturing of weapons emits toxins into the environment in the form of by-products and waste released during production. Weapons also take significant energy in storage to preserve the integrity and promote safety in avoidance of exposure. Production of hardware and equipment for military activities creates environmentally dangerous byproducts that make for difficult disposal. The training of personnel to use these weapons occurs in military bases where large amounts of land, water, and other resources are also used. Additionally, creating military vehicles, uniforms, and buildings takes significant resources as they are often created in excess to avoid shortages. Upkeep of training and testing grounds places a strain on resources and energy, and the United States has many national and international bases. Standing armies at these bases require resources that would otherwise go unused, creating further environmental stress.
Human Displacement Human displacement resulting from war leads to prolonged use and constraint on the surrounding resources as well as the ecosystem. Those who travel on foot, to no fault of their own, tend to harm the environment through soil erosion, water pollution and waste pollution. The destination of refugees also tends to experience environmental distress because of the sudden increase in population - large camps can lead to water pollution, trash piles, depletion of resources for fuel, and dramatic decreases in animal population for food. Many of these problems are unavoidable as it is difficult to house large numbers of refugees, and many camps are seen as temporary settlements, meaning they don't have appropriate accommodations. In many cases, refugees are displaced for long periods, making residents in camps desperate and the environment experiences repercussions. This often leads to host countries being less likely to take large numbers of refugees, which indirectly can lead to escalating tensions during conflict and creates further damage to the environment. The strain on resources in countries accepting refugees is often unavoidable. Land used to house refugees, clean water, toilets, food and healthcare are necessities and create significant strains when they are needed for a large number of people, often exponentially increasing the usage of resources in a region. In Myanmar over a million Rohingya Muslims have fled to escape religious persecution entering Bangladesh, leading to immense environmental damage. Taking in so many refugees has led Bangladesh to experience mass logging in order to create space and be used for fuel and housing. This further leads to soil erosion that threatens the natural environment including endangered elephant populations. Additionally, human waste and trash piles have polluted the streets, groundwater, canals, and the air, posing serious climate and health concerns. As climate change advances at higher rates each year so to will refugee populations.. Military officials have expressed that aiding environmental refugees takes up
resources that can be used elsewhere making it an unfavorable task. Extractive Industries Conflict often expedites the damage caused by the extraction industry with an increased need for resources and funds. Logging, mining of blood diamonds, gold, and coltan are among the most common materials within extractive industries that are utilized to fund conflict. Many of these industries are vital to the residents, expanding job opportunities and aiding local economies. However, during conflict, armed groups and states often occupy the industries to either fund their interests or intentionally cause environmental damage to further their initiatives. In Afghanistan, for instance, conflict paved the way for leaders of the Taliban to institute illegal logging that destroys large parts of environmentally protected forests. Within the past 30 years, The Costs of War Project reported that additional deforestation by “US-backed warlords and wood harvesting by refugees” resulted in decreased air quality, habitat loss for wildlife, drought, desertification, and major species loss. Toxic Hazards Damage to infrastructure and industrial sites can lead to long-lasting disasters. In 1999, NATO engaged in offensive warfare for the second time since its creation, bombing a Pancevo oil refinery in Serbia based on the accusation that it was being used for war efforts, which had not been proven. The bombings led to the production of clouds of smoke and poor breathing conditions in a large region of southeastern Europe, and while this was temporary, the air and surrounding land would experience long term damage as chemicals within the refinery were released into the community. The bombing of the oil refinery in Pancevo “resulted in a 1,2-dichloroethane release and mercury release,” causing those residing in the river town to face serious health concerns. Residents of Pancevo reported diarrhea, vomiting, and other stomach issues from contaminated groundwater from which they drank, ate fish, and used to cultivate crops. Additionally, they faced poor air quality as noxious gas polluted the air leading to an increase in respiratory conditions. Doctors in Pancevo reported, “twice as many miscarriages as there were during the comparable period”. The pollution reached past Pancevo entering into groundwater and riverbeds that reach other unsuspecting communities. NATO’s targeting of the oil refinery to deny material to the Serbian forces ultimately led to environmental and physical suffering within Pancevo; which, fuels the narrative that the immediate use of weapons and ammunition have negative effects on both the environment and the health of residents. Fuel Usage During the 19th century, the United States military began to use excessive amounts of coal to further their military endeavors, producing tons of harmful toxins and
pollutants. As the United States military expanded and new technology developed, petroleum became an important asset and the 1973 petroleum reserve was created. Since then, the United States military's dependence on oil has been among the country's top interests during conflict. The United States’ development of the rapid deployment force was in large part motivated by interests in the Middle East regarding oil. Often conflict, especially in oil-rich regions like the Middle East, is in large part influenced by oil, and the United States’ interest in the Middle East is split between national security, security of friendly states, and oil- which is often the primary issue of interest as it is a large component of the security of friendly states and national security. Without oil, war and conflict would be difficult and the United States would have the potential to lose its standing as the main global power. The United States Department of Defense is the largest “institutional consumer” of oil globally - if the DOD was a stand-alone country it would rank number 50 in greenhouse gas emissions. The United States’ excessive use of oil is a serious contributor to the climate crisis with jet fuel occupying a majority of the DOD’s use of energy. With transportation being the lifeblood of the United States’ international power and status, jet fuel is necessary for most of the United States military’s activities to take place. Yet, transportation is not the biggest use of oil during war. Instead, the largest use of oil is the storage and movement of oil itself. The United States has storage depots for oil in many regions, especially in the Middle East. However, from 2008 to 2014, oil tankers from Pakistan and Afghanistan were repeatedly damaged in attacks wasting large amounts and causing environmental distress. Oil is an important strategic tool in war, and limiting an enemy's access means a significant advantage. Post 9/11, the United States bombed oil facilities and wells in Iraq and Syria to limit the actions of ISIS, especially the revenue and mobility gained from oil. While limiting ISIS’ power was seen as an important advancement, it disregarded the environmental impact when damaging the facilities as it resulted in mass production of CO2. The bombing of the oil wells and facilities led to chemical fires that burned for months or years. Additionally, oil has been used in the deliberate targeting of infrastructure to cause environmental damage. ISIL attacked many oil wells in Iraq and Kurdistan, resulting in even more long term burning of wells, damaging air quality and often seeping into groundwater or open pipes further harming the environment and local health. Biotoxins Biotoxins have the potential to be one of the few survivors of war outlasting both the environment and the surrounding human population. During the Vietnam war, the United States utilized a tactical herbicide, “agent orange”, to improve operations within the landscape. “Over
20 million gallons (90 million liters)” of agent orange were released into the environment effectively destroying food and crops and subjecting millions to the herbicide. An estimated “one million people in Vietnam” were left with disabilities and lifelong health problems as a consequence of agent orange’s usage. The ramifications of agent orange will likely last for decades, maybe centuries. The combination of the chemicals in the herbicide, one of which has been banned for nearly forty years, produces “dioxin TCDD”, an extremely dangerous long-lasting chemical. Even today, citizens in Vietnam suffer from TCDD poisoning, likely from groundwater or consuming fish. Vietnam still faces a potentially larger disaster: after President Nixon called to end the utilization of agent orange, remaining agent orange barrels were left for the Vietnamese military to deal with. While some of these barrels were incinerated to eliminate biotoxins, many ended up in landfills where they continue to emit TCDD posing a threat to those in surrounding areas. Nuclear Weapons and Remnants of War Depleted uranium is coveted for its usage as tank armor and armor-piercing bullets but poses health concerns for those using military weapons and tools. During combat, both tanks and bullets that are damaged have the potential to produce insoluble dust permanently causing serious soil contamination. During the first Gulf War, the United States bombed Iraq “with 340 tonnes of missiles containing depleted uranium” leading to serious concern for environmental damage. Toxic substances left behind and remnants of war remain a serious threat to the environment post-conflict. In the United States disposal of weapons used in training is environmentally damaging, as most disposal is conducted through open burning which pollutes the air. Combat and the use of explosives produces rubble often containing asbestos and toxic residue from weapons treating the local environment. Disposal of residue also takes up serious resources which are typically not environmentally friendly. Abandoned weapons and infrastructure in Afghanistan by the United States and the Soviets have been determined to be chemically toxic or radioactive, impacting the surrounding environment and local health and making for difficult disposal. Syria experiences a build-up of trash, rubble and toxic waste that has yet to be fully addressed. In 2016 ISIL’s attack on a sulfur factory produced a noxious gas killing and hospitalizing people in the region. The cleanup process of the event has been more containment than disposal, as toxins from the factory are extremely dangerous after being burned. The air pollution as a result of the sulfur fire and many oil fires has yet to be addressed and the air quality continues to
suffer. Disrupted Governance During large conflicts, international donors often shift their focus away from the environment and the global conversation on the environment is paused. Previous policies in the protection of the environment are no longer enforced because of disrupted governance, meaning valuable work for protection and preservation is lost. This paves the way for over-usage of resources, neglect and even deliberate damage to the environment to further a political agenda or financial initiative. The relationship between global warming and conflict is cyclical; one occurring means the other may not be far behind. A study conducted by Nature Research in 2019 estimated that “between 3% and 20% of armed conflict” has been influenced by climate change, either further escalating a situation or altogether causing war. Clearly, climate change is not a neutral party in conflict, the United Nations security council expressing that climate change is a "crisis multiplier". The military faces serious threats as a result of climate change and extreme weather conditions. Many military bases are vulnerable to climate-related impacts already; the Norfolk naval base faced detrimental flooding in 2017. Drought as a result of climate change will lead to crop failure and depletion of resources like food and water, which has already been a contributing factor to conflict. In Afghanistan, for example, little to no harvest led to starvation and economic insecurity, leaving citizens susceptible to recruitment by armed groups to escape extreme poverty. Additionally, international conflict is likely to arise as a result of climate change as situations may be exacerbated by the inequality of global emissions. It is likely that those who produce the most will face backlash from other countries, especially if there is a lack of action taken to combat climate change. What about Ukraine? Ukrainian cities bombed by Russia already face rubble that will have negative environmental impacts when disposed of. The conflict in Ukraine has also produced large amounts of refugees, and like any crisis, the movement, housing and other aspects of forced migration contribute negatively to the environment. Occupation by Russian soldiers had produced trash abandoned or destroyed military infrastructure that utilizes dangerous weapons and chemicals. Groundwater has been inadvertently poisoned in Eastern Ukraine and soil from the movement of tanks, heavy machinery and bombs will likely take decades or centuries to recover. In March 2017, fighting near a phenol factory threatened the surrounding environment as the lake with hazardous pollutants was only restricted by a dam and it had been caught up in fighting causing international worry over the
local environment. Ukraine occupies six percent of European land but houses over thirty-five percent of European biodiversity, meaning conflict can lead to permanent loss of unique endemic flora and fauna. Rivers essential to feeding Ukraine have already been damaged by conflict and large portions of forests have also experienced damage, giving Ukraine a worrying prognosis for food production and air quality as a result of environmental damage. The damage to forests is worrying as they combat air pollution, and with a risk for forest fires and the carbon footprint in the region due to weapons and armor, air quality has already begun to suffer. As Eastern Ukraine sits on a large coal reserve, damage to these locations would likely produce long-lasting burns producing harmful emissions into the atmosphere damaging air quality for much of eastern Europe. The landscape of Ukraine is not ideal for conflict - in addition to coal reserves, there are numerous nuclear facilities and coal mines, making utilization of artillery especially risky. Earlier in March 2022, Russian forces’ proximity to the outside of the Ukrainian nuclear facility led to international worry over potential disaster. The mines in Ukraine will likely contribute to the environmental crisis even if they avoid combat. The mines routinely pump out water to avoid an accumulation of toxic substances, but since this is not prioritized during conflict, groundwater will likely experience pollution damaging drinking water, crops, animals and the overall health of the surrounding environment. What Now? In recent years, the United Nations has implemented some studies regarding the effects of conflict on the environment; however, it has not been prioritized. The Geneva ‘List of Principles on the Protection of Water Infrastructure’ is also an attempt at protecting the environment from conflict but it fails to enforce any rules or regulations and operates more as loose guidelines. Almost all international environmental humanitarian laws that have been implemented are non-binding, having little to no impact on the conduct of international conflict and war. Combating war means combating climate change. The best way to target both is changing the global perspective on the climate crisis. Climate change, like war, is a humanitarian issue and the
conversation around one, on a global scale, must begin to include the other. The current understanding of environmental damage as a result of conflict is not enough - tracking war-related illness and death as a result of conflict pollution should be an initiative pushed by the United States government, especially as many personnel have suffered. Additionally, moving to electric or greener vehicles will not only aid the environment but avoid the potential for a lack of mobility for the military as a result of dependency on oil. The disposal of supplies in warzones needs serious regulation to protect the environment and health of animals and residents of the impacted community to prevent long-lasting disasters like agent orange. Additionally, countries accepting refugees should have an international organization that provides resources to seek preventative action against environmental damage. Countries that take in refugees should be afforded legal standing to sue the sending country so they can address any environmental impact when it occurs. The Geneva Convention’s restrictions must become enforceable and punishable as well as expand to address the previously mentioned environmental threats. Improving the environment should be an issue that brings the general public together. Not only does the climate crisis impact the entire globe, but especially those suffering from war and political upset. While it has not happened yet, this is a core issue that has the potential to pull a fractured community together.
A Shark tank of prescription drugs by Clarissa Portocarrero Design: Carolina Hernandez
f you have ever thought of an innovative business venture, then you might have thought about auditioning for Shark Tank in hopes of winning support from investors. Shark Tank is a TV series hosted by a panel of investors including Mark Cuban. Mark Cuban, a billionaire investor and owner of NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, has recently made headlines for launching an online pharmacy for generic medications. The start of the company began with Dr. Alex Oshmyanksy, a radiologist, who started OSH Affordable pharmaceuticals as a nonprofit. He had seen many patients in bad health due to their limited access to prescription drugs. The aim was to help people, even when insured, who could not afford their prescription drugs. The transition from nonprofit to pharmaceutical company occurred when Dr. Oshmyaknky’s sent an email to Cuban with his pitch. Cuban was impressed and agreed to support him changing the name to Cost Plus Drug Company and making Dr. Oshmyaknky the CEO. The Cost Plus Drug Company is set to compete with powerful Pharmacies such as CVS Health Corp., Rite Aid, etc. One might wonder why this company has so much potential to disturb this niche of a market. Compared to other pharmacies, Cost Plus Drug is set to eliminate pharmacy benefit managers from the current pharmaceutical model. Pharmacy benefit managers are third party administrators with the role of managing prescription drug benefits on behalf of large employers, health insurers, etc. The problem resides in the fact that pharmacy benefit managers have not been transparent on behalf of large employers, health insurers,
and more regarding the rebates they receive. In the end, it allows companies to make more money by keeping large portions of cost savings from consumers. In adopting this pharmaceutical model, Cost Plus Drug will not be able to process insurance claims. Even with this out-of-pocket expense, the pharmacy will still offer cheaper drugs at full price than what consumers pay with an insurance plan. The cost of drug prices will consist of the manufacturers’ prices plus a flat 15% markup and a $3 pharmacist fee. This business model therefore reflects the company’s mission statement to produce low-cost versions of high-cost generic drugs to provide “radical transparency in how drugs are priced”. Currently, the pharmacy is selling over 100 generic medications as an online business. The company is set to buy directly from third party suppliers, such as Truepill Pharmacy, but will soon begin to manufacture their own products. The drugs available treat conditions including asthma, heart failure, cancer, and so on. Cuban has collaborated with the digital healthcare company Truepill to make the process seamless and assure a secure e-commerce experience. Although insurance is not accepted, the price for drugs is still less than what people pay with insurance. For example, the company sells Imatinub, a generic cancer drug for Gleevic for $17.10. According to Dr. Oshmyansky, the consumer saves $2,485 from buying the drug throught Cost Plus Drug. As Oshmyansky said to the press, “ We will do whatever it takes to get affordable pharmaceuticals to patients”.
In launching Cost Plus Drug, Oshmyansky and Cuban have begun to fight a long-standing battle in the U.S. concerning high drug prices. The U.S. pays the highest prices for drugs in the world where 17% of national healthcare spending goes to prescription drugs. The worst part is that analysts expect this number to increase over the next 10 years. This means that drugs costs are expected to outpace other services such as doctor visits and hospital care. The U.S. has a very fragmented healthcare system that has allowed drug prices to skyrocket, and previous bills have only minorly subsided the access to prescription drugs, one being Medicare part D. Then, one might wonder why prescription drug prices are so incredibly high compared to their counterparts. Part of the reason is due to the opacity in healthcare that helps boost the revenue and profits of big pharmaceutical companies. It ultimately keeps consumers in the dark, so it is not as obvious that there are better deals. Furthermore, the U.S. is unique in that it does not regulate or negotiate prices of new prescription drugs. In other countries, specific agencies are tasked with negotiating appropriate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies. These agencies are also responsible for making decisions regarding new drugs and whether there is truly a benefit compared to current drugs in the market. Conversely, the U.S. allows drug makers to set their own drug prices and allows every drug to enter the market once it is proven to be safe. That is where insurance plans step in. Insurance companies negotiate their own prices with pharmaceutical companies separately. With this individualized and fragmented system, insurers have less bargaining power to lower prices compared to European countries where the government negotiates for all citizens. The closest example in the U.S. to the European healthcare system regarding access
to affordable drugs is Medicare. Medicare covers about 55 million Americans over the age of 65 and gives access to all FDA-approved drugs through Medicare part D. This is great for all citizens over 65, but this does not help the working class. After the COVID-19 pandemic, public opinion polls reflect an increase in positive opinion regarding pharmaceutical companies once COVID-19 vaccines were introduced to the public. However, positive opinions were as low as 30% before the pandemic. Regardless, President Biden urged congress to approve the Build Back Better plan, which includes a proposal to lower drug prices. The plan aims to ‘rebuild the backbone of the country- the middle class’. In order to decrease drug prices, the plan is set to impose a tax penalty if drug companies increase their prices faster than inflation, let Medicare negotiate drug prices, and directly lower out-of-pocket costs for seniors. In a press conference, he mentioned that insulin to treat type 1 diabetes costs consumers $375 to $1000 a month, and plans on capping insulin prices to $35 a month. Then the main question then becomes ‘why hasn’t the U.S. government capped drug prices?’ Simply put, it is a difficult task to reach approval from opposing parties. On one side, republicans advocate for free markets and a multi-payer healthcare system, while democrats prefer more government regulations and a single-payer healthcare system. Even going past foundational beliefs exists a tradeoff. Lowering drug prices makes research and drug development less desirable for investors. This could potentially lead to a slower pace for new and innovative therapies and cures. Ultimately, the cost of prescription drugs is a problem not only rooted in the current pharmaceutical model, but also in the broken U.S. healthcare system.
Although we cannot solve this problem overnight, hopefully Mark Cuban’s Cost Plus Drug company will pressure the pharmaceutical market to lower prices, or at least pressure policy changes.
The dIGITAL GOOD DECLASSIFIED by Abigail Lin Adera Design: Isabella M. Lozano
thereum. Satoshis. Non-fungible. Huh? For savy cryptocurrency experts like University of Miami student Michelle Lapidot, these words are everyday tools in the world of Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs). Although the rest of us are left puzzled by this digital language, it’s time everyone improved their knowledge as crypto is likely the future of digital transactions. Let’s start with the basics. As referenced, NFTs stand for non-fungible tokens, which are digital goods. NFTs are forms of digital art and can include photos, music, animations, video, or even tweets. Non-fungible means that the good is unique and cannot be interchanged. This is in comparison to a unit of currency, like Bitcoin, which can be exchanged easily. One Bitcoin can be traded for another, but a unique NFT created by an artist is not as easily transferable. Non-fungible also means that it cannot be broken down. While a Bitcoin can be divided into smaller denominations (i.e. Satoshis), NFTs are bought as complete entities and sold as complete entities. NFTs are secure- each sold NFT comes with a certification of authenticity, coded into the entity through blockchain technology. Blockchains are the underlying systems that make NFTs and the exchange of cryptocurrencies broadly possible. Blockchains are digital ledgers of transactions among users and are verified through countless computers across the globe, with open access records of transactions that cannot be overwritten. Public blockchains, where NFTs reside, have an open network through which any digital user can perform a transaction. The main public blockchain in which NFT transactions are recorded is known as Ethereum. The selling of NFTs is a lucrative business. Since the 2014 purchase of the octagon-shaped animation “Quantum” by artist Kevin McCoy, NFTs have generated several hundred millions in transactions monthly. The most expensive NFT, Pak’s “The Merge” sold for over $91.8 million to over 30,000 art collectors. That’s the another thing about NFTs; multiple buyers can “own” the piece. The artist retains both copyright and reproduction rights, as an artist would with a physical piece. Any NFT, due to its digital nature, can be easily copied and downloaded from the internet without purchase. It is the value tied to true authentic ownership, as recorded by the blockchain’s secure ledger, that encourages NFT purchase. Smart NFT buyers consider several factors before purchasing a piece. They consider the underlying value of the NFT to be the credibility and hype surrounding the artist. They also consider potential value or how much the pieces will be worth in the coming days, weeks, or months. The buyer’s own taste plays a huge role; there are entire clubs devoted to certain categories of NFTs. Popular NFT avatar clubs include the Cool Cats and SupDucks, both of which comprise NFT enthusiasts that share a love for art featuring a certain animal. These clubs serve not only as art-appreciation collaborative hubs but also function in community/stock shareholding. When one NFT in a collection sells for high value, so will the other pieces. To purchase an NFT, you need two things–a digital wallet and some money. One of the best options is to install a dedicated crypto wallet from MetaMask and then purchase ether (ETH) currency from Ethereum, the standard blockchain for NFTs. You can purchase ETH from CoinBase.com via a credit card or bank transfer. Both MetaMask and CoinBase can be accessed via QR codes below or from their websites. There are dozens of compatible marketplaces, but the largest one that uses Ethereum is OpenSea. OpenSea is a generalized NFT marketplace, but some of its users have specific digital assets for purchase. For
example, the National Basketball Association (NBA) has NFTs that feature proprietary material from the NBA. As an artist, it is fairly simple to upload your work onto OpenSea. The process of converting one’s art to an NFT is referred to as mining. After the completion of mining, there is a choice to list the NFT as either a fixed price of ETH or as a timed auction, similar to the selling practices on eBay. An artist can elect to bundle multiple NFTs or sell their pieces individually. Processing fees, called “gas fees” include a marketplace service fee of 2.5% and a creator earnings fee of 10% for an overall fee totaling 12.5%. NFTs are the future of digital art. Public blockchain marketplaces represent the democratization of art; artists hail from all backgrounds and have an equal chance to earn a living wage regardless of social connections or formal education. NFTs have value because the cryptocurrency community agrees that the certification of authenticity has value, and the entire transaction is backed by the secure nature of the public blockchain’s ledger system. Unlike physical art, NFTs revolutionize the way artists are recognized - buyers can directly support their favorite artists without the use of a third-party negotiator. The power is in the hands of the people, the very reason why cryptocurrency became popular in the first place. So the next time foreign crypto terms come at you fast, take note and consider jumping on the NFT train: after all, it’s the future of digital art.
QR Code for MetMask Wallet
QR Code for CoinBase, crypto-exchange
ONIONS,, PIRATES,, AND SPIES ONIONS The Shadowed Story of the Dark Web by Caleb Heathershaw Illustration & Design: Meera N. Patel
t was a dark and stormy night. You slip into the alleyway, holding a briefcase as the deep shadows disguise your furrowed brow. As your trench coat brushes against the damp brick, a stranger slips into the same alley, and your grip on the briefcase tightens. You check your pocket watch. Almost time. The stranger checks his pocket watch, and you nod and open the briefcase. A sinister golden glow flickers in the stranger’s eyes. You close the briefcase, spin the locks, and pass it to him. He reaches into his coat for an envelope. He nods. A cracking headache splits your skull. The gunshot echoes in the darkness and your beige coat turns crimson. You are exposed. Your vision fades to gray. In 1940s era spycraft, anonymity was as simple as stepping into an alleyway. The shadows were protection. But it isn’t that simple anymore. Today, every aspect of your life is exposed. Your communication, entertainment, medical records, criminal history, and financial capital pass through the internet. As we’ve seen in recent hacking events, the internet is not a secure place. In response to the unraveling of digital privacy, a new digital infrastructure rose in the shadows. However, the shadows are dangerous too. Imagine the internet is an iceberg. The Surface Web (the 10% above the surface) includes Google, Wikipedia, Instagram, and all public web pages accessible through normal search engines. The Deep Web (the 90% of the internet is below the surface) includes all websites with restricted access from your medical records to your CaneLink account. One section of the Deep Web—far below the surface—is the Dark Web, a collection of websites inaccessible to ordinary browsers like Chrome or Safari. In the 1990s, researchers at the United States Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in Washington D.C. began to explore the idea of creating a new
routing system that provided maximum privacy and anonymity. They called this system “onion routing”. Just like the layers of an onion, messages in an onion routing system are wrapped layer by layer in different levels of encryption; they called this first system “The Onion Router,” or Tor for short. The story of the Dark Web continues with a senior project. In 1999, while computer scientist Ian Clarke was completing his final year of undergraduate education at the University of Edinburgh, he submitted a senior thesis project called “A Distributed Decentralized Information Storage and Retrieval System.” His professor gave him a ‘B’. Clarke saw potential in his project, so he released his paper on the internet and began building an open-source platform unlike anything the computer science world had seen: Freenet. Freenet became the first decentralized anonymous communication platform widely available on the internet. The next chapter in the Dark Web takes place in 2006. Two researchers at the United States Naval Laboratory, Nick Mathewson and Paul Syverson, developed a second version of the Tor software. They launched this browser (with the help of private donors) as a publicly available software. The US government is both innovation’s greatest supporter and its greatest opposition— the Naval Research Laboratory (with additional resources from the National Science Foundation [NSF] and the Central Intelligence Agency [CIA]) created a communication resource so secure that other branches of the Department of Defense (like the FBI) spent millions of dollars trying to unencrypt that secure communication platform. With Tor offering a secure encrypted platform for anonymous communication, the Dark Web began to expand, and criminal activity began to use the platform for increasingly nefarious enterprises.
In 2010, Ross Ulbrich, a young Penn State graduate with an eye for profit and penchant for libertarianism, developed a grandiose vision for the Dark Web. He wanted to build an online marketplace where anonymous trade could thrive without government oversight. Ulbricht named this website Silk Road, reminiscent of the ancient Silk Road trade route. Ulbricht operated Silk Road under the pseudonym “Dread Pirate Roberts,” a reference to the mysterious name of a masked marauder in the iconic film The Princess Bride. In the film, the title Dread Pirate Roberts would be passed down from person to person, as the elder Dread Pirate Roberts wanted to retire and the younger Dread Pirate Roberts wanted the established reputation. The marketplace ran on Tor browsers and all commerce was facilitated through bitcoin, creating a nearly foolproof veil of anonymity. The Silk Road grew in scope and Dread Pirate Roberts grew in reputation until the online black market was eventually hosting millions of dollars of illegal activity to over 100,000 users. Although the Silk Road marketplace didn’t allow for the sale of items meant to “harm or defraud,” like child pornography or weapons, sales did include drugs of all kinds, as well as fake identities. In 2013, the IRS finally connected the online Dread Pirate Roberts identity to Ulbricht. Ulbricht was working on his laptop at a San Francisco library when two FBI agents distracted him. Another agent took the laptop and inserted a flash drive that copied all the files from the computer. They arrested Ulbricht, who was then convicted for money laundering and conspiracy to traffic illegal drugs, and charged him with two life sentences. Ulbricht has appealed his sentence several times, claiming the evidence used against him was not permissible to obtain without a warrant (given the 4th amendment). The Supreme Court rejected his appeals, and he sits today in the Tucson United States Penitentiary. The Silk Road is one example of many illegal marketplaces on the Dark Web. Other black markets have risen since Silk Road’s collapse, including marketplaces for drugs, weapons, and child pornography. The FBI is constantly working to take down these platforms.
Over half of the content on the Dark Web is completely legal. Researcher Emily Wilson describes the Dark Web as, “a mix of eBay for criminals, the weirdest flea market you’ve ever been to, and a bad guy meet-up.” Government agencies like the CIA and news outlets like the New York Times offer anonymous tip lines to encourage safe reporting. In internet-oppressive countries like North Korea, Iran, or China, the Dark Web offers a lifeline to communication networks, accurate journalism, and the global economy. Even you can use the Dark Web to securely transfer data, access geo-blocked streaming titles, or play a chess game against a total stranger. If you do need to explore the Dark Web, please explore safely. Install the official Tor software and download a reputable VPN. Update your antivirus software, close all apps, turn off your location, and cover your webcam. Never reveal your name, location, email address, or physical address. As our existence becomes intrinsically tied to the digital space we inhabit, we should be aware of the world growing in the shadows. Although the place of shadowed exchange has changed from the dim alleyway to the Silk Road, the risks and rewards remain the same. While the Surface Web raises privacy concerns, the Dark Web offers beguiling anonymity. Anonymity comforts those who have something to hide—whether they’re hiding something precious to be protected, or something evil to be disguised. The darkness may hide your identity, but it will not hide your intentions
h l o c kc
hat the hell is a bitcoin? Well to start, what is money? Money is defined as “a commodity accepted by general consent as a medium of economic exchange.” When we break down the US dollar, all it is is a piece of paper. What we've done is tie that piece of paper to a widely accepted value. Thus, you can take out your piece of paper with Andrew Jackson’s face on it and buy some food, clothes, or services. Different countries have attached a certain value to their pieces of paper, thus we have to exchange currencies when we travel. But what about cryptocurrencies? I can’t hold it in my hand, like I can a dollar bill or a coin, so is it still money? Yes, bitcoin is still a currency even though it doesn’t have a physical presence. Essentially, bitcoin is lines of code in a technology system called a blockchain. A blockchain is similar to a bank’s ledger or a timestamp. The blockchain is where every bitcoin transaction is recorded. These transactions are recorded by a process known as mining. Once this information has been recorded, it is very hard to change. So how does this work? A blockchain is what it sounds like, it is a chain of code blocks. The blocks are where three pieces of information are stored: data, hash, and the hash of the previous block. In the case of bitcoin, the data the block stores are the sender, receiver, and the
N I O A C T
by Ainsley Hilliard
Illustration & Design: Anam Ahmed
amount of bitcoin. The hash is what identifies each block, with each hash being unique to that block. Each block also has the hash of the previous block, which is what creates the chain part of the blockchain. These hashes are what make bitcoin secure, because if you change the hash of a block, you change the block. Since each block also includes the hash of the previous block, when you tamper with one block, it causes the subsequent blocks to become invalidated since the hash and the hash of the previous block no longer match. What about creating new blocks? That is the second security feature of crypto. For each transaction, a hash needs to be created. This is called mining, and within mining, there is a mechanism called proof of work. Proof of work is what determines what hash is good enough to be implemented into the blockchain. Mining devices generate computations that aim to validate the proof of work. Once this hash is created it can be verified by other miners. With this new hash, a new block can be added to the blockchain. Okay, so a bitcoin is a bunch of code, but how does that blockchain create monetary value?. What are these lines of code worth? Each block is worth 6.25 bitcoins. The miner who created the bitcoin also receives these 6.25 bitcoins and a transaction fee. Recall that the first part of the block is the data containing the sender, receiver, and the amount of bitcoin. The miner receives a transaction fee from the bitcoin already
included in the block. According to bitcoin protocol, the value of each block will reduce by half every 210,000 blocks. This causes the value of new blocks to eventually reach zero. It is anticipated that this zero value will be reached in the year 2140 when there will be 21 million bitcoins in existence. No more bitcoin will be created after this. The only profit from creating new blocks will come from the transaction fees. Not all of us have the supercomputers nor computer science expertise to make these hashes and blocks, so how do we get bitcoin? In order to interact with the blockchain, you need a bitcoin address. A bitcoin address comes from a private key. From your bitcoin address, you also receive a public key. The bitcoin address and public key are what others use to make the payment, the private key remains confidential. Let’s say I want to send you a bitcoin: I send it to your bitcoin address and I sign the transaction using both my private key and public key. The network then verifies the transaction using the public key. Going back to how you get bitcoin, there are bitcoin wallets that handle all this coding stuff for you. It is imperative to select a secure digital wallet for bitcoin transactions and storage. These digital wallets use your private key as the password, which means using a secure internet connection is very important, without one you risk being hacked. The bitcoin wallet is also where you buy bitcoin using US dollars or any physical currency. However, bitcoin is a very volatile currency. It can fall thousands of dollars or rise that same amount within a day. Why is this? The most basic reason can be explained with simple economics: supply and demand. As mentioned previously, bitcoin’s supply limit is 21 million coins. When supply becomes limited, demand increases. Although this amount will not be reached for another hundred and twenty years, as this date approaches, the price
Genius Block HASH: IZ8F Previous HASH: 000
Genius Block HASH: IZ8F Previous HASH: 000
will rise. Limited supply increases demand. Another factor that affects the supply of bitcoin is investors. The National Bureau of Economic Research estimates that one-third of all bitcoins, 6.3 million to be exact, are held by only 10,000 investors. Assuming that 6.3 million is divided evenly among these 10,000 investors, each investor has 630 bitcoins. At the time of this article’s publication, one bitcoin is worth 41,161 US dollars, giving each investor almost 26 million US dollars. This is why today, you typically buy a fraction of a bitcoin. If these investors were to start selling off their bitcoins, this would scare other investors into also selling. As the supply of bitcoin increases, the demand decreases. This decrease in demand causes the prices to fall. Another factor of bitcoin’s volatility is media hype. If the media features an economist that is procryptocurrency, it leads to more people wanting to buy cryptocurrency and raises prices. The opposite is also true. If the media features a skeptical economist or a story on crypto-hacking, then people would want to sell their crypto which causes prices to fall. If this seems like a lot of volatility, it is because Bitcoin is a decentralized digital currency, meaning it does not have a central bank or a single administrator. If we think of American dollars, the Federal Reserve is the governmental agency that controls monetary policy, banking rules and regulations, financial stability, and banking services. The Federal Reserve prints US money, tells banks how much money they can hold, and helps control inflation. A good central bank helps keep a country’s monetary and financial systems stable. Bitcoin does not have a governmental institution securing its exchange and valuation, thus the volatility depends on the market. So, if you are risk averse Bitcoin may not be a currency in which you want to invest.
TRANSACTION HASH: 6BQ1 Previous HASH: IZ8F
Block 2 TRANSACTION HASH: HACKED
Previous HASH: IZ8F
TRANSACTION HASH: 3H4Q Previous HASH: 6BQ1
Block 3 TRANSACTION HASH: 3H4Q Previous HASH: 6BQ1 35 35
GO WITH YOUR GUT: How Intestinal Bacteria Can Predict Mental Health by Megan Piller Design: Stephanie Do Nascimento Illustration: Meera N. Patel
ould previous exposure to an intestinal infection dictate one’s likelihood of developing an anxiety disorder? Is it possible that a targeted probiotic treatment could reduce symptoms of motor dysfunction and neurodegeneration in an individual with Parkinson’s Disease? Could fecal microbiota transplants be used to improve the core symptoms experienced by those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)? It may come as a surprise to you, but the science tells us that the answer to all these questions is a resounding ‘yes’. At this point, you are probably asking yourself how the invisible bacterial colonies inhabiting your gut could play such a salient role in maintaining both your physical and mental health. Any skepticism you might be feeling is understandable; this “gut microbiota-brain axis”, a complex array of networks spanning organ systems that allow for communication between your gut bacteria and brain, has been studied largely only over the past decade and perhaps for the first time in neuroscientific history, tells us that the pathophysiology of mental illness may involve far more than just the brain. An incredibly insightful, if rather dense article, “The gut microbiota-brain axis in behavior and brain disorders” by Morais et al, captures this relationship at the intersection of microbiology and neuroscience. This particular article starts by providing a detailed explanation of the gut microbiota and its contribution to the gut microbiota-brain axis. Rather than complicating this piece with all of the scientific jargon, all of which would require extensive research to reach an adequate level of understanding, I figured it would be best to translate the findings of these experienced microbiologists into a style more easily understood by all of us who have yet to obtain a Ph.D. What these bacterial cells lack in size, they make up for in number- they equal the total number of “human” cells in the body while existing only within the confines of the gut microbiota. Their genetic variability is quite impressive as well, with 232 million genes making up the entirety of the gut’s microbiome. In essence, the numerous, genetically diverse bacterial colonies that inhabit our gut act as an intermediary between our physical bodies and the environment in which these bodies exist. The true power of the gut microbiota and the foundation for what scientists refer
to as the “gut microbiota-brain axis” network lies in their distinct ability to influence our brains by producing and modifying metabolic, immunological, and neurochemical factors in the gut which ultimately impact the way in which our nervous systems function. Morais et al. further expands on these vital communication pathways detailing three specific methods of communication between one’s gut and brain: direct and indirect signaling via chemical transmitters, neuronal pathways, and the immune system.
The first of these pathways relies on the transmission of chemical signals. Our gut microbiota was found to be partially responsible for the management of homeostasis and behavior in this way. Through the distribution of the short chain fatty acid (SCFA) sodium butyrate, mice were found to exhibit a significant decrease in depressive-behaviors due to the SCFA’s ability to alter brain-derived neurotrophic factor- a complicated name for a depression associated factor of the nervous system- through direct signaling pathways.
The second of these methods, communication through neuronal pathways, relies on a physical linkage between the gut and brain of which the vagus nerve is the most prominent linkage. The vagus nerve, derived from the Latin word “vagary” meaning wandering, is appropriately named as it is the longest nerve of the autonomic nervous system traveling from the brainstem. It is located at the base of your brain and extends all the way down to your intestines. Experimental results demonstrated the ability of microbiota-brain communication through this “wandering” nerve to moderate behavior in mice by illustrating the ability of administered Lactobacillus rhamnosus JB-1 to alter expression of GABA receptors in the brain responsible for fear and in turn regulate behaviors related to anxiety. Finally, our gut microbiota is capable of sending signals to our brains using the immune system. If you have taken a microbiology course at UM, specifically MIC301, you would remember both Dr. Schesser and Dr. Lichtenheld stressing the importance of the gut microbiome in the development and function of our immune system. The science is clear and it’s showing us that a gut microbiota-brain axis network not only exists, but is a foundational piece of neurodevelopment. The microbiologists responsible for writing the paper I am currently “translating” for you are also clear in their belief that many incredible biomedical advancements could be discovered through further research into this gut-brain network. Some remarkable discoveries have already been made in murine models, leaving the scientific community hopeful about potential application in diagnosing and treating behavior and brain disorders in humans. This brings us back to the three questions I posed to you at the very start of this article and the seemingly unbelievable “yes” I provided in response. The first question can be addressed by a referenced epidemiological study completed for the purpose of examining the relationship between intestinal infections and anxiety disorders. This study determined that an individual who previously had an intestinal infection was at an increased risk of developing a subsequent anxiety disorder. These results are said to implicate the “gut microbiota as a potential ‘trigger’’” for the development of an anxiety disorder.
The second question will be answered by evidence from yet another experimental study, in mice, showing that symptoms modeled after those experienced by individuals diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease including neurodegeneration- loss of function of one’s neurons- and motor dysfunction can be reduced through the intake of a probiotic mix specifically containing Lactobacillus and Lactococcus bacterial strains. The third and final question involves fecal microbiota transplants, which are exactly what they sound like. Fecal transplantation refers to the transfer of stool from a healthy donor into the colon of the recipient. This answer to this question was found in a report on the successes of a clinical study on children with ASD. Fecal microbiota transplants were done in children diagnosed with ASD resulting in greatly reduced gastrointestinal issues and more importantly, improved ASD symptoms including reduced social skills deficits and fewer repetitive behaviors.
In summation, the authors of this particular research article wanted each of us to walk away with a clearer understanding of the remarkable network created between the gut microbiota and the brain axis as a product of coevolution between animals and their associated microbial communities. The paper also stressed the importance of further collaboration amongst scientists in the fields of neuroscience and microbiology for the development of revolutionary therapeutic options for those who suffer with neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatric diseases. Given the unbelievable strides made in this field of research, the next radical treatment for neurological disorders might just be akin to probiotics.
Snapchat Dysmo rph i a W
hat started as innocent filters that superimpose puppy ears and rainbows onto you have transitioned into filters that alter your entire face with a single tap. And, although the vision of smoothed skin and enlarged eyes and lips may seem harmless, this practice can greatly impact one's self-image and cause lasting mental health issues. This dangerous phenomenon is known as Snapchat dysmorphia and was first coined by plastic surgeon Dr. Tijion Esho. Snapchat dysmorphia is where one has a distorted self-image of themselves due to filters that drastically or even slightly alter their appearance. Dr. Escho first described this after an increasing number of his patients requested procedures to make them look like their filtered photos. Dr. Esho refuses these services and warns that doing these procedures will spiral patients into a never-ending journey of dissatisfaction. He believes that the real answer lies in psychological support. However, Dr. Esho is not the only doctor who has experienced this. According to the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, approximately 55% of patients come in requesting procedures specifically to make them look more like their selfies. You may be asking yourself- why is this concerning? Filters are obviously unrealistic. Well, according to the Cognitive Research Journal, edited photos are only recognized 60% to 65% of the time, and according to the Florida House experience, 88% of women compare themselves to images they see on social media. This means most women who use social media are comparing themselves to an unachievable standard of beauty. Although Snapchat dysmorphia is not a real disorder, it mimics a serious disorder known as body dysmorphic disorder: a mental illness in which one obsesses over perceived flaws in one’s appearance. Left untreated, body dysmorphic disorder can lead to increased depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. Similarly, Snapchat dysmorphia can cause these effects. There are several key signs to recognize if you may be suffering from Snapchat Dysmorphia. These include practices of comparing yourself to other people’s photos, editing your photos to alter your true appearance, searching for ways to make yourself look more like you are edited, filtering photos,
by Ashely Zonghetti Design: Zelda Rosenberg Illustration: Meera N. Patel
"...most women who use social media are comparing themselves to an unachievable standard of beauty..."
"...cosmetic surgery won't fiFIx body image issues and could worsen them, so the only real solution is psychological support..."
and induction of anxiety from posting a picture. However, editing out a pimple alone isn’t a sign you suffer from Snapchat dysmorphia. The key sign that you may have Snapchat dysmorphia is losing a sense of your physical appearance and believing that an edited photo looks more like you. If you find yourself doing some of the above indicators of snapchat dysmorphia, there are ways to get it under control. For example, taking a break from social media apps is good for you beyond simply helping self-image issues. Social media platforms such as Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat are all linked to depression, anxiety, and self-esteem issues according to the Mayo Clinic and deleting these apps may help this issue. However, if deleting all social media isn’t doable, a good alternative is setting a time limit on apps like Snapchat, Instagram, and TikTok, or making
it a personal goal to post more unedited pictures. Advocating this practice is the app BeReal, in which users capture unedited photos in real-time and share them with friends. If none of these options help and you can’t seem to change your mindset, seeking professional help from a therapist could be helpful. Like Dr. Esho said: cosmetic surgery won’t fix body image issues and could worsen them, so the only real solution is psychological support. Ultimately, filters have created an unachievable digital standard of beauty and with it, a rise in mental health and image issues. It’s important to recognize the signs of Snapchat dysmorphia and body dysmorphic disorder in order to be able to enjoy social media and the filters that come along with it. Without doing so, social media users may develop serious mental health issues and face a never-ending cycle of cosmetic procedures and dissatisfaction.
How many women compare their bodies to images seen on social media?
12.27% do not compare their bodies 87.73% do compare their bodies
Data from the Florida Health Experience Body Image and Social Media Questionnaire
How many women feel that their bodies compare favorably or unfavorably to the ones on social media? their body compares favorably
their body compares unfavorably
they go back and forth unsure
Data from the Florida Health Experience Body Image and Social Media Questionnaire
Resources for Body Dysmorphic Disorder:
-NAMI Hotline : 1-800-950-6264 -Anxiety and Depression Association of America -Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation -International OCD Foundation
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UM Students Map Out Craniotomies at Jackson Hospitals
by Ajay Zheng r. Alexis Morell, M.D., is a board-certified neurosurgeon and clinical research coordinator at the Brain Tumor Initiative, a research division of the Sylvester Cancer Center. When he isn’t publishing case studies and attending global neurosurgery conferences, Dr. Morell leads a patient database project composed of thousands of UHealth brain tumor patients who underwent a craniotomy procedure to remove their tumor and ultimately prevent death by cancerous cell growth. “By looking at the effect that a specific surgical procedure, in this case, a craniotomy, has on patients, our database can demonstrate how effective tumor surgeries really are,” said Rahul Kumar, a sophomore undergraduate student majoring in Biochemistry at the University of Miami, who works under Dr. Morell.
Design: Gaby Torna
Craniotomies are a neurosurgical procedure that involves removing part of the bone from the skull to expose the brain for surgery. It’s usually done to access the brain at a more strategic location and at the end of the surgery, the skull bone is replaced. “We’re mainly interested in seeing if patients come back following an operation complaining of anything like pain or if their tumor resurfaced,” Kumar continued. “The correlations that come out of these data cohorts can foster a way for everyday people to understand how effective a certain brain tumor surgery is and really appreciate its benefits compared to the procedural costs.” Often, published patient case studies and other similar reports use terminology and descriptions that make it hard for everyday inquirers to follow along.
Often, published patient case studies and other similar reports use terminology and descriptions that make it hard for everyday inquirers to follow along. However, big data projects that are recently becoming a trend among hospital systems, including at Jackson Memorial Hospital, provide a way to translate the experiences of thousands of patients into simple yet understandable statistical values. In this case, it’s being used to demonstrate the efficacy of craniotomies on a wide variety of patients with brain tumors. “In general, more and more medical groups are aiming to crunch high-level data in order to provide insight into surgical efficiency, something that individual case studies can’t do as effectively,” said Erica Lin, a sophomore undergraduate student majoring in Biochemistry who is also contributing to the project. So far, Kumar and Lin have analyzed thousands of patient charts and kept an eye out for certain factors that can measure the effectiveness of the craniotomy; particularly if a patient visited, was readmitted to the emergency department, or both within 30 days following their operation, signs that go into determining the quality and effectiveness of an operation. “Our ultimate goal is to be able to simplify the surgical outcomes of thousands of different patients who had similar operative and post-operative outcomes,” Lin continued. Since it began, the Brain Tumor Initiative has partnered with the Center for Therapeutic Innovation, The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, and the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center to encompass a wide variety of research subsections, including Clinical and Translational research, Stem Cell Repositories, Tumor
Registries, and Patient Safety and Outcomes Research. For its clinical research arm, the group recruits different physicians, physician residents, student doctors, and other individuals involved in healthcare under its different labs, such as the Ivan Lab, which studies how the glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) cancers can be amplified in the brain, among other projects. Kumar said that with over 2,000 patients being looked at in this project alone, the scientific community and public can get a good sense of the state of craniotomies at Jackson Hospitals. With other projects on the way from the Brain Tumor Institute, the possibilities are endless.
by Emily Danzinger Design: Meera N. Patel
An Insight into Anam Ahmed
The Compassionate Trailblazer: 46 46
nam Ahmed is a current senior at the University of Miami pursuing a dual-degree in public health and microbiology & immunology and is the current Editor-in-Chief of Scientifica Magazine, a position that allows her to share her passion of spreading scientific research with the community in an effort to make science more accessible for all. Her interest in science and research stems back to her time in elementary and middle school, where she reflects fondly upon participating in her school science fairs. Normally, this is where most students’ passion for science may end, with enough experiments and memorization to make your head spin, but Anam’s love for science only grew, and in high school she took the initiative to volunteer at multiple labs. Nevertheless, she really found her passion in her junior year, following her research involvement in the Diabetes Research Institute (DRI) at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, where, alongside her mentors Dr. Dagmar Klein and Dr. Ricardo Pastori, Anam worked to find a cure for Type 1 Diabetes. While most teenagers her age would spend their summers lazing around on the couch, Anam took a bus from her hometown to the institute nearly every day to continue her research. Further, as a high school senior, she collaborated with the DRI at the University of Florida, in order to learn as much as she could about Type 1 Diabetes research from multiple different outlets. Such research led her to select immunology as her major when she committed to the University of Miami, where she still volunteers at the school’s DRI, essentially coming full circle as she approaches the end of her undergraduate career. Anam’s research spreads much further than volunteering at the DRI, though, as she’s conducting her own independent research to create a monitoring system for insulin-producing beta cells. For the sake of context, diabetes is caused when the pancreas doesn’t produce insulin, which controls one’s blood sugar; if one’s blood sugar goes too high or low, they risk slipping into a coma and possible death. Thus, Anam has combined past predispositions regarding a potential cure for diabetes that involves taking non-insulin producing cells and placing non-pancreatic tissue around cells, reprogramming them to produce live-sustaining insulin. Through this monitoring system, one could watch the cells transition and begin to produce insulin, a tool that could be used to also monitor those with Type 2 diabetes. Anam became so invested in the insulin crisis while speaking with patients whom her mentors worked with, explaining that it “hurts” knowing people can’t receive life-saving treatment due solely to economic barriers, with vials of insulin often costing several thousand dollars while it takes only a fraction of that cost to produce. During her time working at a doctor’s office, she saw patients with chronic conditions who had no choice to ration or share their insulin in order to survive, a predicament known well for causing the deaths of many insulinusers in recent years. It was these patient encounters that really fueled Anam’s fire for public health promotion, leading her to join the work of Dr. Farzanna Haffizulla, formally titled the Caribbean Diaspora Healthy Nutrition Outreach Project (CDHNOP). The CDHNOP was created to address the many health disparities faced by the Caribbean community in South Florida, which include diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and stroke, all of which are influenced by social determinants and community habits that can often be combatted when raised awareness about. Most recently though, Anam has been working with the Data
Analysis team of the Lauderhill Health and Prosperity Partnerhsip, which works to actively address the needs of the South Florida community by directly reaching out to them and involving them in research. Anam believes very strongly in partnering with the community she targets in her research, explaining that she “appreciates being able to include the community” in her work, giving them autonomy over potential policy decisions and what needs their local government should prioritize. She’s also a member of the University of Miami’s Public Health Practicum class (BPH 490) with Dr. Falcon, and is currently working with the Disability Awareness and Sensitivity in Healthcare (DASH) Initiative in the Mailman Center for Child Development. The DASH Initiative serves to promote quality care for disabled patients, who often face health disparities due to stigma and historical discrimination, by developing curriculum for healthcare providers to help address the disconnect between patients and their care providers. Anam explains that her passion for promoting context and cultural sensitivity in healthcare stems from her background as an immigrant born in India, as she acknowledges that people have different backgrounds that shouldn’t be disregarded when providing care. She also relates closely to the DASH Initiative since her little brother has autism, and she wants him to grow up in a world where his needs are acknowledged, respected, and accounted for. Through her research and contributions to the Scientifica, Anam has shown herself to be an incredibly rare and hardworking individual who will stop at nothing to achieve her goals, a trait that will make her a trailblazer in the medical field for years to come; further, her commitment to providing quality care to her patients will prove her a blessing to all who come to her for medical treatment. We wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors, and know you will succeed in anything you put your mind to!
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