Science and “selfie” bring us into the new year

Rebecca Johnson

Many people deserve thanks this year for influencing Merriam-Webster to declare “science” as the word of the year, as opposed to the increased popularity in 2013 of other words, such as “twerk” and “YOLO.”

Some things I have discovered this year, much to my fascination, were my increased risk for restless leg syndrome, ancestry from very Nordic countries and straighter than average hair. All of this and more, anything I could want to know, really, is accessible with ease online at 23andme, the at-home DNA test. The co-founders, CEO Anne Wojcick and Linda Avey, have helped pave the way in creating an online human DNA database.

Anne Wojcick is an American biologist who graduated from Yale University. She worked as a healthcare investment consultant for 10 years before quitting her job to co-found 23&me with the help of  Linda Avey.

Linda Avey, an American biologist, worked in sales and business development in biopharmaceuticals before co-founding 23&me. She left the company in 2009 to start her own research development company that strives to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.

Currently holding the information from approximately 400,000 donors, myself included, 23&me gives the user the power of exploring possible health concerns. For example, your results could show that you have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, expressed in a percentage value. This information could be extremely beneficial for people who have a family history of a particular disease and are concerned for their own health. It could even, in a far off future, help influence who people mate with to keep good genetic lines, if the database continues to grow.

Could this lead to the elimination of certain diseases for good, or is it just making people worry without cause? Whatever the case, you cannot deny that 23&me is a brilliant design by brilliant women.

Of course, with the reflection of each passing year, we analyze what the future holds for our next generation in the time to come.

A recent edition of the New York Times  asked readers why there are so few women in the field of science, when according to them, there is roughly the same amount of women and men in life and physical science careers. Studies conducted between men and women in the field of science, chemistry and biology with identical backgrounds found that men were more “favorable” for the position. They were also paid $4,000 more than a woman working the same position. Currently, only one-fifth of physics Ph.D.’s are earned by women, despite the higher number of females vs. males enrolled to receive a higher education.

The odds of more women choosing science careers may go up as the female-male ratio of college students continues to increase. But, it also takes more than just resources to get involved, it takes interest.

To make a great influence in someone’s life, we must start teaching at an early age. This is the way that the University of Idaho goes about teaching our young women of science. The idea is to give them guidance in the fields of math and science in order to  promote growing interest for the future. The University has created an outreach program to mentor young women in math and science since it’s beginning in 2006. The program, called The Women in Math and Science, or WIMS, hopes to give young women the opportunity to learn that will allow them to make a career in the fields of math, science, technology and engineering.

The College of Science partners with institutions of learning such as North Idaho College and local school districts to help around 350 young women each year. The women are encouraged and taught by members of WIMS and participate in activities focused on scientific research on clean water projects.

To get interest and to keep interest while providing the tools necessary to study science for the future is the goal at the University, and should be the goal for higher education worldwide.



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