Emc2 Election Multimedia Contest for Cash

Emc2 Contest Winners!

Grand Prize: Bryan VanDuinen
2nd Place: Kunle Demuren
3rd Place: Rebecca Tutino
Top Video: Jace Perrodin
Other Finalists

View the winning entries below. Also, to view entries from the other finalists, view the index at the bottom of the page.

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Read about the distinguished panel of judges here.

A New Apollo
Grand Prize
By: Bryan VanDuinen, University of Michigan

Humanity is beginning to face a simple, but stark reality: our resources are finite, and we cannot maintain our levels of consumption. Most Americans understand the threats of global warming and terrorism and understand that we cannot continue our reliance on fossil fuels indefinitely. However, our problems run deeper than that; we have surprisingly little time to reach complete sustainability. The next president should thus establish a new Apollo Program with the goals of energy independence by 2020 and complete sustainability by 2050.

Energy Independence
The most obvious problem with continuing to use fossil fuels is global warming. Continuing to burn fossil fuels will release greenhouse gases, trapping heat, triggering more violent weather, and raising sea levels. The Earth’s average surface temperature is estimated to increase by 1.1-6.4ºC by 2100. Dry areas will likely experience severe drought, while rainier areas will probably see increased precipitation and more violent storms. Sea levels are projected to rise 18-59 cm, possibly more if, for example, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapses.

A second problem is that the United States’ reliance on oil often ends up financing terrorism. Saudi Arabia supplied over 500 million barrels of oil to the U.S. last year, making them the States’ third-largest supplier. The Saudis have spent $70 billion abroad between 1975 and 2002, significant portions of which supported jihadists and helped spread radical views.

The government should thus start curbing the use of fossil fuels. The best way to do so would be by establishing a cap-and-trade program. In such a system, the government auctions off a limited number of emission allowances, which can then be traded freely. The free trade ensures economic efficiency: companies most able to reduce their emissions will do so and sell their remaining allowances.

Money made from auctions and fines can then be used to research and implement renewable energies. Wind power seems especially promising. According to a recent Department of Energy report, wind farms could provide up to 20% of the nation’s electricity by 2030. Doing so would decrease consumption of fossil fuels, effectively removing 825 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. However, challenges would have to be overcome, such as improving turbine efficiency and constructing new power lines. These problems can be easily solved if government invests in the research, development, and implementation of wind power.

The federal government should also invest in hydropower, hydrogen fuel cells, and even nuclear energy. Nuclear technology is safe and well-developed. The most harmful greenhouse gas it produces is water vapor, and up to 95% of nuclear waste can be reused.

Biofuels derived from corn and soybeans should be avoided if possible. Corn ethanol and soybean biodiesel burn more cleanly than gasoline, but still produce greenhouse gases. Corn and soy are largely grown with fossil fuel-based fertilizers, and clearing land to produce biofuels might actually contribute to greenhouse gases. Moreover, using corn and soy for biofuel will drive up the costs of foodstuffs made with those crops. Cellulosic ethanol, made from naturally occurring plants like switchgrass, may offer promising results and should be researched, and corn- and soy-based biofuels could serve as a stepping stone to a sustainable future but will not offer a permanent solution.6

Complete Sustainability
Much attention has been given to oil, but many other resources are surprisingly limited, and these limits prevent maintaining our current levels of consumption. For instance, it is estimated that we will exhaust our copper resources by 2072. If every new car was manufactured with hydrogen fuel cells, which currently use platinum as a catalyst, platinum would be exhausted in two years.

Our society needs to become completely sustainable; i.e. we must manage every resource that we use so that we can continue to use them indefinitely. Perhaps the problem is not that we use too much, but that we reuse too little. For example, 124 million tons of construction-related waste is generated and 200,000 homes are demolished every year in the U.S. Up to 95% of the demolition waste could have been reused or recycled. The government should therefore invest in researching cheaper recycling methods. The government could also offer tax breaks to companies and individuals who engage in sustainable practices.

The next president and the 111th Congress should move quickly to address these concerns. A cap-and-trade system should be established. The revenues generated should be used to fund a new Apollo Program that would research and implement renewable energies and environmental sustainability. Our future depends on their immediate action.


1 “Future Climate Change.” 20 December 2007. Environmental Protection Agency. 11 July 2008.

2 “U.S. Total Crude Oil and Products Imports.” 26 June 2008. Energy Information Administration. 11 July 2008.

3 Kaplan, David E. “The Saudi Connection: How billions in oil money spawned a global terror network.” U.S. News & World Report. 7 December 2003. 11 July 2008.

4 Wolverine. “Let’s Do It.” The Warrior-Poets. 13 May 2008. 11 July 2008.

5 Koffler, Daniel. “The case for nuclear power.” The Guardian. 8 July 2008. 11 July 2008.

6Morrison, Deane. “Ethanol fuel presents a corn-undrum.” University of Minnesota News. 18 Sept. 2006. 11 July 2008.

7Wright, Steven. “Ethics: Sustainability.” University of Michigan Intro to Engineering. Ann Arbor, 5 Nov. 2007.

8“Statistics and Facts Regarding Construction Waste, Salvage, and Recycling.” The ReStore. 11 July 2008.

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It's Not all Bad
2nd Place
By: Kunle Demuren, Princeton University

The foreign policy of President George W. Bush has been widely maligned, and the American public’s disapproval of his policies is a major reason why he has become one of the most unpopular presidents in American history. However, whether you agree with Mr. Bush’s policies in the Middle East and elsewhere or not, we can all agree that he has taken at least one major step to help the people of the world, and help maintain a positive image for the United States: his global AIDS initiative.

The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has, according to the New York Times, supplied 1.4 million AIDS sufferers with necessary medicine that they otherwise would not be able to afford. The program does have its flaws, for example, a requirement that one-third of the money be used to teach abstinence, when many experts do not believe such programs are effective. Still, this is a big step in the right direction to combating a disease now reaching devastating levels of infection in Africa. Unfortunately, 1.4 million people are only the tip of the iceberg that is the AIDS epidemic. According to the United Nations, 33.2 million people have AIDS as of 2007, and 2.5 million more were infected in that same year. For every two people that get treatment, five more are infected, and if we cannot expand the access to treatment fast enough, we risk an epidemic that could destroy entire cultures and nations.

While PEPFAR is only one part of the fight against AIDS, it is certainly a crucial component in trying to slow down and someday eliminate this epidemic. A bill to renew the program and supply $50 billion more over the next five years is currently in the Senate, and if the opposition of some senators to such a large aid package in a time of economic slowdown can be overcome, the bill will likely pass before the end of Mr. Bush’s term. However, even with such a large cash infusion, more assistance is needed from other countries.

The Group of 8 (G-8) industrialized nations, which include Japan, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Russia, as well as the United States, promised in 2005 to provide $25 billion in assistance to Africa by 2010. Since the epidemic has hit sub-Saharan Africa the hardest (it has over two-thirds of the world’s AIDS sufferers), it would make sense that a large chunk of this money would go to supplying AIDS treatments. Unfortunately, it is becoming doubtful that these countries will actually fulfill this promise. Mr. Bush has very little diplomatic leverage to bring to bear on these nations, largely because of his own international unpopularity and the fact that he is only months from leaving office. The next president, however, whether he is John McCain or Barack Obama, should use all of the leverage possible to ensure not only that the G-8 nations keep their promise, but also secure more aid from other sources to fight this disease.

However, it is not enough to ensure that people can afford the treatments currently available; we must also push to develop new, more effective treatments. A virus like HIV that can and has spread to so many people so rapidly has many opportunities to mutate and perhaps render current treatments useless, so it is urgent that solutions to this problem are found and implemented as soon as possible. This is where the next president and what will be the 110th Congress must step forward and put the full scientific power of this country behind AIDS research, and the ultimate goal of developing a vaccine for HIV. By approving more funding through government agencies like the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control, Congress and the president can put the United States firmly in the front of the efforts to eradicate this plague. John F. Kennedy put the full efforts of this country behind putting a man on the moon; the next president should make a similarly bold commitment to beating AIDS.

Facts for this editorial were taken from two New York Times articles (“Bush Asks for Help, Abroad and at Home, in Sending Aid to Africa”, 7/3/08, and “In Global Battle on AIDS, Bush Creates Legacy”, 1/5/08) and the AIDS epidemic update for 2007 by the Joint United Nations Program on AIDS.

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Science Education & The American Public
3rd Place
By: Rebecca Tutino

As this election cycle heads into its peak season, it is difficult not to notice the prevalence of science among the issues. While each has its tangible effects upon American and global society, possibly the most pressing is the deterioration of science education. Science, though still world-class at the university level, has suffered in compulsory education. Improvements to the state of science education will not only allow the United States to maintain its place in research, as well as maintaining economically competitive in industry and development, but also will give Americans who do not pursue science as a career a better background with which to make decisions regarding other issues.

It is well established that the American educational system is deeply flawed, and efforts have been made to correct it. However, No Child Left Behind, the most recent effort, has drawn time away from sciences, while providing negligible improvement in its target areas. Teaching to the test has become wide spread, with focus on reading, writing and basic math only, leaving the reasoning skills associated with science and higher math in the dust. Testing in 2006 confirmed that barely half of graduating seniors nationwide had a basic or better grasp of scientific concepts (Dillon). Furthermore, on the 2006 PISA exam, American students were outperformed by almost every other developed nation, ranking soundly in the bottom in both math and science (Glod).

In April, as the Democratic primary raged through Pennsylvania, former President Clinton made a stop at Muhlenberg College on behalf of his wife. During that speech, his comments on education, though no doubt at least a slight pander to well-educated, private college-attending audience, provided an excellent suggestion on how to fix the ever increasing problem. Clinton suggested that rather than allowing states to mandate performance levels and their assessment, it would be better to set a national standard modeled off the highest achieving schools. Rather than focusing on standardized testing, it would be better to implement the techniques used by these schools. There are many high achieving magnet schools nationwide, and while public schools do not have their budgets, lessons can still be gleaned. Thomas Jefferson High School in Virginia is a well known science magnet. A quick glance and one can note courses many students would not have available until college (TJHSST). While the majority of schools cannot offer such advanced courses, certainly it would be possible to require a minimum of three lab sciences during high school. And great strides could be made in the requirements for students not pursuing scientific careers. Though such students cannot be expected to slog through organic chemistry, there is no excuse to allow them to slide by in over simplified “Easy A” classes.

A firmer background in the sciences would most certainly give the American public a better grip on today’s pressing issues. For instance, though the storm of ethical questions surrounding them seems unlikely to subside, a reasonable background in biology would hopefully help to clear some of the more egregious misunderstandings of both the limitations and the potential of genetic engineering and stem cell research. It could also help demonstrate the deleterious effects of climate and habit change, without resorting to the arguably necessary, but borderline propaganda techniques used to persuade people currently. For example, at this year’s Pennsylvania Academy of Science meeting, the guest speaker was Lance Simmens, a former politician trained by Al Gore to give the Climate Presentation. While grounded in fact, Mr. Simmens’ obvious lack in science background allowed for a number of glaring generalizations and over-enthusiastic attempts at persuasion that approached brow-beating. While this may be needed to make the point in a general audience, there, it came off as inappropriate. An audience who has received an adequate scientific education is better able to decipher the facts in a more neutral tone, without such tactics. However, the field likely to benefit most from improved education is research. It is entirely possible that providing greater opportunity in the scientific fields in all schools will open the door to students who would have otherwise dismissed chemistry or biology as “boring” or “not their best subject.” This could create a potential surge of new blood, with fresh ideas, into research institutions.

It is imperative to rectify the state of science in America. This can only be done by righting the educational system and policy maker’s attitude towards it. To remain the pinnacle of research and innovation, the problem must be solved at the foundation.

Works Cited

Dillon, Sam. “Science Test Scores Falling for High School Seniors.” 24 May, 2006. The New York Times. 2 July, 2008 http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/24/education/24cnd-exam.html

Glod, Maria. “U.S. Teens Trail Peers Around World on Math-Science Test.” 5 Dec, 2007. WashingtonPost.com. 2 July, 2008 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/12/04/AR2007120400730.html

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. 2 July, 2008. http://www.tjhsst.edu/

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Do the Right Thing
Top Video
By: Jace Perrodin
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Index of Finalists
Name Topic School
Joshua Baker Technology & Society University of Tennessee at Knoxville
Sarah Cowles Stem Cells John Brown University
Andrew Jakubowski Science Education Lenape High School
Michale Karlik Energy Efficiency University of Virginia
Laura Paliani Health Care University of Pennsylvania
Anu Parvatiyar HIV/AIDS Georgia Institute of Technology
Alexandra Ristow Science Education Yale School of Medicine
Sophie Luo Environment Neuqua Valley High School
Alan Sokol Childhood Obesity St. Maria Goretti High School
Justin Chenette Climate Change Thornton Academy
Jamie Sykes Climate Change University of Oklahoma
Andrea Willingham Renewable Rnergy R&D Homeschool

Click on the contestant's name to view their entry.


You Can Learn a Lot From A Sheep Herder
By: Joshua Baker

As a college student and a Marine reservist currently serving my second tour in Iraq, I have spent many hours reflecting on what I would tell the next President and Congress concerning technology. Traveling between the worlds of a university student with easy access to a multitude of technologies, a US Marine utilizing some of the most advanced machinery in the world, and a foreigner introducing new technology in a third world country, I have developed a unique perspective on the topic. My central message to the President and the Congress would be, “Please be purposeful in balancing the impact on people with the integration of technology into our society and the world. Perhaps a simultaneous effort to mitigate individual, societal and environmental consequences of these scientific and commercial advancements is as important as the technology itself.”

I have experienced the impact of technology in the university system over the last few years with 24 hour computer labs, campus-wide wireless internet, and classes that utilize online workbooks, quizzes, and forums. I have also witnessed greater isolation and insularly education because of these technologies. E-learning has created lonely learning and the strength of the social bonds built during the college years are straining. Social networks, instant messages, blogs, and email are increasingly replacing social gatherings, public discourse and debate. While the advancement in communication has been revolutionary, the decline in civility has been equally dramatic. The national promotion and funding of high technology in learning without an equal emphasis on human relation skills while using these tools may undermine the social benefits of a technologically educated populace.

The advance of technology in the Marine Corps over the last four years has been even more profound than that of the university system. Since my first deployment to Fallujah, Iraq in 2004 the Marines have expanded the use of technology exponentially. The modern warrior fights with integrated GPS and communication systems, multi-frequency jamming devices, real-time eye-in the-sky oversight and a whole host of highly lethal capabilities. Secure web servers and printers offer family members a means to send letters to Marines in combat areas in 24 to 48 hours compared with 3 weeks for traditional mail service. Predeployment training has been significantly enhanced with full simulation learning and mastery. As in the university system, the unintended consequence of a “technology-focus only” is showing up in the Marines, where a proud heritage and tradition is revered. The tension between technology-focused leadership and a values-focused heritage is discussed in terms of the “new Corps” and the “old Corps.” We should always strive to be technologically superior to our enemies, but we should make it a point to never lose the intangible spirit that defines us as a fighting force. The warrior spirit that is cultivated through the reverence of traditions and customs needs equal promotion by our national leaders as does the drive for technological advancement.

Not only have I experienced the benefits and tensions related to advancements in technology but I have also witnessed a society that lacks modern technology. In rural desert towns across Iraq, the availability of electricity all day is considered to be a good day. The pace of technological change and implementation that is common in the US seems science fiction to desert nomadic tribes trying to find clean water and basic subsistence. Widespread electronic access to the world’s knowledge, commerce, and communication is still decades away. Our leaders need to understand that the imposition of modernity on a traditional, values-based society is incongruent with our goal for stability, unless these technologies are implemented to support not supplant the values of this culture.

The growth and progression of technology has been positive in many ways and will help industrialized societies maintain their hegemony. Because of the inevitability of progress in technology, we should be purposeful on the impact to our culture and customs to better preserve and protect them. When the next Congress convenes and provides additional incentives for scientific, commercial, and technical advancements, it should require an “impact study” on the human consequences of this change. The next President should lead a societal culture and values campaign that promotes human advancement not just technology advancement. Both Congress and the President should spend a little time with a sheep herder to better discern the advancement and detriment of technology on the human spirit. Perhaps a more balanced polity would emerge.

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Research that Produces Results
By: Sarah Cowles

In light of the ongoing controversy over stem cell research, I am writing to voice my opinions on this issue. First, I approve of a ban of funding for embryonic stem cell research. As of yet, embryonic stem cell research has yet to produce any viable cures for conditions such as diabetes, lupus, or muscular dystrophy. In lieu of embryonic stem cell research, I propose that the government fund adult stem cell research, as this is a more viable and more productive means on discovering cures for disease.

Most media coverage promotes embryonic stem cells as the only cells, which can differentiate into all the types of the body’s cells. Research, however, shows that adult stems cells have the same abilities to differentiate. Scientists Vescovi, Gritti, Cossu and Galli (2002) found that stem cells from the brain have an incredible degree of plasticity. Additionally, stem cells from the bone marrow can produce muscle, liver and brain cells. Stem cells from the muscle can produce blood cells. French scientists Abuljadayel (2003) found that white blood cells could regenerate to create heart muscle. Li, Liu, and Heller (2003) found that stem cells taken from the inner ear of an adult mouse develop into all three germs layers of the body. Since mice are mammals, it is probable that scientists can also take human stem from the inner ear. Last year researchers James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University found that they could reprogram human skin cells to have the same ability to differentiate as embryonic stem cells (CNN, 2007). Scientists can collect these stem cells without creating or destroying human embryos and have endless research possibilities. CNN’s November 2007 article “Human skin cells reprogrammed to act like stem cells” cites scientist James Thomson as saying these developments mean “‘the beginning of the end of the controversy’” over embryonic stem cell research (CNN).

While the safety and viability of stem cells created from skin cells need further research, adult stem cells are already producing viable treatments for severe disease. Scientists Ianus, Holz, Theise, and Hussain (2003) injected adult stem cells harvested from bone marrow into the pancreases of mice where these stem cells changed into cells that produced insulin. With further study and research, these cells may produce enough insulin for patients with Type I diabetes to eliminate their need for synthetic insulin. Chen et al. (2005) harvested stem cells from the body of a young girl and used them to treat her lupus. These same researchers also took stem cells from the blood of adults and used them to improve the lives of patients suffering with lupus. Researcher Zhang et al. (2005) treated two boys with Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy using stem cells taken from umbilical cord blood. Dr. Kinoshita transplanted mouth stem cells into the corneas of blind patients to restore sight (Black, 2003). Adult stem cell research already produces medical breakthroughs.

Therefore, I urge the president and members of Congress to enact legislation that will provide further funding for adult stem cell research. In August 2001, President Bush approved federal funding for embryonic stem cell research on embryonic stem cells created prior to that date. The year is 2008, however, which means scientists doing research on new embryonic stem cell lines have lacked a substantial source of funding for almost seven years. Instead of allocating more funding to embryonic stem cell research or funding the production of new embryonic stem cell lines, the United States government needs to fund adult stem cell research. Dr. John Gearhart, a researcher at John Hopkins, believes that great discoveries may result from further experimentation with adult stem cells (CNN, 2007). Those suffering from life-threatening and debilitating illnesses such as diabetes, lupus, muscular dystrophy, and a host of other conditions need the government to not only listen to their cries for help, but support viable research that is producing results. Instead of listening to media hype about the possibilities of embryonic stem cell research, lawmakers need to listen to science and start funding the science that produces results, adult stem cell research.

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Science Education & History's Lesson
By: Andrew Jakubowski

On October 4, 1957, the United States of America was unsuspectingly thrust into the international space race. When the Soviet satellite Sputnik was launched into orbit, many uncertainties within America were launched into existence. In the decade following World War II, most Americans held the belief that the United States stood alone in scientific and technological achievement. This sense of invulnerability only added to the overwhelming feeling of fear within the United States after Sputnik.

Instead of accepting defeat, the United States challenged itself to regain its position as the dominant force in the fields of science and technology. Eisenhower quickly saw to it that NASA be established with adequate financial resources and government cooperation. In order to achieve the goals set forth by Eisenhower and his successors, NASA would also require an amply talented team of scientists. To ensure the reality of this final necessity, Eisenhower approved the National Defense Education Act in 1958. In doing so, he endorsed the most comprehensive federally financed education initiative in United States’ history.

The NDEA of 1958 pledged to generate highly trained professionals who could surpass the Soviets. The act authorized expenditures of over $1 billion (approximately $10-15 billion in current times) for various programs including financial aid for students seeking higher education, improvement in science, mathematics, and foreign language education in schools of all levels, and research grants.

As promised, the statute proved to be exceptionally successful in preparing American scholars for international competition. Ultimately, the United States was victorious in the space race, landing the first man on the moon in 1969. This landing occurred 11 years after the passing of the NDEA and just a few years after those benefiting from the act earned their graduate degrees. Perhaps the NDEA played the most vital role in this fortunate outcome of the space race.

I do not write today hoping to further your knowledge of the space race-era but, instead, to readdress an issue of monumental importance. A tremendous number of correlations exist between the United States in Cold War times and the United States in modern times. Once again, the world is finding itself deeply seeded in a time of caution as it had during World War II’s subsequent years, and, once again, a communist administration (China) is growing increasingly more powerful by the day.

The rest of the eastern world, especially Japan and Russia, as well as many European nations are catching up to (and even surpassing) America in regards to science and technology advancements. However, the general public is failing to recognize this simple fact—much as it had during the 1950s when the Soviet Union began its own sprint for the finish line. For schools acknowledging this fact, they are struggling to implement structured, strong programs to deal with it.
The United States of America, if it hopes to remain a dominant force in the international community, must reevaluate its own stance on funding for science and technology education. In 2008, less than 2% of the National Budget was allocated to the Department of Education. Though the amount totals approximately $56 billion , this grand sum is not so grand when it is required to meet the needs of thousands of institutions.

I consistently overhear my science teachers grumble over both a lack of proper funding for and a lack of student responsiveness to their department. In regards to funding, how can science teachers properly educate their students when they do not possess the supplies required to do so, whether such resources include textbooks or equipment? As for the latter point, I feel that my physics teacher put it best when he jokingly remarked, “Our students are focused on Brangelina and MTV while their Russian counterparts are slaving over astrophysics.”

Of course, there are exceptions to these statements; however, the crushing majority follow trend. No longer is the United States in a space race. Now, America is in a race for advancement and security. In areas as simple as video games and as complex as medicine, the United States is losing its authority. We must recall our history and implement what we have learned from it. We cannot wait for another shock like Sputnik in order to further educational funding in the areas of science, technology, and health with programs such as those established through the NDEA. The time for educational reform is now. After all, in an ever-advancing society, time for catching up is not always guaranteed.

1 The Federal Role in Education." About ED. 4 Feb. 2008. U.S. Department of Education. 02 July 2008 <http://www.ed.gov/about/overview/fed/role.html>.

2 Budget of the United States Government: Browse Fiscal Year 2008." GPO Access. 28 Jan. 2008. U.S. Government Printing Office. 5 July 2008 <http://www.gpoaccess.gov/usbudget/fy08/browse.html>.

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The Greater, The Greener
By: Michale Karlik
Dear Mr. President-elect,

In all of our past key elections, the demand for socioeconomic and political change was imminent. More than just a buzzword to distance oneself from the failed policies of one administration or one party, the “change” our country needs signifies something deeper. Thomas Jefferson, in his first inaugural address, called the U.S. the “strongest Government on earth” simply because each man, when social stability is threatened, would either take up arms or take up paper and pen to restore what is right and moral. Thus, Americans are able to recognize when a new direction is needed and the enthusiasm to spur change is what has so energized the current campaigns. The most pressing change that needs to be made is the way in which we produce and consume our energy.

The U.S. has a serious appetite for energy—we consume over 20 million barrels of oil each day (China and Japan use between five and seven million), of which only eight million are produced domestically. Not only are we bound to the Middle East and Canada for our oil, but 50 percent of our electricity is generated by coal, the emissions of which account for 40 percent of atmospheric carbon dioxide and similarly high levels of mercury. Although Americans want lower fuel costs and a better environment, there is skepticism that renewable energy would not work on an extensive scale. People envision Rube Goldberg-type machines which power entire buildings and cars, which are not what is needed. A newly-constructed building in Bahrain, for example, has fifteen percent of its energy generated by three windmills incorporated into the structure—this is the kind of green standard that we could learn to apply. Rather than clinging to the status quo for answers (such as mining more coal and finding new oil reserves), we must look to the future for potentially rewarding discoveries.

However, there may be a workable solution through looking back in history—namely, pre-automotive history: given the fact that cheap petroleum is no longer an option, individual consumption needs to be cut by encouraging more economic means of transit. Like the development of renewable energy, revamping our transportation infrastructure will be multifaceted and must be encouraged through vigorous funding. Before jet airliners and before the interstate highway system, there were trains. Railroads tamed the west and connected the oceans before the internal combustion engine was conceptualized. But recent administrations have been reluctant to give Amtrak the meager $1.3 billion or so that it requests every year and yet ridership over the past five years has grown, with FY 2007 resulting in the highest number of patrons since Amtrak’s inception in 1971. Rail travel is also one of the safest options (for those on board), with a dozen or fewer deaths on passenger trains in any given year since 1999 compared to around 43,000 deaths on the roads in 2006 and 2007. Far from being an antiquated mode of transport, trains are an alternative to the high cost of gasoline and the now heightened security restrictions for air travel.

With the right investment, much can be done to change the face of travel in twenty-first century America. Concerning the environment, trains emit half as many kilograms of carbon per passenger mile as airplanes, and certainly less than automobiles. Electrification of rail corridors in the southeast, Midwest, and in California would reduce emissions in high-density areas. In addition, electric power could be applied to personal vehicles—electric cars offer high energy utilization, high performance, and low emissions (considering the source fuel). To offset the cost of production and purchase, the government might give tax incentives to those individuals who purchase such vehicles; again, this is not a demand that every car be an electric or a hybrid, that every person take public transportation, or that every home or business run on clean energy. This could happen over time, but right now even a slight movement away from the use of fossil fuels may assuage fears of impracticality and may make a dent in energy costs. Plus, promoting alternative energy creates jobs for those who research, manufacture, and maintain windmills and solar panels, as well as give the opportunity for our young college engineers to be on the cutting edge of this technology. I hope a realistic, yet ambitious plan will be implemented to the benefit of our society, our economy, our environment, and our reputation: if we keep our carbon footprint small, our global footprint will be huge.

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Healthcare Reform: Looking Backward to Move Forward
By: Laura Paliani

Although the presidential campaign has primarily focused in recent months on the flailing American economy and the war in Iraq, the healthcare system emerged early on as a central issue. Indeed, the leading candidates each proposed health plans during the primaries, signaling that healthcare would represent a major domestic policy issue for the next administration. Spiraling healthcare costs and the growing number of uninsured in America will continue to pressure Washington to answer the call for reform – it is just a matter of what form it will take and how it will be implemented. As part of any meaningful initiative to transform and improve the healthcare system, I would like to suggest that the next President and Congress consider two policy points already on the agenda: medical malpractice reform and education finance.

In 2004, medical malpractice insurance cost physicians in Florida an average of $195,000 a year. For obstetricians, that rate was closer to a mind-boggling $277,000. These numbers reflect a nationwide crisis for providers and consumers of healthcare. Such high rates often constitute a significant portion of physicians’ incomes, upwards of half in some specialties, and have forced many to switch specialties or give up practicing medicine altogether in favor of more lucrative careers. There are many factors contributing to the growth of malpractice costs, but the most obvious is our tort system. Business is booming for malpractice attorneys and virtually all doctors can expect to be sued at least once over the course of their careers. A tiny percentage of these suits make it to a jury, and even fewer result in awarded damages, but the cost to society lies primarily in the vast majority of cases that are settled out of court, often regardless of the initial claim’s merit.

Medical malpractice is a legitimate means for patients to seek redress for harms suffered and is an essential component of any medical regulatory scheme. The fact remains, however, that the current state of affairs is hurting providers and patients and will ultimately prove untenable. Several states have already begun to implement new and successful ways to address medical malpractice, such as the no-fault compensation programs for birth-related neurological injuries in Virginia and Florida. The next administration should seriously consider similar proposals to reform tort law on a federal level. Doing so would prevent frivolous lawsuits, limit malpractice premiums and enable doctors to provide necessary services to patients in any field.

Education finance reform is another issue that has garnered increased media attention, as Congress has addressed financial aid and educational loans at public and private universities over the past year. The American Medical Association reports that 87.6 percent of medical students graduate in debt. In 2007, that average debt amounted to $139,517. Given that most medical students must complete three to seven years of residency and fellowship following graduation, at relatively meager pay, this debtload is prohibitively high for students considering traditionally lower-paying specialties such as primary care. Add to that the prospect of spending half one’s annual income on malpractice insurance, and it is no wonder that many students are increasingly opting to pursue law school and jobs on Wall Street over donning the white coat.

The American Medical Association favors universal healthcare coverage, but adamantly opposes a single-payer system, despite the fact that healthcare economists believe it would be exponentially more efficient and would provide care to more people at lower cost. Any effort to increase coverage, especially a single-payer system in which the government would effectively insure all Americans, would likely decrease physicians’ revenues by lowering the prices of their services rendered. Decreased wages in conjunction with higher student loan payments and malpractice insurance premiums will only drive more physicians out of business and discourage students from pursuing careers in medicine. If the government were to lessen the strain on physician’s bank accounts posed by malpractice insurance and student loans, the medical establishment might be more willing to consider the possibility of implementing widespread and fundamental change.

Healthcare is the largest and fasting-growing industry in the United States. It is also enormously complex and fundamentally flawed. The next Congress and administration is faced with the challenge, but also the opportunity to reform the system in order to improve the health and well-being of Americans across the economic spectrum. It will require bipartisan cooperation and, above all, creative thinking. In this case, the most innovative idea might just be to address policies that have long been on the table.

1 “High Cost of Malpractice Insurance Threatens Supply of OB/GYNs, Especially in Some Urban Areas.” University of Michigan Health System Press Release, June 1, 2005. http://www.med.umich.edu/opm/newspage/2005/obgyn.htm Accessed July 15, 2008.
2 “Can the No-Fault Approach Contain Malpractice Insurance Costs?” Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. http://www.rwjf.org/reports/grr/027070.htm Accessed July 15, 2008.
3 Medical Student Debt. American Medical Student Medical Student Section (MSS) http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/category/5349.html Accessed July 15, 2008.

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100 Years in the Future: What will People wish we had done?
By: Anu Parvatiyar

“Think 100 years in the future and ask, ‘What will people wish we had done?’” – William Foege, Former Director, CDC

The public servant in me sees the question raised by Foege as a statement of empathy, a case of “what.” What are those things that we should prioritize now to improve the lives of others down the road? Jonathan Sacks eloquently states, “Civilizations survive not by strength but by how they respond to the weak; not by wealth but by how they care for the poor; not by power but by their concern for the powerless. What renders a culture invulnerable is the compassion it shows to the vulnerable.”

As a biomedical engineer and aspiring global health clinician, no crisis sits more evidently in our circle of immediate influence as does the AIDS epidemic that is scourging the globe. AIDS is a debilitating disease that cripples the physical body and the individual spirit. We know the medical challenges we face in its transmission and pathology; we understand why this disease is bad for the individual. But as leaders, it is imperative that we see the collective effects this disease has on society. Since the first five cases of the HIV/AIDS virus were reported almost 30 years ago, over 23 million have died, and another 40 million are living with HIV. Although the affected population is spread throughout the globe, a staggering majority of them reside in sub-Saharan Africa, with 17 million AIDS deaths and another 25 million active cases being reported on that continent. Incidence rates run as high as 40% in some countries, including Botswana and Swaziland.

The nature of this condition leads to long-term economic consequences regarding worker productivity, national output, and quality of life. Due to significant lag time between virus contraction and symptomatic evidence of disease, transmission rates have spiraled out of control in many countries. A staggering number of orphaned children bring additional complexities to the issue. These phenomena alone suggest that the full effect of the AIDS crisis is yet to be felt.
The engineer in me begs to ask the question of “how:” how do we create and cultivate systems and controls that enable us to restore the health status of individuals now and in the future? As an engineer, the challenge is to find the invisible gaps of possibility that will allow us to address this challenge on a global scale. We should not only engage in vaccine research and development, but also in public health status programs – feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, sheltering the sick. The “Guns vs. Butter” argument can be made in this situation – is it more effective to spend money on the treatment and prevention of AIDS to prolong lives or to spend resources on the development of a country to ensure that lives are worth having?

The United States and other developed nations are providing financial support for global populations to alleviate some of the burdens associated with this disease, but money is not enough. While it is important for Congress and the Office of the President to continue to support PEPFAR and other initiatives, such monetary support, if it is to be effective, must be coupled with a program to address cultural and economic factors: inadequate nutrition and lack of access to clean water, gender inequality, government priorities, absence of regular medical care, lack of affordable medication, and deficiency of basic education. In addition, cultural beliefs such as the “Virgin Cure” theory (the belief in many rural populations that having sexual intercourse with a virgin will cure one of the disease) propagate disease transmission. Addressing these issues becomes just as important as the development of chemical therapies.

Also, development aid funding must come without the strings that developed nations often attach to their support. Strategies that work to control the disease in the United States under domestic situations cannot be exported to situations like South Africa; the cultural landscape changes the dynamic of the epidemic, and simply expecting the populations of sub-Saharan Africa to conform to Western ideologies is unrealistic and often ineffective.

We face in our society an opportunity. As a leader, it is up to you to set the course of the nation and the world on a path that ultimately addresses the question. Leadership is action, not position. When you see the world in one hundred years, what are the things that you wish you had done? The question is one of social responsibility. Our behavior is the only acceptable answer.

Sacks, Jonathan. To Heal A Fractured World: The Ethics of Responsibility. Schocken Books, New York, 2005.

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To the 44th President and the 111th United States Congress...
By: Alexandra Ristow

We are all, as Americans, acutely aware of the massive array of challenges facing our country. I am writing this letter not to propose a panacea for these challenges—they are numerous, complex, and infinitely nuanced—but rather to suggest a new strategy for attacking several of them at their core. Many of the pressing questions of this government are, at their heart, questions of science. Environmental regulations, energy concerns, weapons technology, global health initiatives, the distribution of water and other natural resources: each of these political questions can only be fully explored by individuals with knowledge in disciplines such as biology, physiology, chemistry, and physics.

My proposal is to address the most fundamental issue of science, technology, and health that we face as a nation: science education. The gap of knowledge separating the scientific community and the everyday American is deep, wide, and, at times, frighteningly insurmountable. Furthermore, the divide is widening, amplified by a culture that is appalled by pervasive illiteracy but nonplussed by students who lag in scientific and mathematical understanding. The dangers of a scientifically illiterate society, while perhaps not immediately obvious, pose a very real threat to our national well-being.

Few would dispute that we need science to secure our country’s economic and political place in the world. Many fear that we are losing our scientific edge to nations such as China and Japan, and that as we forfeit the upper hand in the scientific arena we are also forfeiting jobs, economic power, and national security. We also need to look inward, at how a lack of scientific knowledge can and does affect us as citizens. After all, on a fundamental level, science shapes our interactions with the world, whether through the mobility of our vehicles, the interfaces of our computers, or the chemistry of our plastic 2-liters of Coke. In fact, a knowledge of scientific theories is essential to the understanding of all disciplines ranging from history to art to literature: we cannot truly appreciate the culture of Victorian England without a grasp of Darwin’s ideas or analyze modernist writing without insight into the theory of relativity.

But in order to understand the power—and the limitations—of science, thorough, intense, and extensive scientific education must be made a priority in our schools and in our culture. Students need to be exposed to the masterpieces of scientific discovery— not just the theories, but the tests and designs that give power and life to these ideas. Just as solving a mathematical proof enriches students’ understanding of an equation, an appreciation for the method and logic of solving actual scientific problems enhances students’ understanding of theories and hypotheses. Scientific discovery is an art—designing a worthwhile experiment requires logic, creativity and adaptability—and the challenges are endless: scientists work at the harsh frontiers of our limited knowledge, endlessly striving to measure the immeasurable, see the unseen, and know the unknowable. In its purest form, science is not a collection of facts but a mindset; and this science, once it seeps into your intellectual being, forever imbues your thought processes with a sense of logic, curiosity, and optimism.

Science can provide us with a better understanding of almost all aspects of our lives, a better grasp of both the opportunities and the challenges before us. The ability to see the world through the clear, piercing lens of science will strengthen us as individuals and as a country: voters imbued with scientific understanding are prepared to make well-informed and responsible decisions about the many pressing issues we face today.

So, while we undoubtedly need innovative and courageous solutions to the looming scientific questions of today, we cannot afford to forget that new questions will inevitably arise tomorrow. To ensure that we are prepared to meet these as-of-yet unforeseen challenges, we need to arm our youth and ourselves with the most effective weapons we possess: a depth and breadth of education in the sciences.

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Land of the Free, Home of the Brave & Big Foot
By: Sophie Luo
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Alan's Yak
By: Alan Sokol
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Global Climate Change
By: Justin Chenette
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Global Warming & You
By: Jamie Sykes
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Dear Mr. President
By: Andrea Willingham
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