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Science presentations at AAAS from Princeton University

Geometry of music, challenges of measles control, and mysteries of the immune system

Princeton University

Citizen Science and Information Technology: Engaging People for a Better Planet
Daniel Rubenstein, Class of 1877 Professor of Zoology and Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Saturday, Feb. 13, 8 a.m., Marriott Balcony A (Marriott Wardman Park)

Rubenstein will moderate a panel on the ways in which citizen involvement is increasingly being used to help scientists and decision makers solve problems at scales never before imagined. Around the world, citizen groups are participating in compelling projects in environmental research, wildlife conservation, poverty mitigation, assisting people with disabilities, materials discovery, and astronomy. Citizen participation in science multiplies the network of science partners exponentially, and provides ordinary citizens with ways to become more informed decision makers as well as advocates for science. The combination of citizen science with technologies such as remote sensing and genomics is enabling new capabilities. Panelists will talk about their experiences in setting up citizen-science projects.

Challenges of Measles Control and Elimination in Resource Poor Settings
C. Jessica Metcalf, Assistant Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Public Affairs
Sunday, Feb. 14, 8 a.m., Marshall Ballroom West (Marriott Wardman Park)

Despite success in eliminating measles from the Americas, the goal of global elimination of this potentially fatal infection has not yet been achieved. The lack of access to healthcare, combined with demographic trends such as birthrate and population mobility has meant that targeting control efforts for maximum efficacy are essential. Evaluation of targeted interventions is essential for establishing both what has worked and what hasn't, as well as where future vulnerabilities lie. Statistical and mathematical methods based on data from case surveillance, serology and coverage can all contribute to contribute to this goal. Metcalf and her colleagues are working on exploring the patterns of measles outbreaks and interventions in a number of African countries, including Niger, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Madagascar and Malawi. Their work has explored the overlap between routine and campaign vaccination, inequity in vaccination coverage linked to living in more remote areas, the consequences of spatial heterogeneity in the context of the Ebola outbreak, and the challenges presented by variable reporting in resource-poor countries.

The Geometry of Music
Dmitri Tymoczko, Professor of Music
Sunday, Feb. 14, 10 a.m., Marshall Ballroom West (Marriott Wardman Park)

Music and mathematics have much in common, but can mathematical tools help us understand and appreciate music? Tymoczko will discuss the connections between familiar musical terms such as "chord," "voice leading" and "scale" to geometrical terms such as "point in a configuration space," "vector" and "metric." This translation manual allows us to appreciate the specific workings of individual pieces, the deep similarities of different musical genres, and the conditions under which music coherence is possible. Tymoczko's talk builds on earlier work into the non-Euclidean geometry of Western harmony, work that led to two papers published in Science and a book, "A Geometry of Music," published by Oxford University Press. The work also led to an interactive sculpture in the National Museum of Mathematics in Manhattan. Once we understand this correspondence, we can use mathematical and computational tools to study the vectors found in musical structure, leading to new insights about musical style and also particular pieces. Tymoczko will show how these vectors are crucial to understanding the geometrical structure of musical harmonies, and how that geometrical structure in turn helps us expand our conception of a musical vector. He will apply these concepts to the discussion of new insights into the Renaissance composer Luca Marenzio's musical representations of the afterlife.

Why Do Immune Systems Harm Their Bearers?
Andrea Graham, Associate Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Sunday, Feb. 14, 1:30 p.m., Marshall Ballroom West (Marriott Wardman Park)

Immune-mediated diseases ranging from septic shock to multiple sclerosis exact a huge toll on human health. Many of the molecular and cellular mechanisms by which the immune system can harm a host's own tissues or even cause death are well understood. However, evolutionary explanations for self-harm have received less attention. What forces of natural selection have generated such a remarkable immune system -- capable of feats such as memory responses that protect against particular influenza strains decades after first exposure -- that also is capable of causing such tremendous damage to our own bodies? Graham's talk will focus on our emerging understanding of the evolutionary causes of immune-mediated disease, including important roles for susceptibility trade-offs and for long-term co-evolution with parasites such as gastrointestinal worms. For example, in wild sheep, autoimmunity is associated with enhanced resistance to infectious diseases. Hosts may thus experience a trade-off: a host could be susceptible to autoimmune diseases or infections, but not both. Such a trade-off could help to explain the persistence of diseases like lupus. Recent tests suggest that this trade-off is borne out in human populations. Will the future of medicine entail "restoration ecology" of the human gut, reinstating worms to rein in diseases like ulcerative colitis? These and other clinical implications of an evolutionary understanding of immune-mediated disease will be discussed.


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