ALD21 Podcasts: Pros and Comms, Maaria Ginai

Pros and Comms, Maaria Ginai

In Pros and Comms, scientist turned life sciences communications professional Maaria Ginai talks to experts from different sectors to find out how to create science comms stories that resonate with your audience. Recent episodes explore:

  • bias in science with Emily Sena, senior lecturer in preclinical research at the University of Edinburgh and editor in chief at the BMJ Open Science journal;
  • academia and entrepreneurship with Shara Cohen, former scientist, serial entrepreneur and the founder of mumsinscience; and,
  • science and the media, and the public viewing science process in real time through the pandemic with Fiona Fox, the CEO of the Science Media Centre in London.

You can follow her work here:

Twitter: @Maaria_Ginai@prosandcomms and @MowbiUK

ALD21: Professor Sau Lan Wu, 吳秀蘭, Particle Physicist

Sau Lan Wu

Professor Sau Lan Wu, 吳秀蘭

Born in Hong Kong, Professor Sau Lan Wu is a Chinese American particle physicist who was a member of the teams that discovered the J/psi particle, the gluon and evidence that points to the existence of the Higgs boson.

In 1974, Wu was part of an MIT team working with the Alternating Gradient Synchrotron accelerator at Brookhaven National Laboratory. Using the high-intensity proton beams to bombard a target, they discovered a strong peak at 3.1 billion electron volts, indicating that they had found a new particle which decayed into electron-positron pairs. This was the J/psi particle, and it provided experimental evidence of the Charm quark. The discovery of the Charm quark was so momentous that it was called the November Revolution and led to the establishment of the Standard Model of particle physics.

In the late 70s, Wu’s mathematical analysis of three ‘jets’ of energy produced by particle collisions led to the discovery of the gluon, a particle which ‘glues’ quarks together to form protons and neutrons. She was a co-recipient of the 1995 European Physical Society High Energy and Particle Physics Prize for this discovery.

Wu spent over thirty years in search of the Higgs boson. She was a group leader at ATLAS, one of two groups working at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN (the other was CMS), and although they observed a number of candidates, none of their results were statistically significant.

On 4 July 2012, following experiments by both ATLAS and CMS, CERN announced the discovery of a boson with the same characteristics as those predicted for the Higgs boson by the Standard Model. Wu’s team had worked on understanding the decay of the Higgs boson into two gamma rays or into four leptons, and this work was crucial to the discovery of the Higgs boson.

Wu is the Enrico Fermi Distinguished Professor of Physics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She continues to work on the Higgs boson, and is also now searching for the particles that make up dark matter.

Further reading

ALD21 Books: How Was That Built?, Roma Agrawal

Roma Agrawal

How Was That Built? The Stories Behind Awesome Structures, Roma Agrawal

Join Roma Agrawal, the award-winning structural engineer who worked on The Shard, for an exciting behind-the-scenes look at some of the world’s most amazing landmarks.

Meet the extraordinary people who challenged our beliefs about what’s possible, pioneering remarkable inventions that helped build the Brooklyn Bridge in the US, the Pantheon in Italy, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the Shard in England and the Sapporo Dome in Japan. Discover the ingenious methods engineers have come up with to enable us to build underground, underwater, on ice and even in space. And learn about the impact different forces and materials can have on a structure by carrying out your own engineering experiments from the ‘Try it at Home’ sections.

Beautiful and detailed illustrations by Katie Hickey, including cross-sections, skylines and close-ups of engineering techniques in action, provide unique and illuminating perspectives of our most awe-inspiring constructions.

Get ready to see the built world around you like never before!

Order the book on here and your purchase will support a local independent bookshop of your choice!

You can follow her work here:

Twitter: @RomaTheEngineer
YouTube: Roma Agrawal

ALD21: Tu Youyou, 屠呦呦, Pharmaceutical Chemist & Malariologist

Tu Youyou, 屠呦呦

Tu Youyou is a Chinese phytochemist and pharmaceutical chemist who discovered the antimalarial drugs artemisinin in 1972 and dihydroartemisinin in 1973. She was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2015, the first Chinese citizen to receive a Nobel in that category and the first Chinese woman to receive a Nobel in any category.

In 1969, Tu was recruited to lead Project 523, a research group tasked with finding a treatment for malaria. She began by talking to practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine and compiling information about 640 folk remedies in a book, A Collection of Single Practical Prescriptions for Anti-Malaria. She and her team then began testing, screening over 2,000 recipes and making 380 herbal extracts from around 200 herbs.

One herb, sweet wormwood (Artemisia annua) was often prescribed for “intermittent fevers”, a common symptom of malaria. Instructions for its preparation could be found in a 1,600-year-old text, in a recipe titled, Emergency Prescriptions Kept Up One’s Sleeve. Initial tests seemed to show that the sweet wormwood was ineffective, but after reading The Handbook of Prescriptions for Emergency Treatments, a book about traditional Chinese herbal medicine written in 340 by Ge Hong, Tu realised that a low-temperature extraction method was needed because the usual boiling water method destroyed the active compounds.

In 1972, Tu isolated the active compound, qinghaosu (青蒿素), or artemisinin as it is known in English. After successful animal trials, Tu tested the compound on herself. A year later, while working on confirmation of the structure of the artemisinin, she accidentally synthesised dihydroartemisinin, which is now used in combination with piperaquine to treat malaria.

Tu’s work wasn’t made public internationally until the 1980s. Artemisinin-based combination drugs have been the default treatment for malaria since the early 2000s and have saved millions of lives globally.

Further reading

ALD21: Alice Ball, Chemist

Alice Ball

Alice Ball

Alice Ball was an American chemist who developed the first effective treatment for leprosy, or Hansen’s Disease, which until then had a very poor prognosis and was highly stigmatised. 

Born in 1892, Ball was the first woman and first African American to earn a master’s degree from the University of Hawaii, and was also the university’s first African American chemistry lecturer. 

Since the 1300s, leprosy had been somewhat ineffectively treated using chaulmoogra oil, made from the seeds of the Hydnocarpus wightianus tree. The oil was sticky and thick, making it unsuitable for topical application. When injected, it tended to form blisters under the skin which could develop into abscesses. Its awful taste frequently caused vomiting when it was taken orally. 

Ball developed a method to process the raw oil, via saponification, acidification and finally purification to produce ethyl ester compounds which were water soluble and thus more easily absorbed by the body, whilst maintaining the oil’s therapeutic properties. In 1915, she was made head of the chemistry department. 

She died a year later, aged just 24, before she had a chance to publish her findings. Her master’s degree advisor, Arthur L Dean – who was also a chemist and later became president of the University of Hawaii – mass produced the chaulmoogra extract and treated some 78 patients at the Kalihi Hospital, each of whom recovered sufficiently to be released. He published his results and named the process after himself, without ever mentioning the work that Ball had done. 

Despite an attempt in 1922 by Harry Hollmann, an assistant surgeon at a leprosarium in Honolulu, to gain recognition for Ball, her name is still not widely known, although her process is now known as the Ball Method. The University of Hawaii has named a scholarship for her, and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has added her name to its iconic frieze, along with those of Marie Skłodowska-Curie and Florence Nightingale, joining those of 23 male medical innovators. 

Further reading