What do you get when you cross a scientist, a rock star, and a rollerblading enthusiast? Nope, it’s not the protagonist from an 80s rom-com. The answer is this week's guest Dr. Pardis Sabeti. Smithsonian Magazine called her the “Rollerblading, Rock Star Scientist of Harvard.”

Dr. Sabeti is a world renowned physician and geneticist, famous for her work applying computational models to the study of evolution and public health. As if that weren't enough to demonstrate a predisposition to success, she's also the lead singer in a rock band called Thousand Days, and frequently rollerblades to and from her lab at Harvard. Early in her career, Dr. Sabeti became convinced that if she could identify recent changes in the human genome, it would lead to breakthrough methods for fighting infectious diseases. To accomplish this, Dr. Sabeti is engaged in a continuous effort to determine if a specific gene variation in a given neighborhood of genes recently conferred a genetic advantage (such as a resistance to disease) on particular population. One of her collaborators at MIT described her as Gretzky-esque in her approach to evolutionary genetics, preferring to skate to where the puck (or in this case, advantageous gene variation) is going to be, rather than where it currently is.

More recently, Dr. Sabeti has directed her investigative mind toward the Lassa virus, a deadly hemorrhagic fever that first emerged in the Nigerian town of Lassa in the late 1960s.  Just how dangerous is the Lassa virus? The US Center for Disease Control identifies the Lassa virus as Biosafety level 4 (the highest possible risk).

Currently, Dr. Sabeti and her team are putting themselves directly in the disease's path by studying and treating victims of the deadly Ebola outbreak in West Africa. This deadly strain of the virus has already caused over 700 deaths, Peace Corp to pull all its volunteers, and pan-African airlines to halt travel to that western region. Though the risk of the infection spreading among travelers is low, since the disease is transmitted through contact with bodily fluids, health care professionals like Dr. Sabeti and her team are among those at greatest risk for infection. 

Dr. Sabeti is not a figment of 80s pop culture imagination-she’s the real deal. For more on Dr. Sabeti's astounding work, please see: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/pardis-sabeti-the-rollerblading-rock-star-scientist-of-harvard-135532753/?no-ist

Read more of her academic publications here: http://sabetilab.org/people/pardis-sabeti

-Lee Stephenson, Production Associate

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AuthorChris Duffy

We're thrilled to announce that You're the Expert was featured on the latest episode of Seen in NY  from EdLab at Teachers College, Columbia University. 

Seen in NY is a series of videos "on subjects ranging from monks and mathematics to boat-building to citizen science." They focus on projects that are "innovative and forward thinking" and we're honored to be featured!

Check out the You're the Expert video here:

And then check out some of their other videos here:

Maker Faire

American Museum of Natural History

The Laundromat Project

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AuthorChris Duffy

Take a look at the picture below. What do you see?

If you’re like most people, you probably see some weird-looking flowers. Maybe you notice the bumblebee in the corner or a small blue bird sitting on a petal. Your eyes are taking in visual information and telling your brain, “We see some weird-looking flowers.”

 Now look again and focus on the lower half of the image. See anything else?

How about the letters S-E-X?

If you look at the negative space between the stalks of the flowers, you can make out the word ‘SEX’ written in white. Didn’t see that one coming, did you?

 Your brain didn’t either – well, part of it did. Nothing has changed about the image, but now the subliminal message hidden between the flowers has moved from the unconscious part of your brain to the conscious part. We “unmasked” the word by telling you where to look, allowing the visual stimulus to become strong enough to cross that cognitive threshold and turn this innocent bunch of flowers into a dirty teaching tool.

 It’s this change of perception that fascinates Dr. Heather Berlin, a cognitive neuroscientist at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Dr. Berlin studies the neural underpinnings of consciousness and unconsciousness, that tantalizing space “in between” where Freudian slips, unnamed desires, and repressed memories live. Have you ever wondered why you accidentally called your girlfriend by your mom’s name? Or why whispering “pizza” into a friend’s ear while they sleep makes them crave Domino’s when they wake up? (That actually works – just ask Dr. Berlin’s husband.)

 It’s because our brain doesn’t always let us know when it’s receiving new stimuli, meaning there’s a wealth of information stored between your ears that you have no memory of receiving. For instance, before we pointed out the word ‘SEX’ in the image, your brain still registered the subliminal message – it just didn’t feel like telling you. Dr. Berlin tries to figure out why that hidden message, even if it stays hidden, might cause you to go home and rent “Basic Instinct” tonight instead of “The Lion King.” You might think you’re suddenly a huge fan of Sharon Stone, but your unconscious brain – that other part – knows otherwise.

 To learn more about how your brain works – and how freestyle rappers make up awesome lyrics on the spot – listen to the full You’re the Expert episode with cognitive neuroscientist Dr. Heather Berlin here.

-Lydia Dallett, Production Associate

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AuthorChris Duffy