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The social sciences are essential to understanding how COVID-19 has spread and its impacts on individuals and society. (Photo Credit: Auris; Lindsay France; Elizabeth Nelson)

by Jackie Swift

How should models of pandemic illnesses be constructed? What are the racial disparities in clinical outcomes for patients with COVID-19? How are emergency room physicians coping with the stress of an overwhelmed hospital system? These are just some of the questions explored by panelists who took part in a session on social sciences and modeling during the Cornell COVID-19 Summit, held virtually November 4–5.

The session took place on the second day of the summit and featured researchers from Cornell’s Ithaca campus and from Weill Cornell Medicine. …


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What does cybersecurity mean when computer systems remain vulnerable to hacking? Rebecca Slayton investigates. (Photo Credit: Elizabeth Nelson; Jason Koski)

by Jackie Swift

Shortly before the 1990–1991 Persian Gulf War, also known as Operation Desert Storm, two teenagers from the Netherlands hacked into the United States Department of Defense’s (DOD) new logistics system and gained control over it, according to Rebecca M. Slayton, Science and Technology Studies at Cornell University. “They might have stopped or diverted shipments of weapons or other critical supplies, and that might have had a devastating effect on military operation,” she says.

United States–led coalition forces achieved their military objectives in the Gulf War in a matter of weeks. But Slayton points out that things could…


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Meredith Silberstein at Cornell University thinks outside the box to create polymers with targeted functionality. Many of the concepts she explores are bio-inspired. (Photo Credit: Beatrice Jin; Jason Koski, Elizabeth Nelson)

by Jackie Swift

Nature is full of biological materials with the ability to change properties as needed. The trunks of many trees, for example, stand firm and strong yet can bend in a wind without breaking. Octopuses can change the color and texture of their skin as well as the shape of their bodies. Pine cones can open and shut their scales to time the release of seeds. Natural phenomena like these have inspired Meredith N. Silberstein, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, to think outside the box in her quest to create synthetic polymers with targeted functionality.

“A lot of what…


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People with a strong sense of purpose tend to weather life’s ups and downs better. Anthony Burrow investigates the psychology behind this phenomenon. (Illustration credit: Elizabeth Nelson; Jason Koski)

by Jackie Swift

Stop and think for a moment: What gives your life purpose? You may find this difficult to answer. You may even think at first that you have no purpose, but as you reflect on the question, your answer and the sense of balance it brings may surprise you.

A sense of purpose is integral to the human experience, says Anthony L. Burrow, department of Human Development at Cornell University. “Purpose is a forward-looking directionality, an intention to do something in the world,” he says. “It’s different than a goal, which can be accomplished. Wanting to be a…


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Interdisciplinary collaborations bring Cornell’s strengths to the forefront of COVID-19 research. (Photo Credit: Elizabeth Nelson; Dave Burbank)

by J. Edward Anthony

Bacteria that churn out a COVID-19 vaccine like mini pharmaceutical factories. An antibody test that not only indicates whether you’ve been exposed but also measures the strength and progress of your immune response. A friendly giant of a molecule, harmless to humans, that once injected into the bloodstream will bind like Velcro to the outside of SARS-CoV-2, keeping it from doing harm by holding the virus in a relentless molecular bear hug.

To people anxious for practical help, these ideas might sound far-fetched, but to Cornell researchers working at the forefront of their fields, these outside-the-box…


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Ivan Bazarov, who uses the Cornell Electron Storage Ring to manipulate bright particle beams, pushes boundaries to make new physics discoveries. (Illustration Credit: Elizabeth Nelson)

by Jackie Swift

Ivan V. Bazarov, Physics, doesn’t just like to solve problems; he likes to create them, too, and accelerator physics gives him a chance to do both. “When you work with accelerators and you find solutions for problems, they translate into real-life applications or enable other scientists to do research they otherwise couldn’t do, which is cool,” he says. “But along with solving problems, we also like to create them — to take more of a risk. …


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Why is there more carbon in soil than in the atmosphere and all plants combined? Johannes Lehmann turns soil science on its head with the answer. (Photo Credit: Jason Koski)

by Jackie Swift

Johannes Lehmann, School of Integrative Plant Science at Cornell University, Soil and Crop Sciences, is leading a revolution. Over the past two decades, he has been instrumental in overturning a long-held scientific belief regarding the fundamental nature of soil, while at the same time exploring innovative ways to mitigate climate change.

“There is much more carbon in the soil than in the atmosphere and in all the plants together on the globe,” he says. “It’s a conundrum why there is so much. If you give a leaf to microorganisms to eat, they very quickly eat it all…


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The things we keep shape our behavior — and history — in powerful ways. An archaeologist reconsiders the stuff the Roman Empire was made of. (Illustration Credit: Elizabeth Nelson; Provided)

by J. Edward Anthony

“In a complete stranger’s house, I could probably find a toothbrush pretty easily,” says Astrid Van Oyen, Classics. “The spatial specificity in our houses tends to be echoed by the material objects we store in that space.” Dishes go in a kitchen cabinet, pajamas in a bedroom dresser. “In Roman houses, in the time of the Roman Empire, that wasn’t the case,” she explains. “It would be a nightmare for any modern-day organizer.”

Van Oyen is a classical archaeologist who asks questions like an anthropologist. The two disciplines are more closely linked in her native Belgium…


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Sumanta Basu uses data to understand the structure of a complex system and to predict what will happen to the system at a future time point. (Illustration credit: Elizabeth Nelson)

by Jackie Swift

“Statistics is unique; it’s like a language of science,” says Sumanta Basu, Statistics and Data Science/Computational Biology. “It gives researchers a rigorous framework to clearly present the logic behind their algorithms and analyses, as well as the assumptions they are making, and helps them communicate their findings to their peers in the scientific community.”


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Environmentally friendly or no? Ricardo Daziano models the economic variables that influence whether consumers choose energy-efficient technology. (Illustration Credit: Elizabeth Nelson)

by Jackie Swift

Cutting back on energy use in the face of climate change means we need to make some important choices in the marketplace: Do we buy a gasoline-powered car or an electric one? Do we replace our old furnace with a gas furnace or an electric heat pump? Do we opt to get our energy from solar panels or coal-fired power plants?

“Environmentally friendly products like electric cars and solar panels have benefits not only for the user, who saves money because the products are energy efficient, but also for society because they produce less emissions,” says Ricardo…

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