Monday, June 21, 2010

Mini University: Day 2

Today I remembered why I love Mini University. In one day, I learned about embryonic stem-cell research, the cross-influence of Bob Dylan and the Beatles, and the ethical and technical ramifications of Mars exploration. Plus, I got to wander around Bloomington, and later we're going to the Comedy Caravan at Mother Bear's. Really. Awesome. Day.

First off, embryonic stem cells: Our professor discussed the difference between embryonic stem cells and iPS stem cells, which are adapted from adult cells. (Summary: The iPS stem cells are not a good replacement for embryonic stem cells, even if they do solve some ethical dilemmas.) We also discussed whether stem cells will soon be used to cure diseases in humans. The answer: Although we're doing lots of basic research, we don't yet know how to integrate these cells into existing human tissues -- in other words, we can create the cells, but we don't know how to use them to cure disease.

After lunch, Jessica and I headed to Ballantine Hall for a class on the cross-influence of Bob Dylan and the Beatles. It was taught by legendary professor Glenn Gass, and I could have listened to him for a few more hours -- completely fascinating. Fun fact of the day: The Beatles named themselves in honor of Buddy Holly's band the Crickets. They wanted to be bugs, too.

I ended the day in a class about the technical and ethical implications of Mars exploration. We spent about fifteen minutes on upcoming Mars expeditions, including the Mars Science Lab rover that launches in 2011. Unfortunately, there are two main ethical issues with such projects. One, which I've considered, is the wisdom of spending so much money on Mars exploration when we haven't even cataloged all life on Earth. The other issue I never considered: If there is life on Mars, we are possibly contaminating the planet's ecosystem every time we conduct another mission. In other words, we're possibly damaging Martian life without realizing it. Of course, the professor felt that the potential value of the research outweighs those considerations -- but it's something important to think about.

Tomorrow is another big day: "Newspapers in a Paperless World," "Capital Jurors: Who Serves and How Do They Decide?" and "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex" (this one at the Kinsey Institute). Oh, how I [heart] Mini University.

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