Science Cabaret News


Interview with Veterinarian Karyn Bischoff 04/13/18

Karyn Bischoff

Join us on Wednesday, April 18 for a Science Cabaret on plastic, with Dr. Karyn Bischoff, a Veterinarian and Senior Extension Associate in the Department of Population Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences at Cornell University. Karyn will be talking about “The Problem with Plastics”.

How did you become a scientist?

I’m not sure that I ever became a “real” scientist.  I’m a veterinarian, so I use science to practice medicine, and I’m a toxicologist, so I’m very specialized, but I have the opportunity to do long-term research projects, but I also do a lot of short-term problem solving that lets me see how my work affects people and animals every day. Read the rest of this entry »

    Cheers to apples … and to a cider revival! 10/5/17


    Science Cabaret – Ithaca’s local scientific ensemble – presented Cornellians and apples in a spirited way. In between music acts at the 35th Ithaca Apple Harvest Festival, four scientists explained the core of making apples to the Ithaca Commons Pavilion crowd Oct. 1.

    For “A Bite of Science,” Ali Al Farqani, a doctoral student in horticulture, expounded on rootstock for making apples; Megan Biango-Daniels, a doctoral student in plant pathology, described apple disease and spoilage. Doctoral student Anna Wallis told the crowd how apples are grown and Jackie Nock, research support specialist in horticulture, discussed how to optimize apple storage: Put them in the fridge.

    At the Oct. 3 Science Cabaret event Pressing the Apple: A Cider Maker’s Tales, the audience enjoyed cider tastings while listening to Elizabeth Ryan ’82, owner of Breezy Hill Orchard in Staatsburg, New York, and Autumn Stoscheck, owner of Eve’s Cidery in Newfield, New York, pore over cider history.

    Emeritus professor Ian Merwin, M.S. ’88, Ph.D. ’90, owner of Black Diamond Cider in Trumansburg; Leah Grady Sayvetz and orchardist Steve Selin of Ithaca’s South Hill Cider and Eric Schatt of Redbyrd Orchard Cider in Trumansburg helped to answer questions and pour cider.

    –  Blaine Friedlander

    Originally published in the Cornell Chronicle.

      Sticky Slugs Inspire the Suture of the Future 09/26/17

      On Tuesday, September 19 Science Cabaret attendees were treated to a fun experience with Andy Smith of Ithaca College. Slug tales, medical marvels, and more were discussed in a lively back and forth with Andy. We collected some of our favorite tweets here.

      Andy Smith Ithaca College Science Cabaret 2017

        Climate change: It’s what’s for dinner 04/22/17

        by Blaine Friedlander

        April 20, 2017

        Mike Hoffmann, right, speaks with horticulture graduate students Juana Munoz and Isabel Branstrom, following his climate change lecture at the April 18 Science Cabaret. Photo by Blaine Friedlander

        To change the minds of people who deny global warming, go through their stomachs.

        Mike Hoffmann, executive director of the Cornell Institute for Climate Smart Solutions, and Gay Nicholson, president of Sustainable Tompkins, presented “Climate Change: It’s Personal and It’s Everybody,” at Science Cabaret April 18 at Coltivare.

        With more extreme flooding and drought, added high-temperature stress and pests fortified by a changing agricultural system, Hoffmann pointed to worrisome impending adjustments in our diet. He noted that climate change has forced food production to markedly shift north from 1990 to now.

        “Climate trends are complex,” Hoffmann said. “Longer growing seasons and longer frost-free periods aren’t necessarily good if farmers can’t plant, fertilize or harvest due to flooding.”

        The U.S. gets many fruits and vegetables from around the world in winter. A prolonged drought in Mexico, for example, may have profound negative effects on our food supply, he said. “Growing food is no longer business as usual. International supply chains are changing, and the changing supply creates price volatility,” he said.

        But there is hope. “Climate change is a grand challenge we can tackle, if we have the will,” Hoffmann said. “Accept the truth. Get informed, stay informed, make it personal and raise your voices. Act. Lead. Think food, think climate.”

        Nicholson spoke on the Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative, a climate action and clean energy coalition of leaders from education, business, local government, nonprofit and youth organizations. Nicholson outlined the many ways Tompkins County residents can help cool a warming globe, including Go Solar TompkinsHeat Smart Tompkins; the Finger Lakes Climate Fund, where citizens can offset carbon footprints; and Mothers Out Front, mobilizing moms and others to preserve a livable climate.

        – Blaine Friedlander

          Alzheimer’s research: Play a game and everyone wins 01/27/17

          Dec. 14, 2016

          by Blaine Friedlander

          (originally published in the Cornell Chronicle)

          hris Schaffer describes recent Alzheimer’s disease research and promotes the online game Stall Catchers at Science Cabaret.

          Chris Schaffer describes recent Alzheimer’s disease research and promotes the online game Stall Catchers at Science Cabaret. Photo credit: Blaine Friedlander

          By playing a game on your computer, smartphone or tablet, you can help advance Alzheimer’s research.

          Describing the latest scientific and medical breakthroughs to a packed house at Ithaca’s Science Cabaret Dec. 13, Chris Schaffer, associate professor in the Meinig School of Biomedical Engineering, touted the new Stall Catchers game – a citizen-science project that speeds up Cornell’s Alzheimer’s disease research by a factor of 30.

          The game’s videos come from the lab of Schaffer and Nozomi Nishimura, assistant professor in the Meinig School, where they examine how reduced brain blood flow contributes to the disease.

          Schaffer explained it is difficult to develop computer algorithms to analyze moving images of blood vessel flow, but humans can easily decipher blood flow. Teens, adults and schoolchildren do exceptionally well at this game, he said.

          Stall Catchers players examine movies of real blood vessels in mouse brains and search for stalls – clogged capillaries where blood stops flowing. By catching stalls, participants run up a score and compete against others around the world, win digital badges – and help humanity.

          Schaffer and Mishimura are collaborating with EyesOnALZ, a citizen science project from the Human Computation Institute.

            Science Cabaret’s chicken lecture went over easy 11/27/16

            Nov. 16, 2016

            by Blaine Friedlander

            (originally published in the Cornell Chronicle)

            Jarra Jagne describes the chicken production cycle as Cornell student Marlie Lukach looks on at the Science Cabaret Nov. 15 at Coltivare restaurant.

            Jarra Jagne describes the chicken production cycle as Cornell student Marlie Lukach looks on at the Science Cabaret Nov. 15 at Coltivare restaurant. Photo credit: Blaine Friedlander

            Nobody flew the coop at the packed Nov. 15 Science Cabaret that featured Jarra Jagne, D.V.M. ’90, a senior extension associate at the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine, and Marlie Lukach ’20, talking chicken.

            Jagne and Lukach offered technical details on the physiology of chickens, chick embryonic development, the wide variety of breeds and discussed the importance of 4-H – a New York statewide youth development program that Cornell manages.

            Lukach described embryo development, explaining when poultry producers can see a heart beat (day 3), the first appearance of a beak (day 6) or when the yolk sac draws into the young chick’s body cavity (day 19).

            Jagne provided a quick description of chicken parts, such as the comb, the wattle, the hock and nostril. She dove into the 25-hour process of how a yolk obtains an eggshell. The shell is made of calcium carbonate and the crowd learned that feeding ground oyster shells provides an “eggsellent” food source of calcium for the eggshell’s development.

            Regular chickens (Gallus gallus domesticus) have about 4,000 yolks in their ovaries, but a normal egg-producer only makes about 350 eggs in total before their production career is over, Jagne noted.

              Sci Cab Chats with Mycologist Kathie T. Hodge 09/14/15

              kh11-portrait-1by Kitty Gifford

              Join us on Tuesday, September 15 for a Science Cabaret on mold, with Dr. Kathie T. Hodge, an Associate Professor of Mycology in the Department of Plant Pathology & Plant-Microbe Biology at Cornell University.

              Kathie will be talking about the hairy cast of characters from the corners of your fridge…

              How did you become a scientist?

              My dad was a high school biology teacher, maybe that’s part of it. But I always loved nature as a kid, and in my childhood I roamed the cottage country north of Toronto, exploring. The smallest things were always my favorites. I just kept exploring those small things through high school and college and then grad school, until I found I had accidentally become a scientist. I am very fortunate to have a job where I can continue to learn and learn and learn. And also teach, and write, because few activities are more rewarding than to explain some abstruse idea to someone and have their face light up with wonder.

              And how has your interest in science continued (what keeps you inspired)? Who encouraged you?

              It was only when I got to college that I found there’s a whole community of geeky nature people like me. Beyond the admirable people and the bright, shiny students, there is so much more to learn– that is the really inspiring thing.

              What are you working on now?

              My grad student, Megan Daniels, is working on food molds. I’m working on various topics in the biodiversity of fungi. Like some strange insect-killing fungi. Also working with Curator Scott LaGreca to digitize museum collections at the Cornell Plant Pathology Herbarium.

              Describe your lab.

              My lab has a side that clearly belongs to a mad scientist: full of old books, artifacts, and microscopes. The other side is full of modern molecular biology equipment, incubators, and culturing facilities.

              What is one surprising thing you’d like people to know about mycology?

              1. We think that over 95% of fungi on earth have yet to be discovered. 95%!!

              2. Yeast is a fungus. Thank you, yeast.

              Bonus tidbit:

              Sci Cab alum Prof. Paul McEuen wrote a novel, Spiral, in which a main character bears an startling resemblance to Kathie (at least, startling to me: and she has Kathie’s job at Cornell. Although the woman in the novel is much more torture-resistant than the real Kathie). Spiral won the “Debut Thriller of the Year” award in 2012, and is set right here in Ithaca.


                Sci Cab Chats with Bee Expert Bryan Danforth 04/6/15

                Bryan Danforth - Cornell University

                by Kitty Gifford

                Join us on Tuesday, April 21 for a Science Cabaret on bees, with Dr. Bryan Danforth, professor in the department of entomology at Cornell University.

                Bryan will be talking about what is going on with honey bees as well his lab’s work on wild bees and how important they are to apple pollination.

                How did you become a scientist?

                I became interested in biology as a kid mucking around in the marshes and tidal pools of Fishers Island, NY. In High School I got really hooked on birding and my biology professor, John Curry, had us counting hawks in the springtime. I majored in biology at Duke University, where Fred Nijhout, a developmental biologist, introduced me to the fascinating world of insects. As an undergrad, I assisted with field projects in the sandhills of North Carolina and the coast of Connecticut. I discovered a love for evolutionary biology and field studies.

                And how has your interest in science continued (what keeps you inspired)? Who encouraged you?

                I discovered bees as a graduate student at the University of Kansas in the 1980s. Charles Michener, my thesis advisor, suggested I spend a summer in the desert southwest, where the diversity of North American bees is at its highest. I spent several summers studying bee nesting and foraging behavior at the Southwestern Research Station in Portal, Arizona, a mecca for bee biologists. I had an outstanding mentor, Jerry Rozen (American Museum of Natural History), who introduced me to the fine art of studying bee nesting biology. With Dr. Michener and Rozen guiding my studies, I discovered the fascinating world of bee diversity and behavior.

                What are you working on now?

                My lab focuses mainly on to two topics. First, we study the diversity, phylogeny and evolution of bees on a global scale. We use genetic data (DNA sequence data) to reconstruct the evolutionary relationships of bees and we are constantly refining the bee “tree of life”. Second, we study the biodiversity of wild bees in eastern apple orchards and the role that these wild bees play in apple pollination. We have discovered over 100 species of bees visiting apple blossoms in NY. These bees are abundant in apple orchards in the early spring and they are highly effective pollinators of apples. In fact, a large percentage of the apples consumed in NY are probably pollinated by wild bees rather than domesticated honey bees. We are working closely with apple growers in NY to develop strategies for encouraging native bees in and around their orchards. 

                Do you collaborate with other scientists? Across different disciplines?

                Yes. I collaborate with scientists around the world on studies of bee diversity, phylogeny and evolution. I have close colleagues in Europe, Australia, Africa, South America, and across the US. Bee biologists are incredibly collaborative people, just like the bees they study.

                What will you do when you finish this research/current project/current focus?

                Write a book!

                Describe your lab or favorite workspace indoors or out!

                Arid regions of South Africa – this is where you find some of the most fascinating bees on the planet, including Fidelia, Scrapter, and Patellapis. South Africa hosts some of the most ancient lineages of bees in the world and the fauna there is strikingly different from our North American fauna.

                What is one surprising thing you’d like people to know about bees?

                Bees are incredibly diverse. There are over 20,000 described species, which is five times the number of mammals on earth. Only a small percentage (~6%) of bees are social, and an even smaller percentage (~2%) make honey. The majority of bees are solitary with females constructing their own burrows, provisioning their own offspring, and defending their own nest. Most bees nest in the ground, but there are also stem nesters, cavity nesters, wood nesters, resin-collectors, leaf-cutters, and masons. What distinguishes bees from closely related wasps is that bees are herbivores (consuming pollen and nectar) whereas wasps are predators (mostly consuming other insects).

                  Dr. Rodney Dietert’s Slide Set and Links 03/18/15

                  Many thanks go to Dr. Rodney Dietert for the March 17th 2015 program on the microbiome. The audience filled the room and enjoyed the opportunity to ask many questions! Attendees also enjoyed some local yogurt courtesy of Ithaca Water Buffalo and Ithaca Milk.

                  Dr. Dietert has kindly provided a slide set with links for you.

                    What’s Good Ithaca Profiles Science Cabaret 10/19/14

                    Please take a look at this beautiful new online magazine that profiles all the good things going on in Ithaca, NY and the region.

                    “What’s Good tells stories of good to inspire action and engagement in our community. We highlight people, business, and projects working toward positive change for our environment, our education system, our food system, and other elements of community sustainability, resilience, and happiness.”

                    You can subscribe to updates and make sure not to miss a post!

                    Read our profile.

                    If you have any suggestions for other people, projects, or businesses creating positive change here in the community, please share your ideas with What’s Good through the site at