Friday, January 22, 2016

Self Reflection

       Taking AP Lang this year is, honestly, one of the best decision a high school senior could make. The course has the perfect balance of freedom, like this project, and structure, like in-class essays. This type of flexible coursework  helps me learn and grow best, as watching PowerPoint slide after another in my other classes doesn't (and shouldn't) motivate me to improve. Watching TED Talks that raise my awareness on global issues and reading King Lear are two very different things, however, this blend is what makes AP Lang unique and even more interesting.
       As far as writing goes, taking this class has made me intrinsically motivated to become a better writer because I am writing about things that truly interest me. Take the futurist project, for example, where I loved writing every sentence, which in turn, probably helped my writing skills. Also, how cool is it that I was able to research and write about synthetic biology in English class?  Needless to say, I can see a dramatic change in my writing from the beginning of September to January, which I am so grateful for.

A Year in Photos

The Ulster County fair was awesome this year, even though the lines were freakishly long. This is the view from the top of the Ferris wheel, although I seemed to have captured more of the Ferris wheel than the actual view. 

This is from the Bangkok Cafe in town, and I thought it would have been a crime not to showcase this creation of fried rice in a PINEAPPLE.

If these were sold in school vending machines, there would be peace on Earth. And now I'm hungry.

I painted this last year in Advanced Drawing and Painting class. The assignment is called "A Day in the Mind of Me" because I spent an entire day with my sketchbook in hand, where I drew anything and everything. This was the final piece that was inspired by that day. This painting is one of my favorites that I've done.

 My church choir takes a trip to the Jersey shore every summer where we sing to the residents of a retirement home, but mainly go to the beach. Let's take a moment to just look at that crashing wave, that pink sky. Maybe if we stare hard enough, we'll find ourselves magically at the beach instead of this frigid winter.
I went on a trail crew this summer in the Berkshire Mountains, where our crew "cut" an entire hiking trail (I still have blister scars from all that digging.) This was an incredibly rewarding experience, to see an untouched patch of land transform into a beautiful path for hikers to enjoy. Not to sound sappy, but I really learned what the power of teamwork can do on my trail crew.

Prom was a windy affair, but still fun. Our party bus was the highlight, hands down. 
Friends is one of my favorite shows, I spent a lot of time watching it this year, procrastinating doing more important things. So naturally, this had to be included. I also just really love Joey's expression in this shot.
This doesn't really fit the theme of "A Year in Photos" but I'm breaking the rules here. And for good reason, this baby photo of me shocked and confused at the sight of a hay bail gets me every time.
Photo of me and Rachel hiking at Spring Farm, as per usual. Our heads are blocking the sunset, but it was pretty great. Don't you just love Mother Nature? The camera quality doesn't do it justice, but trust me here, it was beautiful. 

I took this photo the day I got my license, feeling super relieved I passed. (Don't worry, the car was in park.) 
This was taken last year when the New Paltz Nordic Girls Team won Sections, where me and 3 other New Paltz girls made it to States. This day was pretty awesome, to say the least.

My Bucket List

  1. Live with courage.
  2. Write my story.
  3. Fall in love.
  4. Ski in the Alps.
  5. Have a conversation in French (with a real French person).
  6. Hike all 46 High Peaks.
  7. Travel to far out places like Cathy Law.
  8. Live in a house with a wrap-around porch.
  9. Learn and play all of the Beethoven sonatas.
  10. Write someone else’s story.
  11. Look at life up close.
  12. Make pro cheese plates.
  13. Reach nirvana.
  14. Scuba dive.
  15. Eat breakfast with Jenna Marbles.
  16. Eat lunch with Vladimir Putin.
  17. Eat dinner with Kanye.
  18. Ride a jeep on the sand dunes of Death Valley.
  19. Go sailing, solo.
  20. Give a TED talk.
  21. Sleep in a hammock in Madagascar.
  22. Find Waldo!
  23. Be an extra in any movie with Leonardo Dicaprio. Or Hugh Grant.
  24. Learn new words and use them.
  25. Enjoy every moment, even the bad ones.

Peace is the Answer

In an excerpt from Cesar Chavez’s article that draws from Martin Luther King Jr.’s promotion of non-violent resistance, it asserts that nonviolence is the only enforcer for sociopolitical change. First, Chavez explains the philosophy of the farm worker’s movement which holds the belief that it is totally immoral to take another human’s life for any personal gain-- not only is it cruel, but it denies success. Furthering the argument, Chavez denounces violence as a temporary and inefficient oppressor. His persuasive juxtaposition, diction, and syntax forces his audience to believe the true course of action is to peacefully march, strike, and protest to attain victory.
First, Chavez claims that nonviolence is the most successful approach to reaching an agreement with an opposing group, especially in a class conflict, like the farm worker’s movement. Chavez drills his belief that “nonviolence is more powerful than violence” in his seemingly distinct contrast between, “Nonviolence supports you… Nonviolence provides the opportunity to stay on the offensive” and “If we resort to violence… either the violence will be escalated and there will be many injuries… or there will be total demoralization of the workers.” Here, he gives his readers no choice but to agree with his valid, and previously underrepresented argument for nonviolence.
Taking the peaceful road inherently gives those fighting for their beliefs the advantage, as using weapons automatically categorizes a group as “on defense”, and thus, they easily become victims. However, Chavez does not fail to point out that nonviolence is oftentimes a struggle to maintain especially when, “frustration, impatience, and anger seethe inside every farm worker.” By showing his audience the perspective of the farm workers, Chavez highlights just how hard it is to abstain from violence, making these poor rural dwellers seem even more deserving of equality. Such powerful syntax highlights the complex attitude that Chavez so clearly displays: while violence has the potential to control us, we must use self-control to advance any further in our struggle. To add, when the general public sees “the poor struggling nonviolently against great odds,” they will be more inclined to support the protests positively. However oppressed some are, and however great they want to submit to bloodshed, they must defy society’s norms with nonviolence.
Chavez also persuades his headstrong argument for civil disobedience by stating the obvious, yet arguably most important, “People suffer from violence.” His most compelling question, “Who gets killed in the case of violent revolution?” blunty answered with, “The poor, the workers” propels his assertion that violence fosters those already suffering to suffer more. Clearly, the viciously infinite cycle that defines torture, war, and weapons, can only be stopped using the nonviolent approach. As war progresses, the poor become even more diminished, losing lives and limbs to add to their inequities. Such depressing truths reiterate Chavez’s beginning theory that, “violence brings no honor to any class of community,” emphasizing just how important for communities to choose peace.
Overall, Chavez, using powerful contrast, dark diction, and truthful syntax, successfully develops his lasting argument that violence resolves little conflict within a group, and that nonviolence is the only way for the oppressed suffer less damage and ultimately, rise above their oppressors.

Why the Future Needs Synthetic Biology

As the pioneering field of synthetic biology nears its first decade since its conception, scientists are making enormous advancements that would have previously been deemed impossible by human standards. The impressive thing is, synthetic biology is producing superhuman effects that we can harness into new forms of productivity and innovation. To name a few, this new biological network has the potential to create breakthroughs in design, manufacturing, human health, and the environment (Alberts). Many bioethicists and scientists raise the question that making life from scratch may produce a fair amount of uninvited consequences. However, synthetic biology is the key to introducing better design methodologies, sustaining our world with recyclable matter, curing disease, and enriching the overall welfare and success of today’s society.
Synthetic biology is an interdisciplinary science that expands biological foundations to the broader scope of engineering technology. Using artificial nucleotides, the genetic code is edited where revolutionary living material is produced. In attempt to sustain our environment, computational design, additive technology, materials engineering, and synthetic biology have manipulated organisms to take on a new, and much improved, structure. Synthetic biologists aim to eliminate the assembly line that fosters the part-by-part creation of a product. Instead, they seek to promote more elasticity and continuity in the once limited world of manufacturing by creating (literally) seamless products with the help of genetic alterations and 3-D printing. With this intersection at technology and biology, structures like buildings, clothing, and furniture have the chance to be created by organisms taken from nature itself.. A popular material used in synthetic biological design is chitin, a semitransparent substance found in many natural places around the world, especially in the exoskeletons of aquatic organisms, like shrimp. Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have created a skin-like fabric called chitosan paste, which contains multiple properties, like variations in density. It is flexible and fluid, yet has the capacity to mold itself to the contours of the body. Products made with these newly synthesized cells, like helmets, dresses, and capes, (all showcased at the Paris Fashion Show), are smarter than the average cotton-based clothing. They mimic the living biological makeup of our tissues, tendons, and ligaments, using twenty-micron high-resolution cells (Oxman). Because these products are one-hundred percent recyclable, we may already have the solution to sustaining our planet. Soon, manufacturing with non-degradable plastics will be a thing of the past.
Besides design and industry, synthetic biology provides a multitude of health benefits to our society’s future. Building new organisms from those that are nature-made can create new virus resistance, an extreme triumph for medicine. An important milestone has already happened for synthetic biology, which was the creation of artemisinin. A drug designed to combat malaria, a disease that kills one-million people and infects three-hundred-million to five-hundred-million people yearly, is on its way to saving lives. Also, scientists are designing microbes and bacteria that will detect and destroy tumors while leaving healthy tissue alone (unlike chemotherapy) and subsequently self destruct. Placed on the microbiome, our permanent bacterial ecosystem that resides in and on the body, scientists discuss introducing artificially-made bacteria that automatically destroy cancer cells (Keasling). People in the third world will be healthier than ever with these new medicinal benefits coming to the forefront of every scientist’s and health provider’s mind. It is fairly clear that synthetic biology that cures the sick from essentially, artificial bacteria is the road to a better tomorrow.
Personalized medicine is another cutting edge approach that has the potential to use synthetic biology to improve the lives of millions of people. A research group at Northwestern University has programmed immune cells to build customized cancer therapies, ones that genetically match to every patient’s unique needs. The entire genome is able to be replicated and analyzed using biotechnology that combines with engineering principles (Breslin). Since every individual has a unique genetic code, it makes perfect sense that their medicine would complement it. What’s more is that it wouldn’t be surprising if these revolutionary medical advancements using synthetic biology will prevent the population from succumbing to future mass outbreaks of flus, the recent Ebola virus, or worse, a plague.
As young as the field is, the business world welcomes synthetic biology with open arms, and likewise, open wallets. The organization and annual science competition that claims synthetic biology as its brainchild, the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM), was founded beside partners like the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Monsanto, the National Science Foundation, and Autodesk. The global market comprised of advancements, like pharmaceuticals, diagnostic tools, chemicals, and  biofuels, made by synthetic biology, is projected to grow to sixteen-billion dollars in the next four years (Garthwaite). If there was not a need for synthetic biology, this dramatic and exciting economic boom would not exist. Clearly, synthetic biology has the capability to revolutionize both scientific practices and the world economy.  
With all of these benefits, it would be unnatural to say there are no risks, skeptics, and drawbacks to synthetic biology. Indeed, whether the foundations it was constructed from are ethical is a seemingly infinite struggle for researchers and scientists alike. Eyebrows raise especially to the FBI and Homeland Security’s presence at MIT’s scientific conference on the controversial topic. As converting biology to data and data to biology becomes cheaper and easier to do, it raises the inevitable question: what are the consequence of this behavior? Yes, it is exciting to see scientists radically alter DNA with two new nucleotides, X and Y, kicking the original complex of G, A, T, C, to the sidelines, but people want to know where the line is drawn, and who is going to draw it. Risk factors are also prevalent in determining the morality to synthetic biology, as skeptics from the science community claim it will harbor harder-to-kill pests and pathogens that will inevitably decrease genetic diversity within a population of organisms. Some even fear that a self-replicating species with synthetic genomes will try to reproduce with natural species; the potential for newly-made creatures that are beyond the control of any organization or research university makes these scientific pioneers concerned that they will be held accountable for such genetic destruction (Markoff). Overall, there is an overwhelming number of things that could go wrong with synthetic biology, especially its after effects. However, more research and prototypes must ensue for there to be a real argument that denounces synthetic biology as more harmful than helpful.
An interesting approach to understanding the true societal nature of synthetic biology is, ironically, through theologians. Researchers in the synbio field have been accused of playing the role of God, skeptics are going so far as to call them the new “Frankenstein's” of the twenty-first century. Surprisingly, recent findings suggest that liberal theologians deny the accusation that synthetic biologists are acting too much like God, and not enough like scientists. In fact, this argument is largely supported by secular organizations. It’s curious that it is the non-religious groups who claim synthetic biologists shouldn’t make life out of data sets because it puts science at the holy altar instead of Christ. One reason why synthetic biology gives so many a sense of uneasiness and worry is the belief that non-synthesized life will lose its meaning and value (Van den Belt). Humans are used to looking down upon lower species on the food chain-- with synthetic biology, the prospect of new and more intelligent life is getting closer every day. People are afraid that the new wave of modern advancements and technology that automatically comes with synthetic biology will leave them (and their average genetic code) behind. However, this is not the mindset the human population needs if it wants to succeed as both a society and ecosystem. With all of the environmental destruction that humans cause, like pollution and climate change, the planet is slowly, but surely, losing steam. Synthetic biology can change that by making sustainable energy.

Overall, the up-and-coming interdisciplinary science of synthetic biology promises great achievements for our planet's future. From converting atmospheric nitrogen to a more useful form, which increases agricultural yields, to newly imagined functions like an odorless E. coli cell that produces a lemony, edible “wonder protein” which contains essential amino acids, synthetic biology fosters creativity and production (Garthwaite).  Not only could we see skyscrapers made of renewable, living, material, but diseases in which millions suffer from, like cancer and malaria, could be cured altogether. And while skeptics and bioethicists raise controversial yet necessary questions that concern the ultimate motives of synthetic biologists, it is clear that their intentions and goals are solely based on innovation and growth.  

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