10 Riveting Science Stories From 2022

December 14, 2022

Graduate Center faculty, students, and alumni blaze red-hot trails in science.

2022 Top 10 Science Stories
Clockwise from upper left: Professor John Dennehy in his lab; Galaxy cluster SMACS 0723, captured by the James Webb Space Telescope; Psychology Ph.D. candidate Beverlin Rosario-Williams; and craniums of female Theropithecus oswaldi.

This year, Graduate Center faculty, students, and alumni blazed a path forward on the fine cutting edge of scientific discovery. From mathematics to mental health, they raised the bar for performance and innovation in their fields.

We covered many of their stories. These are just a few of the favorites out of many articles that showcased their incredible work in 2022.

1. A new study contradicted the age estimates of caves in South Africa that contain more hominin fossils than anywhere else on Earth. Professor Chris Gilbert (GC/Hunter, AnthropologyBiology) co-led a team of paleoanthropologists that presented revised age estimates for the Sterkfontein Caves based on the dating of the teeth and bones of old-world monkeys.

The team found the caves to be no older than 2.8 million years – almost a million years shy of recent estimates.

Webb Telescope Image
The Carina Nebula as seen by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. (Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI)

2. The world was awestruck when the first images were transmitted from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope in July. The telescope peered into never-before-seen corners of the universe, revealed by light that traveled across space for 13 billion years.

The strikingly clear images include the Southern Ring Nebula and a new exoplanet with telltale signs of a water. Professor K.E. Saavik Ford (GC/Borough of Manhattan Community College, PhysicsAstrophysics), a member of a team that built and developed instrumentation for the space observatory, explained why its images are so important.

John Dennehy Wastewater
John Dennehy (courtesy of Dennehy)

3. Professor John Dennehy (GC/Queens, Biology) and collaborators, including Professor Monica Trujillo at Queensborough Community College, worked with New York City to gather data on COVID-19 from a place that harbors many secrets: the city sewers. 

Tracking coronavirus levels and searching for variants in the wastewater is efficient and cost-effective, Dennehy said. It also captures data that clinics miss, from people who are asymptomatic and don’t get tested or those who test positive at home and don’t report their results.

Jill Bargonetti Breast Cancer Research
Colored scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of breast cancer cells. (Credit: Getty Images)

4. A study led by renowned cancer researcher Jill Bargonetti found a mutant protein — the mutant p53 — is key to cancer cell survival and may provide new biomarkers for PARP-inhibitor therapy targeting triple-negative breast cancer, an aggressive form of cancer that most often affects Black and Hispanic women.

Bargonetti (GC/Hunter, Biology, Biochemistry) says the results could eventually allow more triple-negative breast cancer patients to be prescribed PARP-inhibitor therapy.

Two genus-1 Seifert surfaces Z 0 (left) and Z 1 (right) for the same knot K that are not isotopic.
Two Seifert surfaces for the same knot that are not isotopic. (Image courtesy of Kyle Hayden, Seungwon Kim, Maggie Miller, JungHwan Park, and Isaac Sundberg)

5. An international group of mathematicians finally answered a 40-year-old question in the field of topology — whether any two Seifert surfaces of a knot can be deformed to look alike in four-dimensional space. 

Graduate Center alumnus Seungwon Kim (Ph.D. ’17, Mathematics) and an international team of researchers arrived at the answer in a proof published by the ArXiv preprint server. Their work was covered in a June article by Quanta Magazine.

The Cosmos Explained book by Charles Liu
Charles Liu (courtesy of Liu) and his latest book.

6. Professor Charles Liu (GC/College of Staten Island, Physics, Astrophysics) chronicles the history of the universe, from the Big Bang to supermassive black holes, in language everyone can understand in The Cosmos Explained: The History of the Universe From its Beginning to Today and Beyond.

The 200-page book is filled with colorful images and fun facts about far-out phenomena such as the Crab Nebula. A timeline shows important cosmic events of the past 13.8 billion years.

Press Rls/Yoko Nomura/Journal of Child Psychology SIP Study
The top panels show the patterns of onset of disorders over time for anxiety disorders, attention deficit/disruptive behavioral disorders, and any of the disorders we examined in relation to exposure to SS in-utero. The bottom panels show sex-specific age of onset for anxiety disorders, attention deficit/disruptive behavioral disorders, and any disorder. 

7. A longitudinal study showed higher rates of developmental psychopathology among children who were exposed to Superstorm Sandy while in the womb. Led by Professor Yoko Nomura (GC/Queens College, Psychology), the Stress in Pregnancy (SIP) Study data also found that the child’s biological sex determined very specific patterns of elevated risks. 

Michael Rawson
Michael Rawson (courtesy of Rawson) 

8. In a new book, The Nature of Tomorrow: A History of the Environmental Future, Professor Michael Rawson (GC/Brooklyn, History) looks at how Western dreams of ever-expanding growth have led to our current environmental crisis.

The book cites works by Francis Bacon and Jules Verne and examines popular movies and TV shows of the 20th century to show how we arrived at such an untenable vision: the expectation of near-constant growth, fueled by science and technology, on a planet with finite resources.

Bev Rosario-Williams
Beverlin Rosario-Williams (Photo credit: Francois Williams)

9. A new YouTube channel set out to answer questions about mental health and wellness in Latino communities. Channel host Beverlin Rosario-Williams, a Psychology Ph.D. candidate, said the Spanish-language channel aims to “demystify” mental health for Latino communities, covering mental health topics ranging from suicide to treatments and diagnosis. Salud Mental al Detalle — or “Mental Health in Detail” — explores mental health through a sociocultural lens.

Dennis Liotta pictured outside the ASRC
Dennis Liotta (Photo credit: Shanté Booker)

10. Today, more than 90% of people in the U.S. with HIV take a drug created by alumnus Dennis Liotta (Ph.D. ’74, Chemistry). But in the 1980s when, as a young professor at Emory University, he decided to work on an AIDS treatment, several of his colleagues told him he was either stupid or insane to think that his small lab could compete with the well-funded pharmaceutical industry. Still, he pushed forward. 

Liotta, whose HIV medicines turned the disease from a death sentence into a manageable condition, spoke about his work on new drugs and shared some sage advice for students in this inspiring Q & A.

Published by the Office of Communications and Marketing