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Faculty Findings

Inside the Baby BrainUnderstanding Stem CellsThe Politics of Transportation

 

Inside the Baby Brain

Photo of a baby crawiling under the tableResearchers have long thought that babies’ ability to perceive their environment and to act upon it were two discrete skills that developed independently, but Professor of Kinesiology David Anderson’s latest studies suggest that perception and action are coordinated from the beginning.

He and colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley have found that while babies are learning to crawl, they undergo major psychological changes, perceiving their environment only as a result of moving around it. For example, a baby may understand the concept of object permanence — that an object continues to exist even when it can’t be seen — as a result of crawling past a chair to find their toy hiding behind it.


“When babies are young, they aren’t aware of where their bodies end and where their environment begins. They need to learn to differentiate themselves from their environment,” says Anderson. “It’s primarily through moving around their environment that they are able to figure this out.”

 

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Understanding Stem Cells

As stem cell research begins to yield new therapies, SF State has launched a new course to introduce non-science majors to the science and politics of stem cell biology.

 

Offered during the spring semester, Photo of stem cells viewed under a microscopeBIOL 176 is the University’s first general educationcourse on stem cell biology and the only undergraduate course dedicated to this field. The goal: help students to make informed choices both at the ballot box and as consumers ofhealth care.

 

“We’re dealing with sophisticated scientific material, but we’ve designed the course so that students don’t need any biology background,” says Professor of Biology Carmen Domingo, who devised the curriculum with Tatiane Russo-Tait, a biology lecturer who teaches the new course.

 

Students receive a crash course in cell and molecular biology, with early discussions touching on what happens to fertilized eggs that are left over after couples undergo in vitro fertilization treatment.

 

“Understanding exactly what happens in stem cell research is helping me with my critical thinking,” says Chris Arreola, a freshman majoring in English and gender studies. “It’s helping us to be informed and confident in our views on stem cells. These issues are only going to become more politically relevant as time goes on.”

 

Business management major Avery Cimino chose the class for personal reasons.

 

“I have an autoimmune disease, and I know people with chronic conditions so I’m interested in the potential for new therapies,” Cimino says. “It’s good to be completely informed, especially as a voter.”

 

The curriculum also explores the ethical, moral, social and political dilemmas associated with stem cell research.

 

“We’ll look at issues that most people don’t think of,” says Russo-Tait. “For example, women selling their eggs or stem cell tourism where patients travel abroad to take part in treatments that haven’t been tested for safety or effectiveness.”

 

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The Politics of Transportation

Photo of the outbound Muni M line at Holloway and 19th AvenuesIn hIs new book, “Street Fight,” Jason Henderson draws on a decade of research to show how the city’s freeways, bike lanes and parking lots are shaped as much by ideology as geography.

 

Henderson, associate professor of geography, points out that transportation policy in San Francisco is a three-way battle between progressives, Neoliberals and conservatives — three groups that do not always support transportation policies in expected ways. Neoliberals might join a cycling coalition, but demand more parking spaces for a downtown condo. Progressives who embrace social justice causes might take private buses to avoid the hassles of Muni, undercutting support for equitable mass transit. And while the city boasts the highest percentage of mass transit commuters outside of New York City, some vocal conservatives see automobiles and freeways as an essential way to secede from urban life.


Today, the city’s strained bus system moves at about the same speeds as transit moved in the 1920s, and people are unhappy with overcrowded routes. “People want to love transit, they want to support it, they want to think it’s important in their lives, but they just get ground down,” henderson says.


Some of the problems could be alleviated with changes like new curb “bulb-outs” and alterations to traffic signals that favor buses. But instead, Henderson writes, people are turning to private options like the Google buses that carry employees out to Mountain View. “By creating this private transit system,” he says, “you’re creating a constituency that may not be supportive of raising taxes to improve the public transit.”


The book also highlights some startling statistics on parking, which gobbles up urban space and can create a host of environmental problems, from harmful storm runoff to heat island effects. The typical off-street parking space in North America ranges from 300 to 350 square feet, larger than most offices and bedrooms, Henderson notes.


San Francisco’s ability to improve public transit and reduce its car travel is controlled in part by its competition for scarce resources with eight surrounding counties, state laws such as Proposition 13 and a federal government that has devoted few resources to urban transit.


One way that San Franciscans can support smart urban growth and mobility is to adopt a code of “progressive motoring conduct,” that considers “not getting rid of a car, but thinking about how you use it,” Henderson says, adding that the width of car lanes corresponds to the speed limit, “and the faster we go, the more transit space we have to consume.”

 

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