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Forty feet below the surface of Puget Sound, a marbled murrelet dives for its catch. The water is cold, dark — and incredibly noisy. A ping-ping-ping emanates from the shore over second-long intervals and continues on for the next several hours, sending a series of pressure waves through the ocean. For the endangered bird, these sounds could result in anything from a disturbing annoyance to internal injuries or even death.
The pings come from installing marine piles, concrete or steel pipes that are driven into the sediments to hold up piers or other platforms over the sea. Piles are ubiquitous in waterfront cities like Seattle. In the early 2000s, however, researchers began to realize there was a connection between installing piles and the dead fish that turned up floating on the water when they did it: the pile-driving noise was so loud, it was literally killing the surrounding marine life.
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Sarah Bird is one of the relatively few female leaders in the local tech industry, serving as CEO of Moz, a Seattle-based outfit that helps businesses build up their online presence. And the company’s gender equity doesn’t stop at the top: while, on average only 29 percent of employees at American tech firms identify as female, a whole 40 percent of “Mozzers” are women.
That seems laudable. But Bird sees it differently. “Our gender diversity numbers are still terrible,” she wrote in the 2015 company report.
Bird has emerged as one of the state’s top advocates for achieving a greater gender balance in tech – within her company, at the state legislature in Olympia, and even at the White House. In her eyes, it is an ethical imperative.
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At the 2013 Women Think Next conference in Israel, Microsoft’s head of Human Resources and “chief people person” Lisa Brummel stood before an audience of 500 women who worked in tech. She was wearing a blue button-down shirt: the stereotypical garb of an American businessman.
“I find that men wear these blue shirts all the time,” Brummel said in her opening remarks. “It’s the oddest thing … there’s something about this color blue that keeps cropping up, I don’t know what it is. So my first career advice is please, go buy a blue shirt.”
An openly gay woman at the top of one of the world’s biggest companies until her retirement in December 2014, Brummel’s career path itself made her a pioneer in women’s and LGBT equality. But it’s no secret that the issues of gender imbalances are still well entrenched in the tech field at large – and Microsoft is no exception. According to the company’s most recent diversity report, only 26.8 percent of employees at the company are female. The number dips down to 17.3 percent if you look at leadership positions.
Published in Crosscut
When a doctor determines a patient has a brain tumor, the next step is usually surgery. Knife in hand, the surgeon is soon presented with an inevitable conundrum: how much is the right amount to cut away? Too little and, if the tumor is malignant, the patient will be subjected to more toxic chemotherapy or radiation than necessary. Too much, and the doctor will be slicing into healthy tissue—and possibly causing the patient undue brain damage.
Yet this high-stakes surgical process can be surprisingly rudimentary. “Surgeons don’t have a very good way of knowing when they’re done cutting out a tumor,” Jonathan Liu, a University of Washington assistant professor of mechanical engineering, said in a press release. “They’re using their sense of sight, their sense of touch, pre-operative images of the brain—and oftentimes it’s pretty subjective.”
Which is why research groups and companies around the world have been working to build technology that can distinguish between cancerous and non-cancerous cells, right in the operating room. A device developed by Liu’s UW research group, along with partners at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Stanford University and the Barrow Neurological Institute, is on the frontlines.