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Italy

By Elof Axel Carlson

Elof Axel Carlson

Science is a way of knowing based on reason. That aspect of science would also apply to logic or the creation of mathematical fields. But when science is applied to the material world, reason is not sufficient. Modern science includes the use of data from observations and from the use of tools to produce data. A third aspect of science is characteristic of modern science. It is the design of experiments that predict what type of data will be found. 

Science differs from revelation, tradition, authority or religious belief because these nonscientific ways that culture forms often require faith or do not attempt to apply science to their beliefs. This difference in interpreting the world around us allowed scientists to be skeptical, to require evidence and to apply more testing and tools to expand the applications of science to the universe and to life.  

This resulted in many new fields of science. Astronomers purged themselves of astrology. Chemists purged themselves of alchemy. Medicine purged itself of quackery. All sciences rejected magic (except as entertainment) and wishful thinking. 

Modern science arose in Italy in the 1500s.  We attribute to Galileo the origins of modern physics and astronomy. He worked out physical laws for falling bodies or bodies rolling down inclined planes. He introduced the mathematical equations to describe and to predict the time required and the distances involved in projectiles dropped, thrown or shot from cannons. He used the telescope he constructed to detect moons around Jupiter, phases of Venus, Saturn’s rings (they looked like ears to him) and mountains and craters on the moon. 

Modern science arose in Italy because the first universities arose in Italy (the University of Bologna was the first in 1088). The Renaissance began in Italy with increased members of the middle class, formation of large cities, importing of knowledge from trade with Asia and Africa and an accumulation of wealth that was spent on architecture, the arts, hobbies, scholarship and curiosity for those with leisure time. 

Artists like Albrecht Dürer went from Bavaria to Italy to study anatomy. William Harvey went from England to study medicine in Italy (Galileo was on the faculty when Harvey was a student) and brought back experimentation to the human body and the circulation of blood.  

German universities benefited from sending students to Italy. In turn the Italian-trained German professors brought their skills to France. During the Enlightenment, French science flourished with Lavoisier in chemistry and Cuvier in biology. From France, science moved to the United States and the founding president of Johns Hopkins University, Daniel Coit Gilman, went to Europe and designed the American University model for its doctorate. 

For the life sciences he recruited a student of Thomas Huxley’s, H. Newell Martin, and W. K. Brooks, one of the first American students of Louis Agassiz (famed for demonstrating and naming the Ice Age that covered large parts of Europe and North America). Martin and Brooks mentored T. H. Morgan. Morgan, at Columbia University, mentored H. J. Muller; and Muller, at Indiana University, mentored me. 

While where a student goes for a doctorate may vary with time, over the past 500 years, the three features of science – reason, data collection and experimentation have not changed. Instead, they have provided enormous applications to our lives from computers to public health, to air flight, to transcontinental roads and railways. They have extended our life expectancy by more than 50 years since the Renaissance began. They allowed humans to walk on the moon and determine how many children to have and when to have them; and they allow us to eat fresh fruits and vegetables all year round. 

Science has its limitations. It cannot design ideal governments, what values to live by, what purpose we choose for motivating us or supply the yearnings of wishful thinking (we will never be rid of all accidents, all diseases, or live forever). It co-exists with the humanities and the arts in filling out each generation’s expectations.   

Elof Axel Carlson is a distinguished teaching professor emeritus in the Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology at Stony Brook University.

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At some point along my ancestral chain, I must have been Italian. Or Chinese. How do I know? I have an unbelievable passion for pasta. That’s not a carbohydrate lust. While I have never met a carb I don’t like, I can take or leave rice or bread and the many other forms in which carbohydrates can be found. But my soul soars for pasta.

It was World Pasta Day Oct. 25, and that got me to thinking about my love affair with pasta. I suppose it started in my early childhood, as almost everything does. SpaghettiOs came in a can, and my mother occasionally served it to us as part of a meal. However, the story is not that straightforward. She felt the sauce was a bit sharp, and so she sprinkled the spaghetti with a little sugar. Now this is enough to make any self-respecting Italian restaurateur gag. Many did, as I would ask, “Can I have some sugar please?” of my waiter as I was served a bowl of steaming pasta. “Sugar? You mean Parmesan cheese?” he would ask. “No sugar, thank you, granulated sugar,” I would patiently explain. Then he would watch in fascination as I topped off my dish accordingly.

It wasn’t until I visited Italy for the first time that I understood the miracle of pasta. The secret is in the sauce, which decidedly is not improved with the addition of sugar. Somehow the pasta itself tastes different there too, the same way water does depending on where it comes from. I remember that first trip very well, as I fell in love with the beauty of the country, the kindness of the people, the richness of its art. But what I remember best is the pasta, which I will tell you that I came to eat there three times a day. And it never tasted the same way twice because all chefs proudly make their own secret sauces. The high point occurred in Amalfi, in a small restaurant on the side of a mountain overlooking the sea. We were with a tour but unscheduled for lunch, and we wandered around the town looking for a likely eatery. They are all charming, you know, but one in particular attracted us and we went in to find that the luncheon special consisted of six different kinds of pasta.

Six! I thought I had died and gone to heaven. The chef, who spoke no English and needed none, came out to explain that we should start with the mildest pasta on the huge plate, then work our way around much as an artist does with his paint palette, to the one with the strongest flavored sauce. The six pastas were each different and the experience was, as you can tell, exquisitely memorable.

Although some think pasta was invented in Italy, others believe Marco Polo brought it back from his travels to China, where he supposedly tasted it at the court of Kublai Khan. There is record of the Chinese eating noodles as early as 5000 B.C. and, in fact, the Etruscans from western Italy seem to have made pasta in 400 B.C. There are bas-relief carvings in a cave 30 miles north of Rome depicting instruments for making pasta: a rolling-out table, pastry wheel and flour bin, according to the National Pasta Association. Anyway in the 13th century, the pope set quality standards for pasta. Thomas Jefferson fell in love with a macaroni dish he tasted in Naples while serving as ambassador to France and promptly ordered crates of the pasta, along with the pasta-making machine, sent back to the United States. Indeed, he may have been the one to introduce macaroni to this country. Cortez brought tomatoes back from Mexico in 1519, but it took two centuries before the marriage with pasta was consummated.

There have been many imitation pastas, meaning not made from wheat, that have come along, but only one makes the grade with me, and I give it a shameless plug here for those who can’t or won’t eat the real thing. Manufactured by Tolerant, it is made of beans and called Organic Red Lentil Pasta.

Buon appetito!

Kerrin Maurer reflects on time playing for team Italy in World Cup

Kerrin Maurer competes in the World Cup for team Italy. Photo from Kerrin Maurer

A Setauket native is spreading her love of lacrosse across the globe.

Kerrin Maurer, a St. Anthony’s High School and Duke University graduate, arrived home from Guilford, England with a revived passion for her favorite pastime after playing for team Italy in its first Federation of International Lacrosse Rathbones World Cup appearance. Despite her competitive nature, she said she enjoyed her time teaching Italian children about the game more so than the actual tournament.

“Being able to play the sport I love while traveling and helping to grow the game was a unique opportunity,” she said. “We want to help Italy sustain the sport in the country for as long as possible.”

Kerrin Maurer earned a most valuable player nod following one of team Italy’s wins. Photo from Kerrin Maurer

When she did step onto the field, Maurer shined.

The midfielder earned Most Valuable Player honors twice during pool play, and concluded the World Cup tournament with 61 draw controls. The former Duke All-American tallied 21 goals and 20 assists for the second-most points in the tournament. In the eight games played, she caused three turnovers.

“She killed the draw,” team Italy head coach and University of Massachusetts women’s lacrosse head coach Angela McMahon said. “She was scoring a ton, setting up her teammates, communicating and being a leader. We don’t get a lot of practices so it was a work in progress and she helped the whole team improve. She really stepped up.”

Maurer performed especially well in an 18-17 win over Haudenosaunee. The teams battled back and forth, entering halftime tied 10-10, but Italy pulled through with an 18-17 victory. Maurer turned in three goals, four assists and eight draw controls to help spearhead the attack.

“I haven’t got to play in a while, so just playing again was a ton of fun,” Maurer said. “Every game was super competitive, which was awesome.”

The two-time All-American graduated from Duke in 2014 as the program’s leader in assists with 119. A three-time Tewaaraton Award nominee, an award given to the best collegiate player, Maurer graduated second in Duke history in career points with 280 and tied for fourth in career goals with 161, while finishing on a 47-game point scoring streak. She helped the Blue Devils to four NCAA quarterfinal appearances, and reached the semifinals in 2015 after topping Princeton University in the quarterfinals.

Since graduating with a degree in political science, she was named an assistant coach at Division I Mount Saint Mary’s University in Maryland, and this month, will begin a new venture as an assistant at Princeton. Maurer is currently completing her master’s degree in sports management, and said she was excited to also be able to hone her coaching skills during the FIL tournament.

“Learning the proper technique from successful coaches has helped me grow my love for the game and want to teach others the way I’ve been taught.”

—Kerrin Maurer

“I think seeing the game on an international level, seeing what everyone else is doing and the different systems is helpful,” she said. “You see these different strategies and plays and it’s good to learn and study.”

Her teammate Gabby Capuzzi from Pennsylvania, who is currently a coach at the United States Naval Academy, thought the team benefited from having coaches on its roster. She first met her Setauket friend during tryouts in Italy when she let her borrow a pair of her gloves.

“She’s a tough, hard-nosed Long Island player,” Capuzzi said. “She’s not selfish, she fed me most of my goals and she’s a team player, but she’ll take her looks. She’s a good heads-up player.”

Maurer said she’s thankful for her time spent playing lacrosse in Setauket at an early age. Because of the coaching and guidance she received, Maurer said she felt like she was able to bring a lot of skill over to Italy and the team.

“I think I’m really fortunate that Setauket is such a hotbed for lacrosse,” she said. “Feeding off a ton of knowledge within the area about lacrosse and the excitement around the game has helped fuel my passion along the way. Learning the proper technique from successful coaches has helped me grow my love for the game and want to teach others the way I’ve been taught.”

Team Italy wasn’t sure if it would even be able to compete in the FIL. There were concerns as to whether Italian Americans would be allowed to play for the team, and when the news broke they would be allowed, the midfielder couldn’t be happier.

“It was surreal,” she said of being a small-town girl playing on such a big stage. “When they did make the decision and I was chosen to play, it was a dream come true. It’s the highest level you can play at.”

Kerrin Maurer teaches native Italians in Italy. Photo from Kerrin Maurer

Italy finished 11th out of 25 teams. It was the only country making its first appearance to finish in the top half of the list, with other first-timers like Switzerland (19), Mexico (20), Sweden (21), China (22), Spain (23), Columbia (24) and Belgium (25) also making inaugural entrances.

“Coming in 11th, even though it may not sound like a big deal, was huge for us,” Maurer said. “We finished the highest out of any team making its debut ever in the tournament’s history. I think that in itself, and seeing the Italian citizens improve over the course of this process, that’s what it’s about for us.”

Her teammate agreed, adding that the changing atmosphere is current exciting for lacrosse.

“The most rewarding part of all of this is growing our sport to hopefully make a push for the Olympics in a few years,” Capuzzi said. “In January 2013 we were teaching 20-year-olds how to catch and throw who had never picked up a stick before. We’re usually working with youth at camps here in America and it’s exciting to get youth and club programs up and running in Italy. I think we sparked that.”

For now, Maurer is just focused on continuing to spread the love.

“We’re trying to keep it fresh,” she said. “We’re trying to get viewership up and spread it around the world. Everyone’s excited to learn the sport and it brings a renewed energy when I step out onto the field with them — remembering why you play the game.”

A murder mystery thousands of years old and a continent away is coming to Long Island, where middle school and high school students can look at a rare face from human history.

During the ice age, an arrow went through a man’s shoulder blade, nicked an artery that leaves the aorta and caused him to bleed to death. Some time after he died, weather conditions effectively freeze dried him, preserving him in a remarkably pristine state until German hikers found his five-foot, five-inch body protruding from a melting glacier in 1991. He was found in the Ötztal Alps (on the border between Austria and Italy) — hence the name Ötzi.

David Micklos, executive director of the DNA Learning Center, stands next to the only authorized replica of Ötzi outside of the South Tyrol Museum in Italy. Photo by Daniel Dunaief
Dave Micklos, executive director of the DNA Learning Center, stands next to the only authorized replica of Ötzi outside of the South Tyrol Museum in Italy. Photo by Daniel Dunaief

While Ötzi, as he is now called, remains preserved carefully in a special facility in Italy, a master craftsman and artist has created a painstaking replica of a 45-year-old man killed at over 10,000 feet that is now on display at the DNA Learning Center at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

“Kids are fascinated by it,” said Dave Micklos, the executive director of the DNA Learning Center, who has shared the newest mummified celebrity with students for several weeks in advance of the official exhibit opening in the middle of February. “The story is quite fascinating: it’s an ancient murder mystery. We take it from the forensic slant: what is the biological evidence we can see on Ötzi’s body that tells us who he was and how he died.”

Ötzi, or the Iceman as he is also known, has become the subject of extensive investigation by scientists around the world, who have explored everything from the over 60 tattoos on his body, to the copper axe found next to him, to the contents of his stomach and intestines, which have helped tell the story about the last day of Ötzi’s life.

“It’s a story that’s been assembled, bit by bit,” Micklos said. “Each scientific investigation adds new twists to the story.”

The Learning Center came up with the idea to create a replica and proposed it to the South Tyrol Museum of Archeology in Bolzano, Italy. Eventually, the museum granted the center the rights to use the CT scans, which provide detailed anatomical features. Ultimately, artist and paleo-sculptor Gary Staab used the images and studied the Iceman himself.

Staab, who has recreated copies of extinct animals for museums around the world, used a three-dimensional printer and sculpting and painting techniques to create an exact replica of a man who probably didn’t know he was in immediate danger when he was hit, because he seemed to be taking a break, Micklos said. Staab built one layer at a time of a resin-based prototype, then worked on the skin through sculpting, molding and painting.

A close-up of Ötzi the Iceman mummy’s replica at the DNA Learning Center. Photo by Daniel Dunaief
A close-up of Ötzi the Iceman mummy’s replica at the DNA Learning Center. Photo by Daniel Dunaief

Nova produced a television feature called “Nova’s Iceman Reborn” on PBS that captures the process of combining art and science to make a replica of the rare and highly valued fossil, which viewers can stream online through the link https://www.pbs.org/nova.

Long Islanders can see the replica at the Learning Center, where they can ask a host of questions about a man born during the copper age — hence the copper axe — and about 2,500 years before Rome was founded. Visitors interested in seeing Ötzi need to purchase tickets, which cost $10, ahead of time through the Learning Center’s website at www.dnalc.org.

Ötzi’s entire genetic sequence is available online. The Learning Center is the first science center worldwide to focus on DNA and genetics.

The center is especially interested in helping students understand what DNA says about human evolution. In one experiment, students can compare their own DNA to Ötzi, a Neanderthal and another ancient hominid group, called the Denisovans. Students can see how similar modern DNA is to Ötzi and how different it is from the Neanderthals and Denisovans. The 5,200 year differences with Ötzi is “no time in DNA time,” Micklos said.

Ötzi’s genes reveal that he had atherosclerosis and the deposition of plaques on the inner walls of the arteries. Ötzi was a healthy, active, relatively long-lived man in the Paleolithic era, who ate a diet of natural, unprocessed foods, and yet he had heart disease. His heart condition came as a surprise to scientists.

A 3-D resin model of Ötzi’s head before being painted. Photo by Daniel Dunaief
A 3-D resin model of Ötzi’s head before being painted. Photo by Daniel Dunaief

In addition to his genes, Ötzi’s body left clues about his life, where he’d spent his last day and what he’d eaten. Scientists have explored the contents of each part of his digestive tract, which, remarkably, remained well preserved during those thousands of years.

Ötzi had eaten different kinds of ibex meat, which is a goat found in the mountains. The pollen that was in his system, which came from the air he inhaled and from the food he ate, were pieces of a puzzle that showed where he’d been. The pollen near the top of his digestive track came from coniferous trees, including relatives of spruces and pines, which came from higher altitudes. Stored deeper in his system was pollen from deciduous trees, like birch and hazel, which grew lower in the valleys.

In addition to the Ötzi replica, the Learning Center also has reproductions of the clothes he was wearing and the artifacts he was carrying, which included a couple of containers of birch bark sewn together with fibers.

The Learning Center is developing a program to help students from the age of 10 to 18 explore Ötzi, so students can ask what the artifacts tell them about neolithic time.

Micklos said students have shown a strong interest in this old replica.

“It’s a little bit morbid, but not too much, and it’s a little gruesome, but not too much,” he said. “Everybody loves a mummy,” he continued, citing the popularity of the mummy exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.