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The Art of Science

Think of science and you often envision someone in a lab coat conducting experiments that have little impact on our day-today lives. That’s far from the case for three of Wilmington’s women of science, each of whom is making our world a better place. 

Peggy Sloan - Conserving our World

PEGGY SLOAN, DIRECTOR OF THE NORTH CAROLINA AQUARIUM AT FORT FISHER, USES SCIENCE TO IMPROVE THE LIVES OF MARINE WILDLIFE AND ENCOURAGE CONSERVATION.

“We want people to understand that by coming to the aquarium they are part of something bigger, that we are helping the animals, that the animals they are seeing have value, and that their support adds to that value,” Sloan says.

Sloan accomplishes this goal by connecting people to nature in a meaningful way. She “takes the science, creates emotion, and changes behavior,” she says. For example, rather than a static butterfly exhibit, Sloan devised a way for visitors to have up-close and personal encounters with these delicate creatures.

“In the Butterfly Bungalow, guests are delighted as the butterflies, which hail from the world over, alight on them,” she says.

The aquarium also works to preserve creatures such as the sand tiger shark, gopher frogs, and sea turtles and conducts research on animals about which little is known, such as seahorses and jellyfish.

Though the aquarium has an excellent track record when it comes to caring for its animals, Sloan makes their lives even better by implementing new advances in animal behavior science. For instance, instead of capturing alligators for medical examinations, which can be stressful, aquarium staff use positive reinforcement to train them to enter the restraint calmly.

“The aquarium can play a critical role in saving animals,” Sloan says. “We want people to understand that we are a leisure time activity that also has a social impact. What we do makes the world a better place.”

Midori Albert - Analyzing Bones to Help Others

FOR MIDORI ALBERT, A PROFESSOR OF FORENSIC OSTEOLOGY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA WILMINGTON, STUDYING BONES IS A WAY TO HELP PEOPLE.   

Albert spends the majority of her time teaching her students about bones and conducting cutting-edge research on facial recognition. However, when needed, she also works with law enforcement to identify skeletal remains.

Identifying skeletons, which Albert does pro bono, is her special calling: she helps bring resolution to people whose family members were murdered or missing.

“Nothing is better than helping people who are hurting,” Albert says.

Though Albert’s work with the local police rarely involves identifying a skeleton--usually she’s asked to determine whether bones are human or animal--she says it’s good that we are prepared if such a situation occurs.

Albert’s research on facial recognition is another way she uses her knowledge of bones to help people. She gives software engineers information about the anatomical changes that occur in bones and soft tissue as faces age. The software is then used to find fugitives or children who have been missing for a number of years.

Because Albert knows crime scene investigation is a hot field, she also developed and runs UNCW’s crime scene investigation graduate certificate program. Through this online program, women and men who are in the military, living in rural areas, or caring for their children at home can get the education they need for an exciting and fulfilling career.  ­­

Debra Fontana - On the Front Lines of Drug Safety

THROUGH HER WORK WITH DRUG TRIALS, DEBRA FONTANA, THE DIRECTOR OF QUALITY MANAGEMENT FOR MODOC RESEARCH SERVICE, HELPS ENSURE NEW MEDICATIONS ARE SAFE AND EFFECTIVE.

“Through quality management, we make drug trials better, quicker, and faster, so new, helpful drugs can get on the market as fast as possible,” she says.

To accomplish that goal, Fontana analyzes the reams of documentation submitted in drug trials to ensure they are conducted according to standards and that protocol is followed correctly. She also makes sure the documentation is accurate, complete, and accurately represents what happens during the trial. In addition, Fontana writes documents that define the protocol for companies that conduct the trials.

An equally important aspect of Fontana’s work is seeing that the computer systems used in drug trials compute data accurately and communicate with each other so data is transferred correctly.

­­­Fontana’s work is an essential component of the drug trial process. There can be numerous documentation errors in a study, she says. While most of those errors are inadvertent and don’t affect the study’s outcome, they must be rectified. Otherwise, the amount of time it would take the Federal Drug Administration or clinical research organization to review a clinical trial would grow exponentially. And that means the amount of time before a needed drug is put on the market would also grow exponentially.

 

To view more of photographer Michael Cline Spencer's work, go to www.michaelclinephoto.com.

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