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Meet some of the people featured in the January 2012 issue of The Scientist.

January 1, 2012

Born and bred in New South Wales, Australia, Colin Butler became interested in global public health even before he started medical school and went on to combine clinical practice with public health work. “I had the idealistic/naive aspiration to improve health, especially in developing countries,” he says. As part of a plan to realize this goal, Butler, who describes himself as an “activist for sustainable public health,” cofounded the Benevolent Organisation for Development, Health and Insight (BODHI) in 1989. This Buddhist-inspired group has projects in seven Asian countries, one of which is devoted to improving the skills of unqualified rural teachers in very poor schools in Uttar Pradesh, India. “I think, with a critical mass of education, people can release sufficient social forces to then help themselves.” In "An Evolving Science for an Evolving Time" Butler offers his views about the role epidemiologists must play in improving global public health in a warming world of diminishing resources.

Although she studied theater as an undergraduate, New Zealander Josephine Johnston turned her career sights on the law. After an unsatisfying stint as a lawyer, she returned to school to obtain a master’s degree in bioethics and health law at the University of Otago because she found that it allowed her “to ask questions that didn’t have a place in legal studies.” While at Otago she met Carl Elliott, a University of Minnesota professor of bioethics and philosophy on sabbatical there, who invited her to study the impact of genetic research on personal identity. A research scholar at the Hastings Center in Garrison, New York, since 2003, Johnston focuses on controversial uses of medicine and biomedical technologies. In this month’s Thought Experiment column, "Pitch Perfect," she examines the growing use of academic detailing to help primary care doctors make informed health-care decisions.

Claudia Sommer became interested in pain research while treating patients with damaged peripheral nerves arising from trauma or illness. She soon realized that a big part of the problem for these patients was not being addressed. “At least half of these patients had pain as a major symptom,” says Sommer. So she took a leave from her hospital to train in a pain research lab in the U.S., returning to the University of Würzburg to perform her own investigations on the role of inflammatory cytokines in the peripheral neuropathies of her patients. There she became interested in the work of Frank Birklein, a fellow physician/researcher who was and is working on complex regional pain syndrome—thought to be initiated by strong and long-lasting inflammation. Frequent scientific collaborators, Sommer and Birklein discuss a new player in the pain area—resolvins—natural lipid mediators that have shown promise in reducing both inflammation and pain in "Resolving Chronic Pain".

UC Riverside behavioral ecologist and evolutionary biologist Marlene Zuk spends field seasons prying into the sex lives of Pacific field crickets. A typical outing, she says, involves setting out at sunset and spending several darkened hours with the insects in their subtropical (and often rainy) habitats. When she’s not chasing crickets, in order to understand the balance between sexual and natural selection in shaping their populations or teaching, Zuk spends drier hours penning popular science books, a pursuit that offers her an opportunity to break out of the routine of scientific manuscript writing. “Books allow me to have a much more personal ‘voice’ than the writing I do in my day job,” she says. “And the number one advantage is that they enable me to meet, virtually or in person, a lot of extremely interesting people I would never encounter as a scientist.” In "Anthropomorphism: A Peculiar Institution," she riffs on her book Sex on Six Legs, exploring the insidious nature of anthropomorphism, a phenomenon that has plagued the study of animal behavior since its inception.

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