Jamming with the Midnight Rounds: A Q&A

Photo by Victoria Bruzoni of Midnight Rounds band, from left to right: James Wall, Matias Bruzoni, Raji Koppolu, Yasser El-Sayed, Garret Vygantas, Jon Palma and Jeff Linnel

The next time you listen to music at a nearby pub or Bay Area event, double check to see who is playing. You just might see one of your Stanford physicians.

At a division holiday party in 2009, pediatric surgeon Matias Bruzoni, MD, on vocals, piano and guitar and nurse practitioner Raji Koppolu on vocals played acoustic versions of popular songs. Soon after, two more pediatric surgeons joined and the band Midnight Rounds was born. Over the years, the band has expanded to include piano, guitar, bass, percussion, drums, violin and vocals. I spoke with Bruzoni to learn more.

What is the origin of the name, Midnight Rounds?

“Our bass and guitar player James Wall, MD, and his family generously turn their guest house into a music studio whenever we need to practice. We all have very tight schedules due to our professional work, so once a week we practice late at night — many times going past midnight. As providers, we also make rounds every day to see our patients, so our drummer Yasser El-Sayed, MD, suggested we call ourselves Midnight Rounds.”

What kind of music do you play?

“Our repertoire includes oldies, country, 80’s, 90’s and more modern pop songs. We particularly enjoy creating mashups of songs, flipping back and forth between songs and adding our own twist. For instance, we like playing “Free” sung by the Zac Brown Band mashed up with “Into the Mystic” by Van Morrison and “Lodi” by Creedence Clearwater Revival mashed up with “Sloop John B” by the Beach Boys. Another favorite song is “Dixieland Delight” by Alabama, which features Jonathan Palma, MD, playing violin.”

Where do you play?

“We play in many different venues including weddings, wineries, local pubs, holiday parties, pumpkin festivals and wherever we’re invited. It varies, but we average a couple of events per month. We play quarterly at the Pioneer Saloon in Woodside — we’ll be there on January 12.

We sometimes make a little money during our performances at places like Pioneer. We decided as a group to donate the proceeds to different charity organizations that benefit women and children’s health.”

Is there any relation between playing in the band and medicine?

“For us, the band is a perfect excuse to get together outside of regular working hours. We feel this strengthens our relationships with each other in the hospital. It’s also a healthy way to recharge our batteries, avoid burn-out and thus take better care of our patients.

In addition, we’ve gotten to know a lot of people that work at Stanford — nurses, OR staff, social workers, interpreters and other docs like anesthesiologists — who come to our gigs. Our strongest crew are the NICU nurses and social workers, who follow us wherever we go. I think our patients definitely benefit, because teamwork is essential to patient care.

I also think performing under pressure is a great exercise since it is very similar to what we do every day here at the hospital. You get nervous even if you’re doing an acoustic session in front of 10 people, since you want to sound good. When I interview residents for positions here at Stanford, I pay a lot of attention to whether they excel in athletics or music, which gives me an idea on how well they can perform under pressure.”

Describe a favorite moment with the band.

“There are times when we have our kids sing or play an instrument with us. And that’s a very special moment. For instance, the other day we played at a pumpkin patch. People were playing games and stuff, not paying much attention to the band. But everyone went dead silent when my daughter came up to sing a Justin Bieber song. And then they started taping it. It was really magical.”

What’s next?

“We’re thinking about writing some original songs as an experiment. But mostly we just want to build up our repertoire. We started with maybe five songs and now we have about 50 songs that we can we can play — some of them without even practicing. We usually practice tow to three new songs for every new gig. Our band members have very different musical tastes, which makes it fun to blend all them together.”

This is a reposting of my Scope blog story, courtesy of Stanford School of Medicine.

Tackling the “childcare-conference conundrum”

Photo by Jelleke Vanooteghem

Attending conferences is a critical part of professional development, particularly for early-stage academic researchers. At these meetings, scientists further their careers by presenting their research discoveries and networking with potential collaborators, employers and funding agencies.

However, many early-stage researchers are moms who are primary caretakers of their children, which makes it difficult to attend conferences that lack childcare accommodations. Recently, a group of women scientists came together to address this “childcare-conference conundrum.”

The group, called a Working Group of Mothers in Science, was spearheaded by Rebecca Calisi, PhD, an assistant professor at the University of California, Davis. Last fall, she reached out to other women scientists after attending a large neuroscience conference — including Stanford’s Erin Gibson, PhD, a research scientist in neurology, and Lauren O’Connell, PhD, an assistant professor of biology — and this led to the formation of the group of almost 50 women last December.

The working group wants to help conferences establish safe and effective childcare options for all working parents with young children. They argue that solving the childcare-conference conundrum will help primary caretakers, foster scientific advancements and innovation by allowing a population of scientists to remain engaged, and benefit the conferences themselves and businesses associated with them.

“While childcare disproportionately affects women and their career mobility especially in the sciences, we want to bring attention to this problem as it can impact all parents from breast-feeding mothers to fathers who are the primary caretakers,” explained Gibson. “Relatively simple changes could dramatically affect the lives of primary caregivers at these conferences. And the more well-trained scientists we can keep in science by not leaving them out due to childcare restrictions, the more the entire scientific community benefits.”

In an editorial published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the group outlined four concrete recommendations for organizations:

  • Provide financial support for individually arranged childcare for smaller conferences and onsite childcare for larger ones.
  • Select family-friendly dates, venues and daily schedules.
  • Provide adequate facilities and equipment, including lactation areas with storage lockers for breast pumps and refrigeration for expressed milk; baby-changing facilities in all bathrooms and dedicated playroom space.
  • Establish a conference-specific parent social network.

The authors wrote that the adoption of these practices will send a strong and positive message, as well as support an inclusive family-friendly environment.

“I have never had a positive experience attending a conference after having children,  whether I was nursing either of my two daughters or just wanting them to attend,” Gibson told me. “We hope this op-ed can help guide future conferences to provide resources for working parents. I hope within the next year to attend conferences where all scientists feel included, especially those with children.”

This is a reposting of my Scope blog story, courtesy of Stanford School of Medicine.

“The only medical man on the Stanford campus”: A trip back in time with Ray Lyman Wilbur, MD

Photo by Mohenjo Daro (Ray Lyman Wilbur family photo)
Photo by Mohenjo Daro (Ray Lyman Wilbur family photo)

When United States President Warren Harding fell gravely ill while visiting San Francisco back in 1923, Stanford’s Ray Lyman Wilbur, MD, was called from his Sierra vacation to Harding’s death bed at the Palace Hotel. He was summoned by the Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover, a lifelong friend from Wilbur’s days as a physiology undergraduate at Stanford.

A recent Stanford Magazine article tells the tale and sheds light on the life of the university’s former president who helped cement the School of Medicine’s role within the university.

As detailed in the article, Wilbur received his BA and MA degrees at Stanford before earning his MD at Cooper Medical College in San Francisco in 1899. Wilbur then returned to Stanford as an assistant professor of physiology and began a busy medical practice as the only nearby physician. Wilbur recalled treating a professor’s son who was suffering from severe abdominal pains:

As there was no local hospital available, I had to rush the boy up to the Lane Hospital in San Francisco by train, there being no ambulances. The incident led to the discovery that I was the only medical man on the Stanford campus.

Wilbur could often be seen bicycling or riding his horse named Bob all over campus, as he busily made his patient rounds — tackling everything from mishaps caused by excessive drinking to outbreaks of infectious diseases like smallpox and typhoid. But when his alma mater was deeded to Stanford as a gift in 1908 — an acquisition that was controversial in part due to the university’s limited funds — he put aside his thriving medical practice to fight for the school’s survival.

As executive head and then dean of the struggling School of Medicine, he made the novel move of obtaining outside funding to expand the school and its affiliated hospitals and clinics. The article describes his success:

By the eve of World War I, the institute had more applicants than it could accept and had implemented several novel programs, including an emergency dental clinic and a rotation for interns at the Napa State Hospital. (President Herbert) Hoover, by then a university trustee, was so impressed that he took time out of his European wartime relief work to lobby for Wilbur’s leadership of the whole university.

Wilbur, who later served as both president and chancellor of the university, devoted most of his life to Stanford campus and the health of its students. His legacy lives on – particularly in the form of Stanford’s School of Medicine, which may not exist today without his staunch support.

This is a reposting of my Scope blog story, courtesy of Stanford School of Medicine.

Toothed Whales Lack Proteins that Fight Viral Infections

Dolphins have survived millions of years without key viral proteins (Pete Markham, Flickr)
Dolphins have survived millions of years without key viral proteins (Pete Markham, Flickr).

Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have determined that toothed whales lack functional Mx genes — a surprising discovery, since all 56 other sequenced mammals in the study possess these genes to fight off viruses like HIV, measles and flu.

Modern toothed whales, including dolphins, orcas and sperm whales, have inherited defunct copies of the Mx1 and Mx2 genes, profoundly altering their immune systems. The basic role of these Mx genes is to make proteins that fight viral infections.

Although the toothed whales have survived millions of years with this genetic mutation, they are currently plagued by viral infections, such as the recent mass stranding of bottlenose dolphins that was attributed to cetacean morbillivirus. Researchers hope that their new discovery of this mysterious genetic anomaly will help preserve these cetaceans.

Read more about this intriguing research at Stanford Medicine.

An International Endeavor To Solve the Mystery of Neutrino Oscillations

Below is a quick post for my former/current high energy physics friends. You can also check out my article for a general audience, which was just published in Symmetry magazine. 

The neutrino physics community has wanted to build an accelerator-based, long-baseline neutrino facility for years. But recent efforts appear to be making this exciting experimental program a reality with the formation of the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE) — a truly international collaboration of physicists from 23 countries and 150 institutions.

This worldwide expertise and resources will be needed to make the experiment a reality. DUNE is so challenging that a single nation or continent is unable to do the experiment by itself.

The ambitious experiment will drive a high-intensity, megawatt class neutrino beam from Fermilab through 1300 km of earth to the Sanford Underground Research Facility in South Dakota, where it will be detected by a massive liquid argon time-projection-chamber located deep underground. The plan is to first deploy a 10-kiloton underground detector by 2021, which will later be upgraded to 40-kiloton. A high-resolution detector will also be placed just downstream from the beamline to measure the composition of the neutrino beam as it leaves the Fermilab site.

The principal goal of the experiment is to carry out a comprehensive investigation of neutrino oscillations. Scientists hope to observe CP violation – the asymmetry between matter and antimatter – among neutrinos and compare it to the CP violation seen in quarks and antiquarks. They also aim to determine the ordering of the neutrino masses and to test the three-neutrino paradigm. In addition, extensive neutrino astrophysics and nucleon decay programs are planned using the near and far detectors.

The DUNE collaboration hopes to build this experiment on an aggressive schedule, so you will undoubtedly be hearing more about DUNE soon…

Earworms: Those Intrusive Songs Stuck in Your Head

manic looking man listening to music on headphones
Photograph courtesy of John Hayes Photography via a Creative Commons license.

If you could hear inside my sister’s head, it would often sound like “Deck the halls with boughs of holly, Fa la la la la, la la la la.” For years, she has had this “earworm” – a song that plays in her head without control. Her mind acts like a broken record player that repeatedly plays the same song again and again, especially during quiet times when she is alone.

Having a song stuck in your head is a common experience. Research has shown that 92% of people experience earworms at least once a week. So it isn’t surprising that many myths exist about them. One common belief is that annoying music is more likely to become stuck.  Another is that certain music characteristics, such as simplicity and repetitiveness, cause songs to become intrusive. It is also thought that having earworms is more likely for certain types of people, including musicians and women. Finally, some people believe that interrupting a song creates a sense of incompleteness that leads the song to remain in the consciousness, making it more likely to become an earworm.

Researchers from the psychology department at Western Washington University have investigated these common beliefs about earworms, as reported in a journal article recently published in Applied Cognitive Psychology. They conducted five studies on earworms: an online survey of 299 participants, an experimental diary study of 16 participants, and three lab experiments with 89, 123 or 139 participants.

In the online survey, participants answered questions about their most recent earworm, general music experience and basic demographics. The other research studies used methods to induce earworms. During the lab experiments, participants evaluated three songs, completed a puzzle (maze, Sudoku or anagram), and then reported the extent to which they heard the three songs playing in their heads while completing the puzzle. They completed either an easy or difficult puzzle.

Although annoying songs like advertising jingles can become stuck in someone’s head, this appears to be relatively rare. Researchers found that people generally know and like the songs that become intrusive.

They also found that the intrusive songs are virtually unique to each individual, which suggests that lists of the most potent earworms are misleading. Earworms are mainly formed from recent and repeated exposure to a song, so they’re influenced by listening tastes. This is supported by a previous study that identified music exposure as the primary trigger for earworms, followed by memory triggers.

Researchers found no gender difference in how earworms were experienced. However, musicians did report having earworms more frequently than non-musicians, as did people who listen to music almost constantly.

The researchers also interrupted some of the songs that they played, expecting the interrupted songs to trigger earworms more frequently than the songs played to completion. However, no difference was observed due to song interruption.

Finally, they analyzed how participants responded to completing the different puzzle tasks. Researchers found that the best way to stop an earworm is to perform a verbal task: solve an anagram, have an engaging conversation or read an interesting book. But you don’t want the task to be too easy or too challenging, or your mind will wander and the earworm may return. I guess this means that I should give my sister some engrossing novels and a book of anagrams for her birthday?

For more information about earworms, check out my KQED Science blog.

Science Behind Vampire Folklore

Count Dracula as played by Bela Lugosi in the 1931 film Dracula, courtesy of Creative Commons license.

Legends of blood sucking creatures have existed for millennia. Why have people around the world always been so fascinated by vampires? Did vampire tales begin as a way to explain frightening phenomena that people actually witnessed? Although there is no scientific evidence for vampires, there is some scientific basis for vampire folklore.

The vampire has evolved over time in countless directions, moving in popular culture from a pure evil being to a conscience-bound but sexy seducer. The vampires of “Twilight” and “Vampire Diaries” act more human than Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.” However, in general vampires are predatory creatures in human form that survive by drinking the blood of the living through protruding fangs. They are potentially immortal but they can be killed by a stake through the heart, beheading and direct sunlight.

Many vampire behaviors can be explained by medical conditions, such as the rare blood disease porphyria. People with porphyria have an enzyme deficiency that interferes with the production of an important part of red blood cells, called heme. The skin of a porphyria sufferer burns, blisters and scars when exposed to sunlight, so they can only go out at night. This disease can also cause their mouth and urine to turn red, leading to the misbelief that they drink blood. And porphyria is hereditary, so there may have been concentrations of sufferers in certain areas throughout history.

Of course science can’t fully explain vampire myths. Some supernatural magic is required to do that, which is generally more entertaining. So dress up as a vampire on Halloween and just enjoy scaring everyone.

For more information about the science behind vampire folklore, check out my KQED Quest blog.

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