A man standing in front of a red-paneled building and windows speaks and holds a paper in his hand. In front of him is a resuscitation dummy wearing a black t-shirt.
Frankie Edwards, Ph.D. student in the Translational Biology, Medicine, and Health program, was introduced by Science on Tap organizing committee member Mika Pagani before his discussion of harm reduction strategies at the February Science on Tap event at Rising Silo Brewery.

What do quantum computers, harm reduction, and ovaries have in common? They all brought members of the public to Rising Silo Brewery to engage with researchers as part of our spring semester Science on Tap events. And we've got a great lineup for the summer and into the fall. Join us at 5:30 p.m. at Rising Silo on the following dates:

June 28 - Meg Steinweg: Tick Diversity and Ecology in the New River Valley

July 26 - Julia Basso and Rachel Rugh: Moving Minds: Dance and Interpersonal Synchrony

August 23 - Matt Gentry: Sketching in Nature

September 28 - Erin Ling: Groundwater Ecology

October 26:  - Alex Freeze: The Science of Storytelling: Conservation Media and Connecting People to the Wild

    If you missed our spring speakers, read on! During our January session, Gretchen Matthews, professor of mathematics at Virginia Tech, discussed current scientists’ work on creating quantum computers. These computers, she said, use quantum physics and advanced mathematics, and they may be detrimental when it comes to preventing hackers from obtaining users’ personal information. 

    Keeping our private information secure begins with encryption, which is the process of turning our data into incomprehensible code. This concept may sound familiar — think of the movie “National Treasure.” Encryption, Matthews explained, allows only certain parties to undo the code, thus gaining access to the information. However, experienced hackers have created techniques to crack these codes faster and with less effort. 

    Many people are unaware of the risks that come with exchanging personal information online. The level of encryption provided by websites and programs is often minimal or unclear. And, according to Matthews, quantum computers will likely only exacerbate this problem. 

    Quantum computers can run algorithms and do so at a much faster rate than our typical everyday computers. It is likely they will be able to “steal” access to those code books we strive to protect with encryption. 

    If they hit a barrier with an encryption wall, Matthews said, an expert user may be able to track that encryption back to the code book itself, resulting in a breach of information. Thank you, Dr. Matthews, for revealing the surprising risks behind new technologies!

A woman wearing a red dress, black sweater, and dark tights points toward the crowd at the Rising Silo Brewery. She also holds a paper in her hand. Around her are empty water bottles and a basket of plastic bags.
Gretchen Matthews, a Virginia Tech professor, discussed quantum computers at the January Science on Tap.

    Do you know what to do if you happen upon an overdose event? Ph.D. candidate Frankie Edwards walked us through the steps of recognizing an individual who’s overdosing and how to administer Narcan at our February Science on Tap event. Edwards, whose research focuses on public health interventions to improve harm reduction, also discussed the importance of accessible and empathy-centered care when providing harm reduction services. 

    An overdose occurs due to drug toxicity, Edwards said, and is a result of excessive drug molecules binding to natural receptors and inducing negative effects on the body. When an individual has overdosed to the point of being unconscious, they are likely to have a bluish tone to their skin, unfocused eyes, shallow breathing, and a slowed heart rate. 

    Having naloxone on hand (name brand: Narcan) drastically increases the chance of an overdose victim surviving, Edwards explained. In the case of an unexpected event, administering naloxone into one nostril will usually reverse the effects of the drug.

    Edwards was also joined by employees of the New River Health District. Attendees were given the chance to complete a more formal harm reduction training and take home naloxone so that they would be prepared to help overdose victims in an emergency. Additionally, Edwards provided a worksheet with information on how to change one’s behavior to reach health goals.

    Thank you, Frankie, and thank you to the New River Health District for the valuable information on how to save lives!

A piece of paper with two photos, one of cheetah cubs and one with an adult cheetah. Text explains that the cubs were the first cheetahs born through in vitro fertilization.
A handout from Camilla Hughes’s Science on Tap, showing the first cheetah cubs born via in vitro fertilization.

    Fun fact: people who have ovaries are born with all the eggs they will ever create! That means that you — at least, the part of you that comes from your mother’s egg — were already present in your grandmother’s uterus when she was pregnant with your mother. In March, Virginia Tech animal science alum Camilla Hughes explained to a Science on Tap audience the wonders, functions, and importance of the ovary in animal science and beyond. 

    The ovary, Hughes said, has a variety of functions. They create the eggs that can become life. They secrete hormones important to menstruation and to sustaining a fetus in pregnant people. Disorders of the ovary can lead to cancer, hormone dysregulation, or early menopause. Without ovaries, animal life would simply not exist.

    Understanding the ovaries has led to important advancements in health care and animal science. The first baby born via in vitro fertilization, or IVF, was in 1978. Slightly later, research by animal scientists led to adjustments in breeding to improve production. Conservation has been affected positively, too – understanding the ovary has helped us breed endangered species in captivity. 

    Thank you, Camilla, and congratulations on your new position with Pennsylvania State University!   

    Note that there will be NO Science on Tap event in May and, starting in September, we will be switching from fourth Wednesdays of each month to fourth Thursdays. We hope to see you at Rising Silo!

By Quinn Richards, Center for Communicating Science graduate assistant