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Research Roundup: Race in psychology research, lithium-metal battery, new cancer cell subtype


Each week, The Daily’s Science & Tech section produces a roundup of the most exciting and influential research happening on campus or otherwise related to Stanford. Here’s our digest for the week of June 21 – June 27.

Psychological research and race

An analysis of psychological research found that articles published in top psychology journals rarely focus on race. When articles do discuss race, they are mostly authored and edited by white scholars, a study published on June 24 in “Perspectives on Psychological Science” found.

“Psychologists are supposed to know about racial bias and how to prevent it from stratifying the world,” psychology assistant professor Steven Roberts told Stanford News. “But if we, the so-called experts, have a problem, then society really has a problem.”

The researchers analyzed over 26,000 articles published in top psychology journals between 1974 to 2018 to examine the racial representation among authors and editors. 

The findings suggest that, of the 60 editors-in-chief in four decades, 83% of editors were white, while 5% were people of color. Researchers were unable to identify the race for 12% of editors.

Roberts’ team also found that among authors publishing research on race, 63% of first authors were white, while 23% were people of color. The remaining 14% of first authors were not identifiable by race.

“Our discipline is supposed to know how racism works. If we are to eradicate racism from our society we need to eradicate it from our science,” Roberts told Stanford News. “We need to put anti-racist systems in place.”

“I see this paper is a tribute to all the great psychologists of color who have for decades navigated an unfair system,” he added. “Hopefully this paper will inspire the change needed for everyone to get their perspectives shared.”

Newly created lithium-based electrolyte boosts performance in batteries

A new lithium-based electrolyte created by scientists may boost performance of rechargeable batteries, a study published on June 22 in “Nature Energy” reports.

“Most electric cars run on lithium-ion batteries, which are rapidly approaching their theoretical limit on energy density,” materials science and engineering professor Yi Cui told Stanford News. “Our study focused on lithium metal batteries, which are lighter than lithium-ion batteries and can potentially deliver more energy per unit weight and volume.”

The lithium metal battery contrasts with the traditional lithium-ion battery because the former replaces a graphite anode with lithium metal. Lithium metal batteries can hold nearly double the amount of electricity per kilogram compared to lithium-ion batteries.

The researchers also created a new electrolyte solution used in the lithium metal battery that adds fluorine atoms to increase the solution’s stability. The findings suggest the newly created lithium metal battery retained 90% of its initial charge after 420 cycles of charging. Normally, lithium metal batteries stop working after roughly 30 cycles of charging.

“Our study basically provides a design principle that people can apply to come up with better electrolytes,” chemical engineering professor Zhenan Bao told Stanford News. “We just showed one example, but there are many other possibilities.”

Previously undiscovered cell type involved with skin cancer progression

A new subset of cancer cells called tumor-specific keratinocytes (TSKs) are responsible for enabling skin tumors to metastasize and evade the body’s immune system, a study published on June 23 in “Cell” found.

“These cells coordinate the entire cancer process,” dermatology professor and chair Paul Khavari told Stanford Medicine News. “They are highly mobile and highly invasive, and they gather at the edges of the tumor to lead the charge into surrounding tissue. But until now, we didn’t even know they existed.”

The findings suggest that in skin carcinoma samples, TSKs were localized at the growing edges of the skin tumor. They also expressed signals that recruit other cell types to the cancer site, preventing the body from combating cancer.

“Cancer really remodels the immune system to shut it down,” Khavari told Stanford Medicine News. “Our study shows that the TSKs recruit Tregs, which form a barrier between the tumor and the surrounding tissue and create an immune-suppressed environment.”

“It’s becoming obvious that successful cancer therapies will have to not just attack the tumor cells, but also find a way to activate the immune system and get it to stop tolerating the cancer,” he added.

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