Infusing science with ethics
One might wonder why Clemson alum Domonica “Nikki” Powell, currently researching pathogenesis and immunology, would be especially concerned with the social sciences. But Powell sees science as being intrinsically intertwined with philosophy and ethics.
“Ethics should always go along with science because as new technologies, disease treatments, etc., emerge, there needs to be people who understand both science and philosophy to decide how these new developments can ethically be used,” said Powell, who is now a graduate student at Emory University.
Powell started her commitment to these ideals at Clemson by choosing to minor in philosophy and through getting involved with the Rutland Institute for Ethics, a group dedicated to educating and informing students, staff and the community about ethics. The institute annually sends a team of students to compete in the Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl, a contest in which teams from different universities across the country discuss ethical issues. Clemson’s team has repeatedly performed exceptionally at these events.
“While studying microbiology at Clemson, I loved being involved with the Ethics Bowl team for the opportunity it gave me to learn how to think both logically and creatively on any issue I was presented with,” she said. “It was also a good opportunity to learn how to construct well-reasoned and persuasive arguments. I was then able to apply this different style of thinking to scientific research. Being involved with the Rutland Institute was an invaluable part of my education at Clemson.”
Scientists do, of course, follow ethical standards that control what they can and cannot do in their work, and ethics seminars make sure that it’s clear where the lines are drawn. Powell, however, thinks ethics is something everyone should get involved in. “Ethics is a topic that permeates all other fields — or at least should. And I think everyone has something to gain from learning more about it, whether it’s actual ethical principles or just a new way of thinking.”
After graduating as a member of Clemson’s Class of 2011, Powell continued her education in Emory’s pathogenesis and immunology graduate program. She is currently researching the usage of the bacteria Lactobacillus rhamnosis, which is found in an over-the-counter probiotic supplement called Culturelle.