From The CENtral Science Blogs
- Mar 6th, 2014By Bethany Halford
- Mar 5th, 2014By Carmen Drahl
- Jan 25th, 2014By David Kroll
- Feb 28th, 2014By Alex Tullo
- Feb 28th, 2014By Sarah Everts
- Feb 27th, 2014By Jyllian Kemsley
- Feb 20th, 2014By Melody Bomgardner
- Jan 26th, 2014By Rick Mullin
- Jan 26th, 2014By Glen Ernst
All Latest Posts
Silly samplings from this week’s science news, compiled by Sophia Cai, Bethany Halford, and Jeff Huber.
What you really need is this street-legal Batmobile. Only $1 million. [Short List]
Secret to living a long life? Good food and good sleep, says world’s oldest woman. Secret to happiness? Sheesh, what more do you want from her? [NBC News]
New app’s technology seeks to dramatically increase people’s reading speeds. No mention on how app plans to prevent people from skipping article entirely and scrolling to the tl;dr section. [33rd Square]
Turns out your taste buds can be tricked by juicy adjectives, familiar memories, and pleasing colors. Maybe we are in the matrix after all. [Popular Science]
Researchers find that caffeine dependence can lead to emotional problems. It’s distressing news, but thankfully the Newscripts gang always keeps a cup of joe at our sides to calm us down during moments like these. [Seattle Pi]
Study finds that a community in California experienced a decline in childhood obesity after it built a casino. The finding is leading many to believe that the casino’s all-you-can-eat buffet must not be that good. [Reuters]
A 13-year-old in England has become the youngest person in the world to ever build a nuclear fusion reactor. So stop holding your kid back, and start letting him play with nuclear technology already! [Daily Mail]
We like to see science tackling tough problems: Researchers develop tricks to get rid of that song that’s been stuck in your head. [Seriously, Science?]
Today’s guest post is by Andrei Yudin, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Toronto. His research group aims to build new bridges between basic chemistry research and drug discovery. During a sabbatical, Yudin launched a blog, and soon discovered that blogging brings several tangible benefits to his group as well as his research program. You can read his blog at www.amphoteros.com.
I have always been intrigued by science blogging, but the barrier to give it a shot of my own has been steep. When I started my sabbatical in July of 2013, I realized that I would have some extra time, making it the best moment for me to begin blogging. The idea of connecting with a target audience of fellow researchers using a new means was especially attractive to me. In addition, as I was running experiments during my sabbatical, my graduate students and faculty colleagues were curious about what it was I was cooking in the lab. I did not want them to think that I was “breaking bad”, so I decided to put it all out there – my successes, my failures, and a good dose of self-ridicule. This is how www.amphoteros.com saw its first post on July 20, 2013.
I quickly realized that there were relatively few research-oriented chemistry blogs, which stands in contrast to other disciplines such as biology. While the culture of chemistry is different and chemists do not often feel the need to collaborate with one another, our craft is becoming more interdisciplinary and new ways of communicating scientific findings and/or sharing opinions are only going to help.
At the moment, amphoteros is driven by my keen interest in science advances both basic and applied. People ask me how I find time for writing and coming up with original subject matter on a daily basis. I somehow do not feel challenged by this: there is always something “bloggable” I can come up with during my train ride back home. I cover a range of subjects and I always look forward to the feedback I get from the readers. The usual way I conceive my posts is by thinking about one of the dominant thoughts that has been consuming me on a given day. Typically, these musings are related to a particular publication, although I do not make a distinction between what’s current and what’s old. To me, something that is important, yet published 50 years ago, is current. In terms of content, I like to have a lot of graphics on my posts. This gives me a chance to practice ideas for my future lecture presentations. In academia, we always think about new ways of presenting our research in lectures, yet it is tough to sit down and implement them. I partially address this problem using my blog posts: many of them serve their purpose in lectures.
While I blog, I find it encouraging to communicate with like-minded individuals who provide interesting comments. People often contact me by email and say that they enjoy the content I offer. I also like receiving requests to cover certain topics. I am keen to see which subjects on the blog are particularly popular. Straightforward tracking mechanisms enable me to dig deeper into those areas.
My blogging activities have led to other tangible outcomes as well. For instance, I find it easier to recruit students as many of them find the material I write about both educational and interesting. I have gotten both graduate and postdoctoral applications as a direct result of my writings. I also find that, by following my blog posts, students who take my classes are better engaged with the material I teach. Blogging is also turning into a great mechanism to keep in touch with my former students.
One of the emerging trends I see is my lab engagement in writing blog posts. I already had several students guest-post interesting material and anticipate that these offerings will expand in the future. It is 2014 now, my sabbatical is over. Yet the blog is in good shape, I find time to write, and the readership is growing.
Hello Artful Science readers,
As you’ve probably noticed, Artful Science has been on hiatus for a few months while I’ve been on a research sabbatical and then working on other projects.
It will continue to be on pause until further notice but I hope to resume a new incarnation of Artful Science’s cultural heritage coverage sometime in the not-so-distant future.
In the meantime, I often tweet about research on art and artifacts, should you wish to follow me in the land of Twitter.
All my best from Berlin and thanks for reading,
Slowly but surely, though, beta testers in Google’s Explorers program have been making a case for the sophisticated eyewear by demonstrating its unique—sometimes scientific–capabilities. Physics teacher Andrew Vanden Heuvel famously shared his visit to the Large Hadron Collider, in Switzerland, with his students via Glass. Ohio surgeon Christopher Kaeding gave medical students a live, bird’s eye view of a knee operation he conducted while wearing the device.
And now, a research team led by Aydogan Ozcan of the University of California, Los Angeles, is using Google Glass to help diagnose and track disease. The engineers designed an app for the wearable computer that images and reads rapid diagnostic tests such as pregnancy pee sticks. It also links the results to a scannable QR code, stores them, and tags them geographically.
“The new technology could enhance the tracking of dangerous diseases and improve response time in disaster-relief areas or quarantine zones where conventional medical tools are not available or feasible,” Ozcan says.
Among the first to be selected by Google as Explorers, Ozcan and his team demonstrated the capabilities of their new app by using it to read a few types of home HIV and prostate cancer tests—ones that require an oral swab or a drop of blood to work. They recently published their efforts in ACS Nano (2014, DOI: 10.1021/nn500614k). Continue reading →
Sorry for the radio silence last week. This overlord was a little overloaded. But to make up for it, here’s a double dose of network highlights.
Tweets of the weeks:
— Neil Withers (@NeilWithers) February 21, 2014
“Who would have guessed that the first NMR spectrum of ethanol would grow into the ability to watch the brain think?” – George Whitesides.
— Curious Wavefunction (@curiouswavefn) February 25, 2014
To the network:
Artful Science: A blogging siesta
Newscripts: Amusing News Aliquots (2/21) and Amusing News Aliquots (2/28) and Google Glass Might One Day Diagnose And Track Diseases Like HIV
The Chemical Notebook: The Curious Case Of Cereplast
Cereplast started out as a good idea when it was founded by Frederick Scheer 10 years ago. The company would compound biobased and compostable resins such polylactic acid. The companies developing biobased resins are, for the most part, focused on agricultural processing or biotechnology. There would be a place for a specialist sorting out the nitty gritty of making the plastics work in real-world applications.
But something, if not many things, have gone wrong for the company. And earlier this month, the Cereplast filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
It’s hard to tell. The Cereplast story is a little vague.
2011 seemed to be a good year for Cereplast in terms of revenues, which climbed to a high of about $20 million. However, the company managed to lose $14 million on those sales.
The company might have been in the red, but CEO Scheer was securely in the black. He earned a more than $1 million: about $500,000 in salary, $400,000 in bonuses, and nearly in $100,000 in stock awards.
A year later, things were pretty unpleasant for Cereplast. The company had to write off $12 million in accounts receivable in 2012. (Can’t tell if these were booked as part of the 2011 sales.) It is tough to figure out what exactly happened here, but the default explanation is that some customer stiffed the company for $12 million worth of compounded plastic. Conference calls allude to efforts to get the inventory back. The company lost $30 million on $911,000 in sales in 2012. Scheer earned a mere $336,077.
The company delisted from NASDAQ in 2012. It picked up, earlier in the year, Paul Pelosi, Jr. as a director, who wanted to lend one of America’s most recognizable names to team Cereplast for some reason. As far as I can tell he was an uncompensated, outside director.
Cereplast also ran the stock certificate printing presses in 2012 to stave off bankruptcy. Ironridge Technology bought $5 million in Cereplast preferred shares. Some outfit named Magna promised to pay off $1 million Cereplast debt in exchange for common shares. Cereplast is suing Magna for breach of contract.
Last year brought new ways for Cereplast to lose money. The company had $2.1 million in revenues for the first nine months of the year. It lost $34 million. The biggest item on its income statements is a $21.6 million loss for “change in derivative liabilities.” Cereplastcs explanation is as follows:
“Our derivative financial instruments consist of embedded and free-standing derivatives related primarily to the convertibles notes. The embedded derivatives include the conversion features, and liquidated damages clauses in the registration rights agreement. The accounting treatment of derivative financial instruments requires that we record the derivatives and related warrants at their fair values as of the inception date of the agreement and at fair value as of each subsequent balance sheet date. The recorded value of all derivatives at September 30, 2013 totaled approximately $15.1 million. Any change in fair value of these instruments will be recorded as non-operating, non-cash income or expense at each reporting date. If the fair value of the derivatives is higher at the subsequent balance sheet date, the Company will record a non-operating, non-cash charge. If the fair value of the derivatives is lower at the subsequent balance sheet date, the Company will record non-operating, non-cash income. At September 30, 2013, derivatives were valued primarily using the Black-Scholes Option Pricing Model.”
The Chemical Notebook doesn’t know either.
In any case, the bankruptcy was filed, in response to a lender’s efforts to sell off its assets, which aren’t insignificant. The value of the company’s property and equipment amounts to $11.2 million.
Silly samplings from this week’s science news, lovingly compiled by Sophia Cai, Bethany Halford, and Jeff Huber.
Sriracha science. That’s hot! [ACS Reactions/YouTube]
A North Korea zoo welcomes a pack of Yorkshire terriers to its list of attractions. The zoo says to stay tuned for even more exciting additions, including an ant, a pineapple wearing sunglasses, and mold growing on a block of cheese. [Sky]
Scientists don’t need celebrities like Kimye and Brangelina to hook up in order to to smash a couple of names together. Behold, the newly created particle “Dropleton,” a quantum droplet. [NBCNews]
Tired of making real molecules? Want to finally write that great novel? Well, use the elements in this Periodic Table of Storytelling to create “simple story molecules.” [Design Through Storytelling]
Finally, a genetic reason certain kids (and adults) poo-poo meals with cilantro, brussel sprouts, and kale. Now where’s the gene for not wanting to do the dishes? [iO9]
Female cat in France is being called a hero after saving 11 people from a burning building. The cat may have thwarted a house fire, but she has only stoked the fire in Pepé Le Pew’s heart for French felines even more. [Mother Nature Network]
Turns out the chickens laying the organic eggs are eating pricey imported food. They should probably just start laying golden eggs with those kinds of hoity-toity demands. [NPR]
More cat-fire news! Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have uncovered 500-year-old German manuscripts illustrating how to use a “rocket-cat” to set an enemy’s castle ablaze. Pentagon officials call it the purrrrr-fect way to launch a drone strike in the 16th century. [Philly.com]
They say, “one of the few pieces of art that can expand your mind and give you type 2 diabetes at the same time.” We say, “Sweet!” [Wired]
Today’s post is by Maureen Rouhi, C&EN’s Editor-in-chief.
Suspicions of sexism roiled the theoretical chemistry community last month when organizers of the 15th International Congress of Quantum Chemistry (ICQC) posted a partial list of speakers. The all-male list prompted theoretical chemists Emily A. Carter of Princeton University; Laura Gagliardi of the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities; and Anna Krylov of the University of Southern California to urge a boycott of the conference for its “gender-biased discriminatory practices.”
Gender inequity continues to persist in science. Until it disappears, we all must remain ready to expose it, because exposure leads to awareness, which improves fairness.
The 15th ICQC will be held in China in June 2015. It is being organized by chemistry professor Zhigang Shuai of Tsinghua University, under the sponsorship of the International Academy of Quantum Molecular Science. The academy’s president is Josef Michl, a chemistry professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder. The boycott call, he says, could be pivotal “in the long and difficult struggle that women have faced in science in general.” In a letter to academy members, he thanked Carter, Gagliardi, and Krylov for “raising a well-justified objection.” He also apologized for the “premature public release of a partial speaker list.”
“It is really terrible that this happened,” says Kendall N. Houk about the events that led to the boycott call. Houk is a chemistry professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and an invited speaker. “But at least it has catalyzed a visible uproar and vivid reminder that chemists need to keep vigilant to avoid lapsing into old, bad habits that continue to disadvantage women scientists.” Houk says female members usually make up at least 25% of his research group. “They are becoming excellent computational chemists, and I look forward to their being speakers at future ICQC meetings.”
“The majority of the theoretical chemistry community is welcoming to female scientists,” says Sharon Hammes-Schiffer, a chemistry professor at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and an invited speaker. However, she adds, certain pockets “have cultures that are less welcoming to female scientists,” and people must speak up and point out unfairness when it is apparent, as in the case of the 15th ICQC’s all-male partial speaker list.
“Despite increasing awareness, biases are still prevalent in certain situations,” Hammes-Schiffer says. The boycott petition and the ensuing discussions will force people to examine their subconscious biases and to behave and make decisions in a manner that will lead to change, she adds. “As more women move into leadership positions and as the gender ratio continues to become more balanced, the culture will shift. Until then, we need to remain vigilant and to train our students and postdocs in a way that ensures that future generations will create a culture that is equally welcoming to both genders.”
In the meantime, the list of speakers for the 15th ICQC has evolved. To date, of 33 invited speakers, seven are women, a larger share than in previous ICQCs. Whether the boycott call caused this spike, I can’t tell. I give the organizers the benefit of the doubt that they had planned to invite this many women all along.
Whether this representation fairly reflects women’s participation in the field is another question. Michl says one has to look at those who lead research groups because they would be the pool of potential speakers. An educated guess could come from examining the corresponding authors in journals that publish only theoretical chemistry. In the 2013 issues of the Journal of Chemical Theory & Computation, the International Journal of Quantum Chemistry, Theoretical Chemistry Accounts, and the Journal of Computation Chemistry, women represented 11.49% of corresponding authors, for a 1:9 ratio of women to men, according to Michl. “The numbers clearly provide only a partial view, since much theory is published in journals that also publish articles from other subdisciplines; for example, the Journal of Physical Chemistry and the Journal of Chemical Physics,” he says.
Whatever is the true representation of women in the field, “it is low, and we need to continue to bring more women into theoretical chemistry,” Michl says. He notes that about 40% of graduate students in theory today are women. “This generation will run the show in a decade or two,” he says. “And the ratio of 1:9 will then be nothing but a bad memory.”