Mourning Open Notebook Science Pioneer, Dr. Jean-Claude Bradley
May14

Mourning Open Notebook Science Pioneer, Dr. Jean-Claude Bradley

I’ve have more later but I just learned some very sad news from Antony Williams: Drexel University chemist, Jean-Claude Bradley, passed away yesterday. Antony has some personal reflections of his dear friend at his site but here is the official letter from Drexel: Dear Members of the Drexel University Community, It is with deep sadness that I inform you of the passing of Jean-Claude Bradley, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Chemistry. Jean-Claude joined Drexel as an assistant professor in 1996 after receiving his PhD in organic chemistry and serving as a postdoctoral researcher at Duke University and College de France in Paris. In 2004, he was appointed E-Learning Coordinator for Drexel’s College of Arts and Sciences, helping to spearhead the adoption of novel teaching modalities. In that role, he led the University’s initiative to buy an “island” in the virtual world of Second Life, where students and faculty could explore new methods of teaching and learning. Jean-Claude was most well known for his “Open Notebook Science”(ONS), a term he coined to describe his novel approach to making all primary research (including both successful and failed experiments) open to the public in real time. ONS, he believed—and demonstrated—could significantly impact the future of science by reducing financial and computational restraints and by granting public access to the raw data that shapes scientific conclusions. “…In the past, trusting people might have been a necessary evil [of research],” Bradley said. “Today, it is a choice. Optimally, trust should have no place in science.” In June of 2013, Jean-Claude was invited to the White House for an “Open Science Poster Session,” at which he discussed ONS’ role in allowing he and his collaborators to confidently determine the melting points of over 27,000 substances, including many that were never before agreed upon. Currently, his research lab had been working to create anti-malarial compounds to aid in the synthesis of drugs to fight malaria. His lab’s work on this project was made available to the public on a wiki called UsefulChem, which Jean-Claude started in 2005. Jean-Claude’s philosophy of free, accessible science translated to an open approach in the classroom as well. Content from his undergraduate chemistry courses was made freely available to the public, and real data from the laboratory was used in assignments to practice concepts learned in the classroom. In an article in Chemistry World last April, Bradley said: “It is only a matter of time before the internet is saturated with free knowledge for all…People will remember those who were first.” Indeed, we will remember Jean-Claude as a pioneer in the open access movement, an innovative researcher and colleague,...

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Promoting Chemistry’s Positive Public Image
Jan25

Promoting Chemistry’s Positive Public Image

I had an opportunity earlier this month to write a short “Inside Science” piece for the Charlotte Observer and Raleigh News & Observer newspapers. These two publications are among those under the McClatchy Company umbrella of 30 U.S. newspapers with a history dating back to 1857 and the founding of what is now The Sacramento Bee. I was offered great latitude in writing a piece that was to run between 401 and 426 words. Our chemblogging community has been debating how best to address public chemophobia – or whether to even use the term “chemophobia” – in emphasizing to general audiences that not all chemicals are toxic at levels to which one is normally exposed. I decided to write about the most central and, if you will, magical chemistry that happens around us everyday and sustains our very existence: photosynthesis. You can read, “Chemistry? It’s a Natural” here in the Charlotte paper, or “Life depends on the chemical reactions of plants, algae and microbes,” in the Raleigh paper. Just look up and around you. Virtually all life on Earth depends on plants, algae and specialized microbes performing chemical reactions – photosynthesis – that capture the light energy from the sun to produce life-giving chemicals – the unlocking of oxygen from water and the capturing of carbon dioxide from the air to create glucose and other carbohydrates. In most cases, this light-capturing conversion begins with a green pigment in chloroplasts called chlorophyll, itself a magnesium-containing chemical with similarities to heme in our hemoglobin. I go on to speak, of course, about the massive amount of photosynthesis carried out by phytoplankton and the estimation that about half of the planet’s oxygen results from marine photosynthetic reactions. And your dear natural products pharmacologist couldn’t resist the urge to speak about secondary metabolites such as indigo and the opiates. I didn’t count at the time, but the words “chemical” or “chemistry” appeared 16 times in the articles, approximately 4% of the word count. Writing with a short word limit is very challenging, unlike writing blogposts. Including my self-quote above, this piece runs 463 words without even trying. Unfortunately for my efforts, these articles received far less attention than I had hoped owing to the West Virginia (4-methylcyclohexane)methanol release a few days later. But I’d like for these articles to represent how I’m going to approach chemistry education this year. I’ve taken to heart last June’s post by Janet Stemwedel – someone I’ve been learning from since 2005 – that making fun of people who are not well-versed in chemistry or risk assessment is not the best way for us scientists to build trust...

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Country of Discovery Periodic Table of the Elements
Jun24

Country of Discovery Periodic Table of the Elements

Admit it. You have a Periodic Table of the Elements shower curtain. Don’t you? Dmitri Mendeleev (and Julius Lothar Meyer, 1870) might have never predicted that his 1869 scientific tool would give rise not only to consumer products for the chemistry enthusiast but also a graphic visual adopted for all manner of non-scientific purposes: The Periodic Table of Beer Styles The Periodic Table of Drupal Modules The Periodic Table of Typefaces The Periodic Table of Islam …and, for balance, The Periodic Table of Atheists and Antitheists (yes, please add your own favorites in the comments below) Well, my morning coffee Twitter feed brought me a new version that’s 1) about actual chemistry and 2) useful for educational purposes. A story in this week’s Smithsonian.com Smart News displays the periodic table of the country of element discovery as constructed by Glaswegian chemistry PhD student, science communicator and dancer, Jaime B Gallagher (Twitter @JamieBGall). I’m reminded that the stories behind each element not only tell us history, but also how early chemists differentiated between the elements. While Gallagher tries to give credit to multiple countries for some of the discoveries, debate will undoubtedly ensue. This is is good thing. It’ll get folks talking about chemistry. Lithium, for example, was discovered by Swedish chemist Johan Arfwedson who liberated it from petalite ore, discovered by Brazilian Jose Bonifacio de Andrade de Silva while visiting the Swedish countryside. Swede Jans Jacob Berzelius named it lithos (for stone – think lithotrypsy). But it wasn’t isolated until the independent work of Sir Humphrey Davy in England and William Brande in Sweden. So while Gallagher is probably right to fully credit Sweden for lithium, one could make an argument that the UK flag should partially be at position 3. The story might also get us talking about modern uses of the elements. For example, a large deposit of lithium has just been discovered in Wyoming, a find that’s likely to put the States in a better spot as international demand for lithium grows rapidly. And while chest-thumping U.S. citizens might want to boast international superiority, we’re only tied for third (or fourth…with France!) for the discovery of 17 elements. The UK is tops with 23 followed by Sweden and Germany with 19 each. Have fun looking at this table and consider using it in your science and public education efforts. There’s something here for everyone. And before my graphic designer relatives chime in, yes, Jaime should have enlisted the help of a professional illustrator for color and typeface choices. But, hey, he’s already done the content legwork.  ...

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“These pernicious anti-scientific trends”
Dec10

“These pernicious anti-scientific trends”

I sauntered over to Duke University this morning to sit in an auditorium and watch the Nobel medal award ceremony via nobelprize.org with some fellow researchers and writers like Anton Zuiker and Eric Ferreri. As I’ve written ad nauseum, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to watch the goings-on with half of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2012 with Duke’s Dr. Bob Lefkowitz. Lefkowitz shared the prize for the chemistry behind G-protein coupled receptors with his former fellow, Stanford’s Dr. Brian Kobilka. And as my students know, nobelprize.org is an absolutely terrific (and free) site for some of the most noteworthy documentation of the great scientific discoveries since 1901. So, I’ve been very interested to now follow the Nobel lectures for all the prizes. But what I absolutely loved was tonight’s banquet speech given by Lefkowitz on behalf of himself, Kobilka, and their families. Here’s an excerpt that warmed my cockles: For those of us in the sciences, we watch with delight as every October the eyes of the entire world focus, if only transiently, on the power of discoveries in chemistry, physics, medicine, physiology, and economics to shape our lives. However, as an American Scientist, and now Nobel Laureate, I have never been more aware or more appreciative of this effect of the Prize announcements. We have just had a Presidential election in the United States. One of the fault lines in the campaign was the role that science plays in shaping public policy decisions. A clear anti-science bias was apparent in many who sought the presidential nomination of one of our major political parties. This was manifest as a refusal to accept for example, the theory of evolution, the existence of global warming, much less of the role of humans in this process, the value of vaccines or of embryonic stem cell research. Each of us Laureates aspires in our own small way to do what we can to counter these pernicious anti-scientific trends. I hope that this excerpt and message makes it to the mainstream media. And I’m happy to work with Dr. Lefkowitz in any way he sees to “counter these pernicious anti-scientific...

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Helping Schools Hit By Sandy
Nov05

Helping Schools Hit By Sandy

Terra Sig’s Post-Sandy Science Drive During the month of October, I had usually participated in a science blog drive to raise funds for public school teachers through a superb, New York-based charitable organization called DonorsChoose.com. For those not familiar, the non-profit was the brainstorm of Charles Best was a Bronx high school history teacher who, like many others, spent a considerable amount of his personal funds on resources and supplies for his students. Best came up with an idea for an online giving site where teachers could match specific projects to parents and other external donors — “where anyone with $5 can become a philanthropist.” The entire story is here but DonorsChoose has been a remarkable success. Many science bloggers became involved with DonorsChoose as far back as 2006 due to the efforts of physical chemist, philosopher, and science ethicist Dr. Janet Stemwedel. While we were at ScienceBlogs.com, Janet corralled the entire network and then other blogging networks into a month-long challenge where we asked our readers to spare a few doubloons for projects we thought would appeal to our audience. Most of us focused on promoting science projects, of course. But I became acutely aware of the poverty of school systems barely 50 miles from where I live (one city had 34% of the population living below the US poverty line, currently defined as an annual income of less that $23,050 for a family of four). Some teachers simply needed pencils and paper for their students. Seriously. How can you get to science education if your school district lacks the funds to purchase basic supplies? You can simply rely on parents who are struggling to merely feed their families. So, I listed many of these efforts together with some of the more creative science projects. Well, Terra Sig readers blew me away the very first month. Although the blog ranked in the bottom 75th percentile of readership, we ranked #1 in dollars given per 1,000 unique visits. Yes, we have quality readers — generous and good-looking. I got tied up with other things this October and didn’t have a dedicated giving page. But various science blogging factions are once again part of a friendly competition called, well, Science Bloggers for Students. While originally intended to finish last week, Janet and other science bloggers like Gerty-Z are extending their drives to focus specifically on supporting projects at schools hit hard by last week’s tremendous storm. Even better is that DonorsChoose is extending their 100% match — yes, your donation has twice the impact! Just enter SCIENCE when prompted for the gift/match code. These blogs at CENtral Science get a...

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Talking fungi at Skeptically Speaking
Feb05

Talking fungi at Skeptically Speaking

Well, if you’re looking for something to do during Super Bowl halftime than watch Madonna, you’re welcome to join me online for the wildly-successful science radio show, Skeptically Speaking. With Edmonton-based host Desiree Schell (@teh_skeptic) and her US-based producer K.O. Myers (@KO_Myers), we’ll be discussing the secret lives of fungi, particularly as related to the synthesis of secondary metabolites that we use as therapeutic agents. If you’re able to join us live, we’ll be at this UStream.tv page at 8 pm Eastern, 6 pm Mountain. On the chat bar at the right of the page, you can follow the online discussion and submit questions of your own. I hope that you can dial us in. If not, the complete podcast will be downloadable on the evening of February...

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