Category → Contests
Today’s post is by Nader Heidari, an associate editor at C&EN who loves watching cells race and paint dry.
On Nov. 22, cells raced down ultrathin channels, vying for the position of fastest cell in the 2013 World Cell Race. At speeds of up to 300 micrometers/hour, cells blew down the maze-like track, running into dead ends and occasionally getting confused and turning around. Many cell lines didn’t finish, but glory came to those who did.
This year’s victor (shown in the race video above) was MDA MB 231 s1, a human breast cancer cell line from Alexis Gautreau of the Laboratory of Enzymology & Structural Biochemistry, in France. Gautreau will receive a €400 voucher (that’s about $650) from Ibidi, one of the event’s sponsors. The winning cells weren’t the fastest, nor were they the smartest, but they prevailed because of their persistence and because they got a good head-start by entering the maze of channels more quickly than their competitors. Slow and steady wins the race!
In second place was MFH 152, a sarcoma cell line from Mohamed Jemaà in Ariane Abrieu’s lab at the Research Center for Macromolecular Biochemistry, in France. Although they were fast and accurate, these cells took too long to actually start the race, falling behind MDA MB 231, according to the race organizers.
Cell-racing fans don’t have to wait until late next year for another dose of mitochondria-pumping action: The organizers are looking to start the first “Dicty World Race,” tentatively scheduled for March 21, 2014. The stars of this show would be Dictyostelium, a type of slime mold. So keep an eye out for some pedal-to-the-flagella protist action!
Today’s post is by Puneet Kollipara, intern at C&EN and an aquatic acidity aficionado.
Humans pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, but not all of it stays in the air. About one-fourth of the released carbon dioxide dissolves into the oceans, where it has been lowering the global average pH of seawater and thereby threatening aquatic ecosystems.
Unfortunately, the ocean is as complex as it is spacious, and ocean pH doesn’t change uniformly across its depth. To get the full picture, scientists need a lot of data, but current techniques for monitoring ocean pH are generally expensive, aren’t always reliable, and can’t go very deep underwater. Right now, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), for instance, has 18 ocean-chemistry monitors at various locations—more than anyone else in the world—but none of these sensors takes measurements below surface waters. “As you can imagine, that does not really represent the global oceans very well,” says Christopher L. Sabine, an oceanographer at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory.
A 22-month competition launched by the XPRIZE Foundation, a nonprofit aiming to spur technological innovation for society’s betterment, seeks to change that. The newly announced $2 million Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health XPRIZE calls on innovators of all stripes, both professional and amateur, to design better pH-measurement technologies. “The idea with the XPRIZE is to develop robust, inexpensive sensors that can be deployed much more easily,” says Sabine, whose NOAA lab is partnering with XPRIZE for the competition.
Half of the $2 million prize will be awarded for the development of an affordable, reliable sensor, Sabine says. The other half will go toward a system that can accurately profile pH changes, including at great depths; such an instrument might start deep in the ocean and take real-time measurements as it’s lifted to the surface.
Some 20,000 11-year-olds voted to determine the winners of the Flame Challenge 2 competition. Depending on the format of scientists’ responses to this year’s question, “What is time?” entries were categorized as written or visual. Nicholas Williams, a retired scientist who spent 33 years working at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), and ACS member Steven Maguire, a Ph.D. candidate in inorganic catalysis at the University of Ottawa, in Ontario, were recognized as the winners on June 2 at the World Science Festival, in New York City.
Both winners have experience communicating science, which is the goal of the competition. Williams, the winner of the written category, continues to work with LLNL through its “Fun with Science” outreach program. About teaching science, Williams says, “Teach so it makes sense. Teach so it can be understood. Teach so it can be remembered.” And this he did in his entry. He begins his prose mimicking a nagging parent and their child, “Time to go to school, time to clean your room, time to do this, time to do that.” No wonder 11-year-olds like his answer: He immediately relates to their world before he gets to the tough stuff.
Maguire, winner of the visual category, hosts a Web series, “Science Isn’t Scary.” In each video clip, he answers a science question that seems complicated, but by the end of the explanation Maguire has helped the viewer better understand the science behind how or why something works. His series is essentially mini Flame Challenges, so he has experience explaining scientific concepts to an audience in a way that they’ll understand.
According to the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, a division of Stony Brook University, in New York, and one of the sponsors of the Flame Challenge, there will be another question from 11-year-olds for scientists to answer in 2014. If you know an 11-year-old who has a suggestion for the Flame Challenge 3, submit their question here.
The Newscripts blog would like to be closer Internet buddies with our glossy print Newscripts column, so here we highlight what’s going on in the current issue of C&EN.
Meet Anders. He’s 51 and Swedish. He’s also one of more than 78,000 people who have applied to take a one-way trip to Mars.
As this week’s Newscripts column explores, Netherlands-based “nonprofit” Mars One is currently soliciting applications from individuals interested in traveling to the Red Planet in 2023 and never returning. Approximately 28 to 40 applicants will be chosen from the pool of applicants to participate in a reality show in which they will train for seven years for the mission. An audience vote will then help determine the four people who will ultimately go where no man has gone before.
There is a video portion to the application that requires applicants, such as Anders, to tell a little bit about themselves and explain their reasons for wanting to travel to a foreign planet. Many of these videos are posted to the Mars One website, and what’s most striking about them is the general lack of enthusiasm many of these applicants have when discussing the opportunity to go to Mars. “I’ve often fantasized to just get on board a spaceship and go to explore the universe. I often get the feeling that I don’t belong here, but out there, in space,” the aforementioned Anders says, without so much as a smile. Continue reading →
Last year, actor and science advocate Alan Alda and the Center for Communicating Science, sponsored the inaugural Flame Challenge by asking scientists around the world to answer “What is a flame?” so that an 11-year-old could understand. This year, the American Chemical Society and the American Association for Advancement of Science have joined in on the sponsorship, and the question scientists have been asked to answer is, “What is time?”
Nearly 20,000 students from around the world have voted on the hundreds of submissions that made it through an initial screening by trained scientists, and the six best answers–three videos and three written responses–have been unveiled on the Flame Challenge website. The finalists each use unique examples to explain time. Some mention Einstein’s theory of relativity, some go into the details of the space-time continuum, and some rely on time being an invented concept that keeps track of events. One thing mentioned in each entry: time only has one direction and that’s forward.
Registered schools can vote for their favorite answers until May 5. This year, rather than recognizing one overall winner, the best entry for each format will be recognized. That will happen at an event on June 2 at the World Science Festival, in New York City.
You’re Bradley Cooper. People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive in 2011. Comedic heartthrob from “The Hangover,” “Wedding Crashers,” Alias, and “Wet Hot American Summer.” But now, almost suddenly, you’ve starred in the dramedy “Silver Linings Playbook,” which garnered you an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. So you have to write a thank you speech, you know, just in case. Where do you begin?!
One good place to start is a website created by Rebecca Rolfe–a master’s student at Georgia Tech who is studying verbal and physical expression of gratitude. Rolfe watched and analyzed all 207 available (out of 300 total) Oscar acceptance speeches since 1953. Not only does her website help write a speech and compare it with those of past Oscar winners, but it also provides the data to answer questions such as: How often do people cry during their acceptance speeches? How many winners thank their publicists before thanking their moms? And who indulges in the time-honored tradition of being cut off by the conductor?
Here’s a sampling of stats the Newscripts gang found intriguing:
- Despite the omnipresent Oscars phrase, “I’d like to thank the Academy,” only 40% of winners actually thank the Academy. To give some perspective, 48% thank their families.
- Although 21% of actors and actresses get a little teary, they’ve only gone soft recently — 71% of Oscar tears have been shed since 1995.
- 61% thanked their production reps. In fact, Harvey Weinstein is the most thanked person in the history of Oscar speeches. By comparison, 5% thanked God. And coming in close behind at 3% is “everybody” — that’s us!
- Winners tend to get increasingly personal over the course of their speech, with 40% choosing to thank their families toward the end.
It only takes some YouTubers being in the right place at the right time to prove how ridiculously far owls can rotate their heads — up to 270 degrees in either direction, in fact. But it took a team of neurological imaging experts and medical illustrators to figure out both how this flexibility feat is anatomically possible and how to effectively illustrate it.
The Johns Hopkins University team took first place in the poster and graphics portion of the International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge competition, which was sponsored by Science magazine and the National Science Foundation. Led by medical illustrator Fabian de Kok-Mercado, now at Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the team used angiography, X-ray imaging, and CT scans to study the bone structure and vasculature of the heads and necks of snowy, barred, and great-horned owls.
Their study shows that owls’ transverse foramina–the holes in the vertebrae that allow arteries to line the spine–are much larger than the blood vessels, allowing more wiggle room for twisting and turning. And they found blood-pooling mechanisms and backup arteries that help direct blood to the brain when the main arteries are pinched in the turning process.
The People’s Choice award in the same posters and graphics portion of the competition goes to designers who are likely SimCity fans. Or perhaps it was the voters who are fans of the city-building video game series? We digress. A team from the European Centre for Environment & Human Health at the University of Exeter Medical School and Plymouth University designed an entire town to represent possible routes to sustainable pharmaceutical use: Continue reading →
Back in September, I posted here on Newscripts about a contest being hosted by Chemical Abstracts Service, a division of the American Chemical Society that collects and organizes publicly disclosed information about chemical compounds.
CAS asked participants to guess when the 70 millionth substance would be added to its database. The person who submitted the answer (date and time) closest to reality would take home an e-book reader.
Well, I’m a bit behind in reporting the outcome. But better late than never, right?
The 70 millionth compound was added to CAS’s Registry on Dec. 6, 2012. The winner? Lucky grad student Tom Pearson of Nottingham Trent University, in England. An organic chemist, Pearson is developing new ways of sticking sugar units together with an eye toward drug synthesis. And he received a Kindle Fire for his correct prediction.
Pearson doesn’t normally enter contests, so this is the first time he’s won anything, he tells me. “I had 10 minutes free in my day and thought I’d enter,” he says of the contest.
But Pearson’s win wasn’t complete luck. Like every true science nerd, he used some math and logic to arrive at his winning entry: “I basically just stared at the counter for a couple of minutes and tried to work out the average rate at which substances were being added. After working out the rate, I then determined the date that the 70 millionth substance would be added.”
CAS added the 50 millionth substance to its registry back on Sept. 7, 2009. On the basis of these dates, and doing a little math of my own, I estimate that CAS adds about 16,900 new chemical substances to its database per day. That’s about 1 new compound every 5 seconds. Yowza!!
The 70 millionth substance, given CAS Registry number 1411769-41-9, is a pyrazolyl piperazine disclosed in a patent filed with the Korean Intellectual Property Office. It’s a calcium-ion channel blocker with potential applications in treating pain, as well as conditions such as dementia.
A few fun facts from CAS about its registry:
In 2012, 63% of patents covered by CAS originated in Asia.
More than 70% of new substances added to the registry from the literature come from patents.
Today’s post is by Emily Bones, a production editor and Newscripts contributor here at C&EN.
“What is time?” is the question actor Alan Alda and the Center for Communicating Science (CCS) want scientists around the world to answer with a response an 11-year-old can understand. Last year, Alda launched an annual challenge by posing to the world “What is a flame?” The burning question had been on his mind since he was 11 years old, and his science teacher answered him with a technical response that he didn’t understand.
CCS, which is a division of Stony Brook University in New York, decided to keep the tradition going and this year invited 11-year-olds across the U.S. to suggest a new question. After narrowing more than 300 entries down to five possibilities, 10- to 12-year-olds voted “What is time?” as the next seemingly simple question to answer.
Scientists who want to compete in this year’s challenge may submit a written (less than 300 words) or visual (Vimeo video, less than 6 minutes long) answer. Click here for details and an entry form. This time around, there will be two winners: one for each of the categories. Answers are due by 11:59 PM EST on March 1, 2013. To see what creative answers scientists came up with last year, check out the winning entry, those that were finalists, and those that were honorable mentions.
As for who qualifies to compete, CCS says, “We define a scientist as someone who has, or is in the process of getting, a graduate degree in a science (including health sciences, engineering and mathematics), or who is employed doing scientific work, or who is retired from doing scientific work.”
Once a submission is received, it will be screened for accuracy by a panel of CCS-selected scientists before it can move to the next stage of student judging. CCS is looking for 11-year-olds interested in judging. If you know a class of fourth, fifth, or sixth graders who want to participate, get them involved.
Scientists, get creative and send in your answers. Time is ticking away!
Today’s post is by Emily Bones, an assistant production editor and Newscripts contributor here at C&EN.
Although Election Day got top billing, it’s not the only vote-centric event of the week. As of Monday, the Center for Communicating Science (CCS), a division of the State University of New York, Stony Brook, opened the polls for choosing the next Flame Challenge question.
When he was 11 years old, Alan Alda, an actor and the founder of CCS, asked the burning question, “What is a flame?” He never received an answer he thought was satisfactory, so last year he challenged scientists across the world to submit answers in a way that an 11-year-old could understand. The winner, Ben Ames, created an animated video that defines flame-related terms and then brings all the concepts together in the form of a song.
This year, the newly established tradition will continue: Another question will be posed to scientists around the globe. From June to October of this year, more than 300 potential questions were submitted online to CCS by inquisitive 11-year-olds. The pool of questions has now been narrowed down to five possibilities, “which might look simple at first glance, but would offer good scientific complexity, like the question from last year,” explains Valeri Lantz-Gefroh, workshop coordinator at CCS. And the five contenders are:
1.) Does the universe have a known end?
2.) How does the brain store all of that information?
3.) What is time?
4.) How do you hear your thoughts in your head?
5.) What is color?
Polls are open until November 16, at 5 PM EST. The catch? Only 10- to 12-year-olds can vote. They can do so by clicking here. Votes can be submitted by individuals or as a class.
The final question will be announced on Dec. 11, which will mark the start of the second challenge. So scientists, get ready to answer one of these questions—submissions are due by March 1, 2013. And if you have or know a 10- to 12-year-old, now’s the time to get them voting.