L’Embarras Des Richesses: ScienceOnline2013 and ScienceWriters2012
Sep29

L’Embarras Des Richesses: ScienceOnline2013 and ScienceWriters2012

In this quiet moment on a rainy Saturday evening in North Carolina Piedmont, I lie here in awe of the breadth of creative talent and boundless enthusiasm that this place attracts. Tonight at 5:00 pm Eastern time, a couple hundred folks or so learned that they had not scored a slot in the lottery for the remaining spaces at ScienceOnline2013. I won't be there this year either but I can certainly understand the disappointment. This simple idea of Bora Zivkovic along with Let's-Get-Together-and-See-Where-This-Goes Guy, Anton Zuiker, has grown from a small gathering of likeminded online science enthusiasts to become the South-By-Southwest of science meetings, now under the exceptional leadership of Karyn Traphagen. I encourage everyone to stay on or sign up for the waitlist. Lots of plans change between now and late January so registration slots will most certainly open up. But in the meantime, you might consider another possibility that just happens to be available this year very near to the same GPS coordinates: ScienceWriters2012, the annual conference of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing and the National Association of Science Writers. Scheduled for October 26-30, 2012, ScienceWriters2012 will be headquartered at the very same hotel with a program crafted by a broad group of science communicators that include a subset of ScienceOnline folks. (For the record, we're called Science Communicators of North Carolina, or SCONC.). Here, look at the schedule yourself. There is one considerable difference between the NASW and ScienceOnline: NASW has a membership application process (and I only just became a member this past year). Students can probably still get in before the meeting registration deadline of October 10 by submitting their membership application now. That qualifies them for the $75 registration fee (and membership is only $35/year). Go to the bottom of the membership registration information page here and sign up for a free NASW account to begin the registration process. You're permitted two years of student membership after which you must apply to be a full member. For us folks who are, um, in the years out of school, non-member registration for the meeting is $395 and member registration is now $195 (the early-bird deadline has passed). If you're not currently a member but wish to become one, the process requires submission of five published clips (written for lay audiences over the last five years) and two sponsor nominations from current NASW members. I'm not sure if that can be accomplished in time for the meeting but you might inquire with the NASW Director's Office (_director_at_nasw_org_ -- you know what to do with the underscores). This will be my first NASW...

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Reddit AMA with Neil deGrasse Tyson
Dec04

Reddit AMA with Neil deGrasse Tyson

I don't know how many of you tune-in to these "Ask Me Anything" discussion threads at Reddit but I've been grooving on them since our colleague Derek Lowe did one back in March. In general, people of note can either propose their own session or be nominated to do so. Folks can ask them any question and the Reddit thread reflect their responses and discussion by others. Neil deGrasse Tyson is one of the giants in public communication of science. An astrophysicist who has been been the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium for the last 15 years, Tyson will soon re-launch Carl Sagan's Cosmos series. The complete thread of Tyson's AMA can be found here. Here's one of his answers that may hold special appeal to our C&EN readers: Question: If you think 5 and 10 years from now, what are you most looking forward to in science? Any expectations? Tyson: Cure for Cancer. Fully funded space exploration. Physics recognized as the foundation of chemistry. Chemistry recognized as the foundation of biology. And free market structured in a way that brings these discoveries to market efficiently and effectively. The whole thing is pure gold (Or platinum. Or rhodium, actually.) But this one was my favorite - a reflection of the paucity of critical thinking skills in the American populace: Question: If you could add one course to a student's curriculum, what would it be? Tyson: Course title every university should offer: "How to tell when someone else is full of shit" Again, here's the whole discussion. Enjoy reading the thoughts of one of our leader's on the public understanding of science.   Credit: A generous hat-tip to Scicurious and Kate Clancy. Follow them on Twitter, not surprisingly @scicurious and...

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Gooood morning, Santiiiiago!
Dec02

Gooood morning, Santiiiiago!

I love my blogs and my readers. Last Friday morning, I had the delight of Skyping in to a medical school bioethics class at Universidad Finis Terrae to discuss the virtues and pitfalls of animal research. I was contacted earlier in the week by an email from Xaviera Cardenas, a first-year medical student at this university in Santiago, Chile, who was looking for an international scientist to hold forth on this topic. Readers of CENtral Science know that any novel chemical you synthesize must undergo some animal testing before it can be used in people. This is not our choice as individuals but, instead, a requirement of our regulatory authorities. Despite advances with in vitro technologies, testing in a limited number of rodent and non-rodent species is absolutely required. I spoke specifically to the class about my service on NIH study sections where we take very seriously the review of vertebrate animal use in research. No matter the quality of the science, grant awards can be specifically withheld due to inattention to the five requirements to justify and assure responsible and humane use of vertebrate animals for research and testing. I'm a real stickler for use of the minimum number of animals, a number that is carefully determined using power calculations based on the minimum expected change in a biological outcome. Researchers must assure that animals will be managed by a highly-qualified veterinarian with attention to avoiding or minimizing any pain and suffering. Because research animals cannot give informed consent, I sometimes see research animal protocols getting more scrutiny that human clinical trial protocols. Xavi and her class asked me about these and other issues during our 20 minute visit last week. Her professor played the role of devil's advocate by dressing up as a beagle but, unfortunately, a photograph was not made available to the blog. I asked Xavi to share her recollections on the experience. She's very kind and her English is definitely superior to my Spanish. Thanks, Xavi, for the chance to speak with your class. And don't worry, I'll be down sometime to experience the wines of Chile!   The power of internet Xaviera Cardenas Has anyone thought how can you be in two places at the same time? It sounds perfect for a sci-fi novel implying teleportation… or evil twins. But last Friday, David was able to comfortable be in his house and at a presentation in Santiago, Chile without stepping on a plane. That Friday morning was pretty hectic for most of the students who were at the Bioethics class imparted by Universidad Finis Terrae. It was our final class in which we...

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Winners in The Henrietta Lacks Foundation design contest
Apr08

Winners in The Henrietta Lacks Foundation design contest

First things first: Congratulations to Holly Gaskamp (hollycopter) and Michael Lombardi (Amoeba Mike)! Let me explain. The last two weeks have been a whirlwind while planning for the 102nd Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) held April 2-6 in Orlando, Florida. Having been invited by author Rebecca Skloot to serve on the board of The Henrietta Lacks Foundation, we used our recently-awarded 501(c)(3) status (non-profit charity) to host an exhibitor's booth at the meeting. Given the very short timeline between this IRS ruling and the meeting, I turned to you - dear readers - for graphic design expertise to fashion buttons and T-shirts to award at the meeting booth to promote the mission of the Foundation: "Helping those who've unknowingly made important contributions to science." Well, we were fortunate to receive a wave of entries into our contest and two designers were selected to imprint their designs on official HeLa Foundation paraphernalia. The first entry ended up being among the top two: this from Holly Gaskamp, an Austin, Texas-based designer who freelances professionally as HollyCopter Design and works a day job as a designer for a local television station. Alerted by her boyfriend, a chemistry graduate student at Southern Methodist University and loyal reader of our blog, Holly came up with several designs the very first day of the call for entries. "I don't know anything about chemistry really and I have no idea what HeLa immunofluorescence is but I thought I could try anyways!," said Holly. Holly came up with several designs in response to our request for 1) "I [heart] HeLa" and "Thank You HeLa" buttons and 2) a HeLa T-shirt that made use of the HeLa immunofluorescence image made by Dr. Omar Quintero and used in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. The first round of designs were fabulous but ScienceOnline2011 organizing goddess, Karyn Traphagen, reminded me that regardless of who does the design, the fluorescence micrograph might be difficult for a T-shirt maker to print digitally. (Hence why I put out a call for people who know more about this than I.) So, Holly came back with a vectorized, four-color design based on the four fluorophores that Omar used on his HeLa cells. The result is being held above by yours truly at the exhibitor booth and shown here in greater detail. The reverse of the shirt then reads simply henriettalacksfoundation.org. We (Rebecca Skloot, her assistant Renee Coale, my wife, and I) liked this main image so much that we decided to also use it for one of the four sets of buttons. Holly also fashioned a heart using the same...

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Elegant defense of the humanities by noted structural biologist
Nov23

Elegant defense of the humanities by noted structural biologist

This crosspost first appeared on 20 November 2010 at the PLoS Blogs home of my free-range blog, Take As Directed. I'm not in the protein crystallography field. Instead, the way that I came to learn of Gregory Petsko at Brandeis University was via a tweet from literary agent, Ted Weinstein, about an hour ago. Ted's tweet referred me to an open letter that Dr. Petsko wrote in Genome Biology to the President of SUNY-Albany, George M. Philip. Now referred to as UAlbany, that state university campus announced six weeks ago that they were suspending admissions and eliminating several arts and humanities departments, including French, Italian, Classics, and the Theatre Arts. President Philip himself earned a BA and MA in history from UAlbany and a JD from Western New England College School of Law. He became president of the university in 2009 after having been chief investment officer of the New York State Teachers Retirement System, described in his university bio as "one of the 10 largest public retirement funds in the nation, with more than 400,000 members and managed assets of $105 billion." Petsko, US National Academy of Sciences member and past-president of the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, crafted a simply beautiful defense of the value of broad university education. I'll just direct you to read it because he is such a clear communicator with a quietly biting wit. In case you don't have time right now, here's one paragraph to give you the gestalt - Petsko uses as an example his own monthly column in Genome Biology: One of the things I've written about is the way genomics is changing the world we live in. Our ability to manipulate the human genome is going to pose some very difficult questions for humanity in the next few decades, including the question of just what it means to be human. That isn't a question for science alone; it's a question that must be answered with input from every sphere of human thought, including - especially including - the humanities and arts. Science unleavened by the human heart and the human spirit is sterile, cold, and self-absorbed. It's also unimaginative: some of my best ideas as a scientist have come from thinking and reading about things that have, superficially, nothing to do with science. If I'm right that what it means to be human is going to be one of the central issues of our time, then universities that are best equipped to deal with it, in all its many facets, will be the most important institutions of higher learning in the future. You've just ensured that yours...

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Another Award for Royce: Tar Heel of the Week
Nov08

Another Award for Royce: Tar Heel of the Week

Royce Murray, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill chemistry professor recently recognized at the ACS National Meeting for his five decades of work, received another lofty award this weekend: The Raleigh News & Observer "Tar Heel of the Week." For folks outside the Research Triangle area, "Tar Heel" in this case does not refer just to University fans but rather all inhabitants of the state. The particular newspaper honor is bestowed weekly upon any citizen of the North Carolina who has made a significant impact on our diverse communities and raised the stature of our institutions and industries nationally and internationally. In an article written by the excellent higher ed reporter, Eric Ferreri, Prof. Murray is interviewed about his influence on the campus, his trainees, and the profession. Murray is also featured in front of the building that bears his name in the new $250 million science complex on campus. Murray is only one of two current faculty members with named buildings at UNC. Ferreri noted that the complex's quadrangle was to have born Murray's name but budget cuts have slowed progress on that part of the project. In these days of universities selling naming rights to the highest bidder, I'm delighted to see that UNC chose to recognize one of their own academic treasures when naming the new building. Murray also played a critical role in designing the building as well. Thanks are also due to UNC Chancellor, Holden Thorp, an accomplished chemist in his own right: "We wanted something significant named for Royce," said Chancellor Holden Thorp, a chemistry professor himself who has published several joint journal articles with Murray. "He's a humble guy, but he has unbelievably high standards for science and for how you treat your students and colleagues." Murray won't be working in Murray Hall. There's something strange and vaguely egotistical about doing so, he says. Plus, he has decades of research, journals, texts and photographs dotting the walls and jamming the bookcases of his not-for-the-claustrophobic office in the Kenan Labs building adjacent to the new science complex. "I'd probably never get them put back together the way I want," he said. "Too much of a headache and not necessary." As readers here know, we and other bloggers took issue a couple of weeks ago with Prof. Murray's Analytical Chemistry editorial expressing that we science bloggers are "a serious concern to scientists." (Incidentally, that post was my most popular since joining CENtral Science, accounting for 50% of my total visits since joining.) I hope that Ferreri didn't let the professor know that he, too, writes a blog - Campus Notes. Even worse:...

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