“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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Lefkowitz Nobel: Winning the second one
Oct16

Lefkowitz Nobel: Winning the second one

Among my delightful experiences at Duke last Wednesday with the laboratory of Bob Lefkowitz was a particularly humorous moment I witnessed when two scientists burst out from the lab's reception and one said, "Back to lab. We have to win the second one!" I had to chase them down the hall to ask a few questions.     They are Seungkirl Ahn, PhD, (left) and Arun Shukla, PhD, (right) both Assistant Professor of Medicine (Cardiology) in the Lefkowitz laboratory group. It's unedited but I had a good time talking with these gents. * yes, I know, I made the picture worse by having them stand under the...

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Lefkowitz Nobel: “There’s a lot of love here”
Oct12

Lefkowitz Nobel: “There’s a lot of love here”

How many of you could say this about your laboratory group? In the hall outside the champagne reception for Bob Lefkowitz's lab on Wednesday at Duke University Medical Center, I had a chance to catch up with Marti Delahunty, PhD. Delahunty is a research scientist in a connecting building but worked in the Lefkowitz group from 1998 until 2006. This brief chat brings to mind Carmen Drahl's post about one's laboratory being your second family.     PIs, trainees, technicians, and administrators: Tell me if you'd be able to say the same about the environment of your laboratory....

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HHMI and Duke Celebrate the Lefkowitz Chemistry Nobel
Oct11

HHMI and Duke Celebrate the Lefkowitz Chemistry Nobel

As discussed in my previous post, I took a personal day off from work yesterday to bask in the excitement of a university community celebrating a Nobel prize for one of its most beloved researchers, Dr. Robert "Bob" Lefkowitz, MD. He joined Duke in 1973 when, he says, "it was not the powerhouse it is today." Lefkowitz will share the prize with his former trainee, Brian Kobilka, MD, now at Stanford University. I had the honor of joining his laboratory's champagne celebration in the morning and the Duke University press conference in the early afternoon. (The full 47-minute press conference streamed live and is archived here at Duke.). I live barely three miles from Duke and had no idea when or if I'd ever have the chance to be so close to such an event. The Lefkowitz prize is particularly meaningful to me as he is a biochemist physician-scientist who also considers himself a pharmacologist. So, I write this not so much as a journalist but rather -- as Duke Research Communications Director Karl Leif Bates put it -- a fan boy. Dr. Lefkowitz is officially designated as an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and James B. Duke Professor of Medicine and Biochemistry at Duke University Medical Center. The New York City-born-and-bred Lefkowitz is an exceedingly proud graduate of the Bronx High School of Science, which counts him as the eighth graduate to receive a Nobel prize. Yes, eighth. The vast majority of universities cannot count that many graduates and faculty put together as Nobel laureates. After earning his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1962 from what was called Columbia College, trained originally as a physician at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons where he received his MD in 1966. He stayed there for a year each of internship and general medical residency. But he was bitten by the research bug while at the National Institutes of Health during the final third of the Vietnam War (1968-1970), with a reamrkable group of physician-scientists. During the Duke news conference, Lefkowitz remarked that among his NIH class of eight fellows, "four or five" have since won Nobel prizes. "I was the schlep of the group," quipped Lefkowitz. Lefkowitz then moved to Massachusetts General Hospital, the Harvard University affiliate, for his cardiology training. He wasn't looking to leave Harvard. But while giving talks at the American Heart Association annual meeting and other national cardiology conferences, he caught the eye of Dr. Andy Wallace, then chief of Duke's cardiology division and later CEO of the hospital. When Wallace and other Duke administrators tried aggressively to recruit him, Lefkowitz said...

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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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RTI scientists solving forensic, designer drug mysteries
Sep09

RTI scientists solving forensic, designer drug mysteries

Catching up on my reading this Sunday morning, I'm beaming with pride on the collective accomplishments and coverage of some old friends and colleagues. Kerstin Nordstrom, a AAAS Mass Media Fellow with the Raleigh News & Observer, had a nice story on 3 September about the work of Dr. Peter Stout at RTI International. You old-timers will know this non-profit entity as Research Triangle Institute, home to the discoveries of Taxol and camptothecin by Wall and Wani and colleagues. Kerstin, or Dr. Nordstrom I should say as she holds a PhD in physics, interviews RTI's Dr. Peter Stout on the institute's forensic analytical chemistry capabilities with regard to the "designer drug" industry. Yes, here we go again with my long-running commentary on the "synthetic marijuana," "herbal incense," "plant food," and "bath salts" products that have recently taken a direct hit from "Operation Log Jam," a coordinated, federal operation to shut down the industry. In my post on the federal takedown, I referred to a paper by Stout's RTI colleagues where mass defect filtering was used to identify unknown analogs of known illegal compounds, particularly the JWH group of cannabimimetic naphthoylindoles (Anal. Chem., DOI:10.1021/ac300509h). (Addendum: That paper was also covered nicely in the 15 June C&EN by Erika Gebel.) Coincidentally, both Kerstin and Peter are dear to me - hence the following disclosures before singing the praises of the article: Peter earned his Ph.D. in molecular toxicology from Dr. Jim Ruth's lab at my former home, the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Colorado Denver's Skaggs School of Pharmacy. My time at RTI's Natural Products Laboratory (2002-2008) overlapped with Peter's hiring. As an aside, I had not known Peter was hired until he saw a cart outside of my laboratory with my name and hunted me down, guessing there weren't many Krolls in biochemical pharmacology. An equally lighthearted observation is that Peter has almost completely shaved his head as long as I've know him; I'm certain that's a coincidence with his dissertation research project, "Mechanisms of Drug Disposition into Hair." Disclosure #2: Kerstin is a fellow graduate of the 2011 Santa Fe Science Writing Workshop and serendipitously ended up here in the Triangle for her AAAS Mass Media Fellowship. What I like about the story is how both of them describe analytical techniques in relatively approachable language: Kerstin on HPLC: For liquid chromatography, an unknown chemical is pushed through a pipe. The pipe is filled with tiny silica particles – 1 to 10 micrometers in size – that attract some molecules and repel others. Each chemical has a different attraction, and so some, attracted to the grains, go slower than...

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