Flame Challenge 2: And The Winners Are
Jun07

Flame Challenge 2: And The Winners Are

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...

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Flame Challenge 2: The Answers Are In
May02

Flame Challenge 2: The Answers Are In

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...

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Science Is Hard
Mar01

Science Is Hard

Experiment got you down? Reaction yield low? That chromatogram just not telling you what you want to hear? Take solace on this fine Friday in the fact that the National Science Foundation says “science is hard.” Or at least that’s what our favorite faux-news outlet, The Onion, reports. Admittedly, this article is from 2002. But I just saw it this week thanks to a tweet from @the_distillate. So it’s new to me and now, perhaps, new to you too. According to the report, NSF held a symposium back in the day to discuss just how confusing various scientific disciplines can be. The scientists that attended came to the conclusion that the “Law of Difficulty” is true. I leave you with a few choice quotes: "To be a scientist, you have to learn all this weird stuff, like how many molecules are in a proton," University of Chicago physicist Dr. Erno Heidegger said.   Dr. Ahmed Zewail, a Caltech chemist whose spectroscopic studies of the transition states of chemical reactions earned him the Nobel Prize in 1999, explained in layman's terms just how hard the discipline of chemistry is, using the periodic table of the elements as a model. "Take the element of tungsten and work to memorize its place in the periodic table, its atomic symbol, its atomic number and weight, what it looks like, where it's found, and its uses to humanity, if any," Zewail said. "Now, imagine memorizing the other 100-plus elements making up the periodic table. You'd have to be, like, some kind of total brain to do that." So when things aren't working out in the lab, just remember, what you're trying to do is really friggin' hard. Happy Friday, Newscripts...

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Guest Post: “Science, the human endeavor” by Biochem Belle
Feb19

Guest Post: “Science, the human endeavor” by Biochem Belle

A blog network's not a network without connections to the world outside. So I'm reviving guest posts to CENtral Science, starting with a fantastic re-post. "Science, the human endeavor" originally appeared at Ever On & On, the blog of postdoc/multidisciplinary scientist Biochem Belle. The post sparked an intense conversation about work-life balance, with a good helping of jokes, at the Twitter hashtag #RealHardcoreScientists. "There are times in life we need to let up on the pressure we place on ourselves," Belle writes. That's advice that chemists and journalists should heed. From astrophysics to microbiology to behavioral science, one common thread runs through all research - the human element. Science is an intrinsically human endeavor. It takes human curiosity to ask the questions, human logic to design the experiments, human ingenuity to incorporate the results into an evolving model. Despite tropes portraying science as a purely logical enterprise executed by cold automatons, it is wonderfully, woefully, beautifully, messily human. Yet sometimes it feels as though we're expected to be both more and less than human. More in that we need to work longer hours at higher efficiency, through health and illness. More research, more papers, more grants - sleep is for the weak! Less in that we should not allow little things like stress and emotions and events outside the lab to influence our pace and focus. Chop, chop, no time for distractions - science waits for no human! Sometimes the pressure to be more and less than human comes from external sources - those above us in rank or, more often in my experience, those at our own level. But much of the pressure to perform is internal. We see funding woes and dire job prospects and competitors' papers, or maybe we just see an unanswered question, one that we know we can resolve if only we work hard enough. We dial up the pressure to be "better". That compulsion drives us and can be a constructive force. We also use it to build unreasonable expectations we set for ourselves. Sometimes we try to keep our lives outside the lab compartmentalized, to keep it from interfering with our work. But you know how we're fond of saying that science isn't 9-to-5? Well, life isn't 5-to-9. It isn't so easily contained, packed into a box and placed onto a shelf, to be taken down at a less disruptive time. We must take care of ourselves and the lives we have - lives that bring change and crises and good fortunes that demand our time, focus, and attention. There are times in life we need to let up on the pressure...

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Fun With Science: Top 10 Videos Of The Year
Dec19

Fun With Science: Top 10 Videos Of The Year

Who says scientists are boring geeks who drone on about quantum efficiency and reaction yield? We here at the Newscripts blog LOVE science and think those geeks are rockstars. So we’ve selected an assortment of our favorite videos of the year depicting just how cool science can be. The clips were culled from 2012 blog posts as well as from the YouTube channel of Chemical & Engineering News. So sit back, relax, warm yourself by the gentle glow of that Bunsen burner, and bask in the awesomeness of science.   In at number 10, Russell Hemley and researchers at the Carnegie Institution for Science have gotten so good at growing their own diamonds from methane, they can make gems as big as 10 carat! Too bad they’re using them in high-pressure experiments rather than sending the Newscripts gang free samples.   Number 9: Reality TV isn’t just for privileged housewives, the gym-tan-laundry crowd, or survivors who like to eat bugs anymore. This year, MIT released a reality Web series following undergrads trying to pass an introductory chemistry course. Oh, the intrigue! Crystallization contests, rotovap malfunctions … this is the trailer that got us pumped for the series. [Link to original post]   Number 8: Adorable pandas + poop = instant classic. It really doesn’t even matter what the rest of the video is about. Although we did slip in some biofuel science. So you’re learning something while overloading on cute.   Number 7: Although the Newscripts gang loves to yell out requests for “Free Bird” at concerts, we also think Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” is pretty clutch, too. It’s even better when played by Tesla coils. [Link to original post]   Number 6: This year, researchers at Harvard and Caltech made a polymer sheet swim like a jellyfish. Why? We’re not so sure it matters. All we know is, right now, we’re heading out to procure some rat heart cells, a silicone sheet, and a vial of fibronectin because, well, we want one.   Number 5: You didn’t think you’d make it through a 2012 countdown without a Gangnam parody, did you? Good. Because here’s biochemistry, taught Gangnam-style. [Link to original post]   In at number 4, some super-science enthusiasts this year celebrated Mole Day (Oct. 23) by making a rad music video. Any clip that involves a guy in a sombrero, a cartoon mole, and the lyrics, “Once upon a time Avogadro said ‘Hey!’/And showed us the way out of the dark/His number you must use/A molar eclipse of the heart” is a must-see in our book. [Link to original post]   Number 3: So you’ve got a...

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