Elsewhere in Science, 28 March 2014

Each week, Science publishes a number of articles that are likely to be of interest to career-minded readers. Because those articles are published on the other Science sites, Science Careers readers could easily overlook them.

To remedy that, every Friday we’re pointing our readers toward articles appearing in Science—the print magazine as well as ScienceInsider, ScienceNOW, Science Translational Medicine (Sci. TM) and Science Signaling—that hold some relevance to careers in science and technical fields. (Note that while articles appearing in ScienceInsider and ScienceNOW can be read by anyone, articles appearing in Sci. TM, Science Signaling, and Science may require AAAS—publisher of Science Careers—membership/Science subscription or a site license.)

• There’s something intrinsically beautiful in very big efforts designed to find very small things. Last Friday at ScienceNow, Richard Kerr wrote about the Stardust project, which combines small with old and new.

Launched 15 years ago, the Stardust spacecraft chased comet Wild 2, spending 200 days between 2000 and 2002, in effect, sticking a tennis racket out the window to collect comet-tail dust. Stardust returned its cargo to Earth in 2006, via a reentry capsule during a fly-by, but those dust particles proved hard to find. (Hey, it’s stardust, what would you expect?) The scientists’ solution? They set up “[email protected],” allowing home-based “dusters” to examine microscopic images of the aerogel on their computers, looking for particle tracks. A hundred million searches yielded seven “probable dust impacts”: two particles embedded in the detector’s aerogel, four more embedded in aluminum foil around the collector’s edges, and one more that turned out to be a dust track. Now scientists need to extract the particles and subject them to “fundamentally boring but necessary” tests. Considering that it would take about 100 billion of them to make up a grain of sugar, “It would be very easy to lose them,” says Andrew Westphal of the University of California, Berkeley, a member of the Stardust team.

• Last Friday at ScienceInsider, Richard Stone reported that two of the Russian officials sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department following Russia’s Crimea invasion were trained as physicists. One of them—former science minister Andrei Fursenko—is overseeing the efforts of Russian President Vladimir Putin to reform Russian science. The other is Yuri Kovalchuk, known as Putin’s “personal banker.” The two worked together at the Ioffe Physical Technical Institute in St. Petersburg. Both of them left the institute in 1991.

• Here’s a new use for social media in science: live-blogging an attempt to reproduce a very important scientific study. Kenneth Ka-Ho Lee, a stem cell researcher at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, has already tried once to make stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency cells, the new kind of stem cells described in two recent Nature papers. Like others who have made the attempt, he failed.

This week, as Gretchen Vogel reported at Insider, Lee has been live-blogging a new attempt to reproduce the work, providing extensive experimental details in the comments section of his ResearchGate review of one of the Nature articles. Despite some technical difficulties—ResearchGate comments don’t allow superscripts or subscripts, which can make it difficult to indicate quantities or write chemical formulas—the ability of other scientists to ask questions and make comments is making this a really interesting experiment. I’m sure this is the most suspenseful blog comment thread I’ve ever read. There should be a clear result within a day or two. I intend to check back over the weekend.

• On Thursday at ScienceInsider, Yudhijit Bhattacharjee interviewed Steffen Richter, the electrical engineer who takes care of the BICEP telescope, the instrument that seems to have detected gravity waves produced just an instant after the big bang. Richter has overwintered at the South Pole for 3 years. In the interview, he tells readers what it’s like.

• This week’s Science special issue on breast cancer (see the introduction by Paula Kiberstis and Leslie Roberts) includes, among many excellent reads, a first-hand account by Mary-Claire King of the early 1990s race to clone and sequence the BRCA1 gene.

• Elizabeth Pennisi’s News Focus story on the project to create a synthetic yeast genome is enlightening for any trainee (or scientist) who is interested in what it’s like to pursue a very ambitious research agenda over a long period of time. Short version: It started over coffee.

• In Books Et Al., Matthew Reece of Harvard University’s physics department reviewed , the new movie about the discovery of the Higgs boson. The film “resolutely places scientists, more than science, in its focus,” Reece writes.

• Finally, in a Policy Forum, seven scientists from diverse institutions—the Cornell ornithology lab, a fisheries science department, the National Park Service, a school of education, and the Data Observation Network for Earth—suggest several “next steps” for citizen science.  While not the explicit focus of the article, some of those directions could expand career opportunities for scientists who enjoy working with the public, who could staff “[c]enters for citizen science,” which, the authors suggest, “could create, organize, and synthesize centralized repositories of volunteer-collected data on topics such as water quality, phenology, biodiversity, astronomy, precipitation, and human health. Centers also could help to coordinate questions being asked of citizen science data, methods of answering those questions, and techniques for achieving educational and community-development goals for participants. As such, centers for citizen science would be excellent strategic investments for both private and government foundations.”

Top Image: Andrei Fursenko CREDIT: Distributed under a creative commons license

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