Contributor Monya Baker, assistant editor of Nature Careers
To kick off 2015, Nature’s Careers section asked a dozen highly recognized young scientists—all 40 or under— about their plans for the year ahead and their wishes for the future of science. Several respond below; see Nature’s 1 January issue for the rest and for New Year’s thoughts from global scientific leaders.
Please leave a comment below, or tweet your own plans and hopes for 2015 for science at #scihopes15.
Seek a scientific optimum
Fyodor Kondrashov, 35, at the Centre for Genomic Regulation in Barcelona, nabbed an inaugural International Early Career Scientist award from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in the United States. He wants to know why a genetic polymorphism that causes harm in one individual is neutral or even beneficial in another.
Science is becoming more of a corporate endeavour rather than an academic and intellectual one. We have to be good managers, sell ourselves, and be in constant competition for resources. The pressure to achieve in the short term limits the types of questions my lab can ask.
European graduate students have a very specific time frame in which they must finish their PhD that doesn’t allow them time to explore or to make mistakes; they have to pursue projects that will get them the papers that they need. It’s a feedback loop of us willingly participating in this competition and the system encouraging us to compete.
There must be an optimum, and I am not so certain that we are there – not in Europe, not in the United States. There has to be some sort of systematic solution. My hope is that we at least start looking.
Rajdeep Dasgupta, 38, at Rice University in Texas wants to know how carbon, water and sulfur are brought to Earth’s surface and subsumed into the interior.
I need to learn to start saying no more often. There is less and less time for me to do lab work myself these days. I tend to procrastinate longest on proposal or paper reviews that I should not have agreed to do in the first place.
I want to try to find time to get more hands on with experiments and analysis — things I really love doing. Of course, I want to manage all of these while still finding enough time to play with my three little boys and spend quality time with family and friends.
We study magma and how it cycles elements from the surface of the planet to the interior and back. If you are curious about how you can have a habitable climate for billions of years, you need to understand that. When magma comes through the mantle and shoots through the crust, it can interact with surface rocks such as limestone. But if high-pressure magma shoots through limestone, it can make the rocks release carbon dioxide. We want to understand what that has to do with the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere over the Earth’s history.
In science in general, sometimes I feel we fund things only if there is a clearly laid out hypothesis. We say, ‘You don’t have a hypothesis, so we won’t support you in making those measurements.’ As a consequence, measurements don’t get made until some hypothesis comes around to support getting those data. Supporting more exploration and curiosity-driven science would be welcome.
View the whole organism
Hiroki Ueda, 39, at the University of Tokyo and RIKEN’s Quantitative Biology Center (QBiC) in Kobe, Japan, recently led a team of scientists that found a way to clarify pigments and make ‘transparent mice’ in which intact organs can be clearly visualized in dead animals. A similar technique allows for imaging of whole, dissected brains at the cellular level.
By the end of March 2015, we will launch RIKEN’s new mouse facility, in Osaka, which allows us to non-invasively monitor sleep-wake status of more than 1000 mice per week. So I’d like to make this new facility fully functional in 2015 to start studying the biology of sleep. Individual neurons don’t sleep, how can whole animals?
In 2013 and 2014, I attempted to escape the hot humid summer in Japan but failed because of submissions and the revision of two manuscripts on whole-brain and whole-body imaging studies. I hope to visit Aspen Center for Physics in Colorado next summer. Also, I’ve gone back and forth between U Tokyo and RIKEN QBiC every week since October 2013. I hope I can enjoy such a long-distance commute.
I would like to solve the workings of the sleep-wake cycle at the organism level by looking at the state of sleep with single-cell resolution. Schizophrenia and depression are associated with sleep disorders. The state of the brain is affected by these psychiatric diseases, and we may gain a clue about disease by looking at the sleeping and waking states. Around 2000, when systems biology started, we could focus on the layer between molecules and cells. But it is high time to move forward from cells to organism.
Whole-body clearing and imaging technology now makes it possible to analyse an entire body with single-cell resolution. This has a lot of potential for not only life scientists, but also for teachers, engineers and artists.
Trained as a particle physicist, Tamsin Edwards, 35, works with models of Earth systems. She has become well-known for science communication. This year, she joined Open University in Milton Keynes, UK, an institution devoted to distance learning.
I’m predicting the future of Antarctica. It’s fascinating if you’re interested in uncertainty, because it’s the biggest unknown in future sea-level rise. At the edges of the continent ice flows into the ocean, and we think this process will increase and lead to sea level rise. But we also predict more snowfall, making parts of the ice sheet grow and compensating some of that effect. My main interest is the uncertainty of models. I look at the range of predictions they give and test how well they simulate the past. In 2015, I’ll apply for funding to do my own research.
I also do a lot of science communication and I hope more scientists will join in. It shares the load, makes sure the public is talking to experts, and makes outreach more accepted as part of our responsibilities. Public engagement also broadens your knowledge base. And I think it’s good to talk to people with different views. You don’t want to live in an echo chamber.
Xinliang Feng, 34, became a group leader at the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, when he was 27. Now a group head at the Dresden University of Technology, he wants to make graphene practical for common applications. If the unbendable material could be precisely manipulated and shaped, it could make electronics faster, smaller and more efficient.
To give graphene the semiconducting properties necessary for electronics, it must have very precise shapes. If we can produce it through chemical synthesis, we can build up graphene ribbons using a bottom up approach and make infinite material with fine-tuned properties – with defined shapes and edges. Our top goal is to synthesize graphene nanoribbons that can have new properties like spin transport, which could allow individual electrons to be used as bits in computing applications.
For myself, I would like to keep Saturday relaxed from science. Working hard is very important for a scientist, but a lovely social life can also refresh the mind.
I’m also hoping for a way that scientists can easily get all the information that we need. It’s impossible to read all the papers and check all the journals. This is partially due to competition between publishers; one launches a journal and another publisher launches another journal. But scientifically these papers may overlap. It makes scientists’ work harder. The journals invite scientists to contribute the papers, and if you are dedicated, you agree, and you agree to too many. Too much information is repeated and overlapped. I think this has diluted our focus.
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