Of Schemes and Memes Blog

Best of Nature Network: 26 – 4 March


In the aftermath of the Oscars this week, Linda Lin has been revealing celebrity scientists who aren’t celebrated for their research. She discloses that Oscar winner Natalie Portman, as well as being a talented actress, also has a science degree from Harvard. Tinker Ready, our Boston blogger, summarised Portman’s success in her post, An Oscar to prop up next to the Harvard diploma.

In light of this, we asked our readers whether they knew of other celebrities with science degrees. Surprisingly, several unexpected showbiz names cropped up. All is revealed in Linda Lin’s comment thread; feel free to add to the growing list.

Science and film

As the Oscars honour talent in the film industry, we thought it fitting to begin our latest mini-series on Of Schemes and Memes by celebrating science as seen on screen. In part one, we examined the brief history of science on film and television, sharing a video clip of the first ever documentary.

In line with our theme, Joanna Scott, our San Francisco blogger, has been informing us of a Science Film Event at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. They will be showing a film called Top Secret Rosies, a one hour documentary which shares the little known story of a group of female mathematicians who did secret ballistics research for the US Army during World War 2.

More musing on museums

Last week saw the end to our series on science museums, culminating in our world map. In his latest post, Matt Brown, our London blogger, uncovers the museums you won’t find on the map, the many defunct, moribund and vanished museums in London. He urges those who have been inspired by our series to go to a new exhibition at the Hunterian Museum charting the rise and dispersal of these lost museums.

From one learning medium to another, Mike Fowler, encourages readers in Scotland to visit Edinburgh Zoo. Inspired by the zoo at a young age, Mike reveals that his visits there prompted him to study Zoology. Hoping to share his pleasure in the zoo, he urges those near to enjoy the experiences on offer, and to feast your eyes on the Bundongo Trail Cam, which gives you a chimp’s eye view of the goings on inside the zoo.

Out of this blogging world

Nature network’s guest blogger this week is Frank Close, a particle physicist from Oxford University. His post discusses the Ghosts of the Universe; neutrinos:

In just a few seconds the Sun has emitted more neutrinos than there are grains of sand in the deserts and beaches of the world, greater even than the number of atoms in all the humans that have ever lived. As you read this, billions of them are hurtling, unseen, through your eyeballs at almost the speed of light. They pass through the earth as easily as a bullet through a bank of fog.

Another post out of this world, from NPG’s staff blog, The Great Beyond, has revealed that researchers have signed up Virgin Galactic for a space science mission. In the first ever commercial contract, two researchers will fly into space where they will conduct important scientific experiments, including biomedical monitoring, and atmospheric imaging.

Meanwhile, Scilogs blogger Michael Khan, in his blog Go For Launch, discusses the ATV Launch as seen from above. He reveals how astronaut, Paolo Nespoli, was one lucky person as he had a grandstand view of the launch from the International Space Station. From there he was able to take great shots of the Ariane 5 rocket carrying the ATV-2 to orbit. You can see some of his pictures here.

Books and Birds

This week brings the anticipated release of Geek Nation& a book by journalist Angela Saini in which she considers India’s rise as a scientific superpower, despite overwhelming religious influences. Inspired by this theme, Kausik Datta discusses in his two posts, Confusions galore: science and superstition in India. He ponders the controversial theme of Saini’s book, revealing his own opinions:

The reason why science and religion seem to coexist apparently peacefully on India is not that difficult to comprehend. In the Indian education system, critical thinking and rationality are not traits that are emphasized. A questioning attitude, so essential to the study and understanding of science, is largely frowned upon. This is emphasized and reinforced by an environment that, driven by pervasive religious faith, marks everything as ‘sacred’ and, therefore, inviolable by questioning.

Now onto another book, GrrlScientist has reviewed The Jewel Hunter, written by birdwatcher Chris Gooddie. In this real-life account, Goodie tells the story of how he finally overcame inertia to devote eleven months of his life to his plan B, his obsession to see all varieties of the jewel-like songbird, the pittas. GrrlScientist encourages us to read this engaging book which reveals Goodie’s devotion to the little brown birds.

In another intriguing post on birds, Barbara Ferreira’s latest update from her Down Under trip Silvereye3.jpg asks whether city-bred birds are becoming a new species. She reveals that urban birds might be becoming genetically distinct to their rural counterparts:

The study found that city birds express themselves at higher frequencies than those living in country areas. Significantly, scientists found changes in both songs and calls with the former being on average 195Hz higher in cities and the latter 90Hz higher.

Chemistry ‘highs’ and lows

This week the Sceptical Chymist, a blog brought to you by the editors of Nature Chemistry_, has been discussing their first issue which kicked off the International Year of Chemistry in style. In their post, Mind-altering blogs,blogs.html they discuss what responsibilities are borne by the creators of compounds which end up as legal highs.

Even in this International Year of Chemistry, chemists are still facing employment woes. Rachel Bowden, our nature jobs blogger, suggests in her post that despite this, there are still ways to prosper. She gives those in need some top tips, revealing that biochemistry is a blossoming field due to the shift in emphasis towards biotechnology and other life sciences.

Ways to make work easier?

This week, Richard Williams, has been asking Why Does Everything Take So Long? Following on from his last post where he introduced us to his 6-month project plan, in this week’s update he admits that he has already slipped behind. He wants to know:

Why does everything take so long? Is it academia? Is it research in general? Is it research for PhD? Is it me?

He invites those who have had similar experiences to discuss them in his comment thread. Another blogger asking interesting work-related questions is MuKa. In his post PDFs and the academic workflow, he wants to know if there are any better ways to store, read, and use PDFs on the Kindle 3, therefore saving him from printing out journal papers for long train rides:

Ideally, this is what I would like: I’d like my Kindle to store my pdfs which I could sort with any tag I desired. I’d like to read the pdfs and highlight specific sections. Then, I’d like to have a copy of what I highlighted for addition to my literature reviews that I sort on my pc. That would be ideal, but it wasn’t to be.

Solutions to his problem have been suggested in his comment thread.

Future Events

In our London Blog, Matt Brown, prepares us for Geek Pop, an annual virtual festival of science, music and general geekery. This year’s cavalcade launches on 10th March with a decidedly non-virtual opening party at the Wilton’s Music hall in London.

Elsewhere, Eva Amen, in her post It’s all happening, encourages those in the UK who are able to travel to Cambridge, to sign up for SciBarCamb which is gearing up for its first batch of registrations. SciBarCamb is a gathering of scientists, publishers, technologists, and all those with an interest in science. It will be held on the evening of April 8 and all day April 9.

Spread the word

Nature Medicine is currently accepting applications for its science writing internship. You can read more about this internship in NPG’s Spoonful of Medicine blog. The deadline for applications is 4 April 2011. Please send an email to r.khamsi@us.nature.com with “Nature Medicine news internship” in the subject line and include 1) a cover letter, 2) your resume and 3) three published writing clips. The six-month, paid internship will start in late May and will be based in New York City.


In Viktor Poor’s latest comic strip he introduces us to Gauss, the latest single panel comic from the series about famous scientists:



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