Of Schemes and Memes Blog

Best of Nature Network: 19 -25 March 2011


A warm welcome to Paige Brown who has started a new blog, From the Lab Bench, on Nature Network this week. Paige is a PhD student in Biomedical Engineering at Washington University and her blog intends to help bridge the gap between scientists and the public. Her first post, Science in Film considers the storyline of Gattaca, comparing its science-inspired script to the realities of today’s scientific capabilities:

Gattaca, which aired in theatres in 1997, portrays a future where genetic profiling is rampant, and has replaced all other forms of personal identification. Screening of film characters’ genetic identity are performed automatically and at lightning speed (by the scientific standards of today at implausible speed) via analysis of blood, urine, hair, and other tissue samples. Although the instantaneous result finger-prick genetic identity machine as portrayed in the movie is probably unrealistic on the time-scale required for detection and read-out today, the science behind the testing is very real.

Digital Takeover

Paige’s first post ties in nicely with the series we have been running on Of Schemes and Memes: Science as Seen on Screen. In this mini-series, we have considered the digital textbook takeover, a topic also being discussed on the Scitable blog, InsideED. Blogger, Robin McGuire, explains in her post, Digital Textbooks to Dominate Over Paper that a social learning platform has been analysing the digital textbook market and concludes that, ‘paper is on the way out!’ You can read an excerpt of the report in her post.

Throughout our mini series, we have also been considering what makes a great science video, looking at all aspects of science on screen. This week we have been asking you to help us in our efforts to judge the best Nature Video. Having selected four of our favourites from the Nature Video YouTube channel, let us know which one of them you think should be crowned the overall winner and feel free to leave your reasoning in the comments! The results will be revealed next week.

It’s Question Time

love_c4 a.jpg As well as asking which video deserves the Best Nature Video title, we have also been encouraging our readers to answer a short questionnaire about lab organisation tools. For all you lab scientists, it is also a chance to win $100 worth of Amazon vouchers. All you have to do is help identify what an ideal lab organisation tool could be. All answers are confidential.

In another questionnaire, Vishal Kalel has been asking what title best fits this epic picture taken under a microscope. Why not get to the heart of the matter and make your suggestions here?

Remembering famous scientists

This week’s guest blogger is Manjit Kumar, author of Quantum: Einstein, Bohr and the Great Debate. In his post, The Meeting of Minds, he analyses a picture of the fifth Solvay conference, which was held in Brussels in 1927. With the likes of Planck, Einstein, Bohr, and Marie Curie, this meeting was probably one of the most spectacular meetings of minds ever held.

The Science Museum in London is also celebrating the influences of great scientists, and Matt Brown, our London blogger, reveals they are opening a new gallery featuring the life and works of James Watts. Watts is the hero of steam and power, and the exhibit is a recreation of his attic workshop. Other objects included in this exhibit are the earliest surviving sandpaper and the world’s first circular saw.

Matt Brown also encourages those in London to visit the Wellcome Trust which is hosting a new exhibit called Dirt. He explains to us that it offers a rather peculiar display:

I’m not sure I’ve walked into a room full of excrement before. Five slabs of faecal matter, arranged under mood lighting like some scatological Take That tribute act. Very strange. Such is the wont of the Wellcome Collection, which habitually lines its galleries with unlikely wonders.

Onto another museum exhibit, as GrrlScientist reveals this week that the Grant Museum is moving to a new location, and in doing so, 68,000 specimens have had to be moved! You can see how this momentous task was carried out by watching this video.

Thoughts from Australia

Australian blogger, MuKa, has been carrying out experiments with Xavi, his two year old nephew, trying to understand the effects of coffee on a child’s behaviour. His makeshift experiment showed that his nephew wasn’t actually perturbed by the bitter taste of coffee, and that he was temporarily able to carry out a meticulous small-scale engineering task after consumption. His comment thread has sparked a debate, suggesting ways to make this crude experiment more scientific.


Onto an unusual Australian animal: do you know what an echidna is? Find out as Barbara Ferreira describes her encounter with one on her trip Down Under. In her Final Notes from her trip, she summarises the highlights: ways to make a sustainable smoothie, the volcanic island of Rangitoto, wallabies, and wombats.

Brazil Blithering

Like Barbara, Lee Turnpenny has been regularly updating us on his trip to Brazil, and in this week’s instalment, he has been joining in the celebrations at Carnava. However, the wet weather has meant he has encountered several unwanted animals, such as a tarantula in his store-room, a large lizard with an iridescent blue-green tail and a frog in his bog!

Nicolau Werneck has been discussing the stagnation in the Brazilian graduation rate. He presents us with a graphic showing the number of students who graduated each year in Brazil in different groups of institutions. It is possible to notice a very strong inflexion happening in 2005, after which the growth rate suffers a dramatic decrease. He provides some explanations for this in his post and encourages those with similar data from other countries to add to the debate.

The Bioentrepreneur blog has been providing us with a varied mix of content this week. Luiz Antonio Barreto de Castro, a professor in Agronomy, reveals that Brazil produces almost 150 million tons of grain in 50 million hectares, and it increased grain production by a factor of four in the last four decades. In his post, he informs how this figure can double again without destroying the Amazon or the Cerrado.

Writers across the world

Tinker Ready, our Boston Blogger, has been asking if anyone in the area has considered joining the New England Science Writers, which is a professional organization of about 240 reporters, writers, freelancers, producers, bloggers, authors and communicators. They host meetings and workshops and provide forums to network and keep up with the rapidly changing worlds of science, technology and journalism. This week’s gathering is on books and blogging; if you wish to join you can sign up here.

The Sceptical Chymist blog, brought to you by Nature Chemistry_, has also been calling on writers, reminding them to enter their Element Essay competition. In their latest post, they ask you to Meet the Judges.jud.html To enter you must write an ‘In Your Element’-style essay about one of the following elements: helium, nitrogen, sodium, copper, bromine, indium or plutonium. The winners of the competition will see their essay published in Nature Chemistry and will receive a year-long subscription to the journal. You can read more about the competition here.

Japan Updates

This week we have seen the set up of Nippon Science support, which aims to establish a platform for co-ordinating immediate relief efforts via existing scientific networks between Germany and Japan. They have established a database for dedicated funding resources, exchange schemes and open positions for visiting students and research fellows from Japan in response to the recent earthquake and tsunami disaster. The database is now online. Individual research laboratories, science departments, universities, hospitals, science foundations, funding agencies and government bodies are invited to upload their profiles and post details of their services.

Meanwhile NPG staff blog, The Great Beyond, has been regularly updating us with the latest news from Japan. They have provided us with a picture of the workers’ toil inside Fukushima’s control room and have also shown us the first estimates of total radioactive caesium and iodine emissions from Fukushima plant, with an interactive map. Their latest post is a Google Earth map of the world’s nuclear reactors, as you’ve never seen them… The nuclear power plants are depicted on the map as circles, but their size is proportional to their total MW electricity output. You can also zoom in on each plant to show each individual reactor. Clicking on any reactor will also bring up an information panel, giving the reactor’s basic technical details. To see this detailed map, check out the post.

The Spoonful of Medicine Blog, brought to you by Nature Chemistry has revealed that the nuclear leak has reinforced the urgent need for drugs to combat radiation. Unfortunately, no drugs are currently approved to treat the extreme radiation sickness which plant workers or emergency personnel may experience. Yet, thanks to investment from the US government, several candidate compounds might soon be available in the event of another nuclear catastrophe. The post discusses the possible methods to prevent radiation damage.

Battling Cancer

Tinker Ready, our Boston Hub Blogger, has been discussing two separate studies led by scientists from Children’s Hospital Boston, where the researchers took a different genetic approach — using thousands of zebrafish embryos as a model for melanoma. In her post, We kid you not: Zebrafish help researchers battle incurable cancer she reveals that Dr. Leonard Zon and colleagues genetically manipulated zebrafish to develop human melanoma. They found that a large number of genes which may play a role in the disease, and one in particular, SETDB1, made the cancer more aggressive and faster growing. Follow the links in her post to find out more.

The Spoonful of Medicine Blog has been discussing a news story in the current issue of Nature Medicine_, Cancer cells that are out in full force. With the war on cancer continuing, some scientists say its time to take a more forceful approach to beat the disease. In recent years, researchers discovered that the growing tumour itself can push on the surrounding tissues triggering tumor invasion. Now, scientists are trying to understand these changes in the hopes of designing more effective therapies for the disease. In this postforce.html you can also watch a video slide show that explains how force is emerging as a significant factor in cancer metastasis.

Congratulations in order

This week Nature Network blogger, Anne-Marie Hodge has won acclaim for her Endless Forms blog. She has been receiving national attention for her scientific research, as well as her excellent communication skills. Her blog attracted the attention of Scientific America’s Bora Zivkovic, who revealed:

She does serious research for every one of her posts. A lot of people throw things online very fast, and it’s often open-ended with a lot of personal musings. She doesn’t do that. She takes science blogging seriously.


Caenorhabditis elegans is a tiny little worm and it’s one of Viktor Poor’s favourite model organisms for genetics and developmental biology. In his latest cartoon strip, he depicts his own version of the worm:

c elegans 2.png


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