What can chemists do to help create a ‘virtual human’? At the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) 2014 meeting in Chicago, a panel of researchers set out their demands for the chemistry community.

Using multiple supercomputing resources at an unprecedented scale, we show how it is now becoming possible to reliably select the appropriate drug with which to treat an individual patient based on the strength of interaction of that drug with the patient’s own protein sequence. This is demonstrated in the case of HIV infection in which one wishes to know which of the several FDA approved drugs will be most effective against the HIV-1 protease target. These findings will be published on 14 February 2014, to coincide with the AAAS 2014 session on the Virtual Human: Helping Facilitate Breakthroughs in Medicine. Credit: D. Wright, B. Hall, O. Kenway, S. Jha, P. V. Coveney, “Computing Clinically Relevant Binding Free Energies of HIV-1 Protease Inhibitors”, Journal of Chemical Theory and Computation (2014), DOI: 10.1021/ct4007037

But what is a ‘virtual human’? Projects range from organ-on-a-chip microfluidic devices that might mimic a particular behaviour of a certain organ, through to detailed computer models that map the entire skeleton, or even simulate a human brain. Others take a broader approach, sampling thousands of biomarkers from thousands of healthy individuals to chart the variability and dynamism of human biochemistry.

It’s a subject that exists at the interfaces chemistry, biology, physics and computer sciences, and has obvious medicinal potential in allowing us to develop new drugs in silico or helping us to treat existing patients. (more…)

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Just when we all thought the tube couldn’t get any worse, frustrated commuters in London last week were treated to the news that, due to an engineering mishap, a signal control room for the Victoria line had become flooded with fast-setting concrete, forcing the line to temporarily halt.

© UsVsTh3m/Twitter

© UsVsTh3m/Twitter

Then things got even weirder… the news reported that when the sludgy mess was discovered, staff had rushed to nearby shops to buy bags of sugar to throw on it. This, they said, ‘stops the concrete from setting so quickly’ so it could be cleaned up before it damaged equipment. This intrigued us in CW office – why sugar? It seems bizarre that something so simple and readily available could have this effect. (more…)

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For the last couple of years, I’ve been honoured with an invitation to join the judging panel on the Cambridge heats of FameLab, an international competition to ‘find the new voices of science and engineering across the world’. FameLab was set up by the Cheltenham Science Festival (in partnership with Nesta) back in 2005, and aimed to ‘find and nurture scientists and engineers with a flair for communicating with public audiences’. After developing a link with the British Council in 2007, FameLab has been intent on global domination, and with more than 23 countries competing in 2013, seems to be well on the way to reaching that goal.

To test the mettle of our aspiring science communicators, each challenger must prepare a three minute presentation. Time is tight, and there’s usually a strong incentive to stop at the 3 minute mark (in our case, the sound of an awful squeaky dog toy, drowning out your big punchline). As a judge, I’m asked to evaluate each presentation on ‘the three Cs’: content, clarity and charisma. (more…)

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Last week, the Science Council released a list of their ‘100 leading practising scientists’. Their aim in publishing the list was to ‘highlight a collective blind spot in the approach of government, media and public to science, which either tends to reference dead people or to regard only academics and researchers as scientists.’

The Science Council is an umbrella that brings together 41 learned societies or professional bodies, including the Institute of Physics, the Society of Biology and of course, the Royal Society of Chemistry. To arrive at their list, member organisations were invited to nominate individuals who ‘who are currently engaged with UK science that other scientists might look to for leadership in their sector or career’. They then convened a representative judging panel to knock it down to a round 100.

The Chemistry World team looked through the list and realised that it contained a number of familiar names (perhaps no surprise, as the Royal Society of Chemistry is one of the organisations called upon to nominate), so we thought we would highlight some of the Science Council’s top 100, explaining how and why they appeared in the pages of Chemistry World(more…)

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We’re running a series of guest posts from the judges of the 2013 Chemistry World science communication competition. Here, Chemistry World editor Bibiana Campos-Seijo adds her thoughts on ‘openness in science’.

 

I’ve very much enjoyed reading the posts by my fellow judges. All interpret the theme of the competition in very different ways but one of the threads I picked up is that most focus how openness affects the relationship between the scientist and others – eg between the scientists and the publishers of information – with Philip Ball calling for a preprint server for chemical papers to encourage debate, engagement and the swift dissemination of information – or between scientists and the media with Adam Hart-Davis drawing on his own experience.   (more…)

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We’re running a series of guest posts from the judges of the 2013 Chemistry World science communication competition. Here, science writer and broadcaster Quentin Cooper  explains his interpretation of ‘openness in science’.

How do you feel about judging a science communication competition?

I’m always a little resistant to judging, because it’s always dangerous to judge anybody else. One of the things you’re trying to encourage in science communication is innovation. There’s always a slight danger of turning up and being the ‘old guard’ accidentally – those of us who already do it standing in judgement of those who are finding new ways to do it. We have to be careful because something that we think is not a good way, because it’s something terribly new and terribly different, might actually turn out to be something brilliant. With that caveat, I’ll do anything I can to encourage good science communication. (more…)

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The Chemistry World office is bedecked in tinsel, ready to celebrate the festive period. And as a thank you for celebrating with us, we’re going to send a Chemistry World mug to each of our favourite festive chemistrees!

On a recent trip to the chemistry department at the University of York, I spotted a different interpretation of the traditional Christmas decorations…

So we tweeted about it…

(more…)

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Success in science is a tricky thing to measure. The existing frameworks use journal output, number of successful PhD students and amount of grant funding achieved as metrics by which to measure scientific success.

But this certainly isn’t the only way for scientists to succeed. Once you break out of the confines of academia and into the world of business and enterprise, the criteria change dramatically.

I’ve recently been visiting people who have been winners of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Emerging Technologies Competition. These are researchers who have developed their scientific research into a marketable product. Some ideas are already spun out into businesses, with funding and a solid business plan, others are still within their parent university, their promising product prepared and proven, but not yet part of a business structure.

There’s one thing they all have in common – entrepreneurship. (more…)

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We’re running a series of guest posts from the judges of the 2013 Chemistry World science communication competition. Here, science writer and Chemistry World columnist Philip Ball considers the place of chemistry in open science initiatives.

 

In the energetic current discussion about openness in science, chemistry has been largely absent. With the one obvious exception of drug trials – how can we encourage pharmaceutical companies to be more upfront with their findings? – chemistry seems to have been lost somewhere in the space between the life sciences, where the focus is on the accessibility and intelligibility of huge data sets, and physics, where open-access and participatory crowd-sourcing are already well advanced in projects such as the arXiv preprint server and Galaxy Zoo. Perhaps another way of saying this is that it is less obvious what is at stake for chemistry. Might it have continued to thrive on the basis of old models of how science is done, if left alone to do so? (more…)

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As we mentioned here before this week saw the very first Chemistry World Jobs Live event, held in the Royal Society of Chemistry’s London home, Burlington House. The queues outside and happy faces inside seem to suggest that it was a resounding success.

Over 250 people visited on the day to meet representatives from universities, recruitment agencies and industry. If meeting potential employers wasn’t enough, delegates could opt to have their CV spring cleaned by the Royal Society of Chemistry’s careers advisors, and explored alternative career routes by getting involved with the ‘meet the experts’ panel discussion. (more…)

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