We’re running a series of guest posts from the judges of the 2013 Chemistry World science communication competition. This time, writer and broadcaster Adam Hart-Davis explains why he thinks openness is a benefit to all.

 

As researcher, then producer, and finally presenter, I spent 30 years in television, trying to get across to the general public scientific ideas, from why banana skins are slippery to the detector experiments at the Large Hadron Collider.

In the science office at Yorkshire Television, I was surrounded by creative people, but I noticed they came in two varieties. Arriving at the office in the morning with a new idea for an item or a programme, some (afraid of theft or ridicule) would go into a corner, scribble secret notes, and phone advisers; others would tell everyone about the idea, and ask for comments. This latter, open approach was hugely more successful. Some proposals would get instantly laughed out of court, but most would provoke arguments, sometimes heated, and these arguments always improved the basic idea. (more…)

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A chance to find your dream job?

More and more, we conduct our lives online. From shopping to socialising, there’s nary an activity that hasn’t been supplemented or supplanted by the electronic ether, and the internet is never far from our fingers.

Shortcuts through cyberspace make the world smaller, but some lament that this comes at the expense of conventional contact and communication, and in fact pushes us further apart.

Online job searching is perhaps one of the more innocuous, indeed welcome, invasions of life lived remotely. Most job hunts are likely to begin with offering up a few key strokes to a database and end with a fingers-crossed click to dispatch a payload of personal data. Your first encounter of the third kind with an alien employer will probably be a handshake on the day of your interview, should your digital demeanour persuade them to pause upon your CV. (more…)

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‘The history of science, more than of any other activity, shows men and women of every nation contributing to the common pool of organised knowledge and providing the means for enhancing human welfare.’ – Ronald Nyholm, editorial in Education in Chemistry, vol. 1, issue 1.

50 years ago, the Royal Institute of Chemistry (RIC) announced a new quarterly magazine, with the aim of ‘improving the teaching of chemistry at all levels’. The RIC no longer exists (having merged with the Society for Analytical Chemistry and the Chemical and Faraday Societies to form the Royal Society of Chemistry) but the publication, Education in Chemistry or EiC, is still around to celebrate its golden anniversary.

Having spent the year in dusty archive rooms researching the history of the magazine, editor Karen J Ogilvie and assistant editor David Sait have emerged, blinking, back into the daylight, determined to celebrate in style. As well as planning a calendar of celebration events for those involved in the magazine, they’ve been busy rethinking their online home, and the refreshed and redesigned website launched on 12 November. (more…)

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We’re running a series of guest posts from the judges of the 2013 Chemistry World science communication competition. In this, the first of the series, we hear from Sam Tang, public awareness scientist at the University of Nottingham.

 

The phrase ‘openness in science’ offers a variety of meanings. For me, as a science communicator, I feel openness describes how we communicate science to the public and the media.

I like to think we’ve come a long way in making science more open and accessible, and over the last nine years, I’ve seen science communication evolve from being a fringe activity that only a handful of volunteers gave their time to do (and, dare I say it, were looked down upon for partaking), to becoming an embedded activity in universities across the UK. Type ‘science communication’ into Google and it becomes apparent that it is now a discipline in its own right: a wealth of pages appear, from masters courses to conferences, jobs in the field, even a Wikipedia entry. (more…)

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Guest post by Emily James

On Wednesday 30th October, I attended the CaSE debate, hosted at the Royal Society. David Willetts (minister for universities and science), Julian Huppert (MP for Cambridge) and the freshly-appointed Liam Byrne (shadow minister for universities, science and skills) sat in good position to debate the future direction of science and engineering in the UK. The BBC’s Pallab Ghosh led the discussion, with pre-selected questions from the audience.

David Willetts, Liam Byrne & Julian Huppert at the CaSE debate (C) The Royal Society/Big T images

I couldn’t help but notice that despite the name of the event, there was a slight lack of hearty debate. My own desires for things to get a bit heated were met with held tongues – I blame the run up to the 2015 general election. However, perhaps consensus is not such a bad thing if you consider the cross-party agreements made on policies that act favourably on STEM education and industry. (more…)

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Guest post by Dr. Elisa Meschini

Anyone who has ever worked in a chemistry lab will be all too familiar with the “trials and tribulations” that Unsworth and Taylor so vividly describe in this review article, in which they recount their journey towards the total synthesis of the natural product ‘upenamide.

‘Upenamide is a fascinating molecule with many challenging structural features, which has raised considerable interest from the synthetic organic chemistry community. It contains a 20-membered macrocyclic ring and 8 stereogenic centres (including two unusual N,O-acetals). Biosynthetically, ‘upenamide is thought to derive from a similar synthetic pathway to that of another marine alkaloid, manzamine. ‘Upenamide is a promising anticancer target, although biological studies against cancer cell lines necessitate the total synthesis of the natural product. (more…)

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Does flushing condoms down the toilet pose a risk to aquatic ecosystems? An initial study published in Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts suggests that they don’t.

Filters at wastewater treatment plants are not fail-safe when it comes to removing condoms. Materials degrade en-route so smaller particles can sneak through filters and flooding can result in effluent bypassing treatment procedures completely.

Distribution of predicted condom derivative concentrations (µg/L) across the Ouse and Derwent region of England: (a) annual average concentrations after applying a 50 % screening efficiency (map identifies the major urban centres); (b) annual average concentrations after applying a 80 % screening efficiency (map identifies the major catchment rivers).

Condom derivative concentrations – Ouse and Derwent catchment

To investigate the scale of the problem, researchers in the UK initiated an anonymous survey quizzing people about how often they flushed condoms down the toilet. The survey, which is part of a wider study that is trying to understand the environmental impact of polymer-based materials and their degradation products, discovered that almost 3% of condoms bought were consigned to the sewers. (more…)

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It’s that time of year again – next week, the winners of this year’s round of Nobel prizes are due to be announced. We’re certainly getting pretty excited at Chemistry World HQ and, as usual, the predictions have been flying around.

For physics, the big question isn’t so much ‘what?’ as ‘who?’ will take home the prize this year. Most people seem to agree that the discovery of the Higgs boson is the strongest contender. But as there are a handful of theorists and experimental teams who were involved in its discovery – and a maximum of three can share the prize – who will be deemed worthy of the physics Nobel is anyone’s guess.

But what about the chemistry prize? As usual, Thomson Reuters have generated their list of predictions using most cited topics and authors. They do this every year and claim to have correctly predicted more Nobel prize winners than anyone else, having accurately forecast 27 winners over the last 11 years. I’m not so sure they’ll be right about the chemistry prize this time around though, as some of the innovations they’ve picked seem a little too recent. Alongside modular click chemistry and the Ames test for mutagenicity, they highlight DNA nanotechnology as a potential winner, and named none other than this year’s CW entrepreneur of the year Chad Mirkin as one of the leaders in this field. While the range of potential applications of DNA nanotech is huge, I think it’s still a little too early for this to be Nobel-worthy…but you never know! (more…)

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Experienced trackers know exactly which species of animals are around from looking at their poo. But to do that, they need to get their hands on a good quality stool. Conditions aren’t always favourable for faecal preservation – rain, insect or other animal activity, health and diet of the animal can all conspire to make traditional identification tricky if not impossible.

The face of a mountain lion. Released by Digital Art here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/digitalart/ under CC-BY licence

The face of a mountain lion. Released by Digital Art here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/digitalart/ under CC-BY licence

This can be a real problem when tracking rare, elusive or endangered species, such as mountain lions. To understand population dynamics and evaluate conservation projects, we need to know how many animals are in which locations. Where the animals are too few and far between to use mark-release-recapture techniques, ecologists are increasingly turning to chemistry for new identification tools.

Genetic analysis seems like the obvious way to go. By analysing DNA found in dung, one can identify not just the species, but the individual animal. This sort of analysis has been demonstrated in a number of species and is now involved several conservation projects. For just £50 +P&P, you can send a sample off to a company in Warwickshire, who can identify most British mammalian species – very useful for determining what species of bat is nesting in your loft, or if you’re not sure whether a fox or a pine marten has been using your privet as a privy. (more…)

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There’s no doubt that the evolution of drug-resistant antibacterial is a worrying trend. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) may have taken most of the headlines, but while we’ve been discussing how best to wash our hands in hospital wards, other, more insidious resistant bacteria have come to the fore.

Medical illustration of extended-spectrum β-lactamase – Image courtesy of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention

In March, Sally Davies, the UK’s Chief Medical Officer described antimicrobial resistance as posing a ‘catastrophic threat’. And recently, Tom Frieden, Director of the US Centres of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), warned ‘If we are not careful, we will soon be in a post-antibiotic era … and for some patients and for some microbes, we are already there.’

This month saw the publication of a two key reports: the UK five year antimicrobial resistance strategy 2013 to 2018  published by the Department of Health and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; and the CDC tome Antibiotic resistance threats in the United States, 2013. In a little over 140 pages between them they scan the landscape, identifying and, for the first time, classifying the threats posed by antibiotic resistant bacteria. (more…)

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