News: AAAS 2013 Annual Meeting News
In five successful surgeries to date, Paolo Macchiarini has transplanted a bioengineered trachea made of an artificial scaffold infused with a patient’s own stem cells. He now plans to use related techniques to recreate more complex tissues or organs, and he sees great potential ahead for transplants that harness the body’s own healing ability.
Macchiarini described his latest progress and ideas for the future, including an ambitious plan to regenerate brain tissue, at the AAAS Annual Meeting.
"What's up triple A-S, my name is Dr. G, and I'm dropping confocal microscopy ."
Did this rap win the "America's Scientist Idol" competition at the AAAS Annual Meeting? Scientists had three minutes to hook a panel of judges and a packed audience on their research and why it matters. In a Science podcast, Kerry Klein talks to the host and the crowned champion.
China's fossil beds and other rock layers have yielded some remarkable discoveries, perhaps none more curious than Dinocephalosaurus orientalis. This marine reptile's neck was more than twice as long as its trunk.
"What it did with this long neck I can only speculate," said Olivier Rieppel, Curator of Evolutionary Biology at the Field Museum in Chicago, who led the team that identified the Dinocephalosaurus skeleton. This 5-meter-long creature might have splayed out the ribs in its neck to create suction for drawing prey into its mouth, Rieppel proposed at the AAAS Annual Meeting.
A new tool could help emergency managers understand how likely a river forecast is to be correct, providing more time to prepare for a disaster, Erik Stokstad reports at ScienceNOW.
Instead of falling victim to a “war on coal” by U.S. President Barack Obama and his Environmental Protection Agency, coal is losing the battle with other power sources mostly on its own merits, ScienceNOW’s Dan Ferber reports from the AAAS Annual Meeting.
When molecular biologist Cynthia Kenyon began to research the genetics of aging, she had the field much to herself. “When we first started studying aging, we had trouble getting anyone interested in it,” she recalled, “because they thought it was incredibly boring.”
But then Kenyon’s lab uncovered a single gene mutation in roundworms that doubled their lifespan, and aging became one of the hottest topics in biology. As she told her audience at the AAAS Annual Meeting, scientists began to see the process of getting older as a newly dynamic force. Now, she and others are searching for ways to manipulate the process to allow humans to live healthier and longer lives.
Cosmologists know that the universe is expanding, and that the expansion is getting faster by the moment, propelled by a mysterious dark energy that has so far eluded detection or description by scientists.
The story of these discoveries, Robert Kirshner said at the AAAS Annual Meeting, includes luminaries both human and cosmic. Supernovae, the massive and bright star explosions that he studies, were crucial to piecing together this new understanding. But, Kirshner also talked about the people, including two of his graduate students who won the Nobel Prize, whose work gradually revealed an accelerated universe.
There’s nothing fishy about it: the world’s population has reached 7 billion and is projected to increase to 9 billion by 2050. The global food supply needs to expand dramatically.
Aquaculture—an industry that has experienced dynamic growth—could make a major contribution to the world’s protein needs, researchers said at the AAAS Annual Meeting. They were also candid about challenges ahead; namely, ensuring that fish-farming is sustainable as it is scaled up.
On the similarities between his Topical Lecture at the AAAS Annual Meeting and classes throughout the centuries, Peter Norvig joked. “We have the sage on the stage lecturing, the textbook he’s lecturing from and the sleeping guy in the back.”
The technology of teaching hasn’t changed since the 14th century, according to Norvig, who is the director of Research Google, Inc. But, that is about to change, with the growing popularity of Massive Online Open Classes, or “MOOCs.”
It’s been 10 years since researchers first sequenced a rough draft of the human genome. Today, companies like 23andMe provide partial genome sequencing directly to consumers for just $99.
The plummeting costs and wider accessibility of DNA sequencing technology are ushering in new prospects for personalized genetic medicine. They are also prompting serious discussions around the profound societal implications of using patients’ genomic data in medical care.
Music lessons can be fun for children, but there isn’t much evidence that they can improve a child’s grades or IQ, Glenn Schellenberg said at the AAAS Annual Meeting.
Schellenberg, a University of Toronto psychologist, said his studies showed instead that children who take music lessons tend to be more conscientious and open to new experiences than their peers. These are the same sorts of personality traits, he said, that also are associated with high IQ and doing well in school.
When asked what has surprised them most during their careers investigating lead poisoning in the United States and beyond, experts at the AAAS Annual Meeting echoed the same sentiment: the misconception that we’ve gotten rid of it.
While efforts to reduce the blood lead levels in children the United States have been largely successful with the elimination of leaded gasoline and restrictions on lead paint, lead pollution internationally remains a pressing issue.
Sea levels are rising as the Earth grows warmer, and the best-case scenario is that this rise will take centuries rather than decades to swamp the coastlines, Richard Alley said at the AAAS Annual Meeting.
But the Penn State geologist said governments should be worrying about the worst-case scenario—a rapid disintegration of major ice shelves in places like western Antarctica—because researchers can’t rule out that possibility and the impact would be devastating.
Nathan Myhrvold’s Recipe For Whirled Peas
Place frozen peas in a laboratory-grade centrifuge. Spin them so fast that they experience about 40,000 times the force of normal gravity for one hour.
And the serving suggestions? The final concoction consists of three layers: a clear and fresh pea bouillon, a thick layer of starch that can be used in pasta, and a rich substance that Myhrvold enthusiastically calls “pea butter.”
At the AAAS Annual Meeting, Myhrvold explained how science applies to the mysteries of meat and wine, illustrating his lively talk with descriptions of french fries crisped in an ultrasonic bath and describing the culinary pleasures of freezing olive oil with liquid nitrogen and smashing it into glassy shards.
Nicholas D. Pyenson, curator of fossil marine mammals at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, brought marine mammals' terrestrial ancestors to life during the symposium "Evolution of Giants: The Great Whales" at the 2013 AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston. Recently Pyenson's work has taken him to excavation sites in the Cerro Ballena in Chile, and he discussed his research in a video interview with AAAS' Carla Schaffer.
While Pyenson described whales of the past, Megan McKenna, currently a bio-acoustic biologist with the National Park Service in Fort Collins, Colorado, spoke about present-day issues affecting whale populations. Working with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, McKenna has measured ocean noise levels to study how chronic and acute ocean noise impacts whale communication. She discussed her work with Schaffer in a AAAS podcast.
The robot R2-D2, a large lizard riding around on its owner’s arm, and a whole bunch of scientists and science educators welcomed kids to Family Science Days on Saturday. Stomping on plastic bottles to launch rockets at different angles and painting with glowing bacteria were some of the popular activities.
This free event is open to the public and continues on Sunday in the Hynes Convention Center Exhibit Hall at the AAAS Annual Meeting. Families with children, teenagers and young adults can take part in a Meet the Scientists event, hand-on activities, and stage shows.
ScienceNOW’s Lizzie Wade caught up with MIT physicist Max Tegmark after his presentation at yesterday's symposium, "Is Beauty Truth?", at the AAAS Annual Meeting. They talked about reality, mathematical theories, and what’s really inside an orange.
Five talented, early-career women scientists from Bangladesh, Peru, Mongolia, Nigeria and Yemen received an award recognizing their research excellence today at the AAAS Minority and Women Scientists and Engineers Networking Breakfast.
The prize, awarded by the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD), the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS) and the Elsevier Foundation, honored each of the recipients with $ 5,000 and all-expenses-paid attendance at the AAAS Annual Meeting.
An “electronic tattoo” the size of a postage stamp and the thickness of a human hair can be used to monitor laboring women and seizure-prone infants, because it provides a non-invasive way to track the electrical rhythms on the surface of the body, according to Todd Coleman of the University of California, San Diego.
Another apparatus, developed by Miguel Nicolelis of Duke University Medical Center and colleagues, allows rats to “feel” infrared light by stimulating the tactile center in their brains.
Devices like these could have remarkable benefits, but they may also lead to ethical, legal and social quandaries that should be discussed as the technology progresses, researchers said at the AAAS Annual Meeting.
Despite - or perhaps because of - the current fiscal climate in Europe, policy makers are now recognizing the importance of science for the European Union’s future, experts agreed at the AAAS Annual Meeting.
A Topical Panel discussion brought together four leaders from European agencies or government posts devoted to supporting scientific research and innovation in Europe.
Collectively, the panelists are working to create a research environment in which competition and collaboration across country lines are encouraged, research is funded based solely its own merits, and scientific evidence guides policy-making.
To fully understand the biological and social aspects of skin color, Nina Jablonski, distinguished professor of anthropology at Pennsylvania State University, first starts with our ancestors.
"We see these levels of pigmentation being played with a lot in the last 50 thousand years of human history," said Jablonski. "It's very exciting and interesting, because there's an interaction between our biological evolution and the cultural factors that influence that evolution."
Jablonski discussed why and how skin pigmentation evolved, as well as the ever present concept and impacts of race in a symposium and a topical lecture during the 2013 AAAS Annual Meeting.
Say the word “virus,” and most people think of bad head colds and deadly Ebola outbreaks. But only 1% of viruses cause disease. Science's Sarah Crespi spoke with Penn State researcher Marilyn Roossinck at the AAAS Annual Meeting, and learned that many viruses should be considered ecological heroes.
And ScienceNOW’s Erik Stokstad is on the vegetable beat (beet?) at the Boston meeting, reporting on how long supermarket shoppers will have to wait for a tasty tomato, and why the tiniest spoonful of sugar could help kids learn to love their broccoli.
Cable news junkies, take heart: if you love wall-to-wall coverage of hurricanes, wildfires and superstorms, your future viewing schedules will be jam-packed.
Researchers at the AAAS Annual Meeting said that wild weather events like Superstorm Sandy and the severe Texas drought are the new normal in North America, as human-driven climate change has made these events more intense and more frequent.
The American public likes scientists almost as much as it likes firefighters and teachers. And, economists say that investments in basic research have offered tremendous returns over the past 50 years. Why, then, do researchers in the United States find themselves on the precipice of a devastating financial cliff, facing $54 billion in across-the-board funding cuts by 1 March unless the U.S. Congress can agree on a budget fix?
At the AAAS Annual Meeting, AAAS President William H. Press said the scientific community needs to make a more powerful and sophisticated case that researchers are “the geese that lay the golden eggs” and not “just another pig at the trough.”
As biologists advance their quest to understand life, they need more advanced optical tools to look inside cells at ever-smaller dimensions. There is a hundred-fold gap, for example, between the smallest features conventional optical microscopy can visualize and the scale at which molecules self-assemble to form structures within cells.
New technologies are allowing biologists to rapidly and noninvasively image the three-dimensional dynamics of living cells at spatial resolution beyond the conventional limits. For example, this video shows in striking detail a human cervical cancer cell and the waving protrusions on its surface, called filopodia, that the cell uses to sense its surroundings.
As critical as they are for moving around, human feet are far from perfect. Their 26-bone structure is mechanically inefficient, and feet are prone to flat-footedness, ankle sprains and other painful conditions. The evolution of bipedalism in our human ancestors is largely to blame, DeSilva said at the AAAS Annual Meeting.
Joining DeSilva in a symposium about “the scars of evolution,” Bruce Latimer of Case Western Reserve University described the problematic evolution of the human spine.
Many common, modern-day back problems are rooted in the fact that we have evolved from an animal whose back was horizontal. Turn that structure upright, and “now you’re asking for trouble,” Latimer said.
Since its dramatic touchdown in August, NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has delivered tantalizing clues of what’s to come as it seeks to determine whether its carefully chosen landing zone has ever had conditions favorable to microbial life.
Some of Curiosity’s findings support discoveries from the earlier Phoenix Mars lander mission, about a class of mineral salts known as perchlorates, as Samuel P. Kounaves of the Phoenix Mars Lander Wet Chemistry Lab and Tufts University explained at the Annual Meeting.
John Grotzinger, a project scientist at the Mars Science Laboratory and professor of geology at the California Institute of Technology briefed the audience of a special Topical Session on Curiosity’s latest activities.
Scientists urged their peers to blog, tweet, and tumbl about their research, in a “Communicating Science” seminar at the AAAS Annual Meeting.
The Internet has surpassed newspapers as a secondary source of news for the general public in the U.S. For those under 30, the Internet is their primary source for national or international news. Scientific information in particular is accessed by most Americans online rather than via television, print or radio.
All three speakers in the seminar cited these statistics, stressing that if scientists are not utilizing social media, they’re not communicating to the majority of the U.S. population.
Ayumu the chimpanzee didn’t hesitate. Shown the numbers one through nine on a computer touch screen, he tapped the numerals in order, even after two through eight had disappeared behind white squares within a fraction of a second. The human audience watching a video of this performance began to murmur as they tried and failed to keep up with the fast-fingered chimp.
“Don’t worry, no one can do it,” Kyoto University researcher Tetsuro Matsuzawa reassured them with a laugh. “It’s impossible for you.”
New studies of the brainpower of our closest primate cousins reveal how chimpanzee cognition mirrors—and in some cases surpasses—the capabilities of the human brain, researchers said at the 2013 AAAS Annual Meeting. At the same time, the knowledge that chimpanzee minds are much like ours has led to some darker discoveries, such as occurrence of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety disorders in captive great apes.
Pharmaceutical drugs that end up in the world's waterways after being excreted, flushed and treated at wastewater treatment plants may lead to unexpected ecological impacts, according to a new study of wild European perch.
Tomas Brodin and colleagues from Umeå University in Sweden discovered that the fish ate faster, became bolder and acted less social after being subjected to an anxiety-moderating drug, known as Oxazepam.
The related report was released at the AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston and appears in the 15 February issue of the journal Science, which is published by AAAS.
Data collected by the Fermi Space Telescope provide conclusive evidence that supernovae are the source of the speedy, energetic particles called cosmic rays, an international research team reports.
These charged particles, which are mostly protons, continuously assail the planet from outer space. There is general consensus among scientists that supernova remnants (the leftovers of a supernova explosion) are the sources of cosmic rays, but the final proof has been elusive because cosmic rays are deflected on their way to Earth.
A new study offers conclusive evidence that cosmic ray protons within the Milky Way Galaxy are accelerated in the shock waves produced by supernovae. The research appears in the 15 February issue of the journal Science, and the scientists announced their findings at the AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston.
Investments in science do not always yield predictable returns the way a bank account does, said AAAS President William H. Press, but countries that are “patient investors” in R&D stand ready to reap tremendous rewards.
In remarks before international reporters to open the 2013 AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston, Press said the scientific enterprise is “the greatest mechanism ever invented” to turn human creativity into economic benefits. But, countries like the United States may not be able to capture these benefits if they cut off funding for basic research, he warned.
Often, in the daily grind of slogging through a difficult science class, students see fully formed scientists and their discoveries as a distant blur. Remote men and women somehow make advanced science happen.
New efforts aim to bring students face to face with creative, imaginative scientists right in their classroom.
With a lifetime of scientific contributions at their back, many retired scientists, engineers, and physicians are returning to school, not as pupils or as instructors, but as classroom volunteers in public elementary, middle, and high schools.
This week over 400 teachers and scientists gathered in Boston for the first International Teacher-Scientist Partnership Conference, organized by AAAS Education and Human Resources and the University of California, San Francisco Science & Health Education Partnership, sponsored by the National Science Foundation. Presenters are scheduled to share a range of partnership models over three days, from scientists generating digital education tools, to teachers participating in research.
Throughout the first day of the conference, the conversation turned to the idea of bringing scientists into the classroom to work directly with the students.
AAAS President William Press stopped by Boston newsrooms today, as the association prepared to kick off the Annual Meeting in Boston. He appeared on WBUR’s Here and Now, discussing the major issues in science, science policy and science education with host Robin Young. Describing the “state of the science union” as “essential but threatened,” Press also covered topics such as climate change and federal R&D funding.
Press also visited the Boston Globe, where he spoke with journalists about the need for scientists to emphasize the importance of basic research to the economy, a message he plans to present at the meeting.
Discoveries about space exploration, great whales, tastier tomatoes and more are expected to draw as many as 10,000 attendees from 60 countries to the AAAS Annual Meeting.