Cromer pier show for Darwin

In all the many celebrations of Charles Darwin's 200th birthday and 150th year since first publication of his greatest work, my favourite by a long way is the Nature Network 'unconference' 'Cromer Is SO Bracing'. The meeting, organized by my friend and colleague Henry Gee, featured a geological field trip, a workshop on crocheting toy marine invertebrates, and the scripting and shooting of a short film called 'Cromer: Darwin's Lost Weekend' (as well as a superb lunch by Mrs Gee). Henry has blogged several posts from the meeting, starting with this one, and progressing in order: Friday lunchtime; pier review; Saturday afternoon; and Sunday. Delegate Erika Cule has blogged about it here (day one) and here (day two). The eagerly anticipated highlight, though, is the movie Darwin's Lost Weekend, directed by Graham Steel. I can now bring you exclusive news that, before the film itself, or indeed a trailer, is released, you can view "THE MAKING OF" – courtesy of FriendFeed as I do not have a clue if I can or, if so, how to embed a video into this blog. Having viewed the 'making of' video, I can't wait for the main event.

Celebrating atomic beauty

Decor_logo Unlikely stories don't come much more unlikely than this. I was fascinated to read on The Great Beyond (the blog of the Nature news journalists and editors) about an unusual kind of beauty contest – one for the Russian nuclear industry. From the post, which is by Alison Abbott:

"Russia’s sixth such contest is now ongoing. Any female between 18 and 35 who works for the industry in the former Soviet republics may enter Miss Atom 2009, reports the German news magazine Der Spiegel. And nearly three hundred have done so. Their pictures are displayed in an online gallery with text supporting their candidature – and, of course, their vital statistics. Some of the more serious beauty contestants say they hope for world peace. More career-orientated contestants say things like “I don’t need a modelling course – I am, after all, an employee of the company ‘Atomtrudesurcy’ ”. "

The online gallery of entrants is at the "" website. I did not spot any men, though I confess to not looking too hard – there are more than 12 pages of entries, with 30 pictures per page. Apparently, visitors to the gallery can vote, and the three winners (to be announced on 5 March) will be rewarded with holidays to Cuba, Morocco and the Adriatic (I was thinking perhaps Cumbria, Pennsylvania and, er, the Ukraine might be more appropriate).

Ilya Platonow, organiser of the contest, told Der Spiegel that with its promotion of all that is healthy and beautiful in the controversial energy sector, the contest should finally torpedo ‘the cliché of dangerous and threatening nuclear energy’.

Ian McEwan defines Obama’s agenda

"America finally has a president who, whatever his profession of faith, has a high regard for science (look at his sturdy views on intelligent design in Nature magazine of September 25) and has surrounded himself with scientific advisers of impeccable quality, and committed himself to the dreamy target of an 80% reduction below 1990 levels of CO2 emissions by 2050." Thus writes Ian McEwan in The Guardian, in a wonderful piece ('The world's last chance') defining the scientific agenda that faces the new president as his most pressing challenge.

Ian McEwan's inspiring, confident and stirring article describes, with his characteristic poetic precision, the environmental devastation of the Earth and our inability to translate the power of the Sun or the wind to large-scale renewable energy resources. He urges the new president not to become sidetracked or to be cautious about tackling this uniquely important crisis, and to go to Copenhagen to "make a bold commitment". The world has tipped into a financial crisis "because we always thought we could": Obama may succeed in tipping the nations toward a low-carbon future "simply because people think he can."

This piece is the most inspiring and important piece of writing I've read for a very long time. I urge everyone to read it. 

Thanks so much to Karen of Euro Crime for alerting me to it.

Contribute to the Essence climate project

Some news that might stop some grumbling about climate policies (though I am not holding my breath):

ESSENCE is the world’s first global climate collective intelligence event — designed to bring together scientists, industrialists, campaigners and policy makers, and the emerging set of web-based sensemaking tools, to pool and deepen our understanding of the issues and options facing the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December 2009. The event is due to start online in January 2009, culminating in a conference at the UK National e-Science Institute in Edinburgh, in April 2009.

From the website: "The aim [of the ESSENCE project] is to develop a comprehensive, distilled, visual map of the issues, evidence, arguments and options facing the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, that will be available for all to explore and enrich across the web. The project is founded on principles of openness, transparency, and discovery; with no preconceptions about the conclusions that will emerge from the event. If you are scientist, industrialist, campaigner, policy maker, tool maker — or someone with other ideas and resources to contribute — and are interested in learning more about and participating in ESSENCE, please get in touch."

Even if the associated critics, vested-interests, anti-science people, oil barons, conspiracy theorists, and assorted willfully ignorant types choose to ignore this invitation, at least they won't be able to say they weren't consulted, or that scientists and climate policy professionals don't want to hear from them. On second thoughts, they might – "there's none so blind as those that just like to sit back and criticize", to paraphrase. 

[Thanks to Simon Buckingham Shum for the information.]

Carl Djerassi talks about Four Jews on Parnassus

Professor Carl Djerassi will be giving a talk at the London Review Bookshop on Tuesday (18 November). Tickets are available online or by phone (number on LRB website) – advance booking only. Professor Djerassi will be talking about his new book Four Jews on Parnassus – a Conversation, which is a biography of Walter Benjamin, Theodor W. Adrono, Gershom Scholem and Arnold Schonberg, written as a debate between the four on Jewish identity, the making of history and the desire for immortality. The author is a novelist, playwright and emeritus professor of chemistry at Stanford University, perhaps most famous scientifically for being the first to synthesize an oral contraceptive. He's a colourful character: I've been involved in publishing many of his less formal scientific articles and reviews of his books over the years. Perhaps the article by him that sticks most in my mind is a Commentary opining "As a first step towards a new form of male contraception – sperm cryopreservation, vasectomy and eventual artificial insemination – the military services should begin a large-scale sperm cryopreservation programme" – Download Djerassi's article if you are intrigued!

Carl Djerassi's 'science in fiction' website.

Carl Djerassi's Stanford University page.

London Review Bookshop.

A vote for science

Via The Great Beyond, I learn of “A Vote For Science”, in which scientists video themselves explaining who they will be voting for in the US election next month. Daniel Cressey writes: "So far only one video is available on their YouTube site, but it’s a big fish: new Nobel laureate Martin Chalfie (as featured in a Nature interview published yesterday). Chalfie has previously announced that he will be backing Barack Obama. In his new video he says: 'I’m a scientist and I am voting for Barack Obama'. Hear why in the video" [Video embedded in the Great Beyond post.]

Breaking news from the bench

Invitrogen You couldn't predict what is going to get scientists all excited. The Nobel prizes (announced this week)? Well, maybe, but this new cell culture bottle (new angle, compact design, wide mouth, large labels) is really where it is at. 

Here are some comments at FriendFeed on this innovation:

"Invitrogen's redesigned cell culture bottle. Looks great. – Ricardo Vidal

I'm a fan of good design. This almost makes me want to do cell culture again! – Shirley Wu

That looks so good I'd DRINK it! What is it, raspberry? – Victor / Mendeley Team
The music in the demo video is amazing! I've never been so excited for cell culture. – John Delacruz "
These are a bit better than the (suspicious-looking) endorsements on the manufacturer's website:
“Can't believe no one has done this before.”
  • Anonymous, ComBio 2008, Australia

 “Great for storage.”

  • Anonymous, ComBio 2008, Australia

 “Pipetting will be so much better now.”

  • Anonymous, ComBio 2008, Australia

 “The new bottle is better.”

  • R.C. San Diego State University

It is nice to live in a world where a humble bottle can be so well-received. And what a website – head on over, you might be able to get a "limited edition bendy bottle man" with the imaginative monkier of Sir Isaac Bottleton.

Portraits of women scientists from the Smithsonian

Women in Science: Portraits of Women Scientists From the Smithsonian.

Curie The Smithsonian Institution has been uploading some of their extensive collection of historical photographs to Flickr. One of their sets is a collection of portraits of scientists and inventors. While most of the pictured scientists are bewhiskered men, there are a few women in the set. I know that Marie Sklodowska Curie is one of the most famous women in physics and probably I should have chosen a more obscure person to feature in a picture here, but her face is just so striking. From the Women in Science post: "She was born in Warsaw in 1867 and received a general education there. She eventually ended up at the Sorbonne in Paris, where she earned degrees in physics and mathematical sciencies – and met her husband, Physics Professor Pierre Curie. The Curies initially worked together in their research on radioactive elements, but after Pierre was killed in an accident in 1906, she continued the research on her own. She shared the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics with her husband Pierre and Antoine Becquerel for their "research on the radiation phenomena". Maria Curie also received the 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her discovery and characterization of radium. She died in 1934 of aplastic anaemia, likely caused by radiation exposure, missing by only a single year the award of the 1935 Nobel Prize in Chemistry to her daughter, Irene Joliot-Curie."

The Nobel prizes for 2008 are about to be announced, starting on Monday (6 Oct) with the the prize for physiology or medicine. See here for some predictions of the winners, and where to log your own choices. It will be interesting to see if any women are honoured this year, or whether the Nobel foundation will keep to its rather dismal track record in this regard.

Great presentations and meetings

Via Jen Dodd, one of those top ten lists that actually seems interesting is Best Presentations Ever , with links to the videos, on KnowHR blog. Highlights include Martin Luther's I Have a Dream speech, Steve Jobs introducing the Macintosh in 1984, Malcolm Gladwell, Larry Lessig and Seth Goldin. KnowHR's readers responded; their top 10 presentations list is here. They include J F Kennedy in Berlin, Al Gore on global warming, Steve Jobs again, in 1997 this time, and someone called Ze Frank on what makes a website popular (2004 vintage). Quite a gamut.

In a complete coincidence, Nature has just started an Essay series covering "six scientific meetings that had such a great impact, they can be said to have changed the world. Each piece is written by an expert who attended the conference in question. The authors recall what it was like to live through these momentous occasions, and reflect upon the events' broad and lasting legacies." The first Essay (Nature 455, 174–175; 11 September 2008), published to coincide with this week's attempt to circulate a beam through the world's most powerful particle accelerator, is "Paris 1951: The birth of CERN", in which François de Rose, who chaired the meeting that founded Europe's premier facility for experimental nuclear and particle research, relives the five days of drama that changed the world of physics.

Chutzpah in reciprocal space


So you decide to start a blog. What do you decide upon for the title of your first-ever post? "I hate blogs, bloggers and blogging" is the considered decision of Professor Stephen Curry in his inaugural post on his new blog Reciprocal Space. (He's a protein crystallographer.) And it worked. Twenty-eight comments in the first half day. And he gets featured on the Nature Network home page – or rather his blog title does. All that apart, do read it – it is going to be a good one.


Acknowledgement: thanks to Jenny Irving for showing me how to get screenshots into a blog post.