Science news updates and events



My posts on the American Chemical Society's "Noteworthy Chemistry" page

December 16, 2013 Polar solvents and oxygen functionalities increase coal-extraction yields.

December 9, 2013 What makes wheat beer smell like wheat beer?

December 2, 2013 Why are sulfone-based electrolytes stable at high voltages?

November 25, 2013 Processing conditions affect graphene surface contamination and lattice defects.

November 18, 2013 Natural wetland remediates acidic mine drainage.

November 11, 2013 Use materials science techniques to study pathological crystals.

November 4, 2013 Capture nanoparticle and virus images with a smart phone.

October 28, 2013 Silicon nanowires form flexible, transparent, free-standing sheets.

October 21, 2013 A Vietnamese starfish produces anti-inflammatory compounds.

October 14, 2013 Layered perovskites might form room-temperature spintronic devices.

October 7, 2013 This soy-based alkyd coating resists corrosion and bacteria.

September 30, 2013 "Legacy" mercury limits benefits from Canadian smelter closure.

September 16, 2013 Coated graphene quantum dots shine on and on in vivo.

September 9, 2013 Thermosalient crystals relieve stress by jumping, spinning, or blowing themselves to bits.

September 3, 2013 Electrogenerated chemiluminescence detects peroxide explosives.

August 12, 2013 Phosphorus in flame retardants: More is not always better.

August 5, 2013 Strontium signatures authenticate the geographic origin of wines.

July 29, 2013 How do inorganics in a biomass feedstock affect the environment?

July 22, 2013 Colorful colloid crystals combat counterfeiters

July 15, 2013 Fast, With Flexibility

July 8, 2013 Nanofiber anodes for lithium-ion batteries

June 24, 2013 Straining to Reach IR

June 24, 2013 Do engineered nanoparticles poison algae?

Noteworthy Chemistry content ©The American Chemical Society

Duran and studentsScience for All: STEM makes careers blossom

By Nancy McGuire
Going beyond the stereotypes to meet some real-life experts in science, technology, engineering and mathematics — the so-called STEM fields.

Published in Science News for Kids (opens in a new window).
PDF version

photo: Nancy McGuire, for USARL.

Effectiveness of Natural Gas vs. Low-Carbon Fuels in Reducing Global Warming

By Nancy McGuire
Washington, DC (18 June 2012)

global warmingIn a paper now in press in the online journal Geochemistry Geophysics Geosystems, Cornell professor Lawrence Cathles outlines his study of the reduction of greenhouse warming that could be achieved by substituting natural gas for coal and oil as a fuel source. His study shows that natural gas could achieve 40% of the reduction in global warming that switching to low-carbon energy sources would produce. Cathles assumes a natural gas leakage rate of 1% or less to come up with this figure. He states that the comparison holds regardless of the duration of the transition period where coal and oil are phased out. So, although natural gas is a carbon-based fuel, its impact on global warming is slightly more than half that of low-carbon fuels, which will take much longer to implement on a large scale.



Public Value MappingWhat if You Can't Measure What Matters?

Friday, January 25th, 2013 | 8:30 a.m.

Dan Sarewitz, CSPO Co-Director and Professor of Science and Society

Science and innovation policies are typically justified in terms of a broad range of public values. Yet when it comes to evaluating R&D activities, the assessment approaches generally focus on scientific productivity and economic activity, because they can more easily be measured than public values. Public Value Mapping offers an alternative, outcomes-oriented, non-economic approach to assessing the effectiveness of science and innovation policies.

Washington, DC, 1834 Connecticut Ave NW | free | RSVP required to by 1/22/2013

How to Save America's Knowledge Enterprise

By Nancy McGuire
Washington, DC (24 May 2012)

Budgets On May 21, five panels discussed the assumptions that have governed the American scientific and technological research enterprise since the Manhattan Project, and they offered strategies for conducting relevant research in an age of budget cuts and political polarization. “The conventional wisdom is that if we feed more money and more scientists into our existing knowledge enterprise complex, society will derive proportionally more benefits,” according to the announcement for “How to Save America's Knowledge Enterprise From Tight Budgets, Primitive Myths, and the Shadow of Albert Einstein,” the latest in a series of programs by Future Tense, a partnership comprising the New America Foundation, Arizona State University, and Slate magazine.

Dan Sarewitz, Director of the Consortium for Science, Policy, and Outcomes (CSPO), described science and technology as a force for social transformation (for better or worse), and he cited increases in agricultural productivity as an example. The old assumptions―that more money always correlates with greater benefits, that researchers must be completely free to follow their curiosity, that scientists should be held accountable only to other scientists, and that knowledge is always a prerequisite to action―are not borne out by data, he said. Sarewitz noted that it's not the amount of money, but how it is spent that matters. The lone scientist following his curiosity is largely a myth―even Einstein operated in an institutional context, and Edison supervised a large group of fellow researchers. Researchers, engineers, and end users provide feedback and capabilities to each other through a complex ecosystem of interconnections. In real life, we don't always understand things completely before we start to use them―sometimes the knowledge comes from using the technology.

Subsequent panels discussed current attitudes toward higher education and the ways that science is taught at the K–12 levels (“filtration of the priesthood” according to author Deborah Blum). Online universities play a role in democratizing education, making courses accessible to those who cannot suspend their lives to spend four years studying full-time at some distant university. However, a physical campus can serve as a testbed for creating knowledge, bringing together a diverse international body of students and faculty and serving as a real presence in the surrounding community.

Funding strategies for the 21st century must rely on a combination of government and private funding. Michael Lind of the New America Foundation noted that sometimes government can and should “pick winners.” He added that the kinds of oligopolies that established the Bell Labs and TJ Watson Labs have not vanished, and cited Google as an example, but 21st-century companies will have to collaborate more on large research endeavors. He noted that a large amount of private capital is “looking for a home” and he suggested establishing a national R&D bank similar to the existing infrastructure bank as a means of tapping into this source of funding.

The ecosystem aspect of the knowledge enterprise came up frequently during the course of the afternoon. From corporate collaborations to patient involvement in medical studies, the emphasis was on mutual support and feedback between scientists, engineers, end users, and institutions. Benefits cited included better and more efficient access to funding, maintaining focus on research topics that address real problems and move society forward, and promoting better understanding between the researchers and the general public. Curiosity-driven blue-sky research was not written off altogether, but it was recognized as one part of the larger enterprise. Scientists were encouraged to be more responsive to public concerns: Lisa Margonelli of the New America Foundation noted the futility of wishing that the lay public would “just listen to the science.”

A panel of representatives from several government agencies noted the difficulties of “innovating in the belly of the beast”: overcoming institutional inertia, appealing to multiple constituencies, understanding how markets actually work rather than how conventional wisdom says they work, and understanding the varieties of concerns and cultures that characterize different agencies and communities. Michael Holland of the Department of Energy noted the tendency to create self-perpetuating funding streams in research agencies that are run by researchers. “Scientists take care of their own,” he said. Jeff Marqusee noted the beneficial direction-setting and feedback aspects of working in the Department of Defense, which contains researchers and end users under the same roof.

Michael Crow, President of Arizona State University, wrapped up the afternoon with some recommendations for redesigning “the Cold War university.” University research driven by federal government objectives narrows the scope of the knowledge enterprise, he said. The “Faustian bargain”―give us money, and we will solve your problems―no longer guarantees results. For instance, the U.S. logs in some of the world's highest expenditures on medical research, yet lags behind other developed nations in the quality of health care that it provides its citizens. Crow cited other problems, including redundant research efforts, missed opportunities, bureaucratic stovepipes, and the pursuit of mistaken ideas. He recommended a restoration of self determination and differentiation among the focus areas of various universities. “We don't need a dozens of universities, all offering the same generic chemistry courses,” he said. “The lightning bolt model has stopped working,” he added, noting that what is needed is a complete evaluation and redesign of the knowledge enterprise model.