Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Blueprint to address Australias lack of science strategy unveiled

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

Australia’s chief scientist, Ian Chubb, has unveiled a blueprint to address Australia’s lack of a science strategy, with proposals aimed at improving skills, supporting research and linking scientific work to other countries.

Chubb has made a series of recommendations to the federal government to increase focus on science, technology, engineering and maths skills.

The strategy is partially aimed at addressing the declining number of students taking advanced maths in year 11 and 12, as well as the shortage of qualified maths and science teachers.

Chubb said each primary school should have at least one specialist maths and science teacher, a policy currently used in South Australia and Victoria. This would be encouraged by improving incentives, including pay, for teachers.

Other recommendations include supporting research potential, improving research collaboration with other countries and doing more to stress the importance of science to businesses and students.

Chubb said: “We are the only OECD country without a science or technology strategy. Other countries have realised that such an approach is essential to remaining competitive in a world reliant on science and science-trained people.

“Science is infrastructure and it is critical to our future. We must align our scientific effort to the national interest, focus on areas of particular importance or need, and do it on a scale that will make a difference to Australia and a changing world.

“I have outlined how to develop better capacity and capability through strategic investment, good planning and long-term commitment.”

The report was delivered to Ian Macfarlane, the industry minister. Australia does not have a science minister.

Macfarlane said he welcomed Chubb’s report, adding that scientists have an “increasingly important role” in boosting Australia’s economy.

“Australia has a strong record of generating good ideas, but the government wants to encourage more activity that will get these good ideas to market in a way that creates jobs and business growth,” he said.

“Australia is not performing when it comes to collaboration between business and research. We’re last in the OECD countries on collaboration with higher education or public research institutions.

“Boosting our rate of collaboration will be essential for business growth and competitiveness and to create the next wave of jobs in Australian industry that are based on sophisticated skills in sustainable sectors where Australia has a competitive edge.”

The Australian Academy of Science said it “strongly supports” a long-term strategy for science in Australia, while Universities Australia also welcomed Chubb’s recommendations.

“Countries around the world have recognised that they cannot be complacent if they are to prosper and compete in the rapidly changing global economy,” said Belinda Robinson, chief executive of Universities Australia.

“Our competitors are putting in place explicit strategies to support research and innovation as prime drivers of economic and social prosperity and we must do the same.”

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Political science meeting interrupted by hotel fire

Sunday, August 31st, 2014

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Can Science Bring Back the Passenger Pigeon?

Friday, August 29th, 2014

On Sept. 1, 1914, the last passenger pigeon, Martha, died in her cage at the Cincinnati Zoo. The centenary of this extinction offers a moment to remember this lost bird and reflect on humankind’s role in its decline. It is also an opportunity to consider ways of addressing our current extinction crisis.

When Europeans first arrived in North America in the 16th and 17th centuries, passenger pigeons accounted for up to 40% of the land…

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Airships That Carry Science Into the Stratosphere

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

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Methane Is Discovered Seeping From Seafloor Off East Coast, Scientists Say

Monday, August 25th, 2014

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This Week in Science: Space Plankton, Life Under Ice, and Big City Spiders

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014

Seven days; lots of science in the news. Here’s our roundup of this week’s most notable and quotable items:

Image credit: Getty Images

Russian cosmonauts said they found sea plankton growing on the windows of the International Space Station. More and more parents are refusing vitamin K shots for newborns due to anti-vaccination fears, placing babies at risk for severe brain and intestinal bleeding. The recent “hiatus” in the rise of global temperatures despite increasing greenhouse gases may be thanks to the Atlantic Ocean acting as a heat sink.

Most birds can’t taste sugar, but it turns out that hummingbirds repurposed taste receptors normally sensitive to savory flavors and turned them into sweet detectors. A medium-sized black hole was spotted for the first time. Greenland and Antarctica are losing ice at record speed; the amount of water both ice sheets are contributing to sea level rise has doubled since 2009. An Antarctic lake sealed beneath 2,600 feet of ice is teeming with microscopic life.

It’s still unclear if the experimental Ebola drug ZMapp actually helped two aid workers recover from the disease. A vaccine against an Ebola relative, the Marburg virus, proved effective in monkeys. Escargot is not a French invention, it turns out; ancient humans living in Spain 30,000 years ago appear to have enjoyed snacking on snails.

star just 1,000 light years from Earth may contain chemical shrapnel from the explosive death of one of the first stars to arise after the Big Bang. Seals may have brought tuberculosis to the Americas 1,000 years ago. Cities are breeding bigger spiders.


‘This Week In Science’ is presented by the World Science Festival, an annual celebration of science in New York City. To see engaging scientific conversations, learn about new discoveries and more, check out the Festival website.

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The science of mixing mind-blowing cocktails

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

David E Embury was a lawyer, cocktail enthusiast and all-round stickler. Incredulous that people thought they could serve “any haphazard conglomeration of spirituous liquors, wines, bitters, fruit juices, sugar, milk, eggs, cream and anything else that happens to be leftover from last week’s picnic supper”, he wrote a book called The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks to address the issue. This was back in 1948, but today it is still considered by mixologists such as Dick Bradsell and Tony Conigliaro the key literature for their craft.

The book’s introduction nods to why I’m wary of cocktail-drinking as a pastime (other than it being a prohibitively expensive way to get drunk). Embury’s generation learned to make drinks in the prohibition era with harsh bathtub gin, therefore “the primary object in mixing a cocktail became the otherwise emollient and anti-emetic ingredients to make it possible to swallow a sufficient content of alcohol to ensure ultimate inebriety”. Cocktails remain a fancy method of making hard liquor extremely palatable. Overpriced alcopops, if you will.

That said, a sublime cocktail on a special occasion can be mind-blowing in the best possible sense. Embury wrote that a proper cocktail should whet the appetite, stimulate the mind, please the palate and the eye, taste of booze without blowing your head off and be well-iced. The lengths to which bars will go these days to tick Embury’s boxes, part customers from their hard-earned cash and offer the ultimate multi-sensory experience are flabbergasting.

Stimulating the mind

“When we start to work on a drink, we first create the narrative,” says Tony Conigliaro of 69 Colebrooke Row in north London. The idea is storyboarded as though it’s a piece of theatre, which in a way it is. Take one of Conigliaro’s drinks, the Terroir. It’s an exploration of earthy, mineral and mossy flavours, playing around with the notion that the land on which a grape is grown will influence a wine’s character. How could the drink’s ingredients, as listed on the menu – “distilled clay, flintstone and lichen” – not pique your interest? To serve, the bartender turns sommelier, opening a wine bottle at the table and describing the processes that have made the drink. Then, instead of wine, out comes this incongruous concoction.

Likewise for Thomas Aske, one of the pair behind the Worship Street Whistling Shop in Shoreditch, east London, who regularly lectures on multi-sensory drinks, a cocktail always starts with a story. “It could be derived from anything but often it’s the brand of spirit you’re using,” he says. For instance, a barrel-aged cocktail based around Clynelish highland whisky was cooled with a frozen pebble from the coast of Scotland. “It could add a bit of minerality,” says Aske (unsure whether that effect would be physiological or purely psychological), “but it also can hold its temperature without offering the dilution that ice does, so you’ve still got the intensity of flavour.”

Pleasing the eye

“The mind immediately begins to make assumptions on the flavour based on appearance,” says Aske. Although looking fantastic, he adds, “doesn’t necessarily mean having a vessel of the utmost rarity or flamboyance”. If you do go for an outlandish garnish, he says, there has to be a reason, and cites a “detonated garnish” he created for a drink based around Belvedere Unfiltered vodka, which has a freshly baked bread aroma. A helium balloon is tied to the glass with magician’s string (“which is a fuse, basically”). The drink is served with matches so that the drinker can ignite the fuse and make the balloon go bang, exciting ears, as well as eyes, throughout the bar. When it pops, the balloon releases essence of fresh bread, enhancing the drink’s flavour.

Another cocktail high on the most-Instagrammed list is the digidiva from Artesian in central London. “It’s most important to open the eyes,” says bartender Simone Caporale. “The rest we take care of.” The drink comes in a glass tube with small holes along the top into which edible flowers and freshly foraged sprigs of pine are placed, releasing an aroma to complement the lemony acqua di cedro liqueur in the drink. It is not unusual for bars to design their own drinking vessels like this. Conigliaro commissioned a ceramicist to create an oyster-shell drinking vessel for his Savoury Prairie Oyster, and the Ritz this summer had a glass stiletto made to serve their Tallulah, to commemorate Tallulah Bankhead drinking champagne from her own slipper at the Ritz in 1951.

Pleasing the palate

As with high-end cooking, the quest for flavour perfection in drinks now routinely takes place in rooms more like labs than kitchens. Rotary evaporators are used to distill delicate flavours from fresh ingredients for liqueurs and cordials at low temperatures. “If you want to take all the flavour from a raspberry without stewing the fruit, and cooking it and breaking its cells down,” says Aske, “then you need to do it at a very low temperature – 20-30C.” His team also use a sous vide to make cordials and shrubs (originally a 17th-century medicinal drink) to use in cocktails. Their honey and lavender shrub, for example, is slow-cooked in the sous vide with cider vinegar, which contains acetic acid and adds satisfying length to a drink. “You could make a shrub by boiling,” he says, “but you could end up losing the lavender’s floral note while getting its green chlorophyll bitterness.”

The Whistling Shop is also experimenting with using ultrasonic sound waves to turn liquid into vapour, serving a gin and tonic that you inhale. “You get the aroma and flavour but none or very little alcohol,” enthuses Aske. “It’s purely a case of coating the mouth, like breathing in flavoured air.”

Stimulating the skin

The tactile qualities of glassware and ingredients are deeply considered, too. Conigliaro, for instance, “had the special effects department of Central Studios make us a werewolf-like skin, with hair growing out of it, for a drink called the silver bullet.” He has also experimented with flocked and rough, sandpapered stems, and tied some fine rope around the stem of a nautical-themed drink.

Ingredients-wise, I can confirm that the Habanero Margarita at Shrimpy’s in King’s Cross, north London, is a brilliantly tingly experience. And sichuan pepper is big in New York cocktails. “Tactility of the mouth,” says Conigliaro, “is something I’ve been lecturing about for a while.” He talks about how having something tiny done at the dentist feels so exaggerated and huge, as an example of how sensitive mouths are. In the early days of 69 Colebrooke Row, he devised a dry martini that included a concentration of tannin. “You don’t smell anything, but tannins dry your mouth out, so you make more saliva, which then intensifies the sense of taste.”

Sheesh, all this work going into a drink that disappears down the gullet within minutes. Is it worth the fuss, or would you rather have a simple GT?

• Follow amy_fleming on Twitter.

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Innovative Museum of Science programs help workers get healthier

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

Workers at the Museum of Science relieve stress once a month by floating to the outer reaches of the cosmos. They participate in fitness competitions, naming their teams after dinosaurs and cellular machinery. And their workplace weight-loss program, which comes directly from a local university, has helped them drop more pounds than similar efforts elsewhere.

Three-quarters of American employees now have access to wellness programs at their workplaces — screening for diabetes and encouraging smoking cessation and weight loss.

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But the programs offered at the Museum of Science are a little different — playful while also encouraging healthy behaviors.

“We make science and math fun. We thought we could do the same for wellness,” said Wayne M. Bouchard, the museum’s chief operating officer.

In its three years, the program has been more successful than even its organizers expected.

Planetarium quiet time, a half-hour show reserved for staff at least once a month, has been drawing more participants with every session. During the last show, soothing music accompanied a peaceful tour to the far reaches of the universe and back.

“It’s nice to have a half hour to sit back and think — or not think,” said Juli Goss, a research associate.

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“It sort of puts things into perspective,” added Gail Jennes, the museum’s senior communications officer.

As many as half of the museum’s 400 year-round staffers participated in last year’s Active for Life challenge, a corporate competition sponsored by the American Cancer Society.

Employees climbed stairs, ran miles, and swam laps to earn points for teams with names like Mightychondria and Tyrannosaurarunalot.

“It was interesting around this time how much more stairway activity there was,” Bouchard said. “People you didn’t normally see going up the stairs — they may not have been going quickly, but they were deliberately changing their behavior. I still see that.”

The museum has also sponsored gardening sessions, led by its experts in the butterfly center, hosted a nutrition blog written by a staff scientist, and tested its Hall of Human Life exhibit on staffers — all in the name of wellness.

The workplace wellness program’s biggest success has been its weight-loss effort, which has helped employees shed 750 pounds over the last two years.

The vast majority of workplace wellness efforts offer some kind of weight-loss or fitness program, and about half provide stress management, according to a 2013 RAND Corporation “Workplace Wellness Programs Study.” Only about 20 percent of eligible employees nationwide participate in company-sponsored fitness programs and just 10 percent join weight-loss programs. The museum’s participation rates are much higher.

Nationally, people who lose weight through work wellness programs shed about a pound in the first year, and keep it off for at least three years, the RAND study found.

Many of the 57 employees who participated in the Science Museum’s program have done a lot better than that. Jennifer Sullivan, 46, of Reading, has dropped more than 70 pounds. Steven Monico, 60, of Haverhill is down 60 pounds. And Andrew Weisman, 47, of Wakefield has shed about 90 pounds, going from a tight size 42 to a comfortable 32.

All three have seen major health improvements: falling cholesterol levels, less pain, an end to snoring. (“My wife doesn’t need earplugs anymore,” said Monico, a shipper/receiver in the business services department.) And their energy levels are way up.

“I can make it through a 13-hour [work] day without being physically and mentally exhausted,” said Weisman, a shift leader in the visitor services department, who spends hectic days managing workers at the box office. “I can go home and I can take the dog out without a problem.”

The three have all inspired co-workers and family members to lose weight, too.

They all used a diet program called the iDiet, developed by Tufts University professor Susan B. Roberts.

“It’s free and all I have to do is walk down the hall. I have no excuses,” Sullivan told herself before joining.

The “I” stands for “instinct” and the diet aims to work with — instead of against — human instincts to feel full, to eat a variety of familiar foods, to prefer calorie-dense items, and to consume whatever is available.

“How do we help people cut calories, feel full, and enjoy what they’re eating? By working with that biology rather than ignoring it,” Roberts said. “If you compare our research with other workplace programs, we’re achieving six times more weight loss in the randomized clinical trials.”

Of the 20 employees who participated in the 12-week diet program the first time the museum offered it, the average weight loss was nearly 11 pounds — 6 percent of the employees’ starting weight. Two years later, those same employees have now dropped a total of 16 pounds on average.

The science museum is the first museum to adopt the program, though it is being used at 15 corporations with as many as 12,000 employees. iDiet is run by Instinct Health Science Inc., headed by Norman W. Gorin, a former member of the science museum board, and offers a program for use outside of workplace wellness programs at

Aside from the benefits of having healthier employees and the team-building aspect of the museum’s wellness offerings, hosting the programs also help the museum’s bottom line.

“Healthy employees are happier and their health insurance statistics are better — I won’t lie to you,” Bouchard said. “It’s great to have healthy, happy employees, but there’s a real financial benefit to people being healthier, too.”

Nationally, however, there is some debate about how cost-effective wellness programs really are. Although some studies find a cost savings, RAND researchers in a January 2014 study found that companies only saved money if they focused on helping employees manage existing illnesses — not improving their overall wellness.

“Employers and policy makers should not take for granted that the lifestyle management component of such programs can reduce health care costs or even lead to net savings,” the study concludes.

The report did find that lifestyle programs can reduce missed days of work, which has been true for Sullivan. The environmental health and safety program manager said her sleep has improved, the pain from her osteoarthritis has eased, her chronic heartburn has lessened, and she can get more done now that she doesn’t have to wait for the staff elevator.

“I can keep up with the guys a little bit more,” Sullivan said.

The Boston Globe

Andrew Weisman, who has dropped about 90 pounds, manages the box office.

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Panel: Students learn science with hands-on experience

Sunday, August 17th, 2014

A committee drafting new science education standards for the state wants to make sure South Dakota students get plenty of opportunities to learn by doing.

State education officials released a draft of new science curriculum standards this week in advance of four public hearings that will start in September.

Educators who came up with the proposed standards want K-12 students to master scientific investigations, problem-solving methods, data analysis and making evidence-based arguments by the time they graduate, said Sam Shaw, a science specialist at the South Dakota Department of Education.

“What’s happened is that, as research has shown, kids actually learn science by doing science,” Shaw said. “That inquiry, that investigation has been integrated with the content.”

Shaw worked on the proposed standards with a team of people appointed to the South Dakota Science Standards committee. State education officials will invite public comment on the proposed guidelines next month. The new curriculum standards must be reviewed in four public hearings before adoption.

The last time South Dakota adopted new science standards was in 2005. The proposed new benchmarks were drafted this year by a team of public school teachers, administrators and college instructors.

School Bus Inc. facing driver shortage as first day looms

The standards outline new learning goals for each elementary school grade, for middle school students by the time they finish eighth grade and for high school students by the time they graduate. The Board of Education’s website this week also posted proposed standards for fine arts classrooms and for technology in the classroom.

The 31-person committee tasked with drafting the science standards used a framework from the National Research Council as a guide but also considered other states’ and South Dakota’s existing standards “to create kind of an amalgamation that is our own,” Shaw said. They designed the guidelines to be achievable and relevant to South Dakota students, he said.

A 2014 law bars state education officials from adopting “any uniform content standards drafted by a multistate consortium which are intended for adoption in two or more states,” before July 1, 2016.

State policymakers passed the law this year following a backlash against the Common Core math and reading standards and calls for even stronger restrictions.

Teachers would begin modeling the new standards next year, but the standards wouldn’t be fully integrated into all public school classrooms until 2018.

The proposed standards break down learning goals by grade and subject, but officials are careful to clarify they still leave plenty of freedom for local educators to write curriculum.

“There’s a whole lot of autonomy at the local level,” Shaw said. “The standards just provide that, here’s what students should be able to know and to do.”

Instead of just addressing content, the committee wanted to ensure what students learn prepares them for “the way that science is actually done,” said Liz McMillan, committee member and curriculum education coordinator at Sanford Research in Sioux Falls.

“How can we make sure that kids in classrooms throughout the state of South Dakota are actually having opportunities to perform genuine science in classrooms?” McMillan said.

Even as early as kindergarten, students would apply what the proposed standards refer to as “crosscutting concepts,” or lessons that combine the different sciences and even mix in a little math.

The state has posted an early version of the standards on its website, with a notice for an upcoming public hearing in Rapid City, scheduled for 10 a.m. Sept. 15 at Western Dakota Technical Institute, 800 Mickelson Drive, in the Dakota Hall Lecture Room.

It will be the first public hearing for science, fine arts and technology standards, and the fourth public hearing for the state’s new physical education standards. South Dakota officials also plan to introduce new social studies standards but have yet to release a draft.

“It was a lot of work, and it still is,” Shaw said. “We’re still trying to plan for the future.”

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The Science Behind Suicide Contagion

Friday, August 15th, 2014

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