Category Archives: North Carolina

Primate Palooza at Duke – meet the bonobos

From Duke: Bonobo Rescue Leader to Headline Primate Palooza:

DURHAM, N.C. — Internationally renowned conservationist Claudine André will visit Duke University April 14-18 as part of the “Primate Palooza,” an effort to raise awareness for our primate relatives.
André founded and runs the world’s only sanctuary and release program for orphaned bonobos in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Bonobos, like chimpanzees, are our closest living relative and are highly endangered. However, unlike chimpanzees and humans, bonobos are the only ape that has found a way to maintain peace in their groups.
When bonobos have a disagreement with each other they tend to hug or share food instead of having a fight. Bonobos have never been observed to kill each other and females cooperate to prevent males from bullying smaller bonobos. Ironically, this peaceful ape only lives in one country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has been torn apart by almost a decade of war that has killed more than five million people.
André was given an orphan bonobo called Mikeno when she was caring for abandoned animals at the Kinshasa zoo during the war. She collected food from local restaurants to feed Mikeno and other starving animals while starting kindness clubs to teach Congolese children about animals. Further north, soldiers were shooting bonobos for food, and before long, she was flooded with bonobo orphans.
“I wanted a paradise for my bonobos,” Claudine says. “Somewhere they would always be fed and taken care of. Somewhere they could always see the sky.”
She established Lola ya Bonobo in 2001 in a forest just outside Kinshasa, the capital city of Congo. Since the sanctuary has opened her non-profit “friends of bonobos” has funded the visits of tens of thousands of children to the bonobo sanctuary.
In 2009, André enlisted the help of Duke students and faculty in the Evolutionary Anthropology Department to aid her efforts to release bonobos orphaned by the illegal pet and bush meat trade back into the wild.
“Having Claudine here at Duke is a wonderful opportunity to share with students and the general public the difference a single individual can make,” says Duke researcher Brian Hare. “Claudine has done more for bonobo conservation than anyone else in the world. If you want to meet a conservation heroine this is your chance.”
Duke’s Primate Palooza will run from April 14th – 17th. The main events open to the public are as follows:
Primate Symposium: Why you need to know you are a primate
5-8 p.m., Wednesday, April 14
Duke faculty studying primates will discuss how knowing you’re a primate can improve your life. Keynote speaker Claudine André will speak about her work saving bonobos and defending the world’s last great tropical forest in the Congo Basin. A silent auction including Duke Men’s basketball, Duke Lemur Center, and Bonobo memorabilia will be held to benefit “Friends of Bonobos.”
Love Auditorium
Levine Research Science Center
308 Research Drive
Duke University
Durham, NC, 27708
Public Parking available in Bryan Center on Science Drive a short walk from Center
Contact: Kara Schroepfer,, 919-943-3482
A night with Claudine André and the bonobos of Congo
6:30 – 7:30 p.m., Thursday, April 15
Durham Museum of Life and Science
433 Murray Avenue, Durham, NC 27704
Contact: Darcy Lewandowski,, (919) 220 -5429 x372

I cannot make it to the talk on Wednesday, but I’ll probably go to the Museum event on Thursday. Go if you can – this is likely to be awesome.

America’s Science Challenges and Opportunities: Past, Present and Future

This is a part of Scope Academy 2010 at NCSU (click to see the rest of the program and to register):

SAS Hall, North Campus, April 10th, 4:00 pm
Scope/Harrelson Lecture
Keynote speaker Neal Lane, Malcolm Gillis University Professor at Rice University and senior fellow of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, presents:
America’s Science Challenges and Opportunities: Past, Present and Future
The United States, especially since World War II, has been powered by science, engineering and technology. The rationale for the federal government’s large investment in research was originally WWII and the cold war that followed. But in recent decades the emphasis has shifted to health and medicine and, more recently, energy, technological innovation and the economy. This talk will review a bit of the history, describe some current challenges and opportunities and offer speculation on possible futures for American science and implications for the nation.

I will probably go to this and blog about it later.

The 2010 North Carolina Science and Engineering Fair

The 2010 North Carolina Science and Engineering Fair will be held at Meredith College in Raleigh on March 26th-27th. You can see the details here. The part that is open to public will be on Saturday March 27th from 2:30 – 4:00 pm.
From the NC Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education Center:

Young scientists from across the state will gather at Meredith College in Raleigh on Sat., March 27, to participate in the N.C. Science and Engineering Fair (NCSEF). Students from 3rd grade through 12th grade will present original science and engineering research. NCSEF showcases the highest level of student achievement in the state.
Students competing in the NCSEF were selected from last month’s 10 regional competitions. Advancing to the state competition are 250 student research projects. The student projects will be available for public viewing from 2:30 and 4 p.m. in the Science and Math Building and Harris Hall on Meredith’s campus.
“In today’s global economy, science, mathematics and technology are cornerstones of many countries’ economic development strategy. It is imperative that we establish a passion in our youth for science and math,” said Sam Houston, president and CEO of the North Carolina Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education Center (SMT Center). “The North Carolina Science and Engineering Fair is designed to actively engage students in science and technology, and practice the adult skills of not only finding answers, but explaining them to others.”
The SMT Center’s support for science competitions includes recruiting and providing training for scientists and engineers to serve as judges at the State Science and Engineering Fair as well as local and regional fairs. According to Dr. Houston, science competitions such as the NCSEF can be an outlet for students to showcase scientific research they have conducted for high school graduation projects and other external student and community science initiatives.
Students will have opportunities to compete for financial awards and the opportunity to present at two prestigious international student research competitions, among other special awards this year according to Judy Day, assistant director, Office of Undergraduate Research at North Carolina State University, and the NCSEF volunteer director.
Outstanding projects from 5th – 8th grade students will be nominated for the Discovery Education Young Scientist Challenge. Selected high school students will go on to the INTEL International Science and Engineering Fair that will take place in May in San Jose, California, to display their research with 1,500 students from 40 countries. This year, two middle school projects and two high school projects will be selected to represent NCSEF at the International Sustainable World (Energy, Engineering & Environment) Project (ISWEEEP) in Houston, Tex.
Current NCSEF corporate and university sponsors include:
• GlaxoSmithKline
• Time Warner Cable: Connect A Million Minds
• Burroughs Wellcome Fund
• NC Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education Center
• Duke Energy
• Strategic Educational Alliances
• BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina
• Meredith College
• North Carolina State University

I’ll try to make it to the portion that is open to the public and blog about it afterwards.

Science Journalism/Communication week in review

Lots of interesting stuff this week, so I decided to put everything in a single post – makes it easier for everyone….
First, there was a very nice article in Columbia Journalism Review (which someone subscribed me to – I guess because my name appeared there the other week….someone is trying to remind me how it feels to read stuff written on actual paper!) about the beginning of a resurgence of science journalism in North Carolina. The article covers all the bases, focusing mostly on the new Monday science pages produced collaboratively by The Charlotte Observer and the Raleigh News & Observer, including the history of how the project came about (which I did not know until now). It also mentions ScienceOnline2010 and then delves some into the new online project (the website of which is about to undergo some nice redesign and renewed activity soon):

Colin Schultz is writing an interesting blog about science journalism – check out his archives for older posts. But specifically, I want to draw your attention to the interviews he recently conducted with some of the interesting people in science journalism, especially with Carl Zimmer, David Dobbs and Ed Yong (only John Timmer is missing to have a complete ‘Rebooting science journalism’ panel from ScienceOnline2010).
Speaking of interviews, my Scio10 series of interviews with people interested in science communication from various angles is growing fast and strong (I already have two more lined up for next week).
I was also busy myself, with three provocative blog posts on the topic: Why it is important for media articles to link to scientific papers, Science blogs and public engagement with science and New science journalism ecosystem: new inter-species interactions, new niches, all three of which received quite a lot of response around the blogo/twitter-sphere (mostly, surprisingly, quite positive!). The last one, especially, appears to fit in this week’s theme of The Future of Context.
NYTimes had a nice long feature about a mommyblogging conference, which is wonderful, but made me unhappy that a similar article never appeared in NYTimes for any of our four ScienceOnline conferences – don’t tell me there is absolutely NO audience for that!?
I would like to go to The Online News Association meeting but for that to happen, you need to vote for and comment on my panel.
Chris Brodie’s class on Explaining Science to the Public (introduced here) has posted several interesting blog posts analyzing three long newspaper articles by Carl Zimmer.
Dennis Meredith, author of the excellent Explaining Research book, has a new press release – Cultural Flaw Hampers Scientists in Public Battles, Says New Book. He was also a guest of Ernie Hood (current chair of SCONC) on his weekly science radio show Radio In Vivo and wrote a new blog post – Communicating Research in 3-D Virtual Worlds.
Also listen to the interview with Andrew Revkin – The Death of Science Writing, and the Future of Catastrophe.
Finally, Chris Perrien took that board (remember?) everyone signed at the end of ScienceOnline2010 and framed it. Yesterday he presented it to us during lunch at RTP and everyone pulled out the iPhones and took pictures – here is one (you can see more on my Facebook profile….):
scio10 placard2.jpg


Yesterday I spent the day at the RTP headquarters, attending TEDxRTP. The TEDx conferences are small, locally organized offshoots of the well-known TED conference.
This was the first TEDx in the Triangle region (though Asheville beat us as being the first in the state) and, judging from the response of the audience, it seems everyone expects this will become a regular annual event. You can check out the Twitter account as well as the Twitter chatter if you search the #TEDxRTP hashtag.
The event was livestreamed and the rough videos are already up on the Ustream channel. Better quality videos will be posted soon (Ustream and/or YouTube, just check out the TEDxRTP webpage or Twitter account for updates when this happens).
TEDxNYED (on Twitter) was happening in NYC at the same time, focusing on “the role of new media and technology in shaping the future of education” and a stellar line-up of speakers. The idea to organize TED events specifically for young people (both as presenters and key audience) sprung up spontaneously at both the RTP and NYC events – follow the #SpreadTED hashtag for more – though it has been done before at a local scale: see TEDxTerry (see this video for one example of their talks – I met Jennifer Kaban subsequently at AAAS).
As you may know, I was involved in the organization of the event to some extent, mostly early on. I do not remember now how I got a wiff that a group of locals was trying to organize this (Twitter, Facebook?), but I joined the group early on and we met several times for monthly organizational meetings. Realizing that location dictates everything else (number of participants, number of attendees, amount of food/coffee needed, sponsorship money needed to cover food/coffee, etc.) we set out to investigate location options in the Triangle and took a look at something like 40 potential locations. Some were too small, some too big, some too expensive, others fully booked for the year, and yet others just did not spatially fit for our event. We looked at theaters and movie theaters, hotels and convention centers, restaurants and cafes. In the end, I helped negotiate the perfect location – the RTP headquarters: perfect location smack in the center of the Triangle, easy drive from everywhere in the area, great LEED-silver building, and experienced staff that could help with myriads of aspects of organizing an event, from catering and parking to technical aspects (wifi, video recording etc.).
Later on, busy with ScienceOnline2010 and then trip to AAAS, I pulled out of the organization a little bit. I especially did not want to dictate the speakers, for two reasons: one generous, one selfish. First, I am already organizing the awesomest, most kick-ass, most well-known annual conference in the area where I have a big say as to who is speaking. Second, I wanted to see local speakers that I am not aware of, yet others think are worth listening to. Just like at Ignite Raleigh a few days earlier, all the speakers were new to me (at least in the sense that I have never seen them speak – I did know a few people from before, either from Real Life or from the online world). And I approached the TEDxRTP speaker line-up with a deliberate decision to be open and tolerant to everything, even if that is a little bit outside my own comfort zone.
And yes, several were outside of my comfort zone. As the theme of the event was “Living to Our Highest Potential”, the talks were highly inspirational. Yes, several invoked spirituality, alternative medicine, uncritical infatuation with the “wisdom” of Ancient India, and even, gasp, religion, but none of them crossed the line for me, the rational, reality-based robot. The only talk that made me really uneasy is one that invoked a far too traditional and conservative vision of what a family looks like (and judging from the Twitter chatter, I was far from alone in being uneasy with it. Update: Carlee Mallard also agrees with me on this in her blog post).
I am an analytical kind of guy, so I analyzed the talks a lot! There was a lot of stuff there that I learned from the first time, from design of serious games, through the ways private companies are planning on going into outer space, to how to teach swimming, to business practices of trapist monks. Then there were talks which covered well-trodden ground but framed it differently, in a new and potentially useful way. And Catherine Cadden broke my analytical shields and moved me emotionally.
Nick Young did the best job blogging about TEDxRTP so far – see his preview, the first part of the review and second part of the review for good descriptions of the event and the individual presentations (though we may not agree on details).
What I was initially worried about turned out to be actually a good thing about TEDxRTP – the layering and mixing up of some very different presentations. It was not just talk after talk after talk. We showed four original TED videos (this is one of the rules of TEDx). We had one speaker read a poem. A trio playing serious music. And two (one planned one unplanned) skits of improvisation theater. The whole thing was connected together masterfully by MC for the day Zach Ward whose dry humor made the event even more fun. I hope he comes back to do it again next year.
This is a time of heavy concentration of similar events in the area. There was an Ignite Raleigh 2 on March 3rd (I already blogged about it), and upcoming are FizzledDurham on March 8th (that’s tomorrow), Pecha Kucha Raleigh on March 23rd, and the March edition of The Monti also on March 23rd.
The real biggy this year is WWW2010 in late April which includes several side-show events including Web Science Conference 2010, 7th International Cross-Disciplinary Conference on Web Accessibility and the FutureWeb: WWWhere Are We Heading?, the latter one I hope to be able to attend.
You can find these and other events on the Social Carolina calendar and plan accordingly – and hope you can get tickets, as most of these events sell out within minutes! Now that all these small independent groups are finding each other, we can probably be able to coordinate the dates and times better for the next year’s events, including TEDxRTP2011.

Spring Awakening

On Friday, the Bride of Coturnix, Coturnietta, a friend of hers and I went to DPAC to see ‘Spring Awakening‘. As you may already know, this is a rock adaptation of an old play located in late-19th century Germany, following the growth and maturation of a group of high school students surrounded by a disciplinarian and authoritarian adult world, in which sex is taboo (so they have to learn on their own, feel guilt about it, and suffer consequences) and strict, dogmatic religion trumps every attempt at independent thought or questioning.
I have not seen the play before, though I have heard the soundtrack a million times, but the Bride of Coturnix has seen the original cast on Broadway and says that this rendering was excellent. I agree.
Yes, there is a moment of partial nudity on stage at one point. And a stylized masturbation. And a stylized sexual intercourse. And a kiss between two gay men. And a botched back-alley abortion that kills a girl. And an accurate portrayal of cowardly, insecure adults making up for their own shortcomings by preventing and punishing every youthful act that challenges their power, their standing on the top of the hierarchy, their mad use of religion to enforce that hierarchy, and their own unease with sexuality.
Which is the point of the play.
Which is why it is exactly the young people who are the target audience of the play. The warning on the DPAC website – “Parental Discretion is advised. Mature content, including brief partial nudity, sexual situations, and strong language.” – is there more to satisfy the conservative, authoritarian, cowardly, sexually insecure, adult curmudgeons in our own current society than a statement of fact. Or a real warning to young people to stay away.
The funniest moment for me was when, at the end of Act I, the old man in front of me got up and said how scandalized he was, asking why there was no warning that this was R-rated! Hmmm, I guess a curmudgeon like that does not go online to see the warning either. And he missed the point of the show – that his style of curmudgeonness is exactly what the play is exposing for what it is: hypocritical and dangerous. It is people like him who are NOT the target audience of the play – it is the young people, being warned about folks like him.
There are some good reviews in Durham Herald Sun and Raleigh News and Observer, and even better blog posts by Theatre North Carolina and Ginny Skalski (who wrote it from the perspective of a lucky person who got to sit on the stage).
On the other hand, do not trust Byron Woods of Independent Weekly for your theatrical reviews. It appears he is incapable of arriving on time (compare this to this – half the reviews are about how he was late, and complaining about it as if it’s not his fault), and is more intent on appearing savvy (remember the ‘Church of the Savvy‘ inflicting the media in general?) and slamming a play than telling something informative to the readers – compare his reviews to everyone else’s review of the same play (another example, other than Spring Awakening, is last year’s Fiddler on the roof, compare this to this).
You can find DPAC on Twitter, Facebook and Flickr, as well as check out their blog.
The touring ensemble of ‘Spring Awakening’ also has a blog, a website and a Twitter account, a fan forum, as well as MySpace and Facebook pages. That’s the way to promote the show!
DPAC had some variation in quality of shows this year (expected for such a new place), but ‘Spring Awakening’ was right at the top. If it comes to a theater near you, go and see it.

Ignite Raleigh #2 and TEDxRTP – what a week!

On Wednesday, Bride Of Coturnix and I went to Ignite Raleigh. There was an Ignite show in many cities around the world that night, and the one in Raleigh was one of the biggest, with 702 people in attendance, in Lincoln theater (which is far too small for such a crowd – but crowdiness made it more intimate). It was a blast. I saw a lot of old friends, met some of the people I only know from Twitter or blogs, and met some new ones. All 19 talks were excellent, thought-provoking and, what is important at Ignite, they were all full of energy and fun (and funny!). It is hard to pick favourites, as each speaker was very different, from local techies (including Henry Copeland of to the local TV meterologist (she went to shool with Bride Of Coturnix) to the current Miss NC.
All of the speakers are on Twitter and it was fun to be able to tell them how much we appreciated their talks afterwards, ask additional questions about something they said, check out their blogs (and slideshows) and thus build a whole new local sub-community around this one event.
At the bottom of this post are links to some of the blog posts describing the event, both by participants and the audience. You can also check out the hashtag #igniteraleigh for more. The event was livestreamed on Ustream – you should be able to see the videos there soon (or on the Ignite Raleigh homepage).
Tomorrow is something similar yet different: TEDxRTP. TEDx conferences are local franchises of the TED conference. As someone said (I forgot where I read it), If Ignite is a poetry slam, TEDx is a poetry reading. More detailed explanation of differences between these similar-yet-different kinds of events can be found here.
I had a small involvement in the organization of TEDxRTP early on (and then kinda disappeared as ScienceOnline2010 and trip to AAAS10 took a lot of my time and energy away), but I negotiated that the location of the event would be at the RTP headquarters (those of you who attended #scio10 – that is where we all first got together and heard Michael Specter deliver Keynote Address) which is a perfect venue for this.
Tickets for TEDxRTP have sold out within hours two weeks ago (I was in the air during that entire period of opening and closing the registration period – it is just as being one of the organizers that I had my ticket reserved in advance), but we are aggressive at asking people who cannot make it to release the tickets to the waitlisters, so if you are on the waitlist, and check your e-mail early in the morning, perhaps you’ll be lucky…. if not, watch all the videos!
Here are some of the blog posts about Ignite Raleigh #2:
IgniteRaleigh went like this:
Ignite Raleigh 2 & Scrubby
The Redneck Guide to Silicon Valley
And so it begins…
Ignite Raleigh Top 10
Notes from IgniteRaleigh via KarlieJ (+ my thoughts)
Consider me ignited, Raleigh
Follow up to Ignite Raleigh
Ignite Your Conference!
Ignite Raleigh 2
20 Little-Known Facts About Sex and Pleasure

American Scientist pizza lunch – genomic and personalized medicine

From the American Scientist:

Our American Scientist pizza lunch talk falls later than usual this month to accommodate our magazine’s May-June issue deadline. Keep open the noon hour on March 30 and come hear Geoff Ginsburg, director of the Center for Genomic Medicine at Duke University, discuss genomic and personalized medicine.
To keep you on your toes, we’ll convene at a different spot: the easy-to-get-to headquarters of the NC Biotechnology Center here in RTP. Actually, as many of you know, there would be no pizza lunch this year without the support of the Biotech Center. In addition to their financial help, center staff kindly offered to host one of our gatherings this year.
American Scientist Pizza Lunch is free and open to science journalists and science communicators of all stripes. Feel free to forward this message to anyone who might want to attend. RSVPs are required (for the slice count) to
Directions to the NC Biotechnology Center are here:

The Ecological and Economic Importance of Sharks, Threats They Face, and How You Can Help (CANCELLED)

From the NC Museum of Life Sciences:

Program Type: Science Talk
Date: Mar. 9, 7 pm – Mar. 9, 8 pm
Location: Museum of Natural Sciences – Auditorium
Fee: $6 General Public, $4 Members, $3 Students
The Ecological and Economic Importance of Sharks, Threats They Face, and How You Can Help
Lecture, slide show & video presentation by marine biologist David Shiffman
David Shiffman and friendShiffman graduated with distinction in Biology from Duke and is now a Masters in Marine Biology candidate at the College of Charleston in South Carolina. His research focuses on the feeding behavior and conservation of sandbar sharks. Shiffman is also a prolific writer for Southern Fried Science, one of the most widely read marine biology blogs on the internet.
Seating is limited. Reserve your seat now for this multimedia presentation by visiting or calling the Museum Box Office at 919.733.7450 x212. Fee: $6 for general public (discounts for Museum Members and Students).
The Museum’s current special exhibit, “Megalodon: Largest Shark that Ever Lived,” will be open from 5 to 7pm prior to the presentation. At 60 feet long and weighing nearly 100 tons, Carcharodon megalodon was the most powerful fish that ever lived and a dominant marine predator. While the Megalodon vanished 2 million years ago, its fascinating story continues to inspire lessons for contemporary science and shark conservation. “Megalodon” runs through May 9, 2010. Fee: $7 Adults; $5 Seniors/Students; $4 Children (5-11); free to Members.

Science Cafe Raleigh – Our bodies: the Final Frontier

From the NC Museum of Natural Sciences:

OUR BODIES: The Final Frontier
Tuesday, March 23, 2010 – 6:30-8:30 pm with discussion beginning
at 7:00 followed by Q&A
Location: Tir Na Nog 218 South Blount Street, Raleigh, 833-7795
We have come to think of the world as known. It isn’t. Even basic parts of our own bodies remain totally unexplored. For example, have you ever stopped to wonder why you are naked? Aside from naked mole rats, we are among the only land mammals to be essentially devoid of hair. Why? Join us for a discussion about the human body and its adaptations to a world filled with predators, pathogens and parasites. Bring your appendix, if you still have one, and learn about its special purpose.
About the Speaker:
Rob Dunn is an ecologist in the Department of Biology at North Carolina State University where he studies the global distribution of life and how it is changing as we change the world. He also studies ants. Dunn’s award-winning book “Every Living Thing” (Harper Collins, 2009) explores the strange limits of the living world and the stranger scientists that study them. His next book, “Clean Living is Bad for You … and Other Modern Consequences of Having Evolved in the Wild,” will be out in 2010. Dunn also writes articles for magazines including National Geographic, Natural History, Seed, Scientific American and National Wildlife. To read more of Rob’s writing, sign up for his email list at:
RSVP to For more information, contact Katey Ahmann at 919-733-7450, ext. 531.

Dan Ariely – Behavioral Economics seminar

At North Carolina State University next week:

Seminar: Wednesday, March 10th, 4PM
Dr. Dan Ariely
James B. Duke Professor of Behavioral Economics, Duke University
Who Put the Monkey in the Driver’s Seat?
Venue: Room 101 David Clark Laboratories
The NCSU, W. M. Keck Center for Behavioral Biology is pleased to sponsor a seminar by a scholar in the field of Behavioral Economics who is also recognized for his ability to communicate the fascinating findings in this field to the public. When we make “decisions” we think that we are in control. Dan Ariely explains some of the hidden forces that actually control those decisions.

Nanomaterials in Ecosystems: Should we worry?

Duke’s Periodic Tables at the Broad Street Cafe
March 9, 2010 | 7:00 P.M.
Nanomaterials in Ecosystems: Should we worry?
Nanotechnology has the enormous potential to change our society. New advances in medicine, energy production, environmental cleanup and better access to clean water are just a few of the many possibilities. According to the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, the number of products that use nanomaterials has increased almost 380% since 2006. But, is it the same special properties that make nanoscale materials so useful that also pose potential risks to humans and the environment? Join Dr. Emily Bernhardt from the Center for the Environmental Implications of NanoTechnology to discuss the fate of nanomaterials in our environment and why you should care.
Speaker: Dr. Emily Bernhardt, Assistant Professor of Biology at Duke University and Program Leader at the Center for Environmental Implication of NanoTechnology

Science of airport security screening

At Morehead Planetarium in Chapel Hill this week:

Thursday, March 4, 7 p.m.
Michael Zunk,
Federal Security Director, TSA, RDU International Airport
Come hear Mr. Zunk discuss scanning technologies while busting some popular myths on airport security screening.
Cookies and coffee served.

Morehead Banquet Hall, East Entrance, 2nd Floor. Chapel Hill, NC.

North Carolina science journalism/blogging projects getting noticed

If you are interested in the topic of science journalism, how it’s changing, what’s new, and who’s who in it, you are probably already reading Knight Science Journalism Tracker. If not, you should start now.
They have recently been digging around and finding projects with which I am involved in one way or another. For example, a few days ago, they profiled science blogs in general and in particular, but mainly focused on which aggregates and gives a stamp of approval to blog posts covering peer-reviewed research. The aggregator is a local thing – it is a brainchild of Dave Munger here in Davidson, NC, and it was first announced to the world at the 2008 Science Online conference here in RTP.
Blog posts that show up there are also tracked by PLoS articles as a component of article-level metrics, and the blogging guidelines for getting onto the PLoS press list are taken directly from Aggregation on is also a requirement for eligibility for our Blog Pick Of The Month prize.
A couple of days ago, folks at Knight Science Journalism Tracker stumbled onto an article in Raleigh News & Observer and were curious where the original local science reporting is coming from, knowing that the paper has laid off its science reporters a while ago.
Having a lot of well-connected readers and commenters, they got their question answered quickly: the brand new Monday Science section, a collaborative project of Charlotte Observer and Raleigh News & Observer (both owned by McClatchy group).
Instead of full-time reporters sitting in the newsroom, the articles are written by freelance writers (mostly) residing in the area, including Dave Munger (remember Cognitive Daily blog?), DeLene Beeland, Sabine Vollmer (former science reporter at N&O), Cassie Rodenberg and a number of others (mainly writers organized around SCONC).
But the new Monday section is not the only thing the folks at Knight Science Journalism Tracker learned about in this effort. They also heard about – and thus blogged about – Science In The (and its blog), a new online project designed to fill in the vacuum in science, environmental and medical reporting left by the deep cuts in local newsrooms. The site is still in its infancy, but we are working on it. Currently we have one videographer (Ross Maloney), one professional journalist (Sabine Vollmer), and two bloggers (DeLene Beeland and myself). I hope you take a look, subscribe/bookmark, and watch the site evolve in the future.

Megalodon and other sharks at Darwin Day

Last night, braving horrible traffic on the way there, and snow on the way back, I made my way to the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences for the Darwin Day shark lecture co-organized by NESCent and the sneak preview of the Megalodon exhibit which officially opens today.
megalodon 001.jpg
I have to say that the trip was very much worth making – the exhibit is excellent! I like the way the exhibit is making good use of the space – so many exhibits feel cluttered and an all-out assault on all of one’s senses. Upon entering the room, it looks quite sparse. Yet, once I started going around I saw how much it actually covers, how well organized the exhibit layout is, how much information (including a lot of new-to-me information) is included and presented so very clearly and tastefully, and how much it has something for everyone independent of age, background or interest. And of course – the fossils! Absolutely amazing and stunning fossils! From the magnificent Megalodon jaws, to some of the strangest teeth arrangements one has ever seen in any jaw of any animal.
megalodon 002.jpg
Then, exhausted and a little faintly from the lack of food yesterday (yes, it was a busy day), I entered the lecture hall afraid I’d fall asleep or pass out in the middle of the talk. I need not have worried – Adam Summers is an amazing speaker. I was able not just to pay attention throughout, I was excited throughout the talk. For a jaded biologist and blogger, when many public lectures tend to present stuff already well known to me, it was refreshing to keep learning new stuff every couple of minutes or so. And not just new factoids, but new questions and new ways of thinking about them – why are sharks larger than bony fish, why sharks have no bone, how do sharks swim, how do sharks and bony fish manage to swim very fast, etc. Questions I never asked myself before.
There were things in there that are outside my realm of expertise, for which I am essentially a layman: engineering principles, a formula I am unfamiliar with, a couple of graphs….yet all of that was made very clear on an intuitive level. How? Because Adam is really good at using analogies (“think of this as…”) and metaphors (snuck into the description without any warning). Be it water-filters, armor, stacks of coins, or houses made of sponges, it all becomes vivid and immediately makes sense.
It is also obvious that a lot of research went into this, yet very few actual data were shown – only the key data that are essential to make the point. This is a public lecture – there is no need to drown the audience in gazillions of graphs and discussions of statistics. The slides, including the images and brief video clips were both beautiful and essential for grasping the point he is making. And then there was quite a lot of humor, mainly of the self-deprecating kind making fun of himself and his students in the context of scientist stereotypes – how they look, talk, think and behave.
All in all – well done. Who ever said that scientists don’t know how to communicate to lay audience, eh?

Darwin Day – Sharks!

This afternoon, I’ll be driving down to Raleigh to the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences for the special Darwin Day event organized in collaboration with the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center.
The evening will start with the sneak-peak pre-opening of the Megalodon exhibit which opens to the public tomorrow. Megalodon was the largest shark ever discovered in the fossil record and the exhibit will, apart from its massive jaws, showcase the evolution of sharks, modern sharks and the conservation issues facing these magificient fish today:

At 60 feet long, Carcharodon megalodon was the largest shark that ever lived and a dominant marine predator. Sharks are at risk today, with recent population declines attributed to humans. While the Megalodon vanished 2 million years ago, its fascinating story inspires lessons for contemporary science and shark conservation. “Megalodon: Largest Shark that Ever Lived” opens February 13 and runs through May 9, 2010.
This unique exhibit showcases both fossil and modern shark specimens, as well as full-scale models from several collections. Visitors enter a full-sized sculpture of Megalodon through massive jaws and discover this shark’s history and the world it inhabited, including its physiology, diet, lifespan, relatives, neighbors, evolution and extinction.
The exhibit also provides details on how to improve the health of our oceans and survival of threatened species. Recent worldwide declines are attributed to commercial and sport overfishing. Scientists estimate that humans kill 100 million sharks, skates and rays each year, and the life history of most shark species makes it difficult for populations to rebound.
For those wondering why sharks should be saved, the exhibit asks visitors to consider the marine food-web domino effect caused by overfishing. Another section describes how this animal continues to fascinate many, elevating the Megalodon to near cult status. From biker jackets to postage stamps, the exhibition explains the many ways that the Megalodon remains a part of human culture through art, literature, music and film.

Then, at 6:30, NESCent introduces a public lecture by Adam Summers:

To kick off the exhibit, biologist Adam Summers will tell us about sharks as inspiration for biomaterials design and how these ancient fishes swim fast and grow huge. Find out what we have learned since Darwin’s time about the underwater world of sharks and other fishes.
The talk is FREE and open to the public. First come, first served event. Space is limited. Reserve your ticket now!
Friday, February 12th
N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences
11 W. Jones Street, Downtown Raleigh
6:30 – 7:30 p.m.
While you’re there, get a sneak preview of the exhibit:
Megalodon: Largest Shark That Ever Lived
5:00-8:00 p.m.
“Special Preview” discount pricing
$5.00 Adults, $3.00 Children (ages 5-11)
Free for Members
Separate tickets for the exhibit opening and the lecture are needed. Lecture is recommended for guests 12 years and older. Exhibit is recommended for everyone. Purchase/reserve tickets at

If you will be there tonight, find me and say Hello.

Cambodian Attitudes and Mental Health on the Eve of the Khmer Rouge Trials

At Pizza Lunch talks, we hear a lot about efforts to decipher the physical world. But what about psychological realms? How do you measure them, especially on a large scale among people scarred by trauma? At noon on Thursday, Feb. 18, come hear Dr. Jeffrey Sonis discuss “Cambodian Attitudes and Mental Health on the Eve of the Khmer Rouge Trials.” The UNC-Chapel Hill physician and public health researcher is studying how Cambodians are responding to the genocide trials.
American Scientist Pizza Lunch is free and open to science journalists and science communicators of all stripes. Feel free to forward this message to anyone who might want to attend. RSVPs are required (for an accurate slice count) to
Directions to Sigma Xi:


The National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences invite you to a SHARK FRENZY!
“Big, Fast and Bulletproof: What One Biologist Has Learned From 300 Million Years Of Shark Evolution”**
Free lecture by shark expert and “Finding Nemo” technical advisor Dr. Adam Summers,
Assoc. Director of Friday Harbor Laboratories, University of Washington
Friday, February 12^th
6:30 – 7:30 p.m.
N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences
11 W. Jones Street, Downtown Raleigh
Space is limited. Reserve your free ticket now at
While you’re there, get a sneak preview of the exhibit /Megalodon: Largest Shark That Ever Lived from 5-8 PM (opening to the general public the next day, Saturday, Feb. 13^th ).
/Megalodon/ preview discount pricing: $5 (adults), $3 (children, ages 5-11), Free for museum members.
Please reserve separate tickets for the talk and the exhibit sneak preview if you plan to attend both.
Lecture is recommended for guests 12 years and older.
Exhibit is recommended for everyone.

Frontiers of Knowledge Award goes to Robert J. Lefkowitz for G-protein coupled receptors

I had a good fortune to hear Dr. Lefkowitz speak once. Great guy. From the press release:

The prestigious BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in the Biomedicine category goes this year to Robert J. Lefkowitz, MD, James B. Duke Professor of Medicine and Biochemistry and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator at Duke University Medical Center.
This is only the second year the award has been given.
Dr. Lefkowitz’s research has affected millions of cardiac and other patients worldwide. Lefkowitz proved the existence of, isolated, characterized and still studies G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs).
The receptors, which are located on the surface of the membranes that surround cells, are the targets of almost half of the drugs on the market today, including beta blockers for heart disease, antihistamines and ulcer medications.
Lefkowitz, a Duke faculty member since 1973, also investigates related enzymes, proteins, and signaling pathways and continues to learn all he can about these pivotal receptors.
“I am surprised, delighted and honored by the award, and am honored to be in the company of Joan Massagué, a fellow HHMI investigator who won last year,” said Lefkowitz, who is also a Duke professor of immunology and a basic research cardiologist in the Duke Heart Center.
“While it is a relatively new award, I know it is a very distinguished award, and I am delighted to be the recipient.”
The BBVA Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Biomedicine provides the winner a cash prize of 400,000 euros (about $563,400). The award, organized by the BBVA Foundation in partnership with Spain’s National Research Council, was announced at 11 a.m. Madrid time on Jan. 27.
Dr. Lefkowitz is being awarded the prize for the work he has done since the beginning of his career and includes his ongoing studies of GPCRs and other key receptors.
His research group first identified, purified, and cloned the genes for these receptors in the 1970s and 1980s, and revealed the structure of the receptors as well as their functions and regulation. This work facilitated and fundamentally altered the way in which numerous therapeutic agents have been developed.
Lefkowitz is also extremely proud of his mentoring work and of the students and fellows he has worked with over the years, many of whom have gone on to run successful laboratories and uncover their own discoveries about GPCRs and other receptors.
The Biomedicine Award honors contributions that significantly advance the stock of knowledge in the biomedicine field because of their importance and originality.
The BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Awards seek to recognize and encourage world-class research at the international level, and are similar to the Nobel Prizes, with an annual total of 3.2 million euros given to deserving winners, because of the breadth of the scientific and artistic areas they have covered during their careers.

Ecology, conservation, and restoration of oyster reefs in North Carolina

On Tuesday I went to the monthly pizza lunch at Sigma Xi, featuring a guest lecture by Dr. David B. Eggleston, Professor of Marine, Earth and Atmospheric Science at North Carolina State University and the Director of Center for Marine Sciences and Technology (CMAST).
I posted a brief summary of the talk on the Science In The Triangle blog.

Sigma Xi Pizza Lunch – conserving and restoring North Carolina coastal ecosystems

Our first 2010 American Scientist pizza lunch is scheduled for noon, Tuesday, Jan. 26. at Sigma Xi in Research Triangle Park. No doubt you’ve heard about the many forces degrading coastlines. This time we’ll hear from someone intimately involved with the challenges of conserving and restoring North Carolina coastal ecosystems, especially oyster reefs. That would be David Eggelston, a marine biologist and director of the Center for Marine Science and Technology at N.C. State University.
American Scientist Pizza Lunch is free and open to science journalists and science communicators of all stripes. Feel free to forward this message to anyone who might want to attend. RSVPs are required (for an accurate slice count) to cclabbyATamsciDOTorg
Directions to Sigma Xi:
Regarding scheduling: As you’ve noticed, pizza lunch talk dates haven’t been held on consistent dates this year. While we’ve aimed for the third Tuesday of each month, we work within some constraints, including the availability of meeting space, our speakers’ schedules and, most important to a few of us, the production schedule of our magazine. So you can plan in advance, here are the Pizza Lunch talk dates for coming months: Feb. 18, March 30 and April 20.
And remember, if you have to miss, you can always catch up by downloading podcasts of the talks at:

Craig McClain talk at Sigma Xi

Although I’ve known Craig McClain for a few years now, both online and offline, I only had some vague ideas about what kind of research he is doing. I knew it has something to do with the Deep Sea and with the evolution of body size, but I did not know the details. So, when the opportunity arose to hear him give a talk summarizing his work, I jumped to it and went to see him on Tuesday at Sigma Xi as a part of their pizza lunch series.
First I have to say that Craig is a great speaker (if you are looking for one for a seminar series, this is useful information for you) – it was fun and very clear. And thought-provoking. And fascinating. I am still thinking about it, what it all means, etc.
But Delene was there as well and she took copious notes and wrote a great blog post about the talk so there is no need for me to duplicate that effort. So if you want to know more about the substance of the talk, just go and read her take either on her own blog Wild Muse or the same post on the ScienceInTheTriangle blog.

The Science of Santa Claus

Please join us on NC State’s Centennial Campus on Wednesday, Dec. 16, from 6 to 8 p.m. for two special speakers.
Our “seasonal” speaker is Dr. Larry Silverberg (aka Dr. Silverbell), NC State professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and world-renowned expert on the “Science of Santa.” Dr. Silverbell will present his latest research on the advanced material properties of Santa’s sleigh and review previous research on toy delivery and time travel.
Continuing with the theme that science and engineering can be fun and educational, Dr. Laura Bottomley, electrical engineer and director of NC State’s K-20 educational outreach program, The Engineering Place, will discuss her nationally recognized work in engineering education. Dr. Bottomley is the founder of the NC State Women in Engineering program and the K-12 Outreach program, both of which were honored with the 2000 institutional President’s Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM). Dr. Bottomley received the individual PAESMEM earlier this year. Collaborators with The Engineering Place include the National Science Foundation and the National Academy of Engineering, and the program is also a testing ground for the Boston Museum of Science’s “Engineering is Elementary” program.
Family members are invited to attend. Dinner will be a sumptuous Mediterranean feast accompanied by beer, wine and various nonalcoholic beverages.
The meeting will be held in the Progress Energy Conference Center, Room 3002, in Engineering Building II on Oval Drive just off Centennial Boulevard. Map and directions are included below. Parking is available on Oval Drive in front of the building and in the parking deck on Partners Way.
Please RSVP to Jenny Weston,, 919.349.9764, by Monday, December 14.

The Astonishing Existence of Life on the Deep Sea Floor

Next Sigma Xi pizza lunch science talk:

Pizza lunch returns at noon, Tuesday, Dec. 15 with a talk by marine biologist Craig R. McClain, assistant director of science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in Durham. McClain conducts deep-sea research and has participated in expeditions to the Antarctic and to remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Expect him to dive into puzzling realms with his talk: An Empire Lacking Food: The Astonishing Existence of Life on the Deep Sea Floor.
American Scientist Pizza Lunch is free and open to science journalists and science communicators of all stripes. Feel free to forward this message to anyone who might want to attend. RSVPs are required (for a reliable slice count) to
Directions to Sigma Xi:

AIDS Day (and Techie Tuesday) in RTP in an hour

You can follow the event virtually in Second Life – just click here and teleport.

World AIDS Day and Techie Tuesday in RTP

“Celebration of Life”
Research Triangle Global Health Excellence & World AIDS Day
Date: December 1, 2009
Time: 4:30 pm to 7:30 pm
Location: RTP Headquarters – 12 Davis Drive
Catering By: Nantucket Café & Neomonde
Did you know the Triangle region is a center of excellence in global health?
Help celebrate World AIDS Day and find out how RTP companies and stakeholders are making an impact on HIV/AIDS and other important global health concerns.
Global health organizations in the Park are helping people live longer, more productive lives by working to address HIV/AIDS and other life-threatening conditions. Please join The Research Triangle Park and partner organizations for a special Techie Tuesday to celebrate those that are addressing modern global health challenges, including HIV/AIDS, through research and support services in the RTP and global communities.
Throughout the evening, experts in the field of global health will share insights from their work in one of the main conference rooms of the RTP Headquarters.
Dr. Myron S. Cohen
Director, UNC Center for Infectious Diseases
Chief, Division of Infections Diseases
J. Herbert Bate Distinguished Professor of Medicine & Microbiology, Immunology & Public Health
Dr. Nicole Fouche
Executive Director, Triangle Global Health Consortium
As part of the event, RTP will host a food drive to donate canned goods and non-perishable items to the Alliance for Aids Services Carolina food pantry. Please consider bringing a canned item to the event to help the cause (click here for a list of canned items to donate).
Also, if you are interested in organizing a collection within your company to donate goods at the Techie Tuesday event, please contact Alice Lockhart at for more information.

More information

Recent Science-Related Events in the Triangle

Last couple of weeks months were awfully busy, on many fronts, not least finalizing the ScienceOnline2010 program, herding cats almost 100 moderators/presenters to do various stuff (e.g., respond to my e-mails) in a timely manner, and making sure that registration goes smoothly. This is also the time of year when activation energy for doing anything except going to bed to hide under the covers is very high for people suffering from SAD. Thus, you did not see many ‘original’ posts here lately, I know.
But, it’s not that I have been totally idle. Apart from teaching my BIO101 lab again, I also went to several science-related events in the Triangle over the past two months. I feel like I should blog about each one of them separately, at length and with nuance, as this hangs over my neck like the Sword of Damocles – I feel I should not blog about anything else until all of these event reports are out of the way.
So, in a compromise solution, instead of a bunch of long separate posts, I will collect all the brief reports from all the events here, in a single post, get that over with and mentally free myself to blog about other stuff soon.
Lisa Sanders at UNC
Lisa Sanders is a physician and a professor of medicine, but you probably heard of her in a different context: Lisa writes the Diagnosis column in The New York Times, has recently published a book Every Patient Tells a Story, and has inspired and acts as the medical adviser to the TV show House (of which I heard, not being a TV watcher, at the beginning of her talk).
Lisa Sanders came to the Triangle last month and gave talks at Duke and UNC. Bride of Coturnix and I went to the UNC talk which filled a large auditorium. Her book is being read by all the UNC medical students who will then discuss the book in smaller groups.
The process of diagnosis has three steps: interview, physical exam and laboratory tests.
Laboratory tests have become more and more dominant as the preferred part of the diagnosis process, for a number of (cultural) reasons:
First, they are the quickest, thus save the physician time (others do the work).
Second, unlike interviews that seem subjective, or physical exams that look medieval, lab tests look like ScienceTM! – there are numbers there. And you can’t argue against numbers, can you? This works great on the background of lack of statistical sophistication (or outright innumeracy) on the part of both physicians and patients. No arguing. No second opinions. The process moves on smoothly for everyone. Except, the numbers cannot be trusted as much they usually are.
Third, a number is not an opinion, thus it is a safeguard against lawsuits. It saves physician’s asses in such cases.
Both the frenzy and the (perceived) lack of time and the fear of lawsuits would be diminished if we had a real healthcare reform (not the compromise of a compromise of a compromise bill that is brewing in the US Senate right now, but an actual reform) in which the physicians could get their authority and trust back and be able to practice their art and craft and science with some degree of freedom. In a system in which insurance companies determine how care is done, physicians are just technicians and cannot earn authority and trust.
So, with everyone jumping onto lab tests, the art of interview and the art of physical examination are slowly dying out. They are not even taught in some medical schools any more. Where they are taught, as soon as newly minted physicans are on their own they join the medical culture that frowns upon these two steps of the diagnostic process.
Yet, Dr.Sanders showed data from two studies (done in different countries by different people in different years), both providing almost exactly the same results. In about 75-80% of the cases (physician encountering a new patient for the first time), the physician comes up with a correct diagnosis after the interview. In about 10-12% of the cases, the doctor has to correct her/himself after the physical exam in order to arrive at the correct diagnosis. And in only the remaining 10-12% or so cases did the lab tests provide information that forced the physician to change one’s mind and come up with the correct diagnosis. In 8 out of 10 cases, the interview was sufficient!
When asked why they are shunning the interviews, physicians respond that they have no time – the system is forcing them to see too many patients per day. A study shows that physicians interrupt patients’ stories abruptly, very soon, sometimes as early as 3 seconds into the interview. Yet, in another study, when doctors were asked specifically not to interrupt, the interviews lasted only one minute longer. Just one minute! Thus interruption does not really save any time – it’s an illusion.
But what is more important is that the interruption itself means something. First, it means that the physician is not really listening. Second, it tells the patient that the doctor is not listening. By relaxing for that extra minute and actively listening to the patient, not just fishing for diagnostically important information in the account but also listening to hear how the patient perceives him/herself, and how that perception is altered by the illness, the physician gains a better understanding of the patient, can probably come up with a better diagnosis and, most importantly, gains trust with the patient. That trust is very important later, when the physician needs to rely on the patients to be disciplined about the treatment. The interruption loses that trust, something that smooth-talking medical quacks are quick to jump on, offering to listen even if their treatments are completely bogus.
What a patient does during the interview is story-telling. A physician needs to be trained to listen to and understand such stories – to glean how the change in health status affects the self-confidence, self-view and self-worth of the patient, how it changes one’s life-plans and ambitions, what fears it brings, what difficult adjustments in lifestyle it requires. To see the patient as a person, not just a disease.
And then, the story-telling does not end with the interview. The physicians and nurses need to communicate with each other about the patient and that also entails, when done right, story-telling (which need not be spoken, it can be in the chart). Finally, the healthcare providers need to know how to tell the story back to the patient, both to convey the diagnosis and to gain the trust needed for the patient to accept and follow through with the treatment. Quick recitatiton of code-numbers and Latin words just won’t do.
So Lisa Sanders, with her book, her column, her advising of House MD and her speaking tour, tries to teach the importance of the interview and the physical exam, the art of listening and storytelling. I am glad that UNC is taking her seriously.
october 038.jpg
The next day, a bunch of us met with Dr.Sanders at the West End Wine Bar in Durham. It was great fun to talk to her in an informal setting and to ask questions that I did not dare ask at the public talk in front of hundreds of med school professors and students and something like the entire nursing school of UNC. After all, my only perspective on medicine is from the position of a patient (and a reader of some med-blogs) so I learned a lot, yet was aware how little I actually know about medical training and practice. Anton organized that meet-up with the local science communicators and wrote his summary of the week’s events on his blog:
october 039.jpg
Steven Churchill at Sigma Xi
Steven Churchill is a professor of Evolutionary Anthropology at Duke University. His focus is on the role of projectile weapons in the evolution of humans. Dr.Churchill gave a talk at Sigma Xi as a part of their Pizza Lunch monthly series.
November 001.jpgWhat is a projectile weapon? It is something that can be thrown far away – more than just a couple of meters – and with sufficient power to seriously injure or kill a large animal. A non-projectile weapon, even if it can be thrown with force to a shorter distance of a couple of meters, requires either ambush hunting or chasing the prey into a corner or a bog where it can be approached and stabbed from a close distance. A projectile weapon allows hunters to hunt out in the open, perhaps just hiding in the tall grass. Thus two types of weaponry target different kinds of prey.
But inventing projectile weapons requires refinement in technical skills of making them, technical skills in throwing them, and changes in anatomy to make projectile weapons effective. And once invented, projectile weapons have novel ecological impacts, including impacts on further cultural evolution of humans.
This is what Dr.Churchill is studying. He is focusing on Europe, the invention of projectile weapons by modern (“Cro-Magnon”) humans and lack of such invention in Neanderthals, how that impacted the ecological relationship between the two species, and how that contributed to Neanderthal extinction as well as extinction (through competitive exclusion, as well as direct competition by killing) of all the large European carnivores except wolves.
In the talk, Dr.Churchill surveyed several different aspects of his research. He is approaching the question from several different angles. One is the study of spear tips in the archaeological record – their shape and size, the weight, the aerodynamics of the shape, etc. all tell something about their use as either close-contact or projectile weapons. Some (rare) spear handles and spear-throwers tell their own stories.
Then there is the fossil record of humans, Neanderthals and other large carnivores that show numbers and geographical distributions, migrations and dates of extinctions.
Next, there are anatomical cues – skeleton is malleable during development and bones in the upper arm develop differently in cultures that use contact weapons versus those that use projectile weapons as the stabbing technique is different from the throwing technique – throwers have different torsion angles in the humerus and also the humerus of one arm gets thicker than that of the other arm – this pattern is found in humans, but not in Neanderthals.
Finally, the general shape of Neanderthals would make them strong stabbers but poor throwers, so even if they tried throwing (perhaps by seeing the spears used that way by modern humans) they would not have been effective hunters with that technique.
November 004.jpgThen, there are wounds in the bones of some fossil humans and Neanderthals. By conducting an experiment – throwing spears into pig carcasses at various speeds, powers and distances (yes, throwing done by a machine) and analyzing the effects on bones – Churchill and his students could conclude that the wounds in the fossil bones were indeed the result of projectile weapons thrown from a distance.
The talk was, as is usually the case on these occasions, a quick survey of various studies. I did not read all the papers by him or his competitors, so I cannot write anything from a position of my own expertise. But my feeling is this:
Each piece of evidence he showed is weak on its own, but put together they make a strong case. And the strength is not purely additive, i.e., in the sense that more data is stronger than fewer data. The strength comes from consilience. Let me try to explain how that works.
Let’s call his preferred hypothesis ‘Hypothesis A’. One piece of evidence he shows is consistent with Hypothesis A, and weakens (or eliminates) an alternative Hypothesis B, but is also strongly vulnerable to alternative Hypothesis C. Another piece of evidence is consistent with his Hypothesis A, and weakens an alternative Hypothesis C, but is also strongly vulnerable to alternative Hypothesis D. Yet another piece of evidence is consistent with his Hypothesis A, and weakens an alternative Hypothesis D, but is also strongly vulnerable to alternative Hypothesis B. When you look at all of his evidence together, all of it is consistent with Hypothesis A and all alternatives look weak. Thus with all pieces being individually weak, the whole edifice still looks very powerful.
Now, to make clear, Dr.Churchill pointed out several times that the research he focuses on, his Hypothesis A, is not the one and only explanation for the extinction of Neanderthals (and other large predators). He just asserts that it is an important component of the process that led to this result and perhaps a more important component than some other people in the field are ready to admit. Of course, that’s how science works: different people focus on different aspects of a problem, and the strength of each person’s data will determine how the whole picture is built in the end.
This was definitely an interesting talk on a topic I never thought about before. DeLene was also there and wrote her thoughts about the lecture on her blog Wild Muse as well as on the Science In The Triangle blog.
RTI Fellows Symposium: Integrating Basic and Applied Research
This was a two-day event at the University of North Carolina’s Friday Center in Chapel Hill. This was also the first time I saw the Friday Center from within and I was looking at it with the eyes of a conference organizer. It has a Goldilocks quality to it: not so pleasant, intimate and science-themed as Sigma Xi, and not as big, cold and corporate as the Raleigh Convention Center. Just the right size and feel. But expensive as hell – Sigma Xi has been good to us over the years, not sure if we could negotiate a similar deal with Friday…..though we have definitely grown and a 420-seat main conference room at Friday Center looks good.
I could attend only the Monday morning portion of the meeting, but Sabine Vollmer was at the Symposium for the whole thing and wrote two blogs posts about the rest of the program here and here with a lot of details.
There were four broad themes entertained by the symposium: Personalized Medicine, Behavioral Neuroscience of Alcoholism, Global Climate Change and Education Opportunity and Achievement. Each of the themes had its own breakout session later, but Monday morning was reserved for Keynote Speakers, one on each of the four topics, each of interest to me in one way or another.
Let me first dispose of the things I did not like about the conference before I get into things I liked.
Over the past few years, most of the conferences I go to are informal, unconference or unconference-like events: from Scifoo in Mountain View, to Science FEST in Trieste, to ConvergeSouth in Greensboro, to our own ScienceOnline meetings. Even the ‘real’ science meeting I like to go to, the SRBR meeting, is very relaxed and informal – shorts-and-Hawaiian-shirt-clad scientists giving funny and entertaining talks about their new findings in my own field, with internal jokes, calling out friends in the audience and occasional hackling joke from the room (OK, OK, I overstate – folks are mostly nice and polite, especially when the talk is given by someone younger, e.g, a properly dressed graduate student, waiting in attentive silence until the end and then asking proper questions afterwards, but still, the general atmosphere is friendly and relaxed).
I realize of course that different conferences require different setup and different levels of formality. Not everything is a Bar Camp. While I was personally uncomfortable wearing my suit-and-tie costume at the IASP meeting, I understood that this was a business meeting in a business venue with businessmen (and a handful of businesswomen) in business attire talking about business.
But this one, I think, was a mismatch. All (or almost all) speakers were scientists talking about science. Almost everyone in the audience were scientists. For this kind of meeting, the organization was far too formal. And not just in pomp and ceremony and dress-code. For example, if you look at the abstracts, they don’t really say anything about the topic of the talk – they go in great detail about the speaker, including all the past and present appointments, awards and honorary degrees. This indicates that the organizers were more interested in the power hierarchy (i.e., ‘look at VIPs we managed to get here to talk’) instead of the substance of what they are saying. It felt more like a big corporate show-off than a conference meant for an exchange of ideas.
Then, there was no time designated for Question & Answer periods after the talks. I wanted to ask questions, but there was just no mechanism for doing so. I understand there were panels afterwards, but even those were built strangely – with panelists, after each gave a separate talk, sitting at a table on a podium above the audience, physically looking down at the audience, thus psychologically inhibiting all but the bravest from actually speaking up. I do not know how it went, but I doubt it was a free-wheeling discussion.
Then, the talks. Two speakers actually read their talks. Arrrgh! Yawn (and I was FULL of caffeine).
Others were much better. Howard McLeod gave a good, clear introduction into personal genomics and personal medicine, its pros and cons. Robert Jackson from Duke provided a good summary of the current state of science of climate change.
Ronald Dahl talked about adolescent brain development (something I am very interested in, both professionally and as a father of two adolescents), especially the lengthening of the period between onset of puberty which arrives earlier and earlier (the timing of which is not matched by an earlier development of other brain functions, including self-control) and the delay of societally approved age for onset of sexual activity (including marriage). Thus the duration of the period during which adolescents are sexually mature (but not entirely emotionally mature) but discouraged from sexual activity is getting longer and longer – which is an obvious problem. Couple that with the tendency of adolescents to be unable to resist, despite personal fear, engaging in risky behaviors, problems like teen alcoholism and traffic accidents are on the rise.
Lunch Keynote Speaker, Ralph Tarter, was the biggest dissapointment. His talk about bridging the Two Cultures and lessons from Hollywood was surprising for its naivete easily detectable by anyone who’s been reading science blogs for more than a year or so (including Framing Wars, response to Sizzle and response to Unscientific America, along with bloggers who routinely write about history of science). It was infused with nostalgia for good old days when scientists and poets drank wine and talked together (ehm, scientists and poets at the time were the one and the same people – that was Victorian era when gentlemen of means could afford to indulge themselves in such pastimes as philosophy, natural history and poetry and meeting their like-minded buddies at the pub). Science today is a very different business, specialized, expensive, profesionalized and rightly so. That’s progress.
The worst part was the lunch talk was the last point – a very erroneous analogy between peer-review of grants and movie reviews. First error: grants are reviewed before they are funded – movies are reviewed after they are funded. Second, as much as the grant review is prone to error, it is still done by well-meaning teams of scientists who are at least trying to evaluate the proposals according to their merits. Yes, outlandish proposals have a harder time than bandwagon stuff or conservative approaches, but it is at least attempted to be done fairly. Which movie gets funded is totally up to whims of movie moguls and producers. I bet even smaller percentage of submitted movie scripts gets actually made into movies than a proportion of grant proposals that gets funded. And while grant reviewers may look at the past publishing records of the grant submitters, the movie magnates are not in any way swayed by the statistics of positive or negative views of particular actors by movie critics in the media.
The highlight of the day was the talk by James Evans. I know Jim well, but I have never seen him speak before. And he blew me away. He knew that all the other speakers on the Personalized Medicine topics will be over-optimistic, so he took it on himself to provide a counter-view, a summary of cautionary notes backed up by data and a nice dose of humor. It was a very energetic and fun talk that explained very clearly what claims by personal genomics companies really mean, why they are so seductive if you don’t stop to think about them, and how they stack up against reality.
NESCent panel on intersection of public policy, economics, & evolution
NESCent Catalysis Meeting, coorganized by the Evolution Institute was on November 13-15, 2009 and several of the participants remained another day and came to NESCent on the 16th to report on the meeting in a form of a panel. The meeting and the panel were organized by David Sloan Wilson, professor of evolution at Binghamton University and one of my newest SciBlings. The other panelists were Dennis Embry, John Gowdy, Douglas Kenrick, Joel Peck, Harvey Whitehouse and Peter Turchin.
The main idea of the meeting is that evolutionary theory has something to offer in the realm of understanding human societies and thus shaping policies governing aspects of human activity. In the domain of economics, for example, it appears that the classical economics (i.e., the Chicago School) is unbeatable in the corridors of power. Yet, it is essentially faulty and this has been shown many times, including by numerous Nobel Prize winners in Economics. The idea that humans are rational (and perfectly informed) economic players is just plain wrong. Yet our economic policy is built upon that error. Perhaps developing and using models from evolutionary theory can finally bring the well-past-due overturn of the faulty economics and become the basis for smart, modern economic policies. The work is just beginning.
Perhaps the insights from the study of social and eusocial animals, mainly insects, can inform the discussion about social behavior of humans. How do simple rules for simple brains result in complex behaviors of, for example, bee swarms? Perhaps if we used such simple rules, instead of relying on every individual human being highly intelligent, impartial and rational, we can devise policies that will actually work, in various domains of human activity.
Taking into account multi-level selection models of evolution one can start understanding the differences between small-group societies (e.g, in rural areas) and large-group societies (e.g., in large cities), why those result in diefferent behaviors of individual humans living there, and why the differences between the two types of groups often lead to civil wars (often wars we usually do not see or describe as civil wars due to our own myopia, not realizing that a war between two adjacent regions may, in fact, be a war between the city and the country “mentality” – something quite obviously applicable to the US red vs. blue states, really small-town conservatism vs. big-city liberalism). Why imposing large-group organization (i.e., a President and a Parliament, i.e., a ‘centralized government’ of a unified country) may not work in a country like Afghanistan in which the society was always organized via local kin-and-friend networks – evolutionary theory can open our eyes on such questions.
This group of people, coming from a variety of backgrounds including history, anthropology, ecology, economics, psychology, political science, ethology and evolutionary biology, will try to tackle these and similar questions over the years to come.
Interestingly, the meeting was apparently an Unconference (though they have never heard of the term before), with discussions starting some months before the event (I presume online), leading to the choices of topics actually discussed in sessions which were free-style discussions, not speeches. One of the panelists noted that interdisciplinary meetings are usually excercises in misunderstanding, as each participant brings in different language and different axioms, but not this meeting – people actually made an effort, in advance, to study and learn other people’s perspectives before encountering them in the sessions in real life. This made the meeting, judging from the enthusiasm of all panelists, a resounding success.
This was the first time I ever visited NESCent (though I was excited when I first heard about its founding five years ago) and it was really nice to see Craig McClain and Robin Ann Smith again, as well as to meet, for the first time in real life, John Logsdon who blogs on Sex, Genes and Evolution and has come to NESCent for a nine-year sabbatical.
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Solid Waste Management Vendor Fair at the RTP Headquarters
I got to see this almost by accident. I was going to the RTP headquarters to talk to them about their new blog and, for the price of free pizza, wondered around the exhibit and saw a brief talk about the ways North Carolina is doing recycling solid waste, why that is a good thing, and what are the prospect for the future. But I will let Cara Rousseau give you more details, in a post on the new RTP blog.
SCONC celebration of the Origin of Species 150-year anniversary at NESCent
Just a couple of days after my first ever visit to NESCent, I found myself there again. The occasion, the anniversary of the publication of the Origin Of Species (though officially today), was a good excuse for SCONC to have its monthly meeting at NESCent.
Robin Smith welcomed us all with a piece of great news – the funding for NESCent was extended for another five years! Then, while we were enjoying some delicious food, we were treated to three interesting presentations by current NESCent post-docs: Julie Meachen-Samuels talking about Smilodon, how it hunted differently than modern Big Cats and what it means for our understanding of palaeo-ecology and evolution, Trina Roberts about the diversity and biogeography of tree shrews (and how to get DNA from museum skeletal specimens!), and Eric Schuettpelz about the way ferns radiated into many species with the appearance of forests of (flowering) trees by occupying a new niche – living on the tree trunks as epiphytes, in the shade.
I found myself thinking about parallels between the Smilodon presentation and the one on projectile weapons I heard a couple of weeks before. Neanderthals uses stabbing close-contact weapons (and are now extinct) while modern humans used projectile weapons, thus being able to hunt different kinds of prey (and are now extant). Similarly, most Big Cats today hunt by giving chase to their prey and then killing it with their long canine teeth, often having to hold the teeth clenched in the trachea for several minutes until the victim dies. But Smilodons (the saber-tooth cats) had to hunt differently – from an ambush, presumably in thick forests and not out in the open country. They overpowered their prey using the weight and strength of their forelimbs and only at the end finished the completely immobilized victim with a quick slice with their canines. If they tried to keep their teeth inside still struggling large animals for more than a moment, their long but thin canines would break. In some ways, the Smilodon hunting technique is analogous to using close-quarters weapons, while the techniques of modern Big Cats is more analogous to hunting with projectile weapons (with themselves being “projectiles”). With such a massive body, with hindquarters so much smaller than the front half of the animal, and with no tail they could use for balance, saber-tooth cats could not run fast enough and long enough to be “projectiles”. Perhaps that’s why they, like Neanderthals, are now all dead.
And yes, we had a Darwin birthday cake – Russ Campbell has the pictures.

Museum lecture traces historic Beagle voyage

The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences hosts the final offering of its Charles Darwin Lecture Series on Tuesday, November 24 — the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s landmark publication of “The Origin of Species.” Join Museum paleontologist and science historian Paul Brinkman for a free presentation titled “Charles Darwin’s Beagle Voyage and the Origin of ‘The Origin.'”
Dr. Brinkman completed his PhD in History of Science at the University of Minnesota with research in the history of 19th-century natural sciences, especially geology and paleontology. He has published a number of articles on Darwin, museum history, and the history of American vertebrate paleontology. His second book, The Second American Jurassic Dinosaur Rush, is due out next year from the University of Chicago Press.
Please RSVP to — be sure to specify the event name and date. This lecture is free of charge and seating is on a first-come, first-served basis. Doors to the Museum and auditorium will open at 6:00 pm and the presentation will begin at 6:30 pm.
The Museum, in collaboration with the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) and the W.M. Keck Center for Behavioral Biology at North Carolina State University, has presented several talks throughout 2009 to commemorate the bicentennial of Charles Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of “The Origin of Species.” The series showcases the Triangle region of North Carolina as a hot spot for evolutionary biology research and features prominent researchers from area universities. Stay tuned to the Museum’s website [] for Darwin-themed events scheduled for 2010.

Celebrate Darwin’s 200th birthday

NESCent and SCONC:

What: November SCONC-fest
When: Thursday November 19th , 6-8pm
Where: National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in Durham
Please join us to commemorate Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday and the 150th anniversary of “The Origin of Species.”
Learn about the wild world of Ice Age carnivores, brainy birds, and other creatures Darwin missed. Our tour guides will be four postdocs on the frontiers of biology.
We’ll begin at 6pm at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in Durham. Parking is free.
National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent)
2024 W. Main Street, Suite A200
Durham, NC 27705
Travel Directions: The National Evolutionary Synthesis Center is near the corner of 9th St. and W. Main St. in Durham, on the 2nd floor of the Erwin Mill Building. Free parking is available in front of the building.
To RSVP please drop a note to:

Alternative energy sources and the US power grid

From Sigma Xi and SCONC:

American Scientist Pizza Lunch convenes again at noon, Tuesday, Nov. 24 at Sigma Xi’s headquarters in Research Triangle Park.
The speaker will be Alex Huang, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at NC State University. Prof. Huang is directly engaged with trying to reduce this country’s dependence on carbon-emitting fossil fuels. He directs a national research center working on a redesign of the nation’s power grid to better integrate alternative energy sources and new storage methods.
American Scientist Pizza Lunch is free and open to science journalists and science communicators of all stripes. Feel free to forward this message to anyone who might want to attend. RSVPs are required (for a reliable slice count) to
Directions to Sigma Xi:

Science Cafe Raleigh: Boom ‘n’ Doom: Volcanoes, North Carolina and North Carolina Volcanoes

Boom ‘n’ Doom: Volcanoes, North Carolina and North Carolina Volcanoes
November 18th; Acro Café on the fourth floor of the Museum of Natural Sciences
8:30-10:00 am with discussion beginning at 9:00 followed by Q&A
Volcanic activity half a world away can affect us in our own state. When Indonesia’s Mount Tambora erupted over about 4 days in 1815, the resulting debris cloud led to the “Year Without Summer” in 1816, which was marked by massive crop failures from Europe to North Carolina. Join in a discussion of recent and historical world-wide volcanic events, and find out about old North Carolina volcanoes. Learn about the new Mineral Spectroscopy Laboratory and how Museum research is helping understand and ameliorate the effects of large scale volcanic eruptions.
About the Speaker: Dr. Chris Tacker has been the Research Curator in Geology for the Museum of Natural Sciences since 1996. His work involves mineralogy and its application to understanding geologic processes, especially those that involve fluids and big explosions. Recently, the National Science Foundation awarded him two grants for mineral spectroscopy. He also writes on North Carolina geology for the general public, and appears on the Museum’s PBS program Exploring North Carolina.
RSVP:; or call 919-733-7450 ext.531


Last night we went to see Leonard Cohen at the DPAC in Durham. What to say? He’s the Legend. Still, at this age, full of energy and spunk. And everything was done to perfection – the set, the lighting and the slow dance of the backup singers had, together, a hypnotic effect. Three hours passed like nothing – I could have stayed another three (and that would still not exhaust all of his greatest hits).
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I was too far away to take good pictures with my iPhone, but I took these two, just to show the light changes. There were some quite magical light effects as some moments including those making Leonard look green like a leprechaun.
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I grew up with his music and it seems strange that some of his big hits, now 20 or 30 years old were once new – I knew them when they were new, buying his latest album and playing it over and over until I knew every note and every word. So long ago. I feel so old now.
Not that I was old compared to the rest of the audience there – lots of old hippies with gray beards and ponytails… 😉 After all, I was a teenager when I was crazy about Leonard and bought all his records, back in the 80s.
One weird thing …. I felt selfish last night. I did not want to share Cohen with thousands of others. I wanted to have him and the band all for myself. Just like back in the old days, when everyone is gone after the party, and only a handful of best friends remain for the night (the last bus is gone), a nice drink is taken out of hiding to replace the cheap party beer, incense is lit, and Cohen is on the gramophone. His music is for intimate occasions like that, in my mind, according to my memories and associations….
But I was happy nonetheless to finally see him sing live. After all these decades. Would not have missed it for anything. It was a magical night.

Halloween in Southern Village

The neighbors in Southern Village (here in Chapel Hill) are wild about Halloween, many making elaborate decorations of their houses for it (often more elaborate than for Christmas). The business on The Green also get into the spirit and put fun and scary dolls or scarecrows or other objects in front of their stores. These are often quite well designed as well. This year, we really liked this sign-post, showing the way to other businesses (e.g., Lumina Theater, Weaver Street Market, Harrington Bank, etc.) – click on buttons to see large:


Science Cafe Raleigh: Dog Genome: Teaching Scientists New Tricks

Dog Genome: Teaching Scientists New Tricks
November 17th; 6:30-8:30 pm with discussion beginning at 7:00 followed by Q&A
The Irregardless Café, 901 W. Morgan Street, Raleigh 919.833.8898
This year, roughly 66,000 people will be diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, while another 22,000 will be diagnosed with cancers of the brain. In parallel, our pet dogs also suffer from a range of similar spontaneous cancers. For thousands of years, humans and dogs have shared a unique bond–breathing the same air, drinking the same water, and living in the same environment. During the 21st century this relationship is now strengthened into one that may hold intriguing biomedical possibilities. Using the ‘One Medicine’ concept–the idea that human and animal health relies on a common pool of medical and scientific knowledge and is supported by overlapping technologies and discoveries; research is revealing that the dog genome may hold the keys to unlocking some of nature’s most intriguing puzzles about human cancer.
About the Speaker: Dr. Matthew Breen, professor of genomics in the NC State University College of Veterinary Medicine, co-directs the Clinical Genomics Core of the Center for Comparative Medicine and Translational Research at NC State. Dr. Breen’s lab helped map the canine genome in 2004 and the internationally known research scientist has conducted studies and published articles on numerous comparative medicine investigations of canine and human cancers including non-Hodgkin lymphoma, meningioma, and other cancers of the brain. A member of the Cancer Genetics Program at the University of North Carolina’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, Dr. Breen’s collaborative investigations involve Duke University Medical Center and the University of Minnesota Medical Center among others.
RSVP:; or call 919-733-7450 ext 531

Joint departments of biomedical engineering at NCSU and UNC-Chapel Hill and bridging academic and research cultures

The Research Triangle Park, N.C. – The Triangle Area Research Directors Council (TARDC) has announced that Dr. Troy Nagle, Professor of Biomedical Engineering at NCSU and UNC-Chapel Hill, will be the keynote speaker at next week’s TARDC event, to be held at The Research Triangle Park’s Headquarters building. Dr. Nagle will speak on the joint departments of biomedical engineering at NCSU and UNC-Chapel Hill and bridging academic and research cultures.
Dr. Nagle is Professor of Biomedical Engineering at UNC & NCSU, and Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at NCSU. He was the Founding Chair of the UNC-NCSU Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering. He is Director of the NCSU-UNC Graduate Certificate Program in Medical Devices, and Director of the NCSU Biomedical Instrumentation Laboratory, a facility for prototyping medical devices.
Dr. Nagle is widely published in data acquisition and signal processing, is coauthor of textbooks in digital logic design and digital control systems, and co-edited a handbook on machine olfaction. In recent years, he has developed an electronic nose prototype and experimented with its use in food processing, environmental monitoring, and medical diagnostics. Dr. Nagle received the BSEE and MSEE degrees from the University of Alabama, the PhD degree (Electrical Engineering) from Auburn University, and the MD degree from the University of Miami School of Medicine. He is a Fellow of IEEE and AIMBE. He served as IEEE President in 1994. He is currently Vice President for Conferences of the IEEE Sensors Council. He is a registered professional engineer.
Dr. Nagle’s speech is scheduled for this coming Tuesday, October 20, at 12 PM. The luncheon will be held at the RTP Headquarters at 12 Davis Drive. Reservations include a fee and may be made by sending an email to:

New jobs in North Carolina at CREE, producing LED lights

Yesterday, North Carolinians woke up to some very unpleasant news that Dell decided to close its computer manufacturing plant in Winston-Salem, Forsyth Co, NC by the end of this year and lay off its entire workforce of 905 employees.
While I may not like it, I can understand the economics of shutting down a textile mill or a furniture plant. It’s a new world we are living in. But Dell? Computers?! If the leading computer manufacturer is suffering during the recession, what can anyone else hope for? Is there any industry that can still compete and grow?
And it seems that the answer may, perhaps, be Yes – the green industry.
Ginny Skalski, a good friend and local uber-social-networking-maven recently got a job with CREE as their social media person. And she invited me and Ashley Sue Allen to attend yesterday’s press conference:
My first surprise was the size of the Cree campus in RTP – it is enormous. I was not aware until yesterday that this is a 20 years old company and how big it was.
As a blogger, I was, forwardthinkingly (is that a word?) of them, seated up front with the media, sitting right next to state Rep. McKissick of Durham and not needing a telephoto lens or zoom to take this picture of Governor Beverly Purdue who was sitting just a few feet in front of me:
What was the press conference about? The announcement by Cree of almost 600 new job openings, about half of them to be filled by the end of the year, some in RTP and most in their plant in Mecklenburg County. As Cree’s CEO Chuck Swoboda said, Cree started at home – by replacing all the incandescent and fluorescent lightbulbs with their own LED lights in all of their own buildings. I have to say that I did not notice any difference in lighting – the room was bright and warmly lit and welcoming:
Governor Purdue greeted the good news by saying that she also started at home – making her own house energy-efficient and outfitted by LED lights….which she also did not notice when they were installed: the light looks just like the incandescent light (and much more pleasant than the metallic fluorescent light).
She also connected the news to the importance of education. Cree was started by a group of students at NCSU 20 years ago and she stressed how such inventions, as well as jobs in such companies, require a strong educational system in the State.
Cree set up a little demo in the back of the room where we could see (and have demonstrated) the difference between incandescent, fluorescent and LED light as well as get information about the energy savings, longevity of the lights, ease of installing them into the existing sockets, and environmental impact:
In the end, before I left, Ginny showed me some cool colors that LEDs come from. I have used the infrared LEDs in my research many years ago, and was interested to learn about the advancements in technology since then, as well as other uses for LEDs apart from home and business lighting, e.g., in research, medicine and defense.
Read more coverage of the event in News & Observer and Triangle Business Journal. You can see a little bit of me in this picture, all the way in the back, while the mainstream media journalists were interviewing Governor Purdue.

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Field Trip! Water, sewage and flowers

This was a very busy day. I went to five science-related places/events today (and one yesterday).
The first three, this morning, were part of an education school trip with my daughter’s class and her science teacher.
First we visited the OWASA Water Treatment Plant which provides tap water for about 80,000 people in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, NC, followed by a tour of their Wastewater Treatment Plant. Last time I visited a water treatment plant was about 30 years ago, in Belgrade (which has 2 million people using the water), so it was exciting to see how technology has evolved over the years – with greater quality control, much greater energy efficiency and, most importantly, with much more environmentally friendly impact.
Everything is recycled – a byproduct of one part of the process (e.g., methane) becomes a fuel for another part, etc. Water gets recycled within the plant, solid particles are sterilized and given away as fertilizer, the cleaned wastewater is sterilized and ‘reclaimed water’ which does not meet the tap water standards is given away for irrigation, heating and other uses. Even the end-product of wastewater cleaning gets additional stuff done to it – sterilization by UV light and oxygenation before it is dumped into a creek, in order to help the wildlife living in it.
Interesting stuff sometimes flows down the sewer pipes. The large inorganic objects get caught first and our tour-guide just the other day discovered a rubber duckie! No alligators.
Then we went to The North Carolina Botanical Garden for a picnic lunch. It’s been a long time since I last visited and it was great to see how much they added over the years. Though late fall, there was plenty to see and a number of plants were in full bloom. Will have to come back soon with the whole family.
About the other two events, afternoon fare, you’ll have to wait for my reports tomorrow.

Science on Tap: The Chemistry of Beer

Next Periodic Tables, a Durham, NC version of Science Cafe, will happen on October 13, 2009 at 7pm at the Broad Street Café:

Science on Tap: The Chemistry of Beer
Join us as we tap into the science of brewing beer and discover how a few simple ingredients (yeast, water, hops and grains) can make a variety of brews. We’ll also discuss the importance of sterilization and the microbiology of yeast culturing.
Speakers: Triangle Brewing Company and Brew Master Store

The origins of projectile weaponry – Sigma Xi pizza lunch

From Sigma Xi:

We’ll reconvene at noon, Tuesday, Oct. 20, at Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society, with a peek at one of the many ways technology helped our species survive and prosper long ago.
Steven Churchill, an associate professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke University, will discuss the origins of projectile weaponry, and how that fit with the emergence of other aspects of modern human behavior. He’ll talk about his fascinating forensics work exploring ways our ancestors may have used weapons against evolutionary cousins who no longer roam this planet.
American Scientist Pizza Lunch is free and open to science journalists and science communicators of all stripes. Feel free to forward this message to anyone who might want to attend. RSVPs are required (for a reliable slice count) to
Directions to Sigma Xi:

Breakfast Science Cafe Raleigh – Bats in Peril?

Bats in Peril?
October 28, 2009
8:30 -10:00 am with discussion beginning at 9, followed by Q&A
Location: The Acro Cafe – 4th Floor of the Museum of Natural Sciences
Have you ever seen a bat flying around your house on a summer evening? Did you know that there are 17 different species of bats that live in North Carolina? Come to our breakfast café and learn about these amazing creatures and their biggest threat — white-nose syndrome, a deadly white fungus that grows around the noses of hibernating bats. Since its discovery in 2007, hundreds of thousands of bats (perhaps a million) have died from the disease, making it one of the worst wildlife disasters ever seen in North America
About the Speaker:
Lisa Gatens is Curator of Mammals at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and has worked at the Museum for more than 10 years. She received her BS from West Virginia State College, her MS in Biology from Marshall University, and is currently taking classes at NCSU toward a PhD in Fisheries and Wildlife Science. Her research interests focus on small (non-volant) terrestrial mammals and bats, and she is currently looking at the affects of mercury accumulation in bats. RSVP to For more information, contact Katey Ahmann at 919-733-7450, ext. 531.

Science Cafe Raleigh: Biomedical Technology in Sports

Crossing the Line? Biomedical Technology in Sports
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
6:30-8:30 pm with discussion beginning at 7:00 followed by Q&A
Location: Tir Na Nog 218 South Blount Street, Raleigh, 833-7795
In the end, it was a split second rather than an International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) ruling that kept double-amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius from competing in the Beijing Summer Olympics. He didn’t hit the 400-meter qualifying time of 45.55 seconds, despite running a personal best 46.25 on his carbon-fiber prosthetic legs at a track meet in Lucerne, Switzerland. In this talk, National Humanities Center digital media specialist Phillip Barron explores ways that advances in biomedical science and technology are challenging our traditional notions of acceptable sports practices and offers some suggestions for how we can create rules of sport that sustain these technological innovations.
About the Speaker:
Phillip Barron works as a Digital Media Specialist at the National Humanities Center in Durham, where he is managing editor of the “On the Human” project. He is also the sole proprietor of the digital media design company, nicomedia, LLC. Trained in analytic philosophy, Barron is a scholar and award-winning digital media artist. His writings and photography have appeared in newspapers, magazines and academic journals.
RSVP to For more information, contact Katey Ahmann at 919-733-7450, ext. 531.

DonorsChoose – Classroom Science Around The Clock

As regular readers of already know, October is the month when a bunch of us raises challenges to fund science, math and technology projects in schools.
Several of my Sciblings have already set up their challenges and a few more will add theirs soon, I know. There will be a healthy competition with some other blogging networks, of course 😉
You can find my challenges at Classroom Science Around The Clock, look at the projects – all coming from ‘High Poverty’ schools in North Carolina – and donate whatever you can. If many people pitch in a little bit each, these projects will get funded and kids will get supplies they need to learn science and math.
The widget, below, will be on my left sidebar throughout the month of October, so take a look there every time you visit my blog, see how the challenges are doing, and add a little where needed.

Also, many of my SciBlings explain this better than I do, so check their intro posts out: Janet (and more Janet), Chad, Sciencewomen, Razib, DrugMonkey, Dr.Isis, Grrlscientist, Pal MD and a geobloggers collective, comprised of Erik, Kim and Chris.

Foodblogging/storyblogging in the Triangle – the first Long Table

Under the fold are some pictures from the inaugural Long Table event at 3Cups in Chapel Hill with Moroccan food prepared by Sandwhich, organized by Anton and Erin Zuiker.
There were about 35 people there. I knew a few of them from before, but it was mostly new people I got to meet. Some people were new even to Anton and Erin as this was a publicly advertised event, open to the first 35 people who sign up. Every now and then, a person would get up and tell a short story related to food and travel, mostly about unforgettable meals in unforgettable places.
I am aware of only one blog post about it so far – by Lenore Ramm – although a couple of other people in the room are known to have blogs or are on social networking sites. We all hope that this will become a regular feature on the local social celandar – trying new venues, new cuisines, and new story topics each time.

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Techie Tuesday

On Tuesday night I went to the RTP headquarters for Techie Tuesday, an occasional event when people who work in various companies in the Park come over, after work, and have some good food, a beer, and get to relax and chat and meet new people. It is quite a lot of fun. Pictures under the fold (better quality on Twitpic):

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Breakfast with a side of Science – What’s Bugging You? Animals We Love to Hate

At the NC Museum of Natural Sciences:

What’s Bugging You? Animals We Love to Hate
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
8:00 – 10:00 am with discussion beginning at 9:00 followed by Q&A
Location: The Acro Cafe – 4th Floor of the Museum of Natural Sciences
Fire ants. Mosquitoes. Flies. Ticks. Gnats. Bed Bugs. The list goes on and on.
They disturb our sleep, sting us, envenomate us, suck our blood, eat our food, crawl on us…yet at the same time, they pollinate our food and flowers, provide insect control, and increase biodiversity. So, what is a pest? Are some of these pests invasive species? What can or should be done about them?
About the Speaker:
Join Dr.Colin Brammer, Entomologist and Curator of the Museum’s Naturalist Center for a discussion on all things pest related in our next Breakfast with a Side of Science

Influenza — What’s more contagious, the virus or the hype?

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Science Cafe Raleigh – Brain, Memory, Alzheimer’s

Tuesday, September 22, 2009
6:30-8:30 pm with discussion beginning at 7:00 followed by Q&A
Location: The Irregardless Café, 901 W. Morgan Street, Raleigh 833-8898
Memory problems have become increasingly common as our population ages. The fear of developing dementia is one of the greatest fears of most Americans. There can be memory changes as one grows older, but what determines if these changes are benign versus the beginning of a dementia process like Alzheimer’s disease? We will discuss types of memory, the neurobiological basis of memory, and ways to tell normal aging from the beginnings of significant memory loss. We will also discuss symptoms and treatment for people who have been diagnosed with dementia.
About the speaker:
Sandeep Vaishnavi, M.D., PhD serves as Medical Director at North Carolina Neuropsychiatry Clinic in Raleigh. Dr. Vaishnavi specializes in memory and memory disorders. He has been a fellow at Johns Hopkins Hospital and as part of the Duke-GlaxoSmithKline Psychopharmacology program. He has also been nominated for and/or received both clinical and research awards from Duke Medical Center.

Tatjana in NYTimes!

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know Tatjana Jovanovic-Grove. Or you can remind yourself by checking this, this, this, this and this.
If you came to ScienceOnline09 (or followed virtually) you will remember that she co-moderated two sessions there: Open Access in the networked world: experience of developing and transition countries and How to paint your own blog images .
Well, today, Tatjana is in New York Times! I hear from those who get the papers in hardcopy, that the article starts on the front page, but the part with the interview with Tatjana and her husband Doug is on the third page of the online version of the article. I wish the theme of the piece was happier….but who knows, perhaps appearance in the Old Media (especially if the link is spread virally via New Media) may bring in a job!
What is really nice is that the online version of the article links to Tatjana’s Etsy store, so perhaps she’ll get some business that way!

Cohen in Durham

leonard-cohen.jpg.pngOh, did I tell you that Leonard Cohen will be in Durham in November? Yes, that Leonard Cohen whose music I grew up with?
Yes, I bought the tickets as soon as it was possible and will go to DPAC on November 3rd to hear him live. Finally!!!
I heard that his concert in Belgrade was magical and amazing. I hope it will be the same in Durham.

American Scientist’s Pizza Lunch speaker: Thomas J. Meyer on alternative energy sources

From Sigma Xi:

Greetings everyone. Here’s hoping that summer treated you kindly and that you are ready to dive back into American Scientist magazine’s annual Pizza Lunch speaker series. We begin this year at noon, Thursday, Sept. 24 at Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society here in Research Triangle Park.
Come hear UNC-Chapel Hill chemist Thomas J. Meyer discuss efforts to develop alternative energy sources that are safer than greenhouse gas emitting fuels. Meyer leads a new research center that this year landed $17.8 million in federal funding to try to develop solar fuels and next-generation photovoltaic technology. The center’s vision is that solar fuels one day could use the sun’s energy to make fuels from water and carbon dioxide for heating, transportation and energy storage. The center also expects that next-generation photovoltaics could generate electricity by inexpensive “solar shingles” on the roofs of buildings.
American Scientist Pizza Lunch is free and open to science journalists and science communicators of all stripes. Feel free to forward this message to anyone who might want to attend. RSVPs are required (for a reliable slice count) to
Directions to Sigma Xi: