Elsewhere in Science, 18 September 2015

NEON Tower

Credit: NEON Inc.

Every Friday, Science Careers points to articles in the Science family of publications that are relevant to careers in science and other technical fields. Some of them are accessible to anyone, but access to articles appearing in Science Translational MedicineScience Signaling, and Science may require AAAS membership (AAAS is the publisher of Science Careers) or a site license.

► “What are the 25 schools responsible for the most important advances in science?” a Sifter published last Friday asked. To find the answer, researchers “examined all winners of the Nobel Prize (physics, chemistry, medicine, economics, literature, and peace), the Fields Medal (mathematics), and the Turing Award (computer science) and identified each recipient’s undergraduate school. In a separate analysis, they examined individuals elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, or the Institute of Medicine and their undergraduate institutions.” The California Institute of Technology came out on top in both analyses. You can check out the full list of schools here.

► “In a 14 May indictment, the [U.S.] government alleged that” Temple University physicist Xiaoxing Xi, “a well-known expert on thin-film materials, schemed to pass information about a device known as a Pocket Heater—a proprietary U.S. technology used to make magnesium diboride superconducting thin films—to Chinese entities in order to help them become leaders in the field of superconductivity,” Hao Xin wrote in a Sunday ScienceInsider. But federal “prosecutors filed a motion [last] Friday in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to drop [the] case,” because it “had rested on a ‘misunderstanding’ of the technology involved and the nature of scientific collaborations, according to Xi’s lawyer, Peter Zeidenberg.”

“I didn’t do anything wrong,” Xi told ScienceInsider. “If you ask me for advice on how to avoid this situation, I really don’t know … and that’s the scary part. It could happen to anybody.”

► “President Barack Obama has nominated a veteran heart researcher who has run numerous large clinical trials to be the next head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA),” according to a Wednesday ScienceInsider. “Robert Califf, currently FDA’s deputy commissioner for medical products and tobacco, was a top administrator and researcher at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, for more than 30 years before coming to FDA earlier this year. If confirmed by the Senate, Califf would succeed Margaret Hamburg, who stepped down this past March.”

► A little later that day, also at ScienceInsider, Emily Underwood found out “[h]ow Google lured the nation’s mental health director to leave his job.” In November, Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), will join Google’s life science team. “I’ve been planning to leave NIMH for about 3 years now,” Insel says in the interview. “When the opportunity came up at Google it was very attractive because it is a new venture without a current agenda and without a legacy in this area.” Once at Google, he is looking forward to addressing mental illness and treatment using the company’s technology. “[Visiting Google] this summer opened my eyes to what it would mean if, instead of thinking of biomarkers as something we measure in blood or in a brain scan, we also include things we can measure on a smartphone: your activity level, your sleep, your social activity, and your cognitive performance.”

► The National Ecological Observatory Network, Inc. (NEON) is still under construction, but it has already gone through major structural changes. In hopes of keeping the construction for the $434 million project on schedule, the National Science Foundation recently decided “to reduce the scope” of the project, Jeffrey Mervis wrote in another Wednesday ScienceInsider. And just last week, NEON’s board of directors removed the network’s “CEO Russell Lea and launch[ed] a search for his successor.” “Lea has been replaced on an interim basis by Eugene (Gene) Kelly, a soil scientist who only last month was named chief visiting scientist.”

► Researchers studying tumors in animals have a new requirement to satisfy if they want to submit their work to Nature, David Grimm reported on Thursday at ScienceInsider. “[A] study [Nature] ran in 2011 received criticism because the authors allowed tumors to grow excessively large in mice,” Grimm wrote. “In an editorial published [Wednesday], Nature calls the large tumors ‘a breach of experimental protocol,’ one that could have caused the mice to ‘have experienced more pain and suffering than originally allowed for.’ … Nature says it will now require authors to include the maximum tumor size allowed by its institutional animal-use committee, and to state that this size was not exceeded during the experiments. The journal does say, however, that it is not retracting the paper, and that the study remains ‘valid and useful.’”  

► The 2015 Ig Nobel prizes, which recognize “scientific research ‘that makes people laugh, and then think,’" were awarded on Thursday, as John Bohannon reported that night. One of the winners was Michael Smith of Cornell University, who “stung himself with honey bees three times in each of 25 locations” on his body to determine how much each hurt. Smith’s award “wasn't the only recognition for the science of pain. A team of doctors and medical researchers at the University of Oxford and at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Aylesbury, U.K., scooped an Ig for their study of appendicitis and speed bumps. … But it wasn't all painful this year. Research on relief also got the nod. Scientists at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta who collected urine from various mammals came to the startling conclusion that nearly all of them—from dogs to elephants—took about the same amount of time to pee.”  

► “A pair of old fishing buddies is now steering the ship at the Scripps Research Institute, one of the world’s largest private basic biomedical research institutes,” Robert Service wrote today at ScienceInsider. “The announcement likely brings to a close a contentious chapter at Scripps. … Just over a year ago, Scripps faculty led a revolt against the institute’s former leadership amid financial troubles and merger discussions with [the University of Southern California (USC)].” The institution’s new president is Steve Kay, formerly the dean of USC’s College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, and “Peter Schultz, currently a Scripps chemist and director of the California Institute for Biomedical Research (Calibr) in San Diego, was named CEO. Kay will be in charge of day-to-day operations, whereas Schultz will lay out Scripps’s long-term strategic plan.” Read the full article for more about the institution’s tumultuous times and Kay and Schultz’s plans for the future.

► After finishing his Ph.D., Michael Marshak needed a break to clear his mind, so he thought, “What could possibly be further from a Ph.D. in chemistry than to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), traversing the United States from Mexico to Canada?” You can read about his journey in this week’s Science Careers-produced Working Like column.

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