March 2010

Volume 24 Issue 3

The Scientist March 2010 Cover




Contributors Massachusetts Institute of Technology chemical engineer Arup┬áK. Chakraborty remembers well the day that he learned about some of the challenges facing immunologists. “I found it a fascinating area of science and got completely enamored with it and have been so for the last decade,” he says. He uses his engineering background to apply theoretical and computational approaches to understanding how lymphocytes function (w

Stimulating Science

By Sarah Greene Stimulating Science Crowdsourced wisdom on how to disperse the budget dollars How far can we stretch $1 billion? US President Barack Obama has shown us the money, again. A year after the stimulus package provided a windfall $10 billion for the National Institutes of Health and $3 billion for the National Science Foundation, the budget proposal for FY11 holds strong and somewhat steady for science and medical research. There are proposed


Mail Should Evolutionary Theory Evolve? Contrary to many people quoted in the article,1 I don’t think any formal revolution to evolutionary theory is necessary. If we say that the Modern Synthesis was finished by the end of World War II, then it is obvious that evolutionary theory has undergone immense change over the past 65 years. Some notable instances include the development of ideas about inclusive fitness, the neutral theory of molecular evolution, and pun

Package delivery

By Alla Katsnelson Package delivery Courtesy of John Heiss Your body is teeming with mysterious particles called vaults. With an average of 10,000 to 100,000 of them in every human cell, they’re thought to be one of the most abundant particles in the body. But no one knows their function. This mystery doesn’t phase the discoverer of vaults, University of California, Los Angeles cell biologist Leonard Rome. To him, what matters about vaults is no

Behind the curtain

Last December 10th, the international scientific community’s gaze was fixed squarely on Stockholm, where 2009’s science Nobelists were collecting their medals. But that same day, six diplomats were disembarking a plane in Pyongyang, North Korea, on a less ballyhooed event. 

Golden opportunity

By Jef Akst Golden opportunity Donald Glotzer may hold the honor of being the world’s oldest “early career” scientist. Throughout his entire career as a surgeon, the thought of academic research became an itch Glotzer never had time to scratch. He had chosen surgery as his specialty thinking it would give him time to conduct laboratory experiments, but he quickly learned that he was wrong—surgery, he says, “was a total commitment

Sweet relief

By Katherine Bagley Sweet relief Courtesy of LactoPharma In the fall of 2009, a group of New Zealand scientists were putting the finishing touches on a new therapeutic to help cancer patients recover from chemotherapy, in preparation for a clinical trial. All they had left to do was choose a flavor. “It was no easy task,” says Arie Geursen, general manager of LactoPharma, the entity developing the therapeutic, presented in the form of an ic

Slime and punishment

By Bob Grant Slime and punishment © Wayne G. Lawler / Photo Researchers, Inc. Two hundred kilometers north of Hobart, Tasmania, on a late September afternoon in 2001, two men broke into the rural home of 71-year-old Fay Olson. The intruders—armed with sticks and wearing black hoods—ransacked Olson’s home, forced her to open a safe, stuffed AU$550 into a pillow sack, and fled into the bush surrounding the house. They left Olson tied u

Porn: Good for us?

By Milton Diamond Porn: Good for us? Scientific examination of the subject has found that as the use of porn increases, the rate of sex crimes goes down. © Comstock / Corbis Pornography. Most people have seen it, and have a strong opinion about it. Many of those opinions are negative—some people argue that ready access to pornography disrupts social order, encouraging people to commit rape, sexual assault, and other sex-related crimes. And e

To Join or Not to Join

By Steven Wiley To Join or Not to Join The benefits of membership to a scientific society are decreasing every year. Lately, I’m asking: Why bother? At about this time every year, I renew my memberships to several scientific societies, and every year I ask myself the same question: “Should I bother?” In years past, the answer was easy because being a member came with tangible benefits, such as inexpensive journals and the ability to sub


Odd Man Out

Do fish have personalities?

Seeing in Numbers

By Arup K. Chakraborty Seeing in Numbers How concepts from physics and engineering are informing questions about T cell selection and antigen recognition. In the fall of 1999, a colleague at Berkeley, Graham Fleming, invited me to lunch with a newly arrived postdoc who was exploring immunology—a new field for him. My research couldn’t have been less related: theoretical problems in polymer physics and catalytic materials. But, one of Graha

Working and living at TRUDEAU

Working and living at TRUDEAU After not even making the top 40 lists the past 3 years, the Trudeau Institute shot to The Scientist’s number one spot in 2010. Postdocs there attribute this accolade to the institute’s specialized research focus on infectious and inflammatory diseases, collaboration between labs, and idyllic location on Saranac Lake in the heart of New York’s Adirondack Mountains. Related Articles

NOVARTIS - Postdoc play money

NOVARTIS—Postdoc play money Another newcomer to the Best Places to Work survey—Novartis Institute for Biomedical Research’s campus in Horsham, United Kingdom—takes top honors among international institutions this year. With only nine postdocs, Horsham is the smallest group on the list, but the postdocs say they prefer it that way. “Being a postdoc is incidental most of the time,” says Ian Craig, a computational

A new life for research in PORTUGAL

A new life for research in PORTUGAL In an effort to become scientifically competitive with the rest of Europe, Portugal has dedicated significant financial and administrative resources to improving its research infrastructure over the past 2 decades—a movement that helped breed five times the number of life science PhDs and boost publication rates 17-fold. In the past 2 years, Portugal’s Foundation for Science and Technology has turned

Who pays top dollar?

Who pays top dollar? To the disappointment of postdocs, many institutions set their salaries according to the pay scale recommended by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or lower. Surprisingly, however, many government research centers reported higher postdoc salary caps than those in industry or academia, with the highest paid postdocs making twice the $51,552 paycheck recommended by the NIH in 2009 for those with 7 or more years of experience.

Survey Methodology

Survey Methodology Survey Form: A web-based survey form was posted from September 9 to November 30, 2009. Results were collected and collated automatically. Invitations: E-mail invitations were sent to readers of The Scientist and registrants on The Scientist web site who identified themselves as non-tenured life scientists working in academia or other non-commercial research institutions. The survey was also publicized on The Scientist web site and through new

Best Places to Work 2010 Survey Questions

table { font-size: 11px; } By Bob Grant Survey Questions Best Places to Work Postdocs 2010 Category Question Training and Mentoring My principal investigator takes time to discuss the science behind the experiments and other work that I do. Training and Mentoring I have learned much from my principal investigator about how to succeed as a scientist. Training and Mentoring My colleagues help

It's Electric

By Karen Hopkin It’s Electric One Saturday afternoon in the lab of Erwin Neher changed the entire field of electrophysiology. © Irene Boettcher-Gajewski, MPIbpc. At first, Erwin Neher didn’t realize what he was looking at. He and his colleague Bert Sakmann—who occupied adjoining labs at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen starting in the 1970s—had been trying to perfect a technique for watch

Seeds of Conflict

By Katherine Bagley Seeds of Conflict New research unearths the secrets of the antagonistic forces that shape seedling development. Courtesy of Cristina Martinez / Deng Lab, Yale University Every seed begins its life as the subject of a war—between light and gibberellins, a type of plant hormone, which work antagonistically to guide seedling development. In short, gibberellins promote the early elongation of a plant’s stem, while light inhi


Early to rise

By Edyta Zielinska Early to rise © 2009 Alzheimer’s Association. All rights reserved / Illustrations by Stacy Jannis The paper: K.E. Pike et al., “Beta-amyloid imaging and memory in non-demented individuals: evidence for preclinical Alzheimer’s disease,” Brain, 130:2837–44, 2007. (Cited in 83 papers) The finding: One of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the build-up of the abnormal

Alive via autophagy

By Jef Akst Alive via autophagy Huafeng Zhang and Gregg Semenza, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine The paper: H. Zhang, et al., “Mitochondrial autophagy is an HIF-1-dependent adaptive metabolic response to hypoxia,” J Biol Chem, 283:10892–903, 2008. (Cited in 72 papers) The finding: By examining mouse embryonic fibroblasts, molecular biologist Gregg Semenza of The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and collea

Biofuel breakdown

By Katherine Bagley Biofuel breakdown The paper: T. Searchinger et al., “Use of U.S. croplands for biofuels increases greenhouse gases through emissions from land-use change,” Science, 319:1238–40, 2008. (Cited in 204 papers) The finding: Fossil fuel energy systems are one-sided: emitting carbon, but not sequestering it. Crops, on the other hand, help sequester carbon as they grow, a fact that led most prior research to conclude

Stephen Smith: The Botanist Hacker

By Megan Scudellari Stephen Smith: The Botanist Hacker © 2010 Alex Maness Photography Stephen Smith just wanted to study honeysuckle. As a new PhD student at Yale University in 2003, “I was going to do a strict monograph,” says Smith. But when he sat down to research the evolution of the genus, he learned that the honeysuckle fossil record is poor, so Smith decided to temporarily expand his research to include the fossils

Structure Made Simple

By Jeffrey M. Perkel Structure Made Simple A step-by-step guide to reaching into structural biology databases and extracting the most for your research. There’s certainly no shortage of structural biology data today, but that doesn’t make it easy to use. Between technical advances and high-throughput structural genomics, structure databases are stuffed to overflowing with multicolored renderings of proteins, nucleic acids, and macromolecul

A Penny Saved

By Victoria Stern A Penny Saved Eight surprising ways to save from $10,000 to $6,000,000 © MICHAEL AUSTIN So you want to cut costs. There are the obvious techniques everyone’s considered—outsourcing, downsizing, and other painful steps. These can save a lot of money, but at this point, many companies can’t trim any more staff without cutting back on operations. Still, a few are finding additional creative ways to cut spending her

Pimp your PowerPoint

By Bob Grant Pimp your PowerPoint Start designing attention-grabbing presentations that stand out from the typical snoozers. © ADAM MCCAULEY COLLECTION In the middle of the 19th century blackboards were all the rage. According to Pennsylvania State University engineering communication professor Michael Alley, it was common for universities and research institutions to proudly advertise that they had the only slate writing board in

Nature rejects Krebs's paper, 1937

By Brendan Borrell Nature rejects Krebs’s paper, 1937 Photo: © SPL / Photo Researchers, Inc. What would be the perfect revenge for a scientist whose paper is turned away from Nature? A Nobel Prize, of course. Such was the case for Hans Krebs, the biochemist who nabbed the award in 1953 for discovering the citric acid cycle, or “Krebs cycle”—the cellular pathway that converts carbohydrates, fats, and proteins into energy.

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