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Weekly Highlights #13 – MIT science writing program

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MIT Grad Program in Science Writing (Twitter, Facebook) is one of the strongest programs in the country, whose alumni include some of the most exciting new science writers on the scene. You can follow the ongoing work of the current students on their magazine/blog SCOPE, but here are some examples of the recent work by their graduates.

MacGregor Campbell (’09) does wonderful animated explainers for the New Scientist. Here’s one on the power of the mind to heal: The healing power of the mind. Watch for the FSM. The most recent one is Why there is no such thing as empty space.

Phil McKenna (’06) did a piece for Smithsonian on conservation of endangered species on the Tibetan plateau: A Buddhist Monk Saves One of the World’s Rarest Birds:

“Rrrrrr, Badgers!” Tashi Zangpo says, cradling the remains of a bird nest in his hands on a mountain slope nearly 14,000 feet above sea level. For weeks, Tashi, a Tibetan Buddhist monk and self-taught conservation biologist, has scoured these mountains in China’s Qinghai province for nests of the Tibetan bunting. Now that he’s found one, he’s discovered that a badger has beaten him to it and devoured the young…

Amanda Martinez (’10) specializes in ocean environment and wrote a feature for Scientific American on what’s eating that ocean plastic: The Smallest Hitchhikers:

We know that at the heart of at least two ocean basins—the North Pacific and the North Atlantic—tiny plastic fragments the size of confetti or smaller are accumulating on the sea surface by the tens of thousands, the remnants of discarded grocery bags, cups, bottles and other waste….

Megan Scudellari (’08) wrote this feature for The Scientist on data collection: Data Deluge:

In the late 1970s, geneticist Robert Strausberg was an oddity. Instead of studying a single protein or gene, he focused on the expression patterns of the yeast mitochondrial genome. It was his first inkling of “what we could do if we had complete genomic information, though it wasn’t being done at that time,” recalls Strausberg, then at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Dallas…

Lisa Song (’09) wrote about rancher fighting the Transcanada pipeline: Nebraska Ranchers Who Turned the Tide in Pipeline Fight Say They’re Not Done Yet:

Connie and Leon Weichman had just finished branding some calves Monday when Connie’s niece texted her the news: TransCanada, the Alberta-based company that wants to build an oil pipeline through the middle of the United States, had finally agreed to reroute it away from the Nebraska Sandhills where the Weichmans live and ranch…

Carolyn Johnson (‘04) covers science and technology for the Boston Globe – here’s some recent work of hers on cancer drug resistance: Push is on to stay one step ahead of cancer:

Targeted drugs that attack the genetic machinery of cancer with laser-like precision are, in a select group of patients, melting tumors away, often with few side effects. The problem is, almost invariably, these medications eventually stop working….

Also from Carolyn, published today: Monarch butterfly genome sequenced:

In a step toward understanding the remarkable navigational prowess of monarch butterflies, scientists from the University of Massachusetts Medical School have decoded the genetic blueprint of a fist-sized insect that each fall flits on gossamer wings from the Eastern United States to a 300-square-mile patch in the mountains of Mexico….

Jennifer Frazer (’04) just the other day published in Scientific American: Miraculous Microbes: They Make Holy Statues “Bleed”–and Can Be Deadly, Too:

A sinister bacterium implicated in Catholic miracles and “blood”-tainted polenta also kills coral, insects, and are even are up to no good in your contact lens case…

And of course, you know Jennifer’s work on her Artful Amoeba blog, right here on our network.

Emily Anthes (’06) has a blog over on the PLoS blogs, Wonderland. But have you seen this amazing thing she did for Wired? Animal Prosthetics Help Human Amputees Move Again:

Kristina Bjoran, who just graduated this year, had two posts here on the Guest Blog back in Spring – first: Animal emotion: When objectivity fails:

There seems to be an explosion of concern over animal welfare these days. With growing awareness to factory farming conditions, Americans are at last faced with the recent histories of their burgers, their nuggets, their pork chops. What we see makes us viscerally uncomfortable, and reasonably so…

Second: Looking for Empathy in a Conflict-Ridden World:

I witnessed a breakup yesterday in the middle of MIT’s vast Infinite Corridor—a hallway known for its heavy traffic and long stretch of straightness. Finals are upon the undergraduates, so perhaps tensions were a bit high for the young, failing couple. Something, however, had clearly pushed the girl overboard. Her boyfriend had fallen dramatically to his knees and as he wept heartfelt apologies for some crime or another, the girl stood with crossed arms, trying not to look at him. Then, as I passed, the angry young woman knelt and slapped him hard and loud across his face just before storming off down the Corridor…

Allison MacLachlan (’11) – An Eye on the Sky:

Forty miles northwest of MIT in the woods of Westford, Massachusetts, a barely marked turn leads down a narrow dirt road to a small white building. It’s unremarkable from the outside, save for the two domes that rise, like squat silos, almost to the height of the surrounding oaks. Inside each dome is a telescope. When the Wallace Astrophysical Observatory’s mechanical roofs are peeled back on clear evenings, MIT astronomers practice the science of studying the night sky….

Jordan Calmes (’11) – Bush Meat: When Conservation And Child Nutrition Collide:

With its big, round eyes and bushy tail, the aye-aye lemur looks like a a cross between a monkey and a squirrel. To many people in Madagascar, it’s a tasty, traditional meal, and an excellent source of protein and iron…

Stephen Craft (current student): Citizen Scientists Find Exoplanets That NASA Computers Missed:

A citizen-science project called Planet Hunters has discovered two planets orbiting stars outside our solar system—both of which had been disregarded by NASA computers…..

Abby McBride (current student): Sterilizing Surgical Tools with Sunshine:

With a bucket, a pressure cooker, and 140 pocket-sized mirrors, MIT-affiliated researchers have invented a device that uses sunshine to sterilize surgical tools….

Conor Myhrvold (current student): Shapiro’s Bathtub Experiment:

Over forty years ago, in the 1960s, the world briefly became captivated with how a bathtub drains. Did something called the Coriolis effect influence the twirling water?…

Hannah Krakauer (current student): Scientists Decipher Genetic Code of a Vampire (Bacterium, That Is):

Scientists have cracked the genetic code of a “vampire bacterium” that survives by sucking the nutrients out of other living bacteria. This new information could someday be harnessed to fight infections in combination with traditional antibiotic therapies….

Michelle Sipics (’06.) was involved in building the History of Vaccines site at the College of Physicians in Philadelphia.

If it’s video you’re looking for, check out The Perfect Oyster and Seat of Power by Jordan Calmes and Allison MacLachlan. Or even TV: Fabric of the Cosmos: Universe or Multiverse? by Anna Strachan (’03).

And keep watching the new crop of students as they write (and they write a lot!) on their SCOPE site.





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