It will take a few weeks until The SA Incubator evolves to its full scope as I described in the introductory post. Interviews, guest-posts, discussions - still to come.

But one thing that will be a regular feature here is a weekly highlight of some of the best recent work by science writing students, so I can start with that. At some point I will settle into a more-or-less set rhythm that will make it easy for you to know what to expect. Perhaps my 'highlights' posts will always occur on the same day of the week at the same time of day, etc. But for now, during this 'roll-out' week, this is the time-slot I got.

It is the middle of the summer, so many student websites and blogs are not regularly updated. Some students graduated, new ones are still to come. Many, I assume, got internships in various media organizations but for the most part I do not know who is where. So, let me try to highlight a few recent articles and blog posts that I am aware of. And I hope you will help me find them in the future - post links in the comments, or send them to me by e-mail or Twitter DMs or Facebook messages.

1) The article of the week must be HAL lives, breathes, is infected with toxins: The virtual future of biomedical research by Stephanie Warren at NYU:

Thomas Knudsen carefully poisons a 3-week-old human embryo with a dose of isoretinoin. Isoretinoin, more commonly known as the acne medication Accutane, is highly toxic, a known cause of birth defects. It prevents vitamin A from signaling to the brain that it’s time for the limbs to start growing. Babies exposed to it during a critical time in development are born with shortened arms and legs. Knudsen is learning about the process by deliberately exposing the tiny fetus to the toxin. But he’s no madman. The embryo lives in his computer: It’s part of the new Virtual Embryo Project backed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)...

Read the rest...

2) Nadia Drake, a frequent contributor to the Santa Cruz student blog, is spending summer interning for big journals. After a stint at Nature she is now writing news for Science News and here are some of her most recent articles:

Most distant quasar raises questions:

Astronomers peering at the early universe have glimpsed the most distant quasar yet. Powered by a black hole of 2 billion solar masses, the quasar appears as it did 12.9 billion years ago, when the universe as humans know it was just beginning to emerge from the Big Bang.

Snakebite treatment buys time:

Indiana Jones, intrepid cinematic archaeologist, is famously afraid of snakes. Perhaps he wouldn’t need to be if he had a new ointment developed by scientists in Australia. Quickly applying a nitric oxide–containing ointment near the bite site slows the spread of some venoms, including the notorious eastern brown snake’s, the researchers report online June 26 in Nature Medicine.

Sulfur stalls surface temperature rise:

A new study demonstrates why global surface temperatures defied a decades-long trend and didn’t continue to rise between 1998 and 2008: Pollution-spewing, coal-burning power plants in Asia, while emitting warming greenhouse gases, simultaneously sent cooling sulfur particles into the atmosphere.

During that decade — sometimes cited as evidence to deny global warming — these Asian emissions mostly balanced one another and dampened the effects of natural cooling cycles associated with the sun and ocean temperatures.

3) The NYU students had fun for the Independence Day on their blog:

Grilling for geeks: The science of the perfect burger by Stephanie Warren provides the perfect recipe.

In ‘Cause baby you’re a firework*, Mary Beth Griggs explains what substances result in which colors of the fireworks.

Rose Eveleth asks you to listen - Name that firework: Use your listening powers to tell them apart. Try to match short audio clips with the types of fireworks that produce different sounds when they are launched. Then check your answers.

4) Hannah Waters, who just debuted here on the SA blog network is also going through summer internships. Last month, her stint at The Scientist ended, but her last story there just appeared in the magazine - check it out: The First X-ray, 1895: The discovery of a new and mysterious form of radiation in the late 19th century led to a revolution in medical imaging.

At the end of the 19th century, while studying the effects of passing an electrical current through gases at low pressure, German physicist Wilhelm Röntgen accidentally discovered X-rays—highly energetic electromagnetic radiation capable of penetrating most solid objects. His discovery transformed medicine almost overnight. Within a year, the first radiology department opened in a Glasgow hospital, and the department head produced the first pictures of a kidney stone and a penny lodged in a child’s throat. Shortly after, an American physiologist used X-rays to trace food making its way through the digestive system. The public also embraced the new technology—even carnival barkers touted the wondrous rays that allowed viewing of one’s own skeleton...

Now writing brief news at Nature Medicine, Hannah was one of the rare people in the media to be - apparently rightfully - suspicious of the press statements about the new meta-study of the health effects of salt in our diets - see Media reports of new hypertension study should be taken with a grain of salt:

....Unlike the journal’s press release, the meta-analysis indeed found “moderate evidence” that those who were advised to reduce their salt intake had lower blood pressure and less sodium in their urine 2–3 years after starting the low-salt diet. But ten years later, these participants had returned to their former state. If anything, the analysis shows that it’s “very hard to maintain behavioral adaptations,” says Taylor. “It’s not surprising therefore that there was no survival benefit.”

Thus, the take-home message, it seems, is not that salt is okay for you, but just that cutting down on salt is easier said than done.

We'll be back next week with more. And, help me find the best summer writing by emerging science writers wherever they may be.