After that long turkey-induced sleep, here’s to some good science. This week’s picks includes an emotional piece about a dad, synthetic biology as the sci-fi extension of genetic engineering, astronomy in China and much much more (including one Thanksgiving-themed post).

Dig in!


Science is more than lab work and journals but we tend to forget this sometimes. Pete Etchells in his blog, Counterbalanced, pens a wonderful wonderful piece about his father, who has been his inspiration to pursue a career in research. Pete’s blog post is moving and is a must-read because  it showcases another aspect of science: humanity.

Why I hate neurons

So why did my Dad also inspire an irrational hatred of neurons? Because fourteen years ago today, on a freezing, dark, miserable day in November, my Dad died, two years after being diagnosed with a form of Motor Neuron Disease (MND) called Progressive Muscular Atrophy.

In BuzzFeed this week, Allison McCann has a delightful feature about synthetic biology which she describes as “the science fiction-like branch of genetic engineering.” Allison goes on to give a good account of the field and the challenges synthetic biologists face as they go all mad scientists on us.

How To Code A Life

Synthetic biology — the science fiction-like branch of genetic engineering — hopes to automate programs used to engineer organisms that could produce better drugs and cleaner fuels. But can open-source science really succeed? Synthetic biologists write code. But when their code is compiled, it doesn't become an app. It becomes, or at least changes, life.

Nadia Drake explores China’s ambitions in the field of astronomy while on a visit to the country. Writing in the December issue of Science News, Nadia dwells a little bit into China’s impressive beginnings in the field and how it suddenly all went bad. Now, China is playing catch up but with proper backing, it looks set to push the frontiers of astronomy even further relatively soon. An exceptional #longread.

Onward and Skyward

High in Beijing’s sky, the August sun glows red by midafternoon, a star struggling to illuminate China’s crowded capital from above the dust and pollution. I’m in the city along with 3,200 astronomers for the International Astronomical Union’s two-week General Assembly meeting. It’s the first time the IAU has convened the assembly in China, an important milestone for a country attempting to reclaim its former astronomical significance.

Jon Tennant (interviewed this week on this blog), blogging in his European Geosciences Union blog, Green Tea and Velociraptor, has an excellent post about geoscience in the news. Jon dissects a recent paper which not only points out the negatives of the media’s portrayal of geoscience but also suggests future actions that can be both journalists and researchers.

Geoscience in the news

Most of us probably read the newspaper, watch the news, or are at least aware of current topical issues to some degree. Surprisingly, a study from earlier this year identified that, in terms of newspaper coverage, Earth Science stories were actually ahead of biology and both physics and chemistry combined, after a substantial increase in the last decade (sorry Prof. Cox, geology rocks). It seems that this trend is due to a general public increase in the fascination of deep time, environmental disasters and natural crises (I suspect this is solely a British trend, as we love firstly nothing more than a good old moan about how naff the planet is, and secondly as we always want something we can’t have – the past, in this case).

Some more good stuff:


You can find more writings from early-career science writers by following this Twitter list. Have a nice weekend.