Today, we have some awesome writings from seven (a factor of 42) equally awesome young or early-career science writers. Read about the science of oppressive urban environments, open science, the world’s first stem cell drug and more... All here.

Rachel Nuwer, freelance science journalist, writes about a new research which aims to curtail oppressive urban environments in big cities, in Txchnologist. Oh, trees help.

Researchers Seek to Measure the Oppressiveness of Streetscapes

In the urban canyons, pedestrians shuffle in shadowed gullies carved between skyscrapers. Enclosed by hundreds of stories of steel and concrete, the hapless passersby feel the buildings loom over them like dark sentries. It may sound like a scene from Blade Runner, but some researchers are concerned that mega-cities like New York, Tokyo or Hong Kong darken more than pedestrian walkways. The built environment, some believe, may be an additional source of anxiety in an urbanite’s day-to-day life, as much as pressure from work and relationships.

Brett Szmajda, an editorial intern at Cosmos, writes about a speech-analysis software that can assess your stress levels for Cosmos Online.

Software to monitor your working memory

A nifty piece of software can now monitor workers and pick up on subtle cues about when they are not coping. The BrainGauge software, announced by Australian scientists at the CeBIT information and technology conference in Sydney, detects stress levels from vocal tones, and may improve worker retention rates in intense work environments such as air-traffic control, emergency services and call centres.

Victoria Charlton, at Imperial College London, UK, has a new blog post in her impressive I, Science blog, Science Means Business. This time, Victoria takes a look at open science. Her post starts with this sentence: “Giving the public access to the research that they fund is about much more than eliminating journal pay-walls.” A lede which will get you to read the whole post, I’m sure.

Access Denied

Open access is a hot topic right now. For months, academics have been taking an uncharacteristic interest in the detailed financials of the publishing world, and, for many scientists, the fight for our right to party – no, sorry, to access largely incomprehensible journal articles – has taken on a revolutionary tone. Rumour has it, the mathematicians are revolting. (Against Dutch publisher Reed Elsevier, that is.) Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not against open access. Quite the opposite, actually. But, heretical though this may sound coming from a tax-paying science graduate and bona-fide member of “the public”, I do think we’re in danger of losing sight of the bigger picture on this one. Please, hear me out.

Kelly Slivka, at NYU, has two great blog posts in The New York Times’ Green Blog. In one of the posts, she gives us an insight into how scientists are using some cool gadgets to track the travels of the Bluefin Tuna (and how same scientists realised that we don’t know much at all about those tunas). In the other post, Kelly writes about a newly-discovered organ in whales which help them during their impressive lunge feeding. Dissection never ceases to amaze.

Tracking the Travels of Young Bluefin Tuna

Atlantic bluefin tuna aren’t much of a mystery when they’re dead. Sushi chefs roaming the Tokyo fish market can appraise a bluefin steak with a cursory glance. Multitudes of people are intimate with the distinct texture and flavor of bluefin meat. But much about the lifetimes of these high-profile fish is unknown, and what is known is often misunderstood. “The bluefin tuna is an extremely complicated animal,” said Molly Lutcavage, the director of the Large Pelagics Research Center of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

A Secret Behind the Whales Might Gulp

Somewhere in the vastness of the northern oceans, a fin whale is feeding. She has zeroed in on a school of silvery herring and she drives toward them, pumping the blade of her tail. At the last moment of her approach she pulls open her gaping jaw and lunges at the fish. Within six seconds she engulfs 24 pounds of herring and 21,000 gallons of water. She closes her mouth and filters the water out through her baleen before swallowing her prey. Then she repeats the process again and again.

Ada Ao, science blogger at Scitable’s The Promethean Cell, reports about Prochymal, the world’s first stem cell drug. The future is now.

First stem cell drug to marketProchymal

I've mentioned many times on this blog that stem cell-based drugs are not yet ready for prime time. Well, I was wrong. Prochymal has achieved the distinction of being the world's first stem cell drug to jump through all the regulatory hoops and is approved for Canada. But thanks to the Expanded Access Program (EAP), it is available in eight countries including the US. In case you're wondering, EAP is designed to make investigational drug accessible to patients with very serious or terminal conditions--basically as a last resort.

Shara Yurkiewicz, blogger at PLoS Blogs, shares her feelings about treating a transgender patient for the first time in her usual cantabile style. Shara’s writing flows like music and I recommend you subscribe to her blog’s RSS feed.


He was nervous about having his uterus and ovaries out. I had gotten on well with him in the surgical holding area. I didn’t get to ask what I really wanted to, instead skimming over shallower subjects like where he was from and who each person was who had to examine him before surgery. He finally asked me if I had ever treated a transgender patient before. I told him that I hadn’t. I added that he would probably forget me in the haze of people while I probably would remember him for the rest of my life. I’ve been saying that a lot to patients lately, since each one is usually my first something.

Holly Youlden, at Oxford University, UK, has a short but interesting post about differentiating old skin cells into functioning heart cells in Bang! Science Magazine.

How to mend a broken heart

A lot of people might think they have the solution to a broken heart down to a tee; cry your eyes out whilst watching The Notebook, down a few gallons of ice cream plus spend a few nights drowning any remaining sorrows (and dignity) on the dance floor, sorted. However, researchers believe they might have found a slightly more scientific solution to damaged heart muscle using stem cell technology.

Share more stories in the comments below and hold on to your towel. Happy Towel Day.

Edit 1221 EDT: 7 is a factor not a multiple of 42 as originally written. Embarrassing mistake corrected.