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This Week in Science 2018–02–18


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Medium (Humanist Voices)

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2018/02/18

“I first met Xiaogang Peng in the summer of 1992 at Jilin University in Changchun, in the remote north-east of China, where he was a postgraduate student in the department of chemistry. He told me that his dream was to get a place at a top American lab. Now, Xiaogang was evidently smart and hard-working — but so, as far as I could see, were most Chinese science students. I wished him well, but couldn’t help thinking he’d set himself a massive challenge.

Fast forward four years to when, as an editor at Nature, I publish a paper on nanotechnology from world-leading chemists at the University of California at Berkeley. Among them was Xiaogang. That 1996 paper now appears in a 10-volume compendium of the all-time best of Nature papers being published in translation in China.

I watched Xiaogang go on to forge a solid career in the US, as in 2005 he became a tenured professor at the University of Arkansas. But when I recently had reason to get in touch with Xiaogang again, I discovered that he had moved back to China and is now at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou — one of the country’s foremost academic institutions.”


“NEW YORK — For families who have searched years for missing loved ones, donating a sample of their DNA is often a last, desperate act to confirm their worst fears.

New York City’s medical examiner is leading a nationwide effort to collect genetic material and match it with unidentified human remains. It’s a way to finally give family members some answers and maybe some solace.

“People will not rest without answers, at least some answers,” said Dr. Barbara Sampson, the city’s chief medical examiner.

Over the last decade, thousands of DNA samples have been donated to the city’s medical examiner’s office. Most include swabs of saliva from close relatives, but also DNA taken from items used by the missing persons themselves, including toothbrushes, combs, razor blades and, once, even a sanitary napkin.”


“Almost five billion kilometres from Earth is a powerful storm that once was so large it could stretch across the North Atlantic Ocean. Now, it has almost disappeared.

The storm has been raging on Neptune, the eighth planet in our solar system. Just as we get hurricanes here on Earth, storms have been seen on other planets, such as our largest, Jupiter. Its storm, known as the “Great Red Spot,” has been around for at least 350 years.

As if an enormous hurricane big enough to stretch across the Atlantic wasn’t bad enough, astronomers also believe the storm on Neptune had been pulling up material from deep inside the planet, possibly hydrogen sulphide. That’s right: it smelled like rotten eggs.”


“Three Western University students have traded in their lab coats for cameras for the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s annual Science, Action! initiative.

Christian Riel, director of communications at NSERC says the annual research video contest, which offers a grand prize of $3,500, aims to highlight Canadian post-secondary students’ research and innovation. As part of the contest, students submit 60-second video entries on a research topic of their choice. The public will vote for their favourite video out of 75 candidates, and the 25 most viewed videos will be submitted to a judging panel on March 2.

“There is so much great research that goes unnoticed on campuses, and we wanted to bring these stories to Canadians in a way that is fun and accessible. Science, Action! challenges students to find new ways of explaining complex research so that anyone from kids to grandparents can understand,” said Riel.”


“ AUSTIN — Strokes are common in old age, but these devastating events also strike babies. That’s likely because birth is stressful and particularly hard on the body’s blood vessels and circulation. But unlike adults, babies who suffer a stroke in the area of the brain that deals with language retain the ability to communicate. In new work presented here yesterday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which publishes Science, researchers found that as teenagers, individuals who experienced strokes around the time of birth are able to understand language as well as their healthy siblings. To find out how adults who had strokes as infants compensated for such severe brain damage, the team imaged their brains while they listened to sentences read forward and backward. In healthy adults, the test causes language processing areas on the left side of the brain to light up with activity (pictured above on the left). In the stroke survivors, who had lost brain tissue in this region, the activity had shifted to an area in the right hemisphere that’s the mirror image of the normal language region (above, right).”


“For years now the gold standard for R&D in Alzheimer’s disease has focused on generating convincing evidence that any new therapy being studied could slow the cognitive decline of patients and help preserve their ability to perform the kind of daily functions that can keep a patient independent for a longer period of time.

That’s a hurdle no one has managed to clear for well over a decade. So now, with late-stage clinical failures piling up, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has set off down a path to adapt those standards as researchers are pushed inexorably into earlier and earlier forms of the disease, ahead of the brain damage inflicted by Alzheimer’s.

In a set of draft guidances, the agency essentially proposed to offer an approval pathway for new drugs that could prevent the onset of the devastating symptoms of Alzheimer’s if drug developers could hit acceptable biomarkers that indicate the drug is working. And they’re likely going to continue with a new gold standard that will focus on long-term cognition alone, lowering the bar for drugs for an enormous and growing market.”


“When 1980s TV star Mr. T revealed his love of curling on Twitter this week and told his followers, “It’s not as easy as it looks,” he likely didn’t know how right he was. Because as it turns out, the physics of how curling works has still not been settled — although a pair of Canadian scientists believe they may finally have an answer.

The paper, titled, “First principles pivot-slide model of the motion of a curling rock,” proposes an algebraic formula to explain the relationship between the curling rock and the pebbled ice on which it is thrown to explain how it curls down the ice.

“It’s magnificent to have an equation like this, it’s unbelievable,” one of the paper’s authors, University of Northern British Columbia physicist Mark Shegelski told CBC Daybreak North host Carolina de Ryk.”



In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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