Category: Andrew Maynard

Characterizing nanoparticles in the 1880s

On May 29th, there were 52,000 nanoparticles per cubic centimeter of air measured at the top of the Eiffel Tower. This may not seem the most compelling opening to an article, until you realize that the measurement was made in 1889 – over 100 years before nanotechnology and nanoparticles began hitting headlines as one of the most talked about emerging technologies in recent decades. The particles were measured by the Scottish scientist John Aitken, using his newly developed device for counting airborne dust particles.

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A call to proactively support Women in Science

The past few decades have seen a substantial and positive shift in attitudes towards women in science and engineering.  And yet, they continue to face an uphill struggle against ingrained attitudes and actions that create barriers to having a full, rewarding, equitable, and respected career in fields encompassed by science, technology, engineering and math. Athene Donald – a long-time advocate of women in science, and Professor of Physics at the University of Cambridge Cavendish Laboratory – recently suggested that people commit to “taking one action, just one, in their local organisation to counter the local brand of disadvantage that women may be facing.” Athene went on to suggest a (non-exhaustive) list of actions that she encourages people to commit to (below).  It’s a good list, and one that I will be acting on as well as encouraging others to. Athene is further encouraging people to show their commitment by using the hashtag #just1action4WIS on Twitter. It would be great to see the #just1action4WIS commitment gain traction – not only on Twitter, but more importantly, in everyday actions and attitudes. COMMIT TO TAKE JUST ONE ACTION Counter the “local brand” of disadvantage women in science around you may be facing • Call out bad behaviour whenever and wherever you see it – in committees or in the street. Don’t leave women to be victimised; • Encourage women to dare, to take risks; • Act as a sponsor or mentor (if you are just setting out there will still always be people younger than you, including school children, for whom you can act); • Don’t let team members get away with demeaning behaviour, objectifying women or acting to exclude anyone; • Seek out and remove microinequities wherever you spot them; • Refuse to serve on single sex panels or at conferences without an appropriate level of

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Should indoor tanning be banned?

Just how dangerous is indoor tanning? A couple of weeks ago, colleagues from the University of Michigan published an article with a rather stark recommendation: an immediate age limited ban on indoor tanning in all U.S. states, followed by a five-year phase-in ban for all commercial tanning.

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I'm A Scientist USA

In an innovative science education initiative, five scientists vie for popularity with school-age students from across the US by answering their questions online, and in real-time chats, in an effort to be the “last scientist standing”

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Lubchenco - delivering on science's social contract

In 1998, then-president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Dr. Jane Luchenco called for a “New Social Contract with science”. She argued that, in the face of emerging challenges, scientists needed to rethink their roles and responsibilities within society. Next Wednesday she will be examining how far we’ve come – and how far we still need to go – on delivering on science’s social contract, at the University of Michigan meeting on Academic Engagement in Public and Political Discourse.

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Step by step guide to making a Risk Bites video

Just for the fun of it, I decided to live-tweet the making of the previous Risk Bites video (Five things worth knowing about nanoparticles and sunscreens – posted June 15 2014). [View the story “Making a Risk Bites video” on Storify] The whole six and a half hours from finalizing the script to posting the finished video can be relived at Storify – https://storify.com/2020science/making-a-risk-bites-video

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After nearly two years and four hundred posts, the science communication course at the University of Michigan that feeds the Mind The Science Gap blog is coming to and end.  In between running a department, directing a research center, teaching, and actually doing research, something had to go.  And sadly, Mind The Science Gap was it.  The existing posts will remain, but there won’t be any new ones.  Sorry!  And thank you so much to everyone who has written for, promoted and commented on the blog – you have always been deeply appreciated.

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This is a piece I had hoped not to post – at least so soon – and still feel uneasy about, as it refers to events that will probably cause hurt to some people.  But as I have been called out on Twitter and discussion around the events is gaining some momentum, a little clarification is probably in order.

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From Risk Sense: Six months ago, Risk Bites launched as a somewhat quirky YouTube experiment in science communication. Twenty-seven videos on, how are things going?

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On Monday, the National Institute for Occupational Safety released new data on the potential role multi-walled carbon nanotubes play as a cancer-promoter – a substance that promotes the development of cancer in the presence of a carcinogen.  In the study, mice were injected with methylcholanthrene – a cancer initiating agent – and subsequently exposed to airborne multi-walled carbon nanotubes. Compared to a control group, the methylcholanthrene and carbon nanotube-exposed mice were significantly more likely to develop tumors than a control group, developed more tumors, and developed larger tumors.  The study provides a strong indication that this particular form of carbon nanotube material can synergistically increase the likelihood and severity of cancer in the presence of a carcinogen.

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The World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Emerging Technologies has just published its annual list of the top ten emerging technology trends.  Based on expert assessment from council members and others, the list provides insight into technologies that have the potential to have a significant economic and social impact in the near to mid term. This year’s list includes:

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Cross-posted from Risk Sense This week’s Risk Bites video takes a roller-coaster ride through some of the hottest topics in risk science. Admittedly this is a somewhat personal list, and rather constrained by being compressed into a two and a half minute video for a broad audience. But it does touch on some of the more exciting frontier areas in reducing health risk and improving well-being through research and its application. Here are the five topics that ended up being highlighted: BIG DATA   Despite pockets of cynicism over the hype surrounding “big data”, the generation and innovative use of massive amounts of data are transforming how health risks are identified and addressed. With new approaches to data curation, correlation, manipulation and visualization, seemingly disconnected and impenetrable datasets are becoming increasingly valuable tools for shedding new insights into what might cause harm, and how to avoid or reduce it. This is a trend that has been growing for some years, but is now rapidly gaining momentum. Just four examples of how “big data” is already pushing the boundaries of risk science include: High throughput toxicity screening, where rapid, multiple toxicity assays are changing how the potential hazards of new and existing substances are evaluated; “Omics”, where genomics, proteomics, metabolomics, exposomics and similar fields are shedding new light on the complex biology at the human-environment interface and how this impacts on health and well-being; Risk prediction through the integrated analysis of related datasets; and Designing new chemicals, materials and products to be as safe as possible, by using sophisticated risk data analysis to push risk management up the innovation pipeline. CLOUD HEALTH, or C-HEALTH   Hot on the tails of mobile-health, the convergence of small inexpensive sensors, widespread use of smart phones and cloud computing, is poised to revolutionize how risk-relevant

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Risk Bites – my new foray into the world of YouTube informal education – was officially launched a few weeks ago (although the transition from “unofficial” to “official” simply meant posting new videos more regularly!).  The channel is an experiment in overcoming the tedium and seeming irrelevance of much academic online content by unbundling the things that I research and teach and talking about the interesting stuff in an engaging and accessible way. Is it working?  It’s too early to say yet.  I’m getting good feedback from my peers.  But I have yet to crack how to get a much wider pool of eyeballs onto the videos (any offers of publicity here gratefully received – the url is http://youtube.com/riskbites – just in case you need it!).  What I’m really looking for is a growing number of subscribers and viewers who are entertained and informed by the videos. That said, I’m learning a lot from the experience.  The workflow is admittedly crude (idea, script, voice-over, storyboard, film, edit, post – all fit into an already packed schedule).  But that in turn means that the videos can be nearly as responsive as writing a blog post – as last week’s response to the Sandy Hook shootings showed.  In fact, the whole feel of the exercise is very much like the early days of writing posts for 2020 Science. Filming Risk Bites (click the image to see the video) The big difference though is the challenge of taking my work on risk and evidence-informed decision-making and dividing it into very short pieces that create a coherent narrative.  A 1 – 2 minute video allows for between 200 – 400 words, which isn’t a whole lot to handle the intricacies of the science of human health risk.  Even seemingly basic concepts like dose-response need

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YouTube intrigues me.  Having been dragged into the YouTube culture by my teenagers over the past two years, I’ve been fascinated by the shift from seemingly banal content to a sophisticated social medium. But what has really grabbed my attention is the growth of YouTube as a unique and powerful platform for informal education which is being driven not by the educational establishment, but by an emerging educational counterculture.

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Cross-posted from Risk Sense “Why should I wash my hands if I only pee?” It’s the sort of question most parents have had to handle at some time – especially if you have pretentious kids who delight in telling you how pure pee is! It’s also the subject of the first post in this semester’s Mind The Science Gap – a student science-writing blog I have great fun in overseeing. Mind The Science Gap takes ten public health graduate students and helps them hone their science communication skills in one of the toughest but most effective ways I know – by requiring them to post articles and respond to comments every week (without fail) for ten weeks. The rules are pretty simple –

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Tomorrow, my 16 year old daughter is leaving her home in the US for the UK. She’ll be there for the next two years while she studies for her A levels.  It was a heart-rending decision for my wife and I to agree to her living apart from us in a different country.  But the stark reality is that my daughter’s high school education here is just not good enough to prepare her for a British University – and in two years’ time, that’s where she wants to be.

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Sometimes you read a science article and it sends a shiver tingle down your spine.  That was my reaction this afternoon reading Ed Yong’s piece on a paper just published in Nature Biotechnology by Janna Nawroth, Kevin Kit Parker and colleagues. The gist of the work is that Parker’s team have created a hybrid biological machine that “swims” like a jellyfish by growing rat heart muscle cells on a patterned sheet of polydimethylsiloxane.  The researchers are using the technique to explore muscular pumps, but the result opens the door to new technologies built around biological-non biological hybrids. To get a sense of what Parker et al. have achieved, it’s worth watching this video of the “medusoid” in action – the movement comes about by a single layer of heart muscles grown on the substrate contracting synchronously as an electric field is applied to the liquid. For a more detailed account of the research, I would also recommend reading Ed Young’s excellent piece, and the original paper. What particularly intrigues me here is the fusion between the biological and the non-biological.  While synthetic biology has typically focused on manipulating organisms through designer-DNA, this more practical approach to engineering biology could go a long way very fast – even before genetically engineered components are added. In the case of the machine above, the result is a relatively functionless entity that moves when an external voltage is applied.  But it wouldn’t take much to engineer in a self-contained voltage source and pulse regulator, and maybe some control elements – fueled by further hybrid biological components.  What you end up with is an engineering construction kits for biological machines that could be as attractive to the DIY bio community as mainstream technologists.  With the addition of genetically designed components, this is likely to be

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It had to happen – despite deluding myself that I could squeeze everything into a 140 hour work week, something’s going to have to give.  And that something is going to be regular posts on 2020 Science.  I’ll still be posting here, just not as frequently.  Chairing a department, directing a center, teaching, research, doing cool stuff with cool people, writing killer blog posts – it should be possible to do it all.  But apparently I have a family who would like to see me occasionally.  And I’ve heard that other people have this thing called “a life” – I’m intrigued to find out what that is! I’ll still be doing plenty of stuff on line, so please do carry on engaging with me and my work in these places: On Twitter at @2020science – 140 characters is so much easier than a 500 word blog post.  What do department chairs tweet about?  I guess I’ll find out! On the Risk Sense blog – I’ll be putting more energy into building up the Risk Science Center blog – please spread the word, as this has the potential to be a great resource and forum on the science of human health risk.  Also, please follow the Risk Science Center on Twitter at @umrsc On the Risk Bites YouTube channel (and also on Twitter at @microriskbites).  This is a tremendously exciting project we’re launching that provides bite-sized and highly accessible nuggets on cool stuff about science, risk and health.  We officially launch in November, but there will be a number of teasers posted before then.  Please spread the word and subscribe! At Mind The Science Gap.  I’m running this science communication course twice a year now for our students – please subscribe to get notifications of blog posts, and support the students

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Hot on the heels of yesterday’s announcement on the Higgs Boson, some of YouTube’s most viewed science communicators have been burning the midnight oil to explain why this is so exciting.  Wrapping up this series of posts on YouTube, I thought I would call out three prominent YouTubers who were at VidCon this last week, yet still found the time to pull together a video following the news. First out of the blocks was Brady Haran with this video on the SixtySymbols channel, following the CERN seminar surrounding the announcement: Next came Vi Hart’s “Sonnet on a Higgs-Like Particle” And at 9:00 AM promptly this morning, Henry Reich of MinutePhysics posted his much-anticipated piece on the Higgs Boson: What interests me especially with all three videos is how fast they were pulled together and posted, how effectively they connect with a broad audience, and how many views they have already had (not to mention the comments).  Vi Hart’s and Brady Haran’s are well over 30,000 views at the time of writing (around 24 hours after posting), while Henry Reich’s video had over 1600 likes and 450 comments within the first couple of hours of going up.  Compare this with the more mainstream (but still excellent) video from Cara Santa Maria at Huffington Post: At the time of writing (2 days after being posted), it had 2,580 views and 19 comments.  Not shabby by any means.  But it’s clear who had the further reach here! Update: Henry Reich pointed out that Cara gets most of her views on the Huffington Post video channel, not YouTube.  You can check out her HuffPo Higgs Boson video here [link] And while I’m at it, here’s a late-breaking entry from Derek Muller (Veritasium on YouTube)

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2020 Science is the personal blog of Andrew Maynard - Professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Michigan. More ... 

Andrew can be found on Twitter at @2020science and on YouTube at Risk Bites

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