Solar Power Matters To Letterman In His Retirement

I noted last year that David Letterman would be dealing with climate change in his first major post-retirement television gig.  As part of the second season of Years of Living Dangerously (now on the National Geographic channel), Letterman went to India to talk energy.  His episode will premiere on October 30, and there are now some video clips.

This first one focuses on Letterman’s interview with the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi.

The second clip is about solar panels and reflects Letterman’s previous work in late night.

The program typically airs two ‘stories’ in each episode.  In addition to Letterman’s story, the October 30 premiere will include Saturday Night Live cast member Cecily Strong investigating the adoption (or not) of solar power in the United States.  Continuing the late night trend, Aasif Mandvi, former correspondent for The Daily Show, is part of another episode in Season 2, focusing on how changes in drought patterns affect wildlife populations.

Scientists And Engineers Part Of Latest MacArthur ‘Genius’ Class

The MacArthur Foundation announced its latest class of fellows.  The so-called ‘genius grants’ provide 5 years of no-strings-attached funding to encourage the fellows to pursue the creative work that attracted the Foundation’s attention in the first place.

There are 23 fellows in this year’s group and eight of them work in scientific and/or technical fields.  Those eight are:

  • Daryl Baldwin, a linguist and cultural preservationist working to restore the culture of the Maayami (Miami) people to their descendants.
  • Subhash Khot, a theoretical computer scientist working on problems of optimization and approximation in computational complexity
  • Dianne Newman, a microbiologist studying the metabolic processes of ancient microbes
  • Victoria Orphan, a geobiologist exploring the microbial communities in extreme environments and their influence on the oceans
  • Manu Prakash, a physical biologist exploring how organisms work from a physics perspective and an inventor of low cost research tools suitable for fieldwork
  • Rebecca Richards-Kortum, a bioengineer working on diagnostic technologies that can be used in low resource settings
  • Bill Thies, a computer scientist helping create communications and information technologies for use in low-income communities of the developing world.
  • JIn-Quan Yu, a synthetic chemist pioneering new techniques for breaking inert hydrogen-carbon bonds (a critical step in creating many complex compounds

Golden Goose Names Last 2016 Awardees In Advance Of Ceremony

The 2016 Golden Goose Awards ceremony will take place on Thursday, September 22 at the Library of Congress.  If you can’t make it there in person, the event will be streamed online starting at 5:30 p.m. Eastern time on Thursday.  This year the organizers have been teasing a documentary that will be premiered at the ceremony.

Three sets of researchers are being recognized tomorrow for their work on research projects that led to applications that could not have been predicted from the beginning of those projects.  Earlier this year the organizers announced two of these research teams: Edward Knipling and Raymond Bushland for their work on the sex lives of screwworm flies; and the team of Peter Bearman, Barbara Entwisle, Kathleen Mullan Harris, Ronald Rindfuss, and Richard Udry for their work on a longitudinal study of adolescents into adulthood call the Add Health study.

The final group recognized this year are John J. Bartholdi III, Sunil Nakrani, Thomas D. Seeley, Craig A. Tovey, and John Hagood Vande Vate.  They worked on a problem in computing and utilized work in biology to find a solution – the ‘honey bee’ algorithm.  Over the course of years these researchers determined how to apply lessons from how bees allocate foragers for optimum nectar collection to computer networks.  With support from the Office of Naval Research and the National Science Foundation, they developed equations to express how these foragers are allocated – without a central authority.  From there Nakrani joined the group to try and determine how computer servers can most efficiently address the ever changing nature of Internet traffic.

An important part of this story in the context of the Golden Goose Awards is that the web server application was not the first attempt to find a useful application for the honey bee algorithm.  After coming up short in applying the model to ant colonies and transportation networks, Nakrani and Tovey collaborated to demonstrate the applicability of the model to web servers.  Besides helping Nakrani earn his Ph.D., this work has been highly cited in a variety of other fields, including the Web hosting services that benefit tremendously from biologically inspired algorithms like theirs.

Nominations are now open for the 2017 Golden Goose Awards.  Consult the website for the complete list of requirements, but the top criteria are that the research has led to significant social and/or economic impacts and that research has received federal research funds that contributed to the discovery.  As the honey bee algorithm story demonstrates, non-U.S. research funds are not a disqualification.  Consideration will be given to nominated work that led to benefits that were unforeseen at the time of the work, seemed ‘odd’ or unusual (which might have prompted criticism at the time of the work), and/or demonstrated some level of serendipity.

Health And Human Services Department Trying To Increase Access To Clinical Trial Data

On Friday the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced actions that should increase the availability of clinical trial data.  This parallels an announcement from the Vice President focusing on clinical trials concerning cancer.

The overall goal of these policies is to make the clinical trial much more effective.  The announcements focus on making it easier to use and similar online resources for accessing and sharing clinical trial data.  Under the final rule issued by HHS, more trials involved with FDA-regulated drug, biological and device products will need to provide registration data and results on  This should also make it easier to find clinical trials that need participants.  The rule takes effect on January 18, 2017, and affected parties must comply within 90 days of that date.

The NIH policy applies to all NIH-funded clinical trials, which means that some clinical trials not otherwise covered by the HHS rule will fall under the NIH policy (primarily early stage trials for FDA-regulated drugs, biologics and devices and small device feasibility trials).  It also takes effect on January 18, 2017.

Complementing the expansion of registration requirements are new compliance measures.  Both the HHS rule and the NIH policy allow for marking the clinical trial as non-compliant on and for withholding grant funds.  The HHS rule allows for monetary penalties, and the NIH policy would allow for non-compliance to be considered in future grant applications.

Additionally, the NIH is working to improve the usability of and may be using the recently released redesign of  While White House Innovation Fellows assisted with the redesign, NIH intends to work with the 18F group at the General Services Administration to improve the clinical trials website.

Science and Technology Guests on Late Night, Week of September 19

A brief mention of last night’s Emmy Awards before diving into the listings.  Two of the lead acting Emmys were awarded to performers on science and technology themed shows.  Tatiana Maslany won for best lead actress in a drama.  She plays several clones in the show Orphan Black, and this was her second Emmy nomination.  Rami Malek, who plays Elliott on Mr. Robot, won for best lead actor in a drama.  Elliott is, among other things, a hacker.

Tonight is the debut of Season 3 of StarTalk on the National Geographic Channel.  His guest tonight is Whoopi Goldberg.  This marks a new night for StarTalk, which was on Sunday nights for its two seasons last year.  The show will eventually be online, but you will likely need a cable subscription to access it.  The StarTalk Live podcast will likely air a slightly extended version of each episode at a later date.  Host Neil deGrasse Tyson made the rounds last week, but I missed advance word of his appearance on ESPN’s SportsNation from September 13.

This week marks the beginning of the fall television season in the U.S.  There are two actors playing scientists making the rounds this week.  Lucy Liu plays Dr. Joan Watson on Elementary, which starts its fifth season in a couple of weeks.  On Thursday she will be on both The Talk and The Late Late Show.  Michael Weatherly plays a jury consultant on a new program called Bull.  I’m highly skeptical of how accurate the science might be on this program, but it doesn’t air until Tuesday.  Weatherly will be on The Talk and The Late Late Show today/tonight (Monday).

The new season also means appearances by other actors playing medical doctors.  Ellen Pompeo of Grey’s Anatomy is on The Late Late Show Wednesday.  Ken Jeong, who plays Dr. Ken, and did practice medicine at one time, is on The Tonight Show Thursday night.

Second INGSA Conference Announces Programs And Speakers

On the 29th and 30th of September the International Network for Government Science Advice (INGSA) will hold its second conference in Brussels.  Earlier this month INGSA announced a draft programme with confirmed speakers.  While representatives from European science advice institutions and stakeholders are well represented, INGSA and its co-host, the European Commission, have made a point to include representation from around the world.  This reflects the spirit of the first INGSA conference held in 2014.  The stated objectives of the conference are to:

  • Identify core principles and best practices, common to structures providing scientific advice for governments worldwide.
  • Identify practical ways to improve the interaction of the demand and supply side of scientific advice.
  • Describe, by means of practical examples, the impact of effective science advisory processes.

Additionally, the work of this conference will help in the ongoing project to develop principles and guidelines for science advice.  The goal is to have a document ready for delivery at the 2017 World Science Forum.  If you’d like to help, INGSA is collecting resources on the subject and welcomes contributions.

The programme lists a combination of plenary and parallel sessions, many of which continue discussions held during the 2014 conference.  There is also the opportunity to learn more about the new European Union Science Advice Mechanism.

Registration for the event is closed, but there will be efforts to publicize the conference as it happens via Twitter (Hashtag – #EUINGSA16), and the conference website.  A conference report will be prepared as well.  In addition, there will be the official launch of this collection of papers on scientific advice to government.


Pop Music Can Sample Gravitational Waves

Simonne Jones is an electropop artist with a scientific background.  The multi-instrumentalist has a biomedical degree and worked in a genetics research lab before turning to a music career.  Popular Science profiled her earlier this year when her EP Gravity was released, and the album includes songs like “Gravity” and “Spooky Action” that show off her scientific bona fides.

Popular Science also commissioned her to create a song that used sonifications of research data.  The result is called “Alchemy” and includes data from the Large Hadron Collider and the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory that has been converted into sound.  You can listen to it online, but my ears weren’t discerning enough to pick out the scientific sonifications.