National Academy Of Science Getting Popular With Its Public Welfare Medal

On Sunday, during its 153rd Annual meeting, the National Academy of Sciences will present several awards.  Among them is the Public Welfare Medal, which honors ‘extraordinary use of science for the public good.’

This year the Academy is awarding the medal to Alan Alda.  The actor has a long history of working with science and scientists, dating back to at least his stint hosting Scientific American Frontiers from 1993-2005.  Besides hosting that program, which ran on PBS, he has hosted other science programs, and performed and wrote scientifically themed plays.  He is the face of The Flame Challenge, which tests the ability of scientists to communicate concepts to young kids.  In what spare time he has Alda is Visiting Professor at the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at the Stony Brook University.

This marks the second year in a row the Public Welfare Medal has recognized the work of someone engaged in public science.  Last year Neil deGrasse Tyson was recognized for his work in science education and science entertainment.  That the award came the year after Tyson hosted the 2014 edition of COSMOS is not likely a coincidence.  Especially since Carl Sagan, who hosted the 1980 edition, also received the Public Welfare Medal (but not until 1994).

Two data points do not make a trend, and with only three recipients in 102 years having this kind of connection to popular culture, I don’t expect to see the MythBusters recognized with the Public Welfare Medal any time soon.  (Besides, such recognition would make more sense coming from the National Academy of Engineering, which doesn’t have a comparable medal.)

Congratulations to Alan Alda, who could make a lovely acceptance speech on Sunday.  Until *that* video becomes available, you can watch Tyson’s acceptance speech from 2015.

Google Looking For Good Scripts For Computer Science

At the Tribeca Film Festival last week Google announced that its CS Education in Media Program is partnering with the website The Black List for a fellowship competition to support the image of computer science and computer scientists in media (H/T STEMDaily).  The Black List is a screenwriting site known for hosting the best unproduced screenplays in Hollywood.

The fellowship could award up to $15,000 for as many as three scripts (one film script and two episodic television pilots).  The writers would use the money to support their work on new materials for six months.  At the end of that period the writer(s) would present that work to Google along with a summary of how the grant helped advance that work and/or affected their career.

The submitted work would change the perception of computer science and/or computer scientists in popular culture.  Projects that feature underrepresented groups in computer science would certainly qualify.  The Black List will review the scripts submitted and select 10 for further consideration by Google.  Those finalists will include a short biography with their work.  Google would then choose as many as three recipients, but may decide not to award any if they don’t believe the 10 are of sufficient merit.

The competition period ends on July 15th.  Contestants would need to post their submission on The Black List, and meet several other eligibility requirements (such as the work is original and the writer is able to enter a contract).  Any script on The Black List that has a paid evaluation by 11:59 p.m. on June 15th is eligible for consideration, but authors will have to opt in to the competition.  While the site does not explicitly state this, it would seem that an evaluation – and paying the fee – must happen in order to compete.

Lab Accident Roundup: New Details In Hawaii, Progress In Houston

Chemical and Engineering News is reporting on the investigation into the March explosion that claimed the arm of a postdoc (said postdoc has not permitted the release of information on her current condition).  Per the investigation report of the Honolulu Fire Department (HFD), sparks from a pressure gauge caused the explosion of gases being used to ‘feed’ bacteria in a bioreactor.  For this the gases need to be transferred from a high pressure container to a lower pressure container, and the pressure gauge that sparked was not rated for use in a gaseous chamber.  The HFD report also notes that there had been a prior explosion in this lab with a smaller tank and similar setup.  Reading the report, one could infer that some lab safety practices were either not effectively implemented or not followed by lab personnel.  There are at least two other investigations to come, as the University hired the Center for Laboratory Safety at the University of California to conduct an investigation, and the Hawaii Occupational Safety and Health Division is also examining the accident.  They may be more definitive concerning how lab practices may have contributed to the accident.

Beryl Benderly at Science wrote recently about two lab accidents at Texas Tech University.  One, in 2010, seriously injured a graduate student, and prompted an investigation by the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board.  The resulting report criticized lab safety procedures nationwide and prompted the University to adjust its own procedures.  Thankfully, an explosion in March at Texas Tech was limited to ‘superficial’ injuries.  Benderly notes that the underlying missteps in each accident reflect better overall procedures.  Arguably that could simply be because things at Texas Tech were pretty awful back in 2010, but relative improvement is still improvement.

STEM Is On The Fastrack

On the Fastrack is a long running comic strip set at a modern day business.  Many of the characters featured in the strip are technologically inclined, but technology is not as explicit of a theme in the strip as it is in say, Foxtrot or Dilbert.

Starting with Saturday’s strip (April 23) the comic is running a storyline around STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).  Fistula Breech has been asked to make a presentation on STEM to encourage girls to take math and science classes.  But Fi is far from a people person and is getting help from Dethany, a co-worker, on the presentation.

I’m not sure how long the storyline will go (as often happens, the Sunday strip is separate from the weekday story), and cannot find any indication that the storyline has been done in partnership with an organization seeking to promote STEM or STEM education.  Regardless, On the Fastrack isn’t the first, and likely won’t be the last comic strip I’ve seen tackle a science and/or technology story on the funny pages.

Science and Technology Guests on Late Night, Week of April 25

While no shows are on repeats this week, the schedule is light on science and technology-themed guests.

Thomas Middleditch from Silicon Valley will be on The Late Late Show tonight (Monday).  And that’s it.

The science and technology content worth noting from last week is a bit repetitive.  A story about intelligent mattresses was featured on both The Daily Show (April 18) and @midnight (For The Win game on April 19).  Sarah Palin’s claim that she’s as much of a scientist at Bill Nye was mentioned on The Nightly Show (where Nye has appeared repeatedly) April 18.  On April 20 @midnight took a shot at this as well (segment is NSFW).

Given the light week, I’ll go ahead and mention that America’s Greatest Makers continues on TBS, Tuesdays at 9:30.  This week marks the second of five episodes where three of the 15 teams still in the competition improve their products and go before the judges once again.  At the end of this run, there will be five finalists remaining for the $1,000,000 top prize.  I would also expect the final episodes to expand back to an hour in length, sometime in May.

While you’re mileage may vary, I find the program more focused on the technology underlying the products than a comparable program such as Shark Tank or Dragon’s Den.  Those programs are more about the people funding projects than the makers creating them.  (A similar program on The Science Channel, All-American Makers, is more technology focused, in part because testing the products is an integral part of the show.)

Science Fair Roundup: White House, Intel And Google

If you weren’t able to be at the last White House Science Fair, the White House has some video for you.  As is now custom (one I hope will continue), the White House has a video where staff talk with some of the kids exhibiting at the Fair.

There is also video of the President’s remarks.

If it’s not already clear, the White House Science Fair is effectively the tip of a policy iceberg for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education.  While it certainly raises the public profile of science, the acceptance and encouragement it provides students in these fields is likely more important.  The numbers in this piece from the Harvard Political Review give some shape to the growth of the fair and the multiple STEM education policies the Obama Administration has implemented.

The White House Science Fair has often recognized top performers in the Intel Science Talent Search (STS), the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) and the Google Science Fair.  The Intel Science Talent Search announced its finalists in March, and the ISEF will announce its 2016 finalists in May.  The Google Science Fair will close its 2016 competition cycle in May as well.  Finalists will be announced in late summer.

314 PAC Founder Seeking Congressional Seat

314 PAC is a political action committee focused on supporting scientists and engineers running for political office.  The most active of the three political action committees focused on science, 314 PAC has endorsed only Democratic candidates to date.

In this cycle, 314 PAC has endorsed 5 candidates, four of whom are incumbents (Representatives Bill Foster of Illinois, Louise Slaughter of New York, Seth Moulton of Massachusetts and Jerry McNerney of California).  The non-incumbent candidate is Shaughnessy Naughton, a trained chemist running for an open seat in Pennsylvania.

Naughton is also the founder of 314 PAC, and this is her second campaign for the House.  Her experience running for this seat in 2014 (she narrowly lost in the Democratic primary) was part of the motivation for her forming 314 PAC.  There are a total of five candidates running for the seat, two Democrats and three Republicans.  The primary election (likely dwarfed by the ongoing Presidential campaign) is on Tuesday the 26th.