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

Chris Hadfield Not Done Exploring

I doubt anyone expected Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield to have a traditional retirement.  But his latest project makes that clear.  Hadfield is currently on an Arctic icebreaker expedition traveling Baffin Bay between Greenland and Canada.  Besides the paying passengers, joining Hadfield on the expedition is the cast of another edition of Hadfield’s Generator touring show.  (Those who miss the Arctic stops can see the program later this year in Canada).

Hadfield intends to have some aspects of this trip – through the Generator cast – presented to a broader audience than those on board the icebreaker.  Exactly what form this takes won’t be clear until after the expedition, but nearly all of the Generator artists joining Hadfield have significant video experience, so I’d expect the output to be heavy on the visuals.  Regardless, I’m looking forward to it.

Science And The Olympics

The 2016 Summer Games have started in Brasil.  For those seeking some science-themed content from these games, it might be necessary to wait a bit.  NBC, the broadcast network for the U.S., has not yet updated its Science of the Summer Olympics videos with new content connected to the current Games.  (NBC Learn is a collaboration between the network and the National Science Foundation.)  What I wrote about this video series back in 2012 still holds true.

Given his murder conviction, I understand why NBC Learn has removed it’s Oscar Pistorius video.  Thankfully, it is still available via

Nature has an article on changing trends in Olympic research.  The search criteria may be worth debating, but the article covers research on the impacts of the Olympics.  This means social science articles are the largest category in the piece, and some of the research mentioned connects with public policy issues (usually urban issues like transportation).

Whether your supplement your Olympics enjoyment with science reading or not, enjoy the Games.

Update Tuesday: New Names For HeLa Film And Defense Innovation Board

Two quick items that have little or no relation to each other.

The film adaptation of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks continues with the casting announcements.  Renée Elise Goldsberry has joined the cast as the title character, whose cells were taken and used for medical research without her knowledge or consent.  Goldsberry is best known for her Tony-winning role as Angelica Schuyler Church in the play Hamilton.  She recently left the play, and depending on when this film comes out, it might be a way for her to be seen by more people than managed to see her off or on Broadway.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter recently announced several additions to the Department’s Innovation Advisory Board.  This would expand the board to 15 members, and Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, is board chair.  Secretary Carter has asked the board to identify private-sector practices and technology solutions that the Department could adopt.  The full roster of board members is (names of the new additions in bold italics):

Eric Schmidt, executive chairman, Alphabet Inc. (DIAB chair)
Jeff Bezos, president, chairman and CEO, Amazon Inc.
Adam Grant, professor, Wharton School of Business
Danny Hillis, computer theorist & co-founder, Applied Inventions
Reid Hoffman, co-founder, LinkedIn, and partner, Greylock Partners
Walter Isaacson, president & CEO, Aspen Institute
Eric Lander, president and founding director, Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard
Marne Levine, chief operating officer, Instagram
J. Michael McQuade, senior vice president for science and technology, United Technologies
William McRaven, chancellor, University of Texas System
Milo Medin, vice president, Access Services, Google Capital
Richard Murray, professor, California Institute of Technology
Jennifer Pahlka, founder, Code for America
Cass Sunstein, professor, Harvard Law School
Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and author

You might notice a few notable names (for instance, Sunstein is scheduled to be on The Late ShowThe Nightly Show later this week) on the board.  The board is expected to provide initial recommendations by October.

Lab Sabotage For Fun And Games

Back in January I posted about Lab Wars, a game then in the development stages from two U.K. scientists.  The game (set for 2-4 people ages 12 and up, with gameplay of 30-60 minutes) has players building up their own labs and reputations while sabotaging their…colleagues(?).  Some of these sabotages are based on actual events, and if your version of the game includes the “Legends of Science” expansion pack, you will have the chance to play with famous scientists and their lab equipment.

The game is currently in the last hours of a quite successful Kickstarter campaign.  It would be an excellent opportunity to pick up a copy of the game, in whichever version you prefer (there are 3 versions still available).  Take a look at the game being played.

The Kickstarter will end at midnight Eastern time on Wednesday.  Copies of the game are expected to be delivered to Kickstarter backers in early 2017, and perhaps find their way to game store shelves by this time next year.  Perhaps pair it with a cooperative game like Pandemic to smooth over any ruffled feathers due to sabotage.

Soon You May Be Able To Play At Lab Sabotage

Two scientists are at work on developing a card game that embodies the occasionally cutthroat competition found between labs.

Lab Wars is the brainchild of two U.K. scientists and game players (H/T The Scientist).  Designed for 2-4 players, it’s a deck building game where players seek to grow their lab and boost their reputation faster than their colleagues/competitors.  Sabotage is a part of this game, and the designers are including some of the more notorious incidents or rumors of scientific sabotage.

The game is not yet in production, and like many games not from large companies, the designers intend to launch a crowdfunding campaign to raise the money they need to bring the game to market.  If you’re interested, keep checking the game’s website for news and updates.

Quick Hits: Bioethics Meeting Agenda, Science PAC Endorsements And More Science With Tom

Three short items to pass along.

The next Bioethics Commission meeting is November 17 in the Washington, D.C. area.  The agenda is now available online.  The meeting is effectively a continuation of the September meeting, when the Commission focused on deliberation and deliberative methods in bioethics and bioethics education.  Following a morning panels on innovation in ethics education, the rest of the day is dedicated to member discussions.  This suggests that a report on these topics is reaching a place where it could be released in the next few months.

314 PAC, a political action committee which focuses on (Democratic) scientifically inclined candidates for federal office, has started issuing its endorsements for the 2016 Congressional elections.  The three endorsed so far are all incumbent members of Congress, and two of them – Representative Bill Foster (Illinois, and the sole Ph.D. physicist in Congress) and Representative Seth Moulton (Massachusetts, with an undergraduate degree in physics) – have been endorsed by 314 PAC in the past.  The newest addition is Representative Louise Slaughter of New York.  She has undergraduate training in microbiology and a master’s degree in public health, and has served in Congress since 1987 (far longer than either Foster or Moulton).  Among Slaughter’s legislative accomplishments is ensuring that the National Institutes of Health would include minorities and women in the populations of its clinical trials.

Sadly, I cannot find recent activity of two other political committees organized around science.  Neither Franklin’s List nor First in Science (a so-called super PAC) appear to be currently active, though I would love to be proven wrong.

Finally, Tom McFadden has released the third episode/lesson of Science With Tom.  It focuses on body systems and bacteria.  His scientist guest is Dr. Jonathan Lynch, a microbiologist.  As is his practice, each lesson has bonus video besides the main episode.  I’ll embed the main episode, but check out the full playlist for the reading recommendation, music video and other science goodness.

McFadden links his lessons to the Next Generation Science Standards, which will explains some of the on-screen graphics that non-educators might not recognize.  You can also make your own ‘Verse Two’ to go over the instrumental break in the music video (at the end of the main episode or available separately).