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Showing posts from 2013

You want to eat your neighbour?

It sounds a bit cheesy - and it smells like it. As reported in Nature (vol 503, Nov 14, 2013), a bunch of science artists at the Dublin Science Gallery presents a cream-cheese that is prepared from milk and cultures from a persons skin. They don't expect you to eat that monster, though. The whole event is rather about life after nature - it is about manipulating biology, designing life-forms, hacking evolution. Not necessarily with the goal to entertain the fromage-conoisseur. The Science Gallery is one of a few projects aiming at getting the excitement of science to the public, and doing so not by mashing up sci-fi talk with scientoid babble (the ubiquituous time-travel, worm-holes (not in cheese but in space-time, for once), and code-breaking quantum computing, topped off with mind-numbing what-if stories of the kind bigthink and their protagonist Michio Kaku like to sponsor). Instead they show off the excitement and the real emotions of a scientifically curious approach to

Kings will fall

Us wannabe-managers get flooded by offers for management-courses all the time. There are wonderful things to be learned: how to manage your time (hey, do you actually have any time left, that you would like to manage? What kind of manager are you?).They teach you negotiation skills (if you don't have them, the guy on the other side of the table will always outsmart you - minutes before you even get a chance to have a glance at your cheat-sheet, because as they say 'either you are at the table or you are on the menu'). Oh, and yes, team-building skills (just accept, that nobody wants to be in your team anyway, let alone have you as the leader, if you are not male, extremly handsome, witty, generous, nonchalant and self-confident). There are hundreds such training-camps every year, every place. And they all promise to help you. The more expensive the better. But they don't. The best they can do, is open your eyes for your weaknesses, tell you some tricks, give you a

The Value of Science

The number of publications and citations, possibly rescaled into more complex relations like the Hirsch-index or fashionable derivatives thereof, are widely accepted parameters to quantify ,scientific quality‘.  In times of scarce financial resources, transparency is imperative for allocating funds, and it is more than understandable that substantial investments in science are best legitimized by ,useful‘ research results.  This goes along with the belief that scientific quality can somehow be objectively measured and the whole process of 'doing science' can ultimately be subjected to some sort of controlling.  While the drive for excellence and usefulness is agreed upon - their definition and measurability, however, is far from clear. It seems rather straightforward to translate usefulness into technological applicability of the research results, favouring in general strictly application-orientated and and even product-driven applied research over basic research, which o

If my house was on fire, I'd leave the cat behind

Because that is exactly what she would do. A dog would rush into the blistering heat of the burning bedroom and drag you into safety. A cat would grab her favourite rotten rat and run - long before the smoke-detectors even bother to do their job. For some years I was wondering why I am attracted by the seemingly bloated ego of cats but at the same time don't really feel at ease when they are around. The attraction is clearly justifiable. Arrogance, if perfected, just tastes great: the sound of inflating egos, the circulation of hot air, the crackling noise when it fills the room wall to wall - priceless. But it has to be done well. Cat-like. More often than not, professional ego-inflation is traded in for a substitute. A puppy-dog dressed up as a kitten. If you are a scientist and kind enough, you might sometimes answer questions thrown at the servers of ResearchGate . Asking and answering questions there supposedly builds your reputation - and leads to too many questions

I love Cindy!

When I fire up my web-based email account late at night, I get a predictable selection of 'consumer suggestions'. Today it got scary. "One million singles are waiting for you!" - it doesn't get more frightening than that! Imagine, one percent of them camping out in front of your house. It's hard to explain to the neighbours, let alone your spouse - and outright unforgivable to the omnipresent neighbouress, who has her eyes everywhere and her thoughts dependably focused on the worst. It made my rant-in-progress (whining about the abusive way of oversimplified popularisation of science by Michio Kaku - again) collaps and left me stunned, occupied, worried. As advice-literature is the straw to hold onto in difficult situations, I recall what always helps me to activate the neurons in times of blank: adrenalin. I am not too fond of externally adding chemicals to my body - and my love to syringes is limited - so I fall back to sports: 5 chin-ups, 10 push-ups,

Is BlueBrain worth the Billion Dollars? Ask the Zebrafish

Remember the Zebrafish ? That likeable little thing is termed the 'workhorse' model organism in developmental biology (and nobody has a problem with this metaphor). Be it as it is - Zebrafish are the pet model organism for brain studies for essentially two reasons: they are easy to breed - and the larvae are transparent, allowing for easy access to neuronal imaging. Recently Florian Engert and coworkers put paralysed zebrafish larvae in an experimental setup that is highly reminiscent of The Matrix, letting the fishlet experience a virtual world of environment-simulations and study the reactions to the stimuli by optically monitoring brain-functions via a fluorescent reaction to calcium-flow (which, you guessed it, is related to cell-activity)(see Nature 493, p467). The calcium-indicator is actually expressed by a transgenic line of fish (or other even less cuddly animals like fruit-flies, clamped under a microscope with their legs moving freely on a little ball). As reporte