The Kanawha River cuts through Charleston, West Virginia, on its way north to join the Ohio. On this brilliant October morning, the sun is quickly burning off the fog filling the river bottoms and setting the golden dome on the state capitol ablaze. It is the perfect fall Saturday for tossing a football or raking leaves. And yet 70 grad students, postdocs, and biology faculty turn up at the West Virginia University (WVU) Robert C. Byrd Health Sciences Center to hear and talk about cell biology.
Tina W. Han, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), who did her graduate work at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center (UT Southwestern), has been named the winner of the first $5,000 ASCB Kaluza Prize supported by Beckman Coulter for outstanding research by a graduate student. Han won for her breakthrough work on the functional characterization of RNA granules while in Steven McKnight's lab at UT Southwestern. Nine additional Kaluza entrants were named winners of ASCB Beckman Coulter Distinguished Graduate Student Achievement Prizes, which will include travel awards to attend the 2014 ASCB Annual Meeting in Philadelphia.
A task force, organized by the ASCB to consider the next scientific steps in the stem cell revolution, unveiled its preliminary report on Friday Nov. 13. The report highlighted three "opportunities" for using cultured human embryonic (hES) and human induced pluripotent (iPS) stem cells in both human and animal model systems. The ASCB Stem Cell Task Force predicted that the greatest scientific payoff for stem cell research in the next few years would come from strengthening our basic knowledge of cell and developmental biology, through better understanding of genetic variation within and between species, and finally by taking advantage of what's already been learned from stem cell biology about biological mechanisms to construct artificial or enhanced organs.
Remember that second-grade science project when you watched bean plants grow toward a light source? Little did you know, you were researching heliotropism. Tropism in plants is turning toward or away from a stimulus such as sunlight, gravity, or water. And now there's a new tropism to investigate, although not for second graders.
It's been nearly a year since an insurgent group of scientists and journal editors gathered in San Francisco at the ASCB Annual Meeting to plot a counterattack on the outsized influence of "impact factor" on scientific assessment. A metric invented in the 1960s by Eugene Garfield to help academic librarians subscribe to influential journals, the journal impact factor had become a misleading measure, the insurgents agreed. In June, they issued the Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), asking the world science community to sign on, endorsing 18 recommendations for new standards of research assessment that would move away from journal-based metrics to individual assessment. The number of DORA signatories is now approaching 10,000. Evidently, scientists are ready for something better than the impact factor, but what?
It was in San Diego and nearly 40 years ago but Randy Schekman still vividly remembers his first ASCB Annual Meeting. George Palade, fresh from Stockholm where he had just received his 1974 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, was there to speak about the innovations in electron microscopy and cell fractionation that earned him the prize. Schekman has no better word for the experience than "thrilling."
Hankering for face time with a distinguished researcher? No matter where you are in the world, you will soon be able to drop by for an online Google hangout with some of the world's leading biology discoverers. The hangouts are organized by iBiology.org, the open-access, free science video site supported by ASCB.
"Deciding to 'leave the bench' and basic research after committing many, many years to graduate school is not an easy thing to do," Katrina Yu begins her essay in the special November 1 issue of Molecular Biology of the Cell (MBoC). "There is real pressure from peers, principal investigators (PIs), even parents, to stick it out and follow a more established career path, either to academia or the biotech industry."
On a brisk and sunny New England fall Saturday, hackers filed along the Cambridge sidewalks, skirting the venerable Harvard Museum of Natural History to descend the starkly modern concrete stairs of the university's five-year-old Northwest Science Building. Down the steps they went, under the suspended whale skeletons and into a basement with natural light pouring in from the windows mounted in the lawn above. There on modular red sofas and often on the floor, the hardiest spent the next 30 hours immersed in Science Hack Day Boston, an experiment in combining science, skill, and playfulness that was sponsored in part by ASCB.
Recently the organizers of Celldance may have gone too far when they threatened to reveal the fates of all the characters on a certain retro TV dramatic serial involving Madison Avenue. The show is wreathed in cigarette smoke so we weren't feeling bad about choking it off.