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Early Friday morning, I make my way to the convention center
to hear TSRI Associate Professor Shelley Halpain and two of
her colleagues from other institutions speak in a scientific
symposium she has organized, entitled "How and Why Brain Cells
Boogie: Motility in Neural Development."
It is 8:30 in the morning and the room is filled with people
as Halpain introduces us to neuronal motility, explaining
how recent advances in high-resolution light microscopy and
image analysis have enabled researchers to track dynamic changes
in neuronal shape and motility over time scales ranging from
minutes to days.
Particularly interesting to attendees of this symposium
is the fact that Halpain and the others have been analyzing
living neurons using time-lapse imaging. In addition to providing
important insights into the molecular events that regulate
neuronal structure and the establishment of brain architecture,
these time-lapse videos are really cool to watch. Cells crawl,
neurons branch out, and growth cones (which direct the neuron's
developing structure) form.
Afterwards, I join Halpain and the two other speakers, Paul
Forscher, associate professor at Yale University, and Lorene
Lanier, assistant professor at the University of Minnesota,
for lunch at a local restaurant. The conversation centers
around state-of-the-art microscopesthe relative advantages
of Nikon versus Olympus systemsand the important molecular
players in neuronal development.
In the afternoon, I attend the opening of the exhibit hall,
where various scientific companies, non-profit organizations,
government agencies, and publishers promote their products
and hand out pens and keychains emblazoned with their logos.
When I was a student, going to these sorts of exhibits revolved
around getting as much free stuff as I could. My general rule
was that cheap items, like stickers and pencils, could be
grabbed as I walked by, without so much as a glance at the
person at the booth. If I wanted a freebee of slightly more
value, I would strike up a conversation for a moment until
the huckster became bored or distracted, and I could abscond
with my mechanical pencil or frisbee or Rubic's cube keychain
before I was asked to fill out a form with my contact information
and what I thought of the organization.
Perhaps it is a sign of aging, but I don't want to bother
with the free pens this time around. What really interests
me is the opportunity to meet some of the communication associates
for the major scientific journals whom I deal with back in
the office. It is always nice to put a face with a name. I
meet such a press officer for one major journal, and we chat
for a few minutes about her journal's new online venture.
She convinces me to fill out a form and, to thank me, she
gives me a combination highlighter/pen emblazoned with the
By Friday night, the conference is in full swing, which
means awards and receptions. Today is also Valentine's Daysomething
I would have forgotten had I not been accosted by two young
women dressed as angels handing out bags of candy hearts on
the streets of Denver to advertise a local company.
The evening's highlight is the reception for reporters,
public information officers, and other press registrants.
Held on the top floor of one of downtown Denver's tallest
buildings, the view is spectacular, there is a lively, talented
band, and the company is superb. The event is dedicated to
honoring the six winners of the 2002 AAAS Science Journalism
Awardsone of the top awards for professional science
Later that night, a party at another hotel promotes a new
"popular" science magazine. I have heard a lot of buzz about
this new magazine, but still haven't seen a copy of itin
the grocery store or anywhere else. However, at this party,
copies of the magazine are to be found on every table, including
a stack of them on one table at which a group of writerswho
are unaffiliated with the new magazinecan be heard betting
on how long the magazine will last before it goes under.
Luckily this party is in my hotel, so I don't have far to
walk after I leave.
A few flurries plus a little snow on the rooftops below
my room in downtown Denver is evidence of the passing storm.
Somehow it has missed this part of Colorado. But it is still
headed east, and at the coffee cart I hear grumbles from other
hotel guests who worry about their plans to return home the
Large coffee in hand, I am back at the Denver Marriot by
8 AM for the Fellows Forum. This is the formal awards presentation
where the AAAS members who were elected in 2002 are honored
for their achievements. Last year, 291 new fellows (among
them TSRI's Professor Kim Janda) were elected from such diverse
fields as agriculture and psychology, and this morning, AAAS
President Bloom is congratulating each one at the conference
The presentation is followed by an outstanding lecture on
trends in U.S. energy consumption and new energy technologies
from Richard H. Truly, director of the Department of Energy's
National Renewable Energy Laboratory and former administrator
of NASA. Also a former pilot and astronaut, he was the first
pilot of the space shuttle Columbia when it lifted off in
As much as I would like to linger and ask him a few questions,
I rush over to the convention center to the press briefings,
which at this meeting range from "Allergen-free Shrimp" to
"Socially Responsive Robots."
One briefing is on the "Statement on Scientific Publishing
and Security"a document drafted and signed by a collection
of some of the world's leading scientific journal editors
and scientists known as the Journal Editors and Authors Group.
The statement, to be published in the journals Science,
Nature, and the Proceedings of the National Academy
of Sciences, calls for the establishment of new editorial
policies aimed at safeguarding against the dissemination of
"cookbook" style information that could provide terrorists
with recipes for producing or weaponizing dangerous chemical
or biological agents.
I hastened to ask several of the presenters what this might
mean for researchers at TSRI and for basic biology and chemistry
in general. In the end, they said, there will be no impact
on the vast majority of scientific research papers publishedeven
those that deal directly with potential bioterror agents.
And the statement does not advocate banning a paper because
it might contain potentially dangerous details, but advocates
the establishment of policies whereby editors work with authors
to find ways to make the paper less revealing while providing
"sufficient detail to permit reproducibility."
Reports from the briefing made the news on Sunday. "Journals
to Consider U.S. Security in Publishing" read the headline
in The New York Times. The Associated Press story ran
in the Washington Post under the more descriptive headline
Journals to Join Fight Against Terrorists / Editors to Excise
Material That Could Be Used by Militants to Help Make Biological
Weapons." And the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) news
online took an even stronger line, "Bioterror
Fears Muzzle Open Science."
Later, I stop by another reception to chat with writers,
munch soft pretzels, and try to refuel with too much coffee.
Like most of the people in the room, I leave with a small
party favora sticky, rubbery walnut-sized brain inside
a plastic tin. The gag is that you can throw the brain against
any vertical surface and it will slowly roll down. A label
on the back of the plastic tin warns "May be toxic."
After two days of non-stop meetings and receptions, I think
an ambiguously toxic brain that I can throw against the wall
is exactly what I need.
1 | 2 | 3
TSRI Associate Professor Shelley Halpain
opens a scientific symposium she has organized, entitled "How
and Why Brain Cells Boogie: Motility in Neural Development."
Bari Scott (top) and the five other
winners of the 2002 AAAS Science Journalism Awards are honored
during a reception at the meeting in Denver.
The Fellows Forum is the formal awards
presentation where the AAAS members who were elected in 2002
are honored for their achievement.
AAAS President Bloom congratulates
one newly inducted fellow.
Several members of the Journal Editors
and Authors Groupa collection of some of the world's
leading scientific journal editors and scientists speak to
members of the press about the upcoming "Statement on Scientific
Publishing and Security," a document they drafted and signed
that will be published in the journals Science,
Nature, and the Proceedings
of the National Academy of Sciences.
Many different representatives from
organizations, companies, government agencies, and publications
with an interest in science set up displays and are on hand
to meet conference attendees, give hands-on demonstrations,
and hand out free stuff.