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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 microscopes—the relative advantages of Nikon versus Olympus systems—and 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 journal's logo.

By Friday night, the conference is in full swing, which means awards and receptions. Today is also Valentine's Day—something 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 Awards—one of the top awards for professional science journalists.

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 it—in 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 writers—who are unaffiliated with the new magazine—can 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 next day.

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 on stage.

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 1981.

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 published—even 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 "Science 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 favor—a 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.


Next Page | The Liveliest Talk in Modern Physics

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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 Group—a 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.