Council for the Advancement of Science Writing

Planck cosmology: Zooming in on big-bang inflation

3 Nov 2013 -
3:45pm to 4:30pm
oval map of the universe in blues and yellows

What would the universe look like to an electron some 370,000 years after the big bang? This spring the Planck cosmology probe released a fine-scale map of the subtle thermal variations imprinted on the cosmos around that time, revealing that the universe was slightly older than previously thought. But the Planck instruments also measured the polarized intensities of the ancient light. Mission scientists are now working to zoom in using the polarization data, getting that electron’s-eye insider view of the early universe.

Charles Lawrence

principal scientist, astrophysics; US project scientist for the Planck Collaboration
Jet Propulsion Laboratory

One Medicine: how dogs are accelerating human cancer research

3 Nov 2013 -
3:45pm to 4:30pm
Cancer Genomics
Image of Alaskan Husky eyes, one blue one brown

Matthew Breen knows the source of the cancers common in purebred dogs: people. As we bred dogs for behavioral and appearance traits, humans unwittingly selected for susceptibility to maladies including retinal atrophy, hip dysplasia and certain cancers. But genomic studies have revealed a silver lining: Research on these inbred populations can radically accelerate progress on cancers shared by humans and their loyal companions. By looking at 150 dogs with lymphoma, Breen and colleagues identified a genetic signature that predicts how long a dog will respond to chemotherapy.

Matthew Breen

professor of genomics, Department of Molecular Biomedical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine
North Carolina State University

Probing nanoparticles for answers to big climate questions

3 Nov 2013 -
2:30pm to 3:15pm
Atmospheric Chemistry
Bubbles in the dark

For years, tiny organic particles in the air we breath have bedeviled climate modelers. Some of these particles are byproducts of human activity; others can be traced to oxidized gas molecules emitted by trees. These particles play a significant role in climate and have the remarkable habit of trapping toxic pollutants and transporting them from industrial regions to the pristine arctic. So far, models have been able to explain at best one-tenth of the organics actually measured in the atmosphere.

Alla Zelenyuk

senior research scientist
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Rethinking the origins of dogs

3 Nov 2013 -
1:45pm to 2:30pm
Genetics and Behavior
Australian blue healer dog at play

However popular, useful and abundant they are, dogs hold many mysteries. For one thing, just how did they come to be? Clive Wynne has been traveling the world to re-examine evidence supporting two dominant ideas: the “hunter’s helper” and “dumpster diver” theories. Wynne, who conducts behavioral research with both dogs and wolves, focuses on such issues as how the first dogs achieved the reproductive isolation needed to create a canid subspecies.

When you go to Mars, take a towel—and a handful of seeds

3 Nov 2013 -
1:45pm to 2:30pm
Space Agriculture
Mixture of seeds including common beans, lentils and split peas

For Anna-Lisa Paul, taking plants into a space is a way of understanding just what they’re made of. Challenged to survive outside their ancestral environment, plants leverage a unique genetic toolkit to adapt to new challenges; in the process, they reveal how they work. Usinc zero-g experiments, for example, Paul and her colleagues achieved a new understanding of how plants’ roots grow, upending a long-held theory that gravity holds the key. She is currently combining parabolic flight and orbital experiments with imaging and gene expression studies.

Anna-Lisa Paul

research associate professor of horticultural sciences
University of Florida

Simplicity, surprise, science

3 Nov 2013 -
10:45am to 11:45am
Inquiry and invention
Three slices of red onions showing the concentric rings

Sir William Bragg is said to have said: “The important thing in science is not so much to obtain new facts as to discover new ways of thinking about them.” Having worked at the frontier of one of the most complex of the sciences, chemistry, George M. Whitesides has launched an effort Bragg would applaud: peeling back the layers of complexity in modern science to discern the scientific meaning of simplicity and thus to discover new scientific methods and approaches to invention.

Bursts of color on the tree of life: The turbulent evolution of flowers

4 Nov 2013 -
3:45pm to 4:30pm
Plant Evolution
Blocks of multicolored and multispecies flowers

Even if your name is Rose or Daisy, to an evolutionary geneticist you’re a pale imitation of a flower. Flowering plants frequently go through whole-genome doubling and other radical events rare in the animal kingdom. The fossil and phylogenetic record of plants is full of bursts of speciation and radiation and turbulent periods of rapid evolutionary experimentation. As a result, a number of today’s crops and flowering species have large and remarkable toolkits allowing surprising adaptations.

Doug Soltis

Distinguished Professor, Department of Biology
University of Florida

Pam Soltis

Distinguished Professor; curator of molecular systematics and evolutionary genetics
University of Florida; Florida Museum of Natural History

Crashing markets, power blackouts and sudden death: The physics of a networked world

3 Nov 2013 -
9:30am to 10:30am
Network Science
yellow spheres and green lines showing a complex network

Massive power outages, global financial crashes and sudden death in the elderly are all startling and befuddling events. To Gene Stanley, they're unavoidable shocks in an interconnected world, where interdependencies between networks create dangerous vulnerabilities. Stanley and his colleagues have uncovered new laws that show why everyday fluctuations in one network can trigger abrupt failures across coupled networks. They've found that the rapid switching typical of financial networks produces features analogous to phase transitions in physics.

H. Eugene Stanley

William Fairfield Warren Distinguished Professor; professor of physics, chemistry, biomedical engineering and physiology; director, Center for Polymer Studies
Boston University


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