Council for the Advancement of Science Writing

New Horizons

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New Horizons in Science 2014

Date: 
Sunday, October 19, 2014 to Monday, October 20, 2014

Columbus, OH

The New Horizons in Science briefings took place in Columbus, Ohio in 2014, hosted by The Ohio State University as part of ScienceWriters2014 (combined meeting dates: October 17-21). Science sessions were presented at the Hilton Columbus Downtown Hotel on Sunday and Monday, in conjunction with the annual meeting and workshops of the National Association of Science Writers.

Hosts & Sponsors: 

CASW is able to present the 52nd annual New Horizons in Science briefings free of charge thanks to the generosity of our host, The Ohio State University.

Don Johanson to give Patrusky Lecture marking 40th anniversary of Lucy's discovery

Paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson of Arizona State University has been chosen by the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing (CASW) to deliver the Patrusky Lecture on October 19, 2014, at New Horizons in Science, CASW’s annual briefing on emerging research and issues in science.

Johanson will examine current progress in the search for human origins in a presentation celebrating the 40th anniversary of the discovery of the fossil hominid known as Lucy. The find marked a watershed moment in the study of hominid evolution. Johanson, founding director of the Institute of Human Origins, is best known for Lucy’s discovery and the subsequent analysis, which changed scientists’ view of how prehuman hominids came to walk upright. He has spent his career discovering clues to human origins through uncovering and analyzing fossil evidence from Africa.

Titled "The Human Evolutionary Journey," the second Patrusky Lecture will be given in Columbus, Ohio. Johanson’s audience will be science writers gathered for ScienceWriters2014, a conference that combines the New Horizons science presentations, hosted this year by Ohio State University, with professional workshops organized by the National Association of Science Writers.

The Patrusky Lecture was established last year by the CASW Board of Directors in honor of CASW Executive Director Emeritus Ben Patrusky, who managed the New Horizons program for 30 years and served as the organization’s executive director for 25 years. The inaugural lecture was given in November 2013 by celebrated chemist and materials scientist George M. Whitesides of Harvard University.

“Dr. Johanson's selection continues our effort to make the Patrusky Lecture a star-turn event each year at New Horizons,” said CASW President Alan Boyle, who is also science editor for NBC News Digital. “And the timing couldn’t be better—not only because of the 40th anniversary, but also because of the new horizons that are opening up in the study of human origins. There are few researchers as well placed to tell us about the past as well as the future of the field.”

About Don Johanson

Determined to be a scientist from childhood, Don Johanson earned his Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Chicago. In 1974, he had just received his doctorate and joined Case Western Reserve University as a junior faculty member when he and colleagues mounted a search for hominid fossils at Hadar, located in the Afar Triangle of Ethiopia. On that trip, Johanson found the partial skeleton that changed the conventional account of human evolution, which had been developed based on much more fragmentary fossils.

Returning the following year, Johanson and colleagues found the remains of at least 13 individuals at the Afar site in Hadar. Johanson called these the First Family and argued that they were of a single, new species, Australopithecus afarensis. Lucy and the First Family fossils have been estimated to be 3.18 million years old.

Johanson analyzed the fossils at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, where he was appointed curator of physical anthropology in 1975. He developed a laboratory there that attracted scholars from all over the world. In 1981, he founded the Institute of Human Origins in Berkeley, Calif., to conduct field and analytical research on the early human fossil record. IHO moved to Arizona State in 1997. Johanson turned over the directorship to William Kimbel in 2009.

Before the discovery of Lucy, the dominant theory was that early humans developed big brains, became capable of making tools, and then began walking upright to free up their hands. Lucy and the other hominids whose remains were found at the site were walking upright, but had small brains and showed no evidence of using tools. A different theory for the evolution of bipedalism was needed.

The discovery of hundreds of other fossils at Hadar bolstered the view that A. afarensis was a distinct species that is widely thought to be the common ancestor to subsequent species of both Australopithecus and Homo. In addition, a great deal has been learned about prehuman evolution from the study of the Hadar fossils, and A. afarensis has become the benchmark by which other ancient hominid species are evaluated. Johanson has used the Lucy story extensively to excite and inform the public about human origins research. He has authored or co-authored several books, including Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind (1991); Ancestors: In Search of Human Origins (1994); From Lucy to Language (2006); and Lucy’s Legacy: The Quest for Human Origins (2010). His Webby-winning website www.becominghuman.org is used worldwide as a powerful learning tool for students from elementary school through the university level.

Since 1980, Johanson has participated in the production of documentaries and online resources on human evolution. He appeared as the narrator and on-screen host of an Emmy-nominate three-part NOVA series in 1994. He continues to conduct fieldwork and a field school in Hadar and teach at ASU and most recently was featured on the PBS series “Your Inner Fish.” Following a five-year visit to the US as part of a touring exhibit, Lucy is now back at the Ethiopian National Museum in Addis Ababa. Her discovery in 1974 launched multiple research programs in Ethiopia that have resulted in discoveries of human ancestor fossils that stretch back to nearly six million years ago.

Johanson holds the Virginia M. Ullman Chair in Human Origins in ASU’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change. Recipient of many international prizes and awards, he is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and a member of the Siena Academy of Sciences. With support from the National Science Foundation, the L. S. B. Leakey Foundation and the National Geographic Society, he has carried out field research in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Tanzania as well as Ethiopia. 

Art, Buckeyes and cuisine: the Columbus ABCs

Here’s a scenario: ScienceWriters2014 is a wrap, and you’ve got a couple of hours to kill before your flight out of Columbus. What to do?

I’ve got some suggestions. As organizer of the New Horizons in Science briefings, I spend several days in the next host city each spring, looking at prospective research topics and tours for the fall meeting. Visiting Columbus for the first time this year was an adventure that I can recommend.

Columbus is a broad-shouldered and diverse headquarters city, agricultural center, state capital and college town rolled into one, a vibrant big place brimming with Buckeye friendliness and pride as well as tons of art and culture. There’s a surprising abundance of things to do within walking distance of the Hilton Columbus Downtown, where the meeting will take place. And no shortage of science: the 2014 host, Ohio State University, is a top-20 research university with a land-grant tradition and major medical center; here also are the Battelle Memorial Institute and Chemical Abstracts Service

Once you’ve attended this fall’s meetings, the perspective in your rear-view mirror may differ from mine. In the meantime, I modestly offer, in no particular order, 10 Science-Writerly Things To Do With An Extra Hour in Columbus:

1. Stop by OSU’s Byrd Polar Research Center (especially if you missed the tour) and get a student or postdoc to show you the US Polar Rock Repository and all the cool stuff they have out in the hallways. Of course the big show at Byrd is the amazing repository of ice cores (and the infrastructure it takes to maintain this critical scientific record at -30 degrees F), but the images, artifacts and samples from polar expeditions are just as interesting. They’ll even lend you a rock box (photo at left) for educational outreach.

2. Enough science at the meeting, already? Then get yourself to a Columbus pub to see a real fried bologna sandwich. Thanks to Jeff Grabmeier—OSU science writer, NASW board member, Ohio native and chief host for the Oct. 17-21 meeting—this is the experience I actually had on my way out of town. I don’t think I could’ve imagined a hunk of baloney quite as hefty as the one Jeff tucked into at one of Columbus's traditional taverns. When the eggroll appetizers are stuffed with corned beef, sauerkraut and Swiss, you know you’re in Ohio.

3. Try, just try, scolding the Canada geese that have been wreaking havoc with Columbus’s efforts to restore its rivers. During my spring visit, contractors were at work creating new landscaped riverfronts along the Scioto and Olentangy rivers after the removal of two low-head dams. But where the Olentangy winds through the OSU campus, geese were eating new vegetation faster than it could be planted. Plastic coyotes and Mylar strips had been deployed to no avail, so biologists began flashing laser pointers and annoying the geese with sirens, whistles and fireworks. The noisemaking is expected to continue through our meeting dates… along with, I’m sure, the stubborn resistance of Branta canadensis. On the other hand, greenway construction and the looming presence of the city’s Santa Maria replica seem to have discouraged waterfowl along the Scioto Mile downtown (photos at right show downtown before dam removal and how the new riverfront is envisioned).

4. If you haven’t already done so, duck into the North Market, close to the meeting hotel in the Short North gallery district, for a broader glimpse of Columbus cuisine, culture and agriculture. The market’s got farmers, artisans and an ethnically exuberant mix of food and specialty shops showing off Ohio's bounty. It’s home to the original Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams store where you can grab a frozen confection flavored with cayenne, whiskey, goat cheese, corn chips or rosemary. Or there's a wealth of fine art nearby at the Columbus Museum of Art (a 20-minute walk from the hotel), undergoing an expansion but open during the meeting. The A-R-T sculpture at the adjoining Columbus College of Art and Design is a site for a serious selfie.

5. Pop into OSU’s new physics building to see one of my favorite artifacts, a photomultiplier tube from the Super-Kamiokande neutrino detector. It’s a rare and beautiful object that deserves a moment of silent admiration. On November 12, 2001, a cascading shock wave destroyed almost 7,000 of these exquisite handmade devices as the water around them was being replaced. OSU has one of the survivors. The sublety of the work the PMTs were designed for—detecting Cherenkov radiation on the walls of a tank holding 50,000 tons of ultra-pure water—is a reminder of how delicate a fingerprint a neutrino leaves. And it’s something we’ll hear all about during the New Horizons in Science presentations. 

6. What, you might ask, is a sauerkraut ball? Akron newspaper readers voted this appetizer the Official Food of their fair city. But you can get this question answered definitively in Columbus, where the restaurants of German Village have been known to engage in trash talk over sauerkraut balls during Oktoberfest. Imagine a breaded, fried ball stuffed with crumbled sausage, onion, sauerkraut, breadcrumbs and mustard. An acquired taste, but one you can indulge at a brewpub around the corner from our meeting hotel. And honestly, once you get past the traditional German-influenced cuisine, Columbus is an enthusiastic foodie town offering plenty of vegetarian and healthy dining. I met a number of OSU faculty members who had settled in Columbus after training elsewhere. One had enjoyed Boston's restaurants but said they couldn't compete with Columbus's.

7. Check out the equine scene. Columbus’s largest annual convention is also the largest single-breed horse show in the world: the All American Quarter Horse Congress, which will be going on at the state fairgrounds while we’re in town. Or find out part of what would attract 6,000 horses and their owners to Columbus by visiting the equine research facility and hospital at Ohio State, where some 1,2000 ill or injured horses are hospitalized annually.

8. Revel in the feel of an endlessly self-remade Rust Belt city. The economic diversity of Columbus has helped it ride the waves washing over the US economy in recent decades. In the Port Columbus passenger air terminal you’ll see displays of automobile engines sponsored by Honda, which assembles cars in a plant in nearby Marysville. Walking around downtown you'll notice lots of headquarters buildings; among the corporations based here are American Electric Power, Nationwide Insurance, NetJets and retail powerhouses including L Brands, DSW, Victoria’s Secret and The Limited. Unfortunately this is a major urban center with no passenger rail service (the convention center across from the Hilton sits on the site of the old Union Station), governor John Kasich having declared “Passenger rail is not in Ohio’s future” and turned $400 million in stimulus funds back to the federal government in 2010. But it’s got major rail yards and a multimodal transfer terminal at an airport built just for cargo. 

9. Try, just try, driving to the campus Oval from the leviathan Ohio Stadium (echoing with memories of Woody Hayes—call two weeks ahead for a tour of the beloved Horseshoe), where game-day crowds can top 105,000, in under 20 minutes. OSU students are blithely unaware of motor vehicles as they flow across their campus. And they walk, study, eat and shout O-H-I-O in hordes (while carrying on a cursive writing tradition). Numbering more than 57,000, this is the third largest student body in the US. Fortunately, when you get to the Oval (pictured at left), the beauty of that expansive campus green will reward your effort. Before leaving the Oval you might slip into OSU’s main library, where bronze inlays on floors and elevator doors (below right) express the diversity of human written communication.

10. Get outta town. The attractions of the landscape around Columbus are subtle but also unique. The glacial plain of south-central Ohio has a deep American Indian history written in the land. The Ancient Ohio Trail connects many earthworks; closest to Columbus are the Newark Earthworks, the largest geometric earthwork complex in the world. The best preserved is the 2,000-year-old Great Circle, a gigantic enclosure 1,200 feet in diameter.  A mound and channels inside the structure suggest that the Adena culture built it for ritual use. Remnants of the Ohio and Erie Canal at the same site evoke more recent history.

Oh, and now, it’s time for you to actually get outta town; that flight is probably boarding, and you’ll have to return to Columbus again to finish your own list. Hope you had a great meeting, and a great visit to the Arch City.—Rosalind Reid, CASW Executive DIrector

Student journalists and online interactions enliven New Horizons 2013

An experimental "student newsroom" and sessions crafted to enhance participation by online audiences were among the innovations that marked the 51st New Horizons in Science briefings, hosted by the University of Florida Nov. 3-4, 2013 as part of ScienceWriters2013.

During the conference, a group of UF student journalists worked with experienced mentors and editors under the direction of CASW officer Charlie Petit in the newsroom, producing stories featured on the New Horizons Newsroom page and published elsewhere. The student writers, some of whom were covering science for the first time, produced short pieces after choosing topics and speakers from the New Horizons program.

NEW HORIZONS 2013 ONLINE

In an effort to broaden the impact of the New Horizons program, CASW President Alan Boyle collaborated with Fraser Cain of Universe Today and "Bald Astronomer" Scott Lewis of Know the Cosmos to present George T. Whitesides' session on the future of spaceflight to an international audience as a Google hangout.

Whitesides' presentation was followed by 30 minutes of lively give-and-take with ScienceWriters2013 attendees and the online audience; the entire session is archived here. Amanda Mascarelli, a CASW travel fellow, captured some of the chatter during the session in a Storify curation, and two University of Florida students contributed coverage to the Newsroom:

Finally, CASW recorded an experimental session designed to meld content and craft. During the session, veteran science writer Maryn McKenna of Wired Science interviewed two scientists from the University of Florida's Emerging Pathogens Institute. The scientists, J. Glenn Morris Jr. and Gregory Gray, discussed current crises and the challenges of working with governments to head off the threat of pandemic. A video of that session can be found here.

In Focus: 
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Renowned Harvard chemist and inventor George M. Whitesides presented the first Patrusky Lecture at New Horizons in Science Nov. 3, 2013, as part of ScienceWriters2013 in Gainesville, FL.

Whitesides' lively and provocative talk celebrated goal-driven science built on simplicity. Important inventions, he argued, are made by stacking technologies whose building blocks are scientific and mathematical ideas as simple as binary arithmetic: 0s and 1s.

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