Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Ready, Set, Communicate!

At times, I have lamented what I think is the reluctance of scientists to weigh in on matters of science policy and the fact that the void left by this reluctance is too readily filled by charlatans promoting policies without a scientific foundation.  Yet there are numerous ways that science is available for public consumption. Here are some of the resources that are worth your time: Science News chronicles, in brief read-it-while-you’re-waiting-for the-next-train-format, little snippets highlighting science across a broad spectrum of areas. A brief sampling of today’s listings include stories on invisibility cloaks, transforming skin cells into heart cells, the positive effects of aerobic exercise on memory and the dark side of a “love” hormone. 

The American Chemical Society, in celebration of the International Year of Chemistry (IYC2011) has posted daily science tidbits to capture your imagination. The site boasts links to interesting and short articles about energy, the environment, health and materials.  For example, a few days ago, they focused on the ozone later (SPOILER ALERT: if the ozone layer goes away, you’ll have to wear sun-bloc with SPF 10,000!).  And you can read ahead and see that June 8th will highlight the critical issue of nuclear waste storage and disposal

The journal Nature, in addition to their chemistry blog from the editors of Nature Chemistry  has also added a special section to celebrate IYC2011

The American Association for the Advancement of Science publishes a daily news section with short, interesting tidbits across the entire scientific spectrum (OK, if visible light goes from Red to Violet, what is the spectrum of science?  Would philosophy be on the left or the right?).  As an example a recent article focused on how tree leaves can fight pollution.  Apparently, when trees are stressed by increased ozone, their capacity to absorb pollution from cars is also increased.  Ozone absorbed by trees?  But I thought ozone was in the stratosphere.  Actually, ozone, although the same molecule in each location is often referred to as “bad” when it occurs in the troposphere (where we live) and “good” when it occurs in the stratosphere (where it shields us from ultra-violet light).  As elaborated on the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) web site, tropospheric ozone is formed when sunlight shines on a mixture of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds.  This is sometimes referred to as "photochemical smog." These chemicals that fuel the fog come from vehicle exhaust, industrial emissions and gasoline vapors.  There are natural sources too: ozone is formed during electric discharge (it is the acrid smell around electric motors) and during lightning strikes. 

I remain convinced that there is a wealth of science out there for the taking.  Not only will you impress your friends with these tidbits, but you'll help them to see the value of science to health, the environment, and society.  Enjoy!  And if you know of interesting science-related web sites, feel free to post a link in the “comments” section and I’ll add it to this column.

Update: Many newspapers and magazines also have special weekly sections dedicated to science, including The New York Times (Science Times), The Washington Post (Science News), and The Economist (Science & Technology).

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