Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Scientist Survey (A Reprise)

As some of you may already know, we are currently surveying scientists about their attitudes toward and experiences with science communication and policy. This is a friendly reminder (or suggestion if you didn't see our original post) to all of the scientists out there take part.

The study that we are conducting will provide vital and timely insight into how scientists view communication and policy. However, for the information to be useful, we need as many scientists as we can reach to complete the survey.

This means that we need your help. If you have completed at least some master's study (or higher) and intend to complete your degree in any of the scientific or medical fields and have not yet taken our survey, please do so now. And if you know any other scientists who would be willing to participate, please pass this on to them. By forwarding this to your friends and colleagues, you will enable us to reach a much broader network than we could on our own.

If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me at ipeterson (at) Thank you!!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Chronicles of a Science Policy Fellow

So, here we are, in my third week as a Science Policy Fellow. This has been a bit of a switch for me. You see, for the last ten years or so, which essentially is the span of my professional life, I have been associated with academia. After undergrad, I was a research technician in a medical school, then went to grad school and earned my doctorate, and finally wound up as a college professor. Now here I am in Washington, using my experiences in academia to advocate for my research colleagues. This blog is about my transition from academia to the office; from research to policy.

I won’t lie; I do feel a bit out of my element. Each profession has a different way of doing things. I knew the ins and outs of academia. Now, I’m transitioning to policy, and while it’s not as different as I thought it would be, there is still some adjustment to be had. Overall, though, I find that I’m using all of the skills that I honed as a scientist. I’ve just adapted their application to a new realm.

What I like about this position is that I’m taking all of the things that I most enjoyed about academia and putting them to use as an advocate for science. I do a lot of background research, including scanning various news sources for interesting science discoveries as well as articles about issues relevant to our organization. In doing this, I’m constantly thinking about how these articles relate to our job as science advocates. So my job is three-fold… to stay informed about what’s happening on the Hill and among the public, and to monitor the research coming out of the science community. In doing so, I’m constantly thinking about how these three areas relate and how I can act as a bridge to make that cross-over apparent.

So that brings me to the next task, which is communication. This is through writing (i.e. blogs, newsletters, and other informational publications) and events, (i.e. Congressional hearings, meetings with other organizations, or public events). Here is where the exchange of ideas happens. I interface with other advocates, policymakers, and the public, talking about their interests, thoughts and ideas, and relating it to science and research. The face to face can be very rewarding and extremely productive: it’s during these exchanges that progress happens.

Finally, there’s my research project. While not conducted at a lab bench, it is very similar to a scientific study: I designed it around a question in which I am interested, I’m doing the research, and I will be preparing and presenting the results. Much like with laboratory research, the hope with this project is that it will lend some insight to the advocacy community and benefit the public.

So, in all, the transition has been pretty easy. I do miss the bench science a bit, but the atmosphere in the DC area is such that I really don’t have time to think about what I’m missing, because there’s so much that I’m learning and doing. To some degree, the Hill is a world away from the bench, but for me, my experience in academia has given me a unique point of view in the policy debates. So, while I’m still using my scientific curiosity and applying all of my research skills, I’m doing it in a slightly unconventional way. Perhaps in the end, that will allow more scientists to use their skills at the bench.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Life Sciences in North Carolina

When I left you last week, I asked for your opinions about the top 5 “leading life science states.” I asked because I was interested in this demographic’s opinion of strong life science states. Let me introduce you to our three case study states, and reveal a leading life science state from last week’s pop quiz . . .

North CarolinaThe Tar Heel State. And also a leading life science state!

MinnesotaThe North Star State. A state with an established medical device industry with some growth in other sectors. (And also my home state!)

The Sunflower State. Not for long—Kansas aims to be an up and coming life science leader.

Each of these states has implemented policies to facilitate the growth of their life science industry. Over the next few days, I’ll give you the 50,000 foot view of each state’s strategies.

This week: North Carolina—The Tar Heel State

North Carolina began its quest to become a leading state for technology in the 1950’s when state and local government leaders came together to form the Research Triangle Park (RTP). RTP is the largest research park in the United States whose tenants employed over 44,000 people in 2008. Many of those employees work at life sciences companies located in RTP.

By the 1980’s states leaders recognized the promise that the life science industry held, and decided that the state needed plan to promote growth in the future. In 1984, state leaders created the North Carolina created the North Carolina Biotechnology Center (NCBiotech). NCBiotech was given a mission to develop and expand the life science industry in North Carolina, and the center has been quite successful at fulfilling that mission. NCBiotech offers a slew of programs to promote industry development, including:

• Educational programs to retrain workers from low-tech industry to work in the high-tech life science industry
• Financing programs to provide the ever-critical money required to start a new business. To date, the state has invested over $200 million in life science companies!
• Consulting services and access to business knowledge

NCBiotech isn’t short on resources to complete its mission. In fact, NCBiotech received $15.6 million from the state legislature in 2007-08 to carry out its programs.

The investment has paid off. According to the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce:
“North Carolina has the third largest biotechnology industry in the nation with more than 520 bioscience companies, contract research organizations and device and life science-related companies. More than 56,000 workers, with skill sets ranging from bioprocess technicians to Ph.Ds are employed by this sector. Among the state’s largest biotech and pharmaceutical firms are GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Bayer, Biogen IDEC, Diosynth, Novo Nordisk, Wyeth and Baxter.”

Next Week: the 50,000 foot overview of the life sciences industry in Minnesota.

This is Part 5 of 8 in our Entrepreneurship series.
Part 1 - Science and Entrepreneurship: An Introduction
Part 2 - It's All About the Ideas (and Money)
Part 3 - Financing a New Business in the Life Sciences
Part 4 - Leading Life Science States
Part 5 - Life Sciences in North Carolina
Part 6 - Life Sciences in Minnesota
Part 7 - Life Sciences in Kansas
Part 8 - Life Science Industry Overall

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Scientist Survey

Today I’d like to announce an opportunity for the scientists out there: the chance to take part in the New Voices Scientist Survey.

As part of the New Voices initiative—which we hope will empower scientists to become strong communicators and spokespersons for research—we are investigating scientists’ attitudes toward public communication and the policy process. I would like to invite you to participate in this initiative by completing a brief survey about these issues. The entire process takes approximately 10 minutes.

The purpose of this project is to gain a better understanding of how scientists perceive science communication and the policy process. The results will be used to guide our efforts with the New Voices and will be available here on the New Voices blog in November.

Participation in this study is entirely voluntary. Any identifying information will remain confidential and your responses will not be associated with you personally. To complete the survey, click here.

We want to reach as many scientists as possible, and your participation would be greatly appreciated! Also, it would be most helpful if you would pass this on to any scientists you know who might be interested in taking part.

If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me at ipeterson (at) Thanks!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Understanding Alzheimer's

Photo credit: Reader's Digest

Today some of us from New Voices are helping out at a briefing on the Hill. One of the focuses of the briefing is Alzheimer’s disease. Because Alzheimer’s is an important health issue and World Alzheimer’s Day was this past Monday, I thought it would be an appropriate topic for this post.

Alzheimer’s is a major health concern because it affects significant numbers of people across the US and throughout the world. Currently, an estimated 5.3 million people throughout the United States have Alzheimer’s; 35 million people across the globe are living with Alzheimer’s and dementia. These numbers will only increase with time: according to a recent report by Alzheimer’s Disease International, more than 115 million people across the globe will suffer from dementia by 2050. And in addition to the influence the disease has on the lives of patients and caregivers, it also has a huge economic impact: Alzheimer’s and other dementias cost Medicare, Medicaid and businesses more than $148 billion each year.

Although many have been directly impacted by Alzheimer's, there is a concerning lack of awareness about the disease in low and middle income countries and even in developed countries. The signs of the disease are not always recognized, and people are often hesitant to report symptoms. According to the World Alzheimer’s Report, in the UK:
  • The average length of time people wait before reporting symptoms is three years
  • 70% of caregivers report being unaware of the symptoms of dementia before diagnosis and 58% believe the symptoms to be a normal part of aging
  • Only 31% of primary care doctors believe that they have adequate training to diagnose and manage dementia
Fortunately, important strides are being made toward understanding and finding treatment for Alzheimer’s. At the beginning of this month, teams of researchers from the UK and France reported having found potentially key genes linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease, the first time in 16 years that such gene clues have been discovered. In July, another team reported that an immune therapy given to cancer patients could help reduce the risk of Alzheimer's.

Recognizing the importance of the disease, Alzheimer’s Disease International has made several recommendations to the global community. It has suggested that the disease be made a global and national health priority, that appropriate services for diagnosing the disease be created and made accessible, called for greater collaboration, and more research regarding the causes of “Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, pharmacological and psychosocial treatments, the prevalence and impact of dementia, and the prevention of dementia.”

So what can you do? Here are a few suggestions:
  • Learn more about the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatments to gain a better understanding of the disease.
  • Participate in the Memory Walk to help raise research funding.
  • Get involved by finding out about services and support groups in your community.
  • If you have been affected by Alzheimer’s, tell others about your experience to raise awareness and support for research and treatment.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Color Blind Conundrum: Can you tell the difference between the red and green peppers?

Well, Sam and Dalton, two squirrel monkeys at the University of Washington, now can thanks to gene therapy.

Last week the science community was abuzz with research published in Nature (Mancuso, K. et al. Nature advanced online publication, doi:10.1038/nature08401, 2009) detailing the successful establishment of full color vision in two color blind squirrel monkeys at the University of Washington.
In a nutshell, researchers used gene therapy to insert the gene for red color vision into the eyes of male squirrel monkeys that previously lacked the gene. The result was the establishment of full color vision.

So why is this such a big deal?

Two reasons: For one, the gene therapy treatment worked - a huge advance for a technique that to date has held lots of potential, but few successful clinical applications.

More importantly, it gives researchers a bit more insight into the brain. Jay Nietz, one of the authors of the study, commented to Wired Science that colleagues did not believe that they would be successful because the research community generally accepts that there is a critical period during development during which neurons (the cells of the brain) make the necessary connections to perceive things like colors. The thinking is that if the brain wasn’t exposed to red early on, then it shouldn’t be able to register it later in life. Yet, in these monkeys, that wasn’t the case. Although they didn’t have the machinery (the red color gene) to perceive red when they were young, introduction of this gene later in life still resulted in them perceiving the color.

So really, what does this mean? It means that, at least when it comes to vision, the brain is more flexible than researchers thought. Even though it had never perceived red previously, when given the proper machinery, the red gene, it was able to make that distinction. So, for vision, the rules of neural connections are not as black and white as first thought.

What other systems might show this same “exception to the rule?” Perhaps other visual impairments, hearing deficits, maybe even systems outside the sensory realm? The clinical applications, should this be translatable to humans, could be astounding.

Take away points: Well, for one thing, science is constantly evolving, and as it evolves, its therapeutic potential increases. Another take-home lesson, sometimes the long-shot project fails, but other times, it doesn’t. When it doesn’t, it can mean great things for science and medicine. And maybe on a less universal note, but still important, if nothing else, the 1 in 12 men who are color-blind are one step closer to seeing red, and this sure would make their lives a little easier.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Stem Cell Awareness Day

Tomorrow – September 23 – is Stem Cell Awareness Day, and researchers are celebrating around the globe. Many research organizations are recognizing this day by taking part in The World Stem Cell Summit, being held at the Baltimore Convention Center in Maryland from September 21-23. This event has gathered leading innovators to discuss a wide range of stem cell-related topics, including the latest in research, medical applications, the role of business in stem cell therapy, and issues of law, ethics, and advocacy surrounding stem cell applications.

The clinical potential for stem cells is still unknown, but science suggests that these cells might aid in treating many diseases afflicting the population. The new administration’s relaxation of funding restrictions on stem cell research earlier this year will help to uncover what potential these cells truly hold. NIH estimates that grants receiving funding for research incorporating stem cells from the National Institute of Health in 2009 will total $2.1 billion. This has important implications for understanding the physiology of these cells and their clinical applications.

In June 2009, Research!America asked Americans if they would like an expansion of funding for embryonic stem cell research; 73% responded favorably. So, if you’d like to lend your voice to the cause, and celebrate Stem Cell Awareness Day, here are some activities for you to consider.
  1. Look for local events in which to participate, or plan your own. A great place to start is, but also check with local universities and science organizations.
  2. Contact your local paper and let them know why you support stem cell research.
  3. Find out if your local representatives support stem cell research. If they do, send them a note to thank them; if not, then send them a letter to tell them why they should.
  4. If you’re unsure of what stem cells are and how they work, then educate yourself. Here are some websites to get you started:

Monday, September 21, 2009

Quick Poll: Leading Life Science States

Last Monday, I asked for your opinion of “leading life science states.” Before I reveal the three states that I used as a case study next week, which, if any, of these states do you think is a leading life science state?

KansasNorth CarolinaMinnesotaLouisianaNorth Dakota
Is any of these states a "life science leader?"

Leave your vote in the comments section below.

This is Part 4 of 8 in our Entrepreneurship series.
Part 1 - Science and Entrepreneurship: An Introduction
Part 2 - It's All About the Ideas (and Money)
Part 3 - Financing a New Business in the Life Sciences
Part 4 - Leading Life Science States
Part 5 - Life Sciences in North Carolina
Part 6 - Life Sciences in Minnesota
Part 7 - Life Sciences in Kansas
Part 8 - Life Science Industry Overall

Friday, September 18, 2009

Sparklers and tie-dyed lab goggles

Photo credit: Piccies

Ilse recognizes:
Rebecca Keller
Pre-IB and IB Chemistry II teacher
Highland Park Senior High School
Saint Paul, MN

If there is one thing that stands out in my mind about Mrs. Keller’s chemistry classes, it is the originality and excitement she added to the material we covered.

I took two courses with Mrs. Keller during high school: pre-IB chemistry during my sophomore year and IB chemistry during my junior year. (IB stands for International Baccalaureate and is somewhat similar to AP) For both courses, Ms. Keller combined conventional teaching (i.e. lectures at the blackboard) with group work and lab work, which kept us engaged throughout the 90-minute class periods.

Lab work was an especially important part of Ms. Keller’s class, as well as one of the most enjoyable components. Pre-IB Chemistry experiments included everything from M&M stoichiometry to slightly more serious titration experiments. IB Chemistry II allowed for even more creativity, since that lab was intended to give students the chance to design and execute their own experiments. One of the more interesting and successful projects done by a student (not myself) involved the creation of homemade sparklers using various metals. And did I mention the tie-dyed lab goggles we made?

Mrs. Keller’s classes also helped prepare me for college and influenced the choices I made there. My high school chemistry background provided a strong foundation for the general chemistry course I took my freshman year of college (which I took because of Mrs. Keller's classes). Because I enjoyed that semester, I decided to take another semester and eventually declared a chemistry major. And the rest is history.

Thanks, Mrs. Keller.

This tribute is part of our spotlight on science educators series.
Part 1 - Introduction
Part 2 - High School Chemistry: More than Science
Part 3 - Making Tessellations

To share your story about a science educator who helped shape your path, leave a comment, or send your story to hbenson at

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Making Tessellations

Mrs. Gross' medieval times summer school class, 1991

Heather pays tribute to:
Mrs. Elaine Gross
Science/Gifted teacher
Flamingo Elementary School
Davie, Florida

Everything I am good at today I got my start at in Mrs. Gross’ classroom.

Mrs. Gross was one of those formidable women who seemed terribly scary and overwhelming (especially to a second grader) until she smiled at you. She taught the science "special" (all classes of all grade levels saw her once a week) and the gifted program, which meant most years from third grade on, she taught me reading, math, science and whatever else seemed to fit in there.

In science, we watched chicks hatch from eggs in an incubator, learned to build circuits that turned on lights or buzzed for wrong answers, developed a butterfly garden to attract our favorite colorful insects, experienced the embarrassment of sex ed, made ice cream in ziplock bags (a popular activity), and discovered which chemicals made the best bubbles.

In gifted, we learned to harness our creativity, make medieval family shields, participated in Toastmasters and Invent America, created our own archaeological digs, sang in Swahili, played volleyball with water balloons (measuring splatters in metric and inches), touched ashes from the Mt. St. Helens eruption, studied geological rock formations, and kept every paper mache company in South Florida in business.

In between all that, I got a chance to learn about life too. Nothing was more important to her (or so it seems now) than helping us to recognize that science was all around us, that the world was meant for us to explore it, and that we could learn anything we set our minds to.

Today, I've found a way to use so many of her lessons. I write for New Voices to engage others in science, use that fostered creativity in theater, took Toastmasters training to communications school, and spend every possible minute learning new things.

It's twenty years later, and I can still remember my first lesson in her class, tessellations. Like that one simple shape that multiplied and spread across my paper, Mrs. Gross shaped my love of learning, and encouraged me to repeat it in every sphere of my life.

Thank you Mrs. Gross. I wouldn't be the same without you.

This tribute is part of our spotlight on science educators series.
Part 1 - Introduction
Part 2 - High School Chemistry: More than Science

To share your story about a science educator who helped shape your path, leave a comment, or send your story to hbenson at

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

High School Chemistry: More than Science

Allison Bland remembers:

Mr. Seth Klein

AP Chemistry teacher
Shoreham Wading River High School
Shoreham, New York

When I was a junior in high school, I took Advanced Placement Chemistry with Mr. Klein. Despite my lifelong love of writing, I entered his class with a new consideration for a college major in science after a great experience in AP Biology the year before. I didn’t know until later, but Mr. Klein’s influence would help guide the career path I have worked to follow ever since.

A year of AP Chemistry covers a huge amount of information that is needed to pass the AP exam, but Mr. Klein drove us through the material without leaving anyone behind. He was efficient enough to leave room for the fun stuff: explosions, homemade ice cream (a chemical process!), and a science-related book reports. For the report, I read The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould, which opened up a new world of ways that science can be written about and explained.

Mr. Klein also connected me to a summer internship in a pharmacology lab, a job that made me realize that I wasn’t interested in a research career. I started to think about other ways I could connect science to my love of writing.

What made Mr. Klein such an effective teacher was his obvious love of the subject and his students and his efforts to show us how science was present in all aspects of our lives. He gave me opportunities to learn science outside of a textbook or classroom and guided me toward my interest in the history of science and science writing.

Allison Bland is a communications fellow at Research!America and a graduate of McGill University with degrees in English and history of science.

This tribute is part of our spotlight on science educators series.
Part 1 - Introduction
To share your story about a science educator who helped shape your path, leave a comment, or send your story to hbenson at

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Spotlight on Science Educators

It's the beginning of a new school year for K through 12ers across America and that means sharpened pencils, piles of books, and extracurricular activities galore. Each fall as we prepare for the new school year, the focus is almost always on the returning students. Sales on backpacks and school clothes, extra physicals and check-ups, and stories about changes to standardized testing abound.

As we concentrate on the next generation of doctors, lawyers, office workers, and more, it can be easy to forget the other population that is also going back to school: the teachers.

Here at New Voices, we know we wouldn't be anywhere if it weren't for the amazing teachers who helped guide us to where we are now. To show our thanks, we're going to spend the next few days highlighting some of the science educators who helped create the foundation for us to become the science communicators and advocates we are today.

We invite you to join us with your personal stories too. Leave a comment, or send your story to hbenson at to guest post about a science educator in your life.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Financing A New Business in the Life Sciences

Welcome back to our entrepreneurship series. In last week’s post, I discussed the importance of research funding to the business development (and economic development) pipeline. As promised, I’ll provide more information today about the critical step of acquiring financing—or money to run the business.

It’s nearly impossible to do anything these days without it costing money. The same holds true for starting a life sciences business. In fact, life sciences business takes a long time and a lot of money before they become successful. Unlike starting a pizza restaurant, for example, a life science entrepreneur may need to spend several years conducting additional research and testing their product before they can turn a profit (unless you’re conducting lots of chemistry research at your pizza parlor to create the perfect sauce).

For this reason, state governments have realized that they need to implement strategies to help life science entrepreneurs get access to the money they need to start their businesses. In fact, 35 states plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia have implemented strategies to facilitate growth in the life sciences. Some local governments have also implemented strategies, but usually to a lesser extent.

Table 1 (below) shows some of the main sources of financing available to entrepreneurs.
Let’s go through a few of these.

If you are sitting on a huge pile of cash, great! You can probably self-finance your new business. But if you’re not, you’ll likely need to rely on one or more of these other sources of financing.

Private sources are heavily relied on by new life sciences businesses. For example, when my fellow blogger Ilse becomes a multi-millionaire, she could chose to invest her money in new life sciences businesses; she would be an angel investor. When my fellow bloggers Ilse, Heather, Emily and I all become multi-millionaires, we could pool our money together to invest in multiple businesses. We would create a venture capital fund (also referred to as VC), and would expect a higher return in a shorter time frame. Basically, you (scientists with venture capital funding) need to pay up a lot, and pay it sooner than later!

One of the most interesting sources of public financing is silent-equity partnerships. A silent-equity partnership is when a state or local government takes a silent role in supporting a new business by investing public funds in the business. For example, Minnesota recently tried to use a state pension fund to support new life science businesses. Some state leaders wanted to take $200 million from the state pension fund to invest in life science businesses. If the businesses made money, so would the state pension fund. But the converse is also true; if the businesses lost money, so would the state. Using pension funds is risky gamble, but can be an effective way to help new life science business get access to the money they need.

A great resource to learn about the financing options for life science businesses in your states is the State Biosciences Initiatives report by Battelle Memorial Institute and BIO. This report provides detailed information about new state initiatives aimed to help life science entrepreneurs.

Next week, we’ll look at how three states implemented policies to help life science entrepreneurs gain access to financing. In the mean time, I’m curious to gauge your opinion about states that are “life science industry leaders.”

In your opinion, what are the top 5 “leading life science states?”

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Need for Federal Support for Research

In 1945 Vannevar Bush wrote to President Roosevelt:
"New impetus must be given to research in our country. Such impetus can come promptly only from the Government. Expenditures for research in the colleges, universities, and research institutes will otherwise not be able to meet the additional demands of increased public need for research."

Today, the federal government plays an important role in providing an impetus for scientific research in the United States. The most recent and very significant example of federal support for research is the $10.4 billion reinvestment that was made in the National Institutes of Health as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which has provided funding for health-related research throughout the country.

However, many Americans think more needs to be accomplished: Your Congress Your Health poll data indicates that many Americans think our national commitment to research should be higher and that they would like more funding for the NIH, CDC, FDA, and AHRQ.

How much of a role do you think the government should play in providing the impetus for research?

Are there any other organizations, agencies, or institutions that are capable providing an impetus for research?

Are there any other components, apart from funding, that you believe are important for providing an impetus for research?

Image Credit: Grant McCracken

This is Part 4 in our ongoing discussion of Science the Endless Frontier.
Part 1 - Introduction
Part 2 - Flowing Scientific Knowledge
Part 3 - The Importance of Basic Research
Part 4 - The Need for Federal Support for Research

Thursday, September 10, 2009

President Obama's Health Care Reform Speech

Image credit: CBS News

Last night, President Obama addressed a joint session of Congress (and the nation) about health care reform. Pundits from everywhere have put in their two-cents about what the speech means, who it was for, and the merits of specific policy points.

Today on New Voices, we'd like to hear you be the pundits (we'll join in the fun too).

What sections of the speech stood out to you?

How is this like/different from the president's other national addresses?

Do you think the plan has any hope?

The comments section is open for discussion.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

News Round Up: Culture Edition

Flu in the News
H1N1 is making news around the globe. The CDC is having a contest to decide the best public service announcement about swine flu prevention. Public awareness about H1N1 is important to help avoid the spread of the disease and encourage those who have come in contact with it to be treated.

In France, the government has taken a slightly different approach. Kissing, or "bises" of both cheeks is a common greeting that puts everyone in close contact. So, the government is officially discouraging kissing. There's a fairly humorous BBC story about it, but to keep it in perspective: in the U.S. bans like those in some French schools and businesses would be the equivalent of forbidding handshakes.

Science Around the World
Interested in science and science communication abroad? Check out what’s happening at the British Science Festival, one of Europe’s largest science festivals. Festival activities include lectures, chances to interact with the UK’s top scientists, and hands-on events for themes ranging from “medicine and health” to “the environment” and “what makes us human?” And because it offers events targeted for youth, adults, adults with some knowledge of the topic, and even families, this really is a prime example of how science can be fun and accessible.

For more about the fair and the scientists involved, check out the official website. Or, for the inside scoop, try BBC reporter Sue Nelson’s log. She includes anecdotes about scientists and even this equation (below) for a good science communicator, which we found pretty humorous.

What's so special about 09/09/09?
Finally, a random but interesting piece of news. As you might have noticed, today is 09/09/09. That may or may not mean much to you, but the Chinese think it is an especially lucky day because “nine, nine” in Chinese sounds like the word for “long-lasting.” As a result, tens of thousands of couples throughout China registered to get married today. Read more here.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

It's All About the Ideas (and the Money)

Last week, I showed the steps to starting a spin-off company. Remember, ‘spin-off’ is the term used to describe a new company that is created based upon research from a university, hospital, or research center. (Think of the CSI and CSI: Miami analogy.) I will refer to all of the steps together, from start to finish, as the business development pipeline or Pipeline. Here is the Pipeline again as a refresher:
Someone once told me, you always have to start from the beginning. So, that's where we'll start. The beginning of the the Pipeline is to identify new opportunities from research. But as you know if you're a researcher, this research has to be funded somehow, usually by governments, universities and/or non-profit organizations.

I need to squeeze in my academic quote for this blog. Bear with me for three truly academic--but important--sentences (from my forthcoming thesis):
Studies have shown that research funding directly affects the Pipeline by increasing the number of spin-offs created at the end. Adams & Griliches (1996) and Siegel et al (1999) found a positive relationship between research funding and the number of university spin-offs created. DeGregorio & Shane (2005) found a direct, empirical relationship between research funding and the number of spin-offs created.
(Whew . . . that wasn't too bad, was it?)

In other words, as research funding increases, so does the number of spin-offs that can be created. This is good news for research funding advocates—not only does research funding lead to better health, it also leads to new businesses. Creating those new businesses can be referred to as ‘economic development’—two buzz words that any elected official loves to hear.
The next step in the Pipeline is to secure intellectually property (IP) rights, usually in the form of patents or licenses. Many research institutions have specialists who will help researchers secure IP rights. These IP specialists usually work in Technology Transfer Offices within the research institutions. IP is a relatively complex topic, and an entire series could be devoted to IP alone. At this point, all you need to know if that IP rights are important to start a spin-off, so visit your institution’s Technology Transfer Office soon if you have questions.

After securing IP rights, it’s time to secure funding to start the new business. Surprise, surprise--you need more money to make your idea work. The next post in this series will focus solely on possible sources of financing through the different stages of business development.

With the right people, policies and resources in place, an entrepreneur will be able to develop his or her technology into a successful market product. There are a lot of resources that state and local governments can provide to help entrepreneurs. Future posts in this series will discuss those resources as well.

This is Part 2 of 8 in our Entrepreneurship series.
Part 1 - Science and Entrepreneurship: An Introduction
Part 2 - It's All About the Ideas (and Money)
Part 3 - Financing a New Business in the Life Sciences
Part 4 - Leading Life Science States
Part 5 - Life Sciences in North Carolina
Part 6 - Life Sciences in Minnesota
Part 7 - Life Sciences in Kansas
Part 8 - Life Science Industry Overall

Friday, September 4, 2009

Happy Labor Day

We at New Voices are headed out for the weekend and will be back on Tuesday with more exciting posts about science communication and advocacy.

Have a wonderful holiday weekend!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Using Comedy to Share Science

One great means of communication - for any topic - is comedy. Today, we want to share a couple of short videos that approach science using humor.

The first comes from THE science comedian, Brian Malow, who by his stand-up style, makes it clear that the audience is in for some laughs. At the same time, there is no question that science will be taking center stage.

This is intentionally educational, but the story they use lightens the mood enough for people to stick around and absorb the facts.

Finally, we have Norm Goldblatt, a scientist turned comedian.

Which is the most effective at engaging you? Which would be best for a non-scientific audience?What other comedic ways have you seen/heard science presented?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Signing Off but Not Out

"At such a difficult moment, there are those who say we cannot afford to invest in science, that support for research is somehow a luxury at moments defined by necessities. I fundamentally disagree. Science is more essential for our prosperity, our security, our health, our environment, and our quality of life than it has ever been before."
~U.S. President Barack Obama speaking to the National Academies of Sciences
President Obama has it exactly right. Science and research are more essential to our quality of life than ever before. From finding a cure to debilitating disease and conditions, to developing technologies to make our lives easier (and in many cases, more enjoyable), to developing energy sources to keep our country prosperous, science and research will continue to be the driving force behind American innovation and quality of life for years to come.

Like many of you, science and research is a cause that’s deeply personal to me. Since 2004, one of my parents has been living with Parkinson’s disease. The disease affects my family—and an estimated 1.5 million other American families—every day. We’ve come to rely on science and research to making living with Parkinson’s disease easier. And along with those 1.5 million families, we continue to hope for a cure.

Matt (right), his mom Sharon (middle), and sister Gina (left) meeting with US Congressman Ron Kind (WI-3) to discuss the importance of Parkinson's disease research.

The Parkinson’s disease diagnosis compelled me to take an active role in accelerating the search for a cure. With minimal scientific ability, I realized I would be most effective as an advocate for research. I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to work with the New Voices for Research project this summer where I was able to take a small role in promoting a cause I feel very strongly about.

As I look back on the summer, I’m impressed by all that New Voices for Research, and our sponsoring organization, Research!America, was able to accomplish. We were able to do so because it’s our professional job.

But now that my internship here is over, and I’m heading back to the reality at the University of Minnesota—classes, projects, research, term papers, repeat, repeat, repeat—advocating for research won’t be my primary employment. However, it’s important for me to make sure that speaking out for research remains a priority. I know how easy it is to say “I’m just too busy to do that right now” because I say it all the time. But after this summer, I’ve realized how important it really is to actively speak out for research. If we, the people most closely involved in and dependent on research, don’t, then who will?

At a briefing I attended this summer, CNN political contributor Paul Begala made a statement that reaffirmed why we need to be advocates for research (I’m paraphrasing here):
"Politicians don’t lead—they follow the public."
Coming from a former White House advisor, this is all the more a reason to make our voices for research louder.

If you’ve spoken out for research, thank you! If you’ve yet to take the first step, now is the time! New Voices has provided you with some impeccable tools to making speaking out easier than ever (and New Voices will continue to do so in the future). The first step is always the hardest, and it always gets easier, and more rewarding as you go.

Thank you to New Voices and Research!America for a great opportunity this summer. And thank YOU for reading this blog!

Best wishes for your future endeavors as a New Voice for Research.

Matt Hanzlik starts his senior year at the University of Minnesota next week, and New Voices was thrilled to have him as a regular blogger this summer. We look forward to hearing from him as a guest blogger and advocate in the future. Matt's entrepreneurship series will continue throughout the coming weeks.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Science and Entrepreneurship: An Introduction

Which of these statements is true?
Science = Mmm . . . this frozen pizza sure tastes good. *Sigh.* Wish I could afford something else for dinner.
Science = I'm glad I spent a gagillion hours on that research project, just to put someone else's name on it. *Sigh.* I wish I were my own boss.
Science = A business opportunity to create high paying jobs, keep what you earn, and be your own boss.
The answer: All of the above. I reluctantly admit the first two are true, but let's focus on the last one. . .
Science = A business opportunity to create high paying jobs, keep what you earn, and be your own boss.
In other words,
Science = Entrepreneurship
By now, it’s clear that science has had some significant benefits on human health and well being. But have you thought about science as the starting point for new businesses? Because of my background in business and entrepreneurship, I decided to research the process of starting a science-related business. Over the course of a few posts, I’ll share some of my research findings with you. Consider this the first in our series on entrepreneurship. If you’ve ever thought about starting your own science-related business, listen up!

Over the next few posts, I’ll explain what exactly it is that an entrepreneur—someone that starts a new business—needs to start a new life sciences company. When you think of entrepreneur, think of William H. Gates III, the man we know as Bill Gates. (For those of us living on intern/student salary--or the comparable--this may not be something you want to hear: Mr. Gates is estimated to be worth $57 billion. And his net worth went down last year.)

Do you want to be in the same position as Mr. Gates? If so, you'll need to know what entrepreneurs and new businesses need to be successful. You'd probably also like to know what state and local governments can do to help new businesses get started.

Note: My project focuses specifically on life sciences businesses, but much of this will be relevant to any scientist who has discovered a great idea that they want to turn into a business. (‘Life sciences’ is the umbrella term for the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, medical devices and the agricultural/industrial biology industries.)

But first things first—what are the different ways you can start a life sciences business? Here are two common options.

First, you could create a new company. A good example of creating a new business is Medtronic. Sixty years ago, two relatives who were operating a medical device repair service realized that they could make improvements to the devices they were repairing. The relatives recognized an opportunity, and created a new company to fulfill a need.

Second, you could create a company out of research from a university or research center. ‘Spin-off’ is the term used to describe a new company that is created based upon research from a university, hospital, or research center. Think of this like a TV spin-off, for example. Create a hit TV show, like CSI, and then create a spin-off, CSI: Miami, for example.

Same applies to research (with some obvious technical differences, of course.) A researcher who discovers a brilliant idea literally takes that research and, with help, spins it off in to a business. Once the research becomes a business, the researcher becomes an entrepreneur.

To whet your appetite, here is a grossly oversimplified diagram that shows the steps to starting a spin-off.

Savor on this for a bit. In future posts in this series, I’ll explain more about the steps in this diagram, focusing on the steps that I think are most important—identifying new ideas from research and acquiring funding. Check back for the rest of this series!

This is Part 1 of 8 in our Entrepreneurship series.
Part 1 - Science and Entrepreneurship: An Introduction
Part 2 - It's All About the Ideas (and Money)
Part 3 - Financing a New Business in the Life Sciences
Part 4 - Leading Life Science States
Part 5 - Life Sciences in North Carolina
Part 6 - Life Sciences in Minnesota
Part 7 - Life Sciences in Kansas
Part 8 - Life Science Industry Overall