REU Posters are Now in Session

For the students who traveled from across the state and nation to participate in Texas A&M’s Summer Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU), the annual Undergraduate Research Poster Session is the program’s pinnacle. It’s here that they get to showcase the results of their research projects and bask in the culmination of two months of grueling lab work and analysis, not to mention all the trial and error in between.

The poster session is not only a well-deserved celebration of their success, it’s also one final benchmark for these young scientists; they get to personally discuss the results of their research projects with their peers and other faculty besides their designated mentors. It boils down to huge opportunity to really show how much they’ve learned over the summer and do a little networking to boot

See what the poster session is all about.

Want to find out more about the College of Science’s REU programs? Here’s a video overview, and you can also check out photos from this summer.



2014 In Review

‘Tis the season for all things recap. Case in point: This morning’s inbox fodder featured a nifty end-of-year report (thank you, stat monkeys!) on the Texas A&M Science blog. In case you don’t care to sift through the entire thing available here, I’ll hit the high points as I see them.


In summary, 2014 blew 2013 out of the water. Thirty-four published posts, 5,872 views and 3,235 visitors, compared to 19 posts, 977 views and 523 visitors in 2013. And our top all-time viewing day — 332 on November 25.

To be fair, however, 2013 started a half-year behind, given that the blog didn’t officially launch until June. Fitting, then, that the original post I wrote back in 2013 to pitch the overall blog concept (Heart of the Matter) was the only one from the previous year to grace 2014’s Top 10:

1. A Bittersweet Benchmark (486)
2. The Beauty of Rare Creatures and Social Networking (466)
3. Light My Fire (259)
4. All Work and No Play (240)
5. Winning Teams (206)
6. Life Forces and Legacies (152)
7. You Are Enough (129)
8. Heart of the Matter (97)
9. Angel in Flight (91)
10. Tradition in Action (85)

Seven of those posts topped 100 views, with five exceeding 200. By comparison, only one post logged three-digit-viewing numbers in 2013: the perhaps-coincidentally-titled By the Numbers with 242. The top feeder was Facebook, followed somewhat surprisingly by search engines.


I’ve always enjoyed seeing new countries show up on the world viewing map, and we certainly broke lots of new international ground in 2014 as word (pun intended) has continued to spread. Current reach: 73 countries, which sounds amazingly cool, to me! Not surprisingly, the United States accounts for most of our views (5,323), but can you guess which country is second (170) as the only other that cracked triple digits?

All good news and good fun befitting this blog, which has become one of my favorite self-assignments if not general writing exercises. While in my admittedly old-school book, new media will never trump nor entirely replace traditional media, it sure makes for an enjoyable alternative and accompaniment, ideally for reader and writer.

On behalf of Texas A&M Science, I sincerely thank each of you for being part of this continuous, ever-evolving experiment. Here’s to more stories, additional insights and broader perspectives in 2015!

Oh, and I almost forgot — that No. 2 viewing country? Brazil. Go, GMT!

Another One Bites the Dust

News this past March out of Harvard University’s Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) Group detailing discovery of the possible evidence for inflation in the early universe is taking a universal beating as of late for failing to properly account for dust, perhaps in the group’s haste to leave its competition in it.

Their findings using the South Pole-based BICEP2 telescope hinge on the detection of gravitational waves, which cosmologists have long predicted would produce a specific type of polarization. They were correct in more ways than one.

BICEP2 telescope at South Pole. (Credit: Harvard CMB Group)

BICEP2 telescope at South Pole. (Credit: Harvard CMB Group)

I remember seeing the media advisory on the American Astronomical Society (AAS) listserv announcing the Monday morning press conference at Harvard’s Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics — an unusual occurrence in my admittedly relatively young experience in science media circles, outside of announcing a Nobel Prize. Given that Harvard is a fellow partner in the Giant Magellan Telescope, I emailed Texas A&M astronomer Nick Suntzeff in hopes that he would know what could justify such a media frenzy.

He did. And per his usual, he had a strong, succinct opinion on both the breakthrough and the group’s manner of conveying it to the world: “All this drama — science did not used to be like this.”

Months before the latest round of back-pedaling in the media, Houston Chronicle science writer Eric Berger had been among those sounding the alarm regarding the damage done to science’s credibility and public image. I emailed Nick then for his counsel, just as I did when I saw Dennis Overbye’s New York Times feature and then another in Nature on back-to-back days earlier this month. Nick didn’t mince words. Nor should he, in my opinion. Then again, we’re both fans of implied duty and inherent responsibility.

More importantly, he offered some great comparative insight on how he and the High-Z Supernova Search Team handled their own early stage Nobel Prize-winning research that ended up proving the universe’s expansion is actually accelerating, thanks to a mysterious substance they co-discovered: dark energy.

“When we discovered dark energy, all we did was to find that the distant supernovae were too faint in comparison to what was expected,” Nick wrote. “We immediately worried that there was some sort of dust in the universe we did not know about that could cause this. We gave a simple argument as to why we felt this dust could not be causing the effect. Dust makes stuff look red — look at something through a forest fire, and it appears red. Same in the universe. We did not see this reddening.

“Also, if there was dust in the universe that we did not know about, more distant stuff should appear fainter because the light has to travel through more dust. This latter effect was difficult to measure, but we did show it was unlikely. All this was in our papers. What we did not do was to say that we have considered dust as causing the faintness of distant supernovae and then not tell the reader why we concluded this. That is what the BICEP2 paper did, and it confused us all as to why they did this.”

Planck satellite map of the cosmic microwave background -- the radiation ripples left over from the Big Bang. (Credit: NASA/European Space Agency)

Planck satellite map of the cosmic microwave background — the radiation ripples left over from the Big Bang. (Credit: NASA/European Space Agency)

If astrophysicists the likes of Nick Suntzeff are confused, one can imagine where this leaves the public, both in terms of understanding this “discovery” and in their general impression of science.

First, do no harm.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

The BICEP2 kerfuffle (have always wanted to use that word!) reminds me of a previous occasion when Nick flexed his writing muscles in the name of responsible science. The result: a memorable 2011 guest post for the Last Word On Nothing blog in which he simultaneously describes and decries how science is done these days.

Reading and Writing

For the first time in I can’t remember how long, I managed to read a pleasure book cover to cover on consecutive weekends. The first was a recent gift from a dear friend, made all the more special because she wrote it. The second was one I rediscovered earlier this week in my desk at work, made doubly special not only because it was written by a longtime family friend but also because its inside front cover harbored a hidden PostIt note from my mom, hands down the best writer in the family.

Thanks in large part to Mom’s steadfast encouragement of my childhood bookworm tendencies, I’m a firm believer that being an avid reader goes hand in hand with being a good writer. Interestingly enough, the New York Times recently detailed a German study on the science of creativity using writing as the medium. Reactions to the results are mixed, with most agreeing it’s an intriguing topic if not a start.

Me, I’m thrilled beyond words creative or otherwise that my oldest son appears to be well on his way to following in his grandmother’s dog-eared, ink-stained footsteps. Just this past week, he devoured the 487-page Divergent, plus 72 pages of bonus material.

I’m not sure if his grandmother would be proud, amused or slightly alarmed by last weekend’s topic of discussion: the comparative literary merits of Edgar Allan Poe and Stephen King, courtesy of Epic Rap Battles of History. (Who says this Internet thing is all bad?!) Although my son is intimately familiar with the works of neither author, he is absolutely curious and eagerly anticipating the big moment when his dad and I pronounce him old enough to read such suspenseful classics without the 100 percent guarantee of nightmares.

All the talk of Poe instantly transported me back to high school and the many great short stories we read as parts of some amazing anthologies that, although assigned reading, imparted what for me were lifelong lessons in the exploration of creative voice and artistic expression. I mean, who could forget The Cask of Amontillado or The Telltale Heart?

But beyond them, there could be no better introduction to the fine art of foreshadowing than The Monkey’s Paw or Lamb to the Slaughter. I decided he was old enough for the latter, so I sent him the link.

Now, as for remembering to check his email? That jury’s still out.

This was us growing up (minus the pets), but all with our magazines! So glad Mom and Daddy allowed reading at the table during meals. Goodness knows we all got our fair share of bonding in over farm, ranch and dairy chores.

This was us growing up (minus the pets), but all with our magazines! So glad Mom and Daddy allowed reading at the table during meals. Goodness knows we all got our fair share of bonding in over farm, ranch and dairy chores.