I recently had the privilege of speaking with Professor Sydney Brenner, a professor of Genetic medicine at the University of Cambridge and Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine in 2002. My original intention was to ask him about Professor Frederick Sanger, the two-time Nobel Prize winner famous for his discovery of the structure of proteins and his development of DNA sequencing methods, who passed away in November. I wanted to do the classic tribute by exploring his scientific contributions and getting a first hand account of what it was like to work with him at Cambridge’s Medical Research Council’s (MRC)Laboratory for Molecular Biology (LMB) and at King’s College where they were both fellows. What transpired instead was a fascinating account of the LMB’s quest to unlock the genetic code and a critical commentary on why our current scientific research environment makes this kind of breakthrough unlikely today.
For years after the 9/11 attacks, nearly all the activity at Ground Zero was downward—digging through the piles of debris, excavating a vast pit to restore the ruined transit lines, preparing the foundations for the new buildings that would emerge there. Even the memorial that opened in 2011 was an exercise in the poetics of descent—two vast cubic voids, each with water cascading down all four sides, carrying grief to some underground resting place.
The memorial has turned out to be a lovely thing, but what the site still needed was something that climbed, something that spoke to the idea that emotional burdens might not only be lowered into the ground but also released into the air. Now we have it: One World Trade Center, the glass-and-steel exclamation point, all 1,776 feet of it, is nearing completion close to where the Twin Towers once stood.
A school dropout from a poor family in southern India has revolutionised menstrual health for rural women in developing countries by inventing a simple machine they can use to make cheap sanitary pads.
Arunachalam Muruganantham’s invention came at great personal cost - he nearly lost his family, his money and his place in society. But he kept his sense of humour.
"It all started with my wife," he says. In 1998 he was newly married and his world revolved around his wife, Shanthi, and his widowed mother. One day he saw Shanthi was hiding something from him. He was shocked to discover what it was - rags, "nasty cloths" which she used during menstruation.
"I will be honest," says Muruganantham. "I would not even use it to clean my scooter." When he asked her why she didn’t use sanitary pads, she pointed out that if she bought them for the women in the family, she wouldn’t be able to afford to buy milk or run the household.
You can travel to La Casa del Caffe, on Morris Park Avenue in the Bronx, and try to coax Anna Agovino into spilling some of the secrets behind making a perfect cup of coffee. She will shoot you that Fellini-worthy smile of hers, and she’ll be patient with your questions. For a minute or two.
But eventually she’ll throw a simple question back: “You want espresso?”
And you do. That espresso, after all, is the reason you’ve walked into this stark little room with Neapolitan soccer paraphernalia on the walls and zany Italian game shows on the TV. It’s why there tends to be an afternoon line of customers snaking along the counter. If you hover in that line next to Fabio Saglimbeni, a hairdresser who lives in Rockland County and makes a regular pilgrimage to stand and wait for Mrs. Agovino’s careful ministrations, he might turn to you and say, “So you came to have the best coffee in New York City?”
Once derided as being like plastic bag with the erotic appeal of a jellyfish, the female condom’s being reinvented as the next big thing in safe sex. Emily Anthes investigates.
In 1987, an American pharmaceutical executive called Mary Ann Leeper flew to Copenhagen to get a firsthand look at what she thought might be the world’s next great health innovation. She didn’t expect to find it tucked away inside an old cigar box.
An Unthinkably Modern Miracle by John Fischer:
A brief anatomy lesson before we begin. Your urethra is a small tube that (if you’re a guy) runs nine inches from the base of your bladder to the tip of your penis. It snakes down through your prostate gland and between a gap in your pelvic floor, similar to a plumbing pipe. Like tear ducts or sinuses, it is one of the million structural subsystems in the body that you could easily spend your whole life ignoring.
That is, unless something goes wrong.
"Toubled Bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox, once the largest of its kind, filed for bankruptcy protection last week — a move that many interpreted would deal a heavy blow to Bitcoin.
However, Sean Percival, the head of marketing at Bitcoin firm Blockchain and also a venture partner at 500 Startups, says that the fall of Mt. Gox is actually a positive development for the Bitcoin industry.”
When Did Humans Come to the Americas?
"For much of its length, the slow-moving Aucilla River in northern Florida flows underground, tunneling through bedrock limestone. But here and there it surfaces, and preserved in those inky ponds lie secrets of the first Americans.
For years adventurous divers had hunted fossils and artifacts in the sinkholes of the Aucilla about an hour east of Tallahassee. They found stone arrowheads and the bones of extinct mammals such as mammoth, mastodon and the American ice age horse.
Then, in the 1980s, archaeologists from the Florida Museum of Natural History opened a formal excavation in one particular sink. Below a layer of undisturbed sediment they found nine stone flakes that a person must have chipped from a larger stone, most likely to make tools and projectile points. They also found a mastodon tusk, scarred by circular cut marks from a knife. The tusk was 14,500 years old.”
Bridging the Analytics Gap by Bill Barnwell:
As the eighth annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference approaches this weekend, I find myself thinking more and more about the next frontier for quantitative analysis. Authorship certainly isn’t a problem, as there’s no lack of metric creation out in the wild. Data, once a problem outside the world of baseball, are widespread and rapidly expanding into spectra that wouldn’t have been remotely imaginable at the turn of the century. Awareness is steadily rising; the Phillies became the last Major League Baseball team to hire a stat guy, and 29 of 30 NBA teams were represented at last year’s Sloan conference. (The lone holdout, the Los Angeles Lakers, were shamed into attending this weekend’s conference.)
Understanding, though? That’s still hit or miss. There are really smart executives, coaches, and players who have either managed to neutralize the idea of analytics or flat-out rejected it. In many cases, I find the expert in question is really just misinterpreting a statistical concept or stretching it beyond its reasonable limits. In others, impossible straw men are drawn up that disqualify not only analytics from adding anything to the discussion, but also any sort of intelligent thought about how to win at your particular sport.