NASA New Horizons Mission Prepares for Historic Pluto Approach

… and you can be a part of it!

Photo by Tom Atkinson @r3digital

You might have noticed a bit of a trend recently with Mendeley supporting some cool space-themed events, such as a talk by Apollo 11 Astronaut Buzz Aldrin (pictured below presenting a much-coveted “Get your Ass to Mars” t-shirt to Professor Stephen Hawking) and a debate at the Cambridge Union Society, which explored the issue of whether space exploration is worth the cost.

Image Courtesy of the Cambridge Union Society @cambridgeunion

The answer, it turned out, was a resounding “YES”. Dr Christine Corbett Moran, a computational astrophysicist who defended the value of space exploration in that debate, outlined the huge impact that space exploration research has had, which go well beyond the many well-known consumer applications such as non-stick pans:

“Nigeria launched its first satellite in 2003, and China, India and others strive to replicate and expand achievements in technology and science to drive space exploration forward. India’s space program and satellite constellations allow it to survey natural resources, enable communications, have disaster management support perform meteorology, and do pilot programs in tele-education and tele-medicine for an underserved population.”

The inspiration for supporting these initiatives came not only from our community of researchers in fields such as Astrophysics, but from talking to NASA’s Science Program Manager Adriana Ocampo, last year. And so, when Mendeley decided to sponsor the space exploration debate at Cambridge, she was naturally invited as one of the speakers on the proposition side. Although unable to attend as originally planned, Dr. Ocampo has since extended a very special invitation to the Mendeley team, which means some of us will get the chance to be present at NASA HQ to witness the Pluto New Horizons Encounter. A first-ever achievement for humankind.

The New Horizons mission was launched back in January 2006, and after nearly a decade and 3 billion miles travelled, the craft will finally approach Pluto in July 2015. After passing the Dwarf Planet and its five moons (The first 5 people to correctly Tweet the names of all those moons to @Mendeley_com with the hashtag #PlutoEncounter will get a bag of Mendeley goodies, by the way) the probe will continue to travel at a speed of 26,7000 mph along the Kuiper belt, which is located past Neptune’s Orbit.

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Image Courtesy of NASA @NASANewHorizons

It is difficult to overstate how exciting such an event is, as it represents the culmination of so much effort over many years of work and research. As Professor Stephen Hawking recently said in a post on his Facebook page:

“This would have been the subject of science fiction when I was at school, but is now science fact. I feel proud and honoured for such a momentous scientific mission to be completed within my lifetime, and plan to celebrate in my own way, with a Pluto party in July. My congratulations to everyone on the New Horizons team. With imagination and determination, it is humbling to see what we are capable of”.

This will be the first time ever we’ll be able to see Pluto as more than a tiny little speck, so we don’t know exactly what to expect. And that, according to Ralph McNutt, of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), is one of the great things about such ground-breaking endeavours: “we don’t know exactly what we’ll see, but we know from decades of experience in first-time exploration of new planets that we will be very surprised”.

What does emerge very clearly from all the discussions we’ve had around space exploration is impacts all of society, and how the research output it generates is truly cross-disciplinary and collaborative. This is why we want to share the amazing experience with our entire Mendeley community. So watch this space and our social media channels for lots more on the Pluto Encounter, and please do share your thoughts, questions and ideas with us too! We’d specially love to hear from researchers, in any discipline, who felt the influence of space exploration research in their own work. Start the conversation on Facebook and Twitter using the #PlutoEncounter hashtag.

Cheers to the #pint15selfie winners!

We had such a great time at the Pint of Science festival this week – so many amazing talks and discussions with an incredibly engaged audience. Congratulations to the Pint of Science teams in the UK and around the world for another successful celebration of science.

There were a great many selfies being submitted during the 3 day science extravaganza, thank you for all your wonderful entries! So will no further ado, the winners are:

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Here are some other great pictures from those who attended Pint of Science 2015:

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If you were able to attend the Pint of Science festival, the teams would love to get your feedback – there is a very short survey here for you to leave your comments.

The INQUA Project is bringing researchers together – across disciplines, across Europe.


The research environment is changing rapidly, with an ever increasing focus on interdisciplinary collaborations. Often this means collaborators are in different countries, which further complicates the process of team work and communication. Today’s guest blog post is from Dr Erick Robinson (Ghent University, Belgium), who is part of the INQUA Project 1404. The primary aim of this project is to bring together young researchers experts within Europe to investigate the variable impacts of gradual versus abrupt palaeoenvironmental change on human cultural change. Dr Robinison’s post provides a summary of the project’s objective and requirements as well as it’s challenges and how they are overcoming those obstacles.

The long windows of time offered by data from the palaeosciences (archaeology, geology, physical geography, palaeoclimatology, palaeoecology) are essential to our understanding of the potential impacts of future climate and environmental changes on ecosystems and humans throughout the world. Over the last decade, interdisciplinary research in the palaeosciences has started to advance tremendously our knowledge of the shear complexities of past climate and environmental changes, and the diversity of ecosystem and human responses to these changes. These advances have included an awareness of a range of different climate and environmental changes with variable causes, durations, and magnitudes: gradual ecosystem changes in species composition, sea-level rise, abrupt climate changes caused by glacial meltwater outbursts, and extreme events such as tsunamis and volcanic eruptions. The short windows of time traditionally taken into account in modelling the potential impacts of future climate changes therefore risks a lack of knowledge regarding the relationships between environmental changes of different temporal durations and geographical scales of impact. It is imperative that future research considers these longer windows of time in order to understand the broader complexity and dynamics of environmental changes throughout human history.Robinson Riede Mendeley blog entry 1

Caption: An example of how cultural and environmental records can be studied in tandem. This figure shows a comparison of revised radiocarbon chronology for the Early and Middle Mesolithic in the Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt area of northwest Europe (G-I) (calculated with OxCal 3) with selected climate records of the Northern Hemisphere that indicate multiple Early Holocene cooling events (A-F). A: timing of Ice-rafted debris peaks (Bond et al., 1997) indicating the frequency of sea-ice; Greenland (NGRIP) ice core δ18O record (Rasmussen et al., 2006) with GICC05 timescale calibrated into years relative to AD 1950, a temperature proxy; c: Greenland ice core (GISP2) K+ record (Mayewski et al., 1997), a proxy for atmospheric circulation and wind; d: Oxygen-isotope ratios of precipitation (δ18Op) inferred from deep-lake ostracods from the Ammersee (southern Germany) (von Grafenstein et al., 1999); e: Dongge Cave (China) stalagmite D4 δ18O record (Dykoski et al., 2005) providing information on past temperature; f: Hawes Water (UK) core HWLC1 δ18Oc record based on samples of authigenic calcite indicating temperature. The dark line represents the centennial-scale trend calculated omitting the abrupt cooling events (Marshall et al., 2007). The periods of the 9.3 cal. BP and 8.2 cal. BP cooling events are shaded blue (adapted from Robinson et al., Journal of Archaeological Science, 2013)

Extending the temporal scope of research to consider the relationships between millennial scale, centennial scale, and very abrupt climate and environmental changes across the period of the Last Glacial-Early Holocene (14,000-8,000 years ago) requires ‘big data’ approaches enabling the integration of regional datasets at the continental scale. The International Union for Quaternary Research (INQUA) Commission for Humans and the Biosphere (HaBCom) has recently funded an international research project aiming to integrate archaeological and palaeoenvironmental data across Europe for this important period in Earth and human history. This project (INQUA project) “Cultural and palaeoenvironmental changes in Late Glacial to Middle Holocene Europe—gradual or sudden?” is comprised of a majority of Early Career Researchers across the continent interested in exploring new frontiers in international interdisciplinary research. The project requires published data from all regions of Europe for the time period of focus to be integrated into a database that can be utilized for implementing a range of different computational modelling approaches. Big data research of this nature is challenging for many reasons, possibly the most important of which is specialists in one particular discipline or region integrating, interpreting and utilizing data from another discipline/region. Communication is therefore paramount in data quality assessment and research quality control. The Ph.D., Early Career Researchers, and Senior Researchers in the project are faced with the challenge of maintaining regular communication over the data that is integrated into the database, its employment in different modelling approaches, and the assessment of modelling outputs.

We are very happy to be partnering with Mendeley in facing these challenges in this new generation of international interdisciplinary palaeoscience research. Mendeley Team package provides the perfect collaborative workspace for integrating publications with useful data for the database that we aim to build in this project. Our research network is only able to meet once a year for an annual workshop, therefore Mendeley provides the central nexus of communication during the critical periods of data integration and modelling. The progress of the project will be determined by what our research network collaborators can contribute to the project amidst their busy schedules at their home institutions. We are excited to start this challenging and potentially very fruitful research project with the support of Mendeley.

We are delighted to be working with the Project1404 team, and to be able to support their team collaboration.

You can follow this projects updates through the Twitter hashtag #project1404 and find out more about Team plans here.


Raise your glass with a Pint of Science!

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The Pint of Science is an international science festival taking place annually over three days, simultaneously across the world, to deliver interesting, fun, and relevant talks on the latest science research in an accessible format to the public – all in the pub! Following a launch event this week, tickets are on sale now!

This year, Mendeley are proud and excited to sponsor the Pint of Science Beautiful Mind events, and we are looking forward to this three day celebration of science.

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Pint of Science aims to bring the best academic scientists to local pubs and bars so that they can explain their latest research to the public, thus providing a platform which allows people to discuss cutting-edge research with the scientists who carry it out.

This year, Pint of Science will deliver a series of talks cover the topics of:

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  • Beautiful Mind (neurosciences, psychology & psychiatry)
  • Our Body (human biology & life sciences)
  • Atoms to Galaxies (chemistry, physics, astronomy & materials)
  • Planet Earth (earth sciences)
  • Tech Me Out (technology & computers)
  • Our Society (law, history & politics)

On the evenings of 18, 19 and 20th May 2015, Pint of Science UK will take place in 12 cities across the UK: Bath, Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Exeter, Glasgow, London, Manchester, Oxford, Southampton, Teesside and York. Tickets for these events have just been released and can be tickets purchased through the above links.

If you spot any of us at an event, come and say hello – we look forward to sharing a pint of science with you.

The Power of Crowdfunding: A Chat with Ethan Perlstein


Ethan Perlstein

We love hearing about crowdfunded research projects. As an academic community that aims to bring together researchers from around the world, we get excited about the grass-roots appeal of science funded by enthusiastic peers. This week, we invited scientist and crowdfunding star Ethan Perlstein to sit down with us for a chat. His work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Nature, and Science. Ethan told us all about choosing alternative career paths, his recent fundraising campaigns and the new Perlstein Lab.

1) What’s your academic background?

I graduated from college in 2001 with a degree in sociology but I knew all along that I would go to grad school in biology. I worked summer internships at a small biotech company and at NIH in my last two years of high school and throughout college, so the transition was mostly painless. After getting my PhD in 2006, I took an amazing 5-yr independent postdoc position, where I managed a $1MM budget and a small team working in the area I dubbed evolutionary pharmacology. That position ended in 2012, the year I (and many others) encountered the buzz saw that is the postdocalypse. After two failed academic job search cycles, I exited academia to become an indie scientist and biotech entrepreneur focused on orphan disease drug discovery.

2) How did you learn about crowdfunding as a mechanism for funding your research?

I first heard about crowdfunding in 2010/2011 in the context of Kickstarter’s early successes in the arts. But I didn’t make the connection to the sciences until 2012 when I came across the mostly ecology folks who were participating in the SciFund Challenge (which has just launched its 4th round on the science crowdfunding platform Experiment). So if I had to pinpoint it in time, I’d say the summer of 2012 was when I started to consider crowdfunding a basic research project.

3) What led you to think it’s a viable mechanism to get actual science done?

When I realized that the most successful science crowdfunding campaigns were essentially asking for seed/exploratory funding (along the lines of the well established NIH R03 mechanism), I thought a compelling enough proposal could catch fire.

4) You previously did a crowdfunding campaign on RocketHub. Can you tell us about that experience? How much work was it, what was your strategy for success, what would you do different, and was it worth it overall?

Along with my Crowd4Discovery collaborators Prof David Sulzer and Daniel Korostyshevsky, we raised $25,000 for a basic pharmacology project to study the cellular distribution of amphetamines, including methamphetamine. It was a lot of work to run a social media campaign/offensive for two straight months. But we were rewarded with press coverage that stimulated almost half of our donations. For nuts and bolts advice and tactics, please see my published post-campaign analysis.

5) Now you’re opening your own independent lab. How big is the space, what are you working on, and how many people are in your lab?

Perlstein Lab is located in SF’s newest biotech incubator called QB3@953. Right now it’s just me and a team of advisors. The first team member has signed an offer letter, and I expect to fill out a 4-person team by the end of Spring. Perlstein Lab is initially focusing on a group of 47 related lysosomal storage diseases.

6) Besides funding, what have been the biggest hurdles? Are there some things you’d like to do that you can’t outside of a institution?

The “fundraising vortex” has been the biggest challenge by far, dwarfing all others. I’ve actually found few disadvantages to being outside the Edenic confines of the ivory tower, though paywalls are a constant annoyance. But I spent time and money building a brand for myself early in the process. That has gone a long way in terms of networking, opening doors, and getting key opinion leaders to take me seriously.

7) How are you handling requirements of journals to have ethics board approval for animal or human subjects research?

That’s a great question. Short answer is we haven’t crossed that bridge yet. Perlstein Lab’s platform is built on primordial animal models: yeast, worm, flies and fish. Only fish require regulatory approval. And since we’ll be operating in the preclinical space, we won’t be doing any research on human subjects.

8) There are some funding opportunities not available to you due to your independent status, but are there some available to you that wouldn’t be available to the average lab?

Yes. You don’t see academic labs get funding from angel investor networks. Instead they apply for SBIR/STTR grants to get nascent spinoffs off the ground. (Editor’s note: Ethan is reportedly closing on a lead venture investor now.)

9) What would you say to people who turn up their noses at the amount of money you raised in that campaign relative to the average R01?

I always remind them that the R01 isn’t really an apples to apples comparison. Rather the natural analog as I explained above is the R03, which is a smaller, non-renewable grant that funds exploratory projects. The idea here is that some R03s projects blossom into R01s. Just like in music and the arts, it’s one thing to crowdfund an album or a movie, but another thing to crowdfund a band or a movie studio.

10) What are your plans for the future? Any advice for postdocs who are considering this route?

I’m focused like a laser beam on assembling the Perlstein Lab team and becoming operational by the Spring. But I got here in large part by branding myself on my blog and on Twitter. The journey can start with a single tweet.

Crowdsourcing and the value of curation – Mendeley pairs with F1000 Prime to recommend great research.

Image via psd

What makes Mendeley more than just a reference manager is the community of researchers who use our tool to share research, recommend papers to others, and collaboratively work together. In practical terms, what this means is that the work of finding and organizing a collection of papers about a specific topic can be shared by a group of people via Mendeley Groups. Hundreds of thousands of you have created groups and saved your colleagues hundreds of thousands of hours, which I like to think has made research progress at least a little faster. But the benefits of groups go beyond crowdsourced literature discovery – you can annotate and comment on the collection of papers as well. There’s recently been quite a lot of activity around the idea of commenting on research, given the high-profile launch of Pubmed Commons and the growing attention given to tools such as PeerLibrary and PubPeer. We believe that post-publication commenting on research can become an important part of scholarly communication, but the past few years of our experience and the experience of PLOS shows that much of the literature doesn’t elicit comments, for whatever reason. Here’s where we feel a combination of traditional editorial insight into what is attention getting can be blended with the crowdsourced approach to yield high quality comments on high quality research. Our first experiment with this is the launch of F1000 Prime recommendations on Mendeley. Check out these great papers chosen by experts in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology in the first of what I hope will be a series of F1000 Prime groups. You can read F1000’s take here.

This content normally requires a subscription, but is made available free in the group. Just follow the group to get updates!

Facebook Game Uses Crowdsourcing to Tackle Ash Die Back Disease


Britain’s estimated 80 million ash trees are under threat, with scientists fearing that the Chalara fungus – known ash ash die back disease – could prove as deadly to the UK’s woodlands as Dutch elm disease was in the 1970s, killing millions of trees. In Denmark, the impact of ash die back was devastating, with between 60 and 90 per cent of all its ash trees being lost.

But there is hope… In the unexpected form of a Facebook game. Researchers sequenced the DNA from many infected trees and re-assembled them as closely as possible so they can identify variations that determine how susceptible the trees are to this disease. The human brain is uniquely adept at seeing patterns more quickly and adeptly than computers, and it’s that ability that the developers of Fraxinus (from the ash tree’s Latin name, Fraxinus Excelsior) are harnessing. The hope is that by identifying those patters through gameplay, players will provide potentially vital clues as to how the disease works on a genetic level.

“Every organism, whether human, tree of fungus has a genome virtually identical to the rest of the species but with tiny variations,” the game’s introductory screen explains. Players are challenged to manipulate and match up sequences of coloured leaves representing strings of genetic information from ash trees (both vulnerable ones from the UK and resistant strains taken from Denmark) and the Chalara fungus. Scientists will then look to use that data to cross-breed trees resistant to the disease.

Matching sequences closely earns high scores, and lets players claim patterns for their collection. However, these patterns can be stolen from under their noses by other players who use the same pattern to achieve a higher score. The competitive element adds to the addictiveness of the game and keeps players engaged for longer in order to build up and maintain their collections. The advantage for the database is that each pattern theft also serves to make the data even more accurate.

The game was envisaged by Dr Dan MacLean, head of bioinformatics at The Sainsbury Laboratory in Norfolk and designed by Bafta-nominated game developers Team Cooper. The unique challenge, say the developers, was to design a game that was engaging and addictive in its own right, but also managed to produce valid scientific results. These results are now being gathered and will be published as an open source supply for scientific research.

Dr MacLean told BBC News: ‘how we get the most out of it is if people want to come back to it and play it with their friends. That it’s for a good cause is a bonus.’

Apart from the lovely feeling of helping to save millions of trees, those who top the game’s leaderboard will actually be credited on articles as having helped with the research. Lead Developer for Team Cooper Russell Stearman said that it was a unique move for players to both contribute meaningful data to the Open Ash Die Back Project and be officially recognised in scientific papers.

Whiling away the hours on Facebook might not be everyone’s idea of advancing science and protecting the environment, but citizen science projects have used gamification to tap into the power of crowds with great success. The scientists behind this project believe that crowdsourcing this social media hive mentality could bring forward the production of disease-resistant trees by over 40 years, which is certainly an impressive claim. But what are the wider implications for science, and does this mean that social media gaming is coming of age? Let us know what you think!