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Daily briefing: Decolonizing Mars

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It takes three hours for pilots Tim Vest (left) and Greg Slover to reach the science area in the middle of the Weddell Sea.Credit: Nicolas Ordonez.

On board the final flights to map Earth’s polar ice

After a decade of flights to monitor annual changes in polar-ice thickness, NASA’s Operation IceBridge is preparing to wind down and pass the torch to a satellite. Nature joins one of its last — and most demanding — missions in this spectacular photo essay.

Nature | 5 min read

Antarctic scientists are hunting for sky’s ‘detergent’

Scientists will drill deep into polar ice to capture historical data on hydroxyl, the dominant atmospheric detergent. The highly reactive molecule breaks down many gases in the air, including methane and hydrofluorocarbons, but not the most prevalent greenhouse gas — carbon dioxide. Researchers will measure air bubbles trapped in the ice as long ago as 1880 to discover how the chemical has varied since people started pumping out pollution in earnest.

Nature | 4 min read

New research-integrity office for major agency

Europe’s largest basic-research agency, the CNRS, will create its first office of research integrity to improve how it tackles investigations. The CNRS has been embroiled in a long-running misconduct case in which one researcher was sanctioned, and then cleared, and another was found to have carried out “severe” and “intentional” manipulation of research figures.

Nature | 3 min read

DNA in a snow print is enough to track lynx

Scientists are able to track the elusive Canadian lynx using only the traces of DNA left in the cats’ snowy tracks. The technique will help researchers to differentiate the lynx from similar animals, such as bobcats, when they are caught on camera traps or spotted through their footprints. Researchers can isolate lynx DNA in concentrations as low as five cells per litre of snow.

National Geographic | 7 min read

FEATURES & OPINION

The microscopes shaking up materials science

A burst of technological advances is triggering a revolution in what researchers can probe using transmission electron microscopes, which can explore structures at sub-atomic scales. The machines can image never-before-seen details and help researchers to explore invisible properties, such as vibrations inside crystals and electric and magnetic fields. Ordinary electron microscopy is “like flying propeller planes”, says applied physicist David Muller. “Now we have a jet.”

Nature | 13 min read

Rainbow hued iron-germanium film in hexagon shapes with direction arrows overlaid on top

Swirls of magnetism imaged in an iron-germanium film; colour and arrows show field direction.Credit: Zhen Chen and David Muller

Stop blackmailing foreign postdocs

A survey about postdocs in the United States has revealed a worrying trend: some senior scientists are exploiting the fact that overseas researchers depend on them for continued visas. A handful of foreign postdocs reported salary cuts, 100-hour work weeks, and a fear of repercussions if they complain. An estimated half of all postdocs working in the US are reliant on short-term visas, so these anecdotes should raise an alarm, argues a Nature editorial.

Nature | 4 min read

Reference: Research Policy paper

Decolonizing Mars

Are human missions to Mars ‘colonialist’? When the time comes, who will get to go, who will be in control and how will new resources be obtained and distributed? These questions were posed to panelists at a recent event that aimed to apply lessons from history to the future of interplanetary exploration. “Europeans and non-Indigenous, non-Black Americans have traditionally thought they could do whatever they wanted in an environment that is new to them,” argues physicist Chanda Prescod-Weinstein. “Thinking about Mars is a chance to think carefully about where this attitude has gotten us.”

Gizmodo | 8 min read

“You only get one shot at being a dad”

Initiatives such as family-friendly hours and flexible working at chemist David Smith’s institution were brought in primarily to support working mothers. But when Smith and his husband became fathers, he discovered how great such benefits are for dads, too. He calls on male scientists to embrace their role as carers and stand up for a family-friendly model of scientific success.

Chemistry World | 6 min read

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“We called Charles Potter at the Smithsonian Institution, and he said, ‘It’s interesting you called because we have pallets and pallets of these ear plugs sitting around, and we’re thinking of throwing them away.’”

Biologist Stephen Trumble has discovered that plugs of whale earwax, stored by the thousands in museum collections, offer an invaluable record of decades of whale biology and ocean activity. (The Atlantic)

doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-018-07497-5

Today’s Briefing is dedicated to all the museum curators out there saving chunks of whale earwax, and other natural wonders, for when the science catches up.

Thanks for reading!

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

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