Daily briefing: Safe landing for SpaceX crew cements new era in private human spaceflight

Crew Dragon capsule splashes down in history, 40 years since the transformative discovery of the quantum Hall effect and the evidence for prioritizing good ventilation in the fight against coronavirus.

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A small motorboat approaches a spacecraft attached to four parachutes about to land on the Gulf of Mexico.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft lands with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley onboard in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, on 2 August.NASA/Bill Ingalls

“Thank you for flying SpaceX”

The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule safely splashed into the Gulf of Mexico near Florida yesterday, bringing its landmark mission to a successful close. This was the first time that a private company has put a human in orbit. Landing in the United States for the first time in almost a decade presented new challenges: some boaters disregarded Coast Guard warnings to stay clear of the landing site. “That capsule was in the water for a good period of time, and the boats just made a bee-line for it,” said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine. “We need to do a better job next time for sure.” If all goes well, ‘next time’ will be soon: NASA has another crewed SpaceX launch planned for September.

The Washington Post | 5 min read

COVID-19 coronavirus update

Add fresh air to our coronavirus arsenal

Evidence is mounting that SARS-CoV-2 can pass from person to person through exhaled air. If there is potential for airborne transmission, some scientists argue that we should prioritize good ventilation alongside hand-washing, social distancing and masks. This could mean moving more activities, such as school, outdoors, opening doors and windows wherever possible and identifying locations where recirculated air could be filtered.

The Atlantic | 17 min read

Read more: Mounting evidence suggests coronavirus is airborne — but health advice has not caught up (Nature | 13 min read, from July)

UK joins hunt for virus in sewage

England has begun testing effluent at 44 wastewater-treatment sites for fragments of coronavirus genetic material. The country joins Wales, the Netherlands, the United States and Sweden in efforts to determine whether such testing could predict outbreaks and help to measure their true scale. “Sampling is being carried out to further test the effectiveness of this new science,” said a government minister. “Research remains at an early stage, and we are still refining our methods.”

BBC | 4 min read

Read more: How sewage could reveal the true scale of the coronavirus outbreak (Nature | 4 min read, from April)

Notable quotable

“Waiting for a better vaccine to come along may feel like torture, but it is the right move.”

We can’t afford to jeopardize the public’s health and hard-earned trust by compromising on safety or efficacy protocols for a COVID-19 vaccine, argues biostatistician Natalie Dean. (The New York Times | 6 min read)

Features & opinion

Forty years of the quantum Hall effect

It’s been 40 years since physicist Klaus von Klitzing discovered the quantum Hall effect. It triggered a wave of ideas in condensed-matter physics and beyond, and set in motion the realization of our international system of units based on fundamental constants. von Klitzing and other physicists look back at the transformative experiment and explore how it continues to yield fresh insights and energize transdisciplinary collaborations.

Mathematicians and physicists worked together to understand the quantum Hall effect, notes an accompanying editorial in Nature. How they achieved this holds lessons for the way in which disciplines — not only those in the physical sciences — could more successfully engage with each other on common problems, argues the editorial.

Nature editorial | 5 min read & Nature Reviews Physics | 18 min read

Read the whole collection of Review, News and Commentary articles from various Nature Research journals celebrating the diverse legacy of this discovery.

The agenda for post-pandemic meetings

Live feeds went dead, questions didn’t reach speakers and the virtual cocktail party fell a bit flat. Unexpected attendees included a cat and a three-year-old shouting “Daddy, Daddy”. Organizers admit that transforming the Human Genome Meeting from a physical to an online event in just three weeks made for a steep learning curve. Yet, despite some teething troubles, the virtual meeting attracted a larger number and a more diverse mix of attendees than it would have if it had taken place in Perth, Australia, as previously planned. Nature spoke to scientists involved in lockdown conferences to get their thoughts on how the global health crisis will change meetings.

Nature | 9 min read

How African scientists abroad can help at home

Togolese bioscientist Rafiou Agoro’s early-career experiences in France and the United States inspired him to pay it forward to African scientists. With Guinean mathematician and computer scientist Mohamed Cissé, Agoro co-founded the African Diaspora Scientists Federation (ADSF) to support mentoring relationships and help African scientists to connect and collaborate with each other. “As a mentor, my hope is that the scientists I work with can learn from my successes and mistakes, follow their own path and reach their full potential,” writes Agoro. “We want to contribute to science in Africa, beyond the remittances we send home.”

Nature | 5 min read

Quote of the day

“The most revealing moments were moments of imperfection, and by talking about them I hope to illustrate that ‘getting things perfect’ is mostly irrelevant for making culture change in academia.”

Behavioral ecologist Ambika Kamath shares examples of how she worked with her PhD adviser Jonathan Losos to improve the academic culture within his laboratory. (Personal blog | 6 min read)

Read more about Losos's lab in Science’s recent profile.

On Friday, Leif Penguinson paid a visit to an impressive pile of coconuts on the island of La Digue in the Seychelles. Did you spot the penguin? When you’re ready — here’s the answer.

It’s great to be back! Thanks to Emma Stoye and the news team for a wonderful week of Briefings while I was on holiday. Sadly, I was not able to accompany Leif to the Seychelles to bask among the coconuts, but I did lounge near some courgettes in my back garden.

Help me keep my holiday high going by sending me your feedback on this newsletter. Please send your comments to

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

With contributions by Smriti Mallapaty

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