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People queue up outside the headquarters of the Silicon Valley Bank in Santa Clara, California.

Customers queued to withdraw money from Silicon Valley Bank when the collapse was announced.Credit: Xinhua/Shutterstock

How the SVB collapse impacts science

The demise of the Silicon Valley Bank (SVB), known for funding technology start-ups, has sparked concerns that investors will be less keen to risk putting their money into small companies. Ethan Cohen-Cole, chief executive of a clean-technology start-up, says that the situation after the collapse was “absolutely terrifying” and predicts that a lack of investment will inevitably affect small businesses working on climate solutions. But there could be some respite in the form of the US government’s Inflation Reduction Act, which incentivizes investment in green technology.

Nature | 4 min read

Heartbeats shape our time perception

Our perception of time might be in part driven by heartbeats. When 45 students were asked to estimate the length of audio tones, the people with long intervals between their heartbeats perceived the tone as longer, whereas the people with shorter intervals thought it was shorter. The results show that “there is no single part of the brain or body that keeps time — it’s all a network”, says psychologist Saeedeh Sadeghi.

The New York Times | 4 min read

Reference: Psychophysiology paper

Fungus is wiping out amphibians in Africa

An amphibian-killing fungus is more widespread across Africa than anyone had realized. Chytridiomycosis is a key reason why more than 40% of amphibians worldwide are in danger of extinction. Researchers analysed almost 17,000 amphibian specimens from across Africa and found cases as far back as 1933. Infections abruptly soared in 2000, for unknown reasons. One cause for hope is the fact that “there are quite a few [amphibian] species that get infected and nothing happens”, says ecologist Vance Vredenburg.

The Washington Post | 5 min read

Reference: Frontiers in Conservation Science paper

Features & opinion

Five steps to MRI scanners for everyone

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners are huge, costly and impractical, requiring a powerful energy source, an electromagnetically shielded room and liquid helium for their superconducting magnet. That’s why MRI machines remain beyond the reach of many low- and middle-income countries. What these nations need are completely redesigned scanners, argue biomedical engineer Johnes Obungoloch and radiology researcher Andrew Webb. In these settings, physicians can use scanners with small permanent magnets — which are cheaper than the superconducting magnets usually found in MRI scanners, but have a weaker field — but they need to be confident in understanding the ‘grainier’ images produced by such machines. And funders need to step up to make affordable MRI a reality.

Nature | 10 min read

How to create gender equity in conservation

Only 11% of the top-publishing authors in conservation and ecology are women. Robyn James, Asia-Pacific director of gender and equity at The Nature Conservancy, shares her ideas on how to change this. WomenScientists can support early-career women by encouraging them to apply for positions, modelling diverse leadership styles and providing feedback and mentoring. Organizations should scrutinize their job ads for gendered language and mandatory requirements that aren’t essential to a role but might exclude women. “Unconscious bias is normal and natural, and all of us have it,” James says. But when it influences decision-making, it creates “rippling negative impacts on society and the future of our planet”.

Nature | 9 min read

Time to fall in love with caterpillars

Entomologist David Wagner has described the life histories of hundreds of caterpillars — the humble larval life stage of dazzling butterflies and moths. “I want to write each species account so you want to read one more,” says Wagner. “I want it to be a page-turner.” He marvels over the silvery blue caterpillar (Glaucopsyche lygdamus), which recruits ants as bodyguards by feeding them the sugary liquid it produces, and tells stories of the silver-spotted skipper (Hesperia comma), which shoots poo pellets to confuse parasitic wasps. But he is in a race against time with warming temperatures killing off swathes of insects. “We’re going to solve this climate crisis,” he says. “But it’s going to be too late for a lot of the organisms I love.”

The New Yorker | 34 min read

The benefits of collaborating with amateurs

Four teams of amateur stargazers were among the authors of a study that detailed the deliberate collision between a spacecraft and an asteroid. They watched the impact in real time on their hobby telescopes, and used an app to share the observations with professional astronomers. More researchers in more fields should think about how they can harness their amateur colleagues’ enthusiasm in creative ways, argues a Nature editorial. Checking and calibrating community-collected data takes time — but the payoff is more robust observations.

Nature | 4 min read

Infographic of the week

The drive to bigger AI models: Scatter plot showing the number of parameters used to train AI models from 1950 to 2022.

Source: Adapted from Our World in Data, and from J. Sevilla et al. Preprint at https://arxiv.org/abs/2202.05924 (2022).

Commercial firms are rolling out ever-larger artificial-intelligence (AI) models, with the goal of developing systems that can use reasoning to solve tasks. Some scientists think this ‘bigger is better’ approach will only suck up more electricity, and hope that mimicking aspects of the brain will help AI to become smarter and more energy-efficient. (Nature | 14 min read)

See more of the week’s key infographics, selected by Nature editors.

Quote of the day

"Humans lie and manipulate each other’s emotions all the time, but at least we can reasonably guess at someone’s motivations, agenda and methods. With AI, we can’t.”

Ethicist Carissa Véliz argues that chatbots that use emojis are emotionally manipulative: without appropriate safeguards, the technology could undermine people’s autonomy. (Nature | 5 min read)