The AAAS annual meeting, one of the biggest global science conferences, took place in Vancouver, BC, on February 16-20. With an attendance of about 8,000 participants from all over the world, including myself, this science conference mixed presentations of peer-reviewed studies, workshops for scientists and scientific communicators, and public family events, all aimed at encouraging kids and adults alike to explore the world through a scientific lens.
Despite the meeting’s theme, “Flattening the World, Building a Global Knowledge Society”, which could come off as rather anachronistic to a science community that has long agreed on a circular world view, the science being discussed was as cutting-edge as you can get.
For example, Dr. Robert Langer, professor at MIT, presented the world’s first microchip that, when implanted under one’s skin, can dispense minute amounts of drugs on a regular basis, thus avoiding the pain of daily injections, or the perils of forgetfulness.
Dr. Mark J. Post, professor of vascular physiology at Masstricht University, gave a very fascinating talk about his latest endeavor, “test-tube” burgers, an attempt to make meat from animal stem cells which he says will drastically reduce the environmental problems caused by animal farming, improve animal welfare, and reduce the occurrence of food borne disease. Unfortunately, Dr. Post was very secretive about his methodology, and his source of funding, which he only described as a wealthy financier who “realizes that meat production is going rapidly into crisis”.
Will this test-tube meat be available in supermarkets any time soon? Probably not. When a reporter asked Dr. Post, a non-vegetarian, if he had tasted his “slaughter-free” meat, he answered: “I haven’t yet because it is too small to actually cook”.
CERN’s director, Sergio Bertolucci, provided a run-down of the latest developments in the world’s most famous physics laboratory, and alluded to the highly anticipated CERN announcements to come: the possible discovery of the Higgs boson, a particle that, if found, will lend indisputable support to the Standard Model of physics, due to be announced towards the end of March, and the “faster-than-light” neutrinos, a controversial discovery that is currently being verified by a team of independent scientists whose results will be announced this Summer.
This year’s meeting focused on the global challenges of the 21st century, such as climate change, food security, and disease, and the strategies that are being explored by the science community to remedy these. It was enlightening both from a scientific and a journalistic standpoint, as I soon found out that being a member of the press at this conference had its advantages, which included a gala reception for all the reporters at the Vancouver Aquarium, free Wi-Fi for live tweeting, a daily “press breakfast”, where representatives from such organizations as the European Union talked about their science programs to reporters from various news outlets like the BBC and Wired Magazine, and, of course, enough free coffee to keep every jet-lagged reporter awake for five days.
I remember being a kid and realizing for the first time that the TV show story-lines did not just materialize out of thin air. People actually write those story-lines! Strangely enough, I had that same experience a few years ago with the science articles I was reading in newspapers. Someone had actually managed to make a career out of writing about science. Amazing!
For me, this weekend, was not only about meeting the scientists that dedicate their lives to the furthering of knowledge, but also about meeting the writers who work tirelessly to explain each new gain in humanity’s collective knowledge, and its impact on our lives. I would like to thank the Canadian Science Writer’s Association for sponsoring this science writer’s trip to the AAAS annual meeting.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science or AAAS (pronounced triple-A-S) is the largest general science society, responsible for publishing three very well regarded peer-reviewed journals, including Science. This 178th edition of the annual meeting marked the first time Vancouver has served as host for the annual meeting. The last Canadian AAAS annual meeting took place in Toronto, in 1981.