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Friday, 4 July 2008

A week at the ABSW

Student Karen Manser spent a few days helping Barbie Drillsma in the ABSW office. Here, she reflects on the experience…

Science journalism is as we know it a new branch of reporting that conveys information about science to the public. However, the communication of scientific knowledge requires a unique relationship between the world of science and news media. This link is accomplished through the rather constructive ABSW.

As an aspiring science journalist myself understanding how this link is made possible is a prerequisite. Thus, undertaking work experience at the Wellcome Wolfson building for only a couple of days helping out with general administration duties it became easy to appreciate the vast amount of hard work contributing to linking science journalists with the news media. Also, how the ABSW helps those who aspire to become skilful science communicators. As a student with the ambition to become a science writer acknowledgement of the ABSW is preordained.

The principle of the ABSW as we all recognise is to arrange social events, briefings and seminars with science journalists. One particular event organised by the student committee member Carolyn Kelday embarked to guide and encourage aspiring science journalists. Science journalists from the Guardian and BBC were brought together with aspiring students to give pointers and answer questions the students raised. This was a success and many students went home full of information to help them make the right steps towards becoming science journalists themselves. This is just one successful event organised by the ABSW.

During the work experience at the ABSW undertaking particular tasks widened my comprehension of the widespread involvement the ABSW has. In helping to update the ABSW database a wide variety of members had to be contacted - ranging from aspiring journalists to professional print and broadcast journalists, scriptwriters, authors and producers, as well as retired life members. With these connections the ABSW provides a wealth of excellent opportunities to explore the science journalism profession.

The work the ABSW achieves in connecting students with journalist practising in the profession is vital as the amount of scientific news continues to grow rapidly with science playing a central role in society. The public rely heavily on science for their health, new discoveries, treatment for disease to inform us of true facts of which they can trust to help them lead better lives. The ABSW continues the improving of standards of science journalism in the UK.

Karen has already written for the London Student Paper...

Feel the love of science

Published 11th February 2008, The London Student Newspaper, Europe’s largest student newspaper.

By Karen Manser

So Valentine’s Day is with us again. We may experience feelings of euphoria, rhapsody, comfort, or even rejection from that special someone. But how are we first attracted to someone? Why do we fall in love? While the science of love is still quite new, researchers have been busy searching for answers.

American anthropologist Helen Fisher has suggested that love develops in three stages, from first sight to matrimony.

It takes between 90 seconds and 4 minutes of meeting a man or woman, to decide whether they are a suitable partner- a subconscious decision on whether they have ‘good genes’. This first stage, lust, is driven by the hormones testosterone and oestrogen. It’s at this stage the sexual part of love is ‘switched’ on.

Next comes the lovesick stage. Symptoms include loss of appetite, reduced need for sleep as you stay awake day-dreaming. This may all seem counter productive to attracting your love, but your biochemistry is to blame. Scientists have found that a group of neurotransmitters known at monoamines come into play as you constantly pine for your new love. The important key players in this stage are hormones dopamine, adrenaline and serotonin. These are also activated cocaine, make us sweat and raise our heart beat, and can send someone temporarily insane.

So what is the nature achieving by making us falling in love? It not only stops us looking for another partner be it temporary or permanent but ultimately love is needed between two individuals to enable us to reproduce and bear children to keep the human race thriving. Unlike chimpanzees, Children need to stay with their parents for much longer than seven years.
This is where the final stage of love, attachment, kicks in. This is the bond that keeps long-term couples together. And involve hormones oxytocin and vasopressin.

Oxytocin is commonly associated with a mother-child bond, as it helps to stimulate breast milk and is released during child birth. But it is also released by men and women during love making. And so, the theory goes, the more sex a couple has, the deeper their bond becomes. Hence, having sex too soon when you meet someone can cause someone to foolishly fall in love for the wrong person!

So what can science tell us about infidelity? Molecular biologists have been able to alter the hormones of meadow voles, so that they stay faithful to one female. Researchers at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia discovered the biological difference between a faithful male vole and those that like the company of more than one female. According to the scientists, fewer receptors for the vasopressin hormone are present in the more promiscuous voles. The receptors of the faithful male are plentiful, increasing bonding during sexual intercourse. The difference caused by a single gene. This can be altered by introducing a virus to produce a mutant gene.

Also, recently scientists have been also to switch on genes to make fruit flies gay. But is this ethical? Can we, or should we, apply this to humans? For thousands of years, people have searched for love potions to capture the heart of their most desired and scientists are now making this dream a possibility.