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Student researchers have used machine learning to read text hidden inside charred, unopenable scrolls from the ancient Roman city of Herculaneum. The newly revealed passages discuss sources of pleasure including music, the colour purple and the taste of capers. The team trained an algorithm on tiny differences in texture where the ink had been, based on three-dimensional computed tomography scans of the scrolls.
Nature | 7 min read
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) plans to propose more stringent testing guidelines for pulse oximeters to ensure they are accurate in people of colour. The devices measure blood oxygen by shining light through a finger. In people with dark skin, they can overestimate oxygen levels, leading to less or delayed medical care. The FDA proposal stipulates that companies test pulse oximeters on at least 24 people whose skin colours span a 10-shade scale.
Nature | 6 min read
Evidence from long-lived marine sponges suggests that the planet has already passed 1.5 °C — a milestone of global warming that nations pledged to avoid in the 2015 Paris climate agreement. The ratio of two elements — strontium and calcium — in the skeletons of Ceratoporella nicholsoni reflects changes in water temperature, making the coral-like sponges a proxy thermometer. The data indicate that the planet had already started to warm in the 1860s, around the time when the first ship-based records of sea-surface temperatures began. The approach is still in its infancy, but could indicate that warming has been hugely underestimated, “by about half a degree”, says coral-reef geochemist and study co-author Malcolm McCulloch.
Nature | 5 min read
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has received its third round of research proposals from astronomers, and it’s experiencing unprecedented demand. Reviewers have sifted through almost 2,000 proposals and will probably approve only one in every nine. “The overwhelming majority of submitted JWST proposals are very good, totally worth doing, absolutely should be done if time allows,” says astronomer Grant Tremblay. “But most of them will be rejected.”
Nature | 5 min read
Features & opinion
The belief that arduous dieting and exercise are the ‘best’ way to lose weight could stigmatize people taking Ozempic, Wegovy and other appetite-curbing drugs, argue anthropologists Alexandra Brewis and Sarah Trainer. People’s fear of being viewed as “not working hard enough, not showing enough discipline or not displaying enough moral fortitude” to achieve drastic weight loss could influence their social lives and emotional well-being. The duo urges pharmaceutical companies, clinicians and researchers to consider this. Support is key, the researchers say: educational programmes and peer networks can help people to navigate the complex emotional and behavioural challenges that come with substantial weight loss.
Nature | 8 min read
Tensions between science and government often arise because policymakers need answers immediately whereas scientists work on longer, methodical timescales, reveals Geoff Mulgan in his book When Science Meets Power. “It seems to me that this relationship will always be a seesaw, with power rocking back and forth as times, places, situations and players change,” writes reviewer and public-policy researcher Rhona Mijumbi. Both sides can learn from the rare times when science and government are allied, for example the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nature | 6 min read
Merit-based systems for allocating international funding to African research funnel the vast majority of grants to rich countries and prestigious institutions. The hub-and-spoke model aims to distribute resources in ways that balance merit with equity to meet the needs of African researchers, explains Susan Gichoga, a grants specialist at the Science for Africa Foundation. A centralized hub, usually an African research centre or university, receives funding and then allocates money to auxiliary institutions. This way “funders can be assured that their R&D resources are having a wide reach, and are furthering the equity, impact and research output of the programmes”, Gichoga says.
Nature | 5 min read
In mathematics, an ‘optimal shape’ is the most extreme version of a simple shape, whether it’s a Möbius strip, a twisted paper cylinder or a trefoil knot. Topology devotees have identified a handful of such shapes in recent years. Each new discovery is about minimizing the amount of paper or string used to make the shape. “Everyone can get a piece of paper and put a twist in it and play with it and get a feeling for math,” says mathematician Elizabeth Denne.
Where I work
“When I retired at 60, I realized I had time for palaeontology,” says Heather Middleton, who trawls England’s Jurassic Coast for fossils. She has now collected more than 2,000 specimens, many of which she has donated to research. Clambering around the rocks to the fossil site is “a little dangerous at my age — I will celebrate my 80th birthday this year — but I have no intention of stopping”. (Nature | 3 min read)
Today, I’m enjoying thrilling storytelling with Tech Zone Daily’s call for six-word sci-fi stories about the first de-extincted woolly mammoths.
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Katrina Krämer, associate editor, Nature Briefing
With contributions by Flora Graham and Sarah Tomlin
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