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View this email in your browser Thursday 9 June 2022
Nature Briefing

Hello Nature readers,
Today we hear that the James Webb Space Telescope has been dinged by a tiny micrometeoroid (but it’s OK). Plus, we dice with pretend ethical dilemmas and go under the ice of the world’s largest freshwater lake with the Baikal seal.

Image of the star 2MASS J17554042+6551277, with a red filter to optimize visual contrast, and other stars and galaxies in the background.
A crystal-clear image of a distant star was captured as part of a test shot to calibrate Webb’s 18 hexagonal mirrors. (NASA/STScI)

Webb Space Telescope dinged by debris

The James Webb Space Telescope has been hit by a micrometeoroid, a small piece of space debris. NASA says the strike to one of the telescope’s primary mirror segments won’t affect its performance. The pioneering space telescope was engineered to withstand micrometeoroid impacts, although the strike was larger than scientists had modelled. Still, the agency says the telescope is performing as it should. Webb’s first full-colour images are scheduled to be released next month.

The Washington Post | 6 min read

An app for ethical dilemmas in research

An app that turns research ethics into a thought-provoking game aims to get scientists talking about issues they might previously have had to grapple with alone. The Dilemma Game presents a thorny scenario and asks players to choose from four solutions, with new questions added each month. “There isn’t a right answer,” says Nick den Hollander, a senior policy officer at Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands, where the game was developed. Instead, you get an expert review written by Erasmus University’s dean of philosophy, and pointers as to which answer would hew closest to Dutch research-integrity guidance. “The aim is to try to make you think about why you chose a particular answer.”

Nature | 4 min read

Max Planck Society’s autonomy questioned

The German constitution grants the prestigious Max Planck Society (MPS) the freedom to organize its own structures and procedures, without political interference. That autonomy has been called into question by seven former and current directors of MPS research institutes who have been demoted or threatened with demotion after investigations into allegations of non-scientific misconduct. They say the society’s procedures suffer from bias and a lack of transparency. The statements build on criticisms raised by high-profile scientists about how the MPS treats female leaders and how it handled the case of a former MPI director, archaeologist Nicole Boivin. The MPS says it stands by its decisions.

Nature | 6 min read

Swiss funder revamps the academic CV

The Swiss National Science Foundation is set to roll out a ‘narrative’ CV format for grant applications this year, as part of a move to showcase achievements beyond publication lists. The standardized structure includes a section that invites applicants to present four narratives describing their most important contributions to science. Another feature is ‘academic age’: researchers can remove interruptions and periods of non-academic work from their CV. Parents, for example, can deduct time spent on child-rearing.

Nature | 6 min read

Features & opinion

Science in Africa podcast: what women need

In this week’s Science in Africa podcast, mathematician Angela Tabiri and public-health physician Adidja Amani explore how to stem the loss of talented female scientists because of the barriers they face in society. “This is a very tough question, particularly in Africa, where roles are usually defined by gender. Where even when you are in a high-level meeting people think that it's the woman who should bring coffee,” says Amani. Support for mothers is a key factor, they tell Akin Jimoh, chief editor of Nature Africa.

Nature Careers Podcast | 33 min listen
Subscribe to the Nature Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Spotify.

Fly to space to face the pollution problem

A wonderfully illustrated feature takes us into space to grapple with the full scale and intensity of space debris in low Earth orbit. The story steps through the incidents that spewed the worst of the space pollution — both accidental and intentional — and what can be done about it. It also visualizes the real orbit paths of tracked debris. It’s not time to panic, say space-junk specialists, but a stitch in time saves nine. “It is simultaneously not a disaster, but also the most important time to act,” says Laurence Blacketer, a space situational-awareness scientist.

The Financial Times | 13 min read

Under the ice with the Baikal seal

Baikal seals are found only in the world’s largest freshwater lake. Pusa sibirica — known to locals as nerpas — inhabit the crystal-clear waters of Lake Baikal in Siberia. Photographer Dmitry Kokh shares stunning images, including plenty of fluffy, big-eyed pups, taken on and under the ice sheet that covers the lake in spring.

The Guardian | 5 min read

For anyone anxious over the news that the James Webb Space Telescope got pinged by a micrometeoroid, astrophysicist Thomas Connor points out that in 1970, the telescope mirror at the McDonald Observatory in the United States was shot seven times and hit with a hammer and was left “essentially unimpaired”. It resumed its observing programme the following night. Phew!

Help keep this newsletter going strong by sending us your feedback. Your e-mails are always welcome at [email protected].

Thanks for reading,
Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing
With contributions by Nicky Phillips

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