Vol. 3, Issue 2, July 2013

Jul 122013

David Huesmann (d.huesmann@uni-mainz.de) is a doctoral candidate at the department of chemistry in Mainz, a member of the Max Planck Graduate Center, and an editor for JUnQ. He obtained his diploma in chemistry at Johannes Gutenberg- University in 2011. His research focuses on the synthesis of polypeptidic nanoparticles for drug delivery.

Science has always been about breaking boundaries, but can scientists go too far? Are there boundaries that scientist should not overstep? And if so who defines these boundaries? A critical area is so called dual use research that is aimed at civilian and peaceful applications, but has also potential uses in war and terrorism. The most promi- nent example is possibly nuclear technology, which can be used to construct nuclear power plants on the one hand and weapons of mass destruction on the other. But also everyday technologies like the global positioning system (GPS) are problematic. Here they help me to navigate my car through an unknown city, but in crisis regions the same technology is used to effectively guide missiles that kill people. Research on dual use topics is often controversial and in the end it boils down to the questions: Is the (potential) benefit greater than the risk? And where does the freedom of researchers end?

Read more: The Limits of Freedom in Science – Dual Use Research

Jul 122013

Dr. Klaus-Dieter Röker (Roeker@t-online.de) received his doctoral degree in chemistry in 1974 from TU Clausthal. After his business career with Continental AG and TÜV NORD AG (Chairman of the Management Board) he followed his interest in the history of chemistry. From 2007 to 2010 he had lectureships for the history of chemistry and organic chemistry at the Stiftungsuniversität Hildesheim. 2012 he published the non-fiction book “Chemische Zeitreisen”.

Science in danger – shifting the feeding bowl for scientists. With this spectacular headline in October 2012 the internet magazine SPIEGEL ONLINE pinpointed the increasing importance of utilitarianism in research. What is it good for? According to Professor Gerd FOLKERS (*1953, professor for Pharmaceutical Chemistry) this ubiquitous question is limiting the freedom of the scientists to follow their own ideas. At a first glance a discussion on the interrelation between chemistry and freedom seems to be rather artificial. But at a second glance it might be worthwhile to reflect on. Might be that a short look into history is appropriate.

Read more: Chemistry and Freedome – a Historical Approach

Jul 122013

Every research project begins with an idea. But for an idea to be put into practice another resource is generally required, which is scarce: money. While the allocation of money to research takes place in different ways, it is probably fair to say that research funding organizations play a crucial and ever-growing role in this regard.

In Germany, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation), a membership association under private law with its members being mainly universities, is the most important organization of this kind. We talked to Dr. Robert Paul Königs, head of the department of scientific affairs at the DFG, about the role of third-party funds for science and the humanities, the characteristics of the German funding system, and the principles of DFG funding.

Read more: Research Funding in Germany

Jul 122013

Ingo Werner Gerhartz (i.gerhartz@gmx.de) is a doctoral candidate at the department of phi- losophy in Mainz and a member of the Gutenberg Academy since 2013. He obtained his M.A. of philosophy and hellenistic studies at Johannes- Gutenberg University in 2008. His research focuses on the concept of guilt in classical greek tragedy, myth and practical philosophy.

Philosophy, one might argue, primarily concerns itself with unsolved questions. Out of these, the question of freedom has certainly proven to be one of the most difficult. This is not so much owed to a lack of empirical data or it being such a lofty endeavor of academic interest that it eludes rational solution. Rather, we will see that by nature of its subject, the very act of asking the question itself creates the difficulties it struggles to overcome.

Read more: Freedom as a Problem

Jul 122013

Dear Reader,

The freedom of scientific inquiry is a societal good worthy of being highly valued and protected. And especially today it is. As I am writing this editorial note, the sun is blazing outside on a hot summer day, and I am experiencing quite vividly some of the freedom I enjoy as a scientist: in delighting contrast to someone working, say, in an upscale business firm, I do not have to adhere to any rigid dress- code or work time schedule and I can decide for myself when and where I will be working on what. So right now I am at home, with open windows, no shoes, a cool drink, and I just decided that right now I could take the time and write something for JUnQ. There you go: academic freedom.
But let’s try and be serious. At first glance, most of you will not question the initial statement, I assume. And in- deed: If our aim and societal mandate as scientists is to produce genuine and independent knowledge – or even find “truth” (as some actually think they can) – it is obviously crucial that we enjoy freedom, liberties on various different levels. I see mainly two: (1) The “freedom to” do scientific research, in the sense of being (en)able(d) to dispose of the appropriate means and resources such as time, money and equipment. (2) The “freedom of/from” interference, censorship, or even repression by other parties, for example if our research should entail conclusions that do not go in accordance with popular (or some ideological) belief or knowledge. The freedom of science appears to be a tricky thing. With this issue of JUnQ, we try to shed some light on the different meanings and values freedom carries with respect to science as a whole, disciplines or the individual researcher.
Most international legal systems include regulations to provide and protect freedom for academia in these two respects. In Germany, academic freedom is granted as a fundamental right by article 5 (par. 3) of the constitution: “Art and science, research and teaching are free.” With this regulation, the state protects the scientific community mainly from governmental intervention and takes on the responsibility to establish universities and enable research. Over the last years, the understanding of what the “freedom of science” is or how it is to be fostered has undergone some changes. A good example is the “Freedom of Science Initiative” launched by the German government in 2008. Its aim is to grant non-university research institutions more free- dom in the form of flexibility when allocating their funds, which in turn shall promote their effectiveness. The socalled “Wissenschaftsfreiheitsgesetz” (Academic Freedom Act) of 2012 permits research institutions the acquisition of third party funding to attract or hold high-level researchers, and facilitates the acquisition of shares in external companies. Naturally, these new liberties come with a new and increased set of individual responsibilities for research institutions such as monitoring and auditing procedures.[1] So far, so good. However, this newly won freedom also seems to bring along the displacement of traditional forms of scientific self-regulation in research institutions by market principles like competitive constraints, opening up academic structures more to external (economic) parties and their demands and affecting the internal structure of scientific institutions (mainly by strengthening the management level). This is where the individual active researcher and her individual freedom of choice comes to mind, and one has to wonder whether it is her who gains freedom in the process or the institution, its directing board, or high prestige “flagship researchers”, respectively.
The recourse to means from third party funding has always been a part of the German academic system. Over time however, third party funding has gone from an “extra” to a vital resource for scientific research, at public universities as well. This has been subject to a lot of controversy, with critics sensing a potential threat to the integrity of scientific inquiry and a severe infringement to the individual researcher’s independence in choosing subjects or questions to study: The amount of third party funding acquired alone can influence a scientific career. The German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG) is the largest and most important funding agency in the country. To find out about the impact this logic of fund- ing may have on the freedom of academic research, Thomas Jagau talked to Dr. Robert Paul K?nigs, DFG’s head of the department of scientific affairs (pp. XVIII).
But scientific research not only depends on monetary re- sources, of course. As mentioned above, intellectual freedom from ideologically motivated censorship is just as important – the freedom to ask questions, even if they are not en vogue; the freedom to publish answers that are not popular. Dependence on paradigms and disciplinary trends but also the influence of non-scientific doctrines can restrict research. How this can affect entire disciplines is demonstrated by chemist and chemistry historian Klaus R?ker (pp. XXI). He shows how scientific knowledge is always embedded in the intellectual and social context of its time and how it is determined by political, socio-economic or religious influences.
On the micro level of things, and from the perspective of individual scientists, freedom is first and foremost an object of desire. It is particularly young scholars who often find themselves in a complex net of dependencies – from their supervisors, scholarship providers, the next (and next, and next) fixed-term and part-time contract, and the like. Hence, ever higher degrees of independence in doing their research is what most scientists strive for. This kind of freedom increases with seniority and merit, from students to graduates, to doctors, professors, and so on. Since in academia, the only one forcing you to go on is yourself – are we left with the paradoxical (or tragic?) situation that acquiring greater amounts of freedom requires increasing willingness to engage in self-exploitation? Is freedom something we should maybe consider stop striving for? This is just polemic, of course. Putting a different spin on our cover topic, philosopher Ingo Gerhartz shows that asking this question anyway may indeed be heuristically useful. In his essay, he regards “Freedom as a Problem” that could possibly prevent us from gaining any knowledge at all (pp. XVII). JUnQ’s David
Huesmann turns to secondary uses of scientifically generated knowledge that is intended for peaceful applications, but may in the wrong hands have disastrous impacts (think of nuclear technology). He also asks whether there should be limits to scientific freedom when it comes to the possibility of such dual use (pp. XXIII).
Along with our “magazine” section you will of course also find the latest articles on null result research and open questions we received, at the core – and heart – of this issue. It is these contributions that exemplify the idea behind JUnQ: Making use of your freedom as a scientist to publish the results you produced by doing good academic work and making them accessible for fellow researchers – even if they do not fit current paradigmatic views or common expectations. We would like to thank all contributors for being a part of is idea and extend an invitation to you to send us your “failed” science for the next issue of JUnQ. We are looking forward to it.

I wish you an enjoyable read,
— Tobias Boll

[1] http://www.bmbf.de/en/12268.php (last access 20.06.2013)

Jul 122013

We are proud to present the sixth issue of the Journal of Unsolved Questions. In this issue titled “Freedom of Science” you can take a look at different viewpoints on scientific freedom, from philosophy to chemistry. In our Interview with Dr. Paul Königs you can read about how the DFG wants to ensure freedom in funding. And in the article from L. Müchler and C. Felser you can find out why they ask for a little bit more realism when it comes to predicting half metallic ferromagnets.

Enjoy the new issue and let us know what you think in the comments!

— David Huesmann on behalf of the Editorial Board

JUnQ Volume 3, Issue 2, July 2013
Jul 102013

Philipp Rahea,b, Stefan Kuhna, Angelika Kühnlea

aInstitut für Physikalische Chemie, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, Duesbergweg 10-14, 55099 Mainz, Germany
bDepartment of Physics and Astronomy, The University of Utah, 115 South 1400 East, 84112 Salt Lake City, UT, USA

JUnQ, 3, 2, OQ, 21-25, 2013 (Received 14.05.2013, resubmitted 05.06.2013, accepted 30.06.2013, published online 10.07.2013)

Calcium carbonate (CaCO3) is one of the most abundant simple salts in nature. It is found in the shells of molluscs such as slugs or sea shells, where it combines with organic molecules to materials with remarkable properties named biominerals. To understand, imitate, and control the formation process of these biominerals, they have been the focus in a vast number of recent studies. Most interestingly, calcium carbonate has been discussed being related to the homochirality of life. This aspect became evident in studies, where the adsorption of amino acids has been demonstrated not only to be enantiospecific, but also to influence enantiospecific the macroscopic growth. Although it is established that the bulk-truncated structure
of the most stable calcite (10̅14) surface is achiral due to a glide plane symmetry, the existence of a chiral surface structure has been claimed from studying the phase selection of calcium carbonate. As this finding violates the bulk-truncated symmetry properties, it has been discussed controversially, eventually resulting in a correction of the previous statement. Here, we briefly revisit the symmetry properties of the calcite (10̅14) surface, unambiguously concluding that the bulk-truncated surface is achiral. Furthermore, we present clear evidence that one surface property, the already observed, so-called row-pairing reconstruction, can violate the remaining symmetry element and would, thus, create a chiral surface. We critically analyze the existence of this row-pairing reconstruction and give arguments for and against its existence. Based on AFM experiments, we describe a strategy to identify the enantiomers and, furthermore, show that the enantiomer does not change from terrace to terrace on the surface. However, due to the given ambiguity on the existence of the row-pairing reconstruction, the question whether the calcite (10̅14) surface is chiral remains open.

Read more: Is Calcite (1014) a Chiral Surface?

Jul 102013

Felix Spenkuch

Institute of Pharmacy and Biochemistry Johannes Gutenberg-Universit&#228t, Mainz, Germany

JUnQ, 3, 2, OQ, 17-20, 2013 (Received 28.04.2013, accepted 22.06.2013, published online 10.07.2013)

In the central dogma of molecular biology DNA (deoxynucleic acid) is transcribed into RNA (ribonucleic acid) which in turn makes the protein. 60 years after the creation of this dogma, however, it is clear that RNA is much more than the transient copy of DNA. A special subgroup of RNA molecules also transfers the aminoacids to the protein making machinery, thereby requiring a delicate balance of conformational uniformity and flexibility. In addition, RNA carries out many regulatory functions and is, in particular, the catalytic component of the proteinmaking machinery of the ribosome. It is understood today that RNA has to be heavily and specifically modified to carry out all these complex functions: The four building blocks known at the beginning of RNA research (adenosine, cytidine, guanosine, and uridine) are extended to 160 to date, numbers growing. Pseudouridine (&#968), the so called ‘fifth nucleoside’, is a C-C-glycosidic isomer of uridine and is as abundant as the four canonical bases. While its function is only partly understood, the mechanism of its formation by the action of enzymes called &#968-synthases, is even more nebulous. This article sums up information obtained by using the mechanistic probe 5-fluorouridine (5FU) on &#968-synthases: Three mechanisms were proposed to date of which none is solidly proven or disproven. Recent results show, however, that 5-fluorouridine may not form a reaction intermediate of usual &#968-formation, as expected, but may react by a totally different mechanism. Could new mechanistic probes and simulations help to elucidate the mechanism of these marvelous enzymes?

Read more: How Do Pseudouridine Synthases Work?

Jun 062013

Lukas Muechler and Claudia Felser

Max-Planck-Institut fuer Chemische Physik fester Stoffe, 01187 Dresden, Germany

JUnQ, 3, 2, Articles, 6–9, 2013 (Received 06.05.2013, accepted 26.05.2013, published online 06.06.2013)

In this paper we critically examine recent claims about half metallic ferromagnetism in open p-shell systems.
Odd valence electron compounds like CaAs have been predicted to show a 100 % spin polarization
at the Fermi level, if they can be grown in the zincblende structure. It has furthermore been argued that
this should be possible under special conditions. We will give several arguments against this claim based
on concepts from chemistry and density functional calculations.

Read more: Predicting Half Metallic Ferromagnets - A Little Bit More Realism Please