A happy 2023 – and this was 2022 for me

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As 2022 draws to a close, it’s interesting to look back. The ‘offices’ of Scientific Dutchman (i.e. my home) relocated from Roden to Kampen. This year, I continued to write for the Nederlands Dagblad newspaper (some seven short science news stories per week) and the website geloofenwetenschap.nl (three news items per month). These two were exclusively in Dutch. I also wrote stories for a number of other clients, produced some SEO web texts for a company selling analytical equipment (all in English), gave a talk on developments in reproductive technology for a student society and did some editing for grant applications.

Next year, the short news articles for Nederlands Dagblad will become longer stories with more analysis/comments, which is a nice challenge! I have also been booked for a talk on science and religion in a church, and a guest lecture on science for journalism students.

If you need a news story or press release on a scientific topic, don’t hesitate to contact me! And if you’re writing a grant proposal (e.g. ERC or NWO), feel free to contact me about editorial assistance. Not (just) to dot your i’s and cross your t’s, but to improve the ‘storyline’ in your proposal, and improve the readability of the text.

Wishing you all a happy and productive 2023!

A new way to fight antimicrobial resistance

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I wrote this story to mark the 2021 World Health Organization World Antimicrobial Awareness Week, on new ways to fight antimicrobial resistance using concepts from #ecology and #evolution. Fighting bacteria with bacteria! Work by Marjon de Vos at Faculty of Science and Engineering – University of Groningen and colleagues, featuring Timo van Eldijk:

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Two spotlights on companies in Green Chemistry

For the Chemport Europe website and newsletter, I have written two short articles on companies active in Green Chemistry in the Northern Netherlands. The first is on the Airo Group in Stadskanaal, which produces a range of product groups, based on vegetable oil, for lubrication, greasing and cleaning. Their biodegradable products should be free of hazard labels and have at least the same quality as fossil oil-based products, at a competitive price. This journey started when one of the companies founders, John Borgesius, came back from a bike ride with a chain blackened by dirt sticking to the chain oil.

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Comments on ‘Offener Brief von “Ärzte stehen auf” für einen verhältnismäßigen und evidenzbasierten Umgang mit Sars-Cov2

I was asked on Facebook for my opinion on an Open Letter from a large number of German medical doctors. Apart from posting it in a Facebook discussion, I publish it here, as the questions that are raised in the letter are fairly common.

This letter asks for a scientific debate on covid-19. I fully agree with that. However, the implication of the letter is that right now, the debate is unscientific, some voices are stifled and there is altogether too much panic. I beg to differ. I am not giving a line-by-line analysis, that should take too long. Just a few points that stood out for me.

1) A number of courageous individuals are attacked, ignored, stifled. I don’t know all these names, but one stood out: prof. Ioannidis. He has indeed been criticized. However, what I would like to point out here is that further on in the letter, it is said that the infection rate for covid-19 is comparable to the seasonal flue in Bulletin of the WHO, Article ID BLT.265892. Two remarks on this statement. a) It is presented as a WHO statement, but this is not true. It is a paper published in a WHO journal. b) The author of this paper is prof. Ioannidis. So he is allowed to publish his conclusions. And yes, this elicited criticism (see for example https://rapidreviewscovid19.mitpress.mit.edu/pub/p6tto8hl/release/1), but that is how science works.

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Who is this Scientific Dutchman – and what can he do for you?

Scientific Dutchman is a one-man company. It has a name because that’s required for registration at the Chamber of Commerce. But it is just me: René Fransen. I’ve loved science for as long as I can remember. Eventually, I studied Biology at Utrecht University, where I subsequently did a PhD and a postdoc, both at the University Medical Centre.

In 1995, I took a course in science journalism at SCW in Amsterdam and started to write on science. A year later, I became Science editor at the University of Groningen newspaper Universiteitskrant. In 2012, I moved to the Faculty of Science and Engineering at the same university as ‘Science Writer’, and increased my activities as a freelance science writer and consultant, which became ‘Scientific Dutchman’.

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Resurrected protein reveals the structure of an important enzyme

My last contribution to the University of Groningen website in 2019: an interesting study by enzyme engineer Marco Fraaije and colleagues. They reconstructed the ancestral gene sequence for three human enzymes, expressed the protein and analyzed its structure. (The current enzymes were not stable enough to study, the ancestral ones are!) The result is an interesting paper describing the structure and function of these flavin-containing monooxygenases (FMOs).

Full paper in Nature Structural and Molecular Biology. See also this Nature News & Views commentary.

Two workshops: writing a grant proposal, or a popular summary

I have two workshops on offer for scientists. The Art of Scientific Storytelling tells you how to write your grant proposal as clear and catchy as possible. This workshop has been tried and tested over many years.

Slightly newer, but also well-received, is the Reach Out workshop that will teach you to write a popular summary of your work.

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February limited offer: free abstract editing

Are you working on a grant proposal at the moment, or writing other research-related texts? During the month of February, I am offering free editing on 15 abstracts.

I have been editing dozens of research proposals since 2011, written to different funding agencies, mainly for University of Groningen scholars. I would like to extend my client network (which already includes grant proposals Belgium, Germany and the US), so that’s why I am offering this ‘free trial’.

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Writing for the new Chemport Europe website

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The new Chemport Europe website

One of my clients as a science writer is Chemport Europe, the innovative ecosystem for chemicals and materials in the Northern Netherlands. Chemport Europe works towards a green, sustainable chemistry. The chemistry parks in Delfzijl and Emmen are the main locations for this ecosystem.

Chemport Europe launched their new website on 16 December. For this website, I wrote most of the texts in the section Chain of Products: All texts in  Feedstocks, Intermediate chemicals, and Polymers and materials. It was fascinating to discover how green chemistry is developing in the northern region of the Netherlands. 

Three stories

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This week, three science stories I’ve written were released. The first is on how E. coli has ‘MacGyvered’ a unique mode of membrane transport by combining a selective pore with an active transporter. The resulting protein complex can transport potassium ions against a 10^4 concentration gradient! This discovery was made at the University of Groningen, using their state-of-the-art cryo-electron microscope, and the results were published in Nature Communications. Continue reading