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Researchers have trained an artificial-intelligence (AI) system to recognize individual small birds that appear identical. The tool could make ecological fieldwork easier, because scientists often have to catch and tag individual birds so that they can tell them apart. Researchers used feeders rigged with cameras to take the thousands of photos of microchipped birds that were needed to train the system. “Our study provides the means of overcoming one of the greatest limitations in the study of wild birds,” says ecologist André Ferreira.
A project to connect astronomy researchers into family trees on the basis of adviser–student lineages has officially launched, several years after it was first envisioned. The Astronomy Genealogy Project (AstroGen) will allow astronomers to investigate their own academic family tree, as well as enabling science historians and sociologists to study the astronomy community. “With information in the database, it is possible to compare numbers or careers of those earning astronomy-related doctorates for different countries, universities, or time periods,” says Joseph Tenn, AstroGen’s founder and director. The database goes back to 1766, and currently lists more than 28,000 people who have earned astronomy-related doctorates, plus another 5,000 scientists who advised them.
Features & opinion
NASA is days away from launching its Perseverance rover — the first step towards fulfilling a long-standing dream of planetary scientists. If everything goes to plan, Perseverance will arrive on Mars in February 2021 and drive around collecting samples of rock that — one day — other spacecraft will pick up and fly back to Earth. The rocks will become the first samples ever returned from the red planet. They will join a priceless collection of cosmic material brought back from other planetary bodies throughout the space age. From lunar rocks gathered by the Apollo astronauts to shards of a distant asteroid collected by robot spacecraft, these samples of other worlds have reshaped scientific study of the Solar System.
When Namandjé Bumpus declined to lead a new diversity initiative at a scientific society, a white colleague responded, “Why did we let you in, then?” Bumpus, who is the first Black woman to chair a department at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and the only one currently leading a department of pharmacology at any US medical school, describes the overt racism she experiences in academia, and how it is downplayed and excused by white scientists. “Leaders and faculty members must approach creating an anti-racist culture with the same vigour we apply to achieving every other dimension of scientific excellence,” she says.