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COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak
The first COVID-19 death in the United States might have occurred in California on 6 February — more than three weeks before the first reported death in Washington state. Three deaths in Santa Clara County between 6 February and 6 March have now been attributed to COVID-19 after autopsies. Similar reports have surfaced elsewhere in recent weeks, including Italy. (Nature | continuously updated)
Senior US-government official Rick Bright says he was abruptly ousted as the chief of the agency in charge of coronavirus-vaccine development because he did not support unproven treatments promoted by US President Donald Trump. “I believe this transfer was in response to my insistence that the government invest the billions of dollars allocated by Congress to address the Covid-19 pandemic into safe and scientifically vetted solutions, and not in drugs, vaccines and other technologies that lack scientific merit,” said Bright in a statement. Following his resignation, unnamed colleagues in the agency have criticized Bright for his leadership style, and for the strategy and pace of decision-making in his department. (Politico | 7 min read)
Jim Yong Kim is building on his reputation for tackling problems that we thought were intractable, earned as director of the World Health Organization’s HIV/AIDS programme and president of the World Bank. With luminaries such as top US doctor Tony Fauci on speed dial, Kim is now dedicating himself to the COVID-19 response — in particular, by spearheading a robust public-health response in Massachusetts. Kim speaks passionately to Nature about his fears for low- and middle-income countries, and why the best thing for the economy is to get the virus under control. (Nature | 6 min read)
Virologist Alyson Kelvin is at the forefront of efforts to develop a coronavirus vaccine in Canada. She describes her whirlwind journey across the country with her laboratory members to join forces with other vaccine researchers and quickly gain funding and permits to work with the virus. (Nature | 4 min read)
Climate-scientist Kate Marvel brings her straight-talking analysis to the question of whether we should be happy that the pandemic is reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. “All this suffering will not make the planet any cooler,” says Marvel. “If the air quality is better now, if fewer people die from breathing in pollution, this is not a welcome development so much as an indictment of the way things were before.” (Drilled News | 3 min read)
Features & opinion
Palaeontologist Jennifer Clack, who made groundbreaking discoveries on the emergence of vertebrates out of water and onto land, died on 26 March at age 72. Clack transformed our knowledge of the four-legged, salamander-like animals that evolved from fish and slowly adapted to surviving outside water, starting 419 million years ago. Some of her most celebrated finds came from a 1987 Greenland trip, inspired by her chance discovery of a specimen in a museum drawer in Cambridge, UK. These finds included animals that had seven or eight toes on each foot. “A happy convergence of brilliance, tenacity, opportunity, generosity and modesty enabled Clack (née Agnew) to rejuvenate an entire research field,” writes Per Ahlberg, one of Clack’s students who was part of her Greenland expedition.
Physicists have been developing a field called quantum thermodynamics, which aims to reconcile the science that propelled the steam machines of the Industrial Revolution with modern quantum mechanics. Theoretician Nicole Yunger Halpern likens this to steampunk, a literary and lifestyle genre that blends science-fiction technology with Victorian style. “‘Quantum steampunk’ unites 21st-century technology with 19th-century scientific principles,” she writes. “The spotlight has swept from trains to nanoscale engines, living cells’ molecular motors and the smallest possible refrigerators.” These researchers confront fundamental questions — such as why the arrow of time points forward — and practical ones on how to engineer future quantum computers.
For some hard-science beauty today, take a look at #ThinSectionThursday: nature’s wonders, from fossils to meteorites, very thinly sliced.
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With contributions by Smriti Mallapaty and Davide Castelvecchi