Each year, Popular Science seeks out the brightest young scientists and engineers and names them the Brilliant Ten. Like the 110 honorees before them, the members of this year's class are dramatically reshaping their fields--and the future. Some are tackling pragmatic questions, like how to secure the Internet, while others are attacking more abstract ones, like determining the weather on distant exoplanets. The common thread between them is brilliance, of course, but also impact. If the Brilliant Ten are the faces of things to come, the world will be a safer, smarter, and brighter place.--The Editors
University of Southern California
Inventing a new set of scientific tools
Some scientists use instruments to reinvent our understanding of the world. Andrea Armani, a chemical engineer at the University of Southern California, prefers to reinvent the instruments themselves. Armani develops sensors that are speeding scientific discovery across many fields. They may also serve as detectors for biological weapons, waterborne pathogens, or radioactivity.
Armani has built what's called a resonant cavity sensor to detect single molecules quickly and accurately. "It works like an optical tuning fork," she says. Light of a single wavelength circles within the sensor's microscopic silica ring, just as one note vibrates from the tines of a tuning fork. When a biomolecule attaches to the sensor's surface, it changes the wavelength. Armani says one might use the device to detect traces of disease that other techniques miss. Recently, she's also started experiments to better understand how drugs bind to their targets.
Armani's devices outstrip the capabilities of standard optics. Some can withstand temperature swings without losing precision; others can pick up proteins in dry air. She wants them to work in real-world conditions and approaches the task with impressive efficiency. "Industrial R&D, if done right, should be very results focused, aware of the tyranny of time," says Robert Carnes, former R&D director for the research firm Battelle. "She can out-industry industry."
Click here to see more from our annual celebration of young researchers whose innovations will change the world. This article originally appeared in the October 2013 issue of Popular Science.
This is a very unfortunate highlight. Andrea Armani very likely did not detect molecules "one at a time" as claimed in her Science article in 2007. Her single molecule "signals" have never been reproduced, and the theory used to explain the "signals" reported in that article used molecular parameters larger than those allowed by physical law by more than 1000 times. Quite simply, in order to detect single molecules her "optical tuning fork" would have required more than 1000 times the sensitivity than it had.
In addition Andrea Armani did not invent this area of research and technology. That was done years before her research started.
I, too, find it very disappointing and unfortunate that Popular Science chose someone like Andrea Armani as one of the science persons of the year. Much of Armani’s achievement today (her fame, funding, and position) derives from her publication on "single molecule detection"
published in Science in 2007 (Vol. 317 no. 5839 pp. 783-787, www.sciencemag.org/content/317/5839/783.abstract), and yet this work has received considerable criticism and disapproval from researchers specializing in this field, to the degree that many believe this work should be withdrawn from the Science magazine.
Here are a few major reasons: (i) neither Armani herself nor anyone else has been able to replicate the findings, (ii) an article published in Optics Express ( Vol. 18, 281-287, 2010, www.opticsinfobase.org oe/abstract.cfm?uri=oe-18-1-281) clearly explains why the findings of Armani's work are far from what can be achieved in her experimental settings, and why the findings cannot be explained by Armani et al’s arguments, and (iii) Armani and her group have not been able to respond to the criticisms.
In addition, as the above comment by sarnold rightfully pointed out, Armani has not invented the devices -- she has been using the devices invented by others long before her career started. It is also NOT true that the Armani group has invented a device that "pick up proteins in dry air" or "withstand temperature swings without losing precision" -- none of the work published by her group or listed in the website of her group indicate they achieved these.
It is a shame that unsupported claims are being made to honor someone that is undeserving such a prestigious honor. I am really disappointed by this choice of Popular Science. This choice raises questions about the criteria that Popular Science uses in choosing science people of the year. Armani is a very unfortunate choice given the fact that there are many in the field with much better contributions deserving this kind of recognition.
I loudly echo the comments posted by “Sarnold935” and “ethics_in_science”.
1. A number of articles (including the original article published at Optics Express by Arnold and the following review articles by others) have pointed out the apparent inconsistencies/error, and raising strong concerns about the findings published in that Science paper.
2. No one could re-produce the results published in Science in the past 6 years.
3. No follow-up work. If this had been a scientific breakthrough, the authors should have published more papers for the community to follow. Sounds something weird?
4. On the contrary, there is an Erratum published at Science on December 16, 2011.
5. In addition to the error pointed out by Arnold, there are a number of other errors in that Science paper. For those who are interested, look carefully at Fig. 2. It is highly suspected that those errors were not made unintentionally.
6. I strongly urge Popular Science to retract Armani’s “Brilliant Ten”, which would otherwise cause significant damage to the magazine’s reputation, and in a long run, to the sensing community in general. I still remember reading Popular Science when I was at college school and always admired those who devoted themselves to science and technology that could eventually benefit the entire society. It is sad to see PS made such a mistake this time.
I would like to support Sarnold935's comment. The fact that Sarnold935 is non anonymous (as evident by Googling his name) makes his remarks even more creditable.
Further, Science Erratum speaks for itself:
Reports: “Label-free, single-molecule detection with optical microcavities” by A.
M. Armani et al. (10 August 2007, p. 783). The authors reported the use of optical
microresonators immersed in aqueous solutions and functionalized with antibodies to
detect small concentrations of the analytes recognized by the antibodies. The report
presented discontinuities in the resonant response, which the authors took to represent the responses from binding individual analyte molecules. The amplitude of these
discontinuities was too large to be caused by the direct effect of the analyte binding;
to explain their large size, the authors proposed a thermo-optic effect, in which local
heating of the resonator surface from light-analyte interaction amplified the effects of
analyte binding. However, as noted by Arnold et al. [Optics Express 18, 281 (2010)], the
thermo-optic effect cannot account for the size of the discontinuities. The origin of the
large wavelength discontinuities is being investigated by several independent efforts.
It seems that PopSci did not learn anything from the Cold Fusion scandal. The only fact that is well described in the PopSci paper appears in the nice drawing showing Armani and her group
This drawing teaches us that the current situation is even worth than cold fusion, as tax payer money is still wasted and the heritage of irreproducible results (and issues raised above by PS and Ethics) is continuing to a new generation.
Lastly, I would like to raise a related very-delicate issue and I will try to be as gentle as I can. Let me ask the authors of this PopSci paper on a situation when they have to choose between two scientists when one of them is non women, non american, and non good looking. Wont these irrelevant facts tilt the balance?
Support Sarnold935, ethics, ps, and Osnat.
1. Cold Fusion report can be found here (interestingly the inventor's name is Andrea Rossi)
2. Both cases remind me of another one: Jan Schon at Bell Labs (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sch%C3%B6n_scandal)
3. By reading the Erratum of the Science paper, the authors have already admitted their results are wrong (at least partially wrong in their theoretical analysis). The question is (1) why they refused to withdraw the paper? (2) Is experimental part wrong too? Based on the previous inputs, it seems no one in the world can re-produce their result (even the authors). Do they owe an explanation to the scientists worldwide?
4. As the Science paper has been admittedly wrong, why Armani keeps receiving awards and honors based on this work? (According to Scopus, after 2007, that Science paper has 446 citations. An immediate next, excluding the review articles, has a citation of only 24. Therefore, that faulty Science paper has brought her a lot of fame (or shame as well?))
Considering the support that my original comment has garnered from "ethics in science and publishing", "ps", "Osnat", and "Jung", along with their detailed references that I have confirmed, I believe that instead of a Brilliant 10 Award, Andrea Armani's signature paper in Science should undergo a careful examination by ethics panels at both CALTECH and USC.
I urge others who are familiar with this work to post their comments, and thank PopSci for this Democratic Forum.