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02/19/2013

Behind the scenes at the world's largest general science meeting

Behind the scenes at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston:

In recent years, a new word has firmly established itself in the lexicon of millenials: FOMO. It's actually an acronym, and it stands for Fear Of Missing Out.

FOMO is usually used to explain what drives otherwise rational young people to take expensive cabs to pointless parties halfway across the city on Friday night when they actually don't really feel like going out. But FOMO is also, I think, the only appropriate term to explain the palpable science of anxiety one could detect amongst reporters covering the AAAS meeting -- particularly those here for the first time, like me.

This five-day affair is the largest general science meeting in the world, and the program guide is as thick as an issue of Vanity Fair. At any given hour starting at 8 a.m. every morning, there were more than a dozen panels, symposia, and special events to choose from. All of them featured leaders of various scientific fields -- from particle physics to conservation biology to aquaculture -- and most of the panels revealed cutting-edge research.

Saturday, I chose a symposium on using groundbreaking plant science to solve global food supply problems, knowing I was missing a news briefing on brain-machine engineering.

I learned about incredible new advances in biofortification -- the practice of engineering foods to carry more vitamins and nutrients, like the Vitamin-A rich "Golden Rice." Expect to see more about that in the Star in the future.

I missed scientists showing how flexible wireless devices, applied to the skin like a temporary tattoo, can monitor wearers' brain signals -- alerting doctors, for example, when premature babies go into seizure.

Short of time travel, the only solution to the overpowering FOMO was to breathe deeply (as a corollary: maybe try to average less then 48 fluid ounces of coffee a day).

Kate Allen is the Star's global science and technology reporter. Follow her on Twitter @katecallen

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