“This is a piece for Delaware Today about young girls losing interest in science,technology, engineering and math related studies. The state’s schools and businesses are hoping to turn all this around. I love it when I come up with a few sketches that I still want to use for something and this was one of those times. A big thanks to AD Kelly Carter!”
By DAVID NG
The below is a point sheet I occasionally use for my molecular biology class. Essentially, if the timing is right, there might be one of those large scientific equipment/product showcases on campus, and if so, it’s always fun to let loose a pack of graduate students hungry for free geek-related swag. Note that this only works if you happen to have an hour or so, in between lab steps.
It’s quite funny to see this game in action (it has a real Amazing Race vibe to it), because if you get students who are in the zone, you’ll be surprised at how much cool stuff they get. Especially, since these trade shows seem to get stingier and stingier each year. Interesting sidebar: this use to be an annual activity given that UBC’s big scientific trade show consistently fell on our class day. However, there was this one year where the class haul was simply unreal, incredible, a bit offensive really and funny thing – the trade show dates were changed the following year. Anyway, I’ve always wondered if the move had anything to do with our silly game…
You can download a pdf of the sheet here
By DAVID NG
When I look out my office window, I see two sets of nucleotide bases – guanine and cytosine. I don’t mention this as an admission of psychotic delirium. The building where I work just happens to have a DNA molecule emblazoned on its windows. Admittedly, it’s an odd workplace view, but in my case it fits.
I’m a molecular geneticist—genomics, gene expression, cloning, and the rest of that good stuff – and these little guys are some of the fundamentals of what I study. In many ways, my field is actually about the flow of information in genes; how a code is represented in that mother of all blueprints and gets read to construct something so detailed and nuanced as life. My area of interest is how the information in that chain is used and communicated. It almost always happens in the same way; DNA to RNA to protein. It’s as good a slogan as any, and from time to time we even get to call it dogma.
More important than this dogma, is the way my field appears to me to be so much bigger than the molecules I study. Molecular genetics represents some of the most exciting, profound, communal, and frightening aspects of the collective scientific endeavor. Its speed of advancement defies belief, and its effects on the social, cultural, political and economical issues of the day do not afford the luxury of ignorance.
That’s why I sit at my desk and look at that DNA; to remind myself of the larger importance of those molecules on my window not only to myself, but to everyone else. I see that I am a participant in a greater flow of information—from expert to layman, from creating the trenches where research happens to leading the tours that engage our local community.
I suppose this isn’t a fashionable reason to do science. Perhaps a more proper reason is to talk of the glory and honor of being “first” —the first to discover, to see, to understand. But in my mind, that privilege is severely limited to just one or a few. Frankly, I have my sights on something bigger: a privilege that can be shared with as many people as possible; to make science come alive.
Scientist to citizen to decisions made – wouldn’t that make a lovely dogma as well?
“Many a man floated in water before Archimedes; apples fell from trees as long ago as the Garden of Eden, and the onrush of steam against resistance could have been noted at any time since the discovery of fire and its use under a covered pot of water. In all these cases it was eons before the significance of these events was perceived. Obviously a chance discovery involves both the phenomenon to be observed and the appropriate, intelligent observer.“
By Walter Cannon, The Way of an Investigator, 1945. Via Futility Closet.
I can get from BORA to YODA in only 4 lines…
KORA (a African harp-like instrument)
KODA (common name for the tree species, Ehretia acuminata)
A coincident?!? (I think not)
If providing sound advice on science blogging and science writing had a ranking system, then Bora Zivkovic would be clearly be somewhere at the top.
Anyway, here’s a quality must read for those of you who are curious about the traditional ways, the non-traditional ways, and various degrees of meta-ways in which a person can become a “science writer.”
By DAVID NG
LIESL: Why is it that we can all sing very well?
GENETICIST: Liesl, that is an excellent question! And essentially one that boils down to the classic debate of nature versus nurture. Are your genes responsible for this particular talent, or has it more to do with your upbringing? Looking at this scenario objectively, I would have to say that it is both. There have been reports that the ability to have perfect pitch—that is the ability to distinguish musical notes without points of reference—is a hereditary phenomenon, thereby strongly suggesting a genetic basis. This would seem to be supported by your father’s musical talent as well. Of course, you’ve also had the benefit of being tutored by your wayward novice governess with all-world pipes, Maria.
In conclusion, like most things pertaining to our individuality, we are influenced by both our biology and our surroundings.
GRETL: I think Liesl is very beautiful. Why am I not as pretty?
GENETICIST: Assuming no mutational errors occur during the production of sperm and egg cells, there was approximately a 1-in-70,000,000,000,000 chance that you would have been an identical clone of your sister. If you included the multitude of mutational and regulatory events that ensue during this process, that statistic would escalate to an even smaller chance that is, quite frankly, unfathomable to calculate. How did I get to this absurd number? Well, one must realize that your genetic instructions are housed as a collection of 23 pairs of chromosomes (i.e., 46 in all). In other words, it is correct to say that each human has two sets of instructions—one given to you by your father, and one by your mother. If you keep in mind that your parents themselves also have 23 pairs of chromosomes, and you realize that the child may receive only one from each pair, the likelihood of siblings having the same 46 chromosomes is the fantastic number mentioned above.
However, Gretl, do not fret. You are the youngest of the lot and still have a good chance to blossom into a stunning flower like your sister Liesel. Furthermore, cosmetic surgery these days I hear is quite impressive. And then there is always the chance of Liesl having a disfiguring accident—I hear she may be a Nazi sympathizer, which is never a good thing.
FRIEDRICH: Yes, Liesl is hot. Sometimes, even I have feelings for her. Why is it bad for me to feel that way?
GENETICIST: Incestuous relationships, as well as being frowned upon by most of society, are also disadvantageous from a biological point of view. In the genetic world, diversity breeds fitness. One example is to imagine the following. You have a set of genes that determine the ability of your immune system to recognize and combat various pathogens. Your sister Liesl also has a set of genes that do the same thing. And because you and your sister come from the same genetic pool (you have the same parents), Liesl’s immunity is quite likely to be similar to yours. Do you not see that the net effect of this is that you would create offspring with a limited repertoire of immune-system genes? Compare that to your having a child with, say, Marcia from The Brady Bunch, and you will note that this union will create offspring that have the benefit of a wider genetic pool (your parents and Marcia’s parents), thereby allowing your children to acquire a more diverse and fitter immune system.
Also, dude, she’s your sister.
BRIGITTA: Why do all of our siblings have blondish hair and blue eyes, whereas Marta and I have dark hair and dark eyes?
GENETICIST: You are thinking, perhaps, that your mother was a whore? It is true that the disparity in your outward appearances is a mite unusual. However, there is no reason to believe that any adultery has occurred. Here is the reason why. Although it is generally thought—though not confirmed—that extreme blondness (as in the case of Louisa and Friedrich) has a recessive distribution, there are numerous factors that can account for your instances of dark hair and dark eyes. First, hair and eye color are very subjective terms. Is Greta or Kurt blond, dirty blond, or strawberry blond? Genetic characterization is very difficult when the observational characterization is less than strict. Second, the pigmentation of hair is normally attributed to melanin levels, which have been shown to vary greatly during different stages of a person’s life. You may have noticed, for example, that a person’s childhood hair color tends to be lighter than their adult hair color. Third, the amount of melanin that an individual produces is influenced in part by their environment. For instance, melanin acts to protect the person from the damaging effects of the sun’s radiation. In conclusion, I do not feel that there is anything to worry about. Besides, you did not mention Liesl, who herself has dark hair. Did you omit her because you are secretly jealous of her hotness?
KURT: I think I might want to be with another boy. Is this to do with my DNA?
GENETICIST: Unfortunately, the answer is currently unknown. There have been numerous reports that have tried to implicate specific genetic regions to homosexual behavior, but presently those studies, although titillating, are at best only an indication that there is a hereditary factor for this type of sexual orientation. However, there is an abundance of ongoing research in this area, particularly with homosexual men. If you are interested, perhaps you could participate in the scientific process. Of course, it is important to remember that the Nazis do not dig gay people.
LOUISA: Why doesn’t anybody remember who I am?
GENETICIST: Alas, it appears that this is because you are the second child. I would not be surprised if there are very few pictures of you. It is not, I assume, because your parents did not love you, but simply a facet of being born after the initial excitement and newness of parenthood has passed. This, of course, has nothing to do with genetics. In order to be taken more notice of, you could try different fashions, or perhaps a new haircut. In truth, Liesl could probably give you better advice, as I am, sadly, only a geneticist.
- – -
Originally published at McSweeney’s
More on Erinaceus europaeus here.
“When a creature is discovered, it is first necessary to determine whether it is a new species, a new subspecies or merely a variant of an already described and known species. As there is no single, unambiguous definition of “species” this determination can be time-consuming and subject to discussion and disagreement.
By tradition, the right to name a new species is given to the discoverer, or more precisely the scientific describer of the species (who is not necessarily the person who discovered the species in nature). There are, however, many regulations to be followed when naming a species, all of them fixed by the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN) when animals are concerned, or the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (ICBN) for plants.
In general, the nomenclature of creatures follows a system established 1758 by Carl von Linné and each scientific species name is a composite of two parts, namely the genus name and the species name. For example, the scientific name of the European Common Frog is Rana temporaria, where Rana is the genus name and temporaria is the species name.
As the genus name should reflect relationships among different species within the same genus, the first attempt after each discovery is to allocate the creature to a respective genus (and the systematic categories of higher hierarchical levels). Thus in most cases, with exception of the discovery of new genera, the genus name is fixed already, whereas the species name may be freely chosen by the scientic describer of the species within the frame of the ICZN or ICBN regulations.”
Via IFLS (no source provided – please let me know if you know where this came from)
I bet those 7 minutes must have been terrifying. Oh, and science FTW!!!
GEEKY LABORATORY CHRISTMAS PLAYS
Collected works by Vince Li-Cata
- – -
Hello, Hello Everyone, and welcome to the Special Christmas Edition of The Sean Connery Show. I’m your host. You know, of course, me as the star of Zardoz and Dragonheart, but my friends just call me Sir Sean Connery. Thank you, thank you – please hold your applause.
On today’s Special Christmas Edition of The Sean Connery Show we have a real treat for you Yanks…it’s the First Ever U.S. Public Debate Among Candidates for the Next Director of the National Institutes of Health. Please hold your applause.
Now many of you might be thinking: Hey, wait a minute Sean, the NIH Director is an appointed position, not an elected one. But that’s what makes our field of candidates so special: these driven and committed men and women don’t let little facts like this get in their way, no, they drive around them – and that’s what makes America the great nation that it is – and that’s why I love America. Now, without any further ado, let’s meet your candidates for the next Director of the NIH.
- – -
Leia: Governor, I thought it was you, I recognized your stench.
Darth Governor: It is a pleasure to see you again, too, Professor Leia. You’re looking particularly fetching today. Perhaps you’d care to join me for a drink after I finish destroying the Foreign Languages programs.
Leia: In your dreams, Governor.
Darth Governor: Perhaps a candy cane, then? (he holds out a candy cane). Oh, I forgot your hands are tied! Too bad, maybe next time.
Leia: Release me Governor. You have no conflict with the Biological Sciences department.
Darth Governor: On the contrary, Professor Leia, you and your colleagues continue to annoy me with your incessant support for the theory of evolution.
- – -
NARRATOR: Every Who
Down in U-ville
Liked their research a lot…
But the Pinch
Who lived just North of U-ville
Most certainly, did not.
The Pinch hated Research, the whole Academic season
Now please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.
It could have been the investment firms
Or maybe the banks
Perhaps the subprime loan terms
That made fools of Goldman Sachs,
But whatever the reason, or perhaps due to them all,
The result was his budget was two sizes too small.
- – -
Dr. Farrell: I used to sing a song in lab. A very special song. To cheer me up. I think have a copy of it with me. (She reaches in her pocket and pulls out a piece of paper and gives it to Annie). I had it published in the Journal of Biological Kinetics. You can use it whenever you feel sad or blue, just don’t forget to reference it properly. Why don’t you go ahead and try it now?
Annie: Should I?
Dr. Farrell: Sure, Annie, sure. Sing the bloody song, I could use the citations.
Annie: (sings, with music)
I’m gonna get grants
Bet your bottom dollar
There’ll be funds…
- – -
(She sings to the tune of “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas)
It WAS …. beginning to look eukaryotic!
Instead of slimy goo.
The bacteria soon will grow, into a Jane or Joe
And all my Christmas dreams will soon come true.
It’s beginning to look eukaryotic!
But the prettiest sight to see, is the human that she’ll be
At the end of the day.
- – -
GEORGINA: (enters her lab, there is no one there) Hello? Hello? Is there anybody here? Well, isn’t this a wonderful lab? Where is everybody? (shouting) Hello? Hello? (she walks around) Look at this, a bunsen burner just left on, spewing gas without a flame! (She turns off the bunsen burner) And the pH probe just hanging in the air, drying out! (She puts away the pH probe). Hello? If you’re not going to be here could you all at least turn off the bunsen burner and put away the pH probe?
(Jethro and ZuZu enter. They are Georgina’s graduate students. Jethro is a good ole boy, wears his hat backwards, talks about football most of the time, etc. ZuZu is a child of the cosmos)
- – -
PAST: I have taken the form of a Developmental Biologist, so as not to frighten you. I have come to show you your Past, Dr. Scrooge. (Explaining) You know, to show you your “Development”. Get it?
SCROOGE: Get out of my house before I call the police.
- – -
(For #scio13 interview links, scroll down).
O.K. so if there is one conference, that I want to kind of spend a disproportionate amount of time to get ready for, it would have to be this one.
Yes, this would be the vaulted Science Online 2013 conference. Last year, I kind of winged it, and still ended up: (1) doing a little performance, (2) catching up with a lot of old friends, (3) being introduced to a ton of amazing folks, and (4) starting the odd discussion that laid groundwork for a collaboration or two.
So here it is: a blog post that serves as my “this is what I want to do, and who else is coming” info station. This would also double as an introductory post for those who might be interested in some of the things I do, and maybe even want to chat with me.
Firstly, this is a picture of me (yes, I will be bringing the t-shirt along). I was also recently interviewed by Bora, so you can take a peek at that to get a sense of the sort of stuff I do. I run this lab, but in general, I’m interested in intersections between creativity and science; excellent ways to broach challenging science education logistics and/or topics (especially to audiences not that receptive to science); and (if you must know) I’m also always thinking of ways to weasel myself into one of those new Star Wars movies planned for the future (because I think I would be perfect as one of those Stormtroopers who fires his/her laser gun, a piece of technology that is presumably very advanced, and still miss the target that is only a room length away and not even moving terribly fast). And if you’d like to learn more about some of the web hijinks I’ve been involved in, or some of the “writing” I’ve done, then do feel free to peruse my pseudo (and oft neglected) portfolio site.
- – -
But on to the matter at hand: the conference runs from January 30th to February 2nd and will likely involve the most intense 70 to 80 hours of epic science discussion you can imagine. With those parameters in mind, here’s the gist of what I hope to accomplish.
Firstly, I’ll be co-moderating a session with Tom Levenson on “Opening doors: Science communication for those that don’t care/don’t like science.” (Fri, Feb 1, 2:30-3:30 pm, Room 7b) – Session specific website here.
This, I think, will be one of those discussions that will be both wonderful, challenging, surprising, and prone to tangential exploration (i.e. a back and forth about the variety of unconventional methods that can be used to talk science). The key question (and the prevailing tension of this topic), I suppose, is whether that tangential nature is a good thing or a bad thing – does it distract or dilute from the real translation of science, and/or if it does, is that sometimes alright.
I’m actually hoping to take in the collective wisdom of the session (as well as the conference in general) to think more seriously about this idea, primarily because it concerns the challenge of preaching outside the choir. In other words, how does one embed the notion of science culture into everyone’s self identity, whether it’s in large parts like in the case of Tom and I, or (perhaps more importantly) in smaller, nuanced but still critical ways for those who aren’t as passionate about such things, or those who blatantly resist it. As well, I want to know if this collected wisdom is something that should be described, archived, even assessed somewhere – say as a journal, book, ebook, ap, workshop, or website or whatever. I know I think so – and I hope there are others who also think so (we can, for instance, brainstorm about what this might look like, if there is interest).
In terms of general science-y goodness and general networking, I want to chat with people who are really in awe of the quiet grandness and messy elegance of the scientific method, and who also want to think of interesting ways to explore it within an elementary school setting. And I’m not just talking about doing experiments (which will be done and will be awesome), but even in seeing if we can figure out the most effective, creative and engaging ways to talk to kids about weighty concepts like validity and evidence.
My end goal is to design a 1 day elementary school teacher workshop (which would possibly be later adapted to an elementary school fieldtrip program), and any insight into what ideas/exercises might be good to pursue or avoid would be very handy. In fact, hearing about examples of great programs that already exist would also be much appreciated.
Next up, I’d like to explore possible research opportunities where it would be great to gain some metrics on some of the programs my lab currently runs. This is one of the cases where funding already exists to perform the activities: but it just needs an interested party to design a research question around said activity. In particular, we have this really interesting field trip (called the Science Creative Literary Symposia) which essentially teams up a Science Graduate Student with a Creative Writing (and sometimes Visual Arts) MFA student. Here, the two of them are guided to design a days worth of activities where a classroom of 9 to 11 year olds can do some relatively fancy science experimentation (in my lab in tune with the specialty of the scientist), as well as ask them to do some expository creative writing or creative art around the experience (also in tune with the preferred genre of the writer/artist).
The intent of this fieldtrip is primarily to show that mixing these two things isn’t so strange afterall. In fact, another point to be made is that there are many similarities in these seemingly two divergent tasks, and that therefore one shouldn’t necessarily assume you can’t enjoy both. We’ve done this fieldtrip for a few years now, and I think we now have it as a well oiled machine, consistently generating great reviews from both the kids and teachers who attend. It just seems like a remarkable opportunity to design a study with the aim to query the children’s impressions around concepts of science and creativity.
Anyway, if this sounds intriguing to you (especially if you’re the type that considers the creative arts when sharing science, or if you have a background in education research), then do let me know - I know Marie-Claire and I will have a good chat about this, and I know I’m itching to release my grant writing chops for this…
Finally, I’m looking for someone who would appreciate a $5000 art grant to help host a Phylo deck. Usually folks from a Natural History Museum makes the most sense here, but I’m open to all sorts of suggestions (environmental and science education NGOs, publications could also work). Essentially, I think it would be kind of cool to initiate discussions with the formal intent of having the deck ready for the next conference in 2014 (i.e. a recurring tradition). I’m also at the beginning stages of initiating some education research around this project as well (essentially to assess its utility in terms of actually making children/players think more about biodiversity), but would love to have more involved. The idea of a hosted deck is pretty cool – they can certainly look nice, as sample cards from this deck in progress can attest to. I’ve started an exploratory tweet here, but curious if there might be others that are intrigued.
Oh, and actually, there is one more thing. I’ve sort of started on the process of writing a book, on science literacy no less: but given that my writing background tends to be a little unconventional to say the least (for example, my pieces tend to look like this, this, and this), I have to admit that the whole prospect is scaring the bejeezus out of me. Basically, it would be lovely to just chat with other science book writers, both those who are Yodas in the industry, as well as others who might also be new to the endeavour.
- – -
Now onto my homework – which isn’t really as arduous as it sounds, because Bora, Karyn and Anton have made things easy for us. Here is a list of all the interesting folks who are coming out, and then here is this large archive of great interviews of past Science Online attendees (also just found this other archive of SA Incubator’s Q&A’s). For this post, I’ve gone and edited this list of links to focus on the folks who also happen to be attending this year. So my homework (and maybe yours too), is to slowly make your way through the below list (marked with year that the interview was conducted). If you’re not here because you haven’t sent in a Q&A to Bora, then you’re also welcome to leave a comment introducing yourself at the bottom (perhaps with mention of your favorite beverage and, if you’re up to the challenge, done as a six word memoir?)
- – -
Anton Zuiker, 2013
- – -
Finally, just so that we can set the tone a little bit, do check out this great video by Carin Bondar. It’ll do wonders to get you in the mood:
Useful when teaching abstract writing (could this wording be any more concise and perfectly descriptive).
Also, it’s a shrimp running on a treadmill with the Benny Hill theme.