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Category: *

A trip to Massachusetts and a chance to meet some great #scicomm folks…

It’s been a tough few weeks.

But at least on the science front, I am still hopeful – although that might be because my own personal echo chamber happens to be optimistic in nature. Still, a lot of this has to do with the good work done by many of my science communication colleagues out there. Important, engaging, and often breathtaking efforts that continue to add enormous value to the knowledge ecosystem. The challenge, I suppose (as always) is how to get these pieces to reach outside the proverbial choir. This is a task that probably needs some careful thought and a degree of feistiness to power through, but that’s o.k. – science folks tend to rationalize everything and feistiness is something in high supply right now (myself included).

In any event, I thought I’d take the time to highlight a few of these excellent science communicators: specifically, folks I recently had the privilege of meeting in Massachusetts at the New England Biolab’s campus (this was under the rubric of NEB’s Passion in Science Awards). And while I’m of mind, I should mention that I was really impressed with NEB overall. It sounds like a company that has really worked out its priorities in a responsible way (not just on the work satisfaction piece, but also on the development and environmental front).

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Anyway, in this space, I’d like to focus on a couple of these award winners, specifically those that are producing some very cool science media. As this is the internet, I’m only going give you a brief taste of the awesomeness they’re creating (a soundbite really), but would really encourage everyone to explore further.

First up, we have Christine Liu at Berkeley (who, with Tera Johnson, is one half of Two Photon art). Christine is a neuroscience PhD student, who also happens to feel quite strongly about her science communication and art work with “zines.” (according to wiki: that which is most commonly associated with a small-circulation self-published work of original or appropriated texts and images usually reproduced via photocopier).

You would be too, if you checked out her work, and more so, if you chat with her. She envisions it almost like a “movement,” part of the DIY sphere, and possibly even a great pedagogical tool for inquiry base learning (and I would weigh in here with full agreement – in fact, I totally need to follow up, as this dovetails perfectly with some of the hackathon work my lab has been doing). I mean, who doesn’t like zines? And who wouldn’t like zines that talk science? Anyway, do check out, and maybe even buy a few. Her passion is contagious.cliusciencezine

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Next, we have Dana Simmons, also a PhD student in neuroscience at the University of Chicago. Her photography work is sort of a Venn diagram where neurons, microscopy and Andy Warhol might inhabit. Really lovely stuff and her portfolio is definitely worth checking out.

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Scott Chimileski, a post doc at Harvard, is all about the microbes. Well, in many ways, many would argue that the foundational aspects of life is itself pretty much all about the microbes, but Scott has taken this love and melded his photographic prowess in producing some awe inspiring photos. So much so, I think that these wouldn’t seem out of place, if you had Sir David Attenborough narrating about them for the BBC. Many of these photos will also be put to good use for an upcoming exhibit at Harvard’s Museum of Natural History.

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We also chatted a little bit about potential collaboration. I’m also hoping that his work could translate well as a microbe deck for the Phylo Trading Card project. Microbes are currently under-represented right now in that game system, and this would be a lovely way to bring more of this form of biodiversity into the fold. How cool would the cards look if this became a thing (see below for a few mock ups)?

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Moving on to the realm of video production, the work of the next three folks would make excellent viewing. I’ve also highlighted an example of each of their work, and I can say that watching these would be a lovely way to spend your time.

We’ll start with Sabah Ul-Hasan, another Doctoral student at UC Merced, who has spearheaded a project that creates documentaries with a mind to spotlight the symbiotic relationship between humans (especially underrepresented communities) and the environment. The project (Biota TV) received Kickstarter funding, and are set to release a few episodes in the future. Here’s a promo to check out.

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And who here remembers those Schoolhouse Rock videos? Well, if you’re in the (ahem) older demographic, you might remember them fondly, and can even sing back some of the classic lyrics. In many ways, Wilbur Ryan, from Florida State University, is betting on this infectiousness, as he adapts this flavor of educational videos for content on environmental science (and by way of ECOmotion Studios). I dare you to watch the below video (about Robert T. Paine’s famous intertidal study in 1966) and not be convinced.

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Finally, we have Chris Martine, a Botany professor at Bucknell University PA. Someone should give this man a science host gig! (seriously) His videos on botany are brilliant and fun, which I can tell you is a combination that is pretty rare. I’ve highlighted one of the episodes below, but there’s 8 in total (so far) that you can merrily watch (and in the process slowly convert into a plant nerd if you’re not one already).

Actually, Chris and I chatted a fair bit at this event – I think it was partly because we were both folks who were further along their careers than most of the other award winners. But this is what makes it all so hopeful. It was kind of outstanding to see how so many of the award recipients were so young – and already doing amazing things. It certainly makes me feel better about the future.

Anyway, do check out all the award winners (the others that I didn’t get a chance to highlight were all great and largely under the categories for research and/or environmental endeavours). You can see their short presentations by visiting this link here. The trip was really wonderful and invigorating overall (and it was a treat to finally visit Boston). Kudos to NEB for arranging this, and fostering an environment where science communication is valued. It really was much appreciated, and (I think we can all agree) something that is very much needed right now.

Dr. Seuss taxidermy pieces by way of Dr. Seuss himself

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“Zoo animals that had met their demise lived on as their bills, horns, and antlers were shipped to Ted’s New York apartment to become exotic beaks and headdresses on his bizarre taxidermy sculptures. The result was an astounding 17 sculptures—created during the 1930s—which remain today as some of the finest examples of his inventive and multidimensional creativity.”

By Dr. Seuss (many pieces for sale too), via NotCot

Art plus gravity (or lack thereof)

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By Pejac, photos by Gary Van Handley. Via Colossal.

Rings of the kingdom: Animalia, Metazoa

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By Michael Tatom, via Colossal

A lovely poem. About math. And two end lines that every academic can appreciate.

I’ve copied-pasted this for archival purposes (under “math” and “academic”), but please visit Futility Closet where this was found. It’s awesome.

>
Stopping by Euclid’s Proof of the Infinitude of Primes,” by Presbyterian College mathematician Brian D. Beasley, “with apologies to Robert Frost”:

Whose proof this is I think I know.
I can’t improve upon it, though;
You will not see me trying here
To offer up a better show.

His demonstration is quite clear:
For contradiction, take the mere
n primes (no more), then multiply;
Add one to that … the end is near.

In vain one seeks a prime to try
To split this number — thus, a lie!
The first assumption was a leap;
Instead, the primes will reach the sky.

This proof is lovely, sharp, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And tests to grade before I sleep,
And tests to grade before I sleep.

(From Mathematics Magazine 78:2 [April 2005], 171.)

This. A skeleton sculpture carved from found coral.

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By Gregory Halili, via Colossal.

I want this rocket themed table.

A little out of my price range, but still…

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By Stelios Mousarris, via NOTCOT. Buy here.

I so want to make one of these! Cellular miniature golf.

Specifically, what if a bunch of us sciencegeeks at UBC agree to make a few. AND THEN WE WOULD HAVE A WHOLE SCIENCEGEEK MINIGOLF COURSE!

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Also this:

By NYC Resistor, via Thinx

Whoa: Amazing edible lollipops inspired by biodiversity.

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By Shinri Tezuka, via My Modern Met.

Beautiful entomology: made from computer and video game parts.

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By Julie Alice Chappell, via Colossal

This remarkable visualization by @ed_hawkins on climate change is pretty convincing.

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By Ed Hawkins.

In which watching Enigma the jellyfish is very very relaxing.

Makes me calm just watching this…

“This stunningly beautiful jellyfish was seen during Dive 4 of the 2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas expedition on April 24, 2016, while exploring the informally named “Enigma Seamount” at a depth of ~3,700 meters.

Scientists identified this hydromedusa as belonging to the genus Crossota. Note the two sets of tentacles — short and long. At the beginning of the video, you’ll see that the long tentacles are even and extended outward and the bell is motionless. This suggests an ambush predation mode. Within the bell, the radial canals in red are connecting points for what looks like the gonads in bright yellow.”

Text and video via the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas.

That time we made kids think they had Jedi powers. #maythe4thbewithyou

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Since it’s May the 4th, I figured I’d re-share what we did many years ago at my son’s 5th birthday party. Specifically, it was a Star Wars themed birthday party, which we foolishly held in our house (also, if you can believe it, Kate made a Jedi robe for every kid!). What we did was modify the game, “pass the parcel.”

We had saw online that there were Star Wars versions of this, which primarily involved wrapping something up like a ball, and calling it a Death Star. However, we thought that it would be way more fun if we could convince the kids that if they used the “force” they could get the stereo to stop the music (and therefore entitling them to the act of unwrapping). This, of course, is easy to do since pretty much every stereo these days comes with a remote. Note that, obviously, the Star Wars theme was the music being played during the game.

I tell you: it was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen – here you had a group of 5 year olds “concentrating” so hard, and doing the classic Jedi hand gesture at the stereo trying to make the music stop. For a Star Wars fan like myself, it was a brilliant sight to see. And just so that everyone had a chance to do it, we would also consistently get them to use the “force” all together to start the music up again (“On the count of 3: one… two… three!!).

I should note that if you plan on doing this, be prepared to get a few phone calls from parents. After our party, we had quite a few of them calling, saying that their children were now trying to make their stereos, televisions, and other assorted appliances turn on by sheer will of thought. Anyway, it might be just me, but I thought this was hilarious.

Beautiful animation on what working might be like in the future (by @mothcollective)

By the Moth Collective, Via Vimeo, from the Guardian.

Remember that time when NASA received a parking ticket for landing on an asteroid?

Yes, this happened.

In 2001, when its NEAR Shoemaker space probe landed on asteroid 433 Eros, NASA received a $20 parking ticket from Gregory W. Nemitz, who had claimed ownership of the asteroid 11 months earlier.

Spoiler alert: Nemitz took this to court, where it was finally dismissed in 2005.

Text from Futility Closet. Read more here. Image via wikipedia.

Free to print posters from NASA’s JPL are beautiful (and awesome)!

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From JPL, NASA. The below is my favourite one (although the artist’s name isn’t on the document – anyone know who it is?)

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Also some back story to the “Grand Tour” idea here.

OK. This is cool: crayons named after specific chemical compounds and the colours they make.

From their Etsy site:

“Children play and draw with crayons practically every day, so why not make the experience more educational? This listing is for a set of 24 labels to stick in the crayons in a basic 24 pack of crayons so that while children are coloring, they are also exposed to the names of chemicals that will make those colors! So instead of thinking “I want green” they will think “I want Barium Nitrate Ba(NO3)2 Flame” and then when they take chemistry in high school and their teacher sets some gas on fire and it makes a green color and they ask the class what chemical it was your student will know it was Barium! Genius!”

colors-1

By QueInteresante, via Colossal

Wow. Anatomical graffiti at its best: A beating heart by Lonac.

heart

By Lonac. Via Colossal.

Types of Anxie-trees by @gemmacorrell

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By Gemma Correll, via My Modern Met.

Registration open for next molecular biology workshop. April 4th to 8th, 2016

Via my lab’s website (bioteach.ubc.ca). Note that all revenue from this workshop goes towards our outreach programming.

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MOLECULAR BIOLOGY TECHNIQUES WORKSHOPS (SPRING 2016 PROGRAM):

Registration is open

To inquire about registration, please contact Dr. David Ng at db@mail.ubc.ca

(1) ONE WEEK VERSION
Dates: April 4th to 8th, 2016 (5 days: Monday to Friday)
Price: CAN$1500 (does not include room or board)


Recent Testimonials

“Well paced, engaging, fun and informative. Great variety of techniques and procedures presented, both low tech and high tech. Lots of hands on work to allow you to get familiar with the protocols. Davis is a fantastic instructor, and I can’t recommend this course enough.”
Yi Yang, Research Technician, Department of Cellular and Physiological Sciences, UBC

“This workshop was very thorough and covered an incredibly large amount of topics in a very short time. The information gathered from this workshop will certainly be beneficial in both research and teaching.”
Dr. Dewayne Stennett, Lecturer, Biochemistry, University of the West Indies, Jamaica

“Fabulous! There’s a reason why people come from as far as Toronto (or farther) to take this course.”
Steven Plotkin, Professor, Department of Physics, University of British Columbia.

“The best class I’ve taken so far! Entertaining 5 days of intensive learning, in a supportive, friendly, and positive atmosphere. Definitely would recommend it to a friend. Thank you, Dave!”
Andriy Sheremet, Grad Student, Biological Sciences, University of Calgary

“Excellent workshop!! Great balance between lecture and lab, and I was very impressed on the volume of content squeezed into the five days. Dave’s delivery was very good, nice amount of light hearted humour mixed in. Highly recommended!”
David Dunn, Head, Chemistry Services Laboratory, Pacific Forestry Centre, NRC

“Great bootcamp format! I enjoyed the vast range of topics and the balance of lecture and practical hands-on techniques”
Robert Kowbel, Scientific Support Technician, Pacific Forestry Centre, NRC

“This workshop is perfect for both scientists who are new to molecular biology, as well as scientists who want a refresher. Dave has a unique ability to explain every method in a logical way. The atmosphere is absolutely amazing in the workshop. I strongly recommend this course.”
Søs Skovsø, Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Cellular and Physiological Sciences, University of British Columbia.

“An excellent course that came highly recommended. David is a highly engaging teacher who has taken the time and effort to use all of those teaching engagement techniques that we know are good practice, but are rarely able to accommodate. It is a high intensity course, but I was engaged for the entire length!”
Anthony Fairbanks, Professor and Head, Department of Chemistry, University of Canterbury, NZ

“Excellent workshop with a phenomenal teacher. Dave’s enthusiam for science is evident and his unique teaching methods made for an intense yet enjoyable relaxed atmosphere for learning molecular biology concepts. Good balance of theory and practical hands-on exposure.”
Cheryl Zurowski, Research Technician, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

“Amazing course, thanks for condensing so much information in so little time. Good review of general concepts and techniques and nice introduction to more advanced/modern methods. Very useful for people getting into the biotechnology area and not a biologist by training. David is really good at creating a nice and amusing atmosphere for learning. Thanks again.”
Jannu Casanova, Postdoctoral Fellow, Spectroelectrochemistry Lab, University of British Columbia.

More can be found here.


INSTRUCTOR: Dr. David Ng

DESCRIPTION: This intense 5 day workshop will focus on a myriad of different techniques used in the molecular manipu- lation of DNA, RNA and protein, as well as inclusion of lectures of high throughput genomic techniques. Primarily aimed at researchers who are new to the area, familiar but require a quick updating, or would like more practical bench training.

Hands on techniques covered include: Various nucleic acid puri cation methodologies (silica bead, organic, and/or pI based), restriction digests, ligations, dephosphorylation assays, agarose gel electrophoresis, transformation (including electroporation), PCR, reverse transcriptase assay, real time qPCR, SDS-PAGE,Western blot analysis, Isoelectric focusing strips, and 2D protein gels.This April session will also include new theorectical and practical content on Next Gen Sequencing (Ion Torrent set up will be used in class).

PHILOSOPHY: Whilst molecular techniques have evolved at a blindingly fast rate over the last few decades, the underlying biochemical principles behind the vast majority of them have actually changed little. This workshop therefore combines opportunities to perform the latest, as well as commonly used older techniques, with particular attention to the chemical nuts and bolts behind them. In all, this allows the researcher to not only gain needed practical hands-on familiarity with the techniques, but also achieve a comfortable theoretical level to allow for both (1) that all important skill of troubleshooting, and (2) the often undervalued skill of judging the utility of “tricks” that aim to speed up, or lower costs of a given methodology.

LOCATION:
Located in the heart of the UBC campus, the Michael Smith Laboratories is a testament to the vision of its founding Director, Dr. Michael Smith. Under his leadership, a gifted team of young scientists were recruited. These scientists have gone on to develop internationally renowned programs of research and training. The second and third floors of the new building are dedicated to the research facilities of the former Biotechnology Laboratory. The Stewart and Marilyn Blusson Education Forum is located on the ground floor and is open to the public. The molecular techniques workshops are held in the teaching lab, room 105 of this forum.
(click here for detailed directions)

REGISTRATION DETAILS:
Registration is essentially through first: an email inquiry for space (contact Dr. David Ng at db@mail.ubc.ca), second: a verbal/email commitment and then third via an invoiced payment. Your place is essentially secured with payment, which more or less equates to a first come first serve mechanism. This payment would be a CAN$1500 cheque (or equivalent) payable to “The University of British Columbia” and sent to

Dr. David Ng
Michael Smith Laboratories
301-2185 East Mall,
University of British Columbia
Vancouver, BC, CANADA V6T 1Z3

Note that we can accommodate a maximum of 16 clients, but on occasion up to half of these spaces are already reserved for predetermined group clients. Therefore, it’s best to put your name down as soon as possible if you are interested in the workshop.

REFUND POLICY
Your spot in the workshop is secured when we receive your payment. The deadline for receipt of payments is 30 days after the invoice date unless otherwise arranged. Note that refunds are made available until 2 weeks prior to the workshop start date – we are unable to issue any refunds after this deadline has passed.

DAY TO DAY SCHEDULING DETAILS:
Workshop will begin each day at 9am sharp and usually end between 4:30pm and 5:30pm. A detailed final schedule and syllabus will be released to clients as the date draws nearer.

MATERIALS:
All paper materials will be provided on the first day of the workshop. Downloadable versions will be available about 3 weeks before the workshop begins. Whilst we do not require the clients to “study” these documents, we do ask that clients take a moment to peruse the first day practical materials. All safety gear (including lab coats) is provided at the workshop.

ACCOMMODATIONS:
Here are some accommodation options that are basically on campus. Costs involved would vary (I think the most budget option would be the Vancouver Youth Hostel which is about a 15minute bus ride away). The closest would be those of Gage through UBC conferences. The others (except for point grey house) are all a relatively short walk away.

International Youth Hostel at Jericho Beach
UBC accomodations (on campus – note there are only 47 available)
St. John’s College (on campus)
Green College (on campus)
St. Andrew’s Hall (summer only)
Point Grey House (off campus, but only 10 minute bus ride away)

Alternatively, Downtown Vancouver offers a variety of accommodation options, but would entail about a 30-40minute bus ride each way. Depends on your preference since the Campus is pretty quiet at night time, whereas other areas would be more interesting. Go to www.expedia.ca, and select:

hotel > near an attraction/vancouver > type in “University of British Columbia”

Usually the out of town clients make use of a little extra time after or before the workshop in visiting some of the sights Vancouver has to offer. I often strongly recommend this since the city and surrounding locale are really quite spectacular. In particular Whistler-Blackcomb is a world famous ski/outdoor resort, and is only a 2 hour drive away. Ski season usually opens in mid November (click here for more info)

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