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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Catching up with Read Science!

Welcome to those of you who have come here via Cara Santa Maria's podcast, Talk Nerdy OR from the Faculty Summer Institute workshop I gave on Google plus and Google Hangouts on Air.

A little over a year ago, I began an enjoyable endeavor, taking advantage Google Hangouts on Air, a very useful tool that can allow up to 10 people to join in a video conversation that is livestreamed and then archived onto youtube. 

As a strong believer in the power of engaging with a book as a way to access science as told by some excellent communicators, I began Read Science! hangouts as an offshoot of the video book reviews that I used to do a few years back. The strength of the hangouts is that they are free-flowing conversations with the authors and it puts them in the spotlight, whereas I am an engaged moderator.

 I am accompanied by my co-host, and friend I've not yet met in person, Jeff Shaumeyer (@scienticity on twitter).

Hangoutimage.jpgAs of this date, we have over 20 episodes, some which have been conducted in conjunction with Scientific American, where I also have a blog.

The episode links below go directly to the hangout videos, but you can also access podcast versions HERE

As an added note, I've linked (blue, bold, underline text) to the videos from our Read Science youtube page, which has had to download the videos either from Scientific American's youtube page or from one of my youtube pages, so the view count may not reflect true viewership. 


Mary Roach 

Mary Roach, Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal


We Love Dinos

Daniel Loxton, Plesiosaur Peril (Tales of Prehistoric Life), Pterosaur Trouble (Tales of Prehistoric Life) , Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be

Brian Switek, My Beloved Brontosaurus: On the Road with Old Bones, New Science, and Our Favorite Dinosaurs



Rose George, The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters

Scott Huler, On the Grid: A Plot of Land, An Average Neighborhood, and the Systems that Make Our World Work


Scientists are Human

Mario Livio, Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein - Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists That Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe

Michael Brooks, Free Radicals: The Secret Anarchy of Science


Frogs and Sloths

Lucy Cooke, A Little Book of Sloth


Mission to Mars

Buzz Aldrin and Leonard David, Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration


Wild Baby Animals

Suzi Eszterhas, Eye on the Wild: Lion (and more--check them all out, all adorable!)


Biotech Revolution

Emily Anthes, Frankenstein's Cat: Cuddling Up to Biotech's Brave New Beasts

Terry Johnson and Kyle Kurpinski, How to Defeat Your Own Clone: And Other Tips for Surviving the Biotech Revolution


Oncogenes and Carcinogens

Dan Fagin, Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation

Jessica Wapner, The Philadelphia Chromosome: A Genetic Mystery, a Lethal Cancer, and the Improbable Invention of a Lifesaving Treatment



Kevin Davies, The ,000 Genome: The Revolution in DNA Sequencing and the New Era of Personalized Medicine

Matthew Herper, Forbes

Misha Angrist, Here Is a Human Being: At the Dawn of Personal Genomics


Myrmecology Rocks 

E.O. Wilson, Letters to a Young Scientist


The Autistic Brain

Temple GrandinThe Autistic Brain: Helping Different Kinds of Minds Succeed

Richard Panek, (his book) The 4 Percent Universe: Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Race to Discover the Rest of Reality


Sports Science

David Epstein, The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance



Lee Billings, Five Billion Years of Solitude: The Search for Life Among the Stars


Wonderful World

Marcus Chown, What a Wonderful World: Life, the Universe and Everything in a Nutshell


Disastrous Planet

Susan Kieffer, The Dynamics of Disaster


Astronaut Chris Hadfield

Chris Hadfield, An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything



Cat Warren, What the Dog Knows: The Science and Wonder of Working Dogs

Virginia Morell, Animal Wise: The Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures


 Sci-comm Power Couple

Jennifer Ouellette, Me, Myself, and Why: Searching for the Science of Self

Sean Carroll, The Particle at the End of the Universe: How the Hunt for the Higgs Boson Leads Us to the Edge of a New World


 Your Inner Fish

Neil Shubin & Kalliopi Monoyios, Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body



David QuammenSpillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic


If keeping up with popular science books interests you, please like us on our Read Science! Facebook page where we keep you updated on upcoming hangouts as well as share news about our guests! 

Thu, May 15, 2014 | link 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Reflections on Using Social Media to Communicate Science


My goal here is not to convince you or any scientist to join twitter, but before I get started, let's say that was something you wanted to do, I suggest you visit these links:

I am more interested in sharing how social media has influenced scientific culture. And to get a better idea of how that is happening, I asked my social media following for their insights.


  • Makes Science Accessible to the Public
  • Receiving Timely Insights
  • Discussion of Science's Big Issues
  • Collaboration/Networking between Scientists
  • For Fun and to Show Scientists as Human
  • Help from the Public: Citizen Science
  • Getting Noticed and New Opportunities
  • Science Crowdfunding

SciFund Challenge

Why Crowdfunding is needed: a precis

This is the Future of Science: SciFund Returns


Let's look at those in turn:

Making Science Accessible to the Public. 

This was the number one response when I asked "How is Social Media Changing Science?" I don't think I need to elaborate.

Receiving Timely Insights

Watching your twitter feed can keep you updated on natural disasters as they happen, or outbreaks of disease.  NASA press conferences or the Supreme court ruling on the Myriad genetics BRCA 1 gene testing issue are two places it is helpful to have someone available to "live-tweet". In addition, paying attention to certain hashtags, particularly those of scientific meetings, can keep us up-to-date, especially useful and might play a role in our scientific work. While most of us might think this is a good thing, there has been some concern about too much openness. This is addressed in a 2009 Nature article, Science Journalism: Breaking convention?

The article lays out the concerns in more detail, but its essence is made clear in this brief exerpt:

"But some worry that these tools will undermine meetings. By disseminating scientific results far beyond the lecture hall, blogging and social networking blurs the line between journalists and researchers. Scientists in competitive fields may be more reluctant to discuss new findings if they can be posted on the Internet within seconds. And at a time when many conference attendees are already surfing the web rather than paying attention to the presenter, messaging is yet another annoyance."

As I haven't attended any recent high level science meetings, I am not in a position to speak as to whether these concerns are diminished, or if it the openness is now making scientists reticent to share.

Discussion of Science's Big Issues

 Hey, this post is in progress and I will finish it as soon as I can! 


Wed, May 7, 2014 | link 

Friday, January 3, 2014

Read Science! 2013--great conversations about animals, past and present

In May 2013, I began a joint venture with my co-host Jeff Shaumeyer of Scienticity, called Read Science! I anticipate many people are aware of my enthusiasm for popular science books and how they play an important role in communicating science in ways that are very important. A book gives you time to hear a larger story rather than just breezing through fascinating snippets of information and images presented in disjointed ways. Sitting down with a book for several hours to days cultivates a long attention span, and is also important to create that space to contemplate and consider deeper issues. These are traits I think are very important to becoming a scientist or doctor or engineer (and many other careers, too).

I believe strongly in reading to children from all sorts of books from a very early age. On Read Science!, we happened to connect with several authors of children's books about animals in nature. Young children are curious about such things, but make no mistake, teens and adults like them, too. Below are four of our Google Hangouts on Air on the topic of animals:

First up is Suzi Eszterhas, an award winning nature photographer who has a knack for capturing animals on film and telling stories from the photos. Suzi joined us to talk about her adorable and informative "Eye on the Wild" book series. How do you go from photograph to story and then make the story understandable for the very young? Suzi also answers how to become successful as a nature photographer, because we know you want to know,too!

Her Eye on the Wild book series include: Eye on the Wild: Lion , Eye on the Wild: Cheetah , Eye on the Wild: Orangutan , Eye on the Wild: Brown Bear , Eye on the Wild: Gorilla and Eye on the Wild: Sea Otter . All are squee inducing adorable as well as informative. 

Almost everyone loves dogs. The following books are technically for adults, but I think they touch that kid in us that forms a special bond with animals. Jeff and I had a lovely time with authors Virginia Morell, whose book Animal Wise: The Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures talks about MUCH more than dogs, and Cat Warren, whose book, What the Dog Knows: The Science and Wonder of Working Dogs , looked at the science of working dogs, in particular, her journey with her very special pup.

There is no doubting the appeal of dinosaurs to many, many people, young and old. Our second Read Science! Google Hangout On Air was all about dinosaurs and we enjoyed chatting with Brian Switek (author of the incredible book Written in Stone: Evolution, the Fossil Record, and Our Place in Nature and his follow-up My Beloved Brontosaurus: On the Road with Old Bones, New Science, and Our Favorite Dinosaurs ) and Daniel Loxton (author of  Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be, Ankylosaur Attack (Tales of Prehistoric Life) , Pterosaur Trouble (Tales of Prehistoric Life) , and Abominable Science!: Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids )

Finally, rounding out 2013 for our animal themed Read Science! hanogut, we spoke with Lucy Cooke, National Geographic explorer, sloth lover and protegee of Richard Dawkins (she tells us all about that!). Lucy shares how an excursion to learn more about amphibians led her to the Sloth Sanctuary in Costa Rica and so much more about her life as a nature TV show producer. Also, even grown ups do embarrassing things when they meet their idols, in her case, it was Sir David Attenborough.

Lucy was invited to joing us because she wrote her darling, "A Little Book of Sloth " about some of the characters in the Sloth Sanctuary (A New York Times Bestseller, btw).

I'll feature more of our past Read Science! episodes here in the upcoming weeks. If you would like to see them all, or catch them on audio, check out this blog, our youtube channel or subscribe to the audios on iTunes.  You can also find out when our next episodes are going to be by liking our Facebook Page.
Fri, January 3, 2014 | link 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Childhood Malnutrition in India
Today’s post is number three in the run-up to my International Reporting Project trip to India where I will be part of a team of 10 journalists covering the topic of child survival. First, I addressed Infectious Diseases, then Vaccinations. Today, we will look at Malnutrition. What is the state of malnutrition in India? How has scientific understanding of what good nourishment means helped us work on the malnourishment issue particularly in developing nations? Can science put an end to world hunger? How are sanitation and hygiene related to malnutrition?
Before we go on, let’s define a few terms so there is no confusion:
  • Malnutrition is the condition that occurs when your body does not get enough nutrients.
  • Starvation is a severe deficiency in caloric energy, nutrient, and  vitamin  intake.
  • Famine is a widespread scarcity of food, usually accompanied or followed by regional malnutrition, starvation, epidemic, and increased mortality.
  • Emaciation is abnormal thinness caused by lack of nutrition or by disease.
  • Marasmus is chronic wasting of body tissues, especially in young children, commonly due to prolonged dietary deficiency of protein and calories.
  • Kwashiorkor is a syndrome occurring in infants and young children soon after weaning. It is due to severe protein deficiency, and the symptoms include edema, pigmentation changes of skin and hair, impaired growth and development, distention of the abdomen, and pathologic liver changes.
We've all seen disturbing photos of children in the malnourished or starving so I'll not replicate them here.
Facts about Malnutrition in India
Here are some facts about malnutrition in India from Child In Need India (CINI)
The World Bank conducted an analysis of the problem of malnutrition in India and introduced a long document, "Undernourished Children: A Call for Reform and Action" with this statement:
The prevalence of underweight among children in India is amongst the highest in the world, and nearly double that of Sub-Saharan Africa. In 1998/99, 47 percent of children under three were underweight or severely underweight, and a further 26 percent were mildly underweight such that, in total, underweight afflicted almost three-quarters of Indian children. Levels of malnutrition have declined modestly, with the prevalence of underweight among children under three falling by 11 percent between 1992/93 and 1998/99. However, this lags far behind that achieved by countries with similar economic growth rates.  Undernutrition, both protein-energy malnutrition and  micronutrient deficiencies, directly affects many aspects of children’s development. In particular, it retards their physical and cognitive growth and increases susceptibility to infection, further increasing the probability of malnutrition. Child malnutrition is responsible for 22 percent of India’s burden of disease. Undernutrition also undermines educational attainment, and productivity, with adverse implications for income and economic growth.”
Across India, not all children are malnourished and some are more extremely malnourished than others. The numbers of those affected vary between remnants of the caste system, between Indian states, and gender where girls are more likely to be undernourished because of their lower status in society.  
Malnutrition and Disease go Hand in Hand 
Malnourishment and emaciation can be caused by disease. As you can imagine, severe diarrhea (such as from cholera or rotavirus) will interrupt the absorption of nutrients while the feeling of deep malaise will leave a child not wanting to eat. Diseases and disorders associated with emaciation include malaria, cholera, tuberculosis, other infectious diseases with prolonged fever, and parasitic infections.
Malnutrition also increases the risk of infection and infectious disease, and weakens every part of the immune system. It is a major risk factor in the onset of active tuberculosis.  Protein and energy malnutrition and deficiencies of specific micronutrients (including iron, zinc, and vitamins) increase susceptibility to infection.

Providing adequate nutrition during the first 1000 days can ensure that children are less susceptible to disease.
The Science of Nutrition and Malnutrition 
Clearly, malnutrition is a severe issue in India and has longterm implications for children and the future of the country. Let’s look at how scientific discovery helps us understand nutrition and good nutrition keeps us healthy.
There are six major classes of nutrients
These nutrient classes can be categorized as either:
Macronutrients, which are needed in relatively large amounts, and include carbohydrates (including fiber), fats, protein, and water.
Micronutrients, which are needed in smaller quantities, and are minerals and vitamins.
You probably remember the stories of how lack of vitamin C was discovered to be the cause of scurvy of men on ships or how the cause of Beriberi was the lack of thiamine (vitamin B1). The field of nutrition is full of scientific studies that have provided further understanding into what our bodies need to thrive. This list ( modified from Wikipedia) shows us what may result from various nutrient deficiencies.
Many Nobel prizes have been awarded for nutrition research, with heaviest emphasis on the discovery or synthesis of vitamins.
Take a look at this list from You will want to read this fascinating article from which this information is taken from, too, as it discusses in more detail how some of these scientists made their findings. 

There was an interesting Nobel awarded to a tireless researcher in the field of nutrition research. In 1949, Lord Boyd Orr from United Kingdom, who studied Biology, Medicine and Nutrition, won the Nobel Peace Prize (Yes, PEACE) "for his scientific research into nutrition and his work as the first Director-General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)". He was passionate about understanding malnutrition and metabolism.
Malnutrition and Sanitation 

What if children seem to have enough of the appropriate nutritive food, yet still exhibit signs of malnutrition? Could there be something else going on here? Indeed. In the past few years, scientist have discovered a phenomenon called ENVIRONMENTAL ENTEROPATHY which is caused by prolonged exposure to food and water contaminated with feces

Environmental enteropathy, (EE) also known as gut dysfunction, affects up to 50% of children in the developing world, and causes no overt symptoms or signs in children.
While EE is known to reduce nutrient absorption and to be a significant contributor to child stunting worldwide, there still is no effective treatment for this nor do we understand why it occurs. EE has been recently highlighted as the single most important barrier to achieving normal growth and development of children worldwide.
This chart is a bit hard to see, but if you click on it you will be taken to the article from the prestigious medical journal, The Lancet,  where the authors indicate primary and secondary pathways microbes enter the enteric (digestive) system. We will come back to this when we talk about sanitation and maternal-fetal health over the next few days (From the paper, Child undernutrition, tropical enteropathy, toilets, and handwashing):

A more recent study was published in Science just a few weeks ago and NPR's All Things Considered covered it in a podcast/article called, Gut microbes may play deadly role in malnutrition. Click on the image to listen to the four minute story.
Can science and engineering help solve world hunger?
Here is a partial answer from wiseGEEK:

“One way to solve world hunger would be to develop new ways to grow food on a worldwide scale. Many people today live in areas of the world which were never capable of producing sufficient food crops or are nearly impossible to irrigate. Some arable land remains underused because it is under the control of rogue governments or is currently too inaccessible for farming. By developing new methods for maximizing crop growth on substandard land, inhabitants can grow enough food to meet their needs.

Creating new farming technologies could also help solve world hunger. If food can be grown in large hydroponic farms, for example, there would less strain put on traditional soil farms. Farmers in poorer countries could be trained to rotate their crops in order to keep the soil healthier season after season. Better seeds with higher yields or resistance to insect or weather damage could help farmers grow more usable crops on the same amount of arable land. A renewed emphasis on agriculture as a career could also encourage more young people to start their own farms and produce more food for others.

Genetically modified food crops (if accepted by a nation--and there is a lot of resistance to this across the world) may grow better in areas of the world where soil is poor or insects besiege the crops. We can also modify the crops so they are more nutritious. The most promising of these is a vitamin A rich rice called Golden Rice:

“Genetically modified rice could be a good source of vitamin A for children in countries where deficiency in the vitamin is common. A new study tested so-called Golden Rice against both spinach and supplements in providing vitamin A to 68 six- to eight-year-olds in China. Researchers found that the rice was as effective as the capsules in giving kids a boost of vitamin A, based on blood tests taken over three weeks. And it worked better than the natural beta-carotene in spinach, the researchers report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.” Read more HERE.

With the tools of biotechnology, we can grow more crops on less land, grow new, more nutritious crops, and find new uses for existing crops.

Wed, February 13, 2013 | link 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Childhood Vaccines in India
In 2008, WHO estimated that 1.5 million of deaths among children under 5 years were due to diseases that could have been prevented by routine vaccination. This represents 17% of global total mortality in children under 5 years of age.
Hygiene, proper nourishment and sanitary conditions make for a healthy community, with lowered incidence of infectious disease, but since much of this is lacking in developing countries, vaccination is very helpful to giving the immune system a boost.
We can thank scientists, physicians and engineers for their work in understanding the immune system and how to make it work for us against disease by using vaccinations. 

Famous Scientists in the field of vaccine development: Most of you have heard the stories of how vaccinations came about starting with Edward Jenner (cowpox) to Louis Pasteur (rabies) then to Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin (polio). A story you may not have heard in school was about Maurice Hilleman and his team at Merck who developed several dozen of the most common efficacious and cost-effective vaccinations and has saved millions of lives. I highly recommend this book by Paul Offit, Vaccinated: One Man’s Quest to Defeat the World’s Deadliest Diseases.  There are many good books and websites on the lives Jenner, Pasteur, Salk and Sabin as well.
For a quick, fun way to learn about scientists who have made vaccination discoveries, click on this image to go to this matching game of pioneers in vaccine development.

 How Vaccines Work 
Vaccines manipulate the immune system of the recipient. Thus, to understand how vaccines work (or how to create new vaccines), we must first understand how the immune system prevents and fights infections. It is also a good idea to understand how infectious agents cause disease. This to me sounds like an entire college career! 
Clicking on the image below will take you to a colorful tutorial to learn more. Go ahead and check it out!
The goal of vaccination is to stimulate the adaptive immune system to make memory cells that will protect the vaccinated person against future exposure to a pathogen, without causing the symptoms of the disease.
There are several types of vaccines which can stimulate the immune system to provide memory and protect against future exposure to a pathogen. 
According to the CDC, the GENERAL RULE is:
The more similar a vaccine is to the disease-causing form of the organism, the better the immune response to the vaccine. 

What are the requirements for an effective vaccine?
They vary according to the nature of the infecting organism.
For extracellular organisms, antibodies against the organism (or part of it, some antigen) prove to be the most adaptive mechanism of host defense, whereas, for control if intracellular organisms (such as polio virus) an effective immune cell (CD8 t-lymphocyte) response is also essential.
The ideal vaccination provides host defense at the point of entry of the infectious agent; stimulation of mucosal (these are the moist nose, mouth, eye surfaces) immunity is an important goal.
Effective protective immunity against some organisms requires the presence of pre-existing antibody at the time of exposure to the infection, and booster shots are a great way to boost the presence of antibody.
Features of an effective vaccine

Vaccine must not itself cause illness or death 


Vaccine must protect against illness resulting from exposure to live pathogen 

Gives sustained protection

Protection against illness must last for several years 

Induces neutralizing antibody

Some pathogens (such as poliovirus) infect cells that cannot be replaced. Neutralizing antiboody is essential to prevent infection of such cells. 

Induces protective T cells 

Some pathogens, particularly intracellular, are more effectively dealt with by cell-mediated responses 

 Practical considerations

low cost per dose, biological stability, ease of administration, few side-effects

Want to learn more about how vaccines are made? Go to this tutorial by clicking on the image.
Listed here are the types of vaccines that can be produced based on the organism and type of response required.

1) Inactivated organism vaccines
Whole organism
Viral — polio, hepatitis A, rabies, influenza*
Bacterial — pertussis*, typhoid*, cholera*, plague*

Fractional (portion of the organism)
toxold --diphtheria, tetanus
subunit-- — hepatitis B, influenza, acellular pertussis, human papillomarvirus, anthrax
polysaccharide-based->induces antibody production against the "sugarcoat" of certain organisms
--pneumococcal, meningococcal, Salmonella Typhi (VI), haemophilus influenzae type B
**polysaccharide based vaccines usually won't work in children younger than 2 years. Boosters are ineffective and the antibody is less functional than with other types of vaccines.

2) Live attenuated vaccines
Uses an attenuated (weakened) form of the "wild" virus or bacterium
Must replicate to be effective
Immune response similar to natural infection
Usually produce immunity with one dose
Viral — measles, mumps, rebella, vaccinia, varicella, zoster, yellow fever, rotavirus, intranasal influenza, oral polio
Bacterial — BCG (against TB), oral typhoid
Drawbacks to live attenuated vaccines
Severe reactions possible
Interference from circulating antibody
Fragile — must be store and handled carefully

Challenges of Vaccination in Developing Countries

Developing countries generally wait an average of 20 years between when a vaccine is licensed in industrialized countries and when it is available for their own populations.Economic, infrastructural and scientific hurdles all contribute to this long delay. The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) is a partnership between many public and private organization, including UNICEF, The WHO, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, members of the vaccine industry and NGOs. GAVI was formed in 1999 to address the long delay between vaccine availability in industrialized countries and developing countries. Scientific advances that would help make more vaccines available in developing countries include the development of temperature stable vaccines, development of vaccines that required less than three doses to immunize and the development of needle free methods to administer vaccines.

Vaccines are complex biological substances and can lose their potency over time. They are sensitive to too cold or too hot temperatures and some are sensitive to exposure to UV light.

The "cold chain system" ensures that vaccines are kept cold from the time they leave the manufacturer all the way through to administration to the patient, but 
maintaining the cold chain is especially challenging in developing nations where lack of infrastructure can make it difficult to maintain proper storage temperatures. To this end, vaccine manufacturers engineered Vaccine Viral Monitors (VVMs) based on technology used in the food industry. Since March 1996, all polio vaccine through UNICEF carry VVMs, at minimal cost. As of January 2001, ALL of UNICEF's vaccine supplies are required to have VVMs. 

As most of us are "painfully" aware, many vaccines must be given by injection. In developing countries, healthcare workers may not have access to an adequate supply of sterile needles, and sometimes disposable syringes are saved and reused. This could lead to the spread of blood borne diseases. This is where bioengineering really shows its strength of creating solutions to problems. I could create a very long list of devices that have been created and are considered as innovative including nasal delivery, needle free, patches with dissolvable microneedles made of sugar embedded with the vaccine. Check out what bioengineers have done for the field of vaccine administration!

"One shot" locks after one use to prevent re-use and spread of blood borne disease.Oral liquid has been used for the OPV (oral polio vaccine) and also for rotavirusIntranasal spray is an excellent way to work at the site most viruses enterThis patch has vaccine embedded and moves slowly into the skin Air gun (BioShot) uses force of air to push liquid into skin rather than needle. Very hygienicDissolvable needles made of sugar with vaccine embedded are placed on a patch and painlessly deliver the vaccine
 BD_SoloShot.jpgphoto_boy_receiving_oral_polio_vaccine.jpg art.marti.vaccine.cnn.jpg patch-vaccine.jpg Bioject1.jpg sugarneedles.jpeg 
For India specifically, I found this information related to vaccine production:  "Vaccine production by indigenous manufacturers needs to be encouraged to bring down costs, reduce dependence on imports and ensure availability of vaccines specifically needed by India (e.g. typhoid) and custom made to Indian requirements (rotavirus and pneumococcal vaccines). The recent vaccination related deaths signal a need for improving immunization safety and accountability and setting up of an adverse event monitoring system. Finally setting up a system for monitoring incidence of vaccine preventable diseases and conducting appropriate epidemiological studies is necessary to make evidence based decisions on incorporation of vaccines in the national schedule and study impact of vaccines on disease incidence, serotype replacement, epidemiologic shift, etc." (source)
 What Are Some Diseases That Do Not Have a Vaccine?
Malaria: Malaria is a protozoan parasite and while tiny it is still much larger than the bacteria or viruses that cause most other diseases.
According to "Professor Adrian Hill, ... at the University of Oxford, whose group is working on malaria vaccines. "You can't really use the whole malaria parasite to make a vaccine, but you still need to generate immunity to it. That means that we have to design a subunit vaccine, which is always difficult, and in this case the major problem is to induce a big enough immune response to kill the parasite." (source)
Tuberculosis: There has been a TB vaccine for nearly 100 years, the BCG vaccine. It is not highly effective. There are several types of TB. Most of us think of the TB that affects the lungs but it can also affect bone, the bladder, and the gastrointestinal tract. The life cycle of Mycobacterium is complex and the disease can lay dormant and sequester itself in the human body for quite some time, making it difficult for the body to launch an immune attack even if it is given a boost with a vaccine. The vaccine works well in some populations but not others and is not effective in infants. Essentially the complexity of the disease and its manifestations is outfoxing our own knowledge of how to create a vaccine. You can read a story about the work on new vaccines here at NPR.
HIV: There are many reasons that a vaccine has proven so difficult to develop. HIV represents a unique challenge: our body can eliminate most acute viral infections. In contrast, our natural immune system does not destroy HIV. In fact, HIV infection results in the production of large amounts of virus, even in the presence of killer T cells and antibody. In developing a vaccine, we are faced with the challenge of tyring to elicit an dimmune response that does not exist in nature. Therefore, we don't know exactly what type of immune response a vaccine should develop. In addition, HIV virus mutates at a high rate and allows it to escape destruction by the immune system.

A note about Polio Eradication in India
Thankfully India has been declared Polio free for two years thanks to a very strong initiative, but there are still countries that struggle with its eradication. 
Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus. It invades the nervous system, and can cause total paralysis in a matter of hours. The virus enters the body through the mouth and multiplies in the intestine. Initial symptoms are fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, stiffness in the neck and pain in the limbs. One in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis (usually in the legs). Among those paralysed, 5% to 10% die when their breathing muscles become immobilized. Polio mainly affects children under five years of age.
Treatment: There is no cure for polio, it can only be prevented. Polio vaccine, given multiple times, can protect a child for life.
Books: A very popular book about Polio is not about it's worldwide impact but its effect on America in Polio: An American Story by David M. Oshinsky. 
Famous Scientists: Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin both made great strides towards the development of the polio vaccine. Their feud was famous as to whether a live of killed virus was the best way to inoculate against polio.
If we were able to eradicate smallpox and are on our way to eradicating polio, why can't we do this with every disease?
We were able to eradicate smallpox because its virulence was specific to humans only. If enough people are vaccinated, there will not enough of a threshold level of hosts (us) to sustain the pathogen. Once vaccination strategies can be implemented more forcefully in areas that still have polio, it can be eradicated fully.
Diseases caused by organisms that live in the environment, like Clostridium tetani, that causes tetanus, could never be eradicated, even though we have an effective vaccine unless we were able to eliminate all Clostridium tetani from the planet. Not easily done. 
Any disease that is zoonotic, meaning, can jump from animal to animal to human and back again will never be eradicated. If you want to learn about zoonotic diseases like Ebola, hantavirus, influenza and more, I HIGHLY recommend Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic by David Quammen.  

An excellent source about everything vaccine related is at the CDC 2012 Epidemiology & Prevention of 
Vaccine-Preventable Diseases 

Learn more about vaccinations in India at this very comprehensive website

A great educational site explaining vaccines in complete details is A History of Vaccines  by the College of Physicians in Philadelphia. It has games, interactive timelines, videos and more. I highly recommend this site!

The WHO maintains an excellent website related to vaccinations for most infectious diseases in developing countries here and definitely check out their massive Immunization Profile page for India
Tue, February 12, 2013 | link 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Pediatric Infectious Diseases in India

This is the first in a series of five posts leading up to my trip to India to examine issues of child survival with the International Reporting Project via Johns Hopkins University with significant funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. For the duration of the trip, I am to consider my self a New Media Journalist with IRP.

Infectious diseases are common all over the world. You probably know them as generally communicable diseases of bacterial, viral or protozoan origin, that will enter the body, and infect it, causing illness and sometimes leading to death, especially if the body is weakened by malnutrition or stressful environmental factors. 

Doctors and healers for a very long time could recognize symptoms of illness and would classify the illness and eventually name them, but they didn't know what caused these illnesses. A big breakthrough in understanding that certain diseases were caused by extremely tiny organisms came through the work of Louis Pasteur and also Robert Koch. They both can be credited with establishing the Germ Theory of Disease. Koch applied rigorous scientific methods to understanding how microorganisms invade the host and cause disease. He determined what are known as Koch's Postulates.


This long post will talk about diseases common to children in India that have a causautive agent and whose increased prevalence often has to do with issues of poverty, lack of education, unclean water, poor sanitation and malnutrition. 

Let's look at several diseases: diarrheal diseases (cholera, rotavirus), respiratory diseases (Pneumonia and Tuberculosis) and what I will just call "other" (Malaria, and HIV). Since Polio has been eradicated from India, I will address this in the vaccination post tomorrow.

I will describe the disease, it's causative agent, how it is contracted, they symptoms and most often the occurrence in the children of India if I have that information. This information comes from several sources including WHOUNICEFThe Gates Foundation and more. Note that the numbers, percentages, and other analyses to help us understand the rates of infection or mortality are necessarily a critical part of knowing how severe a disease is in any given population and if prevention and treatment tactics are working. Working with the "M" of STEM, Mathematics, especially statistics, but also including GIS (global information systems) and other types of mathematical modeling helps us paint a picture of the severity of a disease now and determine our next course of action. If numbers excite you, you could be of assistance in the improvement of conditions in developing nations such as India by providing the data to decision makers in health policy, for instance.

The description will include a few of the more notable scientists who have played a role in helping us understand the disease, including Nobel Prize winners. If you feel I've left someone out, be certain to send a note via my contact page, I'd love to hear from you.

How a disease is treated or prevented will be touched on briefly. Note that tomorrow's post is about vaccinations and since many of the diseases I will discuss have vaccines, I will address those in more detail in that post. Some diseases are just more common where sanitation is poor so their solutions will be examined in the post on sanitation.

Finally, I will suggest books for further reading on the topic if I know of them. These will be what I consider adult popular science books, which a bright middle schooler or high schooler could read as well. But if you are looking for something at a middle reading level, there are many fantastic books at your library and I highly recommend you check them out. (BTW, I LOVE LiBRAIRIES!) 


Diarrheal Diseases

  • Diarrheal disease is the second leading cause of death in children under five years old. It is both preventable and treatable.
  • Diarrheal disease kills 1.5 million children every year and account for >10% if child mortality in India.
  • Globally, there are about two billion cases of diarrheal disease every year.
  • Diarrheal disease mainly affects children under two years old.
  • Diarrhea is a leading cause of malnutrition in children under five years old.
  • Diarrhea can be of bacterial origin (ex: cholera), viral origin (ex: rotavirus) or parasitic (ex: ameobic dysentery)

Preventing diarrheal diseases requires the following:

  • access to safe drinking-water
  • improved sanitation
  • exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life
  • good personal and food hygiene
  • health education about how infections spread
  • rotavirus vaccination. (source)

"Cholera is a disease spread mostly through contaminated drinking water and unsanitary conditions. It is endemic in the Indian subcontinent, Russia, and sub-Saharan Africa. It is an acute infection of the intestines with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. Its main symptom is copious diarrhea. Between 5% and 10% of those infected with the disease will develop severe symptoms, which also include vomiting and leg cramps. In its severe form, cholera can cause death by dehydration. An estimated 200,000 cases are reported to WHO annually." Learn more.

Best bet treatment: Most cases can be treated with rehydration salts. A vaccine exists but clean water and proper sanitation are the most effective measures to prevent the disease from taking hold in communities in the first place.


Book to read about Cholera: The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven B. Johnson. Click on this image to watch a video about this book!

Famous Scientists: John Snow, who discovered the source of the main cholera infection in England and whom The Ghost Map book is about, and Robert Koch who discovered that Vibrio cholerae was the infectious agent. 


Rotavirus is the most common cause of viral gastroenteritis (inflammation of the stomach and intestines) worldwide. It kills more than 600,000 children each year, mostly in developing countries. Symptoms include vomiting, watery diarrhea, fever, and abdominal pain. In India,

"The health burden of rotavirus in India is well established. WHO estimated that 98, 621 Indian children died from rotavirus gastroenteritis in 2008, representing about one third of deaths from diarrhoeal disease and 4% of all child deaths in India. More recent data from the Million Death Study, a nationally representative survey of 1.1 million Indian households, estimated that the virus causes 113 000 deaths a year." (source)


It was given its name because a scientist viewed it through an electron microscope, and thinking it looked like a wheel, called it rota (think rotation) -virus.

Best bet treatment: Most cases can be treated with rehydration salts. A vaccine exists and is incredibly effective!

Famous Scientists: In 1973, Ruth Bishop and colleagues described related viruses found in children with gastroenteritis. 

Book to read: I don't know of a good one solely about rotavirus, but if you want to learn more about viruses of all types, including RNA based ones like rotavirus, definitely read Carl Zimmer's book, A Planet of Viruses


Respiratory Diseases 

 I will limit this discussion to pneumonia and tuberculosis (which isn't solely respiratory) for the sake of brevity.

Pneumonia is the leading global killer of children under five, responsible for almost 1.6 million deaths per year. In that vulnerable population, it is a disease of poverty and occurs most commonly when a child’s still-developing defense system is weakened by malnutrition, air pollution, co-infections with HIV/AIDS and measles, and low birthweight, with 43 million cases for children in India alone.

  • Pneumonia is the leading cause of death in children worldwide.
  • Pneumonia kills an estimated 1.2 million children under the age of five years every year – more than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.
  • Pneumonia can be caused by viruses, bacteria or fungi.
  • Pneumonia can be prevented by immunization, adequate nutrition and by addressing environmental factors.
  • Pneumonia caused by bacteria can be treated with antibiotics, but around 30% of children with pneumonia receive the antibiotics they need. (source)

Pneumonia occurs when the sacs of the lungs, known as alveoli, become filled with pus and fluid, limiting oxygen intake and making it hard to breathe. 


Pneumonia is caused by a number of infectious agents, including viruses, bacteria and fungi. The most common are:

  • Streptococcus pneumoniae – the most common cause of bacterial pneumonia in children;
  • Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) – the second most common cause of bacterial pneumonia;
  • respiratory syncytial virus is the most common viral cause of pneumonia;
  • in infants infected with HIV, Pneumocystis jiroveci is one of the commonest causes of pneumonia, responsible for at least one quarter of all pneumonia deaths in HIV-infected infants.(source)

  • Best Bet Treatments: There are many treatments based on the cause of the pneumonia.
  • Famous Scientists: (This information is modified from Wikipedia here:) 
  • "Edwin Klebs was the first who observed bacteria in the airways of persons who died of pneumonia in 1875.
  • Initial work identifying the two common bacterial causes Streptococcus pneumoniae and Klebsiella pneumoniae was performed by Carl Friedländer and Albert Fränkel Friedländer's initial work introduced the Gram stain, a fundamental laboratory test still used today to identify and categorize bacteria. 
  • Christian Gram's paper describing the procedure in 1884 helped to differentiate the two bacteria, and showed that pneumonia could be caused by more than one microorganism."
I can't think of a book to recommend to you, but there is a funny music video made by some medical students about different types of bacteria put to a Rhianna song you might recognize. Click on the image to be taken to a new page to watch the video.

Tuberculosis: "Tuberculosis causes nearly 2 million deaths every year, and WHO estimates that nearly 1 billion people will be infected between 2000 and 2020 if more effective preventive procedures are not adopted. The TB bacteria are most 


often found in the lungs, where they can cause chest pain and a bad cough that brings up bloody phlegm. Other symptoms include fatigue, weight loss, appetite loss, chills, fever, and night sweats." (source) It is caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

Childhood or pediatric tuberculosis is often unrecognized due to lack of health care and lack of education on symptoms to look for (watch this video about recognizing TB in kids). Tuberculosis has a safe haven in HIV patients, unfortunately, so eradication is difficult. Many cases of tuberculosis are also multi-drug resistant making it very difficult and expensive to treat.

Best Bet Treatment: Generally a cocktail of antibiotics, though this is becoming more difficult as the bacteria mutate and become resistant.

Prevention:There are several vaccines but the most common is the BCG vaccine which is only partially effective. New vaccines are constantly being tested.

Famous Scientists: The 1905 Nobel Prize in medicine and physiology went to Robert Koch for his investigations and discoveries in relation to tuberculosis. He  is one of the founders of bacteriology. He discovered the anthrax disease cycle (1876) and the bacteria responsible for tuberculosis (1882) and cholera (1883)

The 1952 Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology went to Selman Abraham Waksman for his discovery of streptomycin, the first antibiotic effective against tuberculosis.

Book to Read: Spitting Blood: A History of Tuberculosis by Helen Bynum (horrible title, very well done book!)

Of interest about India and TB is that there was an India-initiated crowd-sourced effort to map and annotate the genome of the bacteria that causes TB. In other words, effort was put in to read and evaluate the DNA sequence, hoping that if this information is freely available online, it might be of use to those who design drugs and maybe a cure could be found. Of such importance to the people of India to eradicate this disease that thousands of smart people volunteered their time to finish this project. Very impressive!
Other diseases 

"Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease that affects more than 500 million people annually, causing between 1 and 3 million deaths. It is most common in tropical and subtropical climates and is found in 90 countries—but 90% of all cases are found in Sub-Saharan Africa. Most of its victims are children. The first stage consists of shaking and chills, the next stage involves high fever and severe headache, and in the final stage the infected person's temperature drops and he or she sweats profusely. Infected people also often suffer from anemia, weakness, and a swelling of the spleen. Malaria was almost eradicated 30 years ago; now it is on the rise again." (source)

The causative agent is the Plasmodium parasite with a complicated life cycle which


 is transmitted via the bites of infected mosquitoes. In the human body, the parasites multiply in the liver, and then infect red blood cells.

Treatment: There are many antimalarial drugs, many derived from natural sources, but can also be chemically synthesized. If you want to know more, check out the Wikipedia page on the topic. Again, like the organism that causes tuberculosis, plasmodium is becoming increasingly resistant to drugs.

Prevention: Insecticides to control the vector mosquitoes, netting around beds at night, proper sanitation and drainage of water in the environment, and anti-malarial drugs taken in small doses as a preventative.

Famous Scientists: n 1902Sir Ronald Ross received the Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology for his work on malaria, by which he has shown how it enters the organism and thereby has laid the foundation for successful resesarch on this disease and methods of combating it. He made his discovery while stationed in India in 1897.

In 1948, Paul Hermann Muller received the Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology for his discovery of the high efficiency of DDT as a contact poison against several arthropods. Unfortunately, it is also toxic to humans and use had to be discontinued, but until then it was very good at eliminating mosquitoes that carried the malarial parasite. 

Cutting Edge Science: Of interest is a company called Amyris that has used synthetic biology to create yeast that can produce artemisinic acid — a precursor of artemisinin, an effective anti-malarial drug. Learn more at their page.

Books to Read: I recommend two recent books. First, The Fever: How Malaria has ruled human kind for 500,000 years by Sonia Shah and The Imaginations of Unreasonable Men: Inspiration, Vision, and Purpose in the Quest to End Malaria, which examines scientists' quest to find a malaria vaccine.



Progress for children is slower

"Of the 4.8 million people living with HIV in Asia, nearly half (49%) are in India. Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is a fatal and incurable disease 


caused by HIV (human immunodeficiency Virus), AIDS attacks and destroys the immune system, gradually leaving the individual defenseless against illnesses that lead to death." (source)

"While there have been gains in treatment, care and support available to adults, we note that progress for children is slower," says Leila Pakkala, Director of the UNICEF Office in Geneva. “The coverage of HIV interventions for children remains alarmingly low. Through concerted action and equity-focused strategies, we must make sure that global efforts are working for children as well as adults”. (source)

Treatment: The introduction of highly active antiretroviral (ARV) therapy in 1996 was a turning point for those with access to sophisticated health-care systems. The cost of these drugs are out of reach for the 95% of people living with HIV/AIDS in developing countries. Progress has recently been made in India, however, as Indian pharmaceutical companies are producing generic versions of ARVs and selling them for less than $1 a day. Another obstacle is that not everyone can tolerate the potent medications and their side effects. (source)

Books to Read: I have not read any of these seven suggested books, so cannot personally recommend any of these, but if I had to choose, I think I would start with The Epidemic: A Global History of Aids by Jonathan Engel.

Famous Scientists: The 2008 nobel prize in Medicine and Physiology was awarded to Francoise Barre Sinoussi, and Luc Montagnier for their discovery of human immunodeficiency virus.



There are many more diseases that afflict children in India, but I believe this post is a decent treatment of many of them. Some of these will reappear as I post further topics over the next few days.

 All images are creative commons sourced.

I offer huge thanks to the School of Integrative Biology at the University of Illinois for their support of my outreach. A huge dose of appreciation for GoPro cameras which has outfitted me with a new Hero3 with which I will share with you both the opulence and poverty of India in the upcoming days. This trip is fully funded by the International Reporting Project and the Gates Foundation. 

Mon, February 11, 2013 | link 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Why am I going to India?

I will be leaving in just a matter of days to go to India with the International Reporting Project as a New Media Journalist to examine the issues of child survival. We will be in Mumbai, Nagpur, and New Delhi with visits to rural and slum areas. The IRP has a full schedule for the ten of us chosen to share our findings with our audiences within social media and blogs.

I made a video explaining why I'm going and what I plan to do to further the understanding of STEM (Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) during this trip in relation to child survival issues.

Click on the image to go to the video, please. 


Many of the issues surrounding child survival in India; malnutrition, maternal and fetal care, sanitation, infectious diseases, and vaccinations, can be viewed as social issues, ones that stem from the difficulties of being a developing nation with a tremendously large population, and many of them living below the poverty levels and without education.  Segments of India are thriving and growing and on the cutting edge of technology, with some of the most highly educated people in the world, making India a land of disparities. 



If you want to know more about the rise of science and engineering in India, I highly recommend, Angela Saini's excellent book, Geek Nation: How Indian Science Is Taking Over the World


The child survival issue is significant. The organization, Save the Children, indicates that India lags behind most countries in children’s health. This is not an unrecognized problem, just a massive one that requires concerted effort to address the issues. As I write, currently in India is the UNICEF and USAID Child Survival Summit . Visit the site to see how leaders in the field are evaluating, and aiming to tackle, the myiad of issues that underlie child survival.

I understand that many of the people we are slated to meet in India will be NGO leaders, and persons within governmental and charitable organizations who are working to implement the much needed changes, but my thoughts, as always, turn to the STEM topics: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.  How do these topics explain, inform, and attempt to solve the massive issues related to child survival plaguing India and other impoverished areas of the world? 

In these few days leading up to the trip, I will provide an introductory series of posts about the issues we will be examining from a STEM perspective and explain these issues towards a general audience. 

I will, in turn, look at the following issues related to child survival in India:

Infectious Diseases—Monday, February 11

Vaccinations—Tuesday, February 12

Malnutrition—Wednesday, February 13

Sanitation/Environmental Issues—Thursday, February 14

Maternal-Fetal Health—Friday, February 15

These issues are quite inter-related and separating them will most likely result in a loss of the fluidity in explaining the complexity of child survival, but surely you will bear with me there.

For each topic, I will attempt to answer the following questions:

  • How has science furthered our understanding of these topics? Who are some notable scientists who have played a role in our understanding?  (An entire encyclopedia could be written on Infectious Diseases alone and books have been written about individual diseases, but understandably I will have to keep my discussions and explanations much briefer.)
  • How do these topics relate specifically to children in India, as far as I understand them?
  • How has scientific knowledge been applied, either through medicine or engineering via technologies, pharmaceuticals and common sense measures to solve these issues?
  • What type of scientists and engineers work on these types of topics? I think it will not be an all-inclusive list as my knowledge is still limited, but I hope to provide some insight into the fields of science and engineering that one could choose and potentially make significant impacts in improving health and survival across the world.

What I hope to do is to highlight STEM and demonstrate how science and engineering are meaningful fields. I’d like to think that this information could be a source of inspiration to those considering STEM fields.

I appreciate you following my adventures in India and will help me raise awareness by sharing my posts if you are so inspired. You can follow me on twitter  facebook and/or google plusas well as this blog or my site at Scientific American. That's a lot of places to keep up with, but I know different people enjoy one social media site over others, so I hang out on all of them! 

See you again soon! 
Sun, February 10, 2013 | link 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Using Social Media to Promote Science Panel Discussion at UIUC

For locals who want to hear from Science Social Media experts about how to use social media to promote science, Kate ClancyMelanie TannenbaumBill Hammack and myself will be at your service November 26th from 4-6pm in 612 IGB on the University of Illinois campus.


Hope to see you there! 

Wed, November 21, 2012 | link 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

New Media for Scientists, Engineers and Other Academicians

This week, I am continuing to share from a pamphlet written by Bill Hammack, a professor of Chemical Engineering at UIUC but more affectionately known to the general public as "The Engineer Guy".  

 My video choice of his this week is "How a Microwave Works"


Bill's goal is to make new media and the motivation to communicate science and engineering to the general public understandable to scientists, engineers and other academics, 

His pamphlet is called "Why Engineers Need to Grow a Long Tail". 


Over the course of the next few weeks, with Bill's approval, I share his pamphlet with you in parts (you can read the entire thing HERE). I believe that his analysis and encouragement to communicators is very important and worth consideration.

Read Part 1 HERE. 

The wording of his pamphlet is unchanged but some formatting has been shuffled so it is be readable in blog format. 


New Media Isn't Just Old Media Delivered in a Different Way

WHEN I talk of “new media” or “Web 2.0” I don't mean simply delivering “old” media via the web. By “old media” I don't even mean a particular technology (movies, television, radio, newspapers, magazines, etc.) but instead a particular process. I've worked extensively in “old” media, so to illustrate that process let's look at the creation of one of my commentaries for public radio's popular Marketplace.

How old media works

Typically I pitch a piece to a sub-editor; we'll discuss the piece thoroughly, look for any holes, logical leaps, discuss the news hook for it, and also make a “snapper” for the ending. Together, then, we develop a script. That script goes to an editor or two above my sub-editor for approval. We then make changes, head to the studio, and carefully lay down the audio tracks - re-taping any parts that didn't sound just right. Usually we do the taping the day the piece airs, so a few hours after my studio visit the commentary appears on Marketplace and is then heard by six million people. Later, of course, it appears in a downloadable audio file - an MP3 - so it would seem this has a new media presence, yet it really doesn't.

What makes something “old” media is that process I described of completely polishing a piece, filtering it through many gatekeepers (editors, sub-editors, and the like), carefully editing the final piece, and then offering it to the public. The essential characteristic of old media lies in this model: filter, then publish. The new media inverts this completely: one publishes and then filters. Think of a place - a repository or a searchable, browsable web space - where engineers place their videos reflecting their own interests and their take on engineering. Wouldn't this, just be a free for all -- a mishmash of video?

Isn't “publish, then filter” just a useless free-for-all?

One key to a successful “publish, then filter” site lies in adding a social dimension. If you look carefully at a site like YouTube, the public is able to rate and rank the videos. They do this astonishingly well: highly rated video are indeed interesting and sometimes informative. Or, consider a site like Flickr, which is designed to share photos. Flickr features two billion photos! One of the earliest Web 2.0 applications, it works as a photo repository fueled by social organization tools, which allow photos to be tagged and browsed by “folksonomic”22 means.

For example, sixteen users pooled 1,712 images of Steuben County in upstate New York, including wineries and lakes, hunting and fishing, dining and shopping. No one person set out to organize such a thing, no media outlet assigned a team to it, yet it does have value. Other members of Flickr sort and rate these photos, allowing a user to look only at the most interesting ones. On Flickr one can find thousands of these groups - the 219 members who took 2,271 photos of the latest Minnesota State Fair, or the 191 people who shared 5,719 images of the “Cans” Festival in London. So, while it seems that Flickr, Wiki, and YouTube have no quality control, in another sense they are completely quality controlled - many videos, wiki entries, or Flickr photos are never viewed, as they are deemed completely unworthy.

For example, someone started a Flickr group for the “British General Electric Company”, which has only two members, one of whom contributed twenty-one of the thirty-three photos.23 Even worse was the “LLI Liberty & Summit Conferences”, which had one member who posted fifteen photos.24 No one participated in these groups and they failed – just two of surely tens of thousands of such failures. So, failure in the “publish, then filter” world is high, but the cost of failure is low. What has changed in the last ten years - due to digital tools for video and sites for sharing with the world - is this dropping cost of failure.

Yet, even this doesn't fully explain the power of “publish, then filter.” The descriptions above imply that the procedure works only to find the “hits” that appeal to a mass audience, and while this happens, it represents only half the power of new media.

Beyond mega-hits: the long tail

The web has blurred the line between a private communication and a public broadcast. In the past one would never listen in on a phone call or open someone else's mail, and similarly one knows that a commentary broadcast on public radio's Marketplace is designed for all; yet, the web is filled with things like this:

A flower vendor was just packing up and he had a very nice, good sized rosemary plant. I was planning to cook a chicken tomorrow and missed the herb plants that I had at home, so I was glad to get a new one. On the way back to the tram stop, I stopped into Wilkinson's where at last I found a wastebasket. [From a blog by Felicita written on September 27, 2008]

What is this? Surely something like this about a visit to the mall cannot replace the “old” media? It cannot, but implicit in this question is an error: Assuming those using new media are trying to find some common denominator to reach a mass audience as old media does. Or, more simply, put, “They aren't talking to you!” And we aren't really talking about audiences.

Social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook have millions of accounts, yet the median number of friends on MySpace is two, whereas the average is 55 - although the distribution isn’t bell-shaped, it skewed toward lower numbers. This means that social networking is largely done pairwise: One person communicating with another. A blogger like Felicita is one of millions of pairwise (or perhaps tertiary or higher) interactions. So, from an “old” mass media viewpoint, an audience of tens or hundreds is a failure of sorts - yet audience is the wrong word to use. What Felicita has is a “community”, a community in which she, for whatever reason, resonates. It is a secret of Web 2.0 (social networking) sites that one doesn't need professional quality in video, or narrative technique, or performance to be successful. The success of a content-rich site would be much like a dinner party: it isn't important what's on the plates, but instead what's on the seats. The social networking of Web 2.0 allows people to choose what appeals, rather than sit and receive coarse marketing messages, with a global communication cost so low the lowest common denominator in communication can be overcome. This means the tyranny of the most popular has been defeated by the long tail, a concept outlined in a popular 2006 book by Chris Anderson:

The theory of the Long Tail is that our culture and economy is increasingly shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of 'hits' (mainstream products and markets) at the head of the demand curve and toward a huge number of niches in the tail. As the costs of production and distribution fall, especially on-line, there is now less need to lump products and consumers into one-size-fits-all containers. In an era without the constraints of physical shelf space and other bottlenecks of distribution, narrowly targeted goods and services can be as economically attractive as mainstream fare.25

The long tail means that we can now serve previously under- served audiences. Prior to the Web it would have been extremely expensive to reach small audiences, but businesses like Amazon find that everything in their offerings is sampled once; perhaps not more than that, but at least once.

The same applies to the engineering profession and its content. One may well ask who would want to hear an engineer talk about “plate efficiency” in a chemical engineering unit operation or listen to the details of how fiber optics work. Yet like and their infinite bookshelf, each of these videos would likely get at least one pairwise interaction because the topic resonates with someone. And that is precisely what engineering's long tail should do: match up interests and entries. This moves the mass media component of engineering outreach from an emphasis on big media hits - a television show or a New York Times article - to a world where, instead, 1,000 bloggers discuss in detail some aspect of science or engineering. 

Wikis work!

What, then, are the details that make a social networking or wiki- style model work?

Within academia the Wikipedia model gets little respect, yet for many subjects it works very well.26 I use the site frequently and am often startled by the quality of information.27 As of August 2010 Wikipedia has a bit over three million articles and is the third most popular site on the web behind Google and Facebook; the other top ten are all commercial.28 So, Wikipedia's utility for millions of users has been settled. The interesting questions are why it works and how it can be used elsewhere.29

Four observations shed light on how the wiki model works -- whether it be text-, still-photo-, audio- or video-based. These observations are key to making an engineering new- media outreach project work.

Process, not product. The key idea to keep in mind is that something like Wikipedia is not a product. Although the -pedia suffix makes one compare it to an encyclopedia, it is instead a process. A wiki doesn't work by collectivism but by continual and unending argumentation and emendation.

Centered on a debatable question. A good wiki usually focuses on a question of the form “How does this work?” about an activity that its users want to engage in. For example, Flickr has a lively forum on HDR. Photographers make these High Dynamic Range images by combining three different exposures. This desire to do it oneself drives the forum.

Accommodate different levels of contribution. Unlike a corporation, not all people who contribute to a project need to contribute equally. Some (many, in fact) do little, but a few do a lot. Why does this work here, but not in corporations and businesses? A car company, for example, must a) make cars and b) be a company. It takes a lot of work to be a company. Wikipedia, in contrast, doesn't need to be sure its employees show up. A company needs to ensure all workers are interchangeable and do the same amount of work; but Wikipedia contributors come and go. Return for a moment to the photos of Steuben County I mentioned earlier. As is typical of a sharing site like Flickr or Wikipedia, the effort shows a skewed distribution: user pawtrait04 contributed 1,547 photos, kpmst7 70, danie.roman 29, Heron Hill Winery 12, and grockwell61 contributed 9 photos.

No experts. Designating experts means no one writes an article. In a wiki, more people are likely to start a bad article than polish a good one. One must truly trust the “publish, then filter” model and let the filtering remove the most atrocious ones.

Still the writers need guidance. Jimmy Wales, one of Wikipedia’s co-founders, notes:

"Any company that thinks it’s going to build a site by outsourcing all the work to its users completely misunderstands what it should be doing. Your job is to provide a structure for your users to collaborate, and that takes a lot of work.Not providing sufficient structure is the reason an experiment that Wired magazine carried out in “crowdsourced” journalism ended in failure."30



22 What a wonderful word! Here, from Wikipedia, is its definition: “Folksonomy (also known as collaborative tagging, social classification, social indexing, and social tagging) is the practice and method of collaboratively creating and managing tags to annotate and categorize content. Folksonomy describes the bottom-up classification systems that emerge from social tagging. In contrast to traditional subject indexing, metadata is generated not only by experts but also by creators and consumers of the content. Usually, freely chosen keywords are used instead of a controlled vocabulary. Folksonomy (from folk + taxonomy) is a user generated taxonomy.”

23 For the curious: “This group is about the people, places and products associated with the GEC from its beginnings in 1886 until 1999 when it became Marconi plc.”

24 Also for those with an inquiring mind: LLI is “a group of entrepreneurs and students of personal development who are changing the financial and personal courses of our lives. As part of that journey we attend conferences all over the world in places like Melbourne, Rome, the Atlantis Resort (Bahamas) and Hawaii.”

25 Anderson, Chris, The Long Tail (New York: Hyperion, 2006). 

26 See The Chronicle of Higher Education's discussion among academics about Wikipedia at

27 Errors, of course, occur, but that isn't unique to Wikipedia and new media. Recently I was reading John Hale's majestic The Civilization of Europe in the Renaissance (1994) - a 20th century masterpiece of history and a sterling example of “filter, filter more, then publish.” On page 86 it announced that Francis I took over from his father Louis XII as King of France. Alas, Francis was a distant cousin. Unlike Wikipedia, this error will last for years and years.

28 See for the most current statistics. 

29 To test whether Wikipedia truly works, in October 2008 I created a short entry for a person worthy of inclusion: Professor Frances H. Arnold of the California Institute of Technology. I never edited the entry again, instead just letting it sit there. Others found it, added her correct birth date, inserted details of her work, and listed references.

30 Assignment Zero was an experiment in “pro-am” (professional/amateur) journalism, in which journalism is run by the public rather than the media. Assignment Zero was an attempt at journalism without strings — one might call it an audience-run newsroom. In the Assignment Zero project, stories were thought up, then chosen and researched by “citizen journalists,” rather than designated by editors. The aim of this experiment was to promote social democracy — rather than the anarchy that one assumes would naturally result — and worked to employ a crowd model that allowed several contributors to shape a story. It failed.

Tue, November 20, 2012 | link 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Why Scientists and Engineers Should Use New Media to Communicate to the Public

I have many years of experience as a science educator. While I teach upper level courses at a major university, I have found myself at home explaining various science concepts to the general public, with an appeal in particular to young ladies.

In this world of new media, which includes blogs, videos and all manner of social media, I've learned many, many things about communicating science online. I'm always willing to learn more and that is why I attend Science Online each year, for a chance to communicate with others who have a passion for sharing science and engineering in the venues unique to the online environment.

One of my favorite people to discuss communicating science and engineering with is my colleague and friend here at UIUC, Bill Hammack, a professor of Chemical Engineering but more affectionately known to the general public as "The Engineer Guy". He makes some great videos (youtube channel). Have you seen any?

 Click on this image to view "How a lead-acid battery works"



Bill has spent much of his career communicating the fascinating world of engineering on radio and more recently has turned to creating videos. Faced with explaining to academicians WHY scientists and engineers should be communicating to the general public and HOW they should be communicating in this new media realm, he took it upon himself to create a brief pamphlet on this topic titled, "Why Engineers Need to Grow a Long Tail". 


Over the course of the next few weeks, with Bill's approval, I will share his pamphlet with you in parts (you can read the entire thing HERE). I believe that his analysis and encouragement to communicators is very important and worth consideration.

The wording of his pamphlet is unchanged but some formatting has been shuffled so it is be readable in blog format.

The New Media Landscape and Its Effect on Science Journalism 

IF YOU can fully answer the question “Why did Madonna drop her record label and replace it with a concert promotion company?” you can skip ahead to the next chapter blog post - you completely understand that we live in a new media world. If not, remove your records from the turntable, turn off the VCR and give me a few minutes to share some facts and figures that will give you a way to think about the revolution occurring in the media world.

Audience Numbers

I recognized the need for such an overview when I mentioned to a colleague that I'd been on public radio's Marketplace the night before, and thus had reached about six million people. He said “That's all?” The degree to which you express incredulity at his answer might serve as a litmus test for reading this chapter about as well as any questions about Madonna's career.

A key aspect of my career has been the realization that engineers need to make mass media an integral - perhaps the integral - part of our outreach. We have many great programs that work at the local level – mobile units like my university’s “physics van” which transports demonstrations to students - but what we really need is to dramatically leverage our time. That calls for mass media. This requires, of course, understanding the current environment so that we can see where to fit in. We should be able to figure out what size audience we can realistically aim for and to anticipate audience trends. So, let's take a look at audience numbers in order to get a feeling for the media landscape and our goals.

Fragmentation as measured by sitcom finale

I start with the “big three” networks' evening national news programs.2 (Do you still watch this? I stopped in 1984!) ABC, NBC and CBS have about six to nine million viewers. That number alone isn't interesting, but over the last twenty-five years, network news has lost one million viewers each year -- that's half their audience in the last twenty years.3 This fact reveals an essential truth about the expansion of the television dial and the fragmentation of the audience.

I've developed a new statistic to illustrate this splintering of the dial, which I call “fragmentation as measured by sitcom finale.” Here are the relevant data:

Viewership for final episode

M*A*S*H (1983) 106,000,000

Seinfeld (1998) 76,300,0005

Friends (2004)   51,100,0006

Since M*A*S*H, the final episodes of very popular shows have lost about 25 million viewers each decade or so. Is Friends 50% “worse”than M*A*S*H? No, it isn't that Friends is a lesser sitcom than M*A*S*H - I mean, neither of these is Charles in Charge - but rather the dial has fragmented. We can see this fragmentation clearly if we study ratings for various news and information media - or at least what passes for news and information today.

Listenership & viewership for today's news/information programs (March 2008)

Rush Limbaugh (radio)   13,700,000 

Morning Edition (NPR)   13,200,000 

Evening Network News   ~7,500,000 

O'Reilly (Fox News)     3,070,000 

Dobbs (CNN)     1,222,700 

New York Times   1,037,000 

Hardball (MSNBC)     600,000


No doubt that by the time this is published some of shows listed might even be canceled, but the trends and punchlines are clear:

• Television has large numbers in the aggregate, but it has completely fragmented; often you are one of 100,000 or so watching a show on a cable network.

• Public radio has not fragmented and has gone gangbusters - this is an educated, voting, active audience whom we don't want to lose.7

• Printed newspapers are on the decline. The top 20 papers have lost about 10% or so in circulation in the last two years, and their circulation further drops every quarter. The printed newspaper lost its economic model when Craigslist took over the classified ads. Online newspapers are doing better, but there is no economic model to make as much revenue as the printed papers.8

• Engineering communicators need to look at economic ways to get chunks of 100,000 listeners and, when it can be done, a million or more.

With these numbers, I've put in perspective that reaching six million people with a commentary on Marketplace is pretty darn good! Still, the numbers reveal a story of crisis for journalism.

The crisis in journalism

Every day brings more dire news for journalism: declining circulation of newspapers, dropping viewership of television news, and fewer listeners for commercial

radio. Nowhere is the impact more profound than on science, technology, engineering, and medical journalism. Ralph Cicerone, President of the National Academy of Sciences, clearly spelled out the crisis:

"[W]e are also seeing troubling signs that communicating science, engineering, and medicine to the general public is getting harder. With recent downsizings at newspapers, magazines, and broadcast outlets, there are now fewer full-time science writers and less space or time for serious, in-depth reporting."9

As print media retrenches, it often regards science journalism as a luxury. For example, in 2004 the Dallas Morning News let go of their esteemed, well-recognized, award-winning science editor in the wake of a costly circulation scandal.10 A struggling San Francisco Chronicle laid off award-winning medical journalist Sabin Russell, who had covered health policy and medical science for twenty- two years at the publication.11 The Houston Chronicle laid off its aerospace reporter of twenty years. The venerable Boston Globe got rid of its Health/Science section, moving health to the Arts & Lifestyle pages and relegating science to its Business columns. And in 2008, CNN completely dismantled its science, space, and technology unit.12 According to Mooney and Kirshenbaum, only one minute out of every 300 on cable news is devoted to science and technology, or one-third of 1 percent. These changes are emblematic of a wider shift in viewer and reader habits that have affected the presentation of science on television.

The fracturing of science television programming

Likely every reader over fifty recalls the great science shows of the 1970s: Carl Sagan's compelling Cosmos or Jacob Bronowski's majestic The Ascent of Man. Yet today the rise of cable and satellite has fractured the television dial into thousands of small pieces, each of which grabs a fraction of the audience of the past. The ratings for quality shows like PBS's NOVA have seen over a 50% decrease - typically, a NOVA episode sees an audience of one and one-half to two million viewers.13 Other outlets for science programming, like the Discovery Channel, have fallen 30% in the last four years - from 1.3 million in prime time to about one million today.14

In addition to a declining audience, the fragmented dial has changed the quality and impact of television programing - impairing the ability to offer rich, detailed, and thoughtful coverage of science, technology, and health. Because the television dial features hundreds of channels, we have become a nation of “channel surfing” viewers. As a television producer once put it to me, “We don't worry that people will tune away, we know they will, we worry about bringing them back.” This means that TV has become a land of sound bites and arresting visual images that may or may not have meaning. Images are chosen first and foremost for their ability to return viewers to the channel, not to convey meaning. The programmers of the Discovery Channel, for example, often make prime time represent a “theme” - recent examples include “shark week” or a focus on “dirty jobs.”15

We now live in a world of niche audiences

Is there hope? No, not in the sense that large audiences will ever be aggregated again. This issue is one that the journalism profession continues to struggle with, especially in looking for an economic model. The implications for our liberal democracy may well be profound: media choice might well increase inequality in political involvement and polarize elections.16 Yet this troubled media landscape does offer an opportunity for the engineering profession.

In the age of monolithic audiences, which required expensive tools - networks, costly cameras, sophisticated microphones - engineers found it hard to be heard. It was difficult to get mentioned on the nightly news or to be featured in a television drama. Nobel Laureate Leon Lederman suggested development of a “television pilot that would instead show researchers as skeptical, creative romantics.”17 In the fragmented world of niche audiences, by using cheap digital tools and internet distribution, the engineering profession can now target and reach the audience we want - audiences of perhaps the 100,000 I mentioned above. The power of these niche audiences lies in their engagement with what they've read or watched.

Internet users like to forward science & technology stories

Two University of Pennsylvania researchers studied how internet users share information.18 Jonah Berger and Katherine Milkman learned that people preferred to forward articles with positive themes, and they liked to send long articles on intellectually challenging topics. “Science kept doing better than we expected,” said Dr. Berger, a social psychologist and a professor of marketing at Penn’s Wharton School. He continued: We anticipated that people would share articles with practical information about health or gadgets, and they did, but they also sent articles about paleontology and cosmology. You’d see articles shooting up the list that were about the optics of deer vision.19

That, of course, is exactly the type of engagement that engineers want for their message. To fulfill the potential of these niche audiences, though, we need to understand thoroughly how new media works and to understand how young people use media differently than their parents.

The younger generation has replaced Descartes' “I think, therefore I am” with “I have a webcam, therefore I am.” No one under 25 uses e-mail any more; it's all instant messaging. Facebook now dominates in every campus computer cluster. The 20-something set even uses media communally: at parties, five or six people might gather around a laptop and share their favorite YouTube videos. New media aren't just a different outlet, they fundamentally change how the media world works.

The concert is now king

For example, in the music industry the change from records to tapes to CDs was what I will call “linear.” In other words, the sales model remained the same with each higher-resolution medium. The iPod, though, disrupted this chain. iTunes and the iPod have ended the age of the CD - music now arrives piecemeal, song-by-song, making little money. In 2000, record companies sold $13.5 billion worth of records. By 2008, this number had dropped to nearly half - $8 billion.20 In fact, the very popular band Radiohead shocked the music industry by releasing their latest album for free. When they later released the CD in stores, however, it was the top-selling album! This phenomenon is part of the new rules that I discuss in the next chapter. The big payoff in music now lies in using the songs to bring fans in for large concerts. Madonna, for example, fired her record company and signed up to be managed by a concert promotion group. She signed a $100 million dollar contract with LiveNation, a company that specializes in concerts. The deal is simple: they give her $100 million, and she gives them records and the rights to license and sell merchandise. Clearly, in this day and age, LiveNation isn't counting on making back its money on record sales. Instead they hope to profit from ancillary streams, such as commercials that license the music, ticket sales, t-shirts, etc. Nothing illustrates the financial power of concerts and the arrival of a new media age more than the oldest rock band alive. In 1975, one could buy a concert ticket to see Mick Jagger strut for $8.50, which would be $34.00 in today's dollars. When the Stones toured in 2006, a ticket cost $100, a threefold increase in constant dollars.21 Small wonder the Fox network organized a concert tour for the cast of Glee. One way to increase profits from their television show is to move their performers around the nation, instead of just broadcasting over the airwaves.

Isn't new media just a bunch of toys?

You're probably thinking that these new media are just toys, yet every new medium starts as a toy. The first copyrighted motion picture in the U.S. was The Sneeze by Thomas Edison. Second, we've been at these crossroads before, just with

different media. In 1950, both television and 3D movies debuted. Many thought television to be a fad; some thought 3D movies were the wave of the future. That same holds true of the “new” media we have today. We don't fully understand this new landscape: some things will be duds, some will be fads, and some will become permanent parts of our culture. But if you think something like Facebook is a toy, keep this in mind: the New York Times and ABC News collaborated on a project using Facebook to deliver election news, including sponsorship of a debate.

The Facebook Generation

So, the expectation of the Facebook generation is that they will be able to participate, create, and share multimedia. Science and engineering communicators need to participate in and even shape those media, both of which require a deep understanding of how and why new media works.

Next Week: New Media Isn't Just Old Media Delivered in a Different Way 


For those under fifty: Up until the mid-1990s the dominant source of information for most Americans was the nightly network news on one of the only four networks ABC, NBC, CBS, and PBS. These broadcasts got huge audiences and drove the news cycle. The “king” of the news, if you will, was Walter Cronkite, who retired in 1981., State of the News Media 2008,

AP David Bauer, February 4, 2008, story on The Super Bowl. 

New York Times, March 16, 1998.

Multichannel News, August 14, 2006. 

Some facts about the demographics of the public radio audience: These listeners are intellectually curious and enjoy learning about the world around them. They are 33% more likely than the general population to express an interest in theories and 32% more likely to enjoy learning about art, culture, and history. This is an active audience. Over 70% voted in the most recent local, state, or federal election. NPR listeners are 22% more likely to be involved in clubs and organizations than the general population. NPR listeners are more than twice as likely to have addressed a public meeting, written to an elected official, or written to an editor of a magazine or newspaper. Approximately 9.3% of the NPR audience is African-American.

8 Keep in mind the difference between circulation and readership. In this Internet age one can indeed have high readership of a newspaper website but low ciruclation of the printed pape. The problem is turning readership into income.

Cicerone, Ralph, “Celebrating and Rethinking Science Communication,” The National Academies InFocus, Fall 2006, vol. 6, No. 3.

10 Layton, Charles, “The Dallas Mourning News,” American Journalism Review, April/ May 2005.

11 Mooney, Chris and Sheril Kirshenbaum, “Unpopular Science,” The Nation, August 17, 2009.

12 Brainard, Curtis, “CNN Cuts Entire Science, Tech Team,” Columbia Journalism Review, December 4, 2008.

13 Private Communication, 2006.

14 Steinert-Threlkeld, Tom, “Dirty Work,” Multichannel News, August 14, 2006, vol. 27, #32, pp. 18-20.

15 As of this writing, Discovery Channel prime time consists of these “dirty job” shows: Garbage Pit Technician, Skull Cleaner, Geoduck Farmer, and Fuel Tank Cleaner. Multichannel News as cited above.

16 See, for example, Prior, Makurs, Post-Broadcast Democracy: How Media Choice Increases Inequality in Political Involvement and Polarizes Elections (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

17 New York Times Magazine, August 13, 1995, Section 6, page 16. Lederman worked with professional script writers, AAAS staffers, and even got funding from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy. He wanted to counter a growing anti-scientist feeling by presenting scientists with the same allure as the lawyers and doctors on L.A. Law and ER. He called it, “Scientists fall in love.”

18 Berger, Jonah and Katherine L. Milkman, Social Transmission and Viral Culture (unpublished research report, University of Pennsylvania, 2009).

19 Tierney, John, “Will You Be E-Mailing This Column? It's Awesome,” New York Times, February 9, 2010.

20 EconTalk, “Meyer on the Music Industry and the Internet,” March 22, 2010.

21 On the Media, National Public Radio, October 23, 2009. 

Tue, November 13, 2012 | link 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Introduction to Spectrophotometry

I am often queried as to how things work and how to explain big concepts in a broader way. Sometimes, humorously, I am asked to explain things that are in no way within my capabilities, such as the nature of the soul or concepts of time travel. Generally, those complicated, though interesting, topics are best handled by someone who thinks on those things more often than I do.


I recently appeared on WCIA's ciLiving TV program (ci stands for Central Illinois) to talk about "Science you can do with school supplies". I covered a simple chromatography experiment with paper towel strips, colored markers and water. I demonstrated the capacity of graphite in your pencil "lead" to conduct electricity and followed that with how someone won a Nobel Prize by playing with graphite and tape to make a super thin substance called graphene and finally how to make an eraser/superball/silly putty out of school glue and a few other ingredients.

The piece can be viewed here. The protocols are listed just below the video so you can recreate the experiments yourself



Recently someone asked me about spectrophotometry, and since I've used this measurement technique many, many times in lab, I figured I'd pull together some resources for those of you curious about it.

Spectrophotometry is a pretty long word, but breaking it down to its roots is helpful.

Spectr- comes from Latin and means "to watch, see, or observe".

Photo- comes from Greek and means "light". 

Meter- comes from Greek and means "to measure". 

Let's play around with the word roots a bit before we get to the entire word, spectrophotometry.

Spectrometry has been widely defined across science, but for what I'll describe refers to optical spectrometry as a technique for measuring the distribution of light across the optical spectrum, from the UV spectral region to the visible and infrared. (Do you want your own DIY spectrometer? That link goes to a cool project at kickstarter.)

And, just for fun, here is a photo, whose attribution I do not have, but will share with you regardless. Someone created a demonstration of the visible light spectra in an array of nailpolish in bottles:



I think the only way to make that image more compeling would be if the bottles became wider as the wavelengths increased (as they did with the final red bottle)

Continuing on, then,

Photometry is the science of measuring light. 

So putting those roots together, spectrophotometry "is a method to measure how much a chemical substance absorbs light by measuring the intensity of light as a beam of light passes through sample solution. The basic principle is that each compound absorbs or transmits light over a certain range of wavelength. This measurement can also be used to measure the amount of a known chemical substance.

Spectrophotometry is one of the most useful methods of quantitative analysis in various fields such as chemistry, physics, biochemistry, material and chemical engineering and clinical applications." (ChemWiki)

spectrophotometer is used to measure the amount of light that a sample absorbs. (note, that link goes to a fancy handheld one)

"The use of spectrophotometers spans various scientific fields, such as physics, materials science, chemistry, biochemistry and molecular biology. They are widely used in many industries including semiconductors, laser and optical manufacturing, printing and forensic examination, as well in laboratories for the study of chemical substances. Ultimately, a spectrophotometer is able to determine, depending on the control or calibration, what substances are present in a target and exactly how much through calculations of observed wavelengths." (wikipedia)

As a cell biologist, I have used spectrophotometry to analyze the following:

  • How much protein a group of cells has produce or how much a culture of cells has grown (this works because more cells or proteins will make the sample more opaque, obscuring light)
  • To calculate how much DNA and RNA I have purified from a sample of cells and PCR
  • The activity of an enzyme on a given substance.
  • The toxicity of substances on cells.
  • The rate of proliferation of cells and their viability.

Generally, I'd be running experiments with multiple variables and in tiny volumes, so I'd most often use


a multiplate reader, which performs spectrophotometry on samples in a plate with multiple wells, and works on the same principles that are spelled out in the videos below.

This link, How does a spectrophotometer work?  , takes you to a very well done video that I could not embed on this site for some reason. I highly suggest clicking through and taking a look.

And for the science and some math behind how spectrophotometry works, here is the Khan Academy explanation. It should really get you up to speed on how this all works. 

Khan Academy, Spectrophotometry Introduction:

Finally, here is an online science simulation on spectrophotometry which gives you practice in the steps and the essential parts and concepts of a spectrophotometer. Very well done, even if it moves a lot slower than the actual procedure. I don't think anything replaces actual hands on work, but this is a good place to begin.

Please contact me if you have a science topic in particular that you'd like me to explain and find resources that I can write up in a blog post for the future. Soon, I'll have a video on eponymously named structures and concepts in neurobiology. 

Tue, September 4, 2012 | link 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Next week, I will be assisting with a new girls engineering camp. In the past I've developed and conducted a bioengineering camp here at the University of Illinois in conjunction with GAMES (Girls Adventures in Math and Engineering Sciences).

As I am no longer affiliated with Bioengineering but wanted to stay involved, I've been taken on as a consultant for the new camp, Environmental Engineering.

The camp will look at the following aspects of the environment that engineers help to evaluate and solve problems to increase human comfort while also maintaining a healthy environment for every living thing.

gummy/Slide1.jpgWhen a biologist/scientist speaks of the environment, we are concerned with ecosystems (forests, grasslands, marine environments, etc.,), the elements needed to maintain life (air, water, space), populations within those ecosystems (of flora, fauna and humans), and the issues within those populations  such as balance of appropriate flora and fauna where imbalances present themselves in the form of extinction and invasive species. Humans in particular influence changes in biodiversity, create solutions to feed the world through agriculture, and produce waste and pollution and influence climate change.

Scientists and engineers work together to find more about these issues and to learn best how to evaluate them and then create solutions, of which we now know need to be increasingly sustainable. We need to consider how our negative influences can be reversed and step forward when we design or redesign our living spaces and communities to have minimal negative influence on the world.

As we look at the topic of renewable energy, each girl at the camp will be receiving a copy of Maggie Koerth Baker's  book Before the Lights Go Out: Conquering the Energy Crisis Before it Conquers Us and we will also be treated to a Skype conversation with her during the week!

There are many books out there on the various topics related to environmental science and engineering. Some of the most popular include:

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond about societies and populations.

Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution - and How It Can Renew America by Thomas Friedman 

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson about air and water pollution. Truly a classic!

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan about the ecology of the food we eat.

Sustainable Energy without all the Hot Air by David JC MacKay, a clearly understandable and fun book about renewable energy sources.

For issues concerning conservation and extinction, I recommend these two books:


There are so many more marvelous books on any of these topics. If you are with Goodreads, you might check out this list of books of relevance, too. 


Do you want to learn more about Environmental Science, in particular, Sustainability? The University of Illinois is offering a Massively Open Online Course (MOOC) called Sustainability: a Global Introduction, starting August 27, running for 8 weeks, that will cover these topics:

Week 1: Introduction & Population pessimism vs. optimism: Demographics, neo-malthusians and the disappearance of the third world

Week 2: Ecosystems, Extinction & Tragedy of the Commons A theory that threatens to doom us all?

Week 3: Climate Change The climate of the near future: hot, hotter, or hottest?

Week 4: Energy What happens when we reach “Peak Oil” Renewable energy: is there enough to make the switch?

Week 5: Agriculture and Water Can we continue to increase food production - or have we reached the limit of what the land can support?

Week 6: Environmental Economics and Policy Can economists lead the way to sustainability?

Week 7: Measuring sustainability How do we know we're making a difference?

Week 8: Ethics and Culture the long view

You can learn more about their free textbook, Sustainability: A Comprehensive Foundation HERE


Tue, July 10, 2012 | link 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Help Joanne Get to LA for #VidCon 2012 this July for Science and Tech!

Good news! I finally made another gummy bear video! I hadn't performed the potassium chlorate plus gummy bear experiment myself yet for the camera, so enlisted the assistance of a high school chemistry teacher. Gummy burning fun at 1:00 and 3:35!

Here it is:

I also made a quick video using my computer recommending a group of books for future cosmetic chemists! 

I'm looking for more inspiration for videos, not so much for ideas on topics as I have plenty of those, but ideas on marketing and creating them, and possibly collaborations. I am also thinking about the best way to share science in this format. I will soon be attending an unconference at the Perimeter Institute in Canada (maybe I'll get to wave at Stephen Hawking!) on just this topic, called BrainSTEM. We will be discussing many issues related to creating new media with science themes. 

I also have a Scientific American press pass to get into VidCon 2012, whis is a conference/convention that is a celebration of youtube culture. They are expecting about 6,000 attendees this year, only their third year in existence! My goal is to make connections, to understand this culture and to SEARCH FOR SCIENCE AND TECH! I will share my experience on all venues of social media, in video interviews, and through Scientific American and this website!

As with everyone these days, budgets are tight and my travel to conference budget is exhausted this year. I would love your assistance. It has been suggested to me to use the power of social media to get me to VidCon and share it more widely with all of you! 

So, at the risk of causing my dad, who'd die before asking for a handout (and I guess he did!) to roll over in his grave (sorry, Dad), I am asking for donations to help me out with travel. I will need a plane ticket (I've noticed those run about $350 as of now), accommodations (not sure how much exactly, it depends on how long I stay, but I expect anywhere from $300-$400, if not more) and food, of course.

I personally guarantee I will use all donations wisely and do my best to return them all if for some reason I cannot attend.

I've been thinking of ways to say "Thank You", and here's what I'm willing to do:

I will thank all participants who include their name on this website and in social media. If you send me an address, I will mail a handwritten thank you as well.

For those who donate $25 or above, I will do my best to find your favorite youtuber at vidcon 2012 and get their autograph or snap a photo of them with my iphone for you!

For those who donate between $50-$100, I will mention you in a special "bulk" thank you video and share with the viewing public. I am willing to read a very short science statement (two-three tweets long) from you in the video (maybe announcing your website or project). Warning, these are subject to my approval. I won't be espousing topics of dubious scientific merit. My scientific reputation is worth keeping safe!

If you donate over $100, I will make a video just for you (or someone you love) that highlights science events that happened the year you were born or whatever year you are interested in.

I am open to suggestions of other ways to say thank you, and please be reasonable.

To Donate, find the PayPal Donate button at the top of my home page and then you know what to do. If you don't especially like using PayPal, contact me through this website and other arrangements can be made!

 If I am so fortunate as receive donations in excess of what I need, I will use the remaining funds for future projects which includes filming with a famous make-up artist about the science of make-up in NYC.  

Thank you so very much for your consideration in helping me find science in the world of YouTube!



Wed, June 6, 2012 | link 

Friday, May 4, 2012

Post on twitter, go to Alaska for science!

While I was at the National Science Teacher's Association National convention in Indianapolis, I received an interesting tweet asking if I would be interested in going to Alaska with GoPro cameras!

How does this happen? Simply, GoPro cameras, known for their tiny size and ability to capture great wide-angle HD video and stills, have been in support of plasma physicist, Ben Longmeier's science and outreach projects called Project Aether that examines the world using weather balloons and GoPro cameras. The outreach part involves students who want to collect data, too. Ben and his team were up in Alaska to gather some data about the wind, the curvature of the earth and about the aurora borealis from INSIDE the auroras.

Here, fellow science video producer Derek Muller (Veritasium) explains for us what the Northern Lights exactly are:


GoPro thought Ben's project should have more exposure and hired a Chicago PR firm to find reporters and bloggers to help spread the word. One of the employees, Leah Jones, asked her mother Linda Jones, for advice. Linda, being the lovely follower of mine on twitter insisted that I be invited!  

Fri, May 4, 2012 | link 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Join me LIVE in a conversation about what YOU want to see in a science video

Are you learning when you watch a science video online or are you on autopilot, waiting to be entertained and hope to absorb information passively?

What do you want in a science themed video? Do you want a lot of animation and fancy CGI, a charming host, real life activities you can do yourself, to see others doing science? Join others who have opinions, too.


If you have a Google + account (which you can easily get with a gmail address. Learn more. ), you can speak with me on a Google + hangout where I will be live online along with others who are interested in this topic.

Join Fraser Cain, publisher of Universe TodayPamela Gay, an astronomer and podcaster, and me tomorrow evening Monday, March 26th at 8pm CDT for a hangout hosted by Jerry Nguyen and Liz Neeley of SciLingual to discuss how we can take science video production and viewing to the next level. If you can't make it, it will be made available on youtube for viewing at a later time.

For those less familiar with my work, here's why I'm one of the guests: 

I produce videos myself. Most lately are popular science book recommendations. I do this a service to literacy in general as well as to science literacy. This is my latest book recommendation:

I also create demonstration videos, and while I haven't made a new one in about a year, I have spent this time rethinking how to present them and looking to up my production values, hopefully with some assistance.

For those not familiar with my amateur work, I've done several videos using science to destroy gummy bears (and gummy bears to explain science), using cookies to explain the different blood cells and to share scientific concepts we see in make-up products. I want people to understand how scientists think and do their work. I've learned a lot about what NOT to do in video work, but also a lot about what makes a video successful.  Here is a combination of many of my videos with a chemistry theme:

I've hosted videos that are shown internally in some of the largest scientific companies in the world. I also do voiceover work for textbook animations and look forward to expanding on this! My dream is to narrate some of the very books I review! 

I blog with Scientific American at PsiVid:Science on the Cyberscreen which examines science in video, TV and in video, TV and film.

I'm not done producing videos yet. My future plans include a Gummy Bear destruction mash-up video, and more science IN cosmetics videos where I collaborate with scientists, communicators and make-up artists to give you the best information possible. In the works are videos about weak acids and bases (like the famous baking soda and vinegar volcano) in cosmetics, how the hot field of genomics is hoping to improve skin care and how the physics of optics combined with materials science makes your skin look flawless!

Think of videos you see online. What are some of your favorites?

Those by NASA always seem to please. 

Do you like Youtube's new SciShow  or Crash Course? 

Do you watch clips from TV programs online from PBS, Discovery or BBC?

Here is an incomplete list of some video series I enjoy:

Veritasium Films by Derek Muller

Bill Hammack's The Engineer Guy videos. See my cameo in this one:

Henry Reich's Minute Physics

Vihart's enjoyable math videos

Nurd Rage's chemistry and physics demonstrations 

Periodic videos 

Symphony of Science 

Professor Dave at York is an organic chemist who gives us insight into the science of the everyday, including Coca Cola 

My co-host at PsiVid, Carin Bondar, produces videos on the nature of human nature

What are some of your favorites? Think about what you like most about them and share it with me tomorrow evening! 

Sun, March 25, 2012 | link 

Friday, March 2, 2012

Extracting DNA from your own cells!

The folks at NOVA PBS have made a great short video that shows everyone how they can extract their own DNA using common household items! It does work, and you don't have to use only strawberries or chicken livers, it's (almost) 100% you!


Before you try it on your own, you might like to know the first DNA to be isolated was accomplished in Germany in 1871, isolated from pus on bandages from a hospital, by Friederich Miescher. He isolated compounds that were rich in phosphorus and nitrogen, but not sulfur (proteins have sulfur, nucleic acids such as DNA and RNA do not).

Pus is loaded with white blood cells that are first on the line of defense in case of an injury or inflammation, called neutrophils.  If you want to learn more about neutrophils (and how they are used in forensics to differentiate



 between a male and female victim, among other fun facts), you might want to watch my video about them in the Blood Cell Bakery Series . The image to your right is a single neutrophil. The blue stained structure is the nucleus, which has a funny shape compared to the images in your textbooks, but this helps these cells squeeze out of blood vessels to damaged tissues quite easily. 


If you follow these instructions, you are isolating DNA from the epithelial cells in your cheek, and probably some from the bacteria that naturally inhabit your mouth. Having isolated DNA in the lab, I thought I should I explain here what the purpose of each step is, as some people have asked me about them. The steps in this video are similar to steps used in the lab, although in the lab we work hard to obtain very pure samples for analysis and manipulation.

Notice you only require three solutions: salt water, detergent and isopropyl alcohol. 

To obtain any biological specimen, you will want to use salt water in your preparation as it is an isotonic solution, meaning you won't destroy the cells right away due to an osmotic disruption. (If you want to know more about osmosis, check out Gummi Bears demonstrate osmosis)  In addition, the presence of salt during your prep will neutralize the charges on the sugar phosphate backbone, making it less soluble in water.

The detergent breaks apart the cell and nuclear membranes. The chemical structure of soap molecules are able to disrupt the cell membrane. It is essentially poking holes in the fatty (lipid) membranes of your cells, wrapping up the lipids and carrying them away. It also will help unravel the DNA. Check out the description on Wikipedia for more info! 

The alcohol causes the DNA to clump together and drop out (precipitate) of solution so you can collect it. This has to do with the electrostatic attraction between the sodium ions you added in your salt solution and the phosphate ions that are on the DNA backbone. Ultimately in salt water, the sodium and phosphate ions are not going to be very close together. But in ethanol, the sodium and phosphate come together easily. The phosphate's negative charge is hidden, which makes the DNA (and RNA) less hydrophilic (water loving), and it will then drop out of solution into that stringy mess you try to spool up onto a stick or a stirring rod much like you would a spider's web on a stick (a slimy one, for sure).

This will not be a very clean prep for two reasons: 1) you will most likely also have the DNA from the bacteria in your mouth in the and 2) there might also be a lot of carbohydrate mixed in as well.

In the lab, we refine our salt solutions, work with various temperatures and use equipment like centrifuges to get the best possible sample. After that, we can manipulate and analyze the DNA for many purposes useful in forensic and molecular analysis. 

But for you, it is fun that you've managed to retrieve what seems invisible, even though we see it working all the time. A great website for all things DNA, including how and why to extract it, is at Learn Genetics, one of my favorite websites!

If you give this a try, send along your photos and tell me all about it! I'd love to hear how it worked for you! 

Until next time,


Fri, March 2, 2012 | link 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Crater, the new book by author of book that inspired October Sky

"October Sky" is one of my favorite feel good movies!

Here's the trailer to refresh your memory!


According to Rotten Tomatoes:"NASA engineer Homer H. Hickam, Jr.'s autobiography provided the basis for this drama about a teenager coming of age at the dawn of the space race. In 1957, Homer Hickam (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a high school student in Coalwood, West Virginia when the Soviet Union launches Sputnik, the first man-made satellite. While most of his friends and neighbors react with fear or distrust, Homer is instantly fascinated and begins studying everything he can find on jet and rocket design. While many of Homer's friends are puzzled by his new obsession, several new friends share his enthusiasm, and with the encouragement of his teacher (Laura Dern), Homer and his fellow "Rocket Boys" begin designing and launching their own homemade missiles. However, Homer's father (Chris Cooper) takes a dim view of his son's interest in rockets and is convinced Homer's future should be the same as his own, working in the local coal mines. October Sky mixes the drama of traditional family conflicts with a nostalgic glimpse of life in the mid-50's and a look at the earliest days of our journey into space."


Cover of the book, Crater by Homer Hickam


Now, Homer Hickam has written a new book, a fictional sci-fi one. According to his website:

"A mining colony on the moon. A teen sent on a deadly mission. And a secret bigger than two worlds.

It's the 22nd Century. A tough, pioneering people mine the moon for Helium-3 to produce energy for a desperate, war-torn Earth. Sixteen-year old Crater Trueblood loves his job as a Helium-3 miner. But when he finds courage he didn't know he had and saves a fellow miner, his life changes forever. Impressed by his heroism, the owner of the mine orders Crater to undertake a dangerous mission. Crater doubts himself, but he has no choice. He must go.

With the help of Maria, the mine owner's frustrating but gorgeous granddaughter, and his gillie—a sentient and sometimes insubordinate clump of slime mold cells—Crater must fight both human and subhuman enemies. He’ll battle his way across a thousand miles of deadly but magnificent lunar terrain before vaulting into the far reaches of space, there to recover an astonishing object that could mean the difference between life and death for every inhabitant on the moon."

Watch this amazing book trailer! One would think it is for a movie, it's so well done!

More book reviews to come!

Until next time,



Fri, February 24, 2012 | link 

Friday, February 3, 2012

Girls Engineering Camp and Video Catch Up

Lest anyone new should come to my site and be overwhelmed by lists and lists of awesome science blogs in my last few posts due to my Science Online 2012 "blog calls", I thought a quick catch up on some of my book recommendation videos are in order!


I have a major change in my summer compared to previous years. Five years ago, I was called upon by GAMES (Girls Adventures in Math and Engineering Sciences) at the University of Illinois to design a Bioengineering camp. I really enjoyed sharing with the young ladies how biomedical engineering can improve our lives. Now that I am no longer affiliated with the bioengineering department and GAMES recognizes my talent for making complex topics accessible to young people, I have been pulled in to assist with the new Environmental Engineering Camp.

"Environmental Engineering is about designing solutions for preventing pollution and for cleaning up the environment if it does get polluted. Environmental Engineering campers will learn about: 
• sustainability and how the environment, culture, society, and economics are all linked, 
• different kinds of pollutants and the cycles they follow as they move through the air, water and soil, and 
• what environmental engineers do to help protect human health and the planet. 
The campers will learn through lab exercises where they design, build and test pollutant cleaning devices; field trips to environmental monitoring sites, and other interactive activities."  

Other camps include Robotics, Aerospace Engineering, Materials Science, Electrical Engineering, Bioengineering, and Chemical Engineering. (Alums, FYI, Marina Miletic, my friend and faculty in charge of Chemical Engineering has moved and will not be in charge of the chemical engineering camp). 

If you have or are a high school aged girl who would like to attend a sleepover camp and learn engineering concepts at one of the top engineering schools in the country, she might want to check us out. We have girls attending from all of the country and world! Scholarships are available, too.

Let's check out some of my book reviews. First, we go way back to before the holidays and share about another great compendium book called The Physics Book".

Sam geeking out about new books!

This is my nephew quite excited about receiving both "The Math Book" and "The Physics Book" by Clifford Pickover for Christmas!

My video is featured on his Reality Carnival Blog on 12/19/2011 





I then did two reviews with my 17 year old daughter, Amanda, who will be studying physics this fall either at the University of Illinois or at Purdue.

The first was of "Pink Boots and a Machete: My Journey from NFL Cheerleader to National Geographic Explorer" written by Mireya Mayor, the keynote speaker at Science Online 2012.

The next review with Amanda is about a fabulous book called Math Girls. What an eye-opener to read a bonafide math textbook plus romance novel! 

Having left the lab, I notice I haven't made any other videos besides book reviews. I'm figuring how to resolve that issue currently! I have, in the editing bin, some footage filmed of products that utilize weak acids and bases in skin and health care products, I just need to pull those together. I also plan to present a video of how comparative genomics works by using some of the latest skin care innovations to explain it!

Remember, if you are missing me here at JLS, you can always follow me on twitter @sciencegoddess or check out some of my posts that go up at Scientific American (



Fri, February 3, 2012 | link 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

More blog calls!

It looks like I've reached an approximate halfway point in blog calls. I was slowed down by one of those winter illnesses and now, in order to finish, I probably need to visit about 25/day. Not sure I will completely reach the end before the conference begins Thursday, January 19. We will see what can be reorganized in the schedule to make time and I'll give it a try. :)

Amended #111 for @scio12 is @medbiochem and HERE is Katie's stuff (oops, so hard to tell on those sites!)

#114 for @scio12 is my rockin' FB friend @mary_spiro I read Engineered hydrogel helps grow new skin, scar-free (at JHU)

#115 for @scio12 is Allie at @loveofscience Check out her multimedia work at (fwiw, my eldest interns at USGS in town)

#116 for @scio12 is @bonnieswoger I read Why scholars cite the things they cite - the real reasons

#117 for @scio12 is Christine at @ProjectBlueHope I read The Significance of Non-Quantifiable Results

#118 for @scio12 is @laurenkwolf I read CT Scans for Holiday Hams <-why not?

#119 for @scio12 is @dianeakelly I read Popcorn Physics (PV = mmmm) nice explanation!

#120 for @scio12 is @kendrasnyder and she's the publicist for@AMNH. See you at #scio12 in 2 weeks!

#121 for @scio12 is @jeanne_erdmann at The Open Notebook. I read Taking Good Notes: Tricks and Tools

@scio12 bonus attendess without blogs to call one (that I know of) are @kvoDE and @andrea1 See you in two weeks!

Great, thanks for saying so! For @scio12, @Andrea1 blogs at work: generally about teaching college science.

Great to know. I'll keep an eye out for your soon to be released personal blog! :) @kvoDE @UDcanr

#122 for @scio12 is @annaleen I read the good news about her new book about how humans surviving next mass extinction!

#123 for @scio12 is @elizabef at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, NC. Looks like a fun place!

#124 for @scio12 is @mtdukes I read about significant life changes at Congrats!

#125 for @scio12 is @joshwitten I read Eric Lander knows the secret to success

@joshwitten I was trying so hard to promote posts actually written by the person I was visiting. Sorry to mess up! @scio12 @genologos

#126 for @scio12 is @kejames who is updating her website! (for lil ol' me? No need to spruce up for a blog call! :P)

Amended for @kejames , visit her blog on the HMS Beagle Project!@scio12

#127 for @scio12 is @acousticgravity I read "A day in the life" (about expired nitrocellulose paper for western blots)

#128 for @scio12 is @sarahwebb I read A Glimpse of our Space Future

#129 for @scio12 is @matthewvandusen I read The Water Optimist: Questions for MIT's James Wescoat

#130 for @scio12 is @saraheverts at @cenmag I read Finish Fetish Chemistry Quite interesting!

#131 for @scio12 is @katie_PhD and I checked out her weekly science update!

#132 for @scio12 is @quinoat I read Of Sea Serpents, Varroa Mites and Mars

#133 for @scio12 is @cqchoi I just read Neurons Offer Clues to Suicide at @sciam

#134 for @scio12 is @haleybridger and she communicates for The Broad Institute (lovely site update!)

#135 for @scio12 is Anne Johnson (not on twitter?) I watched her local news TV segment Her web is

#136 for @scio12 is @eballi from Oggiscienza and thanks to google translate, I could peruse the site

#137 for @sci12 is @CTHerman at U of I! For @cenmag, I read Flavor Chemistry: The science of deliciousness

#138 for @scio12 is @jenedavison at U of Wash College of the Environment Reading up on some of their current news

#139 for @scio12 is @gregladen who mixes it up with politics and science on his blog. I read "Jean Baret was a girl!"

#140 for @scio12 is @juliawester1 and I read about her exciting trip to find sharks!

#141 for @scio12 is @nidhisubs and I checked out the selection articles she considered as "Best of 2011"

#142 is a two-fer for @scio12 is @lacey_avery who is a sci-writer in training, it seems? I didn't find a blog, but we can still say "HI!"

#143 for @scio12 is @kathrynsbowers who has co-written a book called Zoobiquity! Check it out!

#144 for @scio12 is @GershonYaleComm I'm checking out YaleNews. I'm especially enjoying some of their videos!

#145 for @scio12 is Karl @klb8s at Duke Univerisity I read 100 Days to State-Wide Science Festival!

#146 for @scio12 is @lalsox, a science teacher. I checked out her G+ page

#147 for @scio12 is @danielaphd I read @latimes article, Obesity: Access to grocers doesn't improve diets, study finds

#148 for @scio12 is @islanderSYY I read about genetically engineered rhodopsin in "Seeing the Potential"

#149 for @scio12 is @andyfarke I read New Fossil Species of 2011 - A PLoS ONE Retrospective

#150 for @scio12 is @huler I enjoyed Electric Sky, Traffic Light Design, and Other Reasons for Paying Attention

#151 for @scio12 is David of @Alltech and I'm browsing around

Back to #151, I read From Farm to Spoon at Chaney’s Dairy Barn via @alltech

#152 for @scio12 is @SquintMom w/a blog for evidence-based parenting. I read The Autistic Brain

#153 for @scio12 is @JoshRosenau I read The science education reform agenda hasn't changed in a century

#154 for @scio12 is Mark at @figshare Intrigued by this way to publish ALL of your data. What won't we think of next?

#155 for @scio12 is @criener I read his great post Economists to teachers: We’ve dropped the “Deselection”....

#156 for @scio12 is @AJEbsary and by golly, I couldn't find a blog or piece written by you to share... Adrian's at

Update #156 for @scio12 is @AJEbsary Check out

#157 for @scio12 is Jennifer at @OpenHelix What ScienceOnline Means to Us – Where to Begin?

#158 for @scio12 is @experrinment I like her artistry in @Bora's post#WSF11: The Invisible Language of Smell

#159 for @scio12 is @J_timmer I read Week in science, featuring violins and spider silk

#160 for @scio12 is @simon_frantz I read My top Nobel reads of 2011

#161 for @scio12 is @carlzimmer I read "King of the Cosmos (A Profile of Neil deGrasse Tyson)"

#162 for @scio12 is @maggiekb1 I read her physics science short So, did CERN find a Higgs Boson? See you soon, Maggie!

#162a for @scio12 is @maiasz I read "Blogging Helps Socially Awkward Teens"

#163 for @scio12 is @neaq @emoparker The New England Aquarium has webcams! Check them out when they're up!

#164 for @scio12 is @scienceissexy She holds great events in Chicago! (science of chocolate!! Yum!)

#165 for @scio12 is @ProjExplore I read/enthusiastically commented on STEM, The White House & The Change We Need Now

#166 for @scio12 is @genegeek and the internet is not letting me get to her blog tonight See you soon, Catherine!

#167 for @scio12 is @davidmanly I read Separating work from play and Open Lab 2011 Read and congratulate him! :)

#168 for @scio12 is @peyton_hale See breathtaking landscape photos at! Trust me on this! See you soon, Peyton!

#169 for #scio12 is Grant at @BioinfoTools I read Teaching bioinformatics at high school

#170 for @scio12 is @ngoldart Check out his Chimpanzee Manifesto art at

#171 for @scio12 is fellow U of Illinoisan @KateClancy I read her LadyBusiness Anthology See you soon!

#172 for @scio12 is @pkrautz I read Representing Booles’ Rings at Science Online 2012

#173 for @scio12 is @lucasbrouwers I read My first year as a MSM science writer

#174 for @scio12 is @David_Dobbs I read Our Sickening Rush to See PTSD – and What It Costs Vets

#175 for @scio12 is @tamfecit I read (another) "best of 2011" science story list at

#176 for @scio12 is @stacycbaker I checked the updates by her students! A treat to watch their presentation each year!

#177 for @scio12 is @AshleyJYeager I watched her video Brainy Lizards pass tests for birds

#178 for @scio12 is @nrek I read about his project @ReelBucket to organize your home theater

#179 for @scio12 is @ericmjohnson I enjoyed his interview with@carlzimmer (pt 2)

#181 for @scio12 is @kileyjd, a graduate student who doesn't seem to have a blog, but deserves a "Hello" anyway! See you soon!

#182 for @scio12 is @Waves_FilmFest Beneath the Waves Film Festival looks amazing! Deadline for submission Feb 24

#183 for @scio12 is Chris of @Allochthonous I read How useful are lectures-really? 

Tue, January 10, 2012 | link 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Blog calls continue!

Thanks to all of you who are supportive of my endeavor to visit the blogs for the attendees of Science Online 2012. I have been learning quite a bit about who posts on which topics and have gathered some very cool information.

There have been blogs I haven't been able to leave comments on as their commenting system was down, non-existent or I had to be a subscriber to the site (read $), so I apologize if I didn't leave a comment in those cases!

Here is my latest round of visits!

#55 for @scio12 is @jcbradley at Useful Chemistry. Specializes in Open Science/online science ed. Listen to podcast at 

#56 for @scio12 is @LouWoodley who hangs out at Nature blogs. I just checked out their #Yuletubecalendar at Great fun!

#57 for @scio12 is @kaythaney at @digitalsci, I watched her video from @scio11 here: 

#58 for @scio12 is @DrMRFrancis at Galileo's Pendulum. I just read his recent post on Johannes Kepler

#59 for @scio is @stew who is also at @digitalsci & at Altmetric. I just watched vid of how Altmetric works for science

#60 for @scio12 is @chemconnector I read his post for the Vittana "Make a Difference" Blogger challenge. Support him at

#61 is @DrRubidium at The JAYFK Check out her post "Make a New Year's Resolution to Support Vaccination"

#62 for @scio12 is @tjowens and I read Ancient Wisdom from the Forums: Failures of Collective Intelligence at

#63 for @scio12 is @davidkroll and I just read his post about a great NYT article on autism/asperger's

#64 for @scio12 is @flyingtrilobite and I suggest you check out the poster for the Science Online art show! Looks great

#65 for @scio12 is @michellesipics and I read "Prize-winning video brings Mobius Transformations to Life".

#66 for @scio12 is @idea_org Promotes technology in advancing scientific & cultural literacy. Read QR codes & outreach

#67 for @scio12 is @sfriedscientist at Southern Fried Scientist. I just read Better Conservation through Cloning

#68 for @scio12 is @kprengaman and I just read a post on Ocean Renewable Energy and learned a few things!

#69 for @scio12 is @j_perkel a prolific freelance science writer! I read some of the articles linked in his post here:

#70 for @scio12 is @flossymatt I just read Good Webkeeping: spiders use decorations as defense

#71 for @scio12 is @sandramchung I read her highlight of a great piece of science writing. Nice touch w/the video, too!

Perhaps no blog, but @tiflopez is a storyteller: Thanks @BoraZ for knowing all! :)

@72 for @scio12 is Shannon at @Scripps_Ocean I checked out the kid's questions archive at…

#73 for @scio12 is @arbesman I read a post about America's Age, Empires, and Mathematics.

#74 for @scio12 is @sci2mrow and I read her post "Information Underloathed" at

#75 for @scio12 is MJBwrites I read this excellent inspiration for future astronauts, scientists and engineers!

#76 for @scio10 is @kristilewton at Harvard Look forward to meeting you in January!

#77 for @scio12 is @drholly I read her post at @sciam "Winter stoneflies sure are supercool"

#78 for @scio12 is @skome at the Claremont Colleges Library. Hi Sam! See you in January!

#79 for @scio12 is @sr320 and I read up on Outreach projects people in his lab are doing!

#80 for @scio12 is @cagraber Cynthia interviews Jeff of@cookingforgeeks

#81 for @scio12 is @rachelpep of @cenmag I'm resharing this: Top 10 chemistry videos of the year picked by editors

#82 for @scio12 is David of @aggieresearch with the website for and about researchers at UNC.

#83 for @scio12 is Lauren of @criverlabs I look forward to meeting you at #scio12!

#84 for @scio12 is Michelle of @artologica As a seamstress/costume designer/fan of fabric, I love her sciency fabric!

#85 for @scio12 is Amos @settostun, editor @DiscoverMag How to avoid repeating the debacle that was the space shuttle

#86 for @scio12 is @cristygelling Since I miss my lab, too, I read Miscellaneous things I will miss about the bench

#87 for @scio12 is @mrgunn and I read Real Innovation in Scientific Publishing

#88 for @scio12 is great sci writer @JenLucPiquant and I watched her amusing appearance on Craig Ferguson at!

#89 for @scio12 is @_ColinS_ I read 550,000,000 Years of Plate Tectonics

#90 for @scio12 is @sciencegeist And I read a fabulous post explaining the Maillard Reaction in cooking!

#91 for @scio12 is @scienceminus and I read a little post (actually watched a Sagan Series vid), Feynman on Flowers.

#92 for @scio12 is @psiwavefunction and I read "Update" at her blog Skeptic Wonder

#93 for @scio12 is @rojasburke I read "How perverse incentives cause drug shortages and persistent failures"

#94 for @scio12 is @AmoebaMike and I'm sharing his suggested "Top Ten Gifts for Science Lovers" from earlier this month

#95 for @scio10 is @oocscience Have you not visited Out of Context Science? Do so. Funny stuff!

#96 for @scio12 is @cassierodenberg and I read her post Every drug is the "deadliest drug" especially oxycodone.

#97 for @scio12 is @emilyanthes and I read her review of@anxiousmouse's book, Quirk

#98 for @scio12 is @lyndellmbade I took a peek at what her students shared about evolution at her blog!

#99 for @scio12 is @jeannegarb I listened to her explain how she unexpectedly discovers she is pregnant! Story Collider

#100 for @scio12 is @MinorityPostdoc at with a wealth of information for minority postdocs!

#101 for @scio12 is @lisagard2 I read her post Citizen Science: The Animated Movie!

#102 for @scio12 is @mjvinas I read Stalled Weather Systems More Frequent in Decades of Warmer Atlantic (@NASA)

#103 for @scio12 is @vbiatvt Wow! I am so intrigued by Kid's Tech University!!

#104 of @scio12 is Michelle at @redwngblkbrd I read Considerations for Successful Cell-Based Assays

#105 for @scio12 is @dirk57 I read Are You Okay? A variety of drinking tests: the good, the bad, and the silly.

#106 for @scio12 is @mchmiel I really enjoyed her "teacher tube" video page

#107 for @scio12 is @BenLillie at The Story Collider! Check out the video page

#108 for @scio12 is @astrolisa I read Smallest planet is tinier than Earth at @NewScientist

#109 for @scio12 is @hrynyshyn at his blog about climate change, Class M (I got the Star Trek ref right away!) I read

#110 for @scio12 is @emilyeggleston I read (on this snowy Illinois day) The Crystals of Winter

#111 for @scio12 is @medbiochem I love molecule of the week! This week is Moronic Acid found in mistletoe!

#112 for @scio12 is @larrybritton and his site is the Biotech department of Austin Community College Cool program.

#113 for @scio12 is @dnghub I read An Introduction to the Scientifc Method, by way of Chewbacca 

I'll continue for the next few weeks. Only about 300 or so left!



Tue, January 3, 2012 | link 


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