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).
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.
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
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
Why Crowdfunding is needed: a precis
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
Receiving Timely Insights
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
"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
this post is in progress and I will finish it as soon as I can!
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).
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:
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!
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.
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:
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
“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
Providing adequate nutrition during the first 1000 days can ensure that children are less susceptible to
The Science of Nutrition
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 nobelprize.org. 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):
“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.
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.”
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.
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
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.
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.
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:
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.
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
low cost per dose, biological stability, ease of administration, few
to learn more about how vaccines are made? Go to this tutorial by clicking on the image.
are the types of vaccines that can be produced based on the organism and type of response required.
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 rotavirus
Intranasal spray is an excellent way to work at the site most viruses enter
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 hygienic
Dissolvable needles made of sugar with vaccine embedded are placed on a patch
and painlessly deliver the vaccine
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)
Some Diseases That Do Not Have a Vaccine?
Malaria is a protozoan parasite and while tiny it is still much larger than the bacteria or viruses that cause most other
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.
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?
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 WHO, UNICEF, The 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 disease is the second leading cause of death in children under five years old. It is both preventable and
Diarrheal disease kills 1.5 million
children every year and account for >10% if child mortality
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)
diarrheal diseases requires the following:
access to safe drinking-water
exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life
"Cholerais 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.
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
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.
I will limit this discussion to pneumonia and tuberculosis (which isn't solely respiratory) for the sake of
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
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.
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.
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.
(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.
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.
several vaccines but the most common is the BCG vaccine which is only partially effective. New vaccines are constantly being
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.
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.
"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
The causative agent is the Plasmodium parasite with a complicated life cycle which
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
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.
n 1902, Sir 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 Mullerreceived 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.
"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)
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.
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.
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
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
Maternal-Fetal Health—Friday, February
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.
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!
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 Clancy, Melanie Tannenbaum, Bill Hammack and myself will be at your service November 26th from 4-6pm in 612 IGB on the University of Illinois campus.
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.
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?
“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
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
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
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 Amazon.com 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.
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.
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
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 http://chronicle.com/live/2006/10/halavais/
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.
http://toolbar.netcraft.com/stats/topsites for the most current statistics.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 massmedia. 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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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 theaudience 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.
users like to forward science & technology stories
Two University of Pennsylvania researchers
studied howinternet 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Week: New Media Isn't Just Old Media Delivered in a Different Way
2 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, Journalism.org.
4 AP David Bauer, February
4, 2008, story on The Super Bowl.
5 New York Times, March 16, 1998.
6 Multichannel News, August 14, 2006.
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.
9 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.
Chris and Sheril Kirshenbaum, “Unpopular Science,” The Nation, August 17, 2009.
Curtis, “CNN Cuts Entire Science, Tech Team,” Columbia Journalism Review, December 4,
13 Private Communication, 2006.
Tom, “Dirty Work,” Multichannel News, August 14, 2006, vol. 27, #32, pp. 18-20.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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".
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.
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,
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.
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)
A 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)
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
When 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.
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.
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?
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?
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 sustainabilityHow 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
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:
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!
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!
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
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!
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.
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!
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.
Cain, publisher of Universe Today, Pamela 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'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!
of videos you see online. What are some of your favorites?
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
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
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.
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!
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."
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!
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
"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".
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!
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. :)
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!