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welcome

Every day I blog about the science in and of my life: working, parenting, cooking, beach-combing, reading, learning, exercising, sleeping…it’s all covered.

It’s a project called ScienceforLife.365, and is running from August 13 2012 – August 13 2013.

I’d be delighted if you’d check it out:

[image thanks to alborzshawn on flickr]

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scioWP3

The 2013 ScienceOnline conference will take place in Raleigh, North Carolina USA Jan 30-Feb 2, 2013.

I’ve written before on my dreams to be a part of these events; now along with Kristin Alford and Heather Bray I’m thrilled to be able to provide some further details.

The inaugural ScienceOnlineAdelaide WatchParty will take place on the weekend of February 2nd and 3rd 2013. Over two sessions, registered participants will view, enjoy, digest, discuss and process selected sessions from ScienceOnline2013 – which will only be available through official WatchParties, as there is no live-streaming offered – and contribute to the online global discussions around the event.

While we’re still finalising our venue, here’s our draft program:

Session 1 – Saturday Feb 2nd 4-7pm

Presentation 1: Why won’t the science deficit model die?

Presentation 2: Persuading the unpersuadable – communicating science to deniers, cynics and trolls

– followed by drinks and dinner (at your own expense) for those who are keen to socialise further.

Session 2 – Sunday Feb 3rd 10am-1pm

Presentation 3: Life in the venn – What happens when you’re forced to wear many hats?

Presentation 4: We are who we are? Who are we? Issues of identity and the internet

Further details, a confirmed venue and an invitation to register to attend will be announced soon: keep an eye on @scioADEL for updates.

Science for Life. 365

flathead

I have a terrible admission to make.

The sin was my husband’s, but my child was involved so I shall confess it nonetheless.

This magnificent flathead shown in this image was caught on a rod and reel off a beach in the vicinity of Pondalowie Bay, Yorkes Peninsula last summer. The proud fishermen are my husband and son.

With imaginings of a wonderful meal of fresh fish with lemon and baked potatoes, we prepared to clean the beast whilst enjoying a cold beer or two. Upon opening her belly however, we were dismayed to discover two swollen ovarian masses filled with millions and millions of eggs. She was ready to breed. And how.

We continued to clean her, and prepared and ate the meal but somehow it didn’t taste as good as we had at first predicted.

Now the fact that we had caught a top breeding flathead in her…

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Science for Life. 365

On Sunday I’m delighted to be presenting a brief talk to student members of the Australia Society for Stem Cell Research. The focus will be on how to get the most out of social media if you’re working in the  life sciences.

I’m constantly using social media to communicate science (and other stuff!) of course, but wanted to find some academic material to back up my ramblings.

Here’s a list of freely-available publications I’ve been reading through today, and found useful:

  • Using Twitter in university research, teaching and impact activities, a guide for academics and researchers
    by Amy Mollett, Danielle Moran and Patrick Dunleave
    – to view PDF, click here
  • Scientists who engage with society perform better academically
    by Pablo Jensen, Jean-Baptiste Rouquier, Pablo Kreimer, Yves Croissant
    – available through Cornell University Library
  • The verdict: is blogging or tweeting about research papers worth it?
    by Melissa Terras
    – at LSE Online

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I’ve been a long-distance observer of ScienceOnline for several years now, and have written a few whimsical blog posts about it in the past (Can I play with you? and Dreaming).

As described on their website,

ScienceOnline is a non-profit organization that facilitates conversations, community and collaborations at the intersection of Science and the Web.

We do this through online networks, face-to-face events (both global and grassroots), and projects such as ScienceSeeker and The Open Laboratory science writing anthology.

Every January since 2007, the Research Triangle area of North Carolina has hosted scientists, students, educators, physicians, journalists, librarians, bloggers, programmers and others interested in the way the World Wide Web is changing the way science is communicated, taught and done.

Earlier in 2012, I happened across a live webcast of a ScienceOnlineVancouver meeting, and having a few spare minutes I logged on to the live-chat option shown on the screen.

“Hello from Adelaide, Australia”,

I typed, somewhat hopefully.

Immediate reaction from Karyn Traphagen! And she didn’t mess around. Words to the effect of,

“How would you feel about starting up a ScienceOnlineAdelaide?”.

If you can stutter on live-chat, I was certainly doing it,

“Y-y-yes. Um. Yes!”

Before long, she’d filled in Bora Zivkovic, I’d liaised with other local ScienceOnline enthusiasts Kristin Alford, Heather Bray and James Byrne, and we were chatting on twitter and email to make it happen.

But what will ScienceOnlineAdelaide look like? At the moment we plan to kick it off simply, and organise a gathering of enthusiastic people who want to be a part of the ScienceOnline2013 Conference Jan 30-Feb 2 2013 from afar. How and where in Adelaide this will happen is under discussion. As with all ScienceOnline activities, it will no doubt be shaped by the enthusiasm and ideas of participants.

To keep in touch and maybe even contribute, follow @scioADEL on twitter and look out for hashtags #scio13, #soADEL and #ADLscitweetup.

[image shows Princess Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen (Adelaide Amelia Louise Theresa Caroline; 13 August 1792 – 2 December 1849), queen consort of the United Kingdom and of Hanover as spouse of William IV of the United Kingdom. The city of Adelaide, South Australia is named after her. Information thanks to Rodney Cockburn, South Australia What’s in a Name? Adelaide: Axiom Publishing. 3rd Edition. Reprinted 2002].

I’ve been busy! Science for Life.365 has taken over every spare minute of my blogging energy, so please do check it out.

I’ve also been working lots of great clients, which is very exciting.

My father-in-law is very fond of the sarcastic suggestion ‘how about a glass of water and a quince?’ to any grandchildren having a whinge about being hungry.

It’s quite apt, actually, as we have the most wonderful old quince tree in our back yard. At a guess I’d say it could be 50 years old, perhaps more. After a spring featuring delightful tea-rose-like blossoms (similar examples can be seen here in an unrelated blog), each summer the tree fills with an enormous crop of beautiful quinces. Initially pale green, they ripen to a dull yellow, and are covered in a fine layer of fuzz which can be rubbed off. When cut, the flesh is creamy light green, with deep red seeds.

My favourite way to cook quinces is a la Stephanie Alexander: peel, chop, throw into an enamelled cast-iron pot filled with light sugar solution/vanilla/lemon juice/lid on and then cook in a slow oven (130 degrees centigrade) for about 8 hours. At which point they emerge as glistening segments of garnet surrounded by blood-like syrup.

Complete colour change. But why? There’s gotta be science in that. So I did some research.

Turns out the red colour emerges as a class of chemical compounds called anthocyanins are converted from their colourless, astringent precursor cousins the leucoanthocyanins during cooking.

Harold McGee in On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen says it best,

The combination of heat and acidity causes the subunits [of the precursor molecules] to break off one by one; and then oxygen from the air reacts with the subunits to form true anthrocyanins: so the tannic, pale fruits become more gentle-tasting and anything from pale pink to deep red.

The final colour depends on the pH (acidity) of the cooking fluid.

Anthocyanins are also what make blueberries blue, red cabbage red, blackberries black, eggplants purple and blood oranges bloody. According to some experts, we may get cardiovascular benefits or even cancer protection from eating more anthocyanins.

I’m onto it. Quince tart anyone? Here are some I prepared earlier.


National Science Week is here. This annual August festivus of science and technology attracts over a million participants and aims “to acknowledge the contributions of Australian scientists to the world of knowledge; […] to encourage an interest in science pursuits among the general public, and to encourage younger people to become fascinated by the world we live in.” Perhaps it will inspire a new generation of children to study science at university. Will such students then move into careers in science? A recent article in The Australian suggests not.  According to a new study from University of Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education senior fellow Kerri-Lee Harris, up to 60% of students who study science don’t then go on to become ‘working scientists’. Australia’s Chief Scientist Professor Ian Chubb thinks we need to consider this fact when designing science degrees, and indeed embrace the view that:

“an education in science is valuable beyond the labs and fields of research”.

Rather than think about science students as a being on a conveyor belt to a research career, lets think more about how an education in science can provide a balance of skills, knowledge, and a way of thinking about the world. The scientific method with a broader application, if you will.

Although I have been a working scientist, and am now a science writer, science is not just my chosen career. It frames every aspect of my daily life. The way I think, process and act on information, make sense of my world and even parent is a direct result of my science training. That’s not to say I don’t make mistakes, or have emotions take over on occasion. It’s just my own twist on an evidence-based way of living.

With National Science Week as a backdrop, I began wondering whether it would be possible to formalise how science informs daily life in ways which don’t necessarily have a focus on equipment, displays, lectures and laboratories. Is it possible to insert a little more celebration of science into every day of the year?

I’m going to try. I will write a post a day for 365 days about the science in and of my life. It won’t be lengthy or elaborate. I just hope to shed some light on how much of an impact the scientific approach has on me.

I hope you like Science for life. 365 – website and Facebook page are now live.

Officially launched on August 13 2012 (National Science Week 2012), I’ll wrap up and post some reflections on August 13 next year (National Science Week 2013).

[thanks to Dr Krystal Evans for alerting me to The Australian article, and the ‘Science is Life’ title.]

I exchanged a bit of banter on twitter a few months back about one of my favourite authors of children’s books, Pamela Allen. She’s lyrical, uses fantastic onomatopoeia, and creates her own simple coloured drawings. She’s also not afraid of tackling difficult subjects, like lonliness, the pain of love, the unwritten rules of friendship and imaginary monster friends.

After participating in the June edition of #onsci twitter chat around The Audit of Australian Science Engagement (#aussciaudit), I got thinking about Pamela again. Sometimes the best examples of science engagement work well without explicit reference to science. They’re just good stories. Many of Pamela’s tales are good examples.

In Mr Archimedes Bath, poor old Archimedes tries to work out which of his animal friends is causing his bath to overflow. In a ‘Eureka!’ moment mirroring that  experienced by the ancient Greek scholar by the same name, he realises that it’s the cumulative upwards movement of water with the addition of each bath-sharing creature which results in the water line reaching the top and then overflowing. Sounds trivial, but it was this discovery which purpurtedly led to a method for accurate measurement of the volume of irregular solid objects (see here to read more).

In Who Sank the Boat? and  Alexander’s Outing, water movement is also covered. This time, the crux of the story is based around whether items float or sink in water. Confusingly enough, this theme is covered in Archimedes Principle, which states that ‘the buoyant force is equal to the weight of the displaced water’. The details don’t matter – from the perspective of Pamela Allen, the points are that (1) there are only so many animals you can add to a small wooden boat before it will sink and (2) a wee little baby duck floats, and hence can be miraculously rescued from a deep, dark hole by the gradual addition of water.

Now, dipping and tipping, dipping and tipping, skipping and dripping, quacking and flapping, dripping and skipping, from the fountain to the hole and back again they danced.

Slowly the water rose….up and up and up…until….

Out popped Alexander like the cork out of a bottle.

[excerpt from Alexander’s Outing]

Moving on to another concept in science, Newton’s 2nd Law of Motion states: The acceleration of an object as produced by a net force is directly proportional to the magnitude of the net force, in the same direction as the net force, and inversely proportional to the mass of the object.

It’s a mouthful at the best of times, and darned hard for a kid to wrap his/her head around even as a teenager. Instead, imagine this; what if two friends spotted a delicious looking pear on the branch of a tree. The pear was so irresistible, they decided to grab it off the branch then and there. Darned thing was up too high though, so they got a ladder. Things went a bit wrong when one pal got stuck on the top rung, and ended up being flung through the air to land in a pond nearby.  Just how the physics of Newton’s 2nd law was applied to create a tale whereby the bird resident in that pond ended up delivering the pear into the hands of the two amigos is told in The Pear in the Pear Tree.

A final taste of science can be found in Brown Bread and Honey. While as adults we’re all well-aware of our increasing waistlines, and the ‘kilojoules in’ versus ‘kilojoules out’ rule for maintaining healthy body weight, it can be hard to teach children the message without it boiling down to the ugly mantra ‘if you eat too much, you will get fat!’. Instead, in this beautiful tale we see how the king’s friendship with the stable boy and his appreciation of a sandwich teaches him to love simple food and learn the pleasures of creating it himself.

Conclusion: if you’ve got a kid or two, or even if you don’t, do yourself a favour and get some Pamela. You’ll learn some science and not even know it.

[image taken from Brown Bread and Honey]

Last night I was lucky enough to be on a panel of experienced users of social media for the Australian Science Communicators SA event ‘Social Media for Science Communication’. Hosted by Heather Bray, also on the stage were Sarah Thomas, Mal Chia, Petra Dzurovcinova and Simon Divecha. An archive of twitter activity around the event is available here.

As a freelance science writer, I spoke about my use of twitter for live tweeting and hashtag chats, using storify as an archiving tool, and for connecting with others across Australia and internationally.

But now in the 24 hours subsequent to the event, I’ve had all sorts of thoughts on just how I could have presented the value of social media better to an audience of scientists and communicators some of whom appeared quite apprehensive about its real value. In particular, I’m not sure I managed to convey how much of an impact social media has on my daily thought processes.

The bottom line is that social media links me in with social and academic communities that would otherwise be beyond my reach as a solo operator.

Here are some details:

My office is at my family home.

Each weekday morning I leap out of bed before my children stir, and read the news. Not in printed form – I open my computer, and scroll through pickups of key-words (known as ‘hashtags’ – for example, #tdf for tweets on the Tour de France, #scio13 for those on the 2013 Science on the Web conference) I’ve set up in my social media dashboard HootSuite (Tweetdeck is also good). Tweets from @abcnews are also handy. Any links that look enticing, I open and read.

Within Hootsuite, I also operate my morning ‘water cooler’ conversations – I check the columns set up for public and private tweets directed straight at me, and pan lists of my most entertaining and tried-and-true twitter pals to see what they’re reading, sharing and creating. Some are scientists, many are not. If I catch someone online at the same time, sometimes we have real-time banter.

Around 6.30am, I’m on duty for porridge cooking, sandwich making, hair braiding, shoe finding and uniform ironing. From 8am to 9am, I’m chief of transport. Then I have a coffee and get on with work tasks  – current clients include The Robinson Institute, BioInnovation SA, COSMOS magazine and my former employer Bridge8. In between, I tackle the mountains of washing that breed in my laundry and think about what kind of bookshelves would really work on that wall in the living room which has been empty for 3 years. When I need fresh air, I run.

And I’m on twitter and Facebook constantly. I post links to what I’m reading. I post questions about who I can contact to help me write a story on specialist topics. I tell everyone I need new ankle boots. I whinge about my toddler’s tantrums.  I retweet cool stuff that others post – science , current affairs: anything well-written, really. I let people know about my latest piece of writing. I make coffee appointments with other science communicators. I tell Lance Armstrong that I love him.

From 2.45pm, I’m back on duty with my kids: talking through the ills of the day, overseeing homework, ferrying to and from sports and getting dinner on the go. Whilst flipping fish fillets, I usually check twitter and Facebook again, getting a feel for what my colleagues and friends have achieved and experienced that day. Evenings often include social media too, sometimes frivolous stuff but also the private Facebook group I’ve set up for our school’s Parents and Friends Association. It’s a fantastic way to add to the community experience of being in a school environment: we swap news and views, confirm times and dates for sporting occasions, double-check exactly which uniform the kids are supposed to wear on Friday.

About once a fortnight, I run away to a science event in the evenings, like Research Tuesdays at the University of Adelaide, or Sprigg Lectures at the SA Museum.

In reality then, I’m using social media intermittently for 12+ hours every working day. It informs me, it connects me, it markets me. That’s my take-home message.

[photo thanks to Heather Bray]