Archive for: April, 2013


Apr 30 2013 Published by under Academia, Activism

I don't know about you, but I love planetarium shows. I'm not even a huge fan of space, but I could go to those things all day. And of course, the planetarium shows aren't always about space, often they've got sharks or rainforests. It's a great educational experience, and wonderfully immersive.

But I have always thought some fields were left out. I mean, how do you show the gastrointestinal tract in surround? I could imagine that getting a little...gutsy. Even so, I've always wondered, why is there no planetarium show about neuroscience? Perhaps there are some, but I've never seen them. And it's too bad. Because neuroscience is one of those fields, to me, that really can get planetarium sized. With a whole planetarium to fill you could show neural networks, electrical activity, pathways. A neuroscience planetarium show would be so inspiring, showing people the vastness of this tiny 3 lb lump in our heads, and how much we still don't know.

And now, there are people who are trying to make it HAPPEN! I recently heard about Neurodome, a proposed planetarium show that will incorporate space and neuroscience, trying to explain why we explore. It will show things like how we currently understand neural networks, and of course there will be lots of brain imaging (which I can understand. Mice running mazes doesn't really get better in planetarium-size). They also want to incorporate their content into educational programs, to help more kids get education about the brain.

I think this could be a really cool project, and I'm glad to see they've started a Kickstarter! So if you think this idea is as cool as I do, send a few bucks their way and let them know!

NEURODOME Trailer from fisherworks on Vimeo.

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Friday Weird Science: Stop and smell the s**t

Apr 26 2013 Published by under Friday Weird Science

These days, we've got an infinite variety of ways to tell people what we ate for breakfast. Twitter, Facebook, Blogs, phone calls, singing telegrams!

(Believe me, what we are about to discus would be about as well received)

But you know, if you want people to really UNDERSTAND your diet, your current obsession with greek yogurt or whole grains, they need to really know the ins and...outs of the process. So if you really want people to know what you ate for breakfast, you don't need a singing telegram. You need a fecal odorgram.

Moore et al. "Fecal Odorgrams: A method of partial reconstruction of ancient and modern diets" Digestive diseases and sciences, 1984.


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Grad School on a Budget

Apr 25 2013 Published by under Academia

Grad school in science* is a stressful time. You've got lots of pressure to produce, to do well in classes, to work more hours, to get more done, to learn faster, to teach, to volunteer.

And you're doing it all on, sometimes, less than $25,000 a year**. So on to all of that stress, you have to add more, the fact that you've got to live on that. For many people, this seems like a lot, but if you've got a family? Or other dependents? Not so much. Not only that, even people who DON'T have dependents can have a rough time. Many new grad students have never worked in the "real world". They have no idea how to manage money because they've never really made much, and have usually depended on parents or other caregivers. It's a very, very fortunate position. But it also means that a lot of grad students start grad school with NO idea of how to manage their finances.

And this can mean DEBT. In my time, I've seen grad students buy houses, new cars, more new cars, take super nice trips, wear really nice clothes, get really nice phones, eat out every day, sometimes all of these in combination. Some people can get away with it. A lot of people can't. I've seen people rack up a LOT of debt.

I myself was lucky. I got out with no debt at all, and even managed to save a little. This involved a LOT of frugal living (Costco and Aldi are your friends, and roommates are not a bad thing at all! Thrift stores can have some very nice dress clothes. Also, you'd be stunned by how long you can just keep pouring oil into your car to make it keep running before it just up and dies), but it also involved a lot of luck. Not everyone is lucky. And not everyone has the freedom to make the choices I made. I lived in a cheap area where rentals weren't horrid, so I saved a lot of money there. Food was cheap where I lived. I didn't need major surgery or anything, and neither did my cat. I only had one car die. I got out of grad school before my funding ran out. I had parents that could help me. I was able to use other talents to pull in a little extra income. I was REALLY lucky.

Grad schools know it's not easy. They know that many grad students needs to get used to living on a budget. And quickly. And so there are programs where they tell you things like "pack your lunch! Brew your own coffee! Buy only used cars!" we aren't already doing these things. It can help a little, but most of the time we are left to follow our own instincts.

And so this is why I am VERY glad that Southern Fried Science is doing a series on finances for grad students! There are already a couple of really great posts up on getting a stipend, what to expect from your stipend, and how to build credit. If you're a grad student just starting out, I can't recommend them enough. Read them, take them to heart. And pack your lunch and brew your own coffee most days. Cause, you know, practicality. 🙂

So head over and check it out! I eagerly await more installments!

*I'm applying this post only to people in science, or in other fields which get a stipend and have tuition paid. In the humanities, you usually get no stipends at ALL and have to pay full tuition. They have it WAY WORSE.

**That's roughly what I made in grad school, lo these, um, three years ago.

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Eating your Sleeplessness

Apr 24 2013 Published by under Behavioral Neuro

It's late. I've got a lot on my plate. A lot to do. And most of us do. So here I am, burning the midnight oil along with many of my neighbors. I usually count myself lucky to get 7 hours a night, and I AM lucky. For many parents or other caregivers, for example, 7 hours is unheard-of luxury.

But I am tired. And I'm snacking. Because, well. I'm up late and...and it's LATE. And if I don't eat, well I'll probably just fall over right now.

I'd like to think that my staying up late and my late night snacking are a once in a while thing...but really, it's almost every day.

Is it just me? Probably not. Most of us don't get enough sleep, and those who don't sleep? Snack. But why? And what does this mean for issues like obesity?

Markwald et al. "Impact of insufficient sleep on total daily energy expenditure, food intake, and weight gain" PNAS, 2013.



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Experimental Biology 2013!

Apr 23 2013 Published by under Experimental Biology Blogging 2011

Sadly, Sci is NOT joining in the fun at the 2013 Experimental Biology meeting. 🙁  I really wish that I could have gone this year, but sadly, it's not possible, and I'm going to be one of those horrible deadbeats with an empty posterboard.

But there are others at Experimental Biology, and they are blogging and tweeting up a storm! Make sure to check out @katiesci, who is blogging on behalf of the American Society of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics! She's already got a post or two up on experiencing Boston this week from a science perspective, on careers in science, and on cognitive flexibility! Also make sure you drop by and read David Despain, who is writing for the American Society for Nutrition, and already has a great post up on carotenoids. And don't miss Biochembelle, who is blogging on behalf of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and has a great post up on the different ways to be an advocate for science, many of which are much easier than you think!


So even if, like me, you can't be AT Experimental Biology this year, you can experience it virtually! Follow the blogging and follow along on Twitter, to catch all the latest science!


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To Calm a Rat with Tickling

Apr 22 2013 Published by under Behavioral Neuro

Sci is at SciAm Blogs today, tickling some rats! It's both adorable, and might help decrease their stress. How? Rats like to be tickled, is all. Head over and check out the adorableness!



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Friday Weird Science: Real Men Wear Kilts

Apr 19 2013 Published by under Friday Weird Science

I have to say I've always expected it. Wearing kilts...well it takes strength. Confidence. It takes cojones.

And who knows, it might be the smart thing to do! Forget easy access, forget the free swing of balls on the breeze...could wearing a kilt be best for your SPERM?

Kompanje, EJO. "‘Real men wear kilts’. The anecdotal
evidence that wearing a Scottish kilt has
influence on reproductive potential: how
much is true?" Scottish Medical Journal, 2013.

Today's post comes to you via the incredible Marc Abrahams of the Ignobels. No word on whether this finding will make him wear more kilts.

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Book Review: Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal

Apr 17 2013 Published by under Book Reviews, Uncategorized

Did you know that hydrogen sulfide, molecule for molecule, is as lethal as cyanide? The only difference is, one of them's in your farts (at far too low of a concentration to harm you, except psychologically).

Did you ever wonder if you could eat (or do drugs) with your butt?

Did you ever wonder what cat food tastes like? And why that should matter to humans? And why dogs (and rats, and others) eat their own poop?

And have you ever thought, really THOUGHT, about your own saliva?

I bet you're thinking about it now.

It's weird, isn't it.

But no saliva, no rectal storage, and no potentially lethal levels of hydrogen sulfide will stop the intrepid Mary Roach, as she embarks upon her latest book, Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal.


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Running and Hypothermia

Apr 16 2013 Published by under Physiology/Pharmacology

I was truly devastated by the news from the Boston Marathon yesterday. This kind of senseless violence perpetrated at what has always been such a positive, peaceful, joyful gathering is just too horrible to describe. Scientific American is covering many aspects of this kind of event, from the wonderful behavior of fellow runners (acting against what psychology tells us), to the value of social media during the crisis. I have a post on why so many of the runners began to show signs of hypothermia after being diverted off the racecourse, and how runners and Bostonians helped each other. And today, I'm Running for Boston, and I hope you will run, walk, or otherwise locomote for Boston, too.

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Friday Weird Science: The big deal on penis size

Apr 12 2013 Published by under Friday Weird Science, Uncategorized

Sigh. The penis story is now 5 days old, and I'm only just now getting to it. Sci is sad and behind the times, but that's because I don't get the awesome press releases that so many journalists are heir to. The joys of academia, I'm the last to hear about the penis study!

The coverage was so...BIG...that Knight Science Journalism Tracker has a whole pile of links. Science News, NBC (complete with the quote of the day "The human male possesses the Italian designer faucet of penises"), National Geographic. Gawker.

So after all this coverage, I went eagerly to read the paper. I mean, this must be a big deal, right?

But really...I'm not sure why all the penis coverage. I admit it's tough to give up a penis in PNAS joke, but I'm not sure what makes this meaty, shall we say. I think what they did is fine and well controlled, met all the standards of scientific rigidity, but I'm not sure they...went all the way. The conclusions were, well, kind of expected, and a little limp.

You see where I'm going here.

Mautz et al. "Penis size interacts with body shape and height to influence male attractiveness" PNAS, 2013.


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