Publications

2020
Jones A. Rich bird, poor bird: urban street trees support native birds across a socioeconomic gradient. Envirobites [Internet]. 2020. Publisher's VersionAbstract
As human populations grow and cities sprawl, wooded jungles increasingly yield to concrete jungles. In urban Los Angeles (LA), street trees are critical habitats for native birds, but new research shows that affluent neighborhoods boasted larger trees and more birds than poorer communities. These findings could help conserve urban biodiversity by informing city planners about the best ways to plant and maintain street trees.
Schultz K. Fail Better. PASSIOINVENTA [Internet]. 2020. Publisher's VersionAbstract
I tried to hide my embarrassment and frustration, but I’m sure my averted gaze and nervous fidgeting made it obvious that I had bad news to share.

I’d been a member of the lab for a few months but, looking at the state of the project, you might not have guessed that. Progress had been slow, and I now had to report to my mentor not only that I’d failed again to get our experiment working, but also that I’d broken over a thousand dollars-worth of equipment with one clumsy mistake. I managed to get the words out with a flimsy stoicism and prepared myself for reprimand.

He gave me a look that was somewhere between understanding and amused and said “Happens to everyone! You did good. Just fail better next time.”

Fathi P. ComSciCon: the virtual experience. Illinois Grainger College of Engineering News [Internet]. 2020. Publisher's VersionAbstract
ComSciCon is a competitive three-day science communication workshop created by graduate students for graduate students. The goal of this workshop is to help graduate students build science communication skills to effectively communicate their work with people across a variety of fields, as well as with the public. This year, the conference took place virtually. 

A few weeks before the conference officially began, all attendees participated in a Write-a-Thon. For this, we had to write a 600-800-word original piece of scientific writing, along with a freelance pitch for the article. The idea was to take something such as your research or a scientific concept and make it accessible to a target audience of your choice.
Steffel CN. Why Science Communication is Critical to Medical Physics. The Voice of Radiology Blog [Internet]. 2020. Publisher's VersionAbstract

The summer before my senior year of undergrad, I was combing through the course catalog, hoping to add more than quantum mechanics to my schedule, when I discovered the Department of Medical Physics at my university.

I, like so many others, had discovered medical physics by chance.

Dundon M. Ice, heat, science, and acting. The Journal of Stories in Science [Internet]. 2020. Publisher's VersionAbstract
On a scorching hot, dry summer day in inland Southern California, I found myself walking into a small, dimly lit room that was situated above a bail bonds shop. The building felt like it had been there forever. The walls were lined with a myriad of playbill posters and photos from Shakespeare productions. A large bookcase was filled to the brim with worn copies of plays and books. In the center of the room were two short rows of chairs facing the far wall, where there was a small setup of two handheld cameras and chairs facing each other. I was handed a short script, told to read it only once and then wait for my turn to do a “cold read” of the scene with my partner.
Grizzell JA, Hariharan J, Limper C, Sanchez A. For scientists across the country, #ShutDownSTEM stirs a mix of emotions. CASW Newsroom [Internet]. 2020. Publisher's VersionAbstract

For many academics, news of a one-day strike from labs and classrooms arrived just a day or two before the event itself—“probably because so few [senior faculty/administrators] are active on social media,” said Bret Eshman, a postdoctoral fellow at Florida International University. “That’s how I found out about it on Tuesday.”

The following day, June 10, protests against racial discrimination and violence entered the ivory tower, spread by Twitter hashtags like #ShutDownSTEM#ShutDownAcademia#BlackInTheIvory, and #Strike4BlackLives. Organized by a group of physicists, #ShutDownSTEM asked for the suspension of all non-essential work in favor of open dialogue, education, and action to eradicate anti-Black racism within research and academia.

Le B. 150 Food Science Questions Answered: Cook Smarter, Cook Better. Rockridge Press; 2020 pp. 198. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Cooking isn’t just an art, it’s a science―150 fascinating food facts to make you a better cook

Does cold water come to a boil faster than warm water? Why does fat taste so good? What makes popcorn pop? Most of the processes that occur during cooking are based on principles found in biology, chemistry, and physics. 150 Food Science Questions Answered is an intriguing look into the science of food, from the eyes of a food science Ph.D. candidate and recipient of the James Beard Legacy Scholarship.

Tsang M-Y, Inagaki F. Microbial Life Deep Under the Seafloor—A Story of Not Giving Up. Frontiers for Young Minds [Internet]. 2020. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Below the seafloor are trillions of single-celled microbial life. Marine sediments bury these microorganisms deeper and deeper. Meanwhile, the microorganisms face increasing pressures and temperatures and reduced amounts of food and water. Although they are living in difficult conditions, these microorganisms stay alive and maintain their communities. To date, we know that these microbial communities can survive for millions of years, at 2.5 km below the seafloor, and at temperatures over 100°C. Scientists use multiple approaches to study these fascinating microorganisms.
Chu H, Sankovitz M. Our experience at ComSciCon: the perspectives of two entomology Ph.D. students. SciComm @ UCR [Internet]. 2020. Publisher's VersionAbstract
ComSciCon is a workshop for graduate students (and organized by graduate students) about communicating complex and technical scientific concepts. ComSciCon attendees interact with professional communicators and build lasting networks with graduate students in science and engineering fields from across the US and Canada. There is one flagship workshop per year and multiple chapter workshops all over the continent. Entomology Ph.D. students Hannah Chu and Madison Sankovitz attended the flagship workshop in different years and share their experiences here!
Schmitt L. Genetics graduate student enhances science communication skills at regional conference. The Newstand of Clemson University [Internet]. 2020. Publisher's VersionAbstract

College of Science graduate student Rebecca MacPherson, a member of professor Trudy Mackay’s research group, conducts genetics-based research that could someday translate into new approaches for treating children born with fetal alcohol syndrome. She’s also an advocate for increasing science literacy and sharing her results with the public.

On March 12-13, MacPherson was among 50 graduate students from the Southeast region who participated in the invitation-only ComSciCon-Atlanta 2020 conference at the University of Georgia, where she polished her multimedia, writing, and oral communication skills through interactions with professional science communicators and like-minded graduate students.

Rose K. ComSciCon returns to Virginia Tech. Virginia Tech Daily [Internet]. 2020. Publisher's VersionAbstract

If you’ve ever seen the award-winning nature documentary called "Planet Earth," you have experienced science communication at its finest. With strong science communication, scientists are able to capture the imagination, re-establish trust with the public, and spark meaningful discussions that give science a stronger presence in our society.

On Feb. 27 and 28, graduate students and communicators came together to strengthen their science communication abilities at the second annual ComSciCon–Virginia Tech.

ComSciCon is a workshop series that gives young researchers the necessary skills to communicate their scientific research to broad and diverse audiences.

Padavic-Callaghan K. The Coolest Physics You’ve Ever Heard Of. Scientific American Observations [Internet]. 2020. Publisher's VersionAbstract

When it comes to furthering our overall understanding of the physical world, ultracold quantum gases are awfully promising. As the famous physicist Richard Feynman argued, to fully understand nature, we need quantum means of simulation and computation. Ultracold atomic systems have, in the last 30 years, proven to be amazing quantum simulators. The number of applications for these systems as such simulators is nothing short of overwhelming, ranging from engineering artificial crystals to providing new platforms for quantum computing. In its brief history, ultracold atomic experimental research has enhanced physicists’ understanding of a truly vast array of important phenomena.

One of the revelations of quantum mechanics is that any object can be seen as a wave (even you!) when an appropriate experimental test is used. Properties of these co-called “matter waves” depend on their temperature; at large temperatures they have short wavelengths and look and behave particlelike because all the peaks and valleys are so close together that they cannot be told apart. If we lower temperature to much less than a single kelvin, the wave nature of matter becomes more pronounced and wavelike behaviors more important. What happens then with a large collection of very cold atoms that behave like a large collection of waves? They can all align and overlap to form a single wave, something that was historically called a “macroscopic wave function.” Such a system—a condensate in physics parlance—is a fundamentally quantum state of matter.

Bretl B. Evolutionary explanation for unscientific beliefs Smith D. The Danielle Smith Show [Internet]. 2020. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Guest Brandon Bretl, research fellow and PhD candidate in the department of educational psychology at the University of Kansas
Bretl B. An Evolutionary Explanation for Unscientific Beliefs. Quillette [Internet]. 2020. Publisher's VersionAbstract
“Another theory is that humans were created by God,” announced my tenth-grade biology student as she clicked past PowerPoint slides of Darwin’s finches and on to images of a catastrophic flood. After her presentation, I carefully avoided inane debate and simply reiterated the unique ways in which science helps us make accurate predictions. I then prepared for pushback from parents and administrators. Sure enough, the next day the superintendent of the school district came to my classroom with some creationist literature that he was confident would change my mind on the whole theory of evolution by natural selection thing. It didn’t, but it did lead me to pursue a PhD in educational psychology in my search to explain how such beliefs could be maintained in modern times, particularly in the face of such strong counterevidence.
2019
Ayer A. The Secret in Your Veins: The History of Blood Transfusion. Illinois Science Council's Science Unsealed Blog [Internet]. 2019. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Blood transfusions are an essential component of modern-day medicine, saving lives in a variety of situations, ranging from genetic diseases like sickle cell anemia to road accidents. But, the history of blood transfusion is a rocky one. For instance, did you know that a German physician founded the world’s first blood transfusion institute in 1926 because he believed blood transfusions led to immortality?

Dr. Alexander Bogdanov started some crude blood transfusion experiments on himself by injecting blood of other young men into his own system. After 11 such transfusion sessions, he claimed to have improved vision, arrest hair loss, and produce youthful skin. This led him to believe that blood transfusion was the path to immortality and eternal youth. But, as you can expect, this practice, combined with poor understanding of the blood transfusion process at that time, killed him years later.

Carnovale M. Science or science fiction? The still-open questions about the #CRISPRtwins story. CASW Newsroom [Internet]. 2019. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Kiran Musunuru was shocked. In a few days, on Nov. 27, 2018, scientists from all over the world would meet in Hong Kong to set standards for the use of the CRISPR gene-editing tool on human embryos. Yet the paper in front of him suggested that in China, gene-edited twins were already growing in their mother’s uterus, with the help of scientist He Jiankui.

“I was horrified,” Musunuru recalled as he spoke to science writers gathered in State College, Pa. 11 months later, for the ScienceWriters2019 conference. “This is an historic event, the first gene-edited babies. And this is a horror show.”

That day, Associated Press reporter Marilynn Marchione had requested the opinion of three experts in genetics on an unpublished paper. Musunuru, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, was one of them. The claims made by He, the paper’s lead author, were grandiose and terrifying: he had implanted gene-edited embryos.

Albuquerque L. P-values and statistical significance: New ideas for interpreting scientific results. CASW Newsroom [Internet]. 2019. Publisher's VersionAbstract

When statistician Nicole Lazar published an editorial in The American Statistician earlier this year advocating changes in the way scientists handle the troublesome issue of statistical significance, her father—who trained as a sociologist—asked her, "Are you getting death threats on Twitter?"

Lazar, a professor of statistics at the University of Georgia, doesn't use Twitter, but the question reveals how contentious the issue of statistical significance is. "You don't often think about statisticians getting emotional about things," Lazar told an audience of writers attending the Science Writers 2019 conference held in State College, Pa.,"but this is a topic that's been raising a lot of passion and discussion in our field.” Lazar spoke on Oct. 27 as part of the New Horizons in Science briefing organized by the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing (CASW).

Many scientists determine whether the results of their experiments are “statistically significant” by using statistical tests that result in a number known as the “p-value.” A p-value of less than 0.05 is commonly considered significant, and often erroneously characterized as meaning the findings are not likely to be the result of chance. What the number actually reveals is less straightforward, and even scientists have trouble explaining the precise meaning of the p-value. Using the threshold of < 0.05 has been shown to be problematic, misleading, and even dangerous. Lazar’s editorial, “Moving to a World Beyond 'p < 0.05',” discusses several possibilities that will give researchers alternatives to an arbitrary p-value cut-off.

Tindell RK. Rising seas: Ice sheets pose uncertain, startling risks for the planet. CASW Newsroom [Internet]. 2019. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Beneath the ocean waters off Antartica, massive buried shelves of ice function like buttresses, supporting the continent’s massive ice sheets.

If those buttresses fail, Richard Alley told science writers at a recent conference in State College, Pa., global sea levels will not rise by inches, as predicted by recent climate reports—but instead by as much as 186 feet.

Alley, professor of geosciences at Penn State University, discussed the perilous consequences of rising sea levels, and society's options in the face of an uncertain future, on Oct. 27 during the New Horizons in Science briefing organized by the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing, part of the ScienceWriters2019 conference.

“We can either treat climate change science like a tweet—pretending like it’s an evil liar—or we can use knowledge,” Alley said.

As climate changes, rising sea levels are a concern for countries that border the world’s oceans. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—also known as the IPCC—sea levels will continue to rise for the foreseeable future.

Marvin C. Drug resistance: Can targeting evolution be the solution?. CASW Newsroom [Internet]. 2019. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Science has given doctors more and more powerful drugs to deploy against infectious diseases and cancers in recent decades, and yet many new therapies have failed to live up to their promise. Andrew Read has some ideas about how to change that. 

As an evolutionary biologist, Read views much drug therapy as an impossible game of "whack-a-mole," where microorganisms and cancer cells evolve and change to resist drugs and survive. Speaking to writers at the New Horizons in Science briefings presented by the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing during the ScienceWriters2019 conference in State College, Pa., on Oct. 27, Read suggested that more and powerful drugs may not be the solution. Instead, he called for managing evolution to prevent the emergence of drug resistance in the first place.

Dulka BN. The search for extraterrestrial intelligence: A “neglected” quest no longer?. CASW Newsroom [Internet]. 2019. Publisher's VersionAbstract

“I’m an observer,” said astronomer Jason Wright. “I’ve always enjoyed the little corners that are being neglected.” In recent years Wright has been exploring one such neglected corner—the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI. He is optimistic that it will soon be full of activity.

Wright, associate professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State University, expressed this hope to science writers visiting State College, Pa., for the ScienceWriters2019 conference. Speaking as part of the New Horizons in Science briefing organized by the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing on Oct. 28, he shared a vision for SETI’s future.

That future, Wright pointed out, hasn’t always looked promising. The official SETI program at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was frequently a target of congressional ridicule and was terminated in 1993. Since then, other branches of SETI have suffered and dwindled owing to a lack of federal grant funding. SETI research has survived thanks to philanthropic donations.

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