Publications

2019
Moran S. The monkey in the mirror: Non-human primate brains offer a lens into human minds. CASW Newsroom [Internet]. 2019. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Bigger, slower-developing brains may distinguish humans from their non-human primate relatives, says George Washington University anthropologist Chet Sherwood, but these obvious brain differences are only the beginning of what we can learn about our evolution by studying our primate cousins.

Understanding how brain shape and function differ among primate groups could help answer many questions about the human brain, from the neurochemical controls of social behavior to the reasons people develop mental illness.

Reitz S. An upside-down jellyfish could help save coral reefs. CASW Newsroom [Internet]. 2019. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Upside-down jellyfish growing in a lab in Pennsylvania could help protect endangered coral reefs in the world’s oceans.

The creatures serve as a stand-in for corals off the southern coast of Florida that spawn once a year, seven days after a full moon, exactly three and a half hours after sunset — and at the height of Florida’s hurricane season.

For more than 10 years, Penn State University biologist Mónica Medina made hazardous annual pilgrimages to the Florida reefs to capture coral embryos during this narrow window of opportunity. Until she turned to a more accessible species — Cassiopea xamachana, the upside-down jellyfish, which can thrive in a lab — to provide a faster route to understanding and supporting coral reef health.

Crowe C. A controversial tactic against climate change. CASW Newsroom [Internet]. 2019. Publisher's VersionAbstract

David Keith has a tool for fighting climate change, and a big challenge: convincing the rest of the world to use it. Speaking to science writers gathered in State College, Pa. on Oct. 28, Keith, a professor of applied physics and public policy at Harvard University, said he understands why some are apprehensive about his approach.

“This topic is controversial,” Keith said, “and it should be.”

Keith spoke during the annual New Horizons in Science briefing presented by the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing as part of ScienceWriters2019.

Limper CB. Patients’ waste is this scientist’s treasure. CASW Newsroom [Internet]. 2019. Publisher's VersionAbstract

A newsmaker from an unexpected encounter has offered scientific news from an unexpected source—poop.

As I looked for stories at a science writers’ conference in State College, Pa., it was the fellow student scientist who sat down next to me who provided a rich story about the potential for pathogens called reoviruses—commonly found in human and other animal waste—to advance the control of cancer cell growth.

Hariharan J. Killer fungus could cause the next amphibian apocalypse. CASW Newsroom [Internet]. 2019. Publisher's VersionAbstract

A deadly fungus decimated populations of frogs and other amphibians around the globe in the late 20th century. Today a new, even more lethal one is on the march. Biologists are taking lessons from the previous “amphibian apocalypse” to try to hold off the next big wave of deaths and extinctions.

Frogs, salamanders and other amphibians might not stir warm thoughts, but their existence—and their decline—affects humans and other animals in critical ways. The global drop in amphibian populations has drastically affected ecosystems, lowering water quality, harming algae and water insects and destroying food webs critical for the preservation of a range of species.

Lewis B. Where Is Everyone? Technological adolescence and the Fermi paradox. Orbiter [Internet]. 2019. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Imagine a world where a trip to the moon is as easy as running to the grocery store. Visiting nearby stars might be a routine cross-galaxy flight, and you may even have a layover at a galactic travel hub on a place like Batuu from Star Wars. In this imaginary universe, many stars and planets would be connected, and their societies could communicate as a part of a galactic civilization.

Given our limited spaceflight capabilities, it might seem obvious at first why this hasn’t happened. It took even one of our fastest small probes (New Horizons, which visited Pluto in 2015) almost 10 years to get to the outer solar system, and we haven’t yet sent humans any further than the moon (and that was back in the 1970s). With our current technology, it would take around 100 human lifetimes to cross the unimaginably large four light years to our nearest neighbor star, Proxima Centauri.

Palmer B. Restoration ecology: the study of applied optimism. Restoration Ecology [Internet]. 2019. Publisher's Version
Kulkarni S. Mind the [Mass] Gap. Scientific American Observations Blog [Internet]. 2019. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Astronomers are getting closer to figuring out where the dividing line lies between neutron stars and black holes

Benish S. A LOOK AT CLIMATE CHANGE POLICY FROM 2020 DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES. Actual Living Scientist [Internet]. 2019. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Scientists agree that human activity is at the root of global warming. As more international protests bring the consequences of a warming planet to the mainstream media, presidential candidates are announcing how they would deal with the crisis. But will any of their plans actually work or go far enough in stemming the problem?
 
The Democratic National Committee recently held a 7-hour climate change town hall with presidential candidates. While we have many more months of debate and a crowded Democratic field, I’m going to grade the climate action plans of two frontrunners based on how effective I believe the plans are. We’ll start with two candidates who have been involved in politics for decades: Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.
Rivers M. How Judging Future Learning Influences Learning. Psychology Today [Internet]. 2019. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Do you use a Fitbit or another type of technology to track your exercise? Do you find yourself trying to walk more after checking your daily steps? If so, you are taking advantage of reactivity – when people alter their behavior in response to their behavior being measured.

Typically, researchers try their best to avoid reactivity in their studies. If you are interested in observing someone’s natural behavior, you would not want to change it simply by observing it. However, reactivity can occasionally become the subject of research itself, and this is exactly what is happening with a measure used in learning research.

Allf B. Don’t Trust Scientists? Then Help Collect the Data. Scientific American Blog Network [Internet]. 2019. Publisher's VersionAbstract

In 2015 I was on the verge of publishing my first scientific journal article. The culmination of hundreds of hours spent filming defensive behavior in snakes seemed to be paying off in a big way: an exciting new conclusion about how the rattlesnake's namesake rattle evolved. But there was a problem.

While almost every data point I collected about viper behavior supported our hypothesis—that snakes more closely related to rattlesnakes shake their tails more quickly—one critical species bucked the trend: the cottonmouth. These large venomous snakes from the Southeastern U.S. shook their tails a measly 10 or 15 times per second—half as quickly as most other rattlesnake cousins.

Staring at my computer screen after analyzing the videos, I realized two things. One, cottonmouths were going to complicate an otherwise straightforward story that would reduce the strength of my conclusions, meaning I might not get my paper published in a top-tier journal. And two, since I was the only person in my lab analyzing this data, it was completely within my power to fudge the numbers.

Young N. My Top Eight Takeaways From ComSciCon-AIP. MSU SciComm [Internet]. 2019. Publisher's VersionAbstract
I recently attended ComSciCon-AIP, a science communication conference for graduate students run by graduate students at the American Institute of Physics in College Park, Maryland. Over the course of two days, I along with over fifty other students from around the country discussed storytelling, science communication, science policy, engaging with the media, and diversity and inclusion efforts. While there is too much to share in a single article, I’ve created a list of my top eight takeaways from the conference.
Deibert E. Science graduate students hone communication skills at inaugural ComSciConCAN conference. The Varsity [Internet]. 2019. Publisher's VersionAbstract

U of T students, faculty represented at Canada’s first national science communication conference for graduate students

 

 

Science communicators from universities across Canada sharpened their skills at ComSciConCAN, the country’s first national science communication conference for graduate students, held from July 18 to 20 at McMaster University.

The two-and-a-half-day event drew inspiration from the US-based ComSciCon workshop series on science communication, which was first held in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 2013.

ComSciCon has since expanded to include flagship workshops across the US, but ComSciConCAN marks the first time the conference has been hosted in a different country.

The inaugural Canadian conference featured four panel discussions, six hands-on workshops, and over 25 experts from a diverse range of science communication careers.

In attendance were 50 graduate students from 26 different institutions across Canada, who were selected out of a pool of over 400 applicants from a wide array of scientific backgrounds.

 

Schmehl M. Which Weighs More, a Pound of Stone or a Pound of Styrofoam?. Scientific American Observations Blog [Internet]. 2019. Publisher's VersionAbstract

It’s not a trick question: your brain answers differently depending on whether they’re part of the same object or not.

 

 

For more than a century, scientists thought they knew the answer to a curious question: why does 10 pounds of a low-density substance such as Styrofoam feel heavier than 10 pounds of stone? It isn’t heavier, of course, but repeated experiments have shown that it feels that way.

Now psychologists say their initial explanation may have been incomplete, and the new explanation could have far-reaching consequences, including for the way Netflix designs the algorithms that recommend movies to its customers.

Scientists have known for decades that when asked to lift two objects that seem like they should have different weights but are actually equally heavy, people will say the lighter-looking one feels heavier. Experts believed this illusion, called the material-weight illusion, occurs when the brain’s expectations about weight are contradicted: Throughout life we learn through experience that some materials are heavy and others are light. Over time we become skilled at guessing an object’s weight from its appearance alone.

But new evidence suggests that the brain bases some guesses on how weight is distributed across an object. In a recent study scientists looked at how people perceived the weight of a block made of two materials. A team led by Roland Fleming, a psychologist at the University of Giessen, created blocks composed of two halves that appeared to be made of materials with different densities and thus could be expected to have different weights: stone, wood or Styrofoam. The team asked people to lift a block made of two of these materials (such as stone paired with Styrofoam) and rate the relative weight of each side of the block.

 

Whitaker M. ComSciConNY 2019: Competence, warmth, and knowing your audience. PLOS ECR Community Blog [Internet]. 2019. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Have you ever found yourself listening to an academic lecture peppered with unfamiliar words, feeling a little clueless? God knows I have. I usually cope by sheepishly googling words on my phone, hoping that the speaker doesn’t think I’m on Instagram. Wouldn’t it be nice if instead of feeling like you’re the one at fault, you could throw a big red sign into the air telling the speaker, “Hey! You need to explain that better!”

 

Just over a week ago, I got to do just that, and it was awesome.

 

During the first weekend of August, I attended ComSciConNY at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. ComSciCon is a conference series which was started by Harvard graduate students interested in science communication. At their New York-focused iteration of the program, I was able to meet with other early career researchers who are passionate about sharing science with others, and hone my skills during the event.

Ruiz N. ComSciCon at Cornell grows into 6th year. Cornell Engineering News [Internet]. 2019. Publisher's VersionAbstract
The first ComSciCon NY, formerly ComSciCon Cornell, was held at Cornell University August 2-3, 2019. The event consisted of a variety of panels on themes such as social media, science policy, podcasts, storytelling, outreach and extension, and citizen science. Panelists were invited speakers from a variety of locations near Ithaca, such as New York City, Washington D.C., Long Island and Cambridge, MA, and attendees traveled from from Buffalo, Syracuse, Binghamton, New York City and Ithaca for the extraordinary opportunity to network, improve science communication skills and learn from experts in careers beyond academia.
Krauss J. An Orchid of Two Hearts (a poem). Plant Love Stories [Internet]. 2019. Publisher's Version
Das M. Cancer Research in a Nutshell. Scientific American Blog [Internet]. 2019. Publisher's VersionAbstract
A website called OncoBites offers short, easy-to-understand reports on what’s new in the field
ComSciCon Launches in Canada. Mirage news [Internet]. 2019. Publisher's VersionAbstract

This past weekend, the first national science communications workshop for graduate students launched in Canada. For two and a half days, fifty graduate students, selected from over 400 applicants, and heralding from twenty-six institutions across Canada, gathered at McMaster University for ComSciConCAN – a fully immersive experience in science communications.

The goal of ComSciConCAN is to help the next generation of leaders in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields develop the skills needed to effectively communicate their research and ideas to peers, policy makers,and the general public. Graduate students were given the opportunity to network with over twenty-five science communication experts, to participate in panel discussions and interactive workshops, and to produce original, creative pieces for publication.

Qaiser F. New tips and tools for “scicomm” courtesy of ComSciConCAN. Signals [Internet]. 2019. Publisher's VersionAbstract

On July 18th, 50 graduate students (including yours truly!) descended upon McMaster University to attend the first national ComSciConCAN: a three-day science communication event consisting of four panels, six workshops, one keynote and over 25 different experts, with the aim of empowering graduate students  to share their research with broad and diverse audiences. In this post, I’ll be sharing new tips and tools I learned at ComSciConCAN from experts, organizers and attendees alike, which you can apply to your own science communication efforts.

The first Communicating Science workshop (ComSciCon) took place in the U.S. in 2013, where a team of nine graduate students organized a three-day series of expert panels, hands-on workshops, a poster session, pop talks (one minute talks where attendees share their research, and are labelled as awesome or jargon by listeners), and a Write-A-Thon (to prep a piece of science communication). Six years later, ComSciConCAN is the first ever series to take place outside of the U.S., where it features the same unique professional development experience with Canadian experts.

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