Sunday, March 31, 2013

Monday, March 25, 2013

Mainly Microbe - by Joe Hanson

I had the privilege of meeting Joe Hanson at Science Online 2013. He continues to produce some of the best explainer videos I know of out there on the tubes. Here's one on a topic I've covered before - the microbiome!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Hacking the Family Tree

Thank to Aatish Bhatia for sharingthis video on Twitter. As I prepare to make my genome fully open access and attached to my name it is worth knowing what can be done with the information.

The Immortal Genome of Henrietta Lacks

Saturday, March 23, 2013

What is MicroscoPARTY?

A MicroscoPARTY is an informal gathering of curious people observing and discussing various specimens under a microscope.

The idea to have an online MicroscoPARTY was born in my head while attending the annual Science-Online Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina in February, 2013.

At the conference a gentleman named Fraser Cain showed the group how he is using Google Hangouts (free video-conferencing available through Google) to point different telescopes around the planet at different windows onto the night sky and have them all stream into a single video chat!

The people at Google were so enthused about Fraser's use of Google Hangouts they sent a team to him to make the video below about his endevor.

Watching this video at Science Online 2013 was a highlight for me. When the image of Saturn comes on the screen goosebumps run up and down my whole body.

Only a few weeks before I attended this conference did I start work as a Postdoctoral Researcher. For my dissertation I strictly worked with proteins. I could never actually see with my eyes the objects of my investigation. So when I fist got to look at plants under the high powered dissecting scope I was like a kid in a candy shop.  I could not believe all the richness I had been missing and I wanted to share that excitement with everyone. And there I was hearing Fraser Cain tell me exactly how I could do it!

Last Friday I put together the first ever MicroscoPARTY that I know of. Though the conversation veered far and wide from the microscope it was still one of the coolest events I have ever participated in. Having a team of minds all sharing their collective knowledge in real time.  Just a taste of what is to come.

Here is the recorded portion of the inaugural MicroscoPARTY

Keep in mind this was a session to work out the interface kinks and to brainstorm about future events. If you want to keep track of future gatherings you can follow us on twitter using the hashtag #MicroscoPARTY or visit our Facebook community page here.  If you have a great idea for a future topic or specimen let me know in the comments.

The next MicroscoPARTY will be held Friday April 12th at 7PM EDT with video available live and recorded on You Tube after the party is over! The topic is Food and Fungus! Help us hype the hyphae!!!

Party on Wayne... Party on Garth.

Shattering Prince Rupert's Drop

Thank to Dustin from @SmarterYouTube aka "Smarter Every Day" for putting together this mind-shattering explanation of the mysterious Prince Rupert's Drop.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Bridging the gaps in science communication

In this Google+ Hangout organized by the illustrious @DNLee5 a wonderful group of people discuss the methods to most effectively communicate science to a wider audience. A big thanks to Danielle for inviting me to participate in such a significant and timely discussion.

Friday, March 15, 2013


Social Creatures

The individual vs. group-selection debate is a "can of worms" as Frans de Waal recently put it.

Do I think there is a genetic component to cooperation? Yes, probably. Is there a special set of genes in ants, ambrosia beetles and human beings that make us uniquely social creatures? I don't know.

When I first read Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene I took away much inspiration. The clarity with which he writes leads the reader to a sense of certitude on how genes proliferate and persist. In an era of rampant disparity in global science literacy it is good to have sure-footed thinkers at the forefront of science communication. As my friend John Romano said recently "Evolution is a theory like gravity is a theory." It is a good thing to have people shouting this from the rooftops.

But, as Jacob Bronowski echos in my mind "science is a tribute to what we can know, although we are fallible" I can not help but think that giving people certainty instead of training them in the ability to think critically for themselves may be more harmful to the spread of science in the long run. The kind of in-fighting that happens about the details gets interpreted by the public at large as - there is no scientific consensus on evolution. When it comes to "paradigm-shifts" in evolutionary biology you often see the tribal side of scientists come out. Camps are formed, lines drawn, fires lit.

E.O. Wilson makes a valid criticism of Dawkins - he has not practiced research science in decades, nor has he had a peer-reviewed paper published in quite some time.

The counter-criticism of Wilson is that his recent switch to embracing a form of "group-selection"  the as-yet-to-be defined "Multi-level selection" may be unwittingly urged by dollar signs in the form of Templeton Foundation money funneled toward his in silico collaborator Martin Nowak. Not to mention the potential to bump up book sales when a book is branded "controversial." (Read more about the Templeton Foundation here.)

Whenever we try to put words on top of natural phenomena there are certain aspects of the concept that get lost in translation as words are by their very nature metaphors. I think this is what is happening to concepts like "inclusive fitness" and "group selection." They are fuzzy all-encompassing terms for broader processes evolutionary biologists are trying to reconcile through observation. This phenomenon of chasing catch-phrases is harmful to science in my opinion. It predisposes researchers to pursue sexy but poorly defined buzz-words rather than novel questions.

If you want to read more about the academic brawl surrounding E.O. Wilson and Richard Dawkins and "group selection" fellow Blogger Eric Michael Johnson has a wonderfully comprehensive piece on his Scientific American blog.   I have also attempted to cover this before.

Friday, March 8, 2013


When I first signed up for a twitter account I had no idea my choice of handle (@thorsonofodin) would lead me down som many harrowing rabbit-holes.

Many thanks to Liz Neeley for kicking off an epic battle of wits on twitter via #vikingoff. Liz was kind enough to assemble the best bits into a tidy Storify. Ready? #vikingoff!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Breaking Data from South Pole

"How the structure in the universe grew over time...a conceptual version using the filament for structure pieces that take shape." ~Paul

News Flash:

McMurdo Station, Antarctica (TPG) -- The ten-meter-telescope at the South Pole has breaking data strongly indicating that our universe is a product of a 7-D printer. The big bang was simply the moment the printer was turned on. That's right! Some unknown entity has created and is operating a printer that can render in seven dimensions and has created our universe, matter, black holes, spiral nebulae, ferns, moons, galaxies and suns. And you.

In conjunction with the Neutrino detector, famously known as “ice cube” and the cosmic ray detector, scientists have strong evidence that everything we have observed to this date is the direct result of a giant machine that is printing the designs of its maker.

“To ascertain the intelligence of a being that would imagine and build a machine to print in seven dimensions is impossible” says Paul Sullivan, South Pole Science Manager.

No one has ever thought to put together data from three concurrent science experiments until last December when a graduate student toured the facilities at McMurdo Station on her way to South Pole.

“What I found was astounding” said Ashaika Jones. “The data from the Cosray detector in McMurdo corresponded almost exactly with the neutrino hits and the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (CMBR) numbers. And when you look at the current estimates for Dark Matter, then it really starts to make a compelling argument.

It all makes sense when we realize that Dark Matter is only the raw material for the printer, like plastic. CMBR is the exhaust of the machine. Neutrinos are the stray, wasted power particles and time is simply the fourth dimension. Can we have some Pink Floyd now, please...

To have the capability to print a black hole would require at least seven dimensions of accuracy and thus the current, conservative estimate from astronomers as to the size of the printer. “It could be that the printer has many more dimensions at its disposal” says someone important from NASA. “Why would we think that we are the only thing that has been printed by a such a wonderful contraption?”

This new information, while still under confirmation by peer-review, has already thrown the stock-markets into chaos, the Vatican into submission and the general public into silence. The three big questions are now irrelevant and no one is sure where to go next.

The "Intelligent Design" wing of the Tea Party is now claiming divine knowledge and is launching education reform and multiple candidates for state and national positions. Global Warming watchdogs have stopped selling carbon credits and Space Exploration has been put on hold indefinitely. Top scientists from all three experiments and collaborators from around the world have issued statements that confirm the findings but urge caution until all the data has been scrutinized.

In a way, we have discovered the Aliens, but creatures so remote and large that we would have little chance of communicating or interacting with them. It would be like a bacteria, trying to communicate with us. Not even bacteria, it would be as if a molecule we printed tried to make contact. We would not even think to look for it.

Aside from the obvious consequences of our entire known universe being a tchotchke on a shelf, a trivial plaything of some grandly larger universe, life may or may not go on as usual down here on Earth. 

Certainly we will all be humbled into a reality very different from the one we now know. Certainly, we will reconsider many things, from epitaphs to charitable contributions to fresh drinking water. We will, most likely, note the day that the mystery was stripped from our psyche and replaced with the certainty of inconsequence. Perhaps we will stop funding science altogether, knowing that we really don't want to know the answers to our questions.

So thank you, Ashaika Jones, for your great discovery. I hope you know that your Nobel Prize will be printed on the 7-D printer along with the rest of it and I hope it makes you very, very happy.

This is a TPG Guest-Post from the mind of Terra Sinclair ;)