Easy Science Experiments You Can Do At Home

Image from CSIRO, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Australia. Find more experiments in their Science By Email program, www.csiro.au
Image from CSIRO, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Australia. Find more experiments in their Science By Email program, www.csiro.au

If you’re looking for activities to get the young people in your life to step away from the TV or computer, consider teaching them some science! Now, I understand that most young people probably will not jump at the opportunity to learn when they are “playing” online with their friends, but once they see how cool science can be, maybe they will change their minds.

A great resource is Scifun.org created by Chemistry Professor Bassem Shakhashiri at the University of Wisconsin – Madison.  This website is packed with information, but one of my favorite parts is the first option in the “Explore” section: Experiments You Can Do At Home. Continue reading “Easy Science Experiments You Can Do At Home”

Vegetable Gardening for Beginners

raised bedYou may have read several posts on this blog relating to the non-spring-like weather we have been experiencing here in the Midwest. Well, it’s still cold, but the weather has to break sooner or later and that concept has me so excited to get my garden going! Have you ever considered gardening? Are you new to gardening? You may have considered it and gotten overwhelmed by the details- What class should I take? What books should I read? What do I do?

I am here to tell you to Just Do It! There is nothing like watching your own food grow and then eating it. Things have been growing in the dirt since the beginning of time with no help from humans, so if you approach your garden project with this in mind and just aim to take it lightly, gardening can be really fun! I got started about four years ago only because someone at work left a flat full of different seedlings and a sign that said help yourself. I waited until the end of the day and only a few disappeared, so I carried the whole flat home on the bus and got started with just a 4´ × 4´ plot. Here are some beginner tips; just things I’ve learned over the last few years, that may help you get started. All these tips will be from a Madison, WI, perspective, but should be applicable anywhere in the midwest. Continue reading “Vegetable Gardening for Beginners”

Does Gender Bias Still Exist in Academic STEM Careers?

Photo credit: Jane Ades, NHGRI source: www.genome.gov/dmd
Issues related to inequality are often difficult to deal with. Depending on your demographics, you are probably pretty confident inequalities exist, but when these issues are discussed publicly, attempts are often made to explain them away. Those in the majority (e.g., white and/or male) tend to feel defensive in these conversations because our privilege can evoke guilt and shame, but also a feeling of insult; we worked our tails off to achieve the positions we’re in and how dare someone say we gained this position because of the privilege our phenotype grants us by society. This feeling is understandable, however, as scientists, we must put our feelings aside at times like these and rely on the data.

A recent study out of Jo Handelsman’s lab at Yale University (Moss-Racusin, et al, 2012) looks at the underrepresentation of women in academic science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. Although the numbers of women studying and graduating with degrees in STEM fields is on the rise, the authors report that the number of women hired into faculty STEM roles is not increasing proportionally. They assert that this suggests that time will not solve this issue. To investigate whether or not gender bias actually exists in hiring practices, the authors conducted a double-blind, randomized survey of 127 faculty members in biology, chemistry and physics at research-intensive universities. Continue reading “Does Gender Bias Still Exist in Academic STEM Careers?”

Outside the Box: African American Innovators

Promega has a tradition of naming its new buildings after notable scientists. The building I work in is named for Michael Faraday who was among the first to describe electromagnetism in the 19th century. He is also notable because he had relatively little formal education. One of our manufacturing buildings in named after Rosalind Franklin, whose X-ray crystallography was essential to confirm the double helix model of DNA. Although she collected the physical data central to this model, Watson and Crick did embarrassingly little to acknowledge her contribution. Dr. Franklin died of ovarian cancer at the age of 38.

As we watch Promega’s new cGMP building grow larger and more complete every day, the administration has reached out to us employees to suggest names. I began to research female scientists, particularly African Americans or Latinas, that should have this type of recognition.  This search proved to be (not surprisingly) difficult, so I decided to think outside of the box. Continue reading “Outside the Box: African American Innovators”

Purpose of the Potent Pepper


I shared some habanero peppers from our community garden with a friend last night.  He touched them, and then without thinking, went to the bathroom.  And, well, you know the rest! When I was in Mexico, there was a restaurant that had a legendary super hot habanero salsa. Their biggest warning was, “do not touch the sauce!” They insisted on not letting patrons serve their own sauce because of multiple incidents of extreme pain following restroom use. Food science recommends that people wear latex gloves when handling hot peppers. I make salsa every fall with fresh veggies and never remember that recommendation until an hour later when my fingers are burning and swollen.

Pain and Pleasure
What gives hot peppers their heat and what causes the pain? Continue reading “Purpose of the Potent Pepper”

The Overachiever’s Kryptonite a.k.a. The Migraine Headache

Sometimes I feel like a super hero: taking on several projects at once and testing my ability to multitask and schedule to accomplish all my goals on time with quality work. When I get on a roll, I feel like no one and nothing can stop me. Like any super hero, however, I have my Kryptonite: the migraine headache. When the migraine comes on, my progress is brought to a complete halt and I am powerless. Light becomes unbearable, sound becomes intolerable, and I feel like a hatchet has sliced through my cerebrum and is lodged in my skull. For years, I suffered from these headaches and felt totally helpless. When the migraine came on, all I could do was lay in a dark, silent room, sometimes for days, praying for relief, as no over-the-counter medication could touch the pain. Continue reading “The Overachiever’s Kryptonite a.k.a. The Migraine Headache”

Your Brain on Drugs: Hope for Today

There do not seem to be any great statistics on the prevalence of addiction; however, there is quite a bit of information on the number of people using alcohol and other drugs. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2010 reports that approximately 8.9% of people over the age of 12 use illicit drugs (defined as illegal drugs or nonmedical use of prescription drugs). Only about 3.1% of the population who use illicit drugs feel the need for treatment, although the majority of these people do not actually seek treatment for a variety of reasons including not feeling ready to stop and not having access to treatment programs. Accessibility can be difficult because most treatment options are very expensive. Insurance companies are beginning to include coverage for expensive stays at alcohol and drug treatment centers. (In this article, the term addiction and addict includes alcoholism and alcoholic, respectively.) Some facilities have funding for people who are indigent at the state or county level, but need for treatment far surpasses the funds budgeted.  Looking at the biology of addiction, it is clear that treatment of some kind is required to get the disease under control. For any treatment to be effective, however, the addict must decide they are ready to stop using the drug. This can be a difficult decision because addiction is strongly tied to identity. Aside from the biological aspects, battling addiction is a long process that requires a lot of effort, usually a complete redesign of the addict’s lifestyle, and intense counseling to uncover issues that led to and resulted from the addiction. Continue reading “Your Brain on Drugs: Hope for Today”

Your Brain on Drugs: Decision or Disease?

If you were around in the 1980s, you remember Nancy Regan telling us to “just say no” to drugs. That campaign focused specifically on the effect crack had on the community.  In the 1990s and 2000s, we saw and increase in reports of methamphetamine and heroin overdoses. Though they are perfectly legal, nicotine and even more so, alcohol can be just as damaging on one’s life when used in excess. The War on Drugs launched in the 1970s along with the Just Say No campaign brought tougher sentences related to drug possession, however, this has done little to deter individuals from using drugs. If you have ever had a loved one (friend, family member, or significant other) addicted to drugs or alcohol, you know how devastating it can be to watch their lives spiral out of control. Though society shuns addicts for making such decrepit choices, you wonder, “how could a person possibly choose to live like this?” Continue reading “Your Brain on Drugs: Decision or Disease?”

When You Got the Glow: The Truth About Your Gin and Tonic.

The music is loud, the bass is thumping, people are dancing and laughing, and my gin and tonic is glowing. This Friday night is perfect. This mysterious glowing drink catches the eye of many passersby and is a great conversation starter. At least it was until I learned why my drink was glowing. These days, when someone mentions my glowing drink, I am compelled to explain why. It has become a great conversation ender!

I’m a scientist and naturally curious, but there are some things I choose to not investigate just to hold on to the excitement that comes with wondering why something is the way it is. My desire to keep wondering why my gin and tonic glows, or becomes fluorescent, in the club was thwarted one Friday afternoon (ca. 2001) by Professor David Jameson, University of Hawai’i, in a Biophotonics lecture at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Professor Jameson, who studied under the late, great Gregorio Weber, is a dynamic teacher with a genuine passion for fluorescence methodology. Continue reading “When You Got the Glow: The Truth About Your Gin and Tonic.”