Virtual Reality Is Changing How We Experience Science

The South Pole was exactly as I expected—snowy and barren, apart from the giant research station in front of me. Suddenly, I got a notification in my communication system that there was a strong signal coming from the sky. I looked up and changed the visual display settings of my goggles to find stunning views of the Solar System, all the way past Pluto. My heads-up display told me that I’ve discovered a subatomic particle, called a neutrino, that flies through the fabric of space at nearly the speed of light. I wanted to find the source of this neutrino, so I switched my display to X-ray vision. The signal brightened, and the source was revealed—a massive black hole. I captured as much data as possible so I could report back to the lead scientist on the project. What an exciting afternoon of research!

Okay, I’ve never actually been to the South Pole, but I experienced this event in virtual reality at a conference expo booth for the National Science Foundation. This experience put me in the shoes of an astrophysicist working at the IceCube Neutrino Detection Facility, operated by UW-Madison researchers. As someone who specializes in the life sciences, I had the opportunity to learn more about an area outside my expertise—the fascinating world of particle physics.

VR headsets offer immersive experiences for entertainment, education, training, and more.

Most people think of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) in the context of gaming or entertainment. You’ve likely had a casual AR experience if you’ve ever given yourself a flower crown in Snapchat, or hunted for Charmander at your local park with the Pokémon GO app. Yet, as I experienced at a conference several weeks ago, AR and VR can have massive implications for education and training experiences in the sciences. Continue reading “Virtual Reality Is Changing How We Experience Science”

Long-Lasting Beauty from the Humble Egg

“The Coronation of the Virgin” tempera on panel by Fra Angelico [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Chicken eggs are widely found in most grocery stores. They are a cheap and unassuming source of protein, easy to cook as you desire (e.g., fried, scrambled, hard boiled) or use as a binder for other food items (e.g., meatloaf, cakes, cookies). One reason I keep laying hens myself is not only for fresh eggs but also to have egg shells other colors than white, the predominant color sold in US grocery stores. However, did you know that eggs have uses that don’t end up in the stomach and instead, are a feast for the eyes? I was introduced to the concept of egg tempera, a medium used for painting, by my colleague, Karen Stakun, artist and manager of our graphics department during a discussion about chickens. I was intrigued by the concept. Continue reading “Long-Lasting Beauty from the Humble Egg”

Control Samples: Three Terrifying Tales for Scientists

Lab science cartoon
Carl may not scare her…but did she remember the controls?

Warning: This blog contains stories about phantom serial killers, frankenfoods, mysteriously phosphorylated bands and unrequited ligations that may be disturbing to some people. Children or scientists prone to anxiety over irreproducible results should read this with their eyes shut.

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Clouds hung low in the sky, and the late October wind howled between the buildings, rattling the window panes of the basement laboratory. The grackles cawed in desperate warning, their flocks changing the evening color palette from gray to black. I was as unsettled as the weather, watching my blot slosh back and forth. Continue reading “Control Samples: Three Terrifying Tales for Scientists”

An Ode to Packaging Engineers

Comic by Ed Himelblau.

In my second or third year as a graduate student, I had to ship some microfluidic masters to a collaborator in Kenya. The masters were extremely fragile and took me several days in a cleanroom gown to make. I was horrified at having to send them on a perilous journey overseas, and somewhat flabbergasted that they made it to Nairobi whole and well. And yet, every day thousands of delicate items zoom around the world and arrive at their destinations in one piece. How?

A couple months ago, I visited the lab where our packaging engineers (yes, that’s a thing) do their work. Here’s what I learned. Continue reading “An Ode to Packaging Engineers”

Hey, iGEMers! We’re talking to you!

The 2018 iGEM Giant Jamboree is upon us! This Wednesday, October 24th, thousands of you will flood into Boston, weighed down by posters and presentation materials, but energized by the excitement of a non-stop science-packed conference. Promega will also be attending, with a booth full of helpful giveaways and staff standing by to answer all your questions about science, Promega or future careers. As you make your final plans for the Jamboree, here are a few helpful tips for making the most of this incredible opportunity.

Continue reading “Hey, iGEMers! We’re talking to you!”

Celebrating the Many Faces of Science during Science-A-Thon

rae_dayofscience
“#dayofscience shows what it really means to be a modern woman scientist and helps break the stereotypes associated with our careers.” / Photo by Rae Ingold

If you follow Promega on social media, you may have noticed that several scientists and science communicators (including myself) were sharing posts for Science-A-Thon this week. The event was organized by the Earth Science Women’s Network (ESWN), whose mission is to create opportunities for mentorship, community, and collaboration for women in science.

The goal of Science-A-Thon was to “increase visibility of scientists and the important work they do to the public.“ The week-long celebration of science also served as a campaign to raise money for ESWN and to support Science Forward, “a STEM-wide initiative that empowers scientists, promotes scientists as role models, and builds on-ramps for students to engage in STEM.” Scientists and science communicators were invited to share their #dayofscience on Twitter, Instagram, and/or Facebook to give followers a better idea of what a scientist actually does from day to day—from morning coffee to meetings to micropipettes. Science-A-Thon followed a science outreach trend similar to the #scientistswhoselfie movement by humanizing science and showcasing the fact that scientists are people, too, with diverse backgrounds and interests.  Continue reading “Celebrating the Many Faces of Science during Science-A-Thon”

In Defense of Wild Spaces in the Yard

Pale purple asters and milkweed. Copyright S. Klink.
Surrounding my mowed lawn is a wild, mostly uncultivated space that currently has goldenrod blooming with tall asters starting to blossom. Every day when I pass these flowers, I see bumblebees, butterflies and other insects collecting the nectar to eat or store for the winter. Last year, when a section of soil was disturbed during construction of a building, I decided to seed the area with native wildflowers rather than grass. (I am not a fan of mowing the lawn.) Watching the series of flowers bloom over the late spring to autumn has been beautiful, colorful and full of tiny moments of joy. Not only do I see insects enjoying the flowering plants, but birds will land on the taller greenery, sometimes just resting, sometimes collecting seeds. I am not sure who has been startled more often, me or the birds when I walk by, flushing a bird from the thicket of tall plants.

Monarch butterfly on thistle photographed in the prairie at Promega headquarters in Madison, WI. Copyright Promega Corporation.
Where some people might see wild, unruly areas, I see Monarch butterflies on their daily flight, fluttering above me and the “weeds”. I have even been lucky enough to find Monarch caterpillars munching on milkweed, a common plant in my wild space. Despite my efforts, I have a lot of tall ragweed appearing in my yard, but have discovered that birds love the seeds, including my chickens, and squirrels will remove and eat the leaves. In addition, I see fireflies in early June through late August, many I find hanging out on the shady greenery during the day before their light display at night. Continue reading “In Defense of Wild Spaces in the Yard”

Smile Science

I have a vivid memory of one Saturday night riding in the car with my parents on our way back from my 4K choir concert. My frequently hungry self was buckled into my car seat next to my two siblings and we watched in excitement as the golden arches came into view.“MOM?! CAN WE GO TO MCDONALDS?!?” I yelled as we quickly sped passed the entrance.“Not today sweetie, I already bought some chicken for dinner,” my smile quickly turned to a frown. My Dad turned around, “Aww c’mon honey, give us a smile!” I faked an even deeper frown causing my Dad to laugh. I laughed, then he laughed, and soon I was wearing a grin ear-to-ear.

Smiling… it’s not something we think much about, we just do it. Yet behind it’s façade of simplicity, there lies a science that affects our emotional and physical health, and the way with which we approach life Continue reading “Smile Science”

Autophagy: The Poem

Roberta A. Gottlieb, MD, is the Director of Molecular Cardiobiology at Cedar-Sinai, a nonprofit academic healthcare organization. She is interested in the role of autophagy in myocardial ischemia, a kind of heart disease in which blood flow to the heart is blocked. (Studies have shown that autophagy is upregulated during myocardial ischemia, but why this happens is not entirely clear.) Her ultimate goal is to understand and mitigate ischemic injury, with the hope of developing therapeutics for humans.

And—she’s a poet. Continue reading “Autophagy: The Poem”

Millions of Pickles, Pickles in the Sea

For a few years beginning late in 2013, warmer ocean conditions in the eastern Pacific prompted the appearance of unexpected species and toxic algal blooms that devastated others. When temperatures cooled in 2017, the marine ecosystems seemed to be returning to normal. Except for the pyrosomes. Although these previously rare organisms did start to wash up on beaches during the periods of warming, they began to appear by the millions from Oregon to Alaska that spring.

Pyrosomes
Photo by Steven Grace.

Some combination of ideal conditions led pyrosomes to multiply, dominate the ocean surface and wash up on beaches along the US and Canadian Pacific Coasts. Pyrosomes typically exist offshore, far below the surface in warm, tropical waters all over the world. Their sudden proliferation in other areas is likely due to the warm, Pacific ocean “blob,” although atypical sea currents and changes in pyrosome diet have been offered as other possible explanations.

While the appearance of pyrosomes impeded the efforts of fisherman by clogging nets and filling hooks, greater ecological effects have yet to be observed. As we celebrate World Oceans Month, pyrosomes offer a mesmerizing example of the astounding biological diversity our oceans have to offer and, perhaps, a cautionary tale of the impact climate change can have on those marine lifeforms.

The pyrosome species common in the NE Pacific, Pyrosoma atlanticum, goes by a few other colorful names. Each name reveals something captivating about these creatures. Commonly called “sea pickles” due their size, shape and bumpy texture (like a transparent cucumber), these are not single organisms, but colonies formed by hundreds or thousands of individual multicellular animals call zooids.

Continue reading “Millions of Pickles, Pickles in the Sea”