Science Visitors Only: Watching Life Grow on a New Island

We spend a lot of time looking at history and imagining—”what was it like when…?” As a biologist, I find myself most drawn to stories about the evolution of life. Why does this plant have purplish leaves? How did this species end up in a symbiotic relationship with this other species? How did this animal get to this tiny island 20 miles off the Southern coast of Iceland?

The volcanic island of Surtsey erupting in 1963.
The newly formed island of Surtsey erupting in 1963.

That last one was too specific to be rhetorical, wasn’t it? The volcanic island of Surtsey broke the ocean surface on November 14, 1963, and continued to erupt until June 5, 1967, reaching its maximum size of 2.7 km2 (about the size of Central Park in New York City). At this size, it was large enough to be a good site for biocolonization. Only a few scientists are allowed to visit the island, ensuring that colonization of the island can occur without human interference. Continue reading “Science Visitors Only: Watching Life Grow on a New Island”

Common Misconceptions About Scientific Terms

science-lecture-DNAScience touches our lives every day, yet far too often, scientific concepts become misrepresented in the media. This problem is not an innocent one; swaying public opinion on policies about climate change and vaccination has a large impact on public health. It is the responsibility of every person to achieve a basic level of scientific literacy. More important than being able to recall a library of scientific facts is the decision making process we go through; a mindset that is asking questions and addressing uncertainty can serve as a barrier against deception. Understanding the words common among scientific studies should help non scientists navigate through the sea of information they encounter online.

This article covers nine common misconceptions about scientific terms. We recognize that there are hundreds of words that are misused, so we encourage your contributions below.

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Rapid Evolution in Response to Rapid Climate Change?

21491767_lIn celebration of Earth month, Environmental Education Week, Earth Day and National DNA Day (celebrated this week in many nations),  we have a Science 360 video that highlights the work of Drs. Bradshaw and Holzapfel to explore climate change-driven genetic shifts in the Pitcher Plant Mosquito. It’s a fascinating and thought-provoking question these scientists are trying to answer. You can read more of the latest work at their laboratory web site.  What are you doing to celebrate Earth Day/Environmental Education Week activities?

What We Can Learn From a Lowly Sponge

Red spongeWhen you hear the word “sponge”, what comes to mind? Perhaps your favorite bath-time cleaning implement? It turns out that the humble sponge can do more than just scrub away dirt; it can provide researchers with a glimpse into the evolution of multicellular organisms. In a recent Nature paper (1), Mansi Srivastava et al. presented the genome sequence of Amphimedon queenslandica, a demosponge from the Great Barrier Reef. What makes this paper interesting isn’t the sequence itself, but rather what we can learn from it.

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Fascinating evolutions and a juicy confession

2009 New York Film Critic's Circle AwardsI have a confession. Please don’t tell my husband, but I have a crush. I am head-over-heels in love with…words and language. Boy, that feels good to get off my chest. What, did you think I was going to confess I was dating George Clooney or something? I already tried that, but he was just so clingy.

This luscious lexical love affair has gone on since I was probably two, and I’m still smitten. I’ve always been the “word girl.” No joke, they tested me in kindergarten and I apparently had a fifth grade reading level and seventh grade vocabulary. My parents and teacher sat me down and asked me how I’d feel about skipping the first grade and I stopped brushing my Barbie’s hair and said, “That’s a fascinating proposition, let me ruminate on it and I’ll get back to you.” Continue reading “Fascinating evolutions and a juicy confession”