Conference Recap Part #2

The second of three conference thoughts come courtesy of my undergrad going to ASM general meeting. I have been to these types of meetings before, but for this one, it was my undergrad. I heard she held her own by the way (with her fellowship winning self, go ‘head girl!!!). Thousands of people, thousands of projects, thousands wanting to help with their science. I got the twitter updates and there are some really cool things going on out in there. These meetings are great because they lead to better collaborations which then leads to faster scientific progress. You never know who might have the missing piece to your puzzle.

With all that science though, it is like drinking from the fire hose.

Thats right, even scientist get that drinking from the fire hose feeling, in our own field. That much science is overwhelming to anyone, so as a non-scientist, don’t feel alone in this feeling. It is a testament to just how intricate things are.

We study. We examine. We experiment. We try to find out things that no one has ever found before. There is so much more to discover, so many more layers that people alive today will never see. For reference, imagine explaining the iPhone to your great grandparents. It is an amazing world out there.




One Month Bloggerversary

More than 500 views from over 20 countries (representing every continent except the really cold one), thank you for coming by to read my science musings. This blog has been constantly evolving but the overall themes remain the same.

1. Science for the common man (cue the band). Scientist need to be able to communicate their work so that everyone can understand. Yes what a scientist does can be very complicated, but there is usually an understandable version to tell. Additionally, there is a lot everyone can do to spark the science bug in not only themselves, but the next generation, because their time is here.

2. Same team. We are all on the same team. Everyone can and should suit up, but not out of fear, but out of pride. Its like getting to cheer for everyone in the olympics and no matter what, your country wins. Channeling Oprah, “You get a medal, you get a medal, everyone gets a medal!!!” Finish last?? Well, someone somewhere finished first so you get a medal. Of course the medals here are new cures and new technology.

Wrapping up the post, I just wanted to link a few of my post

My most viewed post

My personal favorite post

My funniest post (a matter of opinion)

And a post involving experiments that you can do at home i.e. ways you can easily get involved.

Cheers and stay tuned for Conference Recap #2 on Thursday.


Science Humor – Music Parody

Have you heard of this movie about these two princesses, one becomes queen…um there is snow…oh yes,  Frozen, the movie I have seen almost triple digits thanks to my two daughters. Well, when I get a song stuck in my head, in this case Let it Go, I write new lyrics. I chose science funding as my topic of choice. Its about submitting a grant proposal and entitled Please Accept. Here is the instrumental so you can read along. You can’t let the no(s) get you down.

The trail goes cold on the funding tonight
Not a payline score to be seen
The public does not get us
Our great ideas go unseen
How do we try to do these experiments we have inside
Run it past the boss Heaven knows I tried
“Go find the reagent for cheap
Get enough so you can do repeats
Now write it up for you and me”
We’ll see
Please accept please accept
All this work that I have done
Please accept please accept
I hope my grant you will now fund
I’ll press on
Despite what they say
Let the research go on
The nos never bothered me anyway
Its funny how some reviewers
Miss the point of all I do
“Here take my resubmission”
I’ve fully done aims one and two
Now I’ll think of something new
To test the limits and break through
Must replicate results for the grant
Oh no I can’t
Please accept please accept
All this work that I have done
Please accept please accept
I hope my grant you will now fund
I’ll press on
Despite what they say
Let the research go on
The nos never bothered me anyway
The funding’s drying up, this project needs to work
With each failure I am sure to finally go berserk
Wait, significance grows with each replication fast
I finally got it to work, the 10 percent rule’s in the past
Please accept please accept
All this work that I have done
Please accept please accept
I hope my grant you will now fund
I’ll press on
Despite what they say
Let the research go on
The nos never bothered me anyway






Conference Recap Part #1

I was at, or was represented in 3 conferences in 2 weeks (it made it a bit difficult for blogging). Just wanted to talk about some things I learned from them which I will write about in a series of upcoming posts.


Conference 1 – Postdoc Professional Development event at my current work place, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital (poster presentation)

So, I gave a poster presenting new data, which was very helpful for me in thinking through my new project. It is still a work in progress, but you know what, that’s ok. Why? Because when you are just presenting a polished product all the time, you lose perspective that doing science is just one large work in progress, more than we care to admit. It is difficult discovering something new, and even harder to describe what that new thing is.

Think of it this way…

Imagine a friend posts a vacation picture on Facebook “in the car headed to my vacation. Then you see a “checking in the hotel” pic. Then a “chillin’ by the pool on vacay” photo followed by one where they venture to a magnificent beach. They explore and show even better places to visit while there. Most of us have had a friend post those pictures.

The whole trip is their vacation. But the whole trip, they are refining the destination. At the beginning the destination is to be in the car, because you know where it will lead. You think finally, my vacation is starting. But while on the beach, you would not want to be in the car because now you have seen the beach!!! You have refined your destination hoping that each one will be better than the last.

Now, for the connection to science.

The car is the start. It is the initial finding. We must publish/present that finding because just as your friend thinks people want to see them in the car (we don’t always), scientist want to know, need to know, what the initial findings are. Why, because we do not yet know what our final destination will be. We know that the road might lead us to something great, a new drug/therapy/antibiotic, but we publish our initial finding so that the science community can help us get there. What good are our breakthroughs if we do not share them, who will that help. Sometimes they are not fully formed, rough around the edges, and our conclusion may be wrong, but we share so that we may use our collective knowledge for the greater good. We must constantly refine our destination, seeking a better one each time, because that is the only way to arrive at the best place together.


I’ll talk about conference 2 – American Society for Microbiology General Meeting (my stellar award winning undergrad presented data here) and conference 3 – Mid-Atlantic PREP & IMSD Symposium (I was an invited speaker…yay!!!) in due time. Stay tuned!!!


Answering an email #1

A friend of mine’s father sent out an email about The Link Between Saturated Fat and Heart Disease. I had a different approach to nutrition that I just wanted to share (not a replacement, but an additional theory). There is some pretty cool science going on in this area. Please find it below.


I’d like to add another layer to this issue that wasn’t addressed in this article. It is something that I deal with everyday. Bacteria, that’s right, bacteria. Not only have our diets changed over time, but the bacteria in our bodies changes too. 

Why is that important and what does that do?

People have a large diversity of bacteria in their gut. No two populations are exactly the same. Additionally the numbers and ratios in the gut change base on where you are, who you are, who you associate with, age, etc. The point is these bacteria play a major role in how you absorb nutrients from the food you eat. They can be the difference between allergy, getting overweight, malnutrition, and diabetes. For instance, researchers at Washington University at St. Louis that study gut microbes did a study (in Africa where they could control for food intake better than in the United States) looking at multiples households with two twins on the same exact diet eating the same amount. In some houses, one twin was malnourished, the other was not. What was the difference, the makeup of their gut microbes. Transplanting a sample of the healthy guy microbes to the malnourished twin caused the malnourished twin to recover. The bacteria help digest food so that we can absorb whatever is in that food, for better or for worse. Some bacteria do fats better, some carbs, some protein.

Over time, with antibiotic and that probiotic uses, guts have changed, and food has changed. Most notably is how we process food has changed. A study done in the 50s or 60s could be correct, for THAT population of people. We are not a static people though. We travel a lot more. There is now a globalization or cultures and that includes gut microbes.

In my humble opinion, one cannot begin to look at nutrition and how we process foods, without looking at HOW we process them and how that process has changed over time.

So which fats are good? Lets hear from the bacteria about that one, and my taste buds.

The Dangers of Science Scare Tactics

Let me tell you about a chemical called dihydrogen monoxide.

  • It is colorless, odorless, tasteless, and kills uncounted thousands of people every year.
  • It is the major component of acid rain.
  • It contributes to the Greenhouse Effect.
  • It may cause severe burns.
  • It contributes to the erosion of our natural landscape.
  • It accelerates corrosion and rusting of many metals.
  • It may cause electrical failures and decreased effectiveness of automobile brakes.
  • It has been found in excised tumors of terminal cancer patients.
  • It is used in the distribution of pesticides. Even after washing, produce remains contaminated by this chemical.

Can you believe we give this stuff to children?!?! Find out more at

Yes, yes I can believe we give it to our children. It would be a CRIME not to. You see di (two) hydrogen mon (one) oxide or oxygen is really just H2O also known as water.

The site is to prove a point in sensationalism in how things can be reported.

Here is my point, short and sweet. Go easy on blindly criticizing chemical names in the products that you use just because you don’t recognize the name. You just might be made of 75% of of it.




Answering the “what do you do as a scientist” question

When we are asked a question, we must answer two things. We must answer the question of course, but we must also answer the person asking the question. As a parent, I grapple with this all the time.

“Daddy, what are the colors of the rainbow?” my daughter asks me as a little test.

“Well, that would be red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet too” I respond to her in the singsong voice from the show Sid the Science kid. I answered both her and her question.

I could mention that it used to be 5 or 6, we only have 7 because Sir Issac Newton was obsessed with the number 7. (The reason for 7 may not be true but he did coin the 7 colors)

But the real answer is actually infinity. The rainbow is a spectrum of colors meaning you are seeing every just about every color in the visible spectrum, and all the shades in-between them.

The manner in which I answer depends on the person. With my daughter, I answer both the question and the person. There is a way she needs to hear the answer in order for it to make sense (she doesn’t get infinity yet or spectrums). It is (and always will be) a judgement call on how to answer these questions.

“Daddy, how are babies made?”

“Uh…go ask your mom…”

What the asker should know about the scientist is to a certain extent, we are trained to answer just the question itself. In the end, it doesn’t matter how we figure out that A does something to B (at least to most people), it only matters that we figure out how A indeed does something with B (ethically of course). We don’t have to worry about if B or A will understand our answer as to what they do. A and B are what they do. They are defined in this way, before and independent of how we define them. The functions of A and B will never change, we as scientists may only find a new or novel function for them. Their function is static.

You the asker however is dynamic and we should treat you as such. We are dynamic in how we do science as well, but that is another post altogether. You are from different backgrounds, you are from different cultures, you are even different now than you were 5 minutes ago (most likely, 5 minutes ago you would have said the rainbow has 7 colors). We must be dynamic in our responses, not static. But how?

Well, back to the question at hand, how to answer the “what do you do as a scientists” from the scientist point of view. This question can also asked as “what science do you work on?” It takes good judgement to answer because you must answer the question and person. I have previously given a funnel analogy to help here, but now I offer another bit of advice. This may be simple or well known, but it is often omitted.

Come up with a question that might demonstrate that they have unwittingly had experience in your area. Then, try to involve them in your answer. My example is I work with how bacteria process metals in the host, so my first questions are what do you pack in your suitcase (you bring things with you but bacteria can’t bring things with them when they infect you, so where to the get the nutrients they need to survive) and do you take vitamins (they contain the nutrients including metals I study). Find these questions, whatever your field may be. It has been my experience that when people are involved in the answer, they understand it better. There are of course more ways to answer the person and I encourage you to find out a way that suits you best. Maybe try talking to a non-scientist once they know what your project is about. Ask them what finally made the light bulb go off in their head in understanding your work.

Think of your best teachers growing up, what what their style? Did they teach just the subject material, standing up spewing fact after fact, or did they also teach and connect to you?

Talk TO the person to connect to them, not down, not up. TO the person, TO the asker. This is the best way to answer the question and the person, and they will understand what you say and do a whole lot more.