Sara Does Science

Sporatically posting thoughts and amusements from a pretty rad (if I don't say so myself) lady physicist.
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Posts tagged "scientists"

In lieu of a “Science Crush Friday” this week, I’m delcaring it “Italian Scientists” theme week. Why? Because I leave tomorrow for a two week vacation to Italy! So in addition to packing my eatin’ and wine drinkin’ pants, I’m getting ready for my trip by looking at some big names in science who hail from Italy.

First, let’s get historical. Did you know that the science of human anatomy pretty much started in Italy? If you didn’t, you do now. One of the early pioneers was this fellow: Bartolomeo Eustachi a.k.a. Eustachius. His greatest work, which went unpublished until way after his death due to the dear of the Vatican (which is surprising pro-science these days), was Anatomical Engravings, which showed detailed images of pretty much everything there is to see in the human body. Eustachius was the first to document many important body parts, including the inner ear (which is probably why his name rings a bell, Eustachian tubes are named after him) and adrenal glands.

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I was thinking about who my next science crush should be and I realized it’s been a while since I’ve saluted vintage scientists. Then I realized that there is no better choice for this week’s Science Crush than the one-and-only Hedy Lamarr.

"But wait…", you might be saying to yourself, "Wasn’t Hedy Lamarr an old Hollywood actress?" Why, yes she was. But that’s far from all. She was also an inventor whose big idea helped paved the way for the future of communication.

Personally, I love that Hedy Lamarr is someone who absolutely mixed brains and beauty. I think that most people have a very drab or nerdy stereotype come to find when they think of who scientists or inventors are. (Either that or they think of Doc Brown from Back to the Future.) I love that Hedy is someone who represents that fact that I think science is amazing and provocative and yes, even sexy.

(Yes…all lady scientists are this glamorous. Would you expect anything less?)

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Just because…

via Know Your Meme

I’ve been a busy bee at beamtime this week. This has involved making an awesome purple plasma. growing thin films, and then beaming them with x-rays. And it is as cool as you think. But in all this, I left my list of Science Crushes at my home lab. So this week, I’ve improvised, which is an important skills at beamtime because things never go 100% right.

That all means that this week’s Science Crush is my friend and labmate Lukas. Why Lukas? Well, some science crushes so amazing science, some are great communicators, other are fascinating individuals. Lukas not only has all these qualities, but he’s also a good-looking guy, which you might argue is the most traditional reason for a “crush” designation. (That and he brought me chocolate today.)

Why, here he is now…

Lukas is a master’s student from Germany. (Sexy accent alert!) Not only does he study physics, but he knows how to have a good time. I can personally attest that Lukas is quite the dancer and will happily spend a party out on the floor, showing off his moves, which is honestly a rare quality for a physicist.

In his free time, Lukas is most often found either reading a play or preparing to act in one. He has also admitted that he enjoys singing opera, especially in the shower. Now let’s see if I can get him to join me for karaoke!

And for one more lovely picture, here is the man himself doing some experimental physics. When was a last time you saw a lab coat look this good?

It’s been a while since my inaugural installment of “This is what a scientist looks like…”, so it’s high time for another one. 

The scientist du jour we are meeting this time is Talya Davis-Johnson. Talya is currently a PhD student at Tufts University. She works in biomedical science on yeast  and its interactions with other organisms (like people!). She also spends plenty of time with yeast outside the lab, where she uses it to perfect her home brewed beer.

I got the chance to ask Talya some questions about the science of both yeast and brewing as well as some other fun ones.

Can you briefly describe your research in general terms.

My general field is microbiology, which includes bacteria, viruses and fungi.  I’m currently working in a lab that studies the yeast (fungi) Candida albicans, which is found as a commensal organism in most people but can cause serious diseases in people who have compromised immune systems, such as AIDS or chemotherapy patients.  Candida albicans sticks to the tongue (and other tissues) and changes shape to make filaments that protrude into the tissue.  I’m trying to figure out the molecular basis of this process.

What has been your proudest moment in your career so far?

My first year of graduate school, I applied for a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, which involved writing a small grant proposal in addition to essays on my goals as a scientist.  I was one of the lucky few to receive the award that year, which paid for 3 years of graduate school for me.

When you were younger, did you always want to be a scientist? If not, what did you want to be and what changed your mind?

As a kid I was always interested in science, but I didn’t really know what a scientist was or what scientists did every day.  I alternated between wanting to teach (which I still love!) and wanting to be a doctor.  In late high school and college, I quickly figured out that I’d rather do research and teach than see patients all day.

What is the hardest class you’ve taken?

That would definitely be graduate biochemistry.  Every graduate student took this class together in our first semester, and the amount of information thrown at you and the extent to which they wanted us to apply the information was unlike any class I had ever taken.  Undergraduate p-chem [physical chemistry] and cell biology classes weren’t exactly a walk in the park either.

What advice would you give to teenage you?

Try to get into a lab, even as a volunteer, early and often.  Many academic labs are happy to have visitors or volunteers who are young students interested in science.  Make sure you really want to do research before starting graduate school.  There are a lot of science-related fields and jobs that don’t require a PhD.  If you decide research is for you, stick with it!

On a weekend, I am most likely to find you…

Brewing beer, hiking with my wife and dogs, or watching the Red Sox

Did you work with yeast first in the lab or with beer? What have you learned from the lab that you use in beer brewing and visa versa?

By chance, I worked with yeast first in the lab.  Candida albicans is a different species of yeast than that used for brewing beer, but it’s related to brewing yeast.  My experience in a lab has definitely helped me follow the recipes/protocols for brewing beer and to multi-task well.  Also, I understand more about how the yeast create the alcohol and the carbonation in the beer and the importance of sanitizing everything we use for brewing beer in order to prevent other bacteria or yeast from growing in the beer and creating “off” flavors.  

If you could hang out with any scientist, contemporary or historical, who would it be and what would you do?

I would probably choose to meet Darwin, who laid the foundation for evolution and genetics.  I would want to accompany him on a research trip!  Or I would meet Louis Pasteur, who first connected yeast to the fermentation process.  Maybe he’d want to brew beer!

 I love bad puns and jokes, so if you have to name a beer using a science pun, what would you call it?

Wondrous Fungus, Fermentation Sustentation, Ferment Lament

 If someone made a movie about your life, who would play you? Could you come up with a good title?

 Hmm…I don’t think I know enough actresses to answer this one.  It would have to be along the lines of Groundhog Day though - sometimes research feels like the same day repeats itself and there’s nothing we can do about it.


First, sorry for the absense of a science crush for last Friday. I was at the American Physical Society March Meeting all week and Friday I traveled home, so I was both busy and exhausted.

Now, onto the good stuff.

Being a scientist, I interact with a lot of scientists on a regular basis. But when I was younger, I was much more familiar with fictional scientists. I’m sure this is true for many people whose lives don’t involve science on a daily basis. So I’m branching out my science crushes into the world of fiction this week to show a scientist that inspired me when I was younger. (And it’s not Indiana Jones. I’m saving him for when I’m in the mood for sappiness and more terrible photoshops.)

This week’s Science Crush is…

FBI SPECIAL AGENT DANA SCULLY!!!!

Now, you might say, “but Agent Scully isn’t a scientist, she’s an FBI agent.” Well, friend, that’s when I’d say you’re mistaken.

Way before Agent Scully was partnered up with dreamboat Agent Mulder, she started off her academic career with a physics major. In fact, her senior thesis was on Einstein’s Twin Paradox where she wrote how time travel was possible on a quantum level. (For a nerd-tastic good time, see the entry on it on the X-Files wiki.)  She then went on to study and teach forensic medicine. If I stopped her bio here, you would definitely agree that Dana Scully fits the definitely of a scientist pretty well.

With that covered…onto the X-Files years!

Agent Scully was teamed up with Agent Mulder to act as a skeptic and foil to his out-there conspiracy theories and investigations. She was basically asked to be both a scientist and a baby sitter, applying rationality and a generalized scientific method to their investigations. I know that may make your scratch your head at my reasoning, but hear me out. Scully, unlike Mulder, never went into an investigation with an idea of what she expected to conclude. She would observe the goings-on and first try to come up with rational conclusions. Sometimes she ended up being right, and sometimes it really ended up being a sewer monster or aliens. But she was, in general, scientific about it!

Ok…since there are more words to come, here’a a gratuitous picture of Agent Scully giving some fierce face.

Now back to science!

At the end of the series, Scully got less skeptical about aliens, weird stuff, and the what not. But I don’t credit this to her being a bad scientist. Just the opposite! I think that if she were to ignore all the evidence about conspiracies and extra terrestrials, that would make her a bad scientist. But instead, she took new evidence (data, if you will) and used that to form her conclusions, rather than ignoring new evidence in order to hold her her previously held ideas. Now that’s science!

So here I’ve demonstrated that Dana Scully was a good scientist. But what goes above and beyond that to make her my Science Crush? Well, I have to admit, The X-Files is one of my favorite shows ever, so she’s a girl-crush, scientist or now. Also, she got to…uhhh…have relations (keeping it PG here) with Agent Mulder! Also, she is smart and kicks ass both figuratively and literally in the show. She’s a great pop-culture role model because she has brains and beauty without exploiting the latter.

When you add all this up, I think Agent Dana Scully makes an awesome Science Crush!

And with that conclusion, one more picture…this time with more David Duchovny!

(Seriously, watching them spoon in the second X-Files movie made me so satisfied about life. Also, it made me all mushy feeling and a little jealous.)

Today I was introduced, well not personally introduced, to an entomologist named May Berenbaum, a science crush of my good friend Katie.

Dr. Berebaum specializes in studying the chemical goings-on between insects and their host plants. But the simply fact that she is willing to get that close to a box of bees shows that she kicks ass.

She also is passionate about teaching and science literacy, and if you’ve been keeping track of scientists I admire, this is a way they move to the top of the list. She was awarded for her efforts with the 2009  Public Understanding of Science and Technology Award from AAAS. She has won the 2011 Tyler Prize for her research, which is an amazing accomplishment in the environmental sciences.

But Dr. Berebaum isn’t all work and no play. She also has a great sense of humor and uses it to write a column called Buzzwords in American Entomologist magazine (I’d subscribe but the articles would probably give me nightmares because most insects scare me). For the faint of heart (like me), those columns have been collected into a book, which has recently been added to my “must read” list.

What really clinched a Science Crush title, however, isn’t just all May’s accomplishments. It was the fact that SHE HAS AN X-FILES CHARACTER BASED ON HER! I’m a huge X-Files fan and if I could possible go back in time, become a famous physicist, and have a character modeled on me, my life would be complete. And not only that, but the character, Dr. Bambi Berenbaum, GETS TO HAVE ROMANTIC FLIRTATIONS WITH AGENT MULDER! It’s everything teenage me wants in life.

…SWOON…