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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Franklin, my dear, we DO give a damn!


                  "Franklin, my dear, we DO give a damn!"

     Rosalind Franklin's First Photograph of DNA structure



           Rosalind Franklin's extraordinary 1953 photograph of the DNA double helix was the impetus for Watson and Crick realizing the helix supports were on the outside of the structure with the phosphate "rungs" pointing inward. Until then, both Watson and Crick, Linus Pauling, and other researchers hypothesized the phosphates were on the outside. Franklin's research and extraordinary photograph 51 (shown below)

 were pivotal in understanding the double helix model. Yet, Rosalind Franklin received no credit for her pioneering work in x-ray crystallography of the DNA, or for the amazing photograph. Watson and Crick both later wrote that her photograph was "key" to their understanding of the structure of DNA. PBS has chronicled her story in a documentary entitled "Secret of Photograph 51:"


            And Brenda Maddox has also written Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA.

            My Halloween costume will be of Rosalind Franklin, complete with photo 51 emblazoned on a t-shirt, microscope, a DNA model, and a lab coat.

          I decided this was a wise choice after making DNA models with the kindergarteners on Friday. They asked me more than once "Was she a girl?" Yes, Rosalind Franklin was a girl/woman who, sadly, died at age 37 of complications from ovarian cancer. She did not receive credit for her amazing x-ray crystallography work on the DNA helix. Most (but not all) people I have shared her story with over the past week or so were completely unaware of her contributions.

           The kids and I also worked together on one giant table making a very long double helix. I (oh so subtly) mentioned that working on scientific discoveries and models together is the way to go.

          To you, Rosalind Franklin, thank you for your extraordinary x-ray crystallography, your methodical, detailed research, and for Photograph 51.  

           Frankly/Franklin, my dear, we DO give a damn!

 I would enjoy hearing your thoughts about Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958).


Word Woman (aka Scientific Steph)

P.S. My trusty canine pup is considering accompanying me as Helix, the Dog. :-)



Tuesday, October 22, 2013

SHOW, not tell; Bird and Dinosaur chromosomes; and To(o) funny

         SHOW, not tell; Bird and Dinosaur chromosomes; and To(o) funny

    NPR's Science Friday discusses the art of displaying data in a user friendly and fascinating way in the article "Show, not Tell." The "infographic age" is here.


     Above, New York's carbon emissions are shown in real time. Clear, dramatic, understandable: data you can sweep right up ;-). 

     And 85 dog breeds are shown below based on four categories of herder, hunter, mastiff-like or wolf-like. Showing large amounts of data in a way that is quickly understandable has moved leaps and bounds from bar graph and pie chart days.

      On Fridays I leave the fascinating world of oil and gas and environmental geology for a few hours to work with 14 brilliant kindergarteners doing hands-on science. We made giant dinosaur nests and edible coconut bird nests and talked about clades. We made our own infographics last week showing bird and dinosaurs differing by a chromosome (simplified but effective as the kids ran around on the playground after looking at the chromosome bracelets saying "You're a bird!" or "You're a dinosaur!")

      If a had a really good infographic person I'd make these data into a fascinating SHOW:

 Organism                                   Number of Chromosomes

  Adder's Tongue (plant)                                   1260              
  Dogs                                                               78               
  Cats                                                                38               
  Birds                                                               78 - 80              
  Humans                                                           46               

    ...And tell you that none of the kids were at all concerned that the plant has so many chromosomes and that, (whew!) no one asked HOW the mom gives the X chromosome to her kid or the dad gives the X or Y to his kid.

       The kids in kindergarten don't do show and tell any more. They just DO.

       And finally, I believe I will need to sign off now. I am on a quest to find funny:

As always (4 whole weeks!), I enjoy hearing from you.

On the Quest,

Word Woman (aka Scientific Steph)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Brain Continued, A Reassuring Lie, and a Keychain Carabiner

 The Brain Continued, A Reassuring Lie, and a Keychain Carabiner

    I started a new Quality Assurance project this week for a subcontractor doing work for the EPA. That's all I can say about that...But this cartoon about confirmation bias came to mind:


 It is from an article published on Fast Company's website. It's a long article but worth it:

      We tend to agree with what we already know, hang out with people who think like us, and support causes like us. We would rather hear a reassuring lie than an inconvenient truth.

       And sometimes, just sometimes, a new lighted LED keychain brings such a smile to my face about a reassuring (?), convenient absurdity:

 Enjoy. And be careful climbing out there!

As always (third post--wahoo!), I would enjoy hearing from you. . .

Word Woman (aka Scientific Steph)

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Einstein's Brain, the Corpus Callosum and Its Connection to 60's Bumpy, Wild VW Vans vs '10's Flat Screen "Smart Phones"

Einstein's Brain, the Corpus Callosum, & Its Connection to 60's Bumpy, Wild VW Vans  vs. '10's Flat Screen "Smart Phones"


       New research in the journal Brain describes measuring the connective tissue in and around the corpus callosum connecting the left and right hemispheres of Albert Einstein's preserved brain:


     The researchers describe their technique of measuring the thickness of the bands of nerve fibers that connect one side of the brain to the others. Einstein had more connections between the sides and his brain was more crenulated and bumpy according to researcher Dean Falk of Florida State University:

        “He did thought experiments where he’d imagine himself riding alongside a beam of light, and this is exactly the part of the brain one would expect to be very active in such thought experiments." Einstein's brain was bumpy, crenulated, full of folds and connections.

      I mentioned last week that I wanted to explore the evolutions of avatars from the VW Bus of the 60's to the Smart Phone for the 2010's. The tie-in with this new brain research is interesting. We have gone from a world of bumpy, interesting, crenulated interconnections and interactions via the avatar suggested by the '60's VW bug to our much flatter, screen-connected connections of the 2010's. I imagine Einstein would not think it good for our brains. The illusion of connection over flatter and flatter worlds must be affecting our brains. We might be losing our wrinkles...

       The change has been gradual...After the 60's VW bus, the 70's smiley face still connected us humans. In the 80's, the Rubik's Cube showed a shift from bumpy and crenulated to flat screens...but at least there were six, colorful, flat surfaces and they could interconnect and change and rotate. 

        It has been the increase in technology in the 90's (with the cell phone as avatar) that has accelerated the flatness trend. Ipods of the 2000's and Smart phones of the 2010's have continued that flatness.

        Enough blogging for today. My pup and I are going out to do a little exploring on this gorgeous autumn day. We might even imagine riding a beam of light :-).

         Here's hoping your ride today is bumpy, crenulated, and full of connections. I welcome your thoughts.

Word Woman (aka Scientific Steph)

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Welcome to Partial Ellipsis of the Sun...

               Welcome to Partial Ellipsis of the Sun! 


Hello fellow scientists, writers, countrymen and countrywomen, lend me your years…years of experience of enjoyment of both science and writing. Both sides of your brain are…well, developed. :-)

You are the geologist who offers to write the reports accompanying exploration proposals because the proposed solution to the puzzle without commentary is only half of the story. You know that yes, a picture is worth a thousand words, but if you place well a mere seven words and just a comma or ellipsis, it can tell a remarkable story. 

You are the writer fascinated by every new development and discovery. Plate tectonics, older bristlecone pines, clades, dinosaurs with feathers discovered in China send you into orbit—perhaps to a partial ellipsis of the sun…Yes, ellipsis, eclipse, it’s all part of the story…

 I welcome your ideas for topics and commentary. I welcome input on how to make a blog fun and lively. I even welcome different ideas for the name (I’m not married to it)…Maybe just a tad too obscure? 

Next up: Volkswagen Bus to Smiley Face to Rubik’s Cube to Cell Phones to iPods to Smart Phones: What is wrong/right with this progression of decade avatars from the 1960’s to the 2010’s?! 

 I hope to post on Tuesdays. We’ll see how it goes. Happy belated National Punctuation Day…and Happy October! What an amazing month in which to launch a blog! 

Thanks for checking in… 

Word Woman (aka Scientific Steph)