Dr. Kiki’s Science Hour - How to Build A Better Vaccine

March 26th, 2010

If you have ever had questions about how vaccines are made, tested, and then deployed to the public at large, you should listen to this episode of Dr. Kiki’s Science Hour.

Dr. Gregory Poland of the Mayo Clinic joined me on the show to talk the basics of vaccines. We covered the topic generally, but also focused on the flu and H1N1. Seriously, he was as straightforward as you can get, and I truly appreciated the answers he was able to give to my many questions.

You can listen here. Or, watch it here…

Vaccines have become a touchy subject of late, and having accurate information on which you can base your decisions is vital. I hope this episode is spread far and wide just like the diseases vaccines are meant to protect us from.

Dr. Kiki’s Science Hour - Voyage of Darwin’s Beagle

March 25th, 2010

Recently, on Dr. Kiki’s Science Hour, I spoke with Karen James of the Natural History Museum in London, UK. She’s a biologist working on several interesting and interrelated projects.

First, at the Natural History Museum, she works as a botanist and has been involved in an international effort to develop a genetic bar-coding process for plants. She is also responsible for their Darwin research memorabilia… i.e. specimens that Darwin collected while traveling to the Galapagos and back, like the Floreana mockingbirds, which were massively important in the development of Darwin’s great idea.

Additionally, she is the science director for the Beagle Project, whose aim is to build a replica of the HMS Beagle and sail it as a research vessel to the Galapagos.

You can hear all about it here. Or, watch it here…

The world is lucky to have such vibrant scientists as Dr. James.

Thoughts On Ada Lovelace Day

March 24th, 2010

Ada Lovelace was an intellectual woman in an age when women weren’t pushed to be intellectual. Her mother made sure she was trained in mathematics rather than literature so that she wouldn’t follow in her father’s (the poet Lord Byron’s) footsteps.

This training as well as her place in society put her in a position to meet and work with an academic named Charles Babbage who hired her to help on his “Analytical Engine.” Ada took the project and ran with it, elaborating on the idea in notes that contain the first computer algorithm. She is now considered the world’s first computer programmer.

There are many things that made the story of Ada Lovelace possible: her noble birth and marriage, her mother’s reactionary nature, her training, the people she met in life, etc. But, central to the story is the passion that Ada had for her academic endeavors.

Had she simply been a translator, that’s all she would have done for Charles Babbage… translated an article from Italian that he could then use in developing his ideas. Instead, she dug into the ideas and came up with ideas of her own. She wasn’t afraid to write those ideas down and share them.

And, now we celebrate her and what she helped make possible.

Women today have it fairly easy compared to the women of the past (I’m referring to women in first world nations here… I know there are many women around the world who still struggle). We can do what ever we set our minds to. We can take on the historically female held roles of mother, teacher, nurse, secretary, or we can be doctors, lawyers, astronauts… it’s up to us.

The doors are open like they never have been. All we have to do is walk through them.

By finding and following our passions, we create new opportunities for the women who will follow. We make it easier for them to do what they dream of doing.

I am lucky in that as a young scientist, I was able to find wonderful female mentors to learn from. I saw that it is possible to be a successful woman in science. I saw that it is possible to have a family at the same time. I saw that I could do it too if I wanted.

Unfortunately, there aren’t enough female role models in the sciences. The number of women in academics is growing, but it is still not equal to the number of men. It’s not because women don’t like science, or aren’t studying science. The numbers just drop between graduate school and getting jobs.

That means that most women entering graduate school aren’t seeing other women in those positions of  responsibility.

And, if seeing is believing, then we still have work to do.

But, that will come with time, and in the meantime, I’d like to thank all the women, like Ada, who toiled in the science or technology that inspired their questions.

Thank you for creating a world where I can ask questions, too.

Battling the Red Queen

March 11th, 2010

The Red Queen has to keep running just to stay in the same place. In the same vein, drug development for infectious diseases has to constantly keep on its toes. Infectious disease sources, like some bacteria, can evolve resistance to our drugs, and when that happens we need new drugs to maintain our effective battle against the threat to our health.

But, is there a way to get around this process of evolution - to be done with this race for survival? Dr. Andrew Read and several other researchers think there is, and they are working on ways to create “evolution-proof” drugs.

I spoke with Dr. Read last week on Dr. Kiki’s Science Hour. We discussed this idea of “evolution-proof”, focusing specifically on the malaria parasite and strategies that he and his colleagues are working on to reduce the impact that malaria has on people around the world. We also spent time talking about evolution generally, and why Dr. Read finds it so fascinating.

I invite you to take a listen to the show - you can find it in audio format here. Or, you can watch it in video at ODTV.me.

Dr. Kiki’s Science Hour - Making Science Matter

March 4th, 2010

If you have ever thought critically about the American educational system, and come away with the impression (as I have) that the future of our nation is doomed, you might find this episode uplifting.

No matter what you have heard, there are teachers who care. There are teachers who try new and different approaches to teaching. There are places in the United States where children are actually learning science.

Zach Ronneberg is a science teacher at Da Vinci High School in Davis, CA. He has been recognized as among the best science teachers in the US. I got to talk with him about the ways he employs hands-on learning in the classroom, and about the KSTF Teaching Fellowship he was awarded.

You can listen to our conversation here.

Or, you can watch the video at ODTV - On-Demand TWIT Network.

Dr. Kiki’s Science Hour - Hacking Science

March 3rd, 2010

A couple of weeks ago I had the distinct pleasure of talking with Ariel Waldman of Spacehack.org on Dr. Kiki’s Science Hour.

We talked a lot about citizen science and the importance of opening up science to the public. She told me about several interesting projects, like GalaxyZoo, which relies on the public to process massive amounts of astronomical data.

Ariel also talked a bit about what got her interested in space and the realm of collaborative science.

You can listen to the interview here.

Or, watch it on ODTV - the On-Demand TWIT Video archive.

You can catch Ariel (and me) at SXSW if you are interested in hearing more. We are speaking on a panel called Open Science: Create, Collaborate, Communicate on Monday, the 15th, at 9:30am.

Dust Off That Synthesizer!

March 2nd, 2010

Bring out the Moog, and prepare your Theremin!

Or, maybe it’s a banjo and some cowbell… hell, I don’t care.

I’m just looking for original science-y music for the This Week in Science 2010 Compilation Album.

The guidelines are that it needs to be about science or inspired by science AND YOU MUST BE ABLE TO GRANT ME LICENSE TO USE IT.

I don’t want something by Blackalicious unless you are in Blackalicious. That said, if you are a friend ofBlackalicious, tell them to get in touch with me.

Why am I making a science-y music album? Well, I’ve made an album for our home radio station’s annual fundraiser each year for the past four years, and I’d like to go for a fifth.

Our station, KDVS 90.3 FM in Davis, is a non-commercial, free-form radio station that gets more than half of its budget from its annual fundraiser. We set aside a portion of the limited cd pressing for use as premium gifts for people who donate to KDVS during our show. The remainder of the cds are sold later in the year in order to recoup our production costs. TWIS makes no money from these albums.

What we need, however, are super cool science-y songs donated for use on the album. Without songs, there is no album.

As a musician what do you get in return? Well, in addition to being on the album, you will be played during TWIS repeatedly during the year, linked to from the TWIS website, and get the warm-fuzzies from helping to support free-form, non-commercial radio and science all in one go.

How can you submit a song? Email me (kirsten at thisweekinscience dot com) with an mp3 or a link to an mp3 of your song(s). Please, put TWIS Compilation in the subject.

If your song is chosen for the album, I’ll be in touch to ask for a higher bit-rate, uncompressed .aif or .wav file and your John Hancock on a basic licensing and use agreement. We like to take care of a lot of the post-production when we master the album, so the less compressed / produced on the final version the better.

Any questions, just email me at the address above.

Oh, and the fundraiser is mid-April, so I’ll need songs asap! Submission deadline is March 15th.