What I Said…

December 11th, 2009

Just found this great post about a talk I gave in Modesto a couple of months ago. I have the audio from the presentation somewhere around here, so I’ll try to post it for y’all to check out at some point.

I love talking about science, and this venue in Modesto was great. The organizers were absolutely gracious, and I had the opportunity to meet several of the local science educators. There was a nice turnout with what seemed like a lot of enthusiasm for the topic.

Good times with science in Modesto, I tell you.

Have a Science-y TWiSmas!!!

December 9th, 2009

If you are looking for the perfect TWISmas gift for the child in your life, TWIS and Evolvems have the perfect solution for you… a cute, cuddly Evolvem plush toy!

Until December 25th, Evolvems are offering friends of TWIS a 10% discount on internet purchases of their toys (which, by the way, I LOVE!).

Kiki and Evolvem

Evolvems turn from one ancient animal form into a more recent derived form… and back… with just a zip and flip. And, they are cute. Did I say cute? Cute!

Evolvems promote science through play, and TWIS is proud to be helping them spread the science-y goodness to kids of all ages.

To check them out, visit http://www.evolvems.com/twis/. Or, just use the code twismas at their online shop.

What’s Your Favorite Droid App?

November 19th, 2009

I just got the Motorola Droid, and am absolutely loving it. I may just be falling prey to the siren song of Google, but it’s a sweet ride into oblivion so far.

Do you have a Droid? What do you think? What are your favorite apps? Curious minds want to know…

Talking to You on Dr. Kiki’s Science Hour

November 5th, 2009

So, I’m trying something new on the Science Hour. The show was started with the intention of interacting with the audience (that’s the joy of live!).

Our first attempts were unsuccessful, but we are not dissuaged from our quest. We are going to try again using Vidly!

Vidly used to be Twit.Vid, and is a great way to share videos using Twitter.

TODAY!!! At 3pm Pacific, on DKSH I will have three questions, and I want to hear answers from you. I want to include your Vidly responses to the questions in the show.
Here are the questions:
1) What are your thoughts on the H1N1 vaccine? Are you concerned or not? Why? (Topic: Vaccine)

2) Do you think science has a PR problem? Or, is it just certain hot button issues? What do you think should be done about it? (Topic: Science PR)

3) What was your favorite childhood science project? Any science adventures you’d like to share? (Topic: Experiments)

4) Do you have any questions for me? (Topic: Questions)

Record your responses to one, two, or all of the questions using Vidly, using Twitter to broadcast it / them.

Make sure you use the hastag #DKSH and the question topic in the tweet, so that I can find it!

Get involved. I want to hear from you!

Dealing with Trolls

October 28th, 2009

This is how I deal with trolls commenting on my website (at least, today… strategy might change given time)…

Everyone, say hi to Paul! (This is his IP: Paul left this wonderful comment for me recently. It left me feeling confused as to why someone / anyone would take the time to spew so much vitriol. It really makes no sense.

So let me get this straight… you’re 35 (although you look older), unmarried, childless, and very much involved with your “career”. If you continue on this trajectory, you will die a childless and miserable woman, and worst of all, you will have denied Western civilization (and this world) your progeny. It is because of women like you that whites will be an extinct group within a few hundred years. Your time is very near the end. Good luck with your meaningless career.

Hmmm… Glad to know that I am personally responsible for allowing white people to go extinct rather than it being a process of selection. Aside from that, I am quite happy, have wonderful friends and family, and look forward to my future, childless or not.

There is no room for personal misery when there is so much wonder in the world.

Communication Basics

October 28th, 2009

Today I co-led a media training session for scientists. The day went quite well, and I found it rewarding to be able to share my knowledge and experience with other scientists. I remember what it was like to learn about the media’s perspective on communicating science. It was so foreign to my science-trained brain, but understandable since it could be boiled down to one main point.

In communicating your work (whatever it might be) with anyone, you need to tell a story. To tell a story you need to be able to first draw in your audience, get them interested in what you have to say. Once you have them, you follow a story arc, feeding them supporting ideas and information to satisfy their interest. To tie it all up, you need a good ending that will leave the audience with a lasting impression.

In order to get someone’s attention, you should start by answering the question: “Why is this interesting or important?” Strangely enough, when you are immersed in the nuanced details of your work that is one of the questions that becomes the most difficult to answer. Think of the big picture and how the average person might be interested. What are the common human threads that can tie your work to something tangible?

The information that follows your story’s introduction needs to support that connection. Answering the question of “how” is fundamental here, but the story can’t get too bogged down in details at this point or you lose the interest of the audience. Think of the children’s story of the Three Little Pigs. When the big, bad wolf came to blow the house down all that you know about how he tried to do it was that “he huffed and he puffed.” You don’t need to know how many breaths he took or how large his lung volume was or whether or not he had asthmatic symptoms (although that might have changed the story a bit). The information given is enough to keep you engaged (“oh, man! He’s huffing and puffing!”) and wondering what will come next (“oh, man! IS he going to blow it down this time?”).

The story’s end is the place where you have your last chance to make an impression, if you haven’t already. I’ll continue with the Little Pigs example here, which ends with the wolf climbing on the third pig’s roof to get at the pig by way of the chimney. Instead falling down the chimney only to land in a pot of boiling water put there by the pig. The pig turns the tables on the wolf and end up eating him instead of the other way ’round. This ending leaves quite an impression, and ties up all the loose ends of the story (pig not eaten lives happily ever after, wolf is dead and can cause no further trouble).

In science, your ending can be a message you want people to hear or an action you want people to know about or do themselves. In either case, it helps to use strong words that elicit emotional responses that will make your message that much stronger.

There is lots more to communication than just the story, for sure. But, thinking about your work as a story to be told is a great place to start.

Science Word Association

September 30th, 2009

Wordle: Science Word Association

Once again, I have gone in search of reactions to the word ‘science’. This time, instead of Twitter, I gleaned my results from the University of Florida word association database, which has been collecting people’s word responses since the 1970’s.

The relative strength of each word in this cloud I made at Wordle is based upon the number of people responding with that word out of a total of 126 respondents. These are the top 12 responses.

Getting Your Love Equilibrium

September 29th, 2009

Last Thursday, I spoke about the neurobiology of love. You know, hormones, neurotransmitters, all that chemical stuff…

It took place  at a new monthly event at Langton Labs in San Francisco called Equilibrium. The whole event revolved around love, the most magical of emotions.

I hate to say it, but I think I’m too much of a reductionist for the average audience.

It all comes down to the human machine in the end.

Dr. Kiki Sanford – Demo Reel

September 2nd, 2009

I’m a science popularizer and communicator. This reel includes examples of some of my recent work hosting, interviewing, and generally being Dr. Kiki for the likes of the Science Channel, Revision3, PixelCorps, and more.


I am currently looking for representation by way of a manager-type person. And, I am looking for new TV and/or online video host, interviewer, contributor, correspondent, writer, producer-type work. Work being the operative term. As in: paying with the money.


Let me know if you have any ideas or if you happen to be a manager looking for some scientific talent.

Finding Answers to Life’s Big Questions… In Comets

August 19th, 2009

I am fascinated by the recent news regarding comets in our solar system.

Most recently a team from NASA reported finding the simple amino acid glycine in materials returned from the Stardust mission.

The Stardust mission sent a craft from Earth on a trajectory that, like a boomerang, flew it through the tail of comet Wild 2 and then back to Earth. Comet Wild 2 originates from the outer reaches of our solar system, and as such is thought to be about as old as our solar system itself. Scientists have been analyzing the collected comet bits since Stardust’s return hoping to discover what the early solar system was made of.

And, now, it seems the early solar system contained the building blocks for life.

Sure, we’ve found glycine in bits of asteroids before, but those are from the warmer, inner parts of the solar system. Finding that an amino acid can come from the cold reaches of space indicates that these molecules don’t need a more temperate climate to form. The necessary chemical reactions can occur far from the sun.

Take that conclusion a bit further, and it means these molecules could be forming all over the universe, which makes the likelihood for carbon-based life in other stellar neighborhoods a bit more plausible. This realization makes our observations of glycine in distant nebulae substantially more interesting.

Now, consider that even though glycine doesn’t need a comfortable place to live, we do. How on Earth (pun intended) did the building blocks get here and evolve into what we know as life?

Glycine could have naturally come about as a result of chemical interactions on the early planetary surface. Or, it could have come from asteroids and comets.

Well, an insightful piece of computational research our of the Niels Bohr Institute in Denmark tried to answer this question by looking at iridium in 3.8 billion year old rocks from Greenland and in rocks returned from the moon during the Apollo missions.

Iridium is a metal that while naturally present on the Earth is found in much higher concentrations in asteroids and comets. Additionally, asteroids are estimated to have more iridium than comets, and leave more behind when they impact with the planet; some 18,000 parts per trillion versus 130 parts per trillion were expected in the impact sites.

The analysis found that the amount of iridium contained in the ancient rocks was more in line with comet impacts than with asteroids. They also found that their cometary calculations jived with concentrations of iridium found in the moon rocks.

The researchers, concluding that comets were the most likely culprits during the Late Heavy Bombardment (taking place after the Earth’s young molten-hot phase), estimated that the amount of water that would remain on the Earth as a result was right on par with the amount of water in all the Earth’s oceans.

So, did comets create our oceans? Maybe. The calculations are based on lots of assumptions as to the amount of iridium that should be found in rocks formed during asteroid or comet impacts. Regardless, it is still a fascinating train of thought.

I love this quote from the research paper:

“We may sip a piece of the impactors every time we drink a glass of water.”

And, the final question, is whether comets, in addition to bringing water, brought life’s building blocks as well.

It’s not too far of a reach to consider it a possibility, especially with the recent impact on Jupiter, and work that suggests comet showers make their way through the solar system every 500 million years or so.

Just like April showers bring May flowers, what do comet showers bring?