Cristy Gelling: Pittsburgh Postdoc, Premier Poet
Apr11

Cristy Gelling: Pittsburgh Postdoc, Premier Poet

I just received a nice bit of news from my alumni Facebook page of the Santa Fe Science Writing Workshop which I took last summer with C&EN colleague, Lauren Wolf. Turns out that our classmate Cristy Gelling has been recognized by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) as the editor's choice winner of their "Science in Stanzas" poetry competition. The competition was launched by Angela Hopp, Editor of ASBMB Today, and to recognize the other types of creativity possessed by scientists attending the upcoming Experimental Biology 2012 meeting in San Diego starting next weekend (April 21-25). The judges were themselves rather accomplished poets and humorists in science. Gelling's lovely poem is entitled, "Consistent with this, cell extracts from the iba57Δ strain showed virtually no aconitase activity (Fig. 2A)," and is only slightly longer than the title. Cristy is currently a postdoc at the University of Pittsburgh studying alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency. She's been in the States since she earned her PhD at the University of New South Wales, Australia, in 2008 for work on a maturation factor in iron-sulfur enzymes like aconitase. Gelling also blogs at The Blobologist and was recently named an editor for ScienceSeeker.org, a curated aggregator of the best in science blogging. So as to drive as much traffic as possible to the ASBMB site, I am telling you to go to the link here to read Cristy's work of art. And while you're at it, go to these links to see and read the works of all of the prize winners: First place: Lost in Translation, Andrew Brown Second place: Angiogenesis, Cheryl Ainslie-Waldman Third place: Ode to the Lab, Jesus Manuel Ayala Figueroa Honorable mention: Song of Sanger, Gail S. Begley Honorable mention: How ... Understanding, Karen...

Read More
Drugs of Abuse Tag-Team at Skeptically Speaking
Dec20

Drugs of Abuse Tag-Team at Skeptically Speaking

I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by Canadian radio host Desiree Schell for her wildly-successful show, Skeptically Speaking. The episode on which yours truly appears can be accessed here. Launched in March 2009, the show airs live on Sunday evenings at 6 pm Mountain Time on UStream where one can discuss the show and asks questions by live chat. The show also includes a previously recorded segment with another scientist and is then edited and distributed for rebroadcast to stations and networks across North America. The shorter pre-recorded segment where I appeared to speak about my most popular topic of the last two years on this blog, synthetic marijuana compounds. I'm not entirely guilty of self-promotion here because I primarily wanted to mention that the first two-thirds of the show - the live part - was an interview with my neuropharmacologist friend, Scicurious, author of The Scicurious Brain blog at the Scientific American blog network and Neurotic Physiology at Scientopia. Sci has a gift for offering laser-sharp science in a hip, conversational manner. Here's how the Skeptically Speaking team describes the show: With humour, enthusiasm and a lot of curiosity, Skeptically Speaking guides you through the fascinating world of science and critical thinking. We interview researchers, authors and experts to help listeners understand the evidence, arguments and science behind what’s in the news and on the shelves. A basic understanding of science, combined with a little bit of skepticism, goes a long way. Note: The term “skepticism” may be new to you. If that’s the case, click here. During her 40 minutes Sci gave a terrific primer on the classes of drugs commonly used, and abused, recreationally. My pre-recorded part was edited into the now-available podcast (Show #142, 27.5 MB) at around 41:10. But do download it and listen entirely to Sci's part. Our segments ended up being quite complementary owing to the careful eyes and ears of host Desiree Schell and producer/editor K.O. Myers. Although I know Sci, I hadn't known that she was to appear live until after my recording. I rarely like listening to my own voice (unlike many professors) but this one is a keeper primarily because it's more for the general public rather than just us scientists. In fact, Des tells me that she interviews from the standpoint of the listener she envisions driving home in their car. And for those of you attending ScienceOnline2012 here in North Carolina next month, you'll get to meet Schell and hear her lead a morning session on Friday 20 January with Julia Galef of Rationally Speaking on the pros and cons of science podcasting. Go to this...

Read More
Gooood morning, Santiiiiago!
Dec02

Gooood morning, Santiiiiago!

I love my blogs and my readers. Last Friday morning, I had the delight of Skyping in to a medical school bioethics class at Universidad Finis Terrae to discuss the virtues and pitfalls of animal research. I was contacted earlier in the week by an email from Xaviera Cardenas, a first-year medical student at this university in Santiago, Chile, who was looking for an international scientist to hold forth on this topic. Readers of CENtral Science know that any novel chemical you synthesize must undergo some animal testing before it can be used in people. This is not our choice as individuals but, instead, a requirement of our regulatory authorities. Despite advances with in vitro technologies, testing in a limited number of rodent and non-rodent species is absolutely required. I spoke specifically to the class about my service on NIH study sections where we take very seriously the review of vertebrate animal use in research. No matter the quality of the science, grant awards can be specifically withheld due to inattention to the five requirements to justify and assure responsible and humane use of vertebrate animals for research and testing. I'm a real stickler for use of the minimum number of animals, a number that is carefully determined using power calculations based on the minimum expected change in a biological outcome. Researchers must assure that animals will be managed by a highly-qualified veterinarian with attention to avoiding or minimizing any pain and suffering. Because research animals cannot give informed consent, I sometimes see research animal protocols getting more scrutiny that human clinical trial protocols. Xavi and her class asked me about these and other issues during our 20 minute visit last week. Her professor played the role of devil's advocate by dressing up as a beagle but, unfortunately, a photograph was not made available to the blog. I asked Xavi to share her recollections on the experience. She's very kind and her English is definitely superior to my Spanish. Thanks, Xavi, for the chance to speak with your class. And don't worry, I'll be down sometime to experience the wines of Chile!   The power of internet Xaviera Cardenas Has anyone thought how can you be in two places at the same time? It sounds perfect for a sci-fi novel implying teleportation… or evil twins. But last Friday, David was able to comfortable be in his house and at a presentation in Santiago, Chile without stepping on a plane. That Friday morning was pretty hectic for most of the students who were at the Bioethics class imparted by Universidad Finis Terrae. It was our final class in which we...

Read More
Call For Social Media Success Stories in Academia
Oct28

Call For Social Media Success Stories in Academia

We're packing up the world headquarters of Terra Sigillata this afternoon and high-tailing it out to San Jose, California, for the annual meeting of SACNAS - the Society Dedicated to Advancing Hispanics, Chicanos, and Native Americans in Science. It's a tremendous organization comprised of several of my former students and faculty colleagues from over the years and I'm ecstatic about reconnecting with them. With the initiative of my colleagues - Alberto Roca of MinorityPostdoc.org and Danielle Lee of The Urban Scientist at Scientific American blogs (plus a whole host of online activities) - we pitched and were accepted to present a session on Blogging, Tweeting, & Writing: How an Online Presence Can Impact Science and Your Career. I'll be discussing how a responsible, online presence on blogs, Twitter, and Facebook can enhance networking opportunities for graduate students, postdocs, and faculty. Specifically, I'll introduce how I've increased the exposure of my students who are RISE Scholars at North Carolina Central University. In this NIGMS-funded grant, I've been helping my students capture their research experiences in their own words (with previous review by their P.I.'s of course, to prevent accidental disclosure of unpublished data). The students have been surprised by the level of engagement and support they've received in the comments from scientists all around the world. But I know of many other students who use blogs and Twitter to engage with the scientific community in ways that brings them positive recognition outside of their academic and laboratory work. To better prepare for this session, I'd like to gather some advice from you, Dear Reader: Who are some of students, trainees, and junior faculty, who best exemplify the use of social media for career advancement? Are you a student who has had Good Things happen to you because of your social media activities? How did that transpire? If you have any responses, please drop a link in the comments with a brief explanation - or longer if you'd like! And also feel free to recommend the sites and stories of others. I'll be sure to promote your responses in tomorrow's talk and direct attendees to this post for future reference. The three of us thank you so much in advance for your...

Read More
Bryostatins: Panacea?
Oct24

Bryostatins: Panacea?

I just had the delightful pleasure of participating in the C&EN Advisory Board meeting late last week. Among the outstanding C&EN writers and editors at the DC headquarters, I got to meet several others who are stationed around the US and the world. One of these new friends based in New Jersey, Bethany Halford, has this week's C&EN cover story on the marine natural products, the bryostatins. These complex compounds were originally studied for anticancer activities but, as Bethany tells us, are now showing promise in animal models of Alzheimer's disease. And while Bethany tells us that the first bryozoan source of these compounds was collected in 1968 from Gulf Specimen Co., she resisted the urge to tell us that the company is in Panacea, Florida. (Here's a definition and etymology of panacea.) Go forth and read. References: Halford, Bethany. Chemical & Engineering News 89(43): 10-17 (24 October 2011) Cover story - The Bryostatins' Tale Profile on George (Bob) Pettit - Pioneer: Undersea Treasure Hunter Natural product drug development - Drug Development: Taking the Long...

Read More
Project SEED student having a sweet summer
Jun30

Project SEED student having a sweet summer

One of the lovely pleasures I have as a prof is serving as principal investigator of a NIH-funded program to encourage students from underrepresented backgrounds to pursue doctoral training in the biomedical and behavioral sciences. As one aim of the project to encourage student writing skills and engagement with the public and scientific communities, we keep a blog over at the Scientopia network, NCCU Eagles RISE, to chronicle the progress of these wonderful young folks. Today, NCCU rising sophomore Victoria Jones holds forth on her current research experience at the Penn State Medical Center at Hershey. Why do I write about Victoria here? Well, she is a product of the ACS Project SEED program (Summer Research Internship Program for Economically Disadvantaged High School Students). Project SEED, especially here in North Carolina, is a remarkable cultivation program for high school students to pursue research. The level at which these students perform frankly blows me away, regardless of their background. In terms of presentation skills and depth of understanding of their project, I will put a Project SEED student - high school kids, folks - up at the level of any junior or senior college research student, even at the Research I institution where I started my career. I recently judged science presentations from these students and I'd love to have had some of our first-year graduate students see the poise with which these students answered questions after their presentations. While I'm singing the praises of Project SEED students who've come to my U, let me also provide you with a link to an essay by Melony Ochieng. This former Project SEED student wrote about her experiences as a travel award recipient for the American Association for Cancer Research meeting in Orlando this past April. Melony won a third-place award from among the 70+ presenters. Yes, yes, yes - like many professions, being a prof is a thankless business. However, we are often touched by gold and have the opportunity to participate in the development of some truly remarkable young people. When I think back about Christine Herman's exercise the other day on working on what you are passionate about, I realize that helping young people achieve their dreams is what I'm all...

Read More