ScienceSeeker Editor’s Selections October 5 – 18, 2014

Each week, the ScienceSeeker editors pick their favorite posts within their respective areas of interest and expertise. Here is a round-up of the Science Seeker Editors’ Selections for the past two weeks:

Check back next week for more great picks!

Meet the Editors: Shelly Fan

We are featuring short interviews with each of our editors, so that you can get to know those folks who are responsible for highlighting your posts each week as editors’ selections. For the last in our series, meet Shelly Fan.

Hello! Let’s start with first things first. Where are you from, what do you do how did you get into science?

I’m originally from China, but I grew up in Belgium, the US and Canada. It’s such a simple question but difficult to answer. ;)

I’m currently finishing up my PhD in Neuroscience at the University of British Columbia. For my thesis project I looked at ways to eliminate disease-causing proteins with custom designed molecules. The goal of the project was to develop something that clinicians may eventually use on human patients, but of course that’s still a ways off.

Growing up I was generally more interested in the arts than sciences, but I did find biology absolutely fascinating! Every biological process is like a delicate, well orchestrated machine and every molecule in our bodies has its own “life story” waiting to be uncovered. I went into Pharmacy for my undergraduate degree and the rest is history.

What is the name of your blog and why did you choose that name – what does it mean?

My blog is Neurorexia, which is quite the mouthful. The word combines “neuro” with “orexia” (appetite), so to me it means an appetite for neuroscience. When I first started blogging it was mostly on eating disorders-related research (including anorexia), so that had some influence on picking the name as well.

How did you get into science blogging and science writing? What were the early influences on you regarding your blogging style and topics?

I first started blogging because I was/am a terrible writer and I wanted to get better at writing. I also love talking about new research and my friends/housemates were tired of hearing me ramble non-stop so I turned to the internet instead. Another reason was that as a scientist you tend to focus on areas related to your research, but there’s so much cool stuff out there and I wanted to push myself to read more.

The great Scicurious strongly influenced me when I first started out. I love her wit, her humour and her astute take on scientific research. Plus she’s one of the nicest people I know.

What is your blog about? Who is your target audience, and why do you think people should read your blog?

I focus mostly on new research in neuroscience, although once in a while I foray into the interplay between diet, exercise, health and the gut microbiome as well. I picture my audience as curious people who want to know more about neuroscience (without the hype) and with a high-school level understanding of basic biology. I tend to cover research papers more in depth than other blogs so if you like a play-by-play breakdown of how the scientists designed and conducted the experiments then Neurorexia is the blog for you.

How do you spend your time when you’re not doing science or science blogging? Any interesting hobbies?

Not doing science or science blogging…? Huh?

I binge watch British TV shows. My recent obsessions are Sherlock, Doctor Who and Torchwood (Sherlock actually spurred me to write a series of posts on the “mind palace“). Occasionally I go rock climbing or scuba diving.

Why did you decide to become an editor at ScienceSeeker? How do you use ScienceSeeker aside from when you’re making your editors’ selections?

I like what ScienceSeeker is doing for the science communication community and I wanted to contribute. I browse SS quite a lot even when I’m not making selections, mostly to discover new blogs.

As you make your editors’ selections, what sorts of things do you look for? What’s the best way a blogger can get your attention, as an editor?

I generally read and pick articles not related to neuroscience, so first off it has to be free of jargon, at least to the degree that I can understand the article without consulting Wikipedia. Then I ask if it’s interesting, easy to read and/or novel (for example, an article about whether using the passive voice is really that bad).

Easiest way to get my attention is to email me. Don’t be formal, just “hey, I’m so and so and this is what I want to talk to you about” works perfect for me.

Meet the Editors: Fletcher Halliday

We are featuring short interviews with each of our editors, so that you can get to know those folks who are responsible for highlighting your posts each week as editors’ selections. For the sixth in our series, meet Fletcher Halliday, who picks the best posts in the fields of biology, conservation, ecology, environment, evolution, and microbiology.

Hello! Let’s start with first things first. Where are you from, what do you do how did you get into science?

I’m originally from the San Francisco Bay Area in California, and I’ve been living in North Carolina for the past 3 years working towards a PhD in biology from UNC Chapel Hill. I grew up in the country, and like many ecologists, I got into science by walking around in nature with my dad. I haven’t been a professional scientist for very long, but I’ve done a variety of jobs, from assisting mangrove research in Panama, to endangered species monitoring in Oakland, California. Right now, my research focuses on trying to understand why pathogen diversity varies from one host to another, and why some places have more diseases than others. Recently, I’ve become interested in understanding the diversity of all microbes (not just pathogens) that live inside of other organisms, comprising the microbiome.

What is the name of your blog and why did you choose that name – what does it mean?

I’m the chief editor and a contributor at BioDiverse Perspectives. Our mission is to provide opinions on biodiversity research from graduate students from around the globe.

How did you get into science blogging and science writing? What were the early influences on you regarding your blogging style and topics?

In the spring of 2012, I participated in a distributed graduate seminar on the subject of biodiversity. In January 2013, we decided to launch BioDiverse Perspectives to share the information and opinions that we had gained during the seminar. This blog marked my entry into the world of blogging and science writing. My blogging style has been influenced by three very different sources: A baseball blog called McCovey Chronicles, the ecology blog EEB & Flow, and the magnificent Carl Zimmer.

What is your blog about? Who is your target audience, and why do you think people should read your blog?

We founded BioDiverse Perspectives with the broad goal of providing graduate student perspective on biodiversity research. We initially launched the blog as a way to foster communication between graduate students, but we have recently become interested in using the blog as a means for graduate students to learn new ways to communicate science both within the scientific community as well as to industry professionals and the public. One way that we’ve sought to do this was through our “Biodiversity Challenge,” an initiative that challenged grad students to write about their research in the context of biodiversity and conservation for a general audience. That post was motivated by Sharon Baruch-Mordo’s reflection on learning to communicate effectively when she was a graduate student, and I think it benefitted the students who wrote it as well as those who had a chance to read it.

In general, I think that people should read this blog because we provide thoughtful commentary on both the cutting-edge developments in biodiversity research as well as the ideas that formed the foundation of our field. In particular, students should both read and contribute to the blog because it provides an opportunity for exposure and engagement that’s rare during the isolation of grad school. 

How do you spend your time when you’re not doing science or science blogging? Any interesting hobbies?

There are many costs to being a grad student, including lifestyle changes. Before I was in grad school, I had lots of hobbies. I love backpacking, cooking, gardening, and biking. I used to cultivate edible mushrooms for fun, too. Lately, I tend to spend most of my free time reading, hiking, or hanging out with my dog.

Why did you decide to become an editor at ScienceSeeker? How do you use ScienceSeeker aside from when you’re making your editors’ selections?

One of the few hobbies that I’ve stuck with during grad school is reading science blogs. It’s a great hobby, because it allows me to unwind, and unlike reading novels, I feel like I’m getting work done, even if I’m reading about sloth-moth symbioses.  ScienceSeeker has really changed how I read blogs. I used to subscribe to just a few ecology blogs and a couple of other popular blogs in my RSS feed reader, but when I discovered ScienceSeeker, my reading list exploded. Now I read blogs about ocean science, mushrooms, and I’ve been caught reading about immunology research.  So when Jessica Hekman suggested that I share what I like with other people, I jumped on it. I figured – I’m already doing the work of reading all this content, so why not save some other people the time.

As you make your editors’ selections, what sorts of things do you look for? What’s the best way a blogger can get your attention as an editor?

I’d have to say that so far, my editor’s selections have been pretty idiosyncratic. I read a lot, and I select what I like to read, which tends to be pretty varied. In general, I tend to choose posts that are informative and maintain my attention. I guess that the most important thing for me is the value added by the blogger. With so many blogs reporting science from other blogs, setting your self apart from everyone else can be tough. Adding unique value is something that I strive for in my writing, and that really sets good posts apart from the rest. Anyone can summarize a research finding; what sets apart good posts from press releases is when an article really adds something to the research. Maybe it’s a bit of humor, maybe it’s something visual, or maybe it’s a unique perspective. It’s that value-added that I look for in a good post.

Meet the Editors: Cristy Gelling

We are featuring short interviews with each of our editors, so that you can get to know those folks who are responsible for highlighting your posts each week as editors’ selections. For the fifth in our series, meet Cristy Gelling.

Hello! Let’s start with first things first. Where are you from, what do you do how did you get into science?

I’m from New Zealand, then Australia, then Pittsburgh. I got into science after reading a book by Stephen Jay Gould and then another one by Steven Rose.

What is the name of your blog and why did you choose that name – what does it mean?

My blog is The Blobologist. Blobology is the study of blobs. I first heard the term used as a joke by someone who was trying to understand the structure of a protein using electron microscopy. A single electron micrograph of a protein molecule doesn’t tell you anything about the structure, but if you take lots of electron micrographs and average them, you can get a hazy sort of blobby idea of what might be going on. People make conclusions like “there seems to be a bit that sticks out at the top” or “maybe there are two parts there jammed together”. It’s blobology and it sounds stupid but it’s actually quite useful. I’m not a structural biologist, but I like the idea that blobology is where you take something unintelligible, wrangle with it, do some replicates and come out with a picture that is slightly less hazy than when you went in. That’s what science feels like on a good day.

What is your blog about? Who is your target audience, and why do you think people should read your blog?

My blog is about blobology, which is to say, everything. I try to write my blog for everyone, so everyone should read my blog, as long as they are interested in everything. Yeah, I know. I need a niche.

How do you spend your time when you’re not doing science or science blogging? Any interesting hobbies?

I used to be a geneticist and now I’m a science writer. I’ve just started out as an editor for a journal, too.

Why did you decide to become an editor at ScienceSeeker? How do you use ScienceSeeker aside from when you’re making your editors’ selections?

I thought ScienceSeeker was a really interesting idea and I figured it would help me surf the science blogging firehose. ScienceSeeker is pretty handy for figuring out who has said what about a particular topic in the past (if I’m writing a news story, for example). It’s great for finding new blogs, particularly quirky ones that are outside the big blog networks.

As you make your editors’ selections, what sorts of things do you look for? What’s the best way a blogger can get your attention, as an editor?

I pick posts that are at least one of the following:

a) compelling
b) interesting
c) funny
c) important
e) novel

In addition, they must be accurate. I prefer it if the posts avoid jargon and are well-written, but if it’s interesting enough, I’m happy to pick a post aimed at specialists or one that’s written in a sleep-deprived haze in the middle of the night. I’ve been there!

Meet the Editors: Raphael Ndem

We are featuring short interviews with each of our editors, so that you can get to know those folks who are responsible for highlighting your posts each week as editors’ selections. For the fourth in our series, meet our photo editor Raphael Ndem, who also manages the ScienceSeeker Google+ Page.

Hello! Let’s start with first things first. Where are you from, what do you do how did you get into science?

I’m currently based, and have spent most of my life, in London, United Kingdom. My passion for science started towards the end of primary school education, and I pursued it in College and University, achieving my BSc and MSc in Biomedical Science. I don’t currently hold a professional role in life sciences, however during my free time I maintain my scientific interests by reading and recommending scientific blogs and articles for the ScienceSeeker homepage, and I help to increase the awareness and understanding of said articles on the ScienceSeeker Google+ Page, and my personal Google+ profile.

What is the name of your blog and why did you choose that name – what does it mean?

I currently do not have a blog, however I do share articles related to my scientific interests on my personal Google+ profile mostly to the thriving Science on Google+ community, as well as the ScienceSeeker Google+ page.

How did you get into science blogging and science writing? What were the early influences on you regarding your blogging style and topics?

Science writing naturally came to me, and improved, as I progressed through my BSc and MSc degrees in Biomedical Science at the University of Westminster, but blogging hadn’t been an interest of mine until I joined the ScienceSeeker team. Having showed a particular interest in two life sciences – biology and chemistry – at a young age, I followed my desire for those topics and continue to do so.

Writing laboratory reports, complete with an abstract, followed by the standard sections (introduction, methodology etc), as well as my ability to summarise scientific content in much simpler terms without detracting from their meaning, had a major influence on my style of science writing, and continues to do so. I try to ensure that readers of my content understand the background and purpose of a new advance in science based only on the brief summary I provide with supporting links.

What is your blog about? Who is your target audience, and why do you think people should read your blog?

When I blog, I do so on Google+ and it is targeted to a science community. I’m not one to insist that people should read my blog, however I find that I often post content that hasn’t been shared by anyone else on Google+, so active users will indeed learn something new by simply following/reading my posts.

How do you spend your time when you’re not doing science or science blogging? Any interesting hobbies?

When I’m not doing anything science-related, I split my time between playing basketball, running lighting and sound equipment for amateur theatre groups, and playing Ingress. Ingress happens to be one of the most interesting augmented/alternate reality ‘games’ I have ever been involved in, and even that is an understatement.

Why did you decide to become an editor at ScienceSeeker? How do you use ScienceSeeker aside from when you’re making your editors’ selections?

I noticed an opening for an Editor’s position posted from the ScienceSeeker Google+. It seemed like an opportunity for me to use my skills and knowledge of science to help further its reach and understanding, and so I applied for the position. I was also granted the opportunity to run the ScienceSeeker Google+ page, which has since gained much attention and activity.
Aside from making my own editors’ selections, I often check ScienceSeeker to find out about new advances in sciences in disciplines I am not familiar with. It also connects me to a variety of science news sites and blogs, some reputable, and others rising up the ranks.

As you make your editors’ selections, what sorts of things do you look for? What’s the best way a blogger can get your attention, as an editor?

I generally start off looking for a story with an interesting title, usually but not exclusively related to disciplines I have a particular interest in (e.g. artificial intelligence, biology, chemistry, energy, robotics). Then I follow through to verify that the story reported is indeed genuine, including references and source information where appropriate – i.e. a simply copy-and-paste of what has already been reported by other news sites tend not to be picked. Sometimes, I look for graphical illustrations that depict, or in any way help to describe, a certain aspect of the story and may use that picture when making my recommendation, or may attach a more relevant image to help highlight the selection on the ScienceSeeker homepage.

Meet the Editors: Caitlin Kirkwood

We are featuring short interviews with each of our editors, so that you can get to know those folks who are responsible for highlighting your posts each week as editors’ selections. For the third in our series, meet Caitlin Kirkwood, who picks the best posts in the fields of neuroscience, engineering, biology, medicine, and health.

Hello! Let’s start with first things first. Where are you from, what do you do how did you get into science?

Hello everyone! I hail from Pittsburgh, PA. Proud home of the black and gold. Currently, I’m a PhD student studying the neurobiological underpinnings of Alzheimer’s disease with psychosis. My interest in science began early in life. My Dad and I were always starting projects like creating scaled mobiles of the solar system or building primitive radios out of gum bands (Pittsburghese for rubber bands), TP tubes, and a little copper wire. In high school, I took every science course offered and started research internships during the summers. I signed up as a bioengineering major in college and the rest is history.

What is the name of your blog and why did you choose that name – what does it mean?

My blog is named The Synaptic Scoop. I dish the scoop on hot off the press, perplexing, useful, and otherwise just plain cool neuroscience research.

How did you get into science blogging and science writing? What were the early influences on you regarding your blogging style and topics?

My blogging style has been greatly influenced by several people that I would consider my blogging heroes, many of which also happened to be women in academic science (Christie Wilcox, SciCurious, and ScienceSeeker’s own Jordan Gaines Lewis to name a few). Their writing styles have a common thread of making science entertaining but also incredibly accessible by conveying complex concepts in plain English for everyone to learn and enjoy.

Starting out, topic inspiration was more difficult than I imagined – I figured my everyday research experiences would fuel my writing – but in reality topic selection has snowballed into a much more fun collaborative endeavor. Mostly, I scan through Twitter, Facebook, and journal feeds for something that makes me stop and want to know more, but I also field a lot of questions from family and friends. ‘Why are we afraid of heights?’ or ‘How do our brains work in outer space?’ were examples of topics fueled by the best kinds of late night conversation with good friends.

What is your blog about? Who is your target audience, and why do you think people should read your blog?

The Synaptic Scoop is about everything neuroscience and how it relates to the human experience. I write in layman’s terms for anyone that has an interest in how the mind works.

How do you spend your time when you’re not doing science or science blogging? Any interesting hobbies?

Outside of science and blogging, I enjoy running, spinning, and hanging out with my cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Sgt. Pepper.

Why did you decide to become an editor at ScienceSeeker? How do you use ScienceSeeker aside from when you’re making your editors’ selections?

Being a stickler for organization, I found ScienceSeeker to be a tremendous resource for the aggregation and categorization of all my favorite science blogs online – and a great venue for discovering new ones! I wanted to become a ScienceSeeker editor to help promote the remarkable science writing I was reading and begin facilitating discussions around important or controversial topics in science. I believe that as ScienceSeeker grows it will help the science community engage in worldwide discussion on today’s communication medium of choice, the fast-paced internet.

Aside from using ScienceSeeker for making editors selections and uploading posts from my own site, I use it to learn about the latest trends and debates occurring both in science and science journalism.

As you make your editors’ selections, what sorts of things do you look for? What’s the best way a blogger can get your attention, as an editor?

My editor’s selections have titles that usually reach out and grab my attention or make me feel like I need to know more. The posts also contain original content, usually with scientific citations, and often tell a story or meet a need, so when I’m through reading I feel as though I learned something valuable.

Meet the Editors: Peter Krautzberger

We are featuring short interviews with each of our editors, so that you can get to know those folks who are responsible for highlighting your posts each week as editors’ selections. For the second in our series, meet Peter Krautzberger, who picks the best posts in the field of mathematics.

Hello! Let’s start with first things first. Where are you from, what do you do how did you get into science?

Originally from Germany, I live in Los Angeles. I ended up studying mathematics mostly by chance, actually. I had to visit the university and sit down with a special form in a special room where I could choose between all non-numerus clausus degrees. Mind boggling, really. Of course I had a rough idea what I wanted but I ended up choosing between math and CS mostly by chance. And then I fell in love with mathematics which was blowing my mind being so much richer and more exciting than anything you’ll ever learn at school.

After a postdoc, life has lead me slightly away from research and academia and I currently work for the MathJax project, a joint venture of the American Mathematical Society (AMS) and the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM).

What is the name of your blog and why did you choose that name – what does it mean?

My blog bears no title (other than my name) because it my home on the web. However, it has a subtitle: “on Booles’ Rings” which refers to Booles’ Rings (surprise!), a blogging network I started with Sam Coskey a while back. The name “Booles’ Rings” is a reference to the famous mathematician George Boole, his wife and daughters, and the mathematical objects named after him. You can read the full story (you guessed it) on my blog.

How did you get into science blogging and science writing? What were the early influences on you regarding your blogging style and topics?

I started to blog during my PhD, as an experiment with my own (mathematical) writing. While it was the inspiration from the many science bloggers that made me take the step, there was little inspiration on the math blogging side of things. The big figures like Terry Tao and Tim Gowers overshadowed the community with a style that I had no interest in. Unfortunately, back then there was not a lot going on in terms of sharing and promoting each other within the community. Fortunately, this is very different nowadays.

What is your blog about? Who is your target audience, and why do you think people should read your blog?

My personal blog’s focus is largely on my work and field. Originally, this meant academic life and my work as a grad student and postdoc. But as part of the team at mathblogging.org I also blogged a lot on our mathblogging.org-blog.

Leaving academia, my focus has naturally moved towards my new job. Luckily, this means I write about the technology that enables math and science on the web and seems to remain interesting to some.

How do you spend your time when you’re not doing science or science blogging? Any interesting hobbies?

In my spare time, I’m involved in mathblogging.org, Booles’ Rings and mathtalks.org.

Why did you decide to become an editor at ScienceSeeker? How do you use ScienceSeeker aside from when you’re making your editors’ selections?

When Dave Munger approached me at #Scio12 about the changes coming to ScienceSeeker, I was thrilled to join in this new platform. I had done similar editorial work on the mathblogging.org-Blog and was already spending way too much time reading science blogs ;). Since mathematical blogging is less visible in popular science communication, I was exited to help add to the visibility of the many excellent math bloggers out there, some known and some less known. In the meant time, ScienceSeeker has become my default for catching up on science blogging in general, not the least because of all the fantastic picks from my fellow editors.

As you make your editors’ selections, what sorts of things do you look for? What’s the best way a blogger can get your attention, as an editor?

In my editor’s selections I try to cover the whole range of mathematical blogging – everything from current research debates to introductory pieces to academic life (in particular gender-related) to simple but beautiful visual posts. My advice for bloggers is to focus on what they care about; everything else will follow. In my experience it increases the chance that their pieces are a great read. And I don’t mind reading 100 too highly specialized pieces; it pays off to wait for that 101st one.

Update on ScienceSeeker’s search functionality

ScienceSeeker’s full-text search has been offline since October. As its downtime extends over months and I continue to struggle to put in the new search engine, I thought I’d explain to the community what’s going on.

In October, the site suddenly crashed, and I could not get it back up. Poking and prodding turned up the information that the problem was database access. We keep all of the information about blogs that we index in a local database, and we weren’t able to connect to it. But why not?

I managed to enlist the help of a database expert, who figured out that some of the database queries we were using were extremely inefficient. As more and more slow queries backed up, the system became more and more overloaded. Some queries were running for hundreds of minutes! (I expect none of the users who originated those queries had stuck around to see the results.)

The database expert helped me rewrite the worst offenders, and the site started running smoothly again. But the one query he could not speed up enough was our full-text search query. He looked at it and said, “Why aren’t you using a real search engine? This query is never going to be able to do what you want.”

A search engine. Why hadn’t I thought of it before? There is actually a really excellent free search engine available, Solr. But the down side of search engines is that, by dint of being much more powerful than single database queries, they are also more complicated to run. Over the past few months, I have been trying to snatch a few hours a week to integrate Solr with the ScienceSeeker code, between managing other bugs which appear in the meantime.

And that’s where we stand now: I’m working on it. Hopefully we’ll get search back up soon! In the meantime, we appreciate your patience.

Jessica Hekman
Technical Director and Project Manager, ScienceSeeker

ScienceSeeker seeks a photo / image editor

ScienceSeeker has great content editors who select excellent posts and news items to feature on our home page. Now we would like to give the same treatment to the images that appear on our home page.

Many science blog posts and news articles have great images that go along with them, and we want to make sure more of them are featured on ScienceSeeker. The new volunteer editor’s job would be to identify 5 or 6 images suitable for our home page each week. It only takes a minute to post a photo to ScienceSeeker, so this involves a minimal effort, but it will have a maximal impact.

Qualifications:

  • An active online presence on a blog and / or social networking sites like Twitter, Google+, and FaceBook
  • We don’t require that our editors have PhDs, but the candidates we select will have demonstrated expertise via their blogging or other publication record.
  • An interest and engagement with visual images in science.
  • Enthusiasm for science

If you’re interested in the job, please email dsmunger@gmail.com with a paragraph or two about why you would like to be an editor, and provide a link to 2 or 3 of your own online posts about science that you feel show your interest in visual depictions of science and scientific informaiton. Link your social media feeds and other relevant sites, if any. You may attach or link to a curriculum vitae.

Editors are permanently listed on ScienceSeeker.org, so this position will make a great addition to your CV. We will select the new editor by October 15, 2012.