Tuesday, January 9, 2018

5 science communication instagram accounts to follow in 2018

Follow me on instagram for more science outreach posts in 2018
One of my New Year's goals is to do more science communication on social media and here on my website. I am off to a good start with the Swimming Bacteria Knit Hat post that explains bacterial swimming that I published last weekend.

As part of my motivation, I took to Instagram and searched through #scicomm posts to find new accounts to follow. Here are a few that stuck out to me. If you have an Instagram account where you share science outreach posts or if you follow any awesome science communicators, please leave the information in a comment below! I'd love to feature more in the future.

Here are a few science communicators to follow on Instagram:

1) Sunburnedscientist - I love the conversational style and questions posed by @thesunburtscientist. Follow this UC Santa Barbara PhD student for some provocative questions and insights into everyday scientific experiments.

Electricity is weird. Can you define it? If I were to try, I’d say it’s the result of a special kind of force that both originates from & acts upon a charged object. • I bring this up because it’s (1) just fun to think about something so abstract yet actually physical and (2) it’s a totally appropriate topic for this image of an electrocuvette. • • • When electric charges move, they form what is called a current. Think: electrons. Why would they move? Well, in my definition of electricity, there’s some force acting on them. Indeed, electricity is the attractive or repulsive effect of a charge on a neighboring charge. But electricity cannot propagate through a vacuum (which here means a space devoid of atoms). Electricity needs a conduit. You know all those warnings on your hair drier, telling you to keep it out of water? Turns out all the dissolved ions found in water (=salt) can conduct charge quite well. That’s because the ions are also charged, meaning they have lonely electrons which are free to move about. The push or pull of an electric field moves these electrons through the material their parent atom is found in... resulting in propagation of the electric field. Thus, electricity is the movement of electrons through a medium of charged atoms. • • Water isn’t the best electrical conduit, though. The best material for conducting an electric current is actually metal. EVERY atom that forms a conducting metal has electrons that can move about, meaning that the entire object is dense with “conductable” material (in contrast the variable number of salt ions in liquid water). Indeed, electricity can be propagated near the speed of light in metal lattices. • • • By now you might have noticed that the cuvette shown above appears optimized for conducting electric currents (you’d be correct). To use this thing, the cuvette chamber is filled with bacteria and an electric field is applied, which opens up the cell membranes and also creates an ionic driving force (the electric field). If we add DNA to the culture prior to applying the current, we can force the cells to uptake that new DNA. Pretty cool, right? 🤙 #Physics + #Biology 😁
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2) Mouse_kween - She only has two posts so far, but I hope to see more from her in the future. She promises to deliver science communication that millenials can relate to.

A post shared by Mouse Kween 🐭👑 (@mouse_kween) on

3) travelingcassin - stories from nature, traveling, research, and life (full disclaimer, Loren is a close friend and my first featured "Scientist in stitches"). I love Loren's nature pictures and accompanying explanations to the underlying science.

4) Katcholamine - Kat has been designing these awesome science "stickers" and animations. If you are a scientist, you will love Kat's interpretation of lab wins and fails. (Full disclosure: Kat is also a friend of mine! I made her this poop hat to celebrate her thesis as one of my #knityourPhD projects.

5) Craftimism! Yup, that's me! I could not resist some shameless self-promotion and as I am gearing up for even more science outreach as well as knitting and craftivism in the new year, you should most definitely follow me on Instagram!
After pic of one of my bacterial growth curve experiments (swipe left to see the before and a side-by-side shot). . I put a small amount of bacteria into some clear media (media = food for bacteria, see second photo). There are so few, you can't even see them and the media is very clear. As the bacteria grow and divide, the media starts to get cloudy (seen in first photo). This cloudiness can be measured with a machine that measures how much light can make it through the solution. For a clear solution, almost all light can go through, but in one with a lot of bacteria, much of the light will be blocked, resulting in a higher density measurement. By taking measurements periodically while the bacteria grow, I can tell how well my bacteria are growing! Fun, right! Look/listen to yesterday's post to see/hear the plate readers in action! ... Each well in this plate has a different bacterial mutant, so I can compare the growth of each mutant to find ones that look different, and then I can look at the mutation to see why they might grow differently. Plus, I am measuring 8 plates at a time to see growth in different media and with dyes to see cell death and energetics. Fun! I'm excited to process the data next week! #scienceoutreach #womeninscience #womeninstem #steminist #scicomm #microbiology #heidithebiologist #biologist #microbiologist #growthcurves #lifeofapostdoc #postdoclife #bacteria #experimenting #experiment #biologist #sciencecommunication #talknerdytome
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Saturday, January 6, 2018

Swimming Bacteria Knit Hat

My latest science knit shows rod shaped bacteria swimming around the brim of the hat. The pattern for this hat can be found here on Ravelry or purchased directly here

These bacteria could be Escherichia coli or Bacillus subtilis or any other rod-shaped bacteria that have flagella over their body. 

Flagella behavior during tumbling and swimming
The flagella on these bacteria are peritrichous, which mean they surround the cell. The flagella are controlled by a molecular motor and the motor can either spin clockwise or counterclockwise. When all of the flagella on the cell spin counterclockwise, the flagella can propel the cell, as shown on this hat. When the flagella spin clockwise, they spread out and thus have no net force so cannot propel the cell anywhere. Instead of going in a direction, these cells “tumble” and basically somersault in the same place to change direction so when the flagella spin the other way again, they can set out in a different direction. These periods of “running and tumbling” allow the bacterium to explore its environment. During this exploration, when a bacterium is swimming toward nutrients, it can adjust the durations of running and tumbling so it is running for longer periods and tumbling less, thus biasing the movement toward the nutrients, in a process that is called “chemotaxis.” The bacteria on my hat are all swimming, although I considered making a version of the hat with tumbling cells as well. 

See the movie below for a video that I took of my favorite bacterium Bacillus subtilis. Some cells are stationary as they are stuck between an agar pad and a glass coverslip while others are in an area that is a bit wetter and they can swim around. This is best viewed fullscreen to better see the little organisms. It is a very short video, so you may have to hit replay to catch the action.

Full disclosure: this video was the result of an experiment that did not work. I didn't let the microscope slide dry enough before imaging and my bacteria were still swimming around. I made the most of the situation and filmed my swimming bacteria for this blog post (and I repeated the experiment to get the information I was looking for). Experiments often do not work or give inconclusive results - we as researchers learn to deal with failure very well and just keep plugging along and listening to the data to learn about the world around us. It is fascinating!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

P*ssyHat by Craftimism

My friend Lala modeling her hat
Okay, okay, so I know I am about a year late to the game posting about the Pussyhat Project. I had heard of the movement before the Women's March last year, but I did not contribute any hats in time for the march. Instead, I made this awesome knit uterus hat for my friend Erin and liked it so much I made one for myself! In February, my uncle requested a "Pussy Hat" for my aunt and I finally made my first Pink Pussyhat! I used the dimensions from the "official" pattern but adjusted it to be knit in the round and my looser gauge. After that, I made another Pussyhat for my friend Lala and I made a few variations of pussy hats for people going to the science march. A printer-friendly version of my pattern can be found here.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Shark Knit Hat

I designed this Shark Knit hat pattern for a friend of a friend who really loves sharks.

As a backstory, the friend (who did not know how to knit at the time) paid for a ridiculously difficult shark sock knitting pattern. He learned that I knit and showed the pattern to me. After laughing and saying I would never make those socks, I said that instead I would design a shark knit hat - as that is more of my thing. I have since taught this friend how to knit. We will see if he ever decides to tackle those socks!

Thus, this pattern was born. You can get it here on Ravelry, here on Craftsy, or buy it directly here. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Poop Emoji Inspired Knit Hat

Dr. Katharine Ng studies the bacteria in our gut (aka poop)
I was inspired to knit this #knityourPhD hat for Dr. Katharine Ng who got her PhD studying how bacteria that live in the intestines respond to antibiotic treatment.

In work published in Nature, Dr. Ng and colleagues found that some pathogens in the gut can gain an advantage by eating sugars from the host. In the gut, there are sugars present but tied up in the mucus that is made to line the gut. Some non-pathogenic ("good") bacteria cut some of the sugars off of the mucus molecules. After antibiotic treatment, two pathogenic (bad) bacteria, Clostridium difficile and Salmonella typhimurium, are able to gain a foothold in the gut by eating the sugars that the good bacteria had liberated from the mucus. Her work provides insights for developing therapeutic treatments to prevent the bad bacteria from taking hold during antibiotic treatments. Read more about her PhD work here.

To study the gut bacteria, Dr. Ng collected a LOT of mouse poop for analysis and sequencing before, during, and after antibiotic treatment. To honor all of the poop collected, I used the poop emoji as inspiration to design this hat with 6 poops around the hat. I added a pom pom on the top for some extra character. You can get the pattern here on Ravelry, on Craftsy here or directly here. Happy stitching!

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Scientists in Stitches - Loren Cassin Sackett, PhD

Loren at the bench in her Prairie dog knit hat

"Scientists in Stitches" is a new series on my blog where I will interview scientists about their careers and the steps they have taken to get there. I have made each of these scientists a knit item that represents their PhD (#KnityourPhD) or career (#KnityourScience). 

This post features Dr. Loren Cassin Sackett. Loren is an evolutionary biologist that does some amazing work studying natural resistance to pathogens using the prairie dog and the Hawaiian 'amakihi as model organisms.

You can follow along with Loren at the links below. Her Instagram feed is especially rad. 
website: http://www.cassinsackett.com 
twitter: (@LorenCSackett) https://twitter.com/lorencsackett?lang=en
instagram: (@travellingcassin) https://www.instagram.com/travelingcassin/

What is your current job title and what do you do in your job?

I am an Assistant Professor in Integrative Biology at the University of South Florida. I spend about half of my time on research and half on teaching/mentoring activities (I teach both mammalogy and evolution). My research is focused on evolutionary processes in wildlife, including dynamics of small populations, adaptation to introduced diseases, and the disruption of gene flow by habitat fragmentation. Given that much of my research is on wildlife, I am in the enviable position of getting to do some field work each year in amazing places like Colorado and Hawaii, although I also do a lot of molecular lab work, data analysis and writing, and above all mentor students in how to do those things.

What is a typical workday for you?

The first and most important part of my day is making coffee.  :)  I bike to work, and then usually start my day by writing something I'm working on (a paper, grant proposal, lecture, etc.).  I start this way because as soon as I open my email, chaos breaks loose (I get about 100 emails a day during the middle of a semester).  I also have a lot of meetings with students.  I teach two days a week and spend those days planning activities, writing lectures, reading papers that are relevant to the course, and grading.  I try to infuse contemporary science into the courses I teach, which benefits the students because they get an idea of what scientists are actually doing in the field/lab, and how they are generating knew knowledge.  And it's good for me too, because it keeps me abreast of the relevant literature.  For me, this is one of the things that I tend to let slide too much when I get busy, so it's nice to have something that forces me to keep reading.  
On the days that I don't teach, I try to pick a specific project to work on so I can make noticeable progress on it.  It's hard for me to multi-task different projects on the same day, so I try to generate some momentum to carry them forward separately.  I still have to answer emails these days, but I spend more time reading abstracts and papers, writing, and planning research projects. Those things pretty much eat up 8 hours in what feels like no time!  I am currently developing a new class, so unfortunately my workday does not end after 8 hours, but I try to minimize the amount of time I spend at home working (work-life balance and all that).  :)

What inspired your interest in science?

Loren with 'amakihi (source)
It had to be my mom and my grandpa, who encouraged me to constantly ask questions about the world around me, and to try to understand the patterns I saw.  I did not recognize this as an interest in science until much later -- in fact, I rebelled against my mother in high school be deciding that I would study psychology.  I obviously did not know exactly what science was!  I think I was probably subject to many subconscious ideas that science was performed by old white-haired men in lab coats in dark windowless labs, and my understanding of science was limited to what I had done in high school courses, so I thought it consisted of essentially doing 30-minute experiments that had no purpose because we already knew what the outcome was supposed to be.  I had no concept that a scientist designed her own experiments to answer her own questions about the mysteries of the world, or that those experiments could lead to fascinating new questions.  But when I finally figured out that research was a career--that a person could get paid to seek knowledge--I knew right away that that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.  My mom and my grandpa probably wondered what took me so long.

I think I was probably subject to many subconscious ideas that science was performed by old white-haired men in lab coats in dark windowless labs ...  I had no concept that a scientist designed her own experiments to answer her own questions about the mysteries of the world, or that those experiments could lead to fascinating new questions.  

What training/education did you do to get to where you are now?
Loren with prairie dog (source)
I took kind of a circuitous path to get here.  I was always passionate about conservation, but I never really knew what types of careers could be associated with conservation work, except some that did not appeal to me (like fundraising from private donors, which is essential work but is better suited to extroverts). I was fascinated by a lot of scientific fields and ended up studying psychology in college, even though I didn't want to be a practitioner.  It was through participating in psychology research that I learned research could be a career.  By this time, I had discovered conservation genetics, and immediately after I graduated, I enrolled in undergraduate courses in biology to get the prerequisites for graduate school (but I never actually got a bachelor's in biology).  I received my PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, and I was lucky to have received really solid training in both ecology and evolution from a fantastic department.  And thanks to the patience of my PhD advisor, I took a lot of opportunities to receive specialty training elsewhere:  I took 2 short courses in Costa Rica through the Organization for Tropical Studies, and I took a leave of absence from CU for personal reasons and audited Alan Templeton's population genetics class at Washington University in St. Louis.  I think it was really useful to gain intellectual perspectives from a lot of very diverse-thinking scientists.  Eventually (!) I finished my PhD and secured a postdoctoral fellowship at the Smithsonian Institution, which is really the dream for a conservation biologist.  One of the things that was important to me in a postdoc was to work in a different system and learn a new skill set.  Not everyone chooses this strategy, because it does take a lot of time to shift systems and techniques, and many postdoc terms are not really long enough for this.  I was fortunate that my PI and I were able to secure funding to keep me there for 3 years, and I learned a lot of genomics tools--which is becoming essential for biologists today. 

What was your best day in science?

Wow, that's a really tough question. I haven't had a Nature paper or anything prize-worthy, but I appreciate the little victories (like an editor choosing my paper to feature on the journal's website) and I love fieldwork. Last year I got to backpack into a field site on Kauai with a 40-lb pack that kept hitting trees above my head level, and army-crawl under fallen logs to get to one of the most pristine places on Hawaii (except for the tourist helicopters flying overhead).  And catching elusive species (like the Kauai amakihi, which we caught only three of in a week) is really satisfying.  When the animals make us really work hard for it, the feeling of success is greater.
And actually, I really like the day-to-day work in almost all respects. I love having students get excited about projects, and getting grants funded is an awesome feeling.  

What was your worst day in science?

Well, some of the same days. Before we caught that Kauai amakihi, it felt like a huge failure and a waste of money to be spending all this time not catching anything. It is always really frustrating having dozens of traps set at a prairie dog colony with dozens of prairie dogs and not having ANY of them go into the traps. The days when you realize rodents are outsmarting you really start to make you question your sanity.
Bad days are also the ones when I get rejected from something.  There's a lot of rejection in science -- rejection from jobs, rejection from grant proposals, rejection of papers.  I try to just assume everything will get rejected, and then I'm not too disappointed when it happens, and if it doesn't, then it's especially exciting.  And I remind myself that everyone gets rejected and not to take it personally.
There's a lot of rejection in science -- rejection from jobs, rejection from grant proposals, rejection of papers.
What do you do in your free time?

I try to stay active and keep my body healthy as a balance to working my brain all day.  I love being outside. Biking makes me feel completely liberated, like I am capable of anything (it's a nice illusion).  Biking--mostly commuting rather than going on long weekend rides right now--is the main thing that keeps me sane.  And I like hiking, rollerblading along the water, running, etc.  I read, but never enough! 

What are your hobbies?

I dabble in photography.  Nothing fancy--mostly pictures from my travels.  I really love traveling.  Well, it's more than love: it's more like an insatiable desire to explore every corner of the planet.  When I see a dirt road winding around a bend, I have to take it.  It's not even a choice, it's an urge I can't control.  I love meeting people from all over the world and seeing the day-to-day life in other countries, and I really appreciate the perspective it gives me on the world. 

7 of Loren's travel photos, 1 from each continent

If you could send a letter back to your 18-year-old self, what advice would you give yourself?

Ha! So many things: Listen to your mother. Practice your Spanish with your classmates. Science is fun, and you can be good at it.


Now it is your time to participate:
If you have any questions for Dr. Cassin Sackett, leave them in the comments below. If there is enough interest, I'll gladly publish a follow-up with Loren so she can answer your questions!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Wonder Woman Inspired Knit Hat

I designed this hat to show my excitement over the Wonder Woman movie. I very rarely go to movies in the theatre but I made an exception for this one and it did not disappoint me. It was such a great story! I particularly loved the development of Diana's character and how she went from seeing the world in "right" and "wrong" to viewing it in complicated shades of gray.

I designed this hat to use a colorwork pattern that was inspired by the original Wonder Woman's costume. The pattern for the hat can be found here on Ravelry, here on Craftsy, or purchased directly here.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Solar eclipse knit hat

Y'all, I am so excited to see the solar eclipse tomorrow! I extended a trip to visit my family for a few days so that I could swing back through St. Louis first just so I could witness my first ever total solar eclipse. I designed this knit hat to mark the occasion. The hat features the path of the moon as it covers the sun. I even embroidered on the corona of the sun onto the hat. If only the solar eclipse was during the winter! Unfortunately, I'll only be wearing this when I am in air conditioned places on Monday, but it is awesome anyways.

You can get the hat here on Ravelry or purchase directly here. It will be free up until the eclipse with the promotion code "Eclipse2017".

Here are some interesting facts I have learned about the eclipse:
1) It is only safe to look at the sun when the eclipse is in totality. It is never safe to look at the sun, but it is even more dangerous during the eclipse because the decrease in ambient light will make your pupils dilate and expose more of the retina. Bottom line: DON'T LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE SUN UNTIL TOTALITY! If you are not lucky enough to be in the path of totality, DON'T LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE SUN!

2) Safe ways to view the sun include special approved solar glasses (my rad ones complement my knit hat perfectly), pinhole camera obscura viewing boxes that project an image of the sun onto the inside of the box, and even using binoculars to direct an image of the sun onto a screen and focus on it. Find instructions for 6 safe ways to view the eclipse here

3) Some animals will begin their nighttime behavior during totality even though it is in the middle of the day. I am particularly excited to witness this occurring.

4) Many people will be participating in citizen science efforts by using apps on their smart phones to record observations during the eclipse. In particular, one project by NASA will be monitoring temperature before, during, and after the eclipse (more information here) and another project from the California Academy of Sciences will record plants and animal behavior during the eclipse (more information here). 

Enjoy the eclipse and the knitting pattern!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Black Lives Matter Knit Hat (#BLM)

There was a white supremacy rally in Charlottesville, Virginia last night. I was disgusted when I heard about it this morning. This cannot and should not be allowed and we need to stand against hate and stand for the equality of all people.

I designed a Black Lives Matter hat a while back and have been wearing it in public for the last few weeks. The events of last night gave me the spur of energy needed to finish writing the pattern.

Also, I included instructions for altering the hat to fit afros. I have very flat hair and my hat designs typically fit those with flatter hair perfectly, but I have not done a good job altering my designs to be inclusive for those with different hair styles. Here are my suggestions for altering this hat as well as any of my other designs to be suitable with afros. Please contact me if you have any other suggestions or guidelines for designing hats for people of color as I had a hard time finding resources for this online and had to consult some friends for advice.

Notes for altering beanie hat designs to accomodate afros: To make a hat that can accomodate an afro where all the hair is shoved into the hat, as a general rule, add 1 inch to the hat (before decreasing) for every 3 inches of afro. The ribbing will need to be tight enough to stay on and you may consider sewing some stretchy satin to the brim. If the wearer intends to wear the hat over an afro with the hair down, the hat should be made wider rather than taller and 1-2 black stitches could be added to one side of each repeat.

Click here to get a printer-friendly pdf of this Black Lives Matter Knit Hat pattern.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Cafe Zoë fundraiser for Willow Oaks Elementary School

Kathleen Daly and her daughter Zoë Sharkey
Source: Cafe Zoë's facebook page
Today I would like to showcase a fundraiser that is ongoing through the end of August at Cafe Zoë, my local cafe.

Cafe Zoë regularly runs fundraisers to provide Willow Oaks Elementary with needed items. Willow Oaks is part of the Ravenswood School District, which, from what I can gather, was the victim of some unfortunate rezoning over 25 years ago after the completion of Highway 101. It appears that some of the more middle class neighborhoods "opted" to join the Menlo Park City School Disctrict (source). Willow Oaks Elementary in particular, was pretty much abandoned by the neighboring communities, whose members must send their kids to schools that are farther away than the elementary school nestled in their neighborhood.

Cafe Zoë is a neighborhood cafe run by Kathleen Daly and it's my regular blogging and knitting pattern writing hangout. Daly has a huge heart and has, along with the patrons of her cafe, adopted Willow Oaks to raise money for items the school needs. In the past, the successful fundraising campaigns have purchased spare school uniforms and choral risers for the children. The current fundraiser is providing art tables to the school. Daly says some of the students are rewarded for good behavior by being able to make artistic creations on posterboard. Currently, the art teacher must push together small desks to make do as the school does not have art tables.
A map showing the communities that "opted" out
of the Ravenswood school district (source)

Daly's daughter, Zoë Sharkey, who manages events took the lead on this fundraiser and recruited local artists (including myself) to donate items to the fundraiser. The artists are displaying their art in the cafe through the end of August and a portion of any art sold will be donated to Willow Oaks. The artworks can be viewed in an album here. If anyone would like to help out with the fundraiser or purchase art, they can contact Cafe Zoë directly here. Cafe Zoë is almost halfway to its goal for the fundraiser and hopes to purchase four art tables for the school.
Craftimism's "Politiknits" items for sale at the Cafe Zoë fundraiser - earrings, pins/magnets, and coffee sleeves

To learn more about Cafe Zoë, check out their website here: http://www.cafezoehub.com/contact/

Here are a subset of the donated works of art: (click here to view all donated art in an album)