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Introducing “The Lab” – a YouTube comedy series about grad students working in a science lab

10 Sep

What can four busy graduates from the Banff Science Communications Program come up with during a random night of dinner and chats?

This. Introducing “The Lab” – a YouTube comedy series about grad students working in a science lab.

We first came up with this concept about a year ago. After the Banff program, we have all gotten really busy with our lives, jobs, or school work, but the desire to do a project together never left us. That’s when this idea came up. “How about a show like, ‘the office,’ except it is about a lab and the grad students working in the lab?”

All four of us – Suraaj, Agatha, Pam, and I – have experience working in research labs. And if you have met any of us, you would know that the idea of doing a YouTube series totally makes sense. So it started. Script writing meetings, google hangouts, edits, rewrites, …

Those who spend much of their time doing science communication know this – outside of science communication, most of us have other things going on. May it be that PhD thesis, the Post-doc fellowship, a (real?) full-time job, and maybe others. After we finished working on the script of the first few episodes, people got busy, and we all moved on.

But at some point, Suraaj continued – huge kudos to her. By the time that we got another email about this from her, it was a year later, and the scripts for a few more episodes had been written. In fact, she had started looking for actors and actresses for the show.

Unfortunately, Agatha is now all the way in Washington DC for a fellowship program. Pam and I managed to drop by and help out a little, with Suraaj (“the director”) driving the show. And this, is what we got.

So you see, this is not simply a comedy series. This show is about our passion for science communication. This show is about moving on to better things. This show is about sticking to your guns to make something happen. This show is about, on a random night when the 4 of us got together, catching up and talking about science communication. This is what it is about.

Okay, I think I am romanticizing this too much. You can watch the first episode below. Make sure to subscribe to the YouTube channel, to “like” it on Facebook, or to follow it on Twitter. New episodes come out on Wednesdays until Halloween.

(By the way, I will have a little cameo in the show. Make sure to watch all the episodes to find me! Feel free to let us know what you think of the show. And, *screams* man does it feel good to see my name on the screen! :D)

Everyday Science: How to know if your batteries are dead or alive

8 Sep

Running an outreach program, one of the tasks that I get to ask my student assistant to do is to clean up the outreach lab after we run a month of summer camp activities. This involves putting supplies back to their boxes, updating the inventory list so that I can find things around, sharpening all the colour pencils, and…checking whether the batteries are dead of alive. We order batteries in bulk for many of our hands-on electronics activities, and at any given time we probably have 100+ batteries in storage…

Obviously, our go-to is the multimeter (given that it is a physics lab…) and we go by the voltage of each battery, one by one. However, a friend of mine (Thanks Jone!) sent me the following video – a easy way to check batteries, and a bit of science (dare I say physics?) behind it.

(it’s an old video from 2013, but was recently picked up by Lifehacker)

Well, guess this will be a standard video that I will use as part of my student assistant training…!

Field trip at the Chicago Field Museum!

2 Apr

I took a little break before attending two conferences to visit the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. Personally, I am a huge fan of natural history museums in general. Job-wise, it is an opportunity to see what kind of demonstrations and interactive elements museums incorporated into their exhibits. I simply could not miss the opportunity to visit the Field Museum.


The Field Museum was originally born as the Columbia Museum of Chicago after the famous World’s Columbian Expo on September 16, 1893. It was later renamed as The Field Museum after Marshall Field, the owner of several department stores in Chicago at the time and the major benefactor of the museum when it was first founded. The Field Museum is one of the largest Natural History Museum in the US. It hosts over 24 million specimens and objects, and attracts more than 2 million visitors every year. I was told that at any given time, we see less than 10% of all the specimens available at the museum. Pretty impressive.


The Field Museum has a large collection of specimens

Some students visiting the Field Museum. The kid in the photo totally photobombed this :)

Some students visiting the Field Museum. The kid in the photo totally photobombed this haha.

Here are some highlights for me:

Sue the T. rex – Sue is a famous Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton at the Field Museum because it is the most complete T. rex skeleton discovered to date. “It” (the gender of the T. rex is actually unknown) was named after its discoverer  Sue Hendrickson.

At the Field Museum with Sue

Photo in front of Sue!


Sue’s skull weighs 600 pounds, which is too heavy to put onto the full skeleton, so it is actually sitting in a glass cover on the second floor balcony.

The Evolving Planet Exhibit – The Field Museum very wisely incorporated all the dinosaur skeletons into the Evolving Planet Exhibit, so we get to see how dinosaurs and us all fit together in the grand scheme of evolution. Some natural history museums failed to do so, and for me it doesn’t quite make sense to just see all the skeletons in one room without knowing how they are part of the earth’s history. Well done, Field Museum!

I see that someone is having a fascinating time with exhibit...

I see that someone is having a fascinating time with exhibit…

Inside Ancient Egypt – This exhibit is in the basement of the Field Museum (how fitting haha!). It hosts a collection of mummies, as well as the interesting diorama of mummy making…



Wonders of the 1893 World’s Fair – The Columbia World’s Fair hosted 65,000 exhibits in ~200 buildings to celebrate Columbia arriving in America 400 years prior. It was considered the event to see in a life time, and many spent all their savings just for a ticket to the fair. After the World’s Fair, some exhibits remained and became part of the Field Museum collection today. You can find highlights of the exhibit here on the exhibit website.

Using New Technology – Some cases have a QR code, which you can scan with your smart phone for more information. You can also download the museum app and design your own museum tour. Did I mention that there was free Wi-Fi in the museum?

QRCode  MuseumApp

Museum Discount Days – It turns out that Illinois residents can visit several museums and public attractions in Chicago for free on specific days. If you have read my post about museum admission fees, you would know how much I appreciate these discount days can do for science education and outreach.


The Brain Scoop – Okay, this is not really part of the physical “Museum”, but we (conference attendees) were invited to the Nerd Night Chicago before one of my conferences. I had the opportunity to meet Emily Graslie, the Chief Curiosity Correspondent of the Field Museum and the person behind the Museum’s Brain Scoop YouTube channel, in person!


She makes really cool “behind the scene” videos about the Field Museum. I highly recommend that you subscribe to the YouTube channel.

The Field Museum is definitely a must when you visit Chicago. I had an absolutely wonderful time there. Just make sure that you have plenty of time…especially if you are like me, who would attempt to read the descriptions for all the exhibit cases…

Science Communication at the #SharingScienceUBC Conference

31 Mar

My schedule for the past month and a half has been stuffed with conferences – from IPSEC to AAAS, to BC Outreach Workshop and now Sharing Science at UBC – I must admit that I shouldn’t complain about all the great science outreach and communication work I have seen!

The Sharing Science Conference is a science communication conference. The conference was student-driven, organized by the UBC student club Carl Sagan Association for the Communication of Science. This conference was also a collaboration with UBC Faculty of Science, the Science and Technology Studies of UBC Faculty of Arts, and the Beaty Biodiversity Museum.

If you missed the Sharing Science Conference, don’t worry – here is a summary to help you catch up. Click on the image below to access the story via Storify. Enjoy!

Storify - Sharing Science

Link roundup – BICEP2, the Big Bang, and the Inflation Theory

27 Mar

In the past two weeks, the biggest news in science was probably the detection of the comic microwave background pattern (due to gravitational waves from the early universe)  that serves as the evidence for the inflation theory. Ever since the news broke, many people and media outlets have written about this – and here is a collection of the articles if you are interested in learning more about the discovery as well as its impact.

The BICEP2 telescope at twilight, which occurs only twice a year at the South Pole. The MAPO observatory (home of the Keck Array telescope) and the South Pole station can be seen in the background. (Photo credit: Steffen Richter, Harvard University)

The BICEP2 telescope at twilight, which occurs only twice a year at the South Pole. The MAPO observatory (home of the Keck Array telescope) and the South Pole station can be seen in the background. (Photo credit: Steffen Richter, Harvard University)

Original publications on arXiv:

BICEP2 Collaboration, P. A. R Ade, R. W. Aikin, D. Barkats, S. J. Benton, C. A. Bischoff, J. J. Bock, J. A. Brevik, I. Buder, E. Bullock & C. D. Dowell (2014). BICEP2 I: Detection Of B-mode Polarization at Degree Angular Scales, arXiv:

BICEP2 Collaboration, P. A. R Ade, R. W. Aikin, M. Amiri, D. Barkats, S. J. Benton, C. A. Bischoff, J. J. Bock, J. A. Brevik, I. Buder & E. Bullock (2014). BICEP2 II: Experiment and Three-Year Data Set, arXiv:

BICEP2 results: BICEP2 2014 Results Release – including the papers, figures, video (technical and news conference), Q & A, images, etc

BBC articles:

New York Times has a pretty comprehensive story on it along with some graphic explanation: Space Ripples Reveal Big Bang’s Smoking Gun

Nature News has a whole special feature dedicated to this, including Q & A and discussion of implications: Special – Waves from the Big Bang

Some shameless self-promotion / Canadian context: My department got a little bit of attention because one of our faculty members, Dr. Mark Halpern, is one of the co-authors of the BICEP2 papers (I believe there are also collaborators from the University Toronto). Here are some interviews with Mark.

Now let’s be cautious here: 

Matt Strassler, theoretical physicist and a visiting scholar at Harvard, put together some posts about the BICEP2 results in his blog post If It Holds Up, What Might BICEP2′s Discovery Mean?. He is “cautiously optimistic” at the moment, which is a good place to be for scientists 🙂  His posts have more scientific content, but you can find a lot of background information on his site (mostly hyperlinked throughout his posts. You can also just start from the March 17th post).

Neil Turok, the Director of Canada’s Perimeter Institute, “urges caution on BICEP2 results” in a article. Granted, he is not exactly a supporter of the inflation theory to begin with – he has a bet with Stephen Hawking on it, and Hawking is now claiming vistory. If you scroll down to the middle of the BBC article Cosmic inflation: ‘Spectacular’ discovery hailed, you can find a sound clip of Stephen Hawking and Neil Turok’s perspectives on the BICEP2 evidence (Hawking: I won! Turok: Not yet!).

This crazy Universe – or universes? Sean Carroll from Caltech wrote about the evidence for inflation and its implication for “multiverse” in New York Times Opinionator article When Nature Looks Unnatural (A shorter highlight could be found on io9). He also expanded on the topic on his personal blog, The Preposterous Universe.

Onto the lighter side of things: See how Andrei Linde, one of the main authors of the inflation theory, reacted to the news re: BICEP2 results delivered by Chao-Lin Kuo, a co-author of the BICEP2 papers.

If you have any additional resources or articles to add, please feel free to comment below. Otherwise, enjoy!

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