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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)


Art and Science: two sides of the same brain, or co-existing somewhere in the middle?

20 Mar

2013 March19 FeaturedImage(Jane and I have known each other for a few months since we met during a Science Online Vancouver event. Last week we both attended the Science and Arts discussion hosted by Science Online Vancouver at the Science World. I invited Jane to write something about her take on the discussion. Jane is currently a postdoctoral scientist working on cancer research at the University of British Columbia.)

As I attempt to write about art, I must first hereby state a disclosure of potential conflict of interest: I’m a scientist and I tend to approach things from a logical, rather than emotional, standpoint. Like many others who have had scientific training, I take a critical approach to information, which has been instilled in me carefully over the years. This approach can spill over into the way we as scientists see life in general, though the following is told purely from my own point of view.

As I moved through the school system I gained an impression that an artistic nature was an innate talent, present from a young age, which had to be nurtured. I felt certain that I didn’t possess this talent and therefore it could never be learned. I resigned myself to being excluded from that club; art felt uncomfortable to me, because I had no clue how to interpret it, never mind create it.

Science, on the other hand, felt safer, more familiar, probably because it had particular rules and followed seemingly logical patterns. Once the basic rules were learned, it felt like riding a bike. I remember moments of excitement while learning about science in my school days, mostly due to the infectious enthusiasm of my biology teacher when imparting stories about the origins of genetics; but mostly science felt good because if I thought hard about a concept I could understand it well enough to keep it in my short term memory for the purpose of answering exam questions, then ostensibly let it go again. To me, it seemed to require no leaps of creativity or uncertainty. Art felt more and more like a foreign language as time went on, one that I had no hope of learning.

For years after finishing school and pursuing further scientific education, the stereotype of science as representing logic and reason, and art as being creative, entertaining and slightly frivolous, persisted in my unconscious mind. At university, the arts students seemed to spend their time in bars or gadding about town, while we were toiling in lab practicals till late. We were ‘meticulous’, they were ‘carefree’ and whenever we did happen to rub shoulders, they seemed more interesting and worldly. But we still secretly thought science to be a more worthy pursuit in terms of answering the important questions about the world we live in. The two groups seemed to have little in common, even then.

These types of stereotypical ideas of scientists (smart but dull) and artists (flaky but fun) came up again at an event fusing science and art, held by Science Online Vancouver on March 12th. The group in attendance meandered through an exhibition at Science World, which had built sculptures and scenes from everyday household objects and brought them to life with ropes, springs and pulleys – aptly named Creativity in Motion.

The discussion afterwards centred on the boundaries and overlap between art and science. Many questions were raised including the notion that by its nature, science is precise and planned while art is creative and spontaneous; this idea was challenged vigorously by someone who said that the process of creating a work of art is often painstaking and subject to trial and error. It was only when we held up both scientific discovery and artistic creation as processes that common threads really began to emerge and dance together, blurring those lines between left and right brain.

For example, people who like to make craft beer can enjoy using a rigorous scientific process combined with artistic licence, to yield a final product that pleases the senses of smell, taste and touch – in other words, a work of art! Forward planning is an element of both processes, as is creative thinking when something doesn’t go according to plan. Monumental scientific discoveries have been made due to mistakes or lucky chance.

I conclude that to make sense of our world, and keep on improving our surroundings and challenging ourselves, fusion of many different points of view through collaboration is essential. There are intersections where science and art can meet, exchange information and create together, such as the Science and Poetry Mashup that took place at 1965 Gallery in Vancouver this past December. Through widening my personal definition of what constitutes art, and expanding the communities of people I meet and whose work I observe, I’m finally learning that it’s not too late for me to become an artist too.

Jane O’HaraBy Jane O’Hara, PhD. I am a postdoctoral scientist at the University of British Columbia, where I do research on breast cancer biology. I want to use my recently-found love of writing, along with other creative methods, to communicate science. Follow me on twitter @Curious_JaneO.

True Anomalies – Tales from The History of Science [link]

4 Feb

I found Meg on twitter (was answering her question about how the science communication community feels about Up-Goer Five). I went on to visit her blog and was instantly in love with it! She makes videos about how scientific discoveries were made – through demonstrations, through debates between scientists, through serendipitous decisions made, and through animal research (this is such a sensitive topic, but the way she brought this up was really nice – I don’t think I could have done it better myself). She lists her sources very clearly for each video, and often refers to historical documents and images. A poster is made based on each video (or the other way around actually…you will know what I mean when you see the videos) so that you can take your time reading through all the little notes she made. The scripts for the videos are written in a very friendly and approachable tone so it feels like you are listening to Meg telling stories.

Really encourage everyone to visit her blog and follow her on twitter. You can find her second video on discovering the cause of scurvy at the end of this post.

True Anomalies – Tales from The History of Science

Water Balloons, Fire Balloons, and Some Science to Go with Them [videos]

26 Jan

A few weeks ago we ran a really awesome science show on the phenomenal science of fluids! I got inspired to write a little bit about fluids.

In Wikipedia a fluid is defined as “a substance that continually deforms under an applied shear stress.” Translation? A fluid is something that takes the shape of its container. Think about pouring water from a mug to a fish bowl. The shape of the water changes to conform to the shape of the fish bowl.

Now, for a water balloon, what shape does the water in the balloon take? (think about this for a few seconds…) Our outreach coop student Alice took the following slow-motion video of her popping a water balloon.

Did you get it right? So the water actually took the shake of the balloon, suspended in the air for a little bit when the balloon broke, and then dropped down all over (Slow motion videos are so cool, I can watch this for the whole day).

Although when we think of “fluids” we usually think of liquids (water, juice, coffee, and more coffee…), gases are also fluids. When we fill a container with a gas, it conforms to the shape of the container.

Now, what happens when we pop a balloon that is fill with a gas? More specifically, what happens when we light a balloon filled with hydrogen gas on fire?!

This happens really fast! Here is a video taken when my colleague Tamara from UBC Chemistry Outreach lit a balloon filled with hydrogen gas (highly flammable, don’t do this at home!).

So fast that we actually cannot see what really happened without using a high-speed camera to take a slow-motion video. Here is a video about hydrogen-filled balloons from the Period Table of Videos (with additional explanation!).

You can even see a little bit of the outline of the balloon in the hydrogen only balloon video. And it is also very nice to see a scientist talking about the mistake he made in thinking what might have happened and how he went about to test a viewer’s suggestion 😀

Hope you enjoyed them!

Best Science Images from 2012 (this will take you a while)

20 Dec

Caffeine Crystal, credit Annie Cavanagh, Wellcome Images

My grandpa used to own a camera shop. Although I didn’t get a chance to meet him before he passed away, I grew up surrounded by photographers – and that might explain why I have a special connection to images and videos (or why I can hardly remember people’s names but can recall images I have seen – at least that’s my excuse :P).

So, what could be better than wrapping up the year by checking out some stunning science images from 2012? (warning – you might need a whole afternoon to go through my list below)

Start with:

Nature News Images of The Year

A great general collection of 11 images. Nature‘s favourite images of the year. A good intro before moving on to other collections.

Don’t miss the following:

Wellcome Image Award 2012 – Get Closer to Science

16 amazing images, from cancer cells in motion, caffeine crystals, to open heart surgery; images are coupled with background information, interesting scientific facts, and how the images were chosen. This would also be a great site for educational purposes. Even better, images on the site are under Creative Commons License (I am impressed!), so you can re-use the images following their terms of use. (by the way, the featured image for this post is the caffeine crystals)

Magnificent CME Erupts on the Sun (NASA/GSFC/SDO)

Magnificent CME Erupts on the Sun (NASA/GSFC/SDO)

Best Astronomy Images of 2012, Slate Magazine

Chosen by Phil Plait (of Bad Astronomy), one of the most popular science bloggers. Astronomy images are really, really cool…

Nikon Small World Competition 2012 – Top 20 Images 

Images taken through the light microscope. We cannot see it with our bare eyes, but there is an amazing world right around us.

Science Magazine The Year in Science Pictures 2012

A collection of weekly images posted by Science through ScienceShots. These images were chosen because the images are sometimes the stories themselves. Each image comes with a short description (actually, many of them have very interesting research stories).

The Royal Observatory Greenwich Astronomer Photographer of The Year

I mentioned this in an earlier post in October. You can also view a video produced by BBC, with voice over by Chris Lintott and Olivia Johnson.

And if you have more time…

Popular Science 13 Stunning Photos from The Wildlife Photographer of The Year Competition

Australian Geographic Eureka Award – Best Science Photos of 2012

UK Natural History Museum Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year

The Scientist 3rd Annual Labby Award – Best Images and Videos in Life Science

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