inside out

Aesthetic Crossovers in Art and Science (VISA2214) allowed me to explore not only the art and science crossovers in the life sciences, but introduced me to a new way of seeing and interpretation by artists and scientists.

One of the assignments was to produce a prototype. As I was still considering the question ‘what is art?’ it took some time to decide on an approach that I perceived as suitable to complete the work. However, the prototype gave me an excuse to review the histology slides from my Medical Technology degree which was an added bonus.

From the many slides, I selected two views and prepared some digital images.

I did not wish to create a temporary piece, so settled on making a paper mache object. My idea was formed from remembering that a long time ago, anatomical models were made from paper mache.

During the lectures and tutorial sessions I learnt that ‘things’ can be be classified into non-human animals and human animals. I decided to create a cat as I thought I could observe my own pets and use the photographs to realise the 3D object. Also, I liked the idea that I was superimposing human animal cells on a non-human animal.

Having not made paper mache before, I found some resources on the internet to provide some guidance. I found the initial making of the shape or form somewhat frustrating, but the layering of the paper mache over some weeks was time pleasantly spent. Time really did slip by as I got absorbed in the project.

paper mache cat (liver cells, naphol green)

Green Cat (liver cells stained with naphol green)

Red Cat (lung cells stained with H & E)

Red Cat (lung cells stained with H & E)

The final part of the assignment was to give a presentation. I took my prototypes in our cat cage covered in cloth. It was quite fun to see my classmates looking into the cage to see if my biological art was alive. My presentation probably does not stand alone, but it is included here as part of the documentation for my project.

Green Cat and Red Cat are not yet completed. I have been asked to consider giving them a face. I’m still thinking on this.

science and poverty

Last week I attended a talk by Prof Peter Quinn titled ‘An overview of modern astronomy and our quest to find the dawn of creation’. It was great to see Peter in action having listened to him on my computer for several weeks during the creation of a storyboard for a video. Face to a voice and all that.

Although I was by now familiar with the content, the questions from the audience (secondary school science teachers) were the most interesting. Peter finished his talk with information about the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). Being that there is much interest in the project as Australia has been shortlisted as one of the two sites identified as potential locations for the SKA.

The question that I have thought the most about was comparing the number of dollars to be spent on science versus that on solving world poverty. The teacher that posed the question asked how do we resolve the amount of money spent on the SKA when $X can address poverty. He also recounted that at another event he attended an audience member had symbolically shown a bowl of rice to question the cost of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

Peter I thought effectively addressed the question, but there is still no answer. In Australia 1.5% of GDP is spent on science. That’s every little bit of science research you can think of including the SKA. Globally, the average spent on science is 2.0% of GDP.

So I think the question of solving world poverty would be better addressed to the people that handle 98% of GDP given that a piece of a larger pie is that much greater. Also, I don’t think you can skimp on science to solve world poverty, and 1.5% of GDP is already too little for science.

a day for everything

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Open Access journals and archives assist me greatly in my research for work, study and various interests. Peer reviewed scientific articles freely accessible online are available to everyone with an internet connection.

I am fortunate that as an enrolled student that I have access to much scientific literature through the university subscriptions, and many are available online either on campus or through a proxy server from my place of study.

However, Open Access journals are preferred and often found first as I am able to search open archives and repositories without needing to go through various proxies and gateways. The huge benefit is that I am able to share my research with others and link to appropriate articles online.

Publications held in databases such as ScienceDirect and Web of Science, I can only share with others that have access through academic and professional libraries. Whereas publications in Public Library of Science or. BioMed Central (BMC) or any of the others listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) are accessible by everyone.

For more information about Open Access, see Peter Suber’s A Very Brief Introduction to Open Access, the Open Access Day web site, and browse journals in the Directory of Open Access Journals.

Happy Open Access Day.

deciding on a research topic

First week of uni and keen to get stuck into the Science Communication – Specialist Research Topics (COMM7402) unit. I’m looking forward to lots of juicy reading of science communication literature in a particular research field. And there comes the crunch.

The prospect of researching the scientific literature, presenting a seminar and writing a literature review does not phase me, but deciding on a topic in which I’m interested that is well documented in peer-reviewed journals seems to be the most difficult.

At the moment I’m attempting to narrow my interests by revisiting some ideas and thoughts that others have expressed online with regard to science communication, how science and technology is communicated, and by whom:

  • Science blogger v. blogging scientist, Clastic Detritus blog
  • The subtitle to FemaleScienceProfessor blog reads: “Women professors in the physical sciences: a few. Women professors in the physical sciences at research universities: even fewer. Women full professors in physical sciences at research universities, especially mine: infinitesimal. But we exist..”
  • The comments that follow the An Early Look at The Future of Science Journalism post that consider science article publishers and where the readers are.
  • Using a self reflective journal to enhance science communication showed that “The use of self-evaluation through reflective journals was found to enhance the effectiveness of tutoring. Implications for developing the ‘human side’ of science will be discussed, and the appropriateness of the course to develop these often under-represented aspects of science.” Is this a style that scientists and researchers can apply when blogging?
  • In Tim Dunlop’s article, If you build it they will come: Blogging and the new citizenship” exploring the idea whether bloggers are the new public intellectuals.
  • Google to Host Terabytes of Open-Source Science Data
  • An increasing number of articles being published in open access journals and repositories, and some organisations mandating open access publication.
  • Research Blogging, a blog that shares and discusses peer-reviewed articles.
  • Thanks to YouTube, Professors Are Finding New Audiences
  • Science in Second Life, for example SciLands to assist in the public understanding of science.
  • National Library of Medicine providing guidelines to cite a blog.
  • Russell Jacoby on Counterpoint, ABC (18 Feb 2008) and his article in the Chronicle Review, Big Brains, Small Impact. Refers to blogs as “private journals with megaphones” and concerned with why public intellectuals are disappearing.

    “Professionalization and academization appeared to be the reason. Younger intellectuals were retreating into specialized and cloistered environments.”

    [...]

    “The new thinkers became academic — not public — intellectuals, with little purchase outside professional circles. While a book by Edmund Wilson could be read with pleasure by an educated citizen, a volume by an academic luminary such as Homi K. Bhabha or Fredric Jameson would give him or her a headache.”

  • Publishing in peer-reviewed papers in recognised journals is stated as the ‘gold standard’ if scientists and researchers wish to succeed as an academic. Little credence is given to writing on the web, yet as one PhD candidate said, she would not have found another researcher in her very specialised field if she had not blogged about her research.
  • Scientists that communicate science well for it to even become popular, have their science questioned, for example, Susan Greenfield who has a well established reputation for public communication.

adapting to change

What does this generation need to inherit the future? was the topic of a public forum hosted by the Ecological Society of Australia at ESA2007 and facilitated by Robyn Williams, ABC Science Journalist.

Panel members included:

  • Hon. Fred Chaney AO, Former Federal Minister and advocate for social justice and indigenous issues
  • Prof Paul Ehrlich, Ecologist and Author, Stanford University, USA
  • Prof Clive Spash, Economist and Author, CSIRO
  • Dr Beth Schultz, Conservationist, Western Australia
  • Dr Carmen Lawrence, Federal MP and Former Premier of Western Australia

Panel members got to speak to the topic for three minutes in front of a single projected image that they had chosen. The most interesting images were that of a tree appearing to grow out of a car fuel tank that accompanied Ehrlich’s talk, and the backdrop to Spash’s talk was a photograph of a face carved out of a mountain on one side and a goat on an unaltered mountain on the other.

A panel discussion was then held, followed by questions from the audience. The panel members then got to summarise the evening with one line.

The evening was unevenly paced with panel members speaking very quickly for their three minutes to fit in all that they wanted to say, and Robyn Williams seemingly unable to instigate and maintain a panel discussion. So it felt like it was more of a question and answer session between Williams and the panel members.

Panel members responded to audience questions and statements, but I feel that we were talking amongst ourselves or preaching to the converted.

All speakers and the audience participation generated interesting and good content for discussion, but probably the three key messages that I came away with were:

  • THE generation were the minority in the audience and there were none on stage, as one young member of the audience articulated well in her statement. Quite rightly, she restated the forum topic and said, ‘noone has asked me’. The only cause for concern is that she also said that she came along to the public forum for the answer to the question being asked.
  • Surprisingly to me anyway, the issue of communicating science was mentioned more than once. The Hon Fred Chaney mentioned in his talk that scientists need to communicate what they are doing with the public. A member of the audience pre-empted her question to the panel by stating that Prof Lyn Beasley, Chief Scientist of Western Australia, was an exemplar of science communication. But unfortunately, some of the audience didn’t get it, and suggested that science communication was happening, just the public didn’t appear to be listening and used the IPCC report as an example. When challenged, the response was, that is what an executive summary is for – all twenty pages?
  • The environment is largely ignored and in general, people are focusing only on the one issue they think they understand, i.e. climate change.

The panel member’s one line summaries were so quick, so please only think of these as a summary of ideas rather than quotes:

  • Paul Ehrlich – we need many more meetings like this
  • Carmen Lawrence – changing people’s behaviour is important
  • Hon. Fred Chaney AO – conversations, equal relationships and justice
  • Clive Spash – adjust institutions’ processes to run the economy
  • Beth Schultz – conservation begins in bed and [ineligible, i.e. my writing not her comment]

The forum was one of those events that you had to be there, and I certainly cannot do it justice here. I’m pleased that I went if only to be with people of like minds talking about environment, overpopulation, biodiversity, climate change, etc. But I did come away with a certain feeling that nothing is going to change having attended this meeting simply because there is no way to follow up. That is, have other meetings, discuss better ways to change behaviour, maintain or improve relationships, investigate current processes, and grass roots initiatives.

The underlying forum topic was the quote by Eric Hoffer:

“In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future.”

There was talk of a podcast up on the conference web site, video up on You Tube, or transcript. If so, I will be able to at least edit the one liners.

in the night time

While staying at Dryandra Woodland we went on a nocturnal tour of the nearby Barna Mia and saw all the animals in the sanctuary except for the western barred bandicoot.

The animal sanctuary is home to five threatened native animals; bilby or dalgyte (Macrotis lagotis), western barred bandicoot or marl (Perameles bougainville), burrowing bettong or boodie (Bettongia lesueur), banded hare-wallaby or mernine (Lagostrophus fasciatus), and rufous hare-wallaby or wurrup (Lagorchestes hirsutus).

We also saw a possum and was told that the fence surrounding the sanctuary to keep out predators (foxes and cats) was also supposed to keep out the possums as they are not considered a native animal facing extinction. I and others thought this odd, considering the surrounding area was their home too, but I suppose possums do tend to be opportunists, and when they know food is going to be available on certain nights of the week, how could they resist.

The tour starts in an attractive purpose built building that was designed to complement the surroundings in an environmental way. Unfortunately, they turn on a generator for the tour to power lights and such, which sometimes was louder than the silence of the bush, rustling of the animals as they came near, and their very noisy scoffing of the food provided.

The sanctuary is not large enough to sustain the population of animals so carefully selected and weighed food is put down for the animals. Uneaten food is removed and monitored. It was fun if not a little weird to see the different animals eating near each other. At one stage, a boodie put its front paws in the dish while it ate as if another animal was going to come along and claim it. In fact, a bilby did come and share the dish for a little while which was strange as it had its own spread nearby including mushrooms.

The paths and animals were lit with infrared lamps and torches so as not to disturb the animals. It was lovely to sit quietly and watch them, but it was frustrating not to be able to take photographs that capture the moment or the animals well. My picture of the bilby I’m happy with because I recognise it because of the long ears.

Years ago, I remember that chocolate in the shape of a bilby was promoted at Easter time instead of chocolate bunnies. The point being that rabbits are a pest and bilbies are native animals in need of protection. I’m not sure how well that message was communicated, but I do remember Mam explaining this to her pre-primary class at the time. Which is difficult, when it gets pointed out that it would be better to have chocolate rabbits as we should eat them instead of the bilbies. Can’t argue with that logic.

Before the walk, we listened to a presentation and learnt more about the area, and DEC’s Return to Dryandra, Western Shield, and revegetation programmes. Returning to the building, we were given the opportunity to purchase souvenirs and look at the building more closely.

Barna Mia is well worth the visit, and consider that DEC can be more confident about taking ownership of their work and knowledge of the area and sharing this more enthusiastically with visitors. Note: You need to book your visit with the Narrogin District Office.

Tours are after sunset. Unlike the animals in the sanctuary, I think Numbats have much more sensible waking hours :)

science communication and education

The Masters of Science Communication and Education was launched yesterday afternoon by Professor Robyn Owen, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research and Research Training) and Professor Lyn Beazley, Chief Scientist for Western Australia.

Professor George Stewart, Dean, Faculty of Life and Physical Sciences was the MC for the event, and other speakers included Dr Nancy Longnecker, Teaching and Learning Co-ordinator/Science Communication Courses Co-ordinator, Rich Weatherill, Director Outreach, Scitech, and there was one other whose name escapes me at the moment. He was either representing the education side of the new masters degree, or the administrative process or committee that got the programme up.

Rich did the sugar in champagne demonstration, followed by the menthos in pepsi, which unfortunately didn’t hit the roof and was a bit of a fizzer.

I found all the talks of interest. Mostly they were re-iterating how few school students go on to do science, mathematics or engineering and emphasised that this was because there were a diminishing number of suitably qualified and enthusiastic science teachers.

I do wonder what is going to happen to Western Australia once we no longer have anything to dig up, as does Professor Dong-ke Zhang from the Curtin University of Technology at the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering’s 30th Annual Symposium “Resources Boom: Opportunities and Consequences” this week.

Science Communication students (current and previous) had red dots on their name tag. The only eek! moment was when Nancy encouraged those without dots on their name tag (most guests) to go and talk to those that did. All of the people that came and spoke to me were very nice and seemed genuinely interested in science communication and the new masters degree.

The event was very pleasant as I got to catch up with colleagues and fellow students some from other cohorts, over a drink and abundant nibbles.