How Not To Be Seen


In this picture there are thirty cameras. None of them can be seen. In this next week, we hope to show you How Not To Be Seen…

This is Mr Dustin Welbourne of the University of New South Wales, Canberra. He is doing a PhD in biogeography, combined with a Masters in Science Communication at ANU. The snake (model’s own) is not, as it is hard to be a science communicator without thumbs.


Dustin, who in certain company answers to ‘Slothhead’, says he’s always had a love of science and nature. “As a kid I would disappear for hours looking for animals and plants. I used to go down to the quarry not far from my home and split open rocks, I always wanted to find a T-Rex…” He never did find a T-Rex.  T-Rexes, for the record, also make terrible science communicators. Tiny hands. Crap at tweeting.

Dustin admits, “My interest in so many forms of science has been a source of contention for deciding what I want to do.” Through high school Dustin became more interested in chemistry and physics and still to this day considers himself an amateur astronomer. Until recently he was the owner and director of the Canberra Reptile Sanctuary, a not for profit exhibit of native and non-native, venomous and non-venomous reptiles. At university he began in biochemistry, but after doing some readings on Malthus, got really interested in big, complex systems, which led him to his PhD field of biogeography. Biogeography is the study of where and why biological organisms are distributed the way they are. As a field, it lies at the intersection of multiple natural sciences such as climatology, geology, geomorphology, ecology and so on, which appeals to Dustin’s generalist preferences. Dustin’s PhD research is on optimising non-invasive techniques, such as motion activated cameras and acoustic and ultrasonic recorders, to detect vertebrates in the field. One of the outcomes of his work is to develop a monitoring methodology that can be used on Australian Defence Force Estates.

Because PhD research by definition turns you into a specificist, Dustin’s satisfied his generalist interests in science through science communication, which he’s exploring in his spare time (PhD students have spare time these days??) in his Masters at ANU. He tweets at @DustinWelbourne and blogs his PhD project and his interests in science/sci-comm at An area of science communication that he is particularly interested in is the use of micro-mentaries, documentaries under 10 minutes, to tell science stories. Last year he won his group in “I’m A Scientist, Get Me Out Of Here” – something he has in common with our most recent curator, Brad Tucker. He’s recently finished the rough draft of a short doco on the nature of controversial issues in science, done on almost zero budget over 3 weeks. Dustin welcomes comments, preferably nice and/or helpful ones, on the draft version: We welcome Dustin and his tremendous beard to RealScientists and wish him all the best for a fun week on the account!

We are all made of stars

“Science should be accessible, not confusing. Scientists are the ones who should be confused, not the public.”

Being that the RealScientists team are World’s Best Practice at the above, we offer heartfelt thanks and farewell to this week’s RealScientists curator Brad Tucker – footballer, Mexican chef, science communicator, supernova cosmologist and Renaissance man of Mount Stromlo. Brad’s spent the week providing our followers with answers to all the Big Questions, like how a meteorite is like a frozen pie, why WIMPs are better than MACHOs, and why astrology pays better than astronomy. Scratch that, none of us can figure out why the hell that is, but it doesn’t say much about society in general. Stay tuned to RealScientists and follow Brad’s personal Twitter @btucker22 for Brad’s further adventures in cosmology, cookery and beagle-wrangling, as well as the results of Brad’s #realscicomp, in which you can WIN FABULOUS PRIZES!!!1! A recap:

The #realscicomp Competition is all about communicating to science communicators how best to communicate science: to enter, tweet @RealScientists or @btucker22 (hashtagged #realscicomp) a way you think scientists can better communicate; or in your view, what is the best way to pass information on, or is there a particular medium that works best – short tweets, articles, talks, pictures, etc.

1st: Private star gazing and tour at Mt. Stromlo Observatory for you + 7 guests. Date to be chosen by winner (with Brad’s advice)
2nd Prize: Framed series of three images from the Apollo 11 missions
3rd Prize: Personalized autographed copy of the latest book by theoretical physicist and cosmologist Lawrence Krauss @LKrauss1
Entries due Sunday, May 5, 9am AEST, winners announced 10am AEST Sunday. Limit 20 entries per person/twitter account. Remember to hashtag with #realscicomp.

Aside from rewarding the winners, all entries will be collated into a list which we hope to bring to you (via Brad) in coming weeks. Thanks again to Brad. If you missed anything from Brad’s week on the account, catch up on Storify:


Hubble Heritage Image Gallery via

NEXT: Citizen of Earth, zoogeographer, and science communicator @DustinWelbourne.

Oh My [Dark] Stars! Astrophysicist Brad Tucker at Real Scientists

The fabulous Mia and Julie of @DoUBelieveInDog have left us bereft, trawling the web for beagle puppy videos and pictures of kittens.  But wait! This week we welcome super astrophysicist and science communicator Brad Tucker to Real Scientists!


Brad Tucker is an astrophysicist/cosmologist at the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Mt. Stromlo Observatory and at the Department of Astronomy, University of California, Berkeley. Hailing from Sacramento, California, as a child Brad had a burning desire to grow up to become  a garbage truck (seriously), as it “was an awesome truck and worked only one day a week.”  When he realized he could not be a garbage truck, he wanted to become a professional soccer player like his father who played professionally in Mexico.  When deciding on where to go to university, the choice was between between going to the US Military Academy at West Point to enter the US Army, or playing soccer at the University of California. However he chose neither and decided to go to the University of Notre Dame in Indiana instead.  We came this close to have a General Scientist, guys.

At Notre Dame, Brad entered the seminary, studying to be a Catholic priest.  In addition to studying for the priesthood, which required studying Philosophy and Theology, he decided to also study Physics.  Something about physics caught his imagination. Eventually, Brad decided the priesthood was not for him, and pursued Physics instead.

While still at Notre Dame, Brad worked on a project in Spintronics, which is a branch of Solid State Physics and Nanotechnology, trying to harness the spin of an electron rather than its charge to fuel technology.  So, while Cold Fusion maybe a distant dream, quantum energy could be a reality, all by changing the spin on an electron. Changing to Astrophysics / Cosmology,  in his second year of university, Brad found his passion: Supernova Cosmology.  While working on Supernova cosmology, the science of how giant stars live and die fabulously, Brad first encountered Nobel Laureate Brian Schmidt, who later became his PhD supervisor.

Brad’s work uses exploding stars to probe how the Universe has grown and evolved.  While working on this project, he moved to Chile and then to Germany to work on other projects (while studying remotely at university).  He graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a Bachelors of Arts in Philosophy and Theology and a Bachelors of Science in Physics, and is still interested in how science relates to religion.

Brad has just submitted his PhD thesis, having worked at Mt. Stromlo Observatory, with some science communication and outreach work on the side, including winning his group in the 2012 Australian version of I’m a Scientist, Get Me Out of Here and hosting Open Days at Mt Stromlo. 

Brad is one of the leads of the project to discover the true nature of Dark Energy, the mysterious substance causing the accelerating expansion of the Universe.  Why and how do stars blow up? What is the Universe is made of? What is Dark Energy  and what lies beyond the Big Bang? Just your usual Sunday evening concerns.

Brad also gets to play with the Kepler Telescope which discovers planets, and works out how to use lasers to zap space junk.  You can read about some of Brad’s other work in @upulie’s article on the Transit of Venus here.

In his spare time as an overachieving astrophysicist, Brad gardens, grows his own veggies, keeps chickens and a very cute beagle, wins competitions on the radio and still plays soccer.  He also cooks for parties, with a special emphasis on Mexican food, which is why he needs to visit Real Scientists HQ as soon as possible for ah, technical reasons.

We look forward to Brad’s week curating Real Scientists. He’ll be talking about his fascinating work, playing with giant and very expensive telescopes, dark matter, farming and food.  Brad may even run a mini-competition of his own – so stay tuned! Welcome, Brad Tucker.

Do you believe in life after dog?

I can feel something inside me say, I really don’t think you’re strong enough… But you’re gonna have to be, because Mia Cobb and Julie Hecht from Do You Believe In Dog? have finished their stint as curators of RealScientists.


Through the week, Mia and Julie played tag team to give us a spectacularly engaging and entertaining 24 hour tweeting experience at Real Scientists.  Their take on the enchanted relationship between man and dog,surely unique throughout the animal kingdom was fascinating. But the subject matter ranged far and wide in behavioural studies, from Currawongs migrating to fruit orchards, teaching Americans about Tim Tams, animal behaviour and welfare, and any number of adorable pictures of dogs.

Dogs. So awesome.

Our very own @sciencesarah put together Storifys of Julie and Mia’s tweets – one for each day! – You can catch up on them through here.

We trust you found Mia and Julie’s 24-7 tweetage on all issues doggy-science-related as fascinating as we did. Keep following them on Twitter, Facebook and their blog(s). Thanks again to (and from) Mia and Julie.


Next up: Astrophysics. Because we can. And because we have Brad Tucker of Mt Stromlo joining us. Stay tuned!

STOP. PUPPY TIME: Mia Cobb and Julie Hecht on Man’s Best Friend

From New York to Melbourne, two canine scientists will, this week, talk to us about Man’s best friend. Oh yes. This week on Real Scientists, it’s PUPPY TIME.

July, 2012.  Two canine scientists, Mia Cobb and Julie Hecht meet at the interdisciplinary Canine Science Forum in sunny Barcelona [Ed: IKR]. Recognising that they share a passion for canine science, good communication, social media and fun, they decide to collaborate. One works in the field of canine cognition and understanding why and how we humanise our canine companions. The other researches the welfare and performance science of working dogs. Different perspectives, mutual enthusiasm resulted in the creation of Do You Believe in Dog?, a unique blog devoted to canine science. In nine months of blogging, they’ve covered topics as diverse as : the science of cute; why dogs are good in times of disaster; how dog poo can be used as an energy source and why people should play with their dogs (for science). They have attracted a Facebook following of over 5,500 people who do indeed, it seems, believe in dog.

So who are our scientists? Mia Cobb and Julie Hecht join us this week to tweet for Real Scientists, possibly at the same time.

Mia Cobb is a freelance animal welfare science consultant, researcher and communicator living just outside Melbourne, Australia. Following an undergraduate science degree majoring in animal behaviour from Monash University, Mia worked at a large animal protection and shelter charity, where she gained experience in a wide range of human-animal interactions and animal welfare issues. She then enjoyed the role of Training Kennels & Veterinary Clinic Manager at Australia’s leading guide dog organisation for the best part of a decade.


In addition to her current blogging and freelance work, she is presently at the sticky end of a part-time PhD, researching the effects of management practices like environmental enrichment on the welfare and performance of kennelled working dogs. Her research has elements of human psychology  – investigating perceptions and attitudes toward animal welfare, ethology (the science of animal behaviour) and animal physiology. Mia’s research was awarded the RSPCA Australia Alan White Scholarship for Animal Welfare Research in 2009. She also leads the working dog group within the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy, a federal government initiative to improve the welfare of all Australian animals, and has managed several national projects over the past five years as part of this role.

Julie Hecht is a canine behavioral researcher and manages Alexandra Horowitz’s Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College in New York. As a science writer, Julie’s column for The Bark covers everything from humping and crotch sniffing to dog daycare and word learning in dogs.

In 2010, she founded Dog Spies with the motto, “What good is all this dog behavior research if it remains holed up in academic journals?” She blogs, lectures and holds programs for the general public, student groups and dog enthusiasts on the science behind dogs and the dog-human relationship. She also crafts courses and curricula on, yes, dog behavior and cognition and teaches Applied Animal Behavior to Anthrozoology Masters students at Canisius College.

Julie Hecht

Julie Hecht

Julie entered the world of dog under the tutelage of Dr. Patricia McConnell at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She received her Masters from the University of Edinburgh in Applied Animal Behaviour and Animal Welfare and conducted research on the “guilty look” in dogs with the Family Dog Project in Budapest.  In March 2013, her blog, Dog Spies, joined the Scientific American Blog Network. Her work has been featured in various print, television and digital media.

So pat your faithful pooch and ask ye questions of Mia and Julie.  With Mia in Australia and Julie in New York, they’ll be a 24 hour tweeting sensation, something we haven’t yet seen on Real Scientists. Can’t wait! [Ed.: You missed a pun there].

We can haz Daz?

RealScientists is waving a reluctant adieu to our curator of this past week, Dr Darren Saunders of the Garvan Institute. Daz’s tweets on cancer biology, anti-vaxers, the parlous state of research funding and what-the-hell-is-an-ORFeome captivated many, as did his tweets on performance enhancing drugs. Sorry, his tweets ABOUT performance enhancing drugs (we don’t want Daz having to front ASADA because of his week on the account.) Check out Spotify to catch up with anything you missed, and follow him @whereisdaz for more of the same.

And now for something completely different. This week, we will be welcoming canine research dynamic duo Mia Cobb and Julie Hecht of Do You Believe In Dog?


Lab on a Chip: Welcoming Dr Darren Saunders to Real Scientists

We are delighted to be joined at @realscientists this week by Dr Darren Saunders/@whereisdaz.  Darren is a Group Leader at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, Sydney, and a Senior Lecturer at the University of New South Wales, working on the molecular genetics of cancer.  His work involves answering questions such as: What exactly causes cancer cells to behave as they do? What happens at the molecular level? And how can we use this information to develop therapies for cancer?


Darren started out with a PhD from the University of Wollongong, moving on to postdoctoral work in Sydney, then Vancouver, Canada.  He returned to Australia in 2010 to embrace the thrills and terrors of his own research group, where the focus is on the cell’s own recycling and garbage disposal system, the ubiquitin-proteasome system.  Keep this system in mind – you’ll be hearing more about during the week!  Basically, he breaks all of the things to find out how they work, all via a silicon chip.  Nifty, huh?



Darren has a passion for science advocacy and communication, which led him to sign up for the inaugural Australian version of I’m a Scientist, Get Me Out of Here. He’s a deputy chair of the Early/Mid-Career Researcher Forum, and actively participates in discussions about careers for young scientists and how the nature of a scientific career is changing.  He’s and advocate for communications training for scientists, and for scientists to me more vocal and present in the public sphere, whether it’s about funding, or to communicate research to the public.  Dr Saunders also writes for The Conversation and recently wrote an excellent primer about the basics of cancer, which you can read here.


When he’s not in the lab scienceing or tweeting about science, he likes to spend time with his two daughters and being active, through bike riding, skiing or bodysurfing.  Welcome, Daz!



Winter is leaving


Dr David Winter has departed @RealScientists after his week’s curation and has sailed off into the sunset. In his wake, we’ve been left inundated with knowledge and insights into evolutionary biology, the place of science in NZ society, the heroic weirdness of invertebrates, and the reinforcement of one of Dr Yobbo’s personal Articles Of SCIENTS Faith, that the world would be a better place if we would only be permitted funding to NEXT-GEN-SEQUENCE ALL OF THE THINGS. Particularly the heroically weird ones.

We wish David all the best with his current work at the Allan Wilson Centre, and with his future endeavours in sci-comm and postdoc job searching. Hire him. He’s good.

If you missed any of the action from David’s week on the account check out Storify. Keep following David at @TheAtavism and keep following us for more insights from the world of RealScientists. Next up, Dr Darren Saunders, functional genomicist extraordinaire of the Garvan Institute in Sydney.