Possibly Ninja Turtle Power – Mark Hamann joins Real Scientists

Azure, tropical water, golden beaches, turtles…This week’s Real Scientists curator may have the coolest job ever. I know we say that every week, but it’s true.  Real Scientists takes you to sunny, semi-tropical Townsville, Australia to meet Environmental Scientist Dr Mark Hamann (@turtlesatJCU), Senior Lecturer in Environmental Science at James Cook University.  Mark’s research focuses on minimising human impacts to tropical marine wildlife and their habitats.  Originally hailing from Adelaide, South Australia, Mark completed his PhD at the University of Queensland, spent some time in the Northern Territory and went on to work for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. He travelled the Vietnamese coast, talking to people about turtles.  So he got to look at the scientific and social aspects of turtle habitats and conservation.

Mark in water- no ropes JCU

Mark returned to Queensland to research the effects of a new mega-dam on the habitats of freshwater turtles, and ended up staying in Queensland.

Mark has four main areas of research. He assesses the vulnerability of marine wildlife (marine turtles, dugong and inshore dolphins) to climate change, plastic pollution and coastal development. He also gets to attach gadgets to marine turtles and dugongs to study their behaviour in coastal environments.  In looking at how human waste affects the environment, he is developing techniques to quantify plastic pollution in river and coastal environments.  And he also carries out research associated with developing community-based projects for marine turtles in Torres Strait.

As with many scientists who are not lab-based, Mark’s work involves complex environments, systems, varied work and multiple stakeholders:

Within these projects I combine field based and experimental biological science with quantitative and qualitative social science. Most of my research involves working alongside Industry, Government agencies, Indigenous communities and NGOs to strengthen management options for marine wildlife in Australia. I am involved with several national and international marine turtle initiatives. For example I am the Co-Vice Chair of the IUCN Marine Turtle Specialist Group and a member of the IOSEA Marine Turtle MoU’s Science Advisory Panel. I have a great group of post-graduate students who help keep me sane and ensure that I actually go out and look at turtles every so often.

Mark Hamann

We asked Mark how he ended up in science:

My path into science has taken a few turns. I enjoyed science at school, but I did not really think of it as a career because I did not really know what scientists did. I loved the outdoors and the environment and by chance I met some biologists at Innes National Park and after a few camp fire chats I was convinced to apply to a University. I started with an environmental science major at UNE, switched to zoology and biochemistry at Flinders and then did a PhD in anatomy at UQ. I took a similarly convoluted path to from post doc to academic.

So the path to science isn’t always a straight one, but it can mean that you get to combine all your loves and interests in one rewarding career.  Welcome, Mark, and we hope the weather leads  to some excellent turtle photos [Ed: Beach shots will suffice in the meantime].

Bugging out: farewell and thanks to Dr Andy Warren, McGuire Center

Wow. Not much else to say after a full-throttle week of natural history tweetery from Dr Andy Warren, Senior Collections Manager at the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity, at the Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida, Gainesville. Andy took us from the field, through the McGuire’s flabbergastingly immense collection of butterflies and moths, in and around every nook and cranny of the museum, and back out into the field. Along the way we somehow managed to conflate him in our daily Storify updates with Scottish tennis player Andy Murray, which is something of a backhand compliment. For more details on Andy’s research, check out his academic webpage and his collaborative research site Butterflies Of America, and keep following him @AndyBugGuy.

Andy’s RealScientists Storify archive: Sunday | Monday | Tuesday | Wednesday | Thursday | Friday | Saturday

Remember, we’re always looking for new curators @RealScientists – and no, we don’t expect you to tweet as much as Andy! – so if you’re a science researcher, writer, communicator, policy maker or even artist please drop us a line at thisissciencetwitter@gmail.com.

Next, we head from Gainesville to Townsville, to join marine wildlife researcher Dr Mark Hamann of James Cook University, aka @turtlesatJCU

…yes, he’s originally from South Australia, how could you tell? We’ll have more on Mark in our welcome post later today.

RealScientists is on Facebook!

Can this be true? Is this for real? YES. See? We wouldn’t fib about something as important as this. Is RealScientists coming to Facebook the single most significant happening in science communication since (a) the RealScientists Twitter account (b) the pop-up-book version of The Origin Of Species (c) Prof Brian Cox’s last hairdo (d) all of the above? YES. Do we know what we’re doing on Facebook? NOT REALLY. Would we recommend you ‘Like’ us on there so you find out? ABSOLUTELY.


We’re also on Storify. But you knew that, because you’re clever.

That is all. Return to your alloted tasks, humans.

Lord Of The Butterflies: Dr Andy Warren of the Florida Museum of Natural History

A confession. We always start these curator intro posts by saying something along the lines of ‘We are tremendously thrilled to welcome this week’s curator…’ Because, basically, we are. Always. We started this thing because we love bringing science to people, and this is brilliant fun introducing someone new and exciting to tweet for all our @RealScientists followers every week. But even by RealScientists standards we’re tremendously thrilled (maybe that should be in all caps?) to introduce our special guest curator for next week. You’ll remember our friend Phil Torres, who tweeted for us live from the jungles of Peru back in March. Phil, as you may recall from his intro, credits his love for science and in particular for exploring and discovering new species on his friend and mentor Dr Andy Warren, who he first met while taking part in one of Andy’s Butterfly Adventures classes as a seven year old, hearing stories about Andy travelling around the world to exotic locations researching and discovering new species of butterflies.

Well, Dr Andy Warren is tweeting for us this week. ‘Tremendously thrilled’ hardly covers it.


Andy Warren searching for bugs in an Aspen forest, western Colorado.
Photo by Sally J. Warren

Andy’s official title is Senior Collections Manager at the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity, at the Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida, Gainesville. The McGuire Center maintains what is believed to be the world’s largest collection of butterflies and moths (over 8 million specimens and rising.) Andy’s particular interest is in the systematics and biogeography of skipper butterflies, especially Neotropical ones, but in practice he finds himself working on all families of butterflies and moths worldwide.  Andy’s research achievements can’t be done justice to in the space here – for more details check out his academic webpage and his collaborative research site Butterflies Of America – but he has described many new species and genera (and even two new tribes) of Lepidoptera, has over 200 publications in the field, and is the current President of the International Lepidopterists Society, who will be having their Annual Meeting at the McGuire in the last week of June. If my knowledge of that part of Florida is correct* it might get a bit hot and humid in Gainesville in summer, but pretty sure the butterflies won’t mind. Andy is relatively new to Twitter (follow him at @AndyBugGuy), but has been into science communication long before there was a term for it.


Andy Warren catching bugs above treeline in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.
Photo by Thomas W. Ortenburger

* Aforesaid Floridian knowledge is accrued entirely from Carl Hiaasen novels and as such could be entirely dodgy. Your mileage may vary

 Not only will we be likely to get behind-the-scenes tweets from the labs, collections and live butterfly rainforest  at the McGuire Center, Andy’s hoping to take us out into the field with him, as well as behind the scenes of the major flora and fauna collections at the Florida Museum of Natural History. Anyone with an interest in the natural world – stay tuned, this is going to be cool. Over to Andy!

Very GC: farewell Renee Webs


Crikey, this week has fair dinkum flown past like a kookaburra with its arse-feathers on fire and it’s time to farewell bonzer sheila @reneewebs from Rool Scientists. Ay. No wucken furries!

…Sorry, no idea what came over me there. Thanks to Renee Webster for a brilliant week of loose talk and fuelish behaviour on @RealScientists – covering analytical chemistry, GC-QTOF wrangling, T-shirt designing, alternative fuels, being in the right headspace for GC analysis, and how to appropriately fangurl-out while getting autographs from Nobel laureates. I for one now know a hell of a lot more about the art of analytical chem than I ever knew before (as well as confirming once and for all that what I do know is not much of two fifths of frack all.) Credit to Renee for making a complex science incredibly accessible. And for rocking a Buckyball hoodie with a style few of our previous curators could pull off…

770281435As always, if you missed anything from Renee’s week on the account catch up on Storify. Keep following Renee on her blog and on Twitter. Next week: Lepidoptery with Dr Andy Warren. Because lepidoptery is awesome and so is he.

Fuel’s gold: a week with analytical chemist Renée Webster

Life’s a gas (chromatograph) when you’re our next RealScientist curator, Renée Webster of Monash University. As Renée has pointed out at her blog, she’s the very first chemist we’ve had on RS, but not the sort of chemist you can score the proper flu drugs off. Well, not officially. Renée’s an analytical chemist, investigating properties of fuels and lubricants – particularly diesel and aviation fuels – primarily by gas chromatography (GC), a scients-words way of describing heating the veritable bollocks out of a sample of gas and throwing it down a very long narrow tube or ‘column’ to see what stuff is in it (with the properties of individual components – size, charge etc – inferred based on how long it takes to come out the other end.)Renee Other techniques Renée’s lab uses are LC (liquid chromatography, similar to GC but with lower pressures and temperatures) and GC-MS (similar to the above but with a mass spectrometer bolted on the end of the GC to figure out exactly what the stuff is that’s been separated into its constituent parts by the GC column. The sorts of properties Renée’s group are interested in – both from a routine analysis point of view as well as research – are the chemistry of fuels and lubricants, their thermal and oxidative stability, i.e. how long they hang in there or how much they degrade in heavy usage cycles in vehicles or machinery. Renée’s a part-time PhD student and a full-time practitioner of awesomeness who is as excited to be joining us at RealScientists as we are to have her curating this week. We asked her stuff and things and she replied to them like this:

(1) What got you into science?
I think I have to place the blame with my chemistry/physics teacher uncle. I remember when my cousins and I were young he would give us science/maths problems to solve and offered Mars bars as prizes. Strangely, I do remember being given the problems but I never remember a Mars bar materialising… Maybe I never got them right, or maybe the fun of the quiz was enough of a prize for me!
(2) Why chemistry? What fascinates you about it?
Why chemistry? Actually, I think I have some sort of inexplicable fascination with the electron. That virtually all chemical phenomena, the breadth of processes and reactions from the ordinary to the spectacular, are down to the weird behaviour of some sub-atomic particle that we can’t really describe properly yet we still know so much about, is simply amazing to me.
(3) Are there any particular scientific problems you want to investigate? Chemistry ones you want to solve?
This one is super hard. Rather than working on ‘big questions’ fields, I’m actually 100% happy doing the science I am doing right now… I mean, the cool kids in chemistry want to figure out total syntheses of giant complicated molecules, or work on origin of life chemistry, but I’m actually quite satisfied plugging away in my own little niche, that maybe only a dozen other people in the world care about. I am happy when I can apply my skills and knowledge to analytical problems that most people would find quite dull. The cool thing that I love about analytical chemistry is that you can apply it to any area, and this is kind of what I have done in my career already (enviro, forensics, food science – but always analytical chemistry). People always need to know what their stuff is and how much stuff they have.

A 2D chromatogram of thermally oxidised algae derived jet fuel (via reneewebster.com)

(4) How did you get into I’m a Scientist?  How was the experience for you?

I’m really not sure. I think I just saw Kristin [Alford, a previous RS curator] promoting it on Twitter and thought ‘hey that sounds fun’ so I applied. It was a lot of fun, frantic but very enjoyable. I thought I was cool enough to come at least second, but it’s tough being a chromatographer amongst forensic scientists and video game coders.

 (5) Are you doing any other science outreach? Would you like to do more?
I’m partnered with a primary school for CSIRO’s Scientists in Schools, I have a blog lostinscientia.wordpress.com, that’s about it. I’m trying to do more.
 (6) Finally, what do you do away from the lab? Hobbies etc?
Oh dear, here is where I am reminded of how boring I am… I read (science books), watch TV (science shows). Oh, once I saw a movie. OK, serious face. In the summer months I’m playing beach volleyball, in the winter months I follow AFL and go to West Coast Eagles games in Melbourne, I spend A LOT of time with my dog at the beach/park/local cafe strip. My husband and I hang out like boring science marrieds. I like cooking too.

Yes, Renée. Yes you can. Enjoy your week!

Paint me like one of your French scientists – farewell Michele Banks

Blue and green frequently seen together, soft featheredged cats, scarves with echocardiograms – this week with artist Michele Banks has been an eye opener for the Real Scientists community.  Michele came from a management background into art, and then made forays into scientific art.  She’s now a well-established name in science-inspired art, her work gracing the covers of scientific journals, and now, novels.  On twitter this week, Michele shared some of her journey into scientific art with us, how scientific images inspire many of her current works, and the pitfalls and joys of striking out as an artist on your own.  Michele also shared “how to make a kitty microbe,” and gave us a feel for what it’s like to use watercolours, the advantages and limitations:


The Science Online community also joined in with the discussion and Michele demonstrated how one aspect of your work can help you develop others – from writing to outreach to business.  Best of all, Michele became a custom supplier of Celebratory LOLCats to Twitter and Scientists at large, from Paper Accepted Cat, to an actual LOLDingo to Grant Application Cat. So thank you, Michele, for such a unique and refreshing perspectives. It’s not often that we can bridge the gap between art and science especially fine art and science, with such knowledge and humor.  You can keep following Michele’s adventures at @artologica, read some of her articles at The Finch and Pea and buy her art at Etsy.  Thanks Michele!


You can access the Storify of Michele’s week tweeting here.


Next up: HPLC Queen, Renee Webs!

Science as Art – a week with artist Michele Banks

Dustin Welbourne, papparazzo and biogeographer to Australian fauna, has left us after a magnificent week’s tweeting about everything from snake venom, human ears and the magnificent birds and beasts that people our landscape.  This week we take a different look at science: science as art with artist Michele Banks (@artologica).



Michele comes from a totally different and intriguing background to many of our Real Scientists curators.  Training in political science at George Washington University, she followed this with an MA in Russian studies from Harvard and went off to Europe to consult with management firms during changing situation in Russia at the time.  So she got to see first hand the workings and rebirth of Russia in the post-Soviet era.

After spending several years as doing this, Michele got married, returned to her native US, had a baby, packed in the corporate life and picked up a brush.  Intrigued by watercolors, Michele used wet-in-wet techqniues t produce abstract art.  Some of her friends suggested that her work reminded them of miscroscopy images.  So, beginning in 2010, Michele began focusing her attention on scientific themes, particularly cell division and other biological processes.   She has now expanded that to include the cosmos, the human brain and the motions of the human heart – literally.


Michele opened an online shop for her artwork, which has been featured in The Scientist Online, Scientific American, Brain Pickings and BoingBoing, as well as on the covers of scientific journals, textbooks, and James Meek’s novel The Heart Broke In.  She writes a weekly feature, The Art of Science, for The Finch and Pea blog , and is an active participant in the ScienceOnline community. Michele and two other artists are currently working on an exhibit, Voyage of Discovery, which will be shown at the headquarters of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) from January-April 2014. Michele goes into some beautiful detail about her art in this piece by @flyingtrilobite at Scientific American.

We’re delighted to welcome Michele to Real Scientists and look forward to her unique voice and perspectives on science and art.

Damn paparazzi


The hell are YOU looking at

Thanks to @DustinWelbourne of UNSW, ANU and various outback paddocks for his past week curating @RealScientists. Dustin brought his PhD research on optimising non-invasive techniques for detecting animals (such as motion activated cameras and acoustic and ultrasonic recorders) out of the field directly into Your Computer And/Or Web-Accessible Mobile Device, much to the enjoyment of all.


Every day I’m snufflin’

Unfortunately Dustin has had to leave us…


…some folks just plain don’t like their photos taken. We wish Dustin all the best for his recovery and for the rest of his biogeography PhD at UNSW. Stay connected with Dustin on Twitter or on his blog. If you missed any of Dustin’s entertaining week on the account, hit up Storify.

Next week, all the way from Washington, DC: science artist Michele Banks, aka @artologica.