Scientist Without Borders: Marga Gual Soler joins us at Real Scientists

LIVE FROM NEW YORK… sort of… sorry, I just always wanted to say that in an intro. This week, LIVE FROM GENEVA, we welcome Marga Gual Soler, a Spanish-born, Australian-trained, New York-based molecular cell biologist who is currently working as an intern for the United Nations, using her scientific expertise to help define priorities for the UN on science, technology and innovation for sustainable development. Her week of RealScientists curation finds her in Geneva. We’ll explain why shortly. But before that, let me introduce you to Marga!

margagualsoler

Marga grew up on the Meditteranean island of Mallorca, Spain, in a sleepy little fishing village with a tiny library. In a way, she has this to thank for her current career:

I think I became a scientist because, at the age of 12, I had read all the children’s books of the library. Because it was a small village, they did not bring new books very often, so after insisting to the librarian that I wanted something new to read, she pointed at the science shelves, as they could not be too harmful for a 12 year old kid anyway. So I spent the following summers reading about astronomy, botany and zoology.. and I really haven’t stopped since!
QBP2_hiMarga completed her BSc and MSc at the University of Barcelona, and moved to Australia in 2008, first working at LaTrobe Uni in Victoria before ending up in the very shiny and rather pointy Institute for Molecular Bioscience at the University of Queensland in St Lucia, Brisbane. She carried out her PhD research in molecular cell biology in the laboratory of Prof Jenny Stow, studying protein trafficking mechanisms controlling epithelial polarity and morphogenesis, and their involvement in cancer. She was also very active in public engagement and understanding of science through the Science Ambassadors Program and in organizing conferences and retreats for the IMB and the wider scientific community in Queensland.
It’s a long way from Mallorca to St Lucia, and it’s even further to the Big Apple. Particularly if you’re flying economy and the kid behind you is kicking your seat. So we were interested to ask Marga how what inspired her to take such a different path to so many of her fellow PhD graduates, one which led her to the United Nations…
I have a very creative and entrepreneurial mindset, and I am always exploring new avenues and connecting seemingly unrelated topics. Towards the end of my PhD, I volunteered as Global Community Coordinator with an international NGO delivering science education programs to over 25 countries. I saw the great potential of scientific cooperation and diplomacy for global development, so I decided to apply for a placement at the United Nations to further explore how countries can come together to strengthen their scientific capacity. I am glad science is becoming increasingly recognized as a crucial tool to achieve sustainable development in both health and environmental issues, but we as scientists need to work harder to bring science closer to the general public and also to governments and policymakers.
So what brings Marga to Geneva this week? The United Nations Economic and Social Council chose to dedicate their 2013 Annual Ministerial Review to the topic of ‘Science, technology and innovation (STI), and the potential of culture, for promoting sustainable development and achieving the Millennium Development Goals’, which is precisely Marga’s area of interest. In her view, science, technology and innovation can play a critical role in progess towards each of these goals, including access to education, better healthcare, improved communications, agriculture and food security, clean energies and fighting climate change:
Views_of_Geneva
“This meeting represents a unique opportunity for the United Nations to engage with the scientific community to strengthen development strategies. I will be live-tweeting from the ECOSOC High-Level Segment in Geneva and I hope that as a scientist I can provide a unique perspective on the issues that will be debated. Unfortunately, I haven’t met many scientists during my time at the United Nations, so I hope my tweets will spark a communication between both worlds!”
That communication will be at least partly bilingual, as Marga will be our first curator to tweet in a language other than English – something we’re very excited about. Marga is “particularly interested in helping bridge the scientific breach in Latin America.” Technically, she’s between jobs at the minute, so is currently looking for a full-time job or consulting opportunities, particularly at the interface between science and policy. “I encourage anyone interested to get in touch with their ideas or projects, I would love to partner with people and organizations with similar interests to strengthen the voice of the scientific community in multilateral organizations.”
Outside science, her passions are travelling (having visited 27 countries and worked in science on four continents) and scuba diving – perhaps not surprisingly, for someone having been brought up in the middle of the Meditteranean! If you want to learn more about Marga, check out her amazing Vizify portfolio, or just keep following @RealScientists this week as she takes over the reins!
Advertisements

Rollin rollin rollin – Thanks and Farewell, Vanessa Vaughan

Every week at Real Scientists HQ we watch in awe as our curator amazes and engages our fabulous community. This week, we were bowled over yet again – this time by PhD student Vanessa Vaughan’s spectacular turn as curator. Vanessa’s research intersects cancer, chemotherapy, and nutrition: she studies cachexia, a condition that arises in 50% of cancer patients being treated with chemotherapy – muscle wasting, loss of appetite, fatigue are just some of the symptoms. It’s a field that affects so many people.  In a hugely entertaining and engaging week, Vanessa talked us through her research, talked about beer, held forth in several debates on nutrition and cancer, beer, chemophobia, taught us about dosage and poisons and beer.  Mid-week there was dash to Melbourne town for a grant submission and some cake, and insight into the joys [what few there are] and traumas of the PhD experience. Awesome stuff on the importance of mentoring for everyone, whatever your walk of life.  You can review Vanessa’s week of tweets in Storify here.

Vanessa was also possibly the first scientist we have to live-tweet a Real Time PCR.  PCR is an indispensable tool in the repertoire of molecular biology, allowing scientists to amplify small amounts of DNA.  You only need a tiny amount, and the process allows you to generate heaps of DNA from a few molecules.  It’s what makes it so useful in crime scene investigations when there’s only a tiny amount of sample available.  Real Time PCR uses this method to examine what genes are being expressed at a given time, so you can get an awesome snapshot into what’s happening inside a cell in a relatively easy and accurate way – and do so live!    Here’s a sample of the process that Vanessa tweeted – with pictures!

Live, Real Time PCR With Vanessa Vaughan

Live, Real Time PCR With Vanessa Vaughan

BNzzRrTCYAACAxe BNz12RfCUAAoLr5 BNz8RBMCEAA7UbP

There were some animated debates on the importance of diet in cancer prevention, whether organic foods were healthier and safer and if “superfoods” really were, well, super.  It was great to see such a response from the community and we look forward to more of this as the account continues.

We leave you with Vanessa’s words that summarise the discussion around nutrition:  “the Dose makes the poison.”  Thank you Vanessa, for such an amazing week and all the best with your PhD.

Next up, we welcome intern Marga Gual Soler, who took her Molecular Cell Biology PhD to the UN in New York! Hey. Can I get in on that gig…

Science Derby: Vanessa Vaughan joins RealScientists

It’s not rocket surgery to figure out doing a PhD is, in a word, hard. They are brain-breaking, spirit-crushing, life-changing endeavours in human fortitude and determination. They take the very best of the people who attempt them and squeeze every last effort they are able to give. 80 hour weeks. Brain screaming on overdrive. Interrupted sleep. And the drinking regimen is fairly debilitating. So, yeah. PhDs. Really, really hard. Difficult, difficult, lemon difficult. Don’t do one unless you’re completely committed. Otherwise you may well be committed by the end of it.

What’s also hard: hospo. Working in bars. Waiting on tables. Pulling beers. Pulling stupid hours. Dealing with rude customers and obnoxious coworkers, and getting paid two fifths of nowt for the privilege. What does working in hospitality have in common with research, I hear you ask? Apart from the crazy hours, lousy pay and equally debilitating drinking regimen? It has our next curator, Vanessa Vaughan aka @andanin. Because simply doing a PhD wasn’t hard enough, Vanessa began hers by doing it part time while working in hospitality five days a week. That was, until the gods of funding saw the error in their ways in not offering this first-class honours student a PhD stipend and bestowed upon her a highly prestigious Victorian Cancer Council Scholarship… but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Vanessa, in her own words (and some of ours):

Hi, I’m Vanessa, and I’m a scientist.

That’s OK, Vanessa, we don’t judge here.

Ineysa_professional’m a PhD student with Deakin University’s School of Medicine, based in Geelong, an hour South-West of Melbourne, Aus.  I have spent the last 4 ½ years studying a condition of muscle atrophy in cancer patients, known as cancer cachexia. With only a few months of my PhD to go, you could probably best describe what I do as writing lots ‘Molecular Nutrition’: I look at if we might be able to help treat this condition using the active components in our food, looking at the effects at a protein and genetic level, as well as the body as a whole.

Originally, I wanted to work in habitat rehabilitation, finding out about all of the plant and animal species in an area, and how to help them recover from damage or changes to their environment. This is because I grew up in areas where lots of species are under threat from industrial activity and farming, and wanted to help save them. I also wanted to do documentaries on these habitats, like Sir David Attenborough, so people could learn about the impact we have on the environment. I loved science in high school thanks to some amazing teachers who saw I was bored with the basics and threw me massive challenges, like the Siemens Science Experience, and letting me write my thermodynamics essay on how much energy it would take to melt the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Ms Becker, Mr Igoe, Mr Wenzel, I can never thank you enough! After that, it was only a matter of time before research found me. I studied my Bachelor of Science at Deakin, hoping to get into post-disaster/industrial habitat rehabilitation, but my course ended up being more about the human body than ecology and the environment. In my final year, I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Paul Lewandowski’s Molecular Nutrition Lab on a summer project, and they haven’t gotten rid of me since. I finished my Honours with them the following year, and dove straight into my PhD after that.

Cachexia strikes a particular chord with me, because I’ve had family members that were affected. It’s a condition that affects around 50% of cancer patients, and not only reduces the effectiveness of chemotherapy, but decreases survival and quality of life. It’s underdiagnosed, and even when it is, we currently have no globally effective cures. More on this during the week. The interest in nutrition as therapy really comes from my passion for food, and the idea that optimising diet can be a valuable addition to treatment programs.

If you’d like more information on Vanessa’s project, Deakin’s Research Communications wing interviewed her last year on her road to research and her PhD journey so far; their article can be found here.

Aside from doing science, I also love talking about science. As well as professional conferences, I try to get involved with schools, through initiatives like I’m a Scientist, I’ve been lucky enough to be a guest on Science on Top, and I have a blog that (sporadically) discusses my work (and hobbies…).

What about when I’m not working on science? Well…

neysa1

Crazy hair, roller skates, tasty beverages and zombiepocalypse

I’m a roller derby tragic. It’s a fast paced, hard hitting sport, and someone has to keep the skaters under control! Being a bit of a rules nut, earlier this year I decided to become a Zebra (referee), so most afternoons/evening/weekends you’ll find me at training, having a skate along Geelong’s waterfront, or catching games around our region.

neysa_safetyfirst

The new lab safety officer was a bit OTT about PPE

I’m also a bit of a beer nerd. Aside from the obvious reason of being delicious, there is a lot of fascinating science behind beer, and I love learning about how the smallest change in one of the four key ingredients can completely change the properties of a beer. If money were no object, I’d definitely start my own science-based brewing operation, just so I could have my own personal lab.

Craft beer and violence: as a doctor I endorse this. (I’m a terrible doctor.) Cheers to Vanessa, and welcome to RealScientists!

Science straight ahead! Thanks Joel – like the Socceroos, you scored.

ABC radio

The Australian Broadcasting Commission charter states:

The principal function of the ABC is to inform, educate and entertain all Australians.

After a monster week tweeting about science, journalism, radio, interviews, websites and so much more….Joel, we think you’ve managed to show why you’re such a stellar ABC employee.

What was the standout?

Could have been:

music + science = sexy.

Or maybe:

FAT MICE BREED FAT KIDS BUT NOT NECESSARILY FOREVER.

This one is sure to keep cropping up:

What is the difference between science communication and science journalism?

Could be this tip for aspiring radio stars:

You can definitely over edit. It’s bad. Don’t do it.

Admittedly, this was pretty exciting:

Full time at the Socceroos vs Iraq.

socceroos

Then there was the poetic:

The process of science itself is beautiful, and we need to communicate that more.

Joel hopped on board his first science twitter chat, after this:

So, what’s an #onsci?

And gathered a list of preferred science sites and authors (find the list here).

He played his access-to-media-platforms card beautifully, talking about RealScientists on RN Drive Twitterati and appearing on RN Breakfast with Fran Kelly. Excellent, excellent.

But perhaps the most memorable thing this past week was that Joel posted a photo of a weird dehydrated chicken belonging to ABC science journalist, legend and twitter denier Robyn Williams.

chook

What are we supposed to do with that Joel?

All jokes aside: thanks Joel, you’re simply swell. RealScientists was thrilled to have you on board.

You can review Joel’s week in tweets here.

Media Matters – Joel Werner, Journalist, joins Real Scientists

We are delighted and privileged to welcome ABC journalist Joel Werner (@joelwerner) to Real Scientists.  He ‘ll be tweeting live from the road and from the Australian Broadcasting Coorporation’s Ultimo Studios in Sydney, Australia.  Joel comes from a science background, but ended up in journalism through a circuitous route – but we’re going to let Joel tell you his story. Please give a huge Real Scientists welcome to Joel!

“Joel Werner doesn’t like writing biographies in the third person, so – hello! My name’s Joel, and I’m a science journalist.

 

Recording ambient sound in the field

Recording ambient sound in the field

 

 

I was part of the first intake of students to study the B. Psychology at Sydney Uni. I’m sure there’s an appropriate Latin term for that. Lucky an Honours year was required to graduate, as I didn’t really engage with the concept of psychological counselling. I did, however, quickly fall for research during that fourth year, and never looked back. Later, I looked sideways, but we’ll get to that.

After Honours I toyed with the idea of not doing a PhD for a long while (long story), before leaving Sydney Uni to start work as a Research Assistant in the Sleep Disorders Clinic at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.

I worked my way up and into a Research Officer position there, before leaving to work as a R.O. with the Pharmacy Guild of Australia/University of Sydney. I’d physically moved about 300m in a decade.

Finally, I mustered the courage to leave Camperdown, and picked up another R.O. position at the Dementia Collaborative Research Centre, working out of Prince of Wales Hospital/The University of New South Wales.

The work I was involved in at the DCRC was, intellectually, the most fulfilling I’d been involved in. But, there was a problem – throughout my research career, it had often been suggested I should enrol in a PhD while I was working. I never had, and started to ask myself why.

The answer I found was a constant niggle that I wanted to talk about science. Write about science. Communicate science.

I started a Master of Arts (Journalism) at UTS, and soon found a natural affinity for radio production. Years of my 20s, beautifully misspent touring/recording in bands had suddenly paid off. I dropped a day/week at the DCRC and started working as the science/health reporter in the 2ser newsroom. Before too long I got a pitch up at Radio National’s Health Report, and six months later was offered a job as a reporter in the Science Unit.

After a year, I pitched an ‘in-the-field’ environmental science radio show. After a few months development, Off Track was born; a location based half hour weekly mini-doco about nature, the environment, and the outdoors. And so now – that’s what I do. I chat to people in their natural environment about the things they do and turn it into radio. I still make content for The Science Show, because it’s, well, The Science Show, and whenever Norman Swan heads on holiday, I get to take over The Health Report. Which is what I’m doing this week.

I’ll get to all this and more this week. Welcome to the world of science journalism.”

His Dark Materials Party- farewell and thanks Matthew Francis

Dark Matter. It makes up a large bulk of the universe, but physicists are still learning about it.  This week, Dr Matthew Francis negotiated some amazing answers to queries about everything cosmological while partying hard to Bach and 80s pop.  It was a Dark Matter Party here on Real Scientists.

Physics in the Pub

Physics in the Pub

Songlists for writing and laundry featured in what was a big week for science with the Supreme Court of the US’s gene patent ruling and Hug a Climate Scientist Day. We had some great primers to Relativity, Dark Matter and subatomic physics all relayed  with ease and grace while writing for several different agencies as well as his own book.  A Book on quarks for children is one of Matthew’s proposals, and we hope this wonderful idea takes shape for real!

Here is Matthew’s primer on the Twin Paradox – it helps you understand Relativity!  Read from bottom up:

Relativity

Matthew also shared some invaluable advice on writing about science, and we’re going to collect some of that as separate Storifys for you, as well as the Storify for all his tweets this week. It’s been an entertaining week with a bit of a party atmosphere, and we sincerely thank Matthew for his awesome tweeting and enthusiasm this week.  Some day, I hope we can have a party with all our curators, just to say thanks and so your Real Scientists operatives can spend quality time asking physics and cosmology questions. I think Matthew will be DJ for that one.

You can keep following Matthew’s tweets over at @DrMRFrancis and to read more about his work, check out his blog Bowler Hat Science.

Next up, we welcome ABC Journalist Joel Werner!

Is there a Physicist in the House? Matthew Francis joins Real Scientists

Please welcome our next curator for Real Scientists, Dr Matthew Francis. Be-beareded and be-bowler hatted, and hailing from Richmond, Virginia, Matthew is a physicist, science writer, public speaker, and educator. Matthew writes and speaks on cosmology, astronomy, and many other subjects in physics, all aimed at non-specialist audiences. He also directs CosmoAcademy, teaching and organising classes on astronomy and related topics. Just to add to all this coolness, Matthew I have appeared in comics form as Pluto’s moon Nix. And, he’s currently writing a book on cosmology, with working title Back Roads, Dark Skies: A Cosmological Journey.

Matthew Francis and a model of the Universe as we know it, Jim

Matthew Francis and a model of the Universe as we know it, Jim

We are delighted to welcome Matthew on board at Real Scientists. Physics is what underpins every thing in the universe – it’s a huge statement but completely true. Matthew also takes the work he’s done and communicates it to a huge audience, from Galileo’s Pendulum, to covering the physics and astronomy beat for Ars Technica and Double X Science, where he serves on the editorial staff. His writing has also appeared at BBC Future, the New Yorker‘s “Elements”, Wired Science, the Scientific American Guest Blog, Culture of Science, and the 365 Days of Astronomy podcast. Matthew tweets at @DrMRFrancis and blogs at Bowler Hat Science. We’re privileged to have him tweeting for us, so get your sciencey questions ready. Welcome Matthew!