From a MSc to the MSC: marine biologist Maylynn Nunn joins RealScientists

By now you’re probably getting the picture that as important to @RealScientists as the people who do science are the people who do things WITH science – whether that’s to teach, to entertain, to inform, to set policy – because science doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and if it falls in a forest and noone hears it was it really just a waste of research funding, or something. Science needs allies in those places, who understand why science is important and advocate for its use in decision making. One of our allies is Maylynn Nunn, who’s our curator for this coming week.

Maylynn Nunn

Maylynn narrowly escaped the Attack of the 50 Foot Lampshades

Maylynn grew up as a wild child playing in the mud and hills of Calgary, Canada as a first generation Canadian to immigrant parents from Germany and the Philippines. She was given a microscope kit at a young age and paired with her voracious appetite for books and thirst for knowledge, this set her up for a lifelong love of science.

Maylynn did her undergraduate science degree at UBC in Vancouver in the Natural Resource Conservation programme. Although she dearly loved the scientific side of things, excelling in the lab and in the field but being miserable in lecture halls, Maylynn decided that she wanted to be where the changes were made and decided to pursue a career in policy, specializing in international fisheries and trade. In her view (and ours), someone could be the most brilliant scientist in the world, but that scientific outcomes can be completely ignored if policymakers just don’t take them on board – and this fear of science being ignored drove her to work in policy, to try and create change for scientific policymaking.

After starting out for a few years working as a researcher for TRAFFIC Canada on international wildlife trade and at the UBC Fisheries Centre, an academic research centre for fisheries science and policy, Maylynn moved to the UK to do a Masters of Science at the London School of Economics. This was an MSc but a drop straight into the deep end for a scientist, into the political science world. With a Distinction for her thesis on international shark conservation and trade, after graduating Maylynn was well-placed to take up work with TRAFFIC International in Cambridge as Research Officer on international wildlife trade and fisheries issues. Being with this small, trusted, objective science-based NGO provided amazing opportunities for interaction and work with the European Commission, EU Member State governments, Customs and Police and international delegations at meetings of CITES and the UN FAO.

After a few years with TRAFFIC Maylynn was keen to have more of a fisheries focus and took a role with the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) on their scientific and technical team in London as Fisheries Assessment Manager. After a few years Maylynn moved to Sydney and is now the Senior Fisheries Assessment Manager, Asia Pacific with the MSC, which is the perfect overlap of fisheries science, economics and international policy for her interests.

In this role with the third-party standard setting body, Maylynn oversees independent assessments of fisheries sustainability carried out by scientists around the world, against the MSC Fisheries Standard. Her current fisheries oversight role includes tuna and other RFMO-managed fisheries, as well as all the fisheries in Australia, NZ and the Asia Pacific. Maylynn also develops new policy for the MSC as fisheries science and best practice fisheries management and international standard setting changes around the world, including parts of the current review of the entire MSC Fisheries Standard. She also gives workshops and training sessions to communicate on fisheries science and certification to the fishing industry, fisheries managers and scientists, governments and stakeholders across the Asia Pacific. With a growing interest in science communication, Maylynn is interested in learning more about how to successfully communicate complicated ideas to a wide variety of people in the most effective way – and thinks there should be a specific word for that in the English language.


Here’s a picture (worth 1000 words at current exchange rates) of Maylynn successfully communicating complicated ideas to a wide variety of people in a most effective way. She’s right, we totally need a word for this

She is also passionate about motorcycles, diving, long-distance running, beekeeping, equality, anything science-related (the geekier the better), her husband and her dog and has an alternative career moonlighting as an internationally renowned bellydancer and dance instructor.


Maylynn rides Kawasakis, a brand renown for their reliability

Welcome Maylynn to RealScientists for another curated week of sustainably-sourced awesome!

A PseudoRealScientist no longer: farewell and thanks, Jack Scanlan


Mr Jack L. ‘Torture’ Scanlan, invertebrate molecular geneticist – which is not the same as inveterate molecular geneticist, although in Jack’s case it may be – was good enough to grace us with his presence this week as your host and ours on @RealScientists. This week we discovered the ideal insect to genetically modify to gigantic size in order to smash cities to dust, why Bjork is the patron background music of fly geneticists, how to conceal your swagger while loading electrophoresis gels in front of teenagers, which Drosophila species would win in a fight, what makes a scientist, the secret plans for world domination being hatched in the high-security wing of the Bio21 Institute, and what the DUF family of genes actually does. Wait, scratch that last one. That might take some further work on Jack’s part. There was also unfeasible amounts of gratuitous cross-promotion for Jack’s side interests in the Young Skeptics and the PseudoSciPod podcast. Between that and his own Twitter account you’ve frankly no excuse for not keeping in touch with what Jack’s up to after his curation stint is over. Which it is. No, seriously Jack, it’s over. Don’t make us change the passwords again. Put down the mic and step away…



Jack’s amazing 770+ tweets for RealScientists have been collected in two storify files: Part 1 (Sunday-Tuesday) and Part 2 (Wednesday-following Sunday). Lots of great conversations, photos and links to revisit.

Next week, because we like to change it up at RealScientists, and because what people do with science is to us as important and interesting as what people do to make science in the first place, we welcome Maylynn Nunn, marine biologist and senior fisheries assessment manager at the Marine Stewardship Council, talking about the science of sustainable seafood. Amongst a great many other things, of course!

Force for awesome: thanks and farewell, Dr Peter Ireland

So very, very much fun physics stuff this week on @RealScientists with @Hippopeteamus aka Dr Peter Ireland of the Uni of Newcastle at the tiller. Despite the minor handicap of being several hundred km from his office and lab for the duration of the week (which happened to coincide with a family ski holiday), Pete still managed to take our followers on a road trip through some of the coolest highways and byways of applied physics – from his own interests in foams, bubbles and tribocharging (static electricity to your mum) to simple-but-brilliant dissections of the physics behind lightning, cracking, why glass ISN’T a liquid after all, and how jet fighters with forward-swept wings manage to prevent themselves frisbeeing hopelessly through the air like a ninja star. Usually. Oh, and heaps of photos from his trip to NASA, because NASA.


The topic-based conversations were so great we’ve decided to Storify them separately, as well as our usual capture-all archiving of Pete’s full week (Part 1 and Part 2). These will pop up in the next few hours, so check back later for links to our curator conversations on…

Glass with care: it’s not a liquid after all (so there)

Winging it: the sound barrier, variable-geometry, forward-swept, backward-swept and ‘sticky-outy’ (technical term) wings

Thunderbolts and lightning: very very frightening (tribocharging gets turbocharged)

Fractured fairytales: cracks, fractures and self-healing materials

No need to diss, no need to bring static: tribocharging 101

Thanks once again to Pete for an exceptionally fun week on the account where I’m sure everyone learned a little or a lot about a lot more than a little. Keep following him on his own account, and stay tuned for next week’s curator – evolutionary geneticist and Young Australian Skeptics overlord Jack Scanlan.

Can’t get enough of that wonderful DUF: Jack Scanlan joins RealScientists

Jack Scanlan is a Master of Science student at the University of Melbourne researching insect detoxification genetics, a one-man over-thinking machine, and head editor of the Young Australian Skeptics. Once the LGBT movement succeeds in “destroying” the sacred institution of marriage, he plans on wedding the concept of science. But in the meantime, for the next week of @RealScientists, he’s all yours.

Jack’s research interests include molecular genetics, protein biochemistry and evolutionary biology, and the many ways that they can fit together. This includes things like metabolic evolution, protein family evolution, regulatory evolution, endosymbiosis, plant-insect interactions and xenobiotic detoxification. His Masters research project in the Robin Lab is focused on an uncharacterised phosphotransferase gene family in insects that may be involved in the detoxification of plant defence chemicals, and involves a lot of swearing at questionably-curated insect genome annotations with helpful descriptions like ‘Domain of Unknown Function’. Jack admires biologists who study humans, but falls asleep when he thinks too long about medicine, anatomy or immunology.

Caught the red-eye

Caught the red-eye

The gene family Jack is working on is called DUF227, is most informatively described as ‘a protein family of unknown function’, and may be involved in inactivating the insect moulting hormone ecdysone, hence their description by some molecular databases as ‘ecdysteroid kinases’ – a ‘kinase’ is an enzyme which adds a phosphate group to some other biological molecule, such as another enzyme or a steroid, to change its activity. A ‘phosphatase’ takes a phosphate group away. Some enzymes can do both functions. Together, both classes of enzymes are broadly called ‘phosphotransferases’ and are very important in regulation of development, metabolism and cell signalling throughout all forms of life. Regulating the activity of molecules by adding or taking away a phosphate group is a highly ‘conserved’ (in evolution-speak) process. While DUF227 has been characterised as an ecdysteroid phosphotransferase (read as: insect-steroid phosphate-group-transferring enzyme) in the silkworm, and a version of Drosophila (the fruit fly, which is a ‘model organism’ for insect genetics) DUF227 has been linked to organophosphate insecticide resistance, it’s still broadly unknown what the DUF227 family actually ‘does’ in a biochemical sense in other insect families, or what processes it’s involved in. It’s worth remembering that different families of insects are usually separated by massive evolutionary distances – several hundreds of millions of years, much greater than the differences between (for instance) mammalian groups – so information taken from one species may not be the story across all or most insects.

Passionate about the interaction of science, skepticism, philosophy, religion, media and society, Jack loves to communicate and develop ideas in any way he possibly can. In his non-science-based spare time, he’s partial to pretentious indie music, amateur audio production, clever comedy, iconic British sci-fi, and American political fantasy shows set on and around the fictional continent of Westeros.

When he’s not dictatorially overseeing the Young Australian Skeptics or producing/editing its podcast, The Pseudoscientists, Jack blogs for The Panda’s Thumb and Nature Education’s Student Voices, and has written for COSMOS Magazine as a freelancer. He writes about intelligent design, evolutionary biology and nonsense at Homologous Legs, his personal blog. Jack tweets at @JackLScanlan. He also has tremendous hair.

Jack RS big

So if you don’t know Jack, you will after this week. Please welcome him to RealScientists.

Static-studying symphonic squire from the Shire: Dr Peter Ireland joins RealScientists

One of the minor challenges of @RealScientists is figuring out how to sum up some of our awesome researchers in a handful of words, particularly those whose interests inside and outside research are broad-based and multidisciplinary. This is because words are hard and we suck at them. ‘Molecular parasitologist and education researcher’ turned out to be nowhere near sufficient to summate last week’s curator Dr Andrea Crampton of CSU. Similarly, we’re stumped as to what to call our curator for this week, the inestimable Dr Peter Ireland of the University of Newcastle. Peter escaped the badlands of the Sutherland Shire as a teenager to the sandstone of Sydney Uni, where he completed his BSc (Hons) and his PhD in Applied Physics, which was on impact fracture of glass. After spending a couple of years as stay-at-home-Dad for his two young blokes, he joined the Centre for Multiphase Processes at the University of Newcastle in mid-2004. He has since become a member of the PRC for Advanced Particle Processing and the Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources, investigating the fundamental physics behind a number of processes in the energy and minerals industry. For more detailed info on Peter’s research, check out his profile on the Newy Uni website.

In a professional sense, Peter is a physicist who hangs around with chemical engineers, so the question remains of what to call him. Other than the designated driver.* We fired our usual set of six at him to find out.


1) How did you end up in science?

I’ve been scientifically inclined since I was little. As a four-year-old I used to amuse adults by rattling off the names of the planets in their proper order and even drawing little pictures of them. Later on, I had a very good physics teacher in High School (Mr Bob Childs). Attending the National Summer Science School (now renamed the National Youth Science Forum) in Canberra in 1992 really decided matters.

2) How did you end up in your particular field?

By this time I’d decided that I wanted to pursue my childhood interest in Astronomy/Astrophysics at the University of Sydney. I did undergraduate research on microlensing by dark matter halo objects, and an Honours project on selection effects in pulsar surveys. I then immediately changed field and did a PhD in Applied Physics with Professor Dick Collins (now Emeritus Professor] as my supervisor, studying fracture mechanics under highly dynamic conditions.


I’m on a horse!

After finishing my PhD I moved to Newcastle to be with my wife, and had a career break of three years to look after my two small children. In 2004 I took up a research position in the Centre for Multiphase Processes at the University of Newcastle. The CMPP was set up by Professor Graeme Jameson to study various aspects of the science of particles, foams and liquid/solid/gas interfaces relevant to the processing and separation of mineral particles. I began by studying the forces between solids and aqueous foams, and expanded into work on the mechanical properties of liquid films and foams, and the way in which liquid is transported in foams and froths. Later, I began to investigate the potential for electrostatic forces to be used to manipulate and separate particles. At the end of 2011 I was awarded an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship to pursue this electrostatics work.

3) What’s your current work about?

I work on several quite varied physical systems with applications in the resources and energy area. The first is static electricity, and particularly triboelectrification, a formal term for the familiar process by which materials become charged when they touch or rub against each other. Electrostatic charge generated this way can be controlled and used to move and separate particles, surfaces and liquids, with applications in mineral processing, drug manufacture, nano-devices and a whole host of other areas. Another of my key research interests is liquid films, bubbles and foams – their stability, the way they interact with particles and surfaces and transmit mechanical forces, and the flow of liquid within them. Since froth flotation is one of the main techniques used to extract valuable mineral particles from crushed rocks, this is both a fascinating and economically important area of study.

I’m fascinated by the way in which applied research can yield completely new insights into the physical world. The reverse is also true – every piece of fundamental research potentially contains the seeds of new technologies, processes or therapies. My own work contains many examples. Contact and friction charge, for instance, was one of the first forms of electricity ever subjected to scientific study – the Greeks noted the effects of rubbing textiles on amber over 2500 years ago. Despite this, triboelectrification is still one of the most poorly-understood electrical phenomena – we don’t even really understand why rubbing transfers more charge than simple touching! It’s a great privilege to work in a field where, at the same time as developing new technology, I have the opportunity to cast light on a millenia-old scientific mystery.

Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral. Stolen from Wikipedia, because that’s how we roll

4) You recently visited NASA, what was that about?

The Electrostatics Society of America holds a conference each year in a different city in the US or Canada. It’s a wonderful, friendly, collegial bunch of people. This year, the meeting was at Cocoa Beach, Florida – just down the road from Cape Canaveral! – and was hosted by some of the researchers from the NASA ‘Swamp Works’ laboratories. As you can imagine, electrostatic phenomena, including discharge and tribocharging, are important in almost every sphere of spacecraft and space instrument design. We had the enormous privilege of touring the NASA research facilities and seeing their work first-hand.

5) Newcastle: Why?**

To be with my partner, Carol Duncan! But quickly grew to love the place.

[Carol, who talks to Novocastrians for a living on ABC Radio, is a long-term friend of @RealScientists having hosted Upulie and various RS curators on her radio show.]

6) What are your interests outside research?

My scientific career has nearly been derailed a number of times by my musical interests. I listen to vast amounts of all kinds of music. Since my mid-teens I’ve been writing music too, all of it for my own desk drawer. I play the violin and viola and was a member of the Sydney Youth Orchestra and concertmaster of the Sutherland Shire Symphony Orchestra for a number of years (doing my bit to counteract various stereotypes of the Shire…)

Typical Shire kid: another violined thug. Let’s hope he keeps these unsavoury elements of his past to himself during his week on RS. Peter is an entertaining and worthwhile follow at @Hippopetamus, but for now, people of RealScientists, he’s all yours…

*This is funny because chemical engineers are always drunk all the time. Stereotypes: comedy gold.

**Dr Yobbo would like it known he does not endorse the tone of this question, which was drafted and posed by Bloody Melbournites. Newcastle is feckin’ awesome, even the slightly broken bits.

We are all stakeholders in science: thanks and farewell, Dr Andrea Crampton

So lets start.. Who decides who is a real scientist and who isn’t?  I am a professional scientist because I am lucky enough to be paid…
Science. Once an elite, isolated practice restricted to a few individuals; now, with the proliferation of social media and citizen science and engagement, science is leaving the rarified air of the laboratory and entering the community. So who counts as a scientist? This is the question that our curator, molecular parasitologist and education researcher Dr Andrea Crampton of Charles Sturt University discussed this week on Real Scientists. In her own words, which kicked off a week of fantastic discussion and debate on the account’s timeline:

I come from a long line of real scientists…40,000 years in Australia…fitting for NAIDOC week.  My indigenous ancestors were scientists… Ecologists knew when to move to so food sources could replenish and with the seasons. Fish biologists developed traps and methods. Physicists and material scientists identified the best types of wood and designs for spears, boomerangs scrapers, baskets, mats and housing. The botanists identified plants for eating, for tools, for medicine.  The psychologists (elders) provide guidlines to promote health tribes.

So science has always been a part of human existence, but you can think of it as a method, a way of thinking about the world and understanding it, that has developed and transmitted over time:

Their science badge also comes because they communicated their findings to general community via stories, cultural practices, “rules”…

And it’s this transmission of information that’s lacking today. Increasingly, though, scientists are engaging more with the people who largely fund their work – through official channels as well as ones like RealScientists and communicating this work is becoming a condition of receiving this money from the taxpayer.  As citizen science becomes more and more important, whether in donating computer processing power or observing and collecting information about species in their backyards, people recognize more and more that they are in fact the primary stakeholders in scientific research. Andrea’s interests lie in fostering communication, engagement and exchange between scientists and the community and the various ways this comes about.  So thanks once more Andrea for initiating and driving a stimulating and accessible discussion on science and its messages that concerns everyone on the planet, not just those in the research industry. Because whether funded by government, business, charity or crowdfunding, all of us are the eventual end-users and stakeholders of research.

Keep following Andrea at her own account @csuscitnl; and as usual, if you missed any of the action this week, check out our Storify of her week of curation.
Next up, Dr Peter Ireland, applied physicist and music boffin, joins us from Newcastle.

Research-led teaching meets teaching-led research: Andrea Crampton joins RealScientists

New York, New York: so good they named it twice. Exactly like Wagga Wagga. Or Wagga, to its friends. Wagga is the home – or one of, to be fair – of Australia’s biggest inland university, Charles Sturt University. It’s also the home of our next RealScientist curator, molecular parasitologist and education researcher Dr Andrea Crampton of CSU’s Institute of Land, Water and Society and School of Biomedical Sciences.

Andrea, rather self-deprecatingly, says she got into science because of ‘natural curiosity and no creative talent’, but she’s certainly taken a creative path to where she now is. After completing her BSc in 1994 (working on the phylogeny, or evolutionary relationships, of cattle tick species for her Honours, which she scored a First), Andrea completed her PhD on the genetic basis of pesticide resistance in ticks in 1999, both at the University of Queensland in Brisbane. She then took up a postdoctoral position at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia. Whilst in the USA, she worked on a US Army funded project exploring the genetic basis of the Anopheles mosquito’s immune response to plasmodium infection. This work demonstrated that the genes involved in the mosquitoes’ response to infection are related to the genes involved in the human hosts’ response to the parasite. After 3 years in the US Andrea returned to Australia to take up a postdoctoral position at the CRC for Diagnostics at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane. This resulted in a career switch into chasing humans rather than mosquitoes, on a project seeking to identify SNPs related to human facial characteristics for future forensic uses. Finding humans fairly easy to catch and rather too easily domesticated she moved on to the University of New England in Armidale, NSW where she was given the opportunity to chase sheep as part of an Australian Wool Innovation project on integrated parasite management. The fieldwork component of this project was much more to Andrea’s liking, getting her out of the lab and working directly with the end users of the research, i.e. the primary producers. Then it was on to CSU in Wagga, a return home in a lot of ways – Andrea was born in Tumbarumba, less than two hours drive from her Wagga office (as a fellow country NSW kid, I can confirm that anywhere under two hours away is considered just down the road) and is for the first time in her career close to her family roots.


Within the Institute for Land, Water and Society Andrea is working in water research, again enjoying the contact with end users, in this case consumers of tank water. She is also teaching microbiology and forensic based subjects in several courses. In a broad sense, her work is in two strands – ‘wet’ research stemming from her background as a parasitologist; and ‘dry’ research based on her interest in science education. Fittingly, her ‘wet’ research is literally that:

Analysis of independently managed drinking water: Andrea began this project as a pilot study in 2009. In rural communities, particularly on farms, drinking water is often supplied from tanks, installed and maintained by the landholders. Often, these water supplies are maintained at a relatively poor standard compared to municipal water supplies in urban areas. Andrea’s research interests in this area are in relation to both issues of contamination (for instance, 54% of tanks tested had levels of E. coli above those that would be deemed acceptable in water supplied by governments or other central suppliers in Australia) and that of social awareness (what do the consumers know and what are their concerns).

Effective use of technology to support teaching: Andrea describes her focus in this area as a reflective analysis of online teaching environments following the addition of various teaching tools and strategies. She has a strong interest in the application of effective technologies in teaching science, and in analysis of students’ use of resources and academics’ time. The analyses explore the benefits and pitfalls to students, academics and institutions alike. Andrea won the International Teaching with Sakai Innovation Award in 2009, an international award based on the effective use of technology to achieve a sound pedagogical goal. Below is a brief interview with Andrea talking about her work in this area:

If you’re interested, this is a longer video from the Sakai award meeting of Andrea talking about her teaching, her university and using innovative methods in her 200-level forensic science course.

So in simple terms, why does Andrea love doing what she does?

I get to facilitate the development of great educators and program’s and help bring in best practices from the HE sector to CSU.  I was first a traditional bench scientist who taught but as a researcher I was drawn to investigate the most effective teaching styles, particularly online and thus became a scholar of learning and teaching.  Thus my research moved from molecular parasitologist to learning and teaching including a community aspect around health literacy, ie how the general community integrates health related scientific information. There are days I miss chasing sheep or collecting mosquitoes but I get to work with a great lot of people at my home university as well as across the country.

You can learn more about Andrea’s research on her website or via Twitter. Welcome Andrea to RealScientists for her week of curation!