We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Blog: David Shiffman joins Real Scientists

Last week we were mesmerised by the glowing (literally) and incredibly important work on infectious diseases carried out by artist, scientist and communicator Dr Siouxsie Wiles in her New Zealand lab.  This week, we travel to the other side of the world to Miami, Florida, to join the epic David Shiffman of @WhySharksMatter who joins @realscientists as curator.

David with a lemon shark

David Shiffman (@whysharksmatter) is a PhD student at the University of Miami’s  Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy, where he studies the ecology and conservation of sharks.   He’s been named as one of Huffington Posts’s top biologists to follow on Twitter  – so kind of a big deal. Apart form his work as a student and research assistant, he blogs for Southern Fried Science (southernfriedscience.com)  takes classes and community groups out into the field to participate in shark research with his lab, the RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program,(RJD.Miami.edu/participate) . We asked David our usual set of questions or seven:

1. How did you end up in science?
Although I grew up in inland Pittsburgh, I’ve always been fascinated by the oceans. I read every book I could find and watched every documentary, and spent tons of time at the Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium. Through all this, I learned that the oceans are in trouble, and that science-based management is an effective way to help. A career choice was a no-brainer. I decided I wanted to be a marine biologist when I was 6 or 7 years old and chose to focus on conservation issues before high school. 
2. Why sharks? (obviously)
Most boys (and a lot of girls) go through either a shark thing or a dinosaur thing. I did both, and chose sharks. Sharks are some of the most misunderstood creatures on Earth, and they need knowledgeable and passionate advocates. I try my best to help. 
3. Where did you grow up? Where did you school?
I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (go Steelers!) I got my bachelors degree in Biology with a concentration in marine science at Duke University (go Blue Devils!). I got my Masters in Marine Biology at the College of Charleston (go Cougars!) I’m currently working on my Ph.D. 
4. Have you been to Australia? (Because sharks)
Sure have! 3 times, actually. My high school graduation present was a family trip to Australia. We toured around for 2 weeks. Sydney was my favorite city. I also studied abroad for a semester at James Cook University in Townsville, and attended a conference in Cairns. 
5. Tell us a bit about shark conservation.
Most people think of sharks primarily as a threat to people, but cows, dogs, vending machines, and toasters kill more people each year than sharks do. Sharks are in big trouble, though, do to overfishing. 1 out of every 6 known species of sharks and shark relatives are Threatened with Extinction according to the IUCN Red List. 
6. Tell us a bit about your sci comms work
With my blog, Facebook, and twitter, I try to educate the public about marine conservation issues related to sharks. Recently, I used my twitter account to correct inaccuracies during the Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” in real time, leading to an interview on CNN.
Our lab, the RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program at the University of Miami, is heavily involved in both online and real-world outreach. Last year, we took over 1,000 high school students out into the field with us to help catch sharks and learn about the ocean. People can also track our satellite-tagged sharks on our website (SharkTagging.com) using Google Earth. We use our Facebook page (Facebook.com/SharkTagging) to share marine science and conservation news daily.
7. Do you have any other interests and hobbies?
I enjoy SCUBA diving and snorkeling, watching college basketball, and playing with my puppy. 
Don’t worry, Twitter, we’re on the case. We have already demanded puppy photos.  Get ready for @WhySharksMatter. We’re gonna need a bigger everything.

Ain’t hiding that light: Thanks and farewell Siouxsie Wiles!

Fireflies! Who knew they would ever be more useful than as points of beauty in a tropical night? The reaction that results in the emission of sparkly – or more correctly, luminescent light – in those fabulous beetles can be harnessed to measure reactions in experiments. And that’s just what our curator this week past, Dr Siouxsie Wiles does in her lab.  The reaction that converts the substance luciferin into light plus luciferyl adenylate is what her lab uses to see if new treatments work against infectious agents like tuberculosis.  But the luminescence isn’t the most exciting thing about her work. Siouxsie’s lab works on one of the most critical health issues of our time – new treatments for infectious diseases, especially diseases that are becoming resistant to existing antibiotics. This is particularly important in New Zealand, where the rate of morbidity due to infectious diseases is actually on the rise.

So this week Siouxsie took us on a tour of her fabulous work, her lab:


and surrounds and some of the amazing models she uses: Bacteria that produce luminescence for assays (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kP_RaHo1Pmw&feature=youtu.be). The caterpillars of the Greater Wax Moth:


as well as zebrafish embryos and live-tweeted her own lab meeting. Now that is just badass.

Siouxsie also talked about her work on the Animal Ethics Committee and how much effort is required to apply for grants, do the work, supervise postdocs and students and keep the lab going.  Truly heroic.  So thanks, Siouxsie, for taking time out to share your important and exciting work with us at @realscientists and all the best.  Storifys of Siouxsie’s tweets will be available soon in case you need to catch up, and please be sure to follow her regular account @siouxsiew, her blog and her podcast.  We also wish her team well at the Imagine Science Festival  later this year (film: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kP_RaHo1Pmw&feature=youtu.be).


Turn off the lights, and I’ll glow: welcome Siouxsie Wiles to RealScientists

To the extreme, I rock the mic like a vandal… sorry, no idea what came over me there. *cough* I guess it’s because we are incandescently excited to welcome amazing NZ-based microbiologist Dr Siouxsie Wiles of the University of Auckland to RealScientists for the coming week.
Siouxie describes herself as a microbiologist and bioluminescence enthusiast but to others she is “the owner of the pinkest head of hair you’ll ever see”. Siouxsie studied medical microbiology at the University of Edinburgh, UK and did a PhD in microbiology at CEH Oxford (formally the Institute of Virology and Environmental Microbiology). She spent her postdoctoral years at Imperial College London where her work on the bacterium Citrobacter rodentium culminated in winning the inaugural UK National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) 3Rs prize. In 2007 Siouxsie was made a lecturer at Imperial and started the Bioluminescent Superbugs Lab, focusing on a number of important ‘superbugs’ including Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Streptococcus pyogenes. In 2009, Siouxsie was awarded a Sir Charles Hercus Fellowship from the Health Research Council of New Zealand and relocated to the University of Auckland, New Zealand. Her continued commitment to the 3Rs led to Siouxsie being awarded the 2011 New Zealand National Animal Ethics Advisory Committee (NAEAC) 3Rs prize.
glowing petridishes
Siouxsie has a keen interest in communicating science, winning the New Zealand Association of Scientists (NZAS) Science Communication Award in 2012. She is a blogger and podcaster and has teamed up with graphic artist Luke Harris and his team to make a series of short animations describing nature’s amazing glowing creatures and the myriad uses of bioluminescence in science. Their animation on fireflies and NASA (http://youtu.be/UUUytRoI-5g) will be screened at the 6th annual Imagine Science Film Festival (http://www.imaginesciencefilms.com/) in New York in October. Together with Rebecca Klee she is working on an science-art installation for the Art In The Dark Festival in Auckland, their journey to which is documented at http://labtothepark.wordpress.com/. Siouxsie tweets at @SiouxsieW; her lab website is http://www.superbugslab.org/ and sci-blogs at http://sciblogs.co.nz/infectious-thoughts/

So she’s fairly busy, hey. Here’s some cool vids to check out. Firstly, a couple from that animation series:

And one most NZers will remember, her role in the TV ad campaign for the ‘Great NZ Science Project’, the public consulation section of the government’s National Science Challenges project:

Alright stop, collaborate and listen to our Q&A with SiouxsieW:

1. How did you end up in science?
I had a really encouraging and supportive family and biology teacher at school who encouraged me to go to university, At university, it was clear I loved research – I spent my summers working in different labs – so at some point someone suggested I do a PhD. That was when I realised people could do research for a living and my path was set.
2. What keeps you in it?
I love the process of thinking of questions and designing experiments to attempt to answer them. That and the thrill of actually getting the data and analysing it. I’m motivated by the knowledge that so many people are killed by infectious diseases – it’s about 1 out of every 3 deaths worldwide – and we desperately need better antibiotics and more vaccines.
3. What do you like to do in your spare time?
I love playing Lego and doing science experiments with my daughter. But when she is asleep, most of my spare time is spent on communicating science in some form or another, whether its blogging or writing scripts for my glowing animations.
4. Why NZ/Auckland?
I live in Ponsonby in Auckland, a lovely place full of cafes, bars and restaurants. Saying that, it does have a few too many homeopaths and chiropractors but I guess nowhere is perfect. We live walking distance from the university which was one of my criteria for moving here. We moved to Auckland from London in 2009 and after 10 years of taking the tube, I was ready to be closer to work. I work at the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences at the University of Auckland. The Faculty has just finished a four year building project and is looking great – we are in beautiful new open plan labs which are fantastic.
5. If you could do any project, cost no bar, what would you do?
We are actually doing the project that I have dreamed of doing for years, although a scaled down pilot version with almost no budget. If money were no object, we would scale it up! We are interested in watching how bacteria evolve during infection. Bacteria have a number of really useful characteristics that make them ideal for studying evolution: they multiply really rapidly so we can measure change in a short space of time and can be stored frozen in a sort of suspended animation, building up a living ‘fossil’ record which can be regrown and analysed at any time. We are studying the evolution of a bacterium (Citrobacter rodentium) that infects mice using the same ‘modus operandi’ as food poisoning strains of E. coli do in humans. They go in one end… and come out the other! And because mice like to eat poo (more technically known as coprophagia) they easily spread the bacterium to each other. We allow C. rodentium to spread from mouse to mouse to mouse to mouse to… you get the picture, each time freezing bacteria that are shed in the poo. We now have 7 months worth of infections in the freezer and are starting the process of finding out if the bacteria have adapted in some way that makes them able to outcompete the ancestral strain. If we had unlimited funds, we would expand the environments that we are evolving the bacteria in. It would be great not to have to keep applying for money to keep this project limping along!

Please welcome Siouxsie to RealScientists. Let there be light!

The first shall be last: thanks and farewell to Chris Slape from RealScientists

Nice guys finish last. Chris Slape is a nice guy, and he’s happy to be last. Last author, anyway, since that generally signifies progress: from a wet-behind-the-ears student or postdoc to a Proper Grown Up Lab Head/Group Leader Or Acceptable Facsimile Thereof. First author might do all the work, but last author generally has the ideas, gets the resources together, and be runnin’ the game, full stop. Chris had his first manuscript accepted for publication as last author during his week on @RealScientists, which was Big News. However his Nats turned out not to be the 1927 Yankees after all which wasn’t really Big News or any kind of news as they’ve sucked ever since the Nats front office parked Stephen Strasburg late last year on innings counts… (yes, there are only two people reading this who understand this, one is the person it’s about and one is the person writing it.) Still, Chris still seems…



Aside from papers and pitch counts Chris schooled us up on cell culture, chimeras and cancer stem cells, #onsci, the ethics of animal experimentation, the perils of peer review and the FACS of life. If you missed any or all of the above check out the archive on Storify: Part 1 | Part 2

Chris will continue his double-fisted tweeting at his science account @chrisslape and his grumbling-about-the-Nats account @is_chris. Follow them both and make your life more awesome.

Speaking of awesome, next week we have glow-in-the-dark microbiologist Dr Siouxsie Wiles tweeting for us. That’s the microbes which glow in the dark, not Siouxsie. Usually.

Analyse This! Chris Slape joins Real Scientists

From the phanerozoic and Australian fossils fauna to the state-of-the-art medicine, we welcome cancer researcher Dr Chris Slape to Real Scientists.

Dr Chris Slape (@ChrisSlape) is a postdoctoral researcher who has studied the molecular genetics and biology if leukaemia.  Currently, he’s looking at the biochemistry behind the interactions between leukaemia and therapies, trying to understand how the therapies work so we can better design new drugs.  We asked Chris to answer our usual set of nosy-parker questions. Here is Chris, in his own words:


How Did you End Up in Science?

I was always going to be a scientist (or a mathematician) – in high school I loved maths and physics and *knew* (with the wisdom of youth) that I would end up in one of those two fields. I was always disdainful of biology as a field of study, because, at least at my school, it was derided as a “soft science”. During undergraduate university, I took a biology class that framed everything through the lens of evolution, really emphasising why everything is the way it is from an evolutionary point of view. I had never seen it that way before, and I was hooked. The one lecturer who really got me in with evolution was a botanist, which the younger me (and, it turns out, the older me) had absolutely no interest in.

What really motivates you about the work?
I think I’d be happy in any scientific field, really, because the exciting thing is finding out stuff that no one else knows about. Pushing the boundaries of human knowledge. Specific to my field, though, it is a great feeling to know that you’re working towards a cure (or a better understanding that could lead to a cure, however incrementally) for leukemia, which is, as everyone knows, often a very tragic disease.
You’ve  spent some time in America as a postdoc, how did you find it?
I lived and worked in Washington DC for five years. I loved it. Washington is a great city, not as big as I thought before I moved there, but big enough and certainly important enough, and it has so many things to do and see and is so well planned and picturesque … it’s just a fantastic place to live. I’m a big fan of American sports, particularly baseball, and when I moved there everyone was surprised (as was I, a little) that I was moving to an American city without a baseball team (and a stupid football team, but I digress). But then, after my first two years there, the Washington Nationals relocated from Montreal, and I went to *every* game (not really). I also think those five years were the most productive of my career, partly through the support of great mentors and colleagues, and partly through the generous funding, the only time in my career I didn’t have to think about how to pay for an experiment before I did it.
Any hobbies or sport interests we should know about? 
I suck at hobbies and sports. Um. I am a runner, and I have *trained for* three marathons, *started* one and *finished* … zero. Every time I have been injured in the late stages of training. But I am resilient, and will one day do it. I’ve run a few half-marathons, and love just getting outside and getting some endorphins. I don’t really have any interesting hobbies. I like reading, seeing films, usual boring crap. Sorry. I like Batman? Actually the Flash is my favourite comic book superhero. He’s awesome.
You’ve recently gotten into science communication..how and what is it that draws you to it?
Have I? Oh. Um, I don’t know. I guess maybe I spent so long learning about genes and proteins and cells and whatnot, and then I finally felt like I was knowledgeable enough to use that knowledge to do something good with it… but I couldn’t explain to any of my family or friends what it was I was doing, because they didn’t have the same grounding. So I think there’s a real divide between what scientists do and what they can/do meaningfully explain to the public, and it’s closing that gap that is the challenge. I think it’s important that we do close it, or narrow it. So many decisions that we make as a society require an understanding of (a basic level of) scientific knowledge, and I think often the decisions are made in the absence of that knowledge. To society’s detriment. See recent Australian electoral results.
You also recently participated in I’m a Scientist, Get Me Out of Here. How did you find it?
I’m A Scientist was a great experience for me. It was the first formal scientific communication event I did, and the thing that really overwhelmed me was the enthusiasm from the students I interacted with. They actually *wanted* to know and understand what it was I did (along with a lot of other stuff that I didn’t know about and had to google), and that encouraged me to think more about how I, as a scientist, could more meaningfully interact with and inform the public. It’s not easy to do, particularly as no working scientist has a ton of time up their sleeves, but it is worthwhile, important and enjoyable, so I look forward to doing more of it. (Like, can I start tweeting already?)
Yes, you may start tweeting already. We have a cancer researcher you can ask qustions about! Please welcome Chris Slape to the Real Scientists community.

Can you dig? Farewell Sam Arman from RealScientists

Palaeontologist Sam Arman’s week as curator of @realscientists is at an end – barely a wink in geological timescales, but impactful in ours nonetheless. From his own work on using dental microwear texture analysis to investigate the diet of fossil mammals, to discourses on research funding, homebrewing, the RS admins’ prophensity towards spamming people about their pub get-togethers (Sydney’s Harts Pub on Wednesday Sept 25 around half six, since you asked) and why all vertebrates are really just modified fish.


Sam introduced us to techniques old and new, from paintaking brushwork to surface characterisation by confocal microscopy…

wallaby confocal

Catering on field trips came up in conversation…


On the topic of which, if you’re keen to join Sam and company out on a dig, get in touch with the Flinders Uni Palaeontology Society. Buy some of their merch and maybe you can look THIS unconcerned about being photographed drinking on the internet with your fly undone.


If you missed any of the action on the account this week check out Storify:  Part 1 | Part 2

Keep following Sam at @samosthenurus, and keep following us for more live science goodness. Next week: Molecular biologist, leukemia researcher, runner and ideas man Dr Chris Slape.

Hair apparent: welcome palaeontologist Sam Arman to RealScientists

Beards in science. They are a thing, and they are an AWESOME thing. Since our inception, @RealScientists have strived, or striven, or strove… it’s early and I don’t have an operating brain, sorry… to bring you the best scientific beards from Australasia and overseas. Nick Bate. Matt Hill. Peter Ireland. Matthew Francis. Jack Scanlan, if he forgets to shave for a couple of days. And seeing as though Saturday was World Beard Day, it is only fair and appropriate that this coming week brings you a curator with the finest beard ever to grace RealScientists: Mr Samuel Arman, palaeontologist of Flinders University, Radelaide.


Sam’s academic career began studying undergraduate arts and science at Flinders, with a brief sojourn into GIS at TAFE. Undertaking honours in 2010-2011, he looked at scratch marks in Tight Entrance Cave, WA, concluding them to likely be formed by Thylacoleo the ‘marsupial lion’ and Sarcophilus the ‘tasmanian devil’. Beginning a PhD in August 2011, he is currently looking at microwear dietary analysis of kangaroos and what it can tell us about niche partitioning and diet in South Australian Pleistocene ecosystems. He is the proud father of two chickens, plays drums and ultimate frisbee badly and is looking forward to becoming a better speller. In a revolutionary new approach to seeking information for RS bio posts, we asked him questions and he provided answers to them.

How did you end up in science?

I ended up in science much in the same way that I end up in most places: indirectly. I studied a BA majoring in philosophy, very much into philosophy of science and metaphysics, so a BSci seemed the next logical step. Once in science I soon learnt I didn’t have the smarts for my first love of physics, and became much more interested in the weird funny things that come about through evolution. After a lecture on the ‘megafauna’, I started volunteering in Gavin Prideaux’s palaeo lab. Soon I was asked to help out on an excavation in ‘Tight Entrance Cave’, a site that would later be the focus of my honours project on Thylacoleo scratch marks. From there I suppose the rest is (pre)history. I focused on palaeo-related subjects and firmly established myself in the lab, while helping run the Flinders University Palaeontology Society on the way to my current position as a PhD student.

What motivates you as a scientist – ie what is the scientific question you most want to answer?

My main motivation comes from science itself; the things we’ve worked out and the creative means that have been used to make those discoveries. Being able to contribute even in an infinitesimal way to that body of knowledge is both my aim and motivation. In terms of specific questions I actually have none. I simply want to know more about how life evolves, and what we can do with this information to help manage current biota. I am currently a PhD student at Flinders University, looking at determining the diet of kangaroos through dental microwear texture analysis.

What keeps you engaged outside of science?

Outside of science I love being active. I am a lousy leg spinner, a rubbish kick of the footy, an average ultimate frisbee player and an awkward yoga student. I read science fiction, Australian history and bad joke books. I play drums loudly and am trying to learn guitar. I dabble in home brew, gardening, dumpster diving, the Adelaide metal scene, board games and inventions which only I consider useful. I also love going bush, especially if there is a likelihood of finding some old bones.

Sam tweets at @samosthenurus when he’s not tweeting for @RealScientists, which is most of the time. BUT NOT THIS WEEK. Stay tuned and enjoy!