After a splendid week (when is it not) following the Boston adventures of physicist Seth Zenz, we return to the Souther Hemisphere for our next curator; biochemist, science communicator and founder of Sciengage, Sam Askin/@samaskin.
Sam hails from the North Queensland town of Townsville, born and bred. Townsville is next to the Great Barrier Reef and home to James Cook University. Sam was always interested in science while in school, but was torn between choosing science or communication design. After deciding on science – “in the end science won because it didn’t ask me for a portfolio!” – he had a bit of a bumpy ride picking a specialisation until he hit his stride in 3rd year. From being bad at chemistry in high school, he ended up as a protein chemist. Sam’s first child was also born just before his final exams.
..”that was an experience! I’ll just say that he wasn’t one of those “sleep all the time” babies. Still, I smashed those exams, and was ready to do whatever it took to support my new family, in or out of science. “
“..I had no intention of doing honours because..but one of my lecturers had obviously seen something in me and convinced me to do the course. I have now been in that same lab for over five years, as an undergrad volunteer, and honours student, and now a research assistant. I have been lucky enough that my boss has essentially handed me post-doc responsibilities despite my not ever undertaking a PhD, and as such I have managed my research projects largely independently, and have been very involved in building the the lab to where it is today. “
What does your research involve?
“Over my tenure I have developed a fluorescence-based protease activity assay (my honours project), a new quasi-universal diagnostic detection platform based on real-time PCR, an affinity-tag-based protein quantification assay, and am now working on protein charactiersation and drug discovery using a whole range of biochemical assays, including a new, high-throughput assay developed in-house. I am working on proteins called biotin ligases, which are critical to eukaryotic and bacterial life, and how they can be targeted in diseases like Tuberculosis and Melioidosis. “
However, Sam’s lab is an example of what can happen in the fickle space of science funding. The lab went from a million-dollar grant to zero in three years, seven staff to zero.
“The entire foundation now having to be rebuilt from scratch as all of our team moves on. I am now stuck in that space many scientists fear but is part and parcel of the industry; the no-contract-what-will-I-do-now-space. Fortunately, during my time at JCU I discovered science communication, and @realscientists, and Twitter! While new to the space, I saw some gaps as I was trying to find people and resources, and went about trying to think of ways that I could address those gaps…”
Cue the birth of Sciengage. So why Sciengage, and why this particular format?
“My vision was to create a single online space that people new to science, or without a vested interest (or with one), or with any level of curiosity, could come and discover many of the awesome science resources already out there. It seemed better to bring this to the world than to try to be another resource telling the same awesome science stories. I also am implementing some intitiatives and talking to some great organisations about filling other gaps in science engagement. I blog on things that follow this space too; consolidating awesome posts on particular topics, areas of the online world science is yet to fully tap into, featuring science art, and science research that doesn’t grab the biggest headlines.”
So, where to next?
“My journey through science is still young but has had its share of twists and turns already…The next month is going to be a big one for me. I am unemployed within a couple of weeks with nothing but a fledgling science startup to boast… who knows what I may end up doing next!?”
Please welcome protein biochemist and founder of Sciengage, Sam Askin!