Better living through neuroinformatics: Helena Ledmyr joins RealScientists

Our curator this coming week is Helena Ledmyr, Development Officer at the International Neuroinformatics Coordinating Facility, based at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden. The aim of neuroinformatics is to integrate information across many different disciplines of neuroscience – cellular, molecular, genetic and so on – to help better understand the brain and treat disease. We’ll let Helena tell us a little about herself:

helenaI’m a molecular biologist with a PhD in genetics. Or actually, cardiovascular medicine, but it always felt like I learned more genetics than medicine as a PhD student. My project focused on polymorphisms in a gene that is involved with lipid metabolism, and their effect on cardiovascular medicine. After doing a post-doc on gene therapy (also applied on cardiovascular disease), I started working with science administration and communication at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. I enjoyed working at the academy; some of the highlights include the teacher’s prize, the energy committee and being part of the start-up of the Young Academy. The RSAS is also where I got involved with the Molecular Frontiers Foundation, which aims to make the molecular sciences more appealing to the public, especially kids. I’m still volunteering for MFF, which is a lot of fun.

After 3 years at the academy I was recruited to the International Neuroinformatics Coordinating Facility (INCF), where I work with development and outreach. INCF coordinates informatics infrastructure for neuroscience data integration, and manages scientific programs to develop standards for data sharing, analysis, modeling and simulation.


How did you end up in science?

My grandpa. And dinosaurs.

My grandpa because he taught me about everyday science – plant physiology (you have to help me pollinate the plum tree so we get plums this year, the bees are taking detours around it!), herpetology (don’t worry, that snake is not poisonous), physics (the center of gravity is too high, you have to stack the wood differently), and nutrition (you don’t have to chew ice cream! this is taking too long!). He also saved his popular science magazines for my visits, so there would always be a whole stack of them for me to read.

Dinosaurs because the Stockholm University catalog actually mentioned Jurassic Park in the description of the molecular biology program. So I had to do it.

What influenced you to pursue genetics?

Not the smell in the Drosophila incubator, that’s for sure. But I enjoyed working with DNA as an undergrad, and testing & perfecting genetic methods as a grad student was one of my favorite things to do. I did a lot of sub-cloning (is it still called that?) and the whole cut & paste concept that’s possible with DNA always fascinated me.

How did you get involved in outreach?

At the RSAS, working with scientific symposia and scientific prizes. I enjoy outreach because I get to talk about things I’m passionate about, and it’s also an outlet for my creative side (doing layout of posters, brochures etc.).


As many as I can! I make jewelry, I crochet, I bake, I run, I read a lot of books, I watch a lot of scifi, I go to concerts…

Helena usually tweets at @Helena_LB, and for Molecular Frontiers at @molfrontiers. But for this week, she’s tweeting for us. Welcome, Helena!

More on neuroinformatics and what the INCF are about

More on Molecular Frontiers

Dark Matter Matters: Thank You and Farewell Dr Katie Mack

Thank you Katie Mack for a wonderful week immersed in our wonderful universe. We kicked off the week, in true #academicnomad style, with Katie allowing us to travel with her to Wollongong for the CoEPP (Centre of Excellence for Particle Physics) meeting, where she presented a keynote lecture.

You put your right arm in, you take your right arm out, you put your right arm in and you give an awesome talk on what dark matter's all about...

You put your right arm in, you take your right arm out, you put your right arm in and you give an awesome talk on what dark matter’s all about…

It was an action packed week and Katie did not let up, fielding questions about black holes, gravitational lensing, dark matter, dark energy and all of the mysteries of the FRICKIN’ WEIRD universe we are plonked in. It was madness! Madness? There was even SPARTICLES!

In addition to the all of the astronomy, Katie also talked to us about her many and varied forays into science communication. Podcasting, YouTubeing, science writing… she’s done it all and done it superbly well.

Look at me, now look at the universe, isn't it amazing? I'm on a bus.

Look at me, now look at the universe, isn’t it amazing? I’m on a bus.

The end of the week brought the #academicnomad lifestyle around full circle when Katie left us for a month-long trip to the US on her last day of curation. If you missed anything, we caught it all on storify, part 1 is here and part 2 here. No doubt there will be loads more excellent tweets from Katie over the course of the trip so keep up with her adventures, @AstroKatie.

Next up, @Helena_LB on neuroinformatics live from Sweden.

Her Dark Materials: Dr Katherine Mack joins Real Scientists

It’s been a big week at @realscientists, as we turned 1 year old, we reached 9000 followers, had our second bilingual tweeter, got nominated for a Shorty and ended up going to the AAAS Meeting. For our second year, we want cake.

This week, we are delighted to welcome Dr Katherine (Katie) J Mack (@AstroKatie), theoretical astrophysicist at the University of Melbourne, to Real Scientists.

Katie’s research looks for new ways to learn about the early universe and fundamental physics using astronomical observations, probing the very building blocks of nature by examining the cosmos on the largest scales. Katie describes her work as being at

” the interface between astronomy and particle physics, studying dark matter, black holes, cosmic strings, and the formation of the first galaxies in the Universe.”

Dr Mack hails from Los Angeles, being educated at Caltech and completing her PhD at Princeton University. After postdoctoral research at the University of Cambridge, Katie moved to Melbourne to pursue her research at the University of Melbourne.


As well as her research into dark matter and early cosmology, Katie is s also an active science communicator, participating in Victoria’s Scientists in Schools and Telescopes in Schools, contributing regularly to radio programs, podcasts, and public events. Dr Mack also writes, with her pieces  appearing in Sky & Telescope,, and the Economist’s “Babbbage” tech blog, among others. She is active on Twitter as @AstroKatie, co-hosts a YouTube astronomy chat series called “Pint in the Sky” and blogs at “The Universe, in Theory.”

We asked Katie our usual set of questions:

1. How did you end up in science?

I think I was a born scientist — as a kid, I was always trying to figure out how things worked. I would take things apart, play with microscopes, try to understand everything. When I discovered that there were people studying things like black holes and the nature of time, I knew I wanted to do something like that. So I read a lot about it, attended public lectures, went to observing nights at the local observatory, and studied as much science and math as I could in school. I continued to work hard and work toward my goal of being a cosmologist by getting a university degree in physics and a PhD in Astrophysical Sciences. Now I’m a postdoctoral researcher, working my way toward (hopefully) getting a permanent job as a cosmologist in a university.

2. What influenced you to pursue astrophysics?

I’ve always just wanted to know how things work. If you just keep digging eventually you get to fundamental physics and cosmology. The kind of astrophysics I do is the kind related to the really Big Questions of the Universe, because I think that’s the most fascinating area to work in. I also think cosmology is the most promising area for finding new fundamental physics.

3. How did you get involved in outreach?

I think it would be hard for me NOT to talk about science at every opportunity. I really enjoy it, because science is my work and it’s what really excites and fascinates me. I love being able to share that with others. I guess I’ve been doing outreach at some level throughout my career. I’ve been doing science writing as a form of outreach since I was an undergrad, and I’ve been doing outreach online since grad school. I do it because I love it and because there’s a need for it, and I feel I have something to contribute. I also feel that as a publicly funded scientist, I have a responsibility to communicate my knowledge to the taxpayers who pay my salary!


4. You do a lot of outreach via twitter and have a huge following.  Why did you choose twitter as one medium?

Twitter started out as an almost purely professional thing for me — I used it to keep up with what other physicists and astronomers were talking about, what people were saying at conferences, that kind of thing. It’s great for networking as well, and just kind of seeing what everyone is up to, in your own field and in other areas of science. Eventually I realized it could also be a great tool for outreach and for sharing my love of science with the world. And it’s a nice way to let people know what being a scientist is really like, day to day. I see it as an opportunity to be a kind of mentor or role model as well, because young people (especially young women) interested in science can look at me as a visible scientist and get an idea of whether or not science is something they want to do.


5. Hobbies?

I play sports when I can, and I travel pretty much constantly. A lot of my hobbies these days involve some kind of science communication, but I really do enjoy it a lot. I do a lot of writing as well, which is sometimes a hobby. And I like to go out dancing when I can.


Please welcome Dr Katie Mack/@AstroKatie to Real Scientists!

AAA(S) rated: thanks and farewell to Luis Quevedo

An amazing week on RealScientists has flown by, under the curatorial stewardship of New York-based science communicator, broadcaster and journalist Luis Quevedo.


Tweeting in English and Spanish – our second bilingual curator after fellow New Yorker Marga Gual Soler – Luis led us into and through conversations about science communication and science journalism, including the challenges of scientists communicating with journalists and vice versa:

scientistsvsjournalistsLuis tweeted for us live from the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (AAAS) Annual Meeting in Chicago… once the North American ice storm eased up enough for his flight!

ChicagoAAASWe were thrilled to see Luis flying the flag for us at the AAAS meeting, including meeting science writer and NY Times columnist Carl Zimmer:


Luis’s week on the account also saw a major milestone being reached on Real Scientists, as noted by former RS curators Mia Cobb & Julie Hecht:
Yes, we turned one on February 10th. Happy birthday to us! And to celebrate:

9000followersWoohoo! And lastly of all, just to mention:

shortynominationShorty Awards voting continues through to February 18, 11:59:59pm EST (US time) – call it 4pm AEST, 6pm NZST, or 5am GMT on the 19th – so please vote for us!

Thanks to Luis for a tremendous week on the account. If you missed anything from his week, catch up on Storify. You can keep up with Luis on his personal handle @luis_quevedo.

Next week: Astrophysicist and former PHD Comics cameo performer Dr Katherine Mack, aka @AstroKatie.

This Broadcasting Life: Luis Quevedo joins Real Scientists

We are delighted to welcome Luis Quevedo/@luis_quevedo, scientist-turned science-communicator, broadcaster and producer to Real Scientists.  Luis has produced his own documentaries and films, and is managing director of the spectacular Festival of Cinema and Science of New York, Imagine Science Film Festival, which is geared towards promoting collaboration and dialogue between scientists and filmmakers – a different kind of translational research (sorry).  The Imagine Science Festival is now in its fifth year.




Luis also directs and presents the 30min Spanish-language segment Science, Health and Technology on NTN24, presenting science/tech stories daily and broadcasting across the US and Latin America. 

Aside from TV and film, Luis is a former producer for NPR’s Spanish edition of Science Friday, and currently produces his own podcast, ProbetaNY and also has a blog, that you can read here (in Spanish).  Luis will also be our second bilingual tweeter.


Please welcome Luis Quevedo, broadcasting superstar to Real Scientists!


Flying Away: thanks and farewell, Mike Dickison

We thank curator Dr Mike Dickison for his week curating both @realscientists and the Whanganui Regional Museum.

Whanganui Regional Museum - charming, no?

Mike’s workplace, Whanganui Regional Museum – charming, no?

Mike’s work on moas, combined with science communication had held us in thrall all this week. Modern New Zealand and Australia fondly refer to each other as cousins, being separated by a short stretch of water and settled by Europeans around the same time. But two land masses could not be more different: one lush, green, youthful, volcanic; the other ancient, largely dry, only habitable in the coastal zones. In Australia, the megafauna encompassed marsupials and other mammals and saw the evolution of monotremes, some of the oddest animals anywhere. Meanwhile, in New Zealand, giant birds, the Moas ruled, in the absence of large predators, which saw the evolution of rich and varied bird life. So, out of the mouths of the descendants of dinosaurs. How come New Zealand gets the cool birds? Mike shared with us the under appreciated joys of having REAL New Zealand moa skeletons on display, rather than their fake North American moa ancestors (also known as dinosaurs).




Mike relayed to us that museums are something more akin to libraries for researchers, rather than venues purely for displaying things. The public isn’t being ripped off if only 1% of a museum’s collection is on display. Thanks to Mike, twitter now has been let in on the shocking secret that some old things in museums actually look rather gross and are best kept in basement drawers. Mike covered an array of interesting topics this week, and we were most tickled by Mike fanboy-ing out over dodos – and who wouldn’t when you can display them uplit to give it that proper authentic ‘rockin’ out like a dodo at the disco’ vibe. There was also an interview on Radio National where Mike explains how Angry Birds is just like World War II (obviously…) and some serious myth-busting about the why birds have hollow bones (it ain’t for weight!).


From collecting bones as a child, Mike eventually found himself curating them as an adult, and we thank him for sharing his work with us (and I’m sure you’ll agree it was immeasurably better than an instagrammed sandwich).  If you missed anything this week, you can catch up on storify, and of course you can continue to follow Mike on twitter @adzebill

The bone collector: welcome Dr Mike Dickison to RealScientists

Hello, internet. Do you like things? What about stuff? We at RealScientists are particular fans of things, and stuff, particularly really, really old things like fossil bones. Museums of natural history, in which really, really old things are oft kept, are among our favouritest things and/or stuff in the world. It follows, then, that curators of museums of natural history are some of our favouritest people to hear from on the account. Cue our next curator, Dr Mike Dickison.


Mike Dickison was born in Christchurch, New Zealand, and after working as a science communicator at the National Museum of NZ (now Te Papa) he taught IT skills, desktop publishing, and eventually design and typography at Whitireia Polytechnic. He went back to graduate school at Victoria University of Wellington to work on fossil tuatara, and did his PhD at Duke University in North Carolina on the scaling of giant flightless bird bones. Returning to NZ, he worked as an information designer with other scientists, improving visual display of data, and at the University of Canterbury, assisting postgraduates with science writing, presentation, and academic skills. He also wrote a book on how to play the ukulele. Since November, Mike has been Curator of Natural History at the Whanganui Regional Museum, working on moving the moa collection into visible storage and on various online projects including 3D scanning of bones.

We asked him a series of questions because we are nosey like that.

1. You don’t have a strictly science background, what made you think of it as a second career choice?

I was a natural history buff ever since I was a little boy, with a supportive dad who built display cases for my shells and bones. I remember in my first job being impressed by a Curator of Birds who could pick up a random bone and tell you what species it was (a trick I still can’t do). When I was teaching at Polytech, I had a sudden vision of demonstrating Microsoft Word formatting tips for the rest of my life, and decided to go back to school and get my PhD so I could work on bird bones again.

2. What is it about moas that gets you?

As a child, I thought NZ didn’t have dinosaurs (since proved wrong), so some of my fascination with big extinct things was turned towards moa. A kid in NZ that’s interested in natural history is by default interested in birds (since we’ve almost no native mammals), and the coolest birds are giant, flightless, extinct, or all three.

3. Tell us more about the design and communication work – how do you interpret the work? How do you assess the material and translate it into visual displays? It will be interesting as a few of the coordinators of this account will be at the Australian Science Communicator’s Conference this week.

Work on data presentation with scientists is not about making cool-looking multicoloured visualisations on the computer; it’s mostly a matter of sitting down with pencil and paper to sketch out alternative approaches with them. A lot of scientists are not used to thinking visually, because they’ve only been rewarded for working with words and numbers their whole career. When I do design workshops a lot of it is just getting people used to sketching solutions before they turn on a computer, and much of the design is done in Illustrator rather than a stats package. I’ve blogged some examples at and am working on a book project, to be called Pictures Of Numbers, with a university press. Terrible terrible infographics are really fashionable at the moment, and I’m worried some of that bad design will start seeping into scientific visualisation.

4. OK, you HAVE to tell us about the ukelele book…

As a distraction from grad school in the US I taught myself to play ukulele, and when I got back to NZ was shocked to find there was no ukulele tutorial book for Kiwis—they were all Australian. I was complaining to an editor and he suggested I write one; so I did (Kiwi Ukulele, AUT Media, 2008). Although there are now better books on the market—and lots of great websites—I was proud of this one because I illustrated it myself, designed all the graphics, and even did the page layout. Until I left Christchurch I was playing ukulele in a small cover band called the Broken Bear Club.

5. Any other hobbies/interests etc?

I taught myself to knit a few years ago, and recently ran some workshops for other guys who wanted to learn to knit. That’ll be another book one of these days—Knitting for Blokes. I’ve been trying to learn to draw better—I can draw bones OK, but landscapes and people are trickier! And at some point this year I’d like to learn linocut printing, and weaving with harakeke—NZ flax.


‘Expert to sort out moa bone stash’ (Wanganui Chronicle, 1 Feb 2014)

As a special bonus this week, on top of Mike’s mentioned above, Upulie and Sarah from our team are on a wine-soaked junket dutifully and studiously attentive at the Australian Science Communicators’ Conference in Brisbane this week, so you may see the odd Admin tweet or retweet from them. If you’re interested, follow along on the #asc14 hashtag. If you’re in town, join Upulie, Sarah and some of our curators for a drink.

In the meantime, please join us in welcoming Mike to RealScientists!

Sci-comm from a cyclone: RealScientists farewells Sciengage’s Sam Askin

samtweetFrom his day job at James Cook Uni as a biochemist working on protein characterisation and drug discovery, to moonlighting as the founder-director of science communication hub Sciengage, to being dad to two small boys, our curator of the past week Sam Askin wears a lot of hats. Unfortunately if he was wearing a lot of hats this week they would have been blown off by the cyclonic fury of pure unadulterated science excitement that was whipped up on the account by his (and your!) enthusiastic tweeting. And possibly by the actual cyclone which whipped at his hometown of Townsville during the week.

From Sciengage's Instagram account:

From Sciengage’s Instagram account:

Sam began by talking about how he introduced his kids to science, as a way of introducing how he became interested himself as a kid, and his long and winding career path into, around, out and back into science – all while becoming a dad. Sam dug into the molecular nitty gritty of his own work in protein biochemistry and molecular diagnostics, the role of proteases (proteins which chop up other proteins) in normal and disease states, and some details of the assay that Sam’s lab developed. He also talked about his time working as a research assistant, and coordinated a long and involved discussion on the pros/cons of taking on a PhD. All while incurring and placating the Twitter wrath of a former heavyweight champion of the world. While sitting out ‘some breeze and a bit of rain’ Sam outlined how killing biotin ligase could be the key to smashing flat all manner of bacterial infections, while decoding the alphabet soup of DSF-GTP and SPR. Sam finished up his week talking about how he fell in love with science communication via Twitter, and came to create

sciengage screenshot

That’s all from Sam, but if you missed anything from his week check out Storify: Sun-Mon | Tue-Wed | Thu-Fri | Sat-Sun.

We have thoroughly enjoyed having Sam on the account, and wish him all the best with Sciengage, and with the next step in his science career, wherever it takes him. Keep following him and Sciengage to find out just where that is!


Next week: Natural history museum curator Dr Mike Dickison, aka @adzebill.