I’d like to be, under the sea in a crustacean garden – Zen Faulkes joins Real Scientists

Who doesn’t love crustacea? Lobsters, prawns, crabs, mantis shrimp – these wonderfully colourful, multi-segmented organisms make (1) delicious eating if you are not vegetarian (2) excellent model animals for studying all kinds of biological processes.  So we are delighted to welcome Associate Professor Zen Faulkes (@doctorzen) of Texas Pan-American University to Real Scientists. Dr Faulkes is a neuroethologist – that is, someone who studies animal behaviour by looking at the evolution of  the nervous system.  He works on To find out more about his work, we asked Zen our usual set of questions:





Q: How did you end up in science?
A: As with most things, it was a combination of external and internal factors.
The main external factor was Jennifer Mather, a comparative psychologist at the University of Lethbridge who studies octopuses. I took classes with her with as an undergraduate. One day, I walked into her office, and she sort of shut the door behind me, and asked, “How would you like an enserk?” “Great!” I replied. “What’s an enserk?” Turned out that it wasn’t enserk, but NSERC, an abbreviation for the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, one of the major Canadian research funding agencies. The department I was in had NSERC summer scholarships for undergraduates, but apparently they thought the applicants that year were a little weak. So Jennifer headhunted me to be a summer student. That was very helpful in eventually being accepted into graduate school.
And for you undergraduates out there, the moral of the story is: get to know your professors, so they get know you, by name and on sight. They can help you.
The internal factors were a combination of vanity, arrogance, and hedonism. Vanity because I wanted a Ph.D. I wanted to be able to call myself “Doctor Zen” and sound like the villain from a bad kung fu movie. Arrogance because not only did I think I was smart enough to do a doctorate, I also thought that I was clever enough to land on my feet and do something else if the whole science thing didn’t work out. And hedonism because I went into grad school because I was having fun doing science.
Q: Why did you choose your current field and what keeps you there?
A: Another professor in my undergraduate department at the time was W. Jake Jacobs. He was very interested in the issue of how to describe behaviour, and had written a paper about a movement analysis system developed for dance that fascinated me. I was very gung ho to try to use movement analysis system to try to link behaviour and neurobiology.
That led to my doctoral work in neuroethology, where I started working with sand crabs. I have mostly worked with crustaceans since then. Part of that is because a lot of crustaceans have cool looking armor and spines, and the more my animals look like prehistoric beasts, the happier I am to work with them.
I have not been particularly loyal to any one topic, though. This is the great advantage of academic freedom: you do get to follow your nose and reach out and try new kinds of projects. And I’ve been lucky enough to have managed to do that a few times.
Q. Tell us about your work.
A. That’s tough. I joke that I have a branding problem, because I can’t easily summarize my research in a few sentences. I’m not an “I study biochemical pathway X in cell type Y” kind of researcher. My publication list over the last few years runs the gamut from neurophysiology to ethics to parasites to ecological modelling. And I’ve published papers on about twenty different species.
I just try to tackle whatever question comes to mind that I think I can actually answer. And some of those questions are driven by unplanned observations. I’m out digging on the beach, and there’s a species that I’ve never been seen before. I’m looking at a nerve cord in a microscope, and there something moving in there that I hadn’t paid attention to before.
Here are a few examples of projects I have on the go right now:
Pet trade: The sale of animals as pets is almost entirely unregulated, and pet owners have not done a great job of keeping their pets contained. I’ve been doing research on the sale of crayfish through the pet trade, particularly marbled crayfish. Marbled crayfish were literally unknown to science in the 1990s, and now they’re one of the most common and readily available crayfish in the pet trade.
Parasites: I recently co-organized, with Kelly Weinersmith, a symposium on parasitic manipulation of hosts (see Integrative and Comparative Biology 54(2) for collection of papers).
Nociception: As a crustacean researcher, everyone asks you, Does it hurt lobsters when they’re cooked alive”? I may not be able to answer that question, but I might be able to get at what kinds of nasty stimuli crustaceans’ nervous systems can detect.
Sand crabs: I did my doctoral research with these mostly obscure digging critters. I’ve just decided that I will be one of the people in the world who will care about them. I’ve got a long term monitoring project of one local population, and I am slowly piecing together what their basic biology is. We don’t have answers for super simple questions like, “How long do they live? How do they mate? What do they eat?” This is not unusual for a lot of invertebrates, though.
Q. Why should anyone care about your research?
A. Because people are curious about the world. We spend so much time now trying to justify practical outcomes and return on investment that I think we sometimes overlook that it’s just great to learn new things.

More about Zen’s work can be found at his blogs, MarmoKrebs and Neurodojo. So get ready for an amazing week about crustaceans of all kinds – like most animals, they are more than meets the eye. Please welcome Zen!

Dyna Rochmyaningsih joins RealScientists with Science Journalism in a Developing Country

This week RealScientists is being curated by Dyna Rochmyaningsih (@dynablossoms), a Freelance Science Journalist in Indonesia. With a background in behavioural neuroscience and side interests in ecology and evolution of rainforests, Dyna shifted to Science Journalism during the downtimes of being a full time mother. Her stories have appeared mostly in SciDev.Net, a UK-based news outlet that focuses on science in developing countries, as well as other publications such as The Jakarta Post, The Asian Scientist Magazine, The Journal of Young Investigators, Koran Tempo, Mongabay, and recently Science magazine (still in an initial stage, but she wrote a brief news item last week without a byline). In her ‘spare’ time, Dyna is a mentee within the Science Journalism Cooperation (SjCOOP) Asia, which is organised by the World Federation of Science Journalists (WFSJ). Dyna loves science, including its human side, and grew up with a love for philosophy, history, and religion.

Dyna completed our in-coming curator question obstacle course with style and grace:

Why/How did you end up in science?2013-02-09 10.40.51

If science is the act of observing nature, then it was my father who made me fall in love with it. When I was a little, he always asked “why is there a rainbow?”, “why some places could grow diverse plants, why some are not?” “why birds can fly?” Those questions brought me enjoying “sense of wonder” until now. In high school, I like to study biology while reading Jostein Gaarder’s Sophies World. I found that science is one of the best way to give meaning to this life. I took biology in Bogor Agricultural University where I did a research on the ‘Effect of Monday-Thursday Fasting (Islamic fasting) on Working Memory of Adult Human” as my final thesis. It was supervised by a neuroscientist from Kyoto Univeristy and it was published in The Journal of Young Investigator.

Why did you choose your current field/what keeps you there?

My supervisor in college was an evolutionary biologist and I discussed a lot with him. One day, I asked him about consciousness and other intangible science aspects. He answered, “If all Indonesian think like you, Indonesia will always be left behind,” It was a defining moment. As a developing country, Indonesia needs science that is tangible and could give direct benefit to the society. As a person, I can’t do science for my own passion. So, soon after graduation, I started writing opinion articles about science and its intersection with the society in The Jakarta Post. I wrote articles about how women could do better in politics, Indonesia’s biodiversity, seeing religion from evolutionary perspective, Indonesia’s basic science, etc. Many criticism came along. But from this starting point, many opportunities came along. In 2010, I joined Harvard Summer Course on ecology and evolution of the Borneo rainforest. In 2011, I started writing for SciDev.Net and dived into the world of science journalism. And in 2012, I joined Science Journalism Cooperation (SjCOOP) Asia mentoring program organized by the World Federation of Science Journalist (WFSJ)

Tell us about your work?

I write news articles about science and technology in the developing world. Most of them are related with the environment such as climate change and forestry. I also cover health and science policy. In doing this, I am now working with my mentor, Nicky Phillips, science editor in Sydney Morning Herald. I will tweet much about my published work during my curation days.

Motivation: why should the lay public care about your research/work?

Science journalism in developing countries is extremely important. I just give you an example. Indonesia is now threaten with Lymphatic filariasis. In eliminating this, the government only follows the WHO recommendation and neglecting local scientists research. Without the work of a science journalist, people will not know that Indonesia is doing a useless effort as the region has different kind of filariasis. Here I copy you part of my publication in SciDev.Net:

Taniawati Supali, lead scientist at the parasitology department of the University in Indonesia, says that although her department has published a number of articles about NTDs in recognised international health journals, “We are struggling to have our research findings included in health policy.”

“Instead of listening to local scientists, the Indonesian government tends to merely follow the WHO recommendation for mass drug [treatment],” Supali tells SciDev.Net.

“The global programme should not blindly be applied all over Indonesia without considering the country’s unique conditions. The mass drug administration should be flexible and adjusted to suit our specific characteristics,” says Supali.

In the case of lymphatic filariasis, for example, Supali says the WHO recommendation to administer the drugs once a year will not work because the most common strain of filariasis in Indonesia is caused byBrugia malayi, a kind of worm that has a three-month life cycle. It is different from Wuchereria bancrofti, the dominant strain of filariasis in the world, which has 9-12 months life cycle.

“If we give the drug only once a year, then that would be too late. The worms would then have been transmitted to mosquitoes to spread the disease again,” Supali says.

From: http://www.scidev.net/asia-pacific/health/news/diseases-could-stymie-indonesia-s-future-growth.html

Do you have any interesting external/extracurricular obligations?bunda n pelangi

I am a full time mother, the most interesting and challenging job in the world…:D

How would you describe your ideal day off?

I like singing with a live piano. I love gathering with my family and share my funny stories with them.
And of course, snuggling with my daughter and my husband.

Everyone welcome Dyna to RealScientists!

Crowdsourcing the best in science: thanks and farewell to Mona Nasser

As many of you may have noticed, we like using Storify here at Real Scientists. It’s a great way to collect together particular discussions or content that our curators put together during their time on the account. We don’t always do them, it depends on the style of the curator – we average about 1 per week.

This week was a little different, this week not only did I make so many that at one point I had to delay posting it to space them out a little, but Mona took matters in to her own hands and made one herself!

This flurry of Storifies was the result of Mona’s amazing ability to inspire a huge number of our Real Scientist followers to come together and contribute information on a wide range of topics from art to leadership. Below are links to the Storify collections of those amazing discussions.

#WalkS Taking you through the steps of a systematic review 

RealScientists: A discussion of science and art

RealScientists: What makes a good leader in science

RealScientist: The best inspirational childhood books/movies/tv/music/art etc

Each of these collections are a small subset of the amazing crowdsourced content that Mona managed to assemble. In addition to all this Mona also gave us an insight into her lab and her passion of planes.

A passion that during her curating, led to the creation of SciFly a Facebook group for like minded scientific flyers. You can check out all of these amazing things in Mona’s tweets from last week here and below is a interview she gave about her week, how she found running @RealScientists and which kids show to watch!

So first question (they get more specific after this); How did you find your week as a curator?

It was fun! The realscientists followers are very nice. It was quite interesting that there is a mixture of engaging with lay people along with other scientists. I find interesting new perspective on my own research, identified opportunities for new collaboration and found fellow scientists-aviators. We are now interacting in a facebook group that we call Sci-Fly. I also have some a list of new Sci-Fi movies/series to watch and a list of cool science book/movies/kits/games that can inspire children in case I have to buy gifts for friend’s children.

That’s quite a highlights list, It’s great to hear you got so much out of it, were there any lowlights?

Not really – It was a LOT of tweeting and I was worried that I can’t keep up with everyone. However, everyone was nice and fun (except for one person/one tweet). I find it suprising that it wasn’t only telling people about my work and answering questions. When there is a discussion. I think that my role is more of a facilitator of the discussion rather than answering all questions. I had to give my fingers a “twitter rest” afterwards.

It can be a shock going from talking to 1,800 followers to 12,000. Did you find the sudden rush of interactions (good and bad) daunting?

It was much more interaction that I usually get but then it’s nice to see that people are interested in what I do. I would be more worried if no one would interact or say anything 🙂 I didn’t intend to be the most boring RS curator!!

Well I don’t think you were in any danger of that! Is there anything you wanted to get out of / do on the RS account that you didn’t manage to fit in?

Not really – I expected that the science in developing countries discussion question would be much more popular and then I was surprised that the question around books/movies/games/kits that inspired children was so popular.

Do you have any tips or advice for future RS curators?

The first thing that comes up to my mind is “Listening as you are talking”. The followers of realscientists are interesting people and it is helpful to listen to what people say and think as you are talking about your own work. One of the beauty of the project is that as a curator you not only talk about your research but also show the “human side” of Academia.

Couldn’t agree more, we really want RS curators to show people a rounded view of life as a scientist. Other than yourself of course, are there any other people/accounts that people should follow if they liked you and what you covered?

If they are interested in bringing together art, science and humanity, they should follow the progress of our cognovo project @plymcoginst. For the systematic review part, recommend to follow @cochranecollab, @bengoldacre and @iainchalmersTTi If they are more interested in the sustainability work I am involved with, this account will keep you up to date then @ISSRPlymUni. And @agihaines is one of our PhD students who works on the interface of art and Science.

Oh I forgot one thing, @UKCochraneCentr is also communicating the evidence of systematic review in lay summary. We have once a month a twitter discussion on the challenges of doing a Cochrane systematic review with the hashtag #cochraneauthor 🙂

Finally, what kids TV show do you think everyone should go watch right now?



Finally, we’d just let to say a huge thanks to Mona for a amazing efforts on RealScientists!

High Impact Tweeting: Thanks and Farewell, Meg Rosenburg

Once upon a time, billions of years ago, around a small Class G yellow dwarf star located in the unfashionable western arm of the Galaxy…

…a molecular cloud condensed into large and small planets, some of which captured moons and various space objects (think about it, Phobos isn’t like other moons).  The new solar system has an asteroid belt, several large outer planets and is visited by a passing parade of interplanetary objects that rain down on the new sun’s new planets.  Some of these objects, asteroids, meteorites, hit these newly formed planets and moons, forming impact craters.    These are the planetary features that our most recent curator, newly minted Dr Meg Rosenburg studied for her doctoral work in her quest to better understand the history of moon.  In her week at Real Scientists, Meg taught us that these craters aren’t just surface markers or blemishes on the moons and planets: they are a visible history and memorial to events of the solar system’s development.

Starting off with a tour of craters on the moon, the earth and other planets and how we go about measuring and interpreting them, Meg started #CraterCountdown, a nightly run on different kinds of craters (with photos!)

and talked about the various ways we can measure their size and age.

Meg also talked about the collaborative nature of science, particularly given that some of the data for her thesis came from NASA’s Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA). Much of the work we do as scientists depends on other scientists and engineers making the acquisition of that data possible, and this collaborative approach is lost in common pop culture tropes of the lone genius scientist.

In addition to the scientific side of how we measure and observe the ancient history of the solar system, Meg talked about Women in STEM and the importance of female faculty role models, and her outreach – particularly her work as a producer of the PhD Movie. We asked Meg how she found her week curating for Real Scientists.


How did you find your week at Real Scientists?

I thought my week went well overall.  I was a bit nervous going into it, especially because I had a couple days of travel at the beginning (coming back from a family union over the 4th of July), and I think I could have planned topics ahead of time a little more than I did, but it turned out well anyway.  I made up a couple of hashtags to help me with the transition back to the west coast (#RSplaylist) and to set up a serial activity (#CraterCountdown) in hopes that people might decide to tune in regularly.  It seemed like the biggest factor in the latter effort was time of day, though, so I’m not really sure which time zone(s) I was hitting best with which tools.  It might be cool to see a distribution of @realscientists followers somehow.


What kind of engagement did you get out of it?

I got a range of reactions to my core topic (impact cratering).  Many people told me they had never thought about craters much before so it was interesting to them.  A couple of people who work on similar topics asked me very detailed questions, and one person requested that I get more into the details of the science.  In general I tried to mix it up: talk about my specific research in some detail for a bit, then switch to either issues/experiences in academia or science-related visits, etc.  Everyone was very enthusiastic and respectful – I’m so grateful for that!

What were your favourite discussions?

My favorite discussion was the Friday afternoon #womeninSTEM conversation.  I don’t think it managed to cover everything (by any means!) but it was nice to hear about different experiences and strategies, and I’m still finding great role models to follow on Twitter from recommendations.  #CraterCountdown also generated some fun conversations, especially when people had visited one of the sites before. I haven’t visited any of them except for Meteor Crater – I’m pretty jealous! Someday I’ll have to take a world-wide crater-themed tour. [Ed: I think we should do this]

Any particular highlights and/or lowlights?!

I was really touched that many people took the time to tell me they enjoyed my tweets. Going into this, I really wasn’t sure that anyone would be interested in my research and other interests, so it was great to have some positive feedback.  I was also overwhelmed by the positive response to #RSplaylist.  Since I had to spend several hours flying on Tuesday, I thought people might think it was lame, like I should have planned better to not be traveling that week.  It turns out there’s really an appetite for science videos out there! I’ll try to be more conscious going forward of recommending the good videos I come across on a more regular basis.


You can checkout Meg’s Real Scientists science video playlist here.  You can also catch up on Meg’s tweets for Real Scientists, with responses and without responses.

The multitalented Meg will also be tweeting for another rotation-curation account, @WetheHumanities this week, you should checkout her tweets there as well.  Recently, Meg’s been tweeting about aerial photography:

which, as it turns out, relates to theories of crater formation, and how we view our world from above.

So we thank Meg for her most excellent week tweeting at Real Scientists. Be sure to follow her continuing adventures at her regular account, @trueanomalies.


Smiling wide and flying high – Mona Nasser joins Real Scientists

This week, it is our pleasure to welcome Mona Nasser to tweet for Real Scientists. Mona is a Clinical Lecturer in Evidence Based Dentistry in Peninsula Dental School at Plymouth University. She’s also our first curator from the Middle East, originally hailing from Iran. We made Mona sit our standard entry exam, I mean answer our totally fun and pressure-free questions, which she did with flair and aplomb. So here’s Mona, by Mona, introducing herself way better than we ever could!

I am Iranian and did my first degree in Dentistry in Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences in Tehran. As part of my doctorate dissertation, I worked in the microbiology department of the Pasteur Institute in Tehran on the antimicrobial activity of some dental materials. As part of my first combined clinical and research job after university, I got involved in an international collaboration work on systematic reviews (systematic reviews are different from normal traditional literature reviews, they use systematic methods in identifying, appraising and synthesis data from research studies to answer questions of practitioners, patients and policy makers) called the Cochrane Collaboration. I got involved in doing systematic reviews but also learned about doing research on scientific methods! (will tell you more it this week :)) I became the leader of coordinating these activities in developing countries for two years. Afterwards, I moved to Germany for three years working in an institute called IQWiG (translated as Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care) and studying a MSc in University of London at the same time). I worked as a research associate looking at the quality of research and writing reports that informed what will be published as evidence based health information for the German public on www.informedhealthonline.org along with doing methodological research projects. In 2011, I was offered a position in UK that combined my two expertise and became the Clinical Lecturer in Evidence Based Dentistry in Plymouth University Peninsula School of Medicine and Dentistry (PUPSMD). I teach students how to critical look at research to inform their clinical decision making and also involved in several research projects. The two projects that are near my heart are these ones:

(a) Cochrane Agenda and Priority Setting Methods Group: This is an initiative that I have founded in Nov 2011 and am very passionate about. During the different roles that I had, it really bothered me that there are some important areas that no one does research on and there are other areas that lots of bad quality of research is done. I am keen to understand how organisations, researchers and funders make decisions what research is most important to be conducted and what are the consequences of these decisions. I am also keen to learn what role practitioners, members of public, policy makers can/should have a role in finding and prioritising important research questions.  

(b) Cognovo project: I am a co-investigator on this project EU – Plymouth University funded trans-disciplinary project. We have 26 PhD students in the project working on creativity and cognition from different angles, science, humanities and art. I am co-supervising two PhD students on this project, one is an artist and one is a psychologists. 

 Singapore colloquium - Mona

Why/How did you end up in science?

 If you asked me when I was five what I want to do when I grow up, my answer would have been a Scientist. When I finished high school, it seemed the right decision to study dentistry. I was absolutely frustrated on the quality of research in dentistry and how they are used to inform decision making. It didn’t took me long to realise that I wanted to go back to doing scientific work. I was able to find jobs that give me the opportunity to continue studying and doing research. However, I had a love to maths and physics (especially astrophysics) as a high school student and couldn’t let it go totally so I am also a BSc student in Astronomy with UCLAN along with my job (I tweet as @astro_mona).


Why did you choose your current field/what keeps you there?

I don’t follow a standard career path. My career was shaped by a mixture where my curiosity took me and where the opportunities were. I hope that I will continue to do this as long as I can. I am involved in a wide raven of projects, I work with colleagues in USA on how certain research organisations work maps across the global burden of disease; I work with colleagues in psychology school on decision making and image perception; I recently work with someone on a space medicine project; the list continues 🙂


Do you have any interesting external/extracurricular obligations?

I am the trustees of an international organisation called the Cochrane Collaboration that is dedicated to conduct systematic reviews to inform decision making in health care. It is an organisation with more than 20,000 researchers, patients and clinicians involved and 100 of established groups in different countries around the world. I am also a member of the methods board where we discuss and work on developing new scientific methods to answer research questions. 


Any interesting hobbies you’d like to share?

I can’t believe that it took me so long to say this. I am a pilot! I hold a private pilot license and an absolute aviation enthusiastic. I mostly fly a PA28 but also flown Cessna152, Robin DR200, Grobin 115. I fly from Exeter airport and am a member of Aviation Southwest flight club. If you follow me on twitter, you would know I can’t stop sending photos about flying. One of my dreams is that I want to fly around the world and become an earth rounder (no Iranian woman has ever done that – sadly there is not a lot of Iranian female pilots out there). I also paint and draw and sometimes end up decorating my lectures and presentations with my own drawings. You can see examples of it on my blog or a recent presentation I gave.

 Mona Photo 1


How would you describe your ideal day off? (Scientists are people too!)



Twitter crew, please arm the keyboards and cross check in preparation for take off. We hope you enjoy your week-long flight with Mona Nasser!

Flying Mona 2

Keepin’ it Real: thanks and farewell Adam Micolich

Did you know that Jackson Pollock’s works, including the famous Blue Poles, contain fractals and the fractal nature of the work is what is so appealing about it?  This week’s curator, Associate Professor Adam Micolich, helped physicist Richard Taylor investigate Pollock’s work, to determine whether this was true. Like art, science is a creative endeavour. Unlike some art, though, science is largely a collaborative endeavour: collaborative, discursive, requiring discipline and hard work: topics that Adam elaborated on this week, as well as the ups and downs of a research career.  He highlighted the changing nature of the scientific career and the enormous requirements made of students and researchers alike and how to deal with those challenges: basically, a behind-the-scenes look at academia.

Being a scientist isn’t easy. If you manage to stay in the game for long enough, you end up with some great skills and some idea of how to manage the system and Adam was adept at letting us in on some of these secrets. Young scientists particularly can feel pressure to work all hours to produce results, at risk of burning out. Work-life balance is a huge issue for many scientists, and a recurring theme at Real Scientists. It was great to hear Adam’s perspectives and tips for handling this so it doesn’t take over your life. During the week, Adam talked about how,  increasingly, it’s becoming harder and harder for scientists to maintain this work-life balance, have a successful career and work the system to ensure you survive and can continue to gain funding: for your work, your postdocs and students.  You want your staff to succeed, but without burning out, it’s all a team effort:

Apart from Adam’s Salade Niçoise recipe, this is Adam’s Time Management Guide, aka How Not to Lose Your Mind as a Scientist:

We also got to see some of Adam’s group’s awesome work in nanoelectronics using “salty polymers” and some of the awesome old equipment lying around.

There was also a lot of robust discussion around issues in science, perceptions of scientists and dealing with modern academic life which Adam covered with verve and great openness.  You can catchup on the week’s tweets from Adam here.

We always appreciate the discussions that come up with the Real Scientists account and we hope to continue providing a safe, constructive space for this kind of profitable and ultimately, enlightening discourse. Both the curators, who give up their whole week for free to engage, and the audience, are critical to this engagement and we hope the community will continue to be supportive and constructive.


So, thank you Adam for your week at Real Scientists and introducing us to the world of nanoelectronics and the perils and pleasures of academia. Please be sure to follow Adam on his adventures at his regular account, @ad_mico.


Piling the Science and Art Higher: Meg Rosenburg joins RealScientists!

MR-DefenseCommiteeThis week we have the privilege of welcoming Dr Meg Rosenburg to the helm of RealScientists.  Meg is a planetary scientist (one of the several hats she wears) and has recently defended her thesis, so we welcome her with extra congratulations!  (See, proof!  Pic of her celebrating with her thesis committee!)

Hi everyone! I received my Ph.D. in planetary science from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) just a few weeks ago, and my thesis is on surface roughness and impact cratering on the Moon. I’m really looking forward to getting into the science behind these holes in the ground – how are they made? what are they good for? – and I’m sure we’ll have some great discussions over the next week.

Meg embraces the comm’s side of science with a delightful flair, and is a champion for creative outlets in addition to your research.  She writes at True Anomalies, tweets @trueanomalies, is a co-founder of PHDtv and produced the PhD Movie in 2011.  In collaboration with Dr. Laurence Yeung and Nic Perez, Meg recently entered the Ocean 180 Video Challenge, and won second prize at the  “contest aimed at bringing ocean science to middle schoolers in the form of video abstracts”.  For a more complete list of Meg’s brilliant videos, try her web page.  Her scicomm efforts to date are admirable, especially when considered in the context of tackling her PhD simultaneously.

I also had the opportunity to produce The PHD Movie (www.phdmovie.com) in 2011 in collaboration with comic artist Jorge Cham, and I’ve been interested in science communication ever since! In particular, I see the combination of science, history of science, and digital media as a really rich area to pursue, and I’ve been working on several different projects along these lines. I didn’t discover that I had a passion for history of science until the middle of grad school sometime, so I’m enormously grateful that I’ve had the chance to pursue that in parallel with my planetary science work. I hope to talk a little bit about that to, and more generally about staying creative while in grad school and embracing your interests outside of research.

Meg did her undergrad at MIT before moving to Caltech for her graduate studies.  Her academic background is a blend of Arts and Science and presents a good opportunity for a conversation about research area meld-spaces. Meg has kindly taken the time to answer our curator questions, which gives more detail into her background:

Why/How did you end up in science?
I like to figure things out and I was very lucky to have encouraging teachers in high school. I think it didn’t really occur to me that I could be a scientist until kind of late, but I had a physics teacher who let me pursue an independent study after school and that really made a difference to me because it showed me that science was worth spending the extra time on, and that I was capable of doing it.

Why did you choose your current field/what keeps you there?
I’ve always been interested in physics because I just really enjoy being able to figure out how things work and applying quantitative information to understand the world. I went to college expecting to major in physics all the way, but I took a geology class my sophomore year and discovered planetary science and geophysics, and that was it. I really love learning about large-scale planetary processes—like impact cratering, plate tectonics, mantle convection, tidal evolution (to name a few)—because they explain so much of what we see today.

Tell us about your work?
I study lunar surface roughness and the statistical signatures left in the topography by the impact cratering process. Using the fantastic elevation dataset recently acquired by the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) as well as a cratered terrain model I developed for forward modeling, I’ve been looking at the power spectral density (PSD) of cratered surfaces under different conditions, especially to determine whether the size distribution of forming craters can be detected in the PSD. That’s useful because it can help provide clues to the impactor populations that formed the craters in the first place and provides a counterpart to crater counting.

Motivation: why should the lay public care about your research?
Impact craters are usually portrayed as symbols of destruction and mass extinction (and, to be fair, that’s pretty accurate), but they’re also incredibly useful as a timekeeper for the solar system. Older surfaces have had more time to accumulate craters than younger ones, so comparing the density (number per unit area) of craters in different places has allowed us to work out an entire system of relative ages for different rock units on the Moon and other planetary surfaces. In the case of the Moon, these relative ages can be tied to absolute ages from dating rock samples brought back by Apollo astronauts, so we have a pretty good timeline that goes back to times that are not easily studied on the Earth. Even better, we can use the lunar crater data to help us figure out the timing of events on other planetary surfaces like Mercury, Mars, and the outer planet satellites, for which we have more limited kinds of data, primarily images.

So impact cratering in general gives us a way to keep track of time across the solar system. Traditionally, this has been studied by looking at images of a surface and identifying and counting craters by eye, but when we have high-resolution elevation data like we do for the Moon, then we have another source of information in the three-dimensional topography. That’s especially useful because these two approaches are somewhat complementary, so having both at our disposal is really handy.
Personally, I really love studying the Moon in particular because 1) it’s right there! and 2) it preserves the impact record from pretty early on in solar system formation, whereas Earth is much better at erasing its craters through plate tectonics and weathering, so impact craters are much more rare and harder to find.

Do you have any interesting external/extracurricular obligations?
I would never have made it through my Ph.D. without a creative outlet, and for me that extracurricular activity was theater. I’ve always been a really shy person, much better at writing than speaking, and participating in theater as an undergraduate gave me a huge boost in confidence to communicate effectively. It also led to the opportunity to produce The PHD Movie with web comic Jorge Cham in 2011, and that opened up the whole world of science communication. After the movie, I got involved with making short science videos and started a few of my own projects. I’ve entered a couple of student video contests run by science organizations, and I’ve collaborated with mission teams at JPL on their outreach products. These have been really great experiences, and you can see everything on my website: http://www.megrosenburg.com.

Any interesting hobbies you’d like to share?
It’s not really a hobby, but other than theater and science communication (mentioned above), I’m really interested in history of science. I started researching the interpretation of impact craters on the Moon a few years ago during grad school and I’m working on getting all that work into a publishable form at the moment. I also think history of science is a really great avenue into science communication because there is so much potential for storytelling, but the kinds of stories I’ve been told in my science classes are often more myth than truth (and the real, more complicated, stories are usually more interesting!). I’d like to find a way to bring the two sides together to communicate science concepts and the historical context in a fun but not fluffy way.

MR-MeSimonHow would you describe your ideal day off?
I have two kinds of ideal days off: one relaxing, one completely the opposite. I really like to travel, and when I travel I like to learn as much as I possibly can, which leads to very long days on my feet at museums and landmarks, but hopefully they end up with a relaxing dinner. When I’m not traveling, my ideal day off at home involves walking my dog, Simon, early in the morning, making pancakes for breakfast with my husband, Jon, and picking up a good book to read in the sunshine. Maybe we’d catch a matinee at the discount movie theater and go out for Thai food afterward. Good food, good company, wine doesn’t hurt – it’s nice to give your brain a break sometimes, and it’s usually necessary every now and then!

Thanks so much for welcoming me to @realscientists! It’s going to be an awesome week!

We can’t wait – Dr Meg Rosenburg, everybody!