RealScientists presents our Seasonal Holiday Special, with some returning favourites!

Seasonally appropriate holiday greeting to all! Over the next two weeks (December 21st to January 3rd) we’ll be bringing back some of the people who curated @RealScientists in its very early days, when the account was in its infancy and its follower count was, shall we say, more moderate. Each of our returning guest curators will have a few days at the helm to reintroduce themselves, and tell us a little about what they’ve been up to since their original stint on the account.


Rachael head
We were honoured to have Dr Rachael Dunlop () as RealScientists’ very first curator, back in February 2013. A medical researcher, science communicator and campaigner for science-based medicine in Australia, with a special interest in the anti-vaccination movement and alternative medicine, her research is currently focused on the environmental triggers for motor neuron disease with a special interest in toxins found in blue green algae. In 2010, Rachael won the Shorty Award in the Health category for the most interesting health and science information on Twitter. Rachael will be tweeting for us from December 21-23 Australian time.

HMC head
Planetary scientist Dr Helen Maynard-Casely (@Helen_E_MC) tweeted for us last year from the Australian Synchrotron, where she was working on modelling planet formation using a combination of complex advanced chemistry, crystallography and X-ray diffraction. As she’ll explain, her research has since taken her to a new role as instrument scientist for the WOMBAT (high intensity powder diffraction) instrument at the Bragg Institute, ANSTO… and to Japan! Helen will be tweeting for us from December 23 through to Christmas Day.

Daz head
Dr Darren Saunders (@whereisdaz)
leads a research group at the Garvan Institute in Sydney looking into the molecular genetics and genomics of cancer. His research looks into questions like, what exactly causes cancer cells to behave as they do? What happens at the molecular level? And how can we use this information to develop therapies for cancer? Like many of our early curators, Darren has a passion for science advocacy and communication. Darren takes over the account after Boxing Day (Dec 26) and takes us through to the 28th.

Dr David Winter (@TheAtavism)
carried out his PhD research at the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand in invertebrate evolutionary genetics. Leaping between the field and the laboratory, David wanted to “answer old questions with new tools,” using cutting-edge molecular biology to answer age-old biological questions like where does a species begin and end, where species come from, and how evolutionary change happens. Last March David shared with us his research and writing, and in particular some of the finds from a recent field trip to Hauturu/Little Barrier Island. Having finished his PhD, he’s now packed up and moved to the other side of the world, because SCIENCE. David will join us from the US and take us up to New Years Eve.

Pete head
The fifth of our returning RS All-Stars is Dr Peter Ireland (@Hippopeteamus), who tweeted for us from the side of a skifield last July on all manner of applied physics, from his own research interests in foams, bubbles and tribocharging (static electricity) 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. Peter will take over after New Years, and will see us through the first days of 2015.

Each of our returning curators is profiled on (just keyword search for their names), along with archives of their curatorial weeks – except for Dr Rachie, because we weren’t organised enough in week one of the account’s life (sorry Rachael!) Ahead of their triumphant return(s), we asked each of them a few questions:


What have you been up to since your curation stint – has anything changed, personally or professionally? (New jobs, new projects, in jail for embezzling grant funds etc)

Rachael head
I’ve spent a large chunk of this year just writing grants, with about a 30% success rate. We submitted a Australian Research Council Grant and missed out by a bees whisker – we were in the top 10% of grants that just missed out on funding. Coincidentally, there was a $158 million budget “redistribution” from the ARC programme this year, so make of that what you will..

It’s pretty demoralising spending much of your time trying to raise your own salary when you could be in the lab, doing science.

On the positive side, we’ve almost completed Phase I clinical trials (testing for safety) of our drug for ALS and now we’re looking into Phase II which tests for efficacy – meaning does the drug do what we think it does. Even though I’m a co-discoverer of the drug, I’m not directly involved in the clinical trials (they’re being conducted in the US) and I’m happy for it to be this way, to ensure I can’t introduce any bias. I eagerly anticipating these results being released.

HMC head
Well I’m not at the Synchrotron anymore!  Since June 2013 I’ve been working at the Bragg Institute at ANSTO, as an instrument scientist on the WOMBAT diffractometer there.  It’s a rather similar job, just except from chucking x-ray photons at stuff, I’m now chucking neutrons.  Having said that, I’m actually in Japan at the moment, on a three-month stint as a JSPS research fellow at the University of Tokyo. In Japan, I’m working on trying to understand a bit more about the icy interiors of moons like Ganymede.

Daz head
Pretty much all the same (not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing). You could say I’ve been treading water, which is more than you could say for that Jeff Buckley guy 😉
[Admin: Too soon! … what do you mean it’s been 20 years?? OH GOD WE’RE SO OLD]
Really looking forward to having another turn at driving @realscientists, I’ve been collecting some cool “holiday science” stuff to share.

Yeah, bit of a change here. I took up a postdoc in Arizona State University, got married, and moved from bioinformatics nerd with field/lab projects to being a all-computation all-the-time
computational biologist. There’s a wee post about some of this move here, and a decent summary of my main project in this poster. The shorter version is that the ciliates are like totally weird.


Pete head
Peter: I was lucky enough to be awarded an ARC Discovery Project grant, along with my colleague Professor Kevin Galvin, to study new ion flotation methods. Ion flotation is potentially a good way to remove dissolved pollutants such as heavy metals (or to extract useful substances) from water. Present methods just can’t do the job fast enough to be useful in practice, but we think we have a game-changing new technology that will do the trick. Another project that will keep me busy in 2015 is my role as Technical Chair of the Electrostatics Society of America conference in Pomona, California in June. My job involves reading LOTS of papers on incredibly varied topics, from triboelectrification and electrohydrodynamics to lightning and electrostatic hazards, and organising them into a stimulating technical programme. I’m looking forward to it!

What are your memories of curating @RealScientists the first time?

Rachael head
I was the very first curator of RS so we were all feeling our way back then. I remember starting too early, as I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do, and having @upulie tweet me to say I was too keen and could go back to bed!


HMC head
I remember being exhausted, as I was running an experiment at the synchrotron at the time!  I hope that I gave people a good insight into how these experiments are run, and a bit about life ‘on the ring’.  Also I’m painfully aware that I’ve not written up and published that data yet!


Daz head
It was a great way to reach out beyond my usual followers. Apart from being able to share some insight into what we do, I got to engage in some really interesting and though-provoking discussions with really interesting people (both scientists and non-specialists).


Mostly that it was a great deal of fun. My normal corner of the twitter-world has lots of scientists, but fewer interested “laypeople” than follow @RealScientists. It was really fun interacting with a different crowd, and hopefully that got something from me sharing a little of one science life.


Pete head
It was a fantastic privilege to be able to rattle on self-indulgently about some of my favourite topics, to such a large and engaged audience. I made some great friends along the way.



Has social media, particularly Twitter, changed the way you communicate about your research – and if so, how?

Rachael head
Most definitely. We had a big publication come out late 2013 and whilst we went through traditional media channels (e.g., sent out a press release which was picked up by radio and television) by far the largest audience we reached was via social media. I used my 9000 followers on Twitter to disseminate the paper, but once we got picked up by I F*cking Love Science, with almost 20 million likes on Facebook, we really didn’t need to do anything else. The news went viral. We were inundated with emails from patients and carers, people offering their stories and other scientists who were interested in collaborating. It was a huge response – one which I only wish came with some $$ for research :(

HMC head
It’s been a big year of communication for me, as I’ve been pushing two projects celebrating international year of crystallography – Crystallography 365 and Crystals in the City.  The promotion of both has relied quite heavily on twitter, as I find it’s easy to use and can get you ‘noticed’ by quite different audiences.


Daz head
Yes, completely, in many ways. A few examples: 1. It’s a great way to learn how to distill your message into bite-size chunks, 2. I love the way it promotes engagement and discussion, rather than the one-way flow or broadcast style of more traditional media. 3. It forces you to think about communicating beyond other scientists and make your work relevant, interesting and understanding to a general audience.


It’s greatly broadened the network of people to whom I can communicate about research, and I think the growth of a pre-print culture in my field (evolutionary biology) has been pushed by social media. I’m not sure it’s changed the way I communicate the results of my own research to the public a great deal though.


Pete head
While I’ve continued to use Twitter as I always did – I tweet on anything and everything that comes into my head – curating @RealScientists made me realise just what a hungry audience there is for science in social media. Social media have also done wonders for my professional networking – these sorts of informal contacts with one’s colleagues are often the best and most fruitful ones.


Please join us in welcoming back our guest curators on their triumphant return to RealScientists!

And, of course, we’d love to wish all the followers of RealScientists a safe, fulfilling and enjoyable festive period, and a very happy new year!




James is a recovering scientist and escaped postdoc who works in research management at the University of Otago, New Zealand. He's now retired from active @RealScientists duty, after serving from the project's beginnings in 2013 through to mid 2015. When not managing research, surviving #PlanetParenthood or pretending not to be an expat Australian in the Deep South of NZ, he tweets @theotherdrsmith.

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