Real Scientists Real science, from real scientists, science communicators, writers, artists, clinicians Sun, 16 Feb 2020 02:59:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Fighting the flu: Kishana Taylor curates Real Scientists Sun, 16 Feb 2020 02:59:49 +0000 Real Scientists have our masks and hand soap ready for a fascinating week with Dr Kishana Taylor (@kyt_thatsme), a Postdoctoral Researcher in virology at the University of California, Davis.

Welcome to Real Scientists! Can you tell us how you got into science?
I wanted to be a marine mammal biologist/marine biologist/veterinarian which meant lots of science. I also had a number of great teachers in K-12 who saw my aptitude and love of it who encouraged me to pursue it.

Excellent! Where did virology enter the picture?
Viruses and the diseases they cause have major impacts on human and animal health. They are also REALLY cool! I fell into my k18current field trying to diversify my resume for Veterinary school with undergraduate research and fell in love with the lab work and the implications of the science I was doing. I stay because of those same reasons

What are you working on right now?
I research influenza viruses and process that flu viruses can undergo during co-infection called reassortment. Flu viruses, among some others, have segmented genomes which allow for the swapping of segments (Reassortment) during the viruses’ replication cycles. Also known as antigenic shift, it can be responsible for huge shifts in the genetic make-up of flu viruses and can be responsible for pandemic flu outbreaks as well as mismatches between predicted vaccine coverage and actual circulating virus.

What do you want the public to know about your work?
The public should care about my research because understanding reassortment better could help scientists better predict or anticipate the impact of a reassortment event in any given year. Considering that influenza kills thousands of people every year and makes many more very sick, more accurate predictions of what the flu virus looks like every year could help a lot of people.

What do you get up to when you’re not in the lab?
I have a husband and a 17month old son that I find pretty interesting…
[I’m a] huge soccer fan (Go USWMNT!!), avid reader, sci-fi and fantasy nerd!

What does your perfect day off look like?
Anything involving water! The beach, or a day at the lake etc. Throw in some good sunshine, a good book (preferably fiction/fantasy) and you’ve got a happy me.

Dr Kishana Taylor, welcome to Real Scientists!




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Eyes on the tide: Sandra Boitumelo Phoma curates Real Scientists Sun, 09 Feb 2020 01:28:21 +0000 Real Scientists is splashing around South Africa this week with Sandra Boitumelo Phoma (@Sandra_Phoma), an Ocean Microbial Ecologist and PhD candidate at the University of Pretoria. We chatted with Sandra about her work, her motivation, and her activism.

Welcome to Real Scientists! How did you get into ocean ecology?IMG_-qo1w2o
I was always fascinated by microbes. They have an ability to occupy any environmental space. I was more fascinated about what they are getting up to in the deep oceans. My love for discovery lead to my appreciation of the ocean and I vowed to be an ocean activist. 

I am passionate about the ocean. Although I cannot swim, I’ve always been fascinated about its ability to support life! All our oceans are currently under threat of pollution and warming. I’d like to contribute my expertise and empathy towards a sustainable ocean for all.

What does microbial ecology involve?
By general definition, a microbial ecologist is a scientist who studies the interaction among microorganisms (all organisms that cannot be seen with a naked eye) and the biogeochemical processes they perform in any environment. This study area is multidisciplinary. For instance, one needs to have an understanding of microbiology, biochemistry, ecology and, in my case oceanography.

Fascinating! What are you working on right now?
My work is specifically based on determining ‘who’ lives in the ocean, ‘what’ they are doing and ‘how’ they contribute to enabling the ocean to sustain marine life and mitigate climate change processes. This work is crucial as microbes are abundant throughout the ocean depth and in the seafloor. They are also the base of the ocean food web and capable of biogeochemical cycling of carbon, nitrogen, iron, phosphorus and others. By combining oceanographic variables (e.g. effect of ocean currents and nutrient concentrations) with sequencing data, we are able to infer important functional processes and the environmental factors affecting microbial communities and ecosystem function. This snapshot has provided insight into microbial community diversity and functionality for ongoing monitoring of the Southern Ocean, an area subject to significant environmental change due to climate change.

What motivates you about your work?
My work focuses on the unseen majority, tiny microbes that are still a wonder to many. These tiny creatures provide so many ecosystem services and are working hard to ensure our oceans remain productive. For instance, every second breath we take, is provided by ocean microorganisms. Knowing who they are, and what they do in the oceans could open up ways we can use their beneficial bio-products for health and green industries.

What do you get up to when you’re not at sea or in the lab?
I’m an All-Atlantic Ocean Youth Ambassador, representing South Africa. We are 23 young scientists from 15 countries that lie in that Atlantic Ocean. Our aim is to promote ocean engagement to our communities through ocean literacy, creating tools to promote green tourism and by tapping into our cultural heritage and entertainment to reach as many people as we can.

Also, I love Beyoncé? I’m obsessed with Netflix and getting my nails done. I love to travel and get my hair done. However, getting some sleep trumps everything!

Sandra Boitumelo Phoma, welcome to Real Scientists!


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Stars, Ammonia, and Super-Earths: Caprice Phillips hosts Real Scientists Sun, 02 Feb 2020 00:06:50 +0000 Real Scientists is stargazing this week with Caprice Phillips (@CapricePhillips), a graduate researcher at Ohio State University. She chatted with us about astronomy, exoplanets, and her research so far.

Welcome to Real Scientists – how did you get started in astronomy?
Funny enough, it was car rides to my grandparents’ house that led me to be interested in astronomy. As a kid, a two hour car ride felt like 2 days, so I would just stare out the car window when I was bored. I was fascinated with just looking up at the sky on those drives over to my grandparents’ house. When I found out that you could get paid to study space, that was all I needed to know! From that point on, I told everyone I wanted to be an astronomer, it was my career goal in my 8th grade yearbook too.

What are you working on now?
I am currently working on a project involving looking for Ammonia as a biosignature on Super-Earths with the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope. When the idea of life comes up, we often think about life here on Earth (a Nitrogen and Oxygen dominated atmosphere), but there are objects known as Super-Earths (exoplanets with masses of 2-10 times the mass of Earth and up to 2 Earth radii); these objects are more massive so they can hold onto more of their atmosphere. For Super-Earth atmospheres dominated by Hydrogen and Nitrogen, there could be life breaking down the bonds between Hydrogen and Nitrogen to produce Ammonia, which we might be able to detect with JWST.

unnamedWhat does your perfect day off look like?
I actually have two versions of my ideal day off. The first one would consist of me solely sleeping all day, but the second more productive version would start off by waking up in a National Park. I spent last Summer working in the Mineral King Area of Sequoia National Park in California, so for me it would be perfect to wake up there. In Mineral King, there is no cell service and the area is pretty isolated. I would wake up early and take a hike to one of the lakes and back, and then I would go to sleep.

When I am not working, I [also] enjoy cooking and trying my hand at new recipes, reading, drawing, and getting my money’s worth out of streaming services.

Caprice Phillips, welcome to Real Scientists!

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Sci and Punishment: Jen Chan curates Real Scientists Sat, 25 Jan 2020 23:00:20 +0000 Real Scientists is in Toronto, Ontario, Canada this week with Jen Chan (@NerdyJenChan) a PhD student, Science Communicator, and Girls STEM advocate in Psychology at the University of Toronto. We chatted with Jen ab83308256_175722797131823_1830132371379191808_nout her research so far:

Welcome to Real Scientists! How did you get into psychology?
I always wanted to be some kind of scientist, asking questions and trying to figure out how things work. Even have photos of me as a kid conducting “experiments” before I even knew the word!

What are you working on right now?
I look at the interaction between stress and performance (field shooting decisions, mental/physical health, etc.) in police, using physiological measurements. I love getting to work in the field directly with the police groups I study, and see the immediate big picture of how my research fits in.

What do you want the public to know about your work?
Police are an understudied group who constantly interact with the public. However, due to the nature of their work, they are regularly exposed to stressful and potentially traumatic events. This repetitive exposure can negatively affect their mental/physical health, and consequently their performance. It’s important to understand what happens, and how to prevent it, in order to contribute towards optimizing police performance and safety for everyone involved.84096601_181253426284022_1383848491519836160_n

What does your perfect day look like?
Sitting in a nest (yes, a NEST) of blankets/pillows while having a Star Wars movie marathon, and with an unlimited supply of popcorn and tea.

Jen Chan, welcome to Real Scientists!

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Mitochondrial Mysteries: Caitlyn Cardetti curates real Scientists Sun, 19 Jan 2020 02:10:53 +0000 Real Scientists is Stateside this week with Caitlyn Cardetti, (@CaitlynCardetti) a PhD candidate in molecular and cellular pharmacology at Stony Brook University in New York.

Welcome to Real Scientists! Can you tell us about how you got into science?
Honestly, I can’t remember a light bulb moment of wanting to pursue STEM. I’ve loved science since I was a child and over the years wanted to be an astronaut, an anthropologist, a botanist, a forensic scientist, an engineer, a biologist. As I got older, I ended up working in healthcare to pay for undergrad which solidified my interest in medicine and geared me towards biology.

Fascinating! How did you narrow your focus down to pharmacology?
I initially planned on pursuing a PhD in neuroscience, but was rejected from all the programs I applied for. So last minute I applied for an MS in pharmacology at SBU due to cost and convenience thinking that I could use an MS to reapply again later to be more competitive. But I ended up being asked to join the PhD track here so I stayed. I stayed because I love the work my PI does with mitochondria, he is a great mentor, and my department is very supportive. Dysfunction in mitochondria are implicated in many neurodegenerative diseases which was my interest in applying to neuroscience programs, so basically as far as I’m concerned it’s just a different means to the same end.

What are you working on now?
I work on establishing a better understanding of RNA processing within the mitochondria. Why? Because incorrect processing and maturation of mitochondrial RNAs (mtRNA) are the cause of most human mitochondrial disease. And mitochondrial dysfunction is involved in aging and many common diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and cancer.

37033770_1426660220769226_5108556783308242944_oSo what are mitochondria and what is RNA? Mitochondria are energy producing, double-membraned organelles which are like organs for the cells. You may have heard of them referred to as the powerhouses of the cell and that’s because they generate ATP, our cells’ currency for energy, which our cells (and ourselves!) need to survive. Mitochondria contain their own DNA (which is separate from the DNA you’re used to, called nuclear DNA). DNA is transcribed into RNA which is then translated into protein and protein is one of the four building blocks for our cells/body. So if something goes wrong with the RNA processing, then we are setting ourselves up for something to go wrong with our protein building blocks.

Okay, back to my work – when mtDNA is transcribed, the new mtRNA organizes in membrane-less mitochondrial substructures called mitochondrial RNA granules (MRGs). We know that MRGs are membrane-less and contain newly-transcribed mitochondrial RNA. And we know MRGs are platforms for many processes of RNA processing and maturation. However, we do not know how they form, what keeps them together (remember they are membrane-less), and what determines protein and RNA composition. These unknowns are what I’m interested in exploring.

This sounds super interesting! What do you want the public to know about your work?
1: The public is funding it so they should know where their money is going. 

2: Research contributes to the greater good of society – although this might not always be apparent since it is a slow process. 

3: My work is really cool and if you don’t think so then I guess I need to spend more time convincing you.

What do you get up to when you’re not in the lab?
I’m currently the President of @SBU_GWiSE promoting #WomenInSTEM. I’m also the TA for Introduction to STEM Policy this semester which I’m excited for. I admin the #RoCur @Neurotweeps which is similar to @RealScientists with a focus on neuroscience.

I also enjoy cooking, running and yoga.

Snapchat-1961837490Finally, what does a perfect day look like?
On a perfect day, I’d wake up without an alarm to sun shining in my bedroom window. Then I would go for a solo morning run in the woods on a perfect brisk autumn day, where the leaves are turning colors. After returning home, I’d make brunch with that special someone while dancing to music and laughing. Then we’d lounge by the fireplace while reading a book before cooking a nice dinner with dessert and having a few drinks by the fireplace before calling it a night. Although I can’t control the weather and I don’t have a fireplace YET, the rest is fair game!

Caitlyn Cardetti, welcome to Real Scientists!


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With the Elders of the Forest: Lucy Radford for the Sumatran Orangutan Society Sun, 12 Jan 2020 12:02:19 +0000 We’re excited to bring you ORANGUTANS this week, with Lucy Radford (@lmradford), Fundraising and Communications Officer at the Sumatran Orangutan Society. This week, we’ll hear all about orang-utans and efforts to prevent their extinction. Here’s how a biological anthropologist like Lucy ended up caring for our orange cousins:

Lucy Radford

I knew from an early age that I wanted to work with wildlife, but I wasn’t sure how. After a degree in Biological Anthropology and a Masters in Primate Conservation, my path was much clearer – I knew I wanted to work in roles that would have a positive impact on non-human primates, their habitats and the people who live alongside them, whether that’s in the form of research, fundraising, sci-comm or a bit of everything!


I chose my current field because everything I read during my Masters degree taught me that the human side of conservation is vital (and fascinating), hence working now (and for the previous 5+ years) for projects which have a strong focus on people as well as wildlife.


My work for Sumatran Orangutan Society (SOS) is very focused on communications – reaching people from all sorts of backgrounds to let them know about the threats facing orangutans and their habitats, and helping them make a difference if they want to. On a day-to-day basis, this encompasses everything from reading the scientific literature to keep up with developments in conservation research to crafting social media posts to writing funding applications. It’s varied and challenging, and I love it! Outside of SOS, I conduct my own social science-based research (one paper published, another in the pipeline) and do some volunteering for another conservation NGO.


The research and work I do all has the long-term aim of protecting wild primates by understanding how to mitigate the threats facing them, and finding ways to fund these mitigation efforts as well. This is important for anyone who is concerned about the possible extinction of species like the orangutan, which are charismatic and very recognisable, but also for anyone who wants a future where ecosystems like the rainforest can thrive, along with the people and animals depending on them. Also, social science is fascinating and so are non-human primates!


I’ve touched on this above, but I’m working on my second paper, which I hope will be published sometime in 2020. Not sure if this counts as an obligation, but I also do a lot of volunteer dog-walking for people in my local area!


Lucy’s hoodies include Pole-dancing, aerial hoop and flying trapeze. And on an ideal day, she’d

…get up early to catch the sunrise and/or some early-rising wildlife in the woodland near my home, then cook myself a ridiculously big brunch and read a good book before having an afternoon nap.


Welcome, Lucy!



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Through the Canopy with Robin Hayward Sun, 05 Jan 2020 14:33:54 +0000 From Minnesota, USA to the UK, we’re here to meet out next curator, Robin Hayward (they/them). Robin Hayward (@canopyrobin) is a tropical plant ecologist studying for their PhD in the department of biological and environmental sciences at the University of Stirling (@stirbes). Their research focuses on the degree to which tree communities within the Malaysian rainforest are able to recover after logging. Previously, Robin’s masters degree in environmental science led them to Indonesia where they conducted canopy research on diverse epiphytic communities and discovered a passion for communicating science to school groups visiting their study site. Since then, Robin has continued to work with schools around the world to teach science and is always looking for more opportunities to get people interested in nature, especially via social media.


20181022_143309-01So, Robin, how did you end up as an ecologist?


I had been interested in science in school and fascinated by the natural world for as long as I could remember so I decided to do a degree in environmental science. While doing the degree, I got hooked on research and the problem-solving elements of the scientific method.Ecology is wonderfully complex and the way that different organisms interact is fascinating to me (I probably blame David Attenborough for how thoroughly I loved the natural world growing up). I chose to work with trees specifically at the point where I learnt to climb them and explore the relatively unknown world of the canopy. Being able to go where few other people had gone and to ask questions that had never been asked before seemed like a great way to spend my life.


My work at the moment focuses on tropical rainforests which were logged between two and four decades ago. I want to know if the trees which grow back after logging are of the same species and perform the same functions ecologically as the forest which was there before. Is recovery still ongoing? Will the forest community stay permanently changed? I measure and identify trees within a network of forest plots in Borneo to try to answer these questions.


Rainforests have some of the highest levels of biodiversity on the planet and are areas of exceptional beauty. One of the biggest examples of their value though is as a way of capturing and storing carbon which would otherwise be contributing to global warming. By understanding how rainforests recover from human disturbance, we can better predict future threats to their continued functioning and their role in maintaining our planet!


My PhD seems to be taking up all my time lately but I am always looking for opportunities to communicate science and learn more through social media. I currently run a personal science communication Twitter account, as well as managing the accounts of the Iapetus Doctoral Training Partnership and the British Ecological Society Tropical Ecology Special Interest Group.


Ideal day off: Wrapped in blankets, reading books or watching Netflix. Ideally a pet would be present to keep me company. I am a huge fan of fiction books! Reading is a great way to relax and I have been known to occasionally take my novels to the tops of trees for and even calmer experience.


Welcome, Robin!



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Neuroscientist Vivek Misra joins Real Scientists Sun, 22 Dec 2019 11:05:48 +0000 We’re heading over to Chennai, in south India, to meet our next curator, Clinical Neuroscientist Vivek Misra (@iVivekMisra). Vivek works for Neurokrish Consulting at Chennai, where he studies Neuropsychiatry, Neuromodulation. Vivek is driven by his passion for science communication and grand challenges in Healthcare, applying current advances, and innovating future applications to achieve real-world impact in Mental Health. Here’s Vivek on how he ended up as a clinical neuroscientist.



From my high school onwards, I was always interested in Genetics and biological basis of disorders, later I did my Bachelor of Technology in Genetic Engineering with focus on Cancer Biology. However, I shifted my focus to Brain and Behavioural disorder leading to pursuing M.S. in Clinical Neuroscience focusing upon epidemiology and clinical outcomes in stroke and epilepsy; followed by Fellowship in Brain Stimulation at Rambam Healthcare Campus, Israel post which I setup neuromodulation lab with rTMS and tDCS with brain mapping facility at Buddhi Clinic under the leadership of Prof. E.S. Krishnamoorthy in Chennai.


I am passionate about caring for the sick, to teach those who care for the sick, and to contribute to our understanding of health, wellness, and the brain, through biomedical research.


Being actively involved in clinical procedures, I start my day with review of patients scheduled for the repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) and Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), while I perform rTMS procedures, I give electrode placement instruction to an electrophysiologist. Follow-up and referral to Clinical Psychologist and Consultant Neuropsychiatrist on clinical assessment and particiapte in case-reviews. As assistant editor of The Global Approach series by Cambridge University Press, currently working upon 2nd edition of Dementia – A Global Approach where I liaise with authors and press; meanwhile working on my own manuscripts and analyzing clinical data.


Many cutting edge discoveries in research frontiers remain siloed in academia. The result is policy and practice that can be divorced from known principles of Science and Technology. One of the main thrust area is Mental Health, where Treatment Gap, Stigma and Our understanding of the disorder plays a crucial role. By understanding the biological basis of neuropsychiatric disorder and exploring the therapeutic intervention will lead to better public health policy and decision making.

I am academic coordinator of the International Neuropsychiatric Association, which aim to gather professionals around the world in order for them to share information and build networks. It aims to help develop educational processes in Neuropsychiatry.


I am a long distance runner chasing faster timings at Half-Marathon and Marathon Distance. My ideal off day, starts with a long run with my running community followed by a sumptuous breakfast. Later in day with coffee, I spend time in leisure reading and productivity hacks (I am a productivity nerd) and catching up with friends.


Welcome. Vivek!


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The Secret Life of Primates: Charlotte Defolie joins Real Scientists! Sun, 15 Dec 2019 11:33:25 +0000 We are pumped to have behavioural ecologist Charlotte Defolie (@Cha_Defolie) this week, undertaking her PhD at the German Primate Center & University of Göttingen in Germany. Charlotte is currently studying the interactions between social organisation and social behaviour with health indicators in wild lemurs. As always, we asked her about her science journey so far:


What brought you to science and how did you end up working with primates??

A love of knowledge, always asking why. I started as a kid always outside observing birds and insects and collecting rocks and leaves. I decided at 5 that i wanted to be like Diane Fossey and Jane Goodall and spend my days in the forest with primates. I worked hard for it, got a lot of luck and took the right opportunities to finally land amazing jobs in the field and then my dream PhD. I wanted to know more about the evolution of sociality, fascinated by animal behaviour for as long as I remember. It is a lot of fun to observe animals interact and collect poop and urine samples for a living!

What are you working on right now?

My main research interests are understanding the evolution of social life, and the interaction of on the one hand sociality, early life adversity and ageing on health and fitness in wildlife. For this, I studied mostly primates (capuchins, bonobos, macaques, lemurs) but also ants and mice. My usual day is following animals from dusk to dawn, recording all their behaviour and collecting faecal or urine samples for genetics or parasite or physiology measures. Back at my institute I can spend days in the lab running enzyme immuno assays, PCR or looking at parasite with a microscope or work for long hours in front of my computer. At the moment I am finishing my PhD project about the interaction of social organisation and social behaviour with health indicators in wild lemur.

What is interesting about your work?

I am working on how improving our social environment can improve our health and longevity and on how some behaviour facilitate sickness, this is relevant for all. Also there will be very cute animal pictures and stories about poop 🙂

How do you spend your time outside the lab?

I had 2 children during my PhD so I spend a lot of time outside fetching balls, running and cycling or inside building towers and airplanes or driving little cars and play pretend I am at the doctor or at the restaurant.

I am fond of traveling (4 continents, 19 countries), trekking, snorkelling (I was born and raised by the Mediterranean sea) and yoga. I am also a very crafty person and like to spend time woodworking, painting and sewing stuff. All these I now enjoy to share with my kids and awesome partner. My partner is a science educator officer, working mostly with museums, so we do visit a lot of museums for both his professional interest and our love of knowledge.

Please welcome Charlotte to Real Scientists!

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Drug testing for Epilepsy: Dr Gaëlle Batot curates Real Scientists Tue, 10 Dec 2019 19:21:56 +0000 Real Scientists is delighted to welcome Dr Gaëlle Batot (@DrDesigual) to the account this week. Dr Batot is a senior research analyst at the University of Utah with the The Anticonvulsant Drug Development Program.

Welcome to Real Scientists! How did you get into research?
By accident? I failed Med School, I got the opportunity to join the second year of a lab technician school, during that year I spent 3 months as an undergrad in a biochem lab working studying proteins from Toxoplasma Gondii and I fall in love with science. I switched to Epilepsy/drug development to be closer to patients, and feel like I am helping to cure a disease.

What does your current work involve?
I work for a program testing potential drugs for Epilepsy in different models. I am more a project manager, I interGaelle Batot - 9act with companies national and international as well as other Universities doing some testing for us. I give them the experimental instructions, make sure they receive the compounds to test, verify that the experiment was done properly, review and report the data. I am also helping to implement Quality Control to ensure the experiments are always rigorously done, with little variations even if performed by someone different. Consequently, I am writing a very detailed Standard Operating Procedure, I also help to develop Case Report Forms and reports for the participants. Finally, I am in charge of the program Social Media, find us at @Add-Program on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Linked In!

What’s something you want everyone to know about your work?
First thing’s first, I want everybody to know how to act if you witness someone having a seizure! I think Epilepsy is not well known and I want to fight stigma and promote awareness about the disease. Then it is important for the public to learn more about the drug development process.

What does a perfect day off look like for you?
Going to the mountains, putting my backpack on, hiking with my dog and husband for the day, find a nice, remote camping site, build the tent, make a fire, get a beer, diner, grill marshmallows by the fire, and enjoy each other’s company until we go to sleep in the tent.

Gaëlle Batot, welcome to Real Scientists!

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