Monthly Archives: January 2013

I know exactly what you are!

A new, and scientifically accurate take on Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.

If I didn’t sing to Mabel in the dark, just before bedtime, I would totally print this out and teach her this version.

Source:  Don't remember where I found this.  If you know to whom it should be attributed, please comment and let me know!

Source: Don’t remember where I found this. If you know to whom it should be attributed, please comment and let me know!


Filed under #scimom, Mabel, Mother, Scientist

(Not Quite) Wordless Wednesday: Fibonacci is everywhere

When I saw this on IFLS, I thought, “Wow.”

Source:  IFLS

Source: IFLS

Left is an embryo (probably human, but not necessarily since we mammals tend to look a lot alike during our embryonic development, see just how much alike here).

In the center is the Fibonacci spiral, which appears everywhere- music, nature, mathematics.  It’s quite fascinating where the pattern can be found.  To learn more about it, see here.

On the right is a galaxy?  Nebula?  I’m not sure exactly what- the image didn’t include a description.  If you know, please comment.

Humans are great at recognizing patterns.  Do you see the pattern above?  How all three have the same shape?  Like that of a nautilus?

What does it mean that this spiral is found everywhere, that the math is so elegant?  Not for me to say, but it’s pretty awe inspiring nonetheless.


Filed under Scientist, Wordless Wednesday

Working: Do not disturb the dog, vest on= at work

I don’t like to be disturbed when I’m working.  I’m guessing you don’t either.

Now imagine you were a service dog and someone was relying on you for their safety and freedom.  How bad would it be for you do get distracted?

The Norwegian Association of the Blind put out this public service announcement to give people an idea of just how preposterous it would be if they distracted other humans the way they distract service dogs.  The ad itself is hilarious, and you will laugh out loud if you watch it.

Don’t interact with service dogs when they are working.  As the ad says vest on= at work!

I raised three puppies for Guiding Eyes for the Blind when I was in high school.  We worked really hard with the puppies from the time they were very young to teach them how to ignore distractions.  It’s amazing what these dogs could do.  That said, they have an important job- and they are better at it when they can focus!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

You really DO just wanna smush those cheeks.

You know how you see a baby, a cute one, as seen below, and say something like, “I just wanna eat you up!” Or, “I just wanna smush those chubby cheeks!” Or, “I’m gonna hug you and squeeze you!”  Maybe you grit your teeth when you say it and try not to pinch/squish/nibble so hard it actually hurts the cute little baby?

Mabel fighting the urge to squish that chubby cheek.

Mabel fighting the urge to squish that chubby cheek.

Yeah?  Feel like a weirdo?  Wonder why you have the urge to mash a small baby’s delicate parts?  Well, wonder no more!

Presenting their findings at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology conference on Jan. 18, researchers linked cuteness with aggressive tendencies and labeled the behavior “cute aggression,” LiveScience reported from the event.

Oriana Aragon and Rebecca Dyer, graduate psychology students at Yale University, led the research that found a connection between photos of adorable pets and the desire to squish or squeeze the fluffy critters, the way a grandmother might squeeze a baby’s cheeks.

“It’s everywhere,” Aragon told The Huffington Post, citing examples of Google’s auto-complete for the search phrase “so cute I could…”

“So cute I could… die, eat you up, kill you, maul you,” Aragon continued. “It’s just all this violence.”

While the Filipino word “gigil” describes the urge to pinch something because it is cute, Aragon told HuffPost there is no English equivalent. Source:  Huffington Post

Read more about how Aragon and Dyer conducted the study, what motivated them, and more here.

Leave a comment

Filed under #scimom, Mother, Scientist

Mabel Turns Three!

A few weeks ago Mabel turned three!  I failed to note it on the blog until now because our house has been plagued by illness.

As it turned out, we were lucky to be able to have her birthday party because she had been sick the week prior and got sick again the night after her party.  Wouldn’t you know, she’s sick again now.  Pretty much every other week since mid-December she’s been sick, with Nemo following the same pattern a few days behind.  The joys of having a pre-schooler.  I’m basically paying for her to go to preschool one day a week to pick up a new germ, bring it home, and then be out the rest of the week.

Anyway, the party was a lot of fun and that means it was a huge success.

This year we kept it small, with just a few (about 6 plus some younger siblings) local friends from the library, her pre-school class, etc.  I didn’t want to do anything too involved, and since Mabel loves helping me in the kitchen, we decided upon a ‘decorate your own cupcake’ party.

While it may look like it was a lot of work, it wasn’t.

Irene 3 bday mcphd

Mabel’s Third Birthday- aprons found here, chef hats found here.

We held it on a Saturday afternoon, 1-3pm so we didn’t have to serve a meal (just snacks and cupcakes).  I baked the cupcakes (with Mabel’s help) the morning of the party- using boxed cake mix.  The toppings included icing from a jar (mixed with food coloring) in disposable piping bags, sprinkles, and mini-M&Ms.  I put all the toppings in these snack cups without the lids.  I had other, nicer bowls, but with tile floors I didn’t want anything breakable, and the handles made it much easier for the little kids.  Also, I had some extra batter, so I made a couple pans of mini-cupcakes, which turned out to be a good idea because some kids wanted to decorate over and over again, and the bite-sized cupcakes were better than multiple regular cupcakes!

For party decor, I recycled the banner and pom I made for Mabel’s first birthday again this year, and got napkins, plates, and a disposable tablecloth at Walmart.

For (very functional) party favors, I ordered these aprons and these disposable and adjustable chef’s hats from Amazon.  Mabel was the only kid that refused to wear a hat, but otherwise the hats and aprons were a hit and kept everyone clean.  The disposable tablecloth made cleaning up really easy- just cleared the table and gathered up all the mess in the tablecloth and put it in the trash.  I was actually really surprised how little mess was made.

This was so easy, and the kids had so much fun doing it, that I’m wondering if I can just do this every year.


Filed under Mabel, Mother

Crowd-sourcing signs for science.

I Tweeted about this the other day, but it was awesome enough it deserved a post!

A new spin on crowd-sourcing science:  coming up with signs for science terms so the deaf can communicate science!!!

Pushing Science’s Limits in Sign Language Lexicon appeared in the New York Times last month.  I missed it, but my mom saw it and told me to look for it.  I love it!


Covalent Bond, Mass, and Organism. Science in Sign. Source: NYTimes.

Several groups are turning to crowd-sourcing to come up with signs for science terms- and save those using sign language spelling out all the complicated words that my computer’s Spell Check doesn’t know.

Wanna know the sign for “Chromosome”?  Click here.

Wanna suggest some signs?  Check out the ASL-STEM Forum here!

Leave a comment

Filed under Scientist

Wordless(ish) Wednesday: The Scientist’s Manifesto?

Saw this on I F**cking Love Science and it resonated with me.

I’m not sure I would consider it this scientist’s manifesto, but it does certainly speak to me.


The Scientist’s Manifesto. Source: IFLS

Leave a comment

Filed under Scientist, Wordless Wednesday

Risk-benefit looks different in hindsight

Just saw this article from Reuters:  Insight:  Evidence grows for narcolepsy link to GSK swine flu shot.

The crux of the story- the GSK vaccine (used in Europe, not the US) against the 2009-2010 swine flu may be linked to an increase in narcolepsy in young people.

My first reaction, in all honesty, is a fear that anti-vaccination fanatics will latch onto this story and use it as more evidence that vaccines are bad.

My second, I feel sorry for these kids and their families, but I’d take a narcoleptic kid over a dead kid any day.  I feel much worse for the families that lost loved ones to H1N1.

My third reaction, I hope my virologist colleagues can come up with a universal flu vaccine sooner, rather than later, and safety and efficacy studies can be done thoroughly, without a deadly pandemic looming (more so than it looms currently).

How did this happen?  How did this vaccine get approval?  You have to remember the timeline- it’s extremely tight going from identification of a newly emerged flu strain to creating a vaccine against it, studying safety, and ramping up production in time to protect people from it.  This was made even more difficult because H1N1 was identified AFTER manufacturers had already started making the standard seasonal flu vaccine.  If H1N1 had emerged and been identified earlier, it would have been included in the regular seasonal flu shot and this situation may never have arisen (I say “may” because we don’t really know what is happening with the link between the vaccine and narcolepsy).

David Salisbury, the British government’s director of immunization, says “therein lies the risk, and the difficulty, of working in public health” when a viral emergency hits.

“In the event of a severe pandemic, the risk of death is far higher than the risk of narcolepsy,” he told Reuters. “If we spent longer developing and testing the vaccine on very large numbers of people and waited to see whether any of them developed narcolepsy, much of the population might be dead.”

Pandemrix was authorized by European drug regulators using a so-called “mock-up procedure” that allows a vaccine to be authorized ahead of a possible pandemic using another flu strain. In Pandemrix’s case, the substitute was H5N1 bird flu.

When the WHO declared a pandemic, GSK replaced the mock-up’s strain with the pandemic-causing H1N1 strain to form Pandemrix.

GSK says the final H1N1 version was tested in trials involving around 3,600 patients, including children, adolescents, adults and the elderly, before it was rolled out. Source.

Research is ongoing to figure out what the biology is behind this, but there are a number of possibilities- including the adjuvant (not used in the American flu vaccines) as well as genetics and age of those vaccinated.  However, to give you an idea of the numbers:

In total, the GSK shot was given to more than 30 million people in 47 countries during the 2009-2010 H1N1 swine flu pandemic. Because it contains an adjuvant, or booster, it was not used in the United States because drug regulators there are wary of adjuvanted vaccines.

GSK says 795 people across Europe have reported developing narcolepsy since the vaccine’s use began in 2009.

Independent teams of scientists have published peer-reviewed studies from Sweden, Finland and Ireland showing the risk of developing narcolepsy after the 2009-2010 immunization campaign was between seven and 13 times higher for children who had Pandemrix than for their unvaccinated peers.

Being a wealthy country, Sweden was at the front of the queue for pandemic vaccines. It got Pandemrix from GSK almost as soon as it was available, and a nationwide campaign got uptake of the vaccine to 59 percent, meaning around 5 million people got the shot.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says the 2009-2010 pandemic killed 18,500 people, although a study last year said that total might be up to 15 times higher.

While estimates vary, Stiernstedt says Sweden’s mass vaccination saved between 30 and 60 people from swine flu death. Yet since the pandemic ended, more than 200 cases of narcolepsy have been reported in Sweden. Source.

I was pregnant with Mabel when the swine flu epidemic hit.  That year I got two vaccinations- one standard season flu vaccination, and a second specifically for the H1N1.  As a pregnant woman, I was particularly susceptible to flu, and on the priority list of the H1N1 vaccine that was in short supply.

I think what is crucial for the public to understand about this situation is that decisions were being made in an emergency.  There was limited time for safety studies- and it would have taken a very large and time-consuming study to recognize the increased risk of narcolepsy if only 200 out of 5 million people vaccinated developed it.

They say hindsight is 20/20 for a reason.

PANDEMICS ARE EMERGENCIES- Yet the problem with risk-benefit analyses is that they often look radically different when the world is facing a pandemic with the potential to wipe out millions than they do when it has emerged relatively unscathed from one, like H1N1, which turned out to be much milder than first feared. Source.

If H1N1 had been as deadly as we initially feared it would be, we would be rejoicing that all it cost was a few hundred cases of narcolepsy.  However, because we dodged a bullet and H1N1 did not kill as many people as a ‘worst case scenario’ we feel differently.

My heart breaks for these children whose lives were changed, and their families, just as it breaks for those whose loved ones died from H1N1.

For info on how the flu vaccine works, why you need a flu shot every year, and lots of answers to other questions, see the CDC’s “Key Facts about Seasonal Flu Vaccine.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Mother, pregnancy, Scientist

Science + Design = Awesome

When I went to get coffee in the kitchen at work, the home section of the times was sitting atop a table- probably because, just like me, every other scientist did a double take at the headline:  “The Beauty of Bacteria

I didn’t really need convincing, but the image accompanying the article really piqued my interest.  It probably will pique yours too, so here it is:

Household objects inspired by biology include Local River, a system by Mathieu Lehanneur for raising fish and plants at home.  Source:  NYTimes

Household objects inspired by biology include Local River, a system by Mathieu Lehanneur for raising fish and plants at home. Source: NYTimes

Maybe my interest is easily piqued because I did a bioengineering post-doc and spent my days coaxing rat hepatocytes (liver cells) into metabolically active and structurally accurate organoids, but the idea of coaxing biology into a form and function that is useful for any purpose is intriguing.

Definitely click the links and read the article.  There are tons of cool design concepts- here are some of my favorites:

Bone furniture‘ that uses principles of bone formation to design furniture.

Guilt-free and seamless leather grown from mouse cells to form a little coat.  Why just eat shmeat, when you can wear it?!

A table lamp that is powered by bacteria and moss- biophotovoltaics.  I would LOVE to have this.  I’ve been really wanting a succulent garden for indoors, and this table, with it’s little pots of moss would be so cool.  That said, I doubt it’s childproof.

To see the slide show accompanying the article, with lots of other cool ideas and images, click here.

1 Comment

Filed under Scientist

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: Snow Angel

1 pre-schooler + 1 baby + the flu – sleep = no blogging

That pretty much sums up the past week and a half.

Despite everyone in our house getting our flu shots, Mabel got the flu and gave it to Nemo.  On the plus side, she didn’t get sick until after her 3rd birthday party and Mac and I have been spared.  On the down side, her school celebration (snow flake cookies for the whole class) had to be delayed since she missed almost an entire week of school, and two sick kids meant very little sleep for Mac and I.  Nemo finally seemed to be able to sleep last night (waking only once for his pacifier around 3am).

Overnight we got snow.  This morning, while my family slept, I went out and shoveled and cleared with the help of a very kind neighbor.

I came into work late, but really wish I had a snow day!  This is what Mac sent me:

snow angel 011613


Wish I could spend the day with my little snow angel.

Leave a comment

Filed under Mabel, Mother, Nemo, Wordless Wednesday