Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Enhancing your brand with social media: handy links

In Uncategorized on May 29, 2015 at 12:14 pm

bootcamp 2

Sarah: Today I’m at SA Writers Centre to present a Walkleys session on social media and branding as part of Digital Media Bootcamp.

Here are some of the links I’ve used to prepare the session:

Twitter chats

Useful people to follow

Finding the right keywords

See what people are talking about

Twitter dictionaries

Twitter key board shortcuts

Public stats on social media use:

Facebook is changing journalism


Is an ant worth less than a mammal?

In August 2014, Uncategorized on August 6, 2014 at 4:15 pm

Kirsti Oecophylla Cairns

Kirsti: I’m in the midst of planning an AntBlitz for a National Science Week project here in Armidale.

An AntBlitz is comparable to ECOBLITZ, or BUSHBLITZ, or BIOBLITZ. Essentially, it’s a 24 hour period in which citizens can help us collect ants, sort ants, identify ants and curate a reference collection for a given location. All this activity will go toward helping a local tree group understand their ant communities and document their change over time. Ants are used as bioindicators of ecosystem health, and can be used to measure the impact of various land management practices.

What the citizens don’t see is a whole heap of careful planning and experimental design. We aim to ensure that our projects create useful data, not just a load of dead ants in vials that no one will look at ever again.

Yep, we kill the ants.

We kill them without ethics approval from anyone. We can do this because there are no requirements for ethics approval relating to invertebrates other than cephalopods.

Anything with a backbone? The approval processes, forms, committees and meetings one must work through are time consuming and don’t always guarantee you can continue with your research. And rightly so. Ethical issues regarding the use of animals in research are subjective, highly contentious and tricky to navigate. Humans have made many mistakes in the past whilst using animals in research, and some would say we still do.

But for invertebrates things are different. Reasons given for why these creatures are not protected by ethics approval vary, from citing underdeveloped nervous systems (and therefore reduced capacity to experience pain, stress and distress) to the fact that so many are killed in every day life anyway.

But an important part of my work is about acknowledging moral objections that others may have in killing ants. I argue there is ethical value in killing a relatively small number of individuals representing a social colony in order to learn more about their ecology, their identities, their sociality, and their function on our planet. Killing non-reproductive individuals of a colony formed by hundreds, if not thousands, rarely if ever impacts on their population dynamics. Because turnover of worker ants is high, those individuals we have gratefully taken are replaced. Quickly.

I’m currently developing a Code of Conduct (kind of similar to this one) with respect to how School of Ants deals with ant collections, specimens and curation of our reference collections. I’m really keen to get some feedback on the diversity of opinions on the killing of ants for research purposes.

CONTACT ME if you’ve got a view on this!

[photo by Kirsti Abbott]

Got any bugs at home?

In June 2014, Uncategorized on June 28, 2014 at 2:30 pm

kirsti Caterpillar

Kirsti: I am teaching a unit this coming trimester called Insect-Plant Interactions. It’s a third year subject that can be part of a Bachelor of Zoology, Bachelor of Science or similar at University of New England, developed as part of the Entomology Curriculum Australia.

Yes, that’s right. There are people who care about insects so much that they have swarmed, collaborated and produced this great resource called Entomology Australia that tells you – apart from many other things – where you can study entomology in Oz.

I’ve been teaching fundamental science, writing, communication, ethics, history & philosophy of science and other topics that unite scientific disciplines for long enough now that I feel a bit out of the education side of entomology.

As a researcher not directly involved in specific units on entomology it is semi-easy enough to keep abreast of my own field and teach broadly into relevant subjects. But I have a feeling this entomology subject coming up is going to awaken my sleeping expertise! Sleeping, that is, since my postdoc days in New Zealand where I helped teach a fabulous insect diversity subject at Victoria University of Wellington.

One of the features of the Entomology Australia site that I really like is that it has a tab called Bugs @ Home specifically to help amateur entomologists increase their knowledge and provide access to specialty areas and resources. There are so many brilliant amateur entomologists in Australia, including one of the guys working with me on School of Ants. His day job is an outdoor education teacher at TAFE, but he has been collecting, mapping and identifying ants in the New England region for over 20 years.

So if you have any interest in bugs at all, head on over to Entomology Australia.

Then head outside and see what you can see!


Sharing the love

In January 2014, Uncategorized on January 30, 2014 at 5:06 pm

asc screenshot copy

Sarah: Next week I will be sharing the ScienceforLife.365 love at the Australian Science Communicators conference in Brisbane, Australia.

I’ve put together a paper and a 10-minute presentation which describes this blog, and summarises some of the career benefits I believe it has delivered me (in addition – of course – to the personal enjoyment I have derived from the project). You can read my presentation summary here. Hopefully the paper will be available for public viewing after the event as well; I’ll post a link if possible.

I’m also delighted to be co-producing the What is science journalism? session with journalist and author Bianca Nogrady. The subject matter arose following several posts on this blog, as well as discussions we had with a broader audience through the email network of the Australian Science Communicators. We are very fortunate that fabulous radio host Natasha Mitchell will be chairing the session, and supported by an expert sciencey journalistic panel consisting of Jenni Metcalf, Leigh Dayton, Graham Readfearn and Ian Townsend. Stay tuned to @sciencesarah and #ASC14 for coverage if you’re interested.

But wait, there’s more! I’m thrilled to be a co-presenter on a further two presentations at the conference: one on the RealScientists project, and the second around the science twitter chat #onsci.

But the best, best, best part of the conference will be meeting up with people with whom I chat regularly online. Like Kirsti Abbott! Yes, Kirsti who blogs here. Hard to believe, but we have only ever met before on twitter, Facebook, Skype and email.

Gin and tonics and lots of laughs will be happening for sure. In the name of science.

You want more heat??!

In January 2014, Uncategorized on January 29, 2014 at 4:12 pm

kirsti hot ice heat packB

Kirsti: Me compiling a post about heating my body up after some mighty heatwaves across Australia might seem somewhat of a surprise.

You may even wonder whether I may be lacking thermoregulatory capacities. Well, it’s true. I do lack them. I have pretty low blood pressure and to say my extremities get cold easily is the understatement of the year.

So mid-summer, post-heatwave, I bought some heat packs (yes, I realise this is a dodgy internet site). As you do.

In fact I bought a pack of those reusable awesome sodium acetate or ‘hot ice’ packs. I love the fact that there is a chemical reaction I can WATCH as my heat pack prepares itself to warm my tootsies in bed. Who doesn’t want some chemistry before bed!?!

This heat pack is a nice demonstration of how a super saturated solution behaves essentially under every day conditions, but having been treated with some interesting processes before I got my hands on it.  To be honest, initially I struggled with understanding exactly HOW this thing works. Now, I think I’ve worked it out…..with some help [thanks Chris Thompson!].

Inside my little pack is sodium acetate in a supersaturated solution. That is, the sodium acetate has been heated to some temperature at which you can dissolve much more of it than if it was at room temperature; kinda like how you can dissolve more sugar in hot water than you can in cold water.  Then if you cool it gently, it will stay saturated, and stay in a liquid state.  So sitting pretty with way more molecules of itself than it knows what to do with, when I click a little concave steel disc inside the pack, it creates friction – a fairly violent event – in the solution. This then becomes a nucleating site for crystallisation to occur. Crystals grow outward from the disc, and because it is an exothermic reaction, as it becomes a solid and appears as ‘ice’ crystals, it heats to around 54-57oC. The heat will eventually dissipate and then I can melt the crystals back into their solution to once again anticipate warming my tootsies tomorrow night.

Watch the reaction here.

Thank you sodium acetate for also heating my feet when I’m camping without me waiting for the billy to boil…..

Day 205. The Advertiser

In March 2013, Uncategorized on March 5, 2013 at 10:20 am


Being an Adelaide dweller, I’m allowed to have a little whinge about our printed paper, The Advertiser.

Produced by News Limited, The ‘Tiser is typical of many ‘modern’ tabloid papers in that it is image- and headline-focussed. I often read it shaking my head, bemused by the kinds of stories that get an airing on the up-front pages and those that are relegated to a paragraph or two in the back sections.

Complain though I may, we can consider ourselves lucky in Adelaide that science gets a pretty good run in The Advertiser. Bucking a national – indeed international – trend of science journalists losing their positions at mainstream publications faster than you can say climate change is real, we’re fortunate that Science and Environment reporter Clare Peddie still has a job here at the paper.

News Limited Political Writer and Editor Tory Shepherd also contributes articles which directly or indirectly come under the rather large umbrella called science; in her own words, she is

“interested in (some might say obsessed by) religion and pseudoscience as well as health and social issues.”

In today’s Advertiser, Tory writes about the highly successful public health measure of adding fluoride to drinking water. Depressingly, she then uses this example to illustrate how a frenzy of antiscience can be whipped up and potentially cause enormous harm – especially when a member of our parliamentary system (in this case Ann Bressington) puts her weight behind it.

The article is available online at AdelaideNow.

[image thanks to glenngould on flickr, and shows a man with fake rotten teeth – designed to scare his grandchildren]

Day 192. Half empty, half full

In Uncategorized on February 20, 2013 at 4:25 pm

half full

Science365. A post a day about the science in my life for a year. I’m over halfway there!

By way of reflection on the project so far, I have an unexpected fact to share: I deleted my most popular post only a couple of hours after putting it up.

I wrote the piece in a fit of passion after chatting to a girlfriend about a medical issue. I was inspired to write about menstruation, about sex, about miscarriage, about fertility and about female ageing. The idea had been simmering in my mind for a while – about 10 years, actually – and finally I wrote it down. I hit ‘publish’ with nary a moment of consideration. There! Done. Big tick.

It was a mistake. Although it struck an immediate chord with many readers – about 100 views on WordPress, and another 100+ views via Facebook nearly straight away, with lots of supportive comments – I kept thinking about it. I edited it, I gnashed my teeth over it, I edited it again. I removed bits. Finally, I pulled it down.

The crazy thing is, the reasons that made me pull it down are the same reasons that so many people liked it. As discussed at the recent ScienceOnline2013 conference, in particular by Scicurious and Kate Clancy, personal stuff hits a chord.

People were even looking for it:

I liked the blood story but it vanished. Boo! I hope it reappears. It was a lovely piece of writing about a fairly taboo topic. Loving this everyday journey you’re providing.

said one reader.

Another person asked where it had gone, and when I explained he wrote:

I thought it was great. Wanted my wife to read it. Please let me know when new version is up.

But I won’t be reposting it, at least in its current form. It was too revealing, too much of me. Too open.

Despite the angst, it’s been a valuable experience nonetheless in that I’ve learnt a lesson about writing. The good old adage ‘think about your audience’ still holds true. But you’ve got to think about yourself too. It makes sense, but it’s easy to forget when the mad-writing haze hits.

[image thanks to eddale on flickr]