Posts Tagged ‘I’m a Scientist’

Poo for good and not evil

In November 2013 on November 27, 2013 at 11:25 am


Sarah: When the kids and I walk to school, it’s not rare for us to encounter dog turds along the neighbourhood streets. As I casually drop a ‘look out for the poo’ warning, immediately all three come running.

“Where’s the poo?”

“Can I see the poo?”

“Ewww, it’s all white. And long.”

You get the picture.

But all is not lost. Now we have the chance to channel that poo obsession for good instead of for maternal frustration. All will be explained in the following guest post by Mia Cobb from the Anthrozoology Research Group, and recent winner of I’m a Scientist, Get Me Out of Here! in Australia.

What happens when you combine Poo Power! (as covered by Sarah back in February) with a zone winner of I’m A Scientist, Get Me Out of Here! (that’s me) and a canine science blogger (that’s also me).

You get the Poo Power Global Challenge!

Some might say it’s a joke or April Fool’s Day material, but we’ve never been so serious!

Students and classes will be pitched against each other to see who can identify the most and largest dog waste ‘hotspots’ in their local neighbourhood in the ‘Poo Power! Global Challenge’. Participants use a GPS-enabled iPhone to download the free Poo Power! App from the App Store. Their task is to identify and map dog poo ‘hotspots’ in dog parks and public spaces from their neighbourhood from Monday 25 November 2013.

For this project I’m working closely with Duncan Chew from Poo Power!. The collected information will be uploaded onto the Global Poo Map and provides a platform for students to discuss the scientific, social and environmental issues of dog waste. The students are then encouraged to write a letter to their local Government representative of their findings and recommendations.

Here’s what Duncan had to say on the matter:

“From our research only 3% of Australians see uncollected dog waste as an environmental concern.”

“When it rains, uncollected dog poo gets washed down drains, effecting water quality and habitat for native animals, as well as making rivers and creeks unpleasant for us to visit.”

From my point of view, I see the project as a great way to utilise my prize money from winning the I’m A Scientist – Get Me Out of Here! competition, to raise awareness of new sustainable energy sources, environmental issues and responsible dog ownership, and all the while increasing student engagement in a unique citizen science activity.

The collated information has the poo-tential to identify sites for biogas-powered lights for parks as proposed by the Melbourne-based project, Poo Power!, currently in development. The methane that is released from the dog waste as it breaks down inside a ‘biogas generator’ can be used as a viable renewable energy source. Competition prizes and giveaways are up for grabs for students who participate with photo submissions received between 25th November and 9th December 2013.

After this initial competition period closes, the project will continue to run, collecting ongoing hotspot data worldwide.

Full instructions on how to participate via or available here.

For classroom applications, teachers can download the Poo Power! Study Guide. For each competing class, teachers will receive a copy of the ‘Dog Poo – The Truth At Last’ on DVD.

[image thanks to Steven Pam]


Day 228. The matrix

In March 2013 on March 28, 2013 at 10:02 am


The matrix.

If you’re into sci-fi movies, this means Keanu Reeves, black capes and cyberspace.

If you’re Miranda Ween (winner of the I’m a Scientist. Get me out of here! Australia Disease Zone), matrix is part of working out how to stop potentially deadly bacterial infections.

Confused? Let me take it back a step.

In a biology sense, if cells could be considered as bricks, the mortar-like stuff which surrounds them and pads them out is called matrix (also referred to as extracellular – or ‘outside the cell’ – matrix). Although it’s not technically living tissue per se, matrix is really important. Here’s why:

  • Matrix keeps cells organised in the right structure so that bodily functions can happen normally
    eg it keeps your lung cells in a ‘lung shape’, so that transfer of oxygen and carbon dioxide can occur when you breathe;
  • Matrix provides a support system for cells to divide and move in a normal way
    eg when eggs in the ovary mature and are released once a month during the menstrual cycle;
  • Matrix acts like a storage and release system for growth and repair factors
    eg when you cut your finger, the repair of skin cells happens with the support of the matrix around the damaged tissue.

In other words, matrix is pretty well essential to ensure that all tissues in your body are set up in the right way and maintain themselves to function normally even when injury occurs.

Enter bacteria. In some tissues, bacteria seem to have worked out how to convince matrix to let them move on in and set up shop. This is not good. Part of Miranda’s research is aimed at working out which bacteria-produced proteins give them this matrix-busting capacity.

As an interesting side-note, Miranda’s expertise in the area of matrix was actually developed working in a completely different field: ovarian cancer research. Her story is a great example of how knowledge of one key, central component of biology can offer you the capacity to move successfully into a completely different area of science.

[image thanks to stockerre on flickr]

Day 227. I’m a Scientist! And I love to eat out

In March 2013 on March 27, 2013 at 5:53 pm


A quick post today before I head out to dine with Adelaide-based participants and behind-the-scenes wranglers of I’m a Scientist. Get Me Out of Here! (Australia).

The March 2013 edition of this fast and furious online science engagement program has just wrapped, and it was a beauty.

Winners were:

Domination by women and Adelaide-based scientists!

I’m hoping to pin down Miranda and Jennifer for quick interviews to form the basis for tomorrow’s post.

[image thanks to ugod on flickr]

Day 15: I’m A Scientist, Get Me Out of Here!

In August 2012 on August 27, 2012 at 1:25 pm

School lessons featuring live text chat with scientists? Ask anything you want? Anything??

That would have been my dream 25 years ago.

Today the interactive experience I’m a Scientist, Get Me Out of Here! starts for 33 schools across Australia. Classrooms full of kids are matched with 5 scientists in each of 3 zones – Boron, Disease and Organs. Over a 2 week period, kids participate in online Q&A and chat sessions and then vote to decide who should be the zone winner. Scientists pairing good science with that hard-to-define knack of communicative genius end up as winners, with a cash prize to spend on science communication.  Losers just get to go home.

A few questions asked so far might tickle your fancy:

Could a small intestine be used as a skipping rope?

Do black people absorb more heat than white people?

How do some people ‘pop’ out their eyes?

The event is run by Australian company Bridge8 – baby of Kristin Alford, also my former employer.  I helped out behind the scenes in the 2011 version of I’m a Scientist, and it was an absolute blast.

Good luck to all the scientists and teenagers involved! We all know who the overall winner will be….science of course.

Follow the action on twitter via @IASAus.