Posts Tagged ‘Sarah’

I’m popular, I’m never picked last

In April 2014 on April 7, 2014 at 12:47 pm


Sarah: While we’re talking People’s Choice awards, let’s look back over the most popular posts of 2014 so far.

Just by way of reminder, ScienceforLife.365 started as my year-long daily blogging project to show how science can frame the ordinary, every-day decisions in life. Now in its second phase, the blog features weekly contributions from both myself and ecologist/educator Kirsti Abbott. Other guest writers also pop up (and if you have a great idea which would fit under the ‘science for life’ motto, please be in touch).

For me, one of the most interesting aspects of the blog is that it attracts two separate audiences (because it appears in duplicate on two platforms, WordPress and Facebook). I’ve presented analysis of the differing interests of the two audiences in the past: at the 100-day mark of the first year, and at day 360, as the 1-year anniversary approached. Over phase 1 of the blog, WordPress readers preferred posts on art, food, fashion, literature, writing and discussions around journalism and communication. By contrast, Facebook friends were interested in animals, science humour, new ways of thinking about science and the more personalised aspects of science and learning.

Differences in content preferences by audience are not so strong so far this year, with many posts appearing in both top ten lists, as shown below. In general however, it is still clear that readers who enjoy the blog through Facebook continue to prefer posts with more personal content (whether that be from myself or Kirsti). It’s also great that Kirsti’s colleagues, friends and family members have strongly supported her move into weekly blogging, as evidenced by their ‘likes’ and comments. Many readers also seemed to particularly enjoy the stories around how Kirsti and I met for the first time earlier this year – happy moments!

Here are the top 10 posts for 2014 (so far) on WordPress:

  1. Knock knock
  2. Water leaked from my face
  3. Part time everything
  4. Getting uncomfortable
  5. It’s another scorcher
  6. Tick tick tock
  7. Sharing the love
  8. Information is beautiful
  9. You want more heat??!
  10. Multiple ways of knowing

On Facebook, the top 10 posts for the year thus far are:

  1. Water leaked from my face
  2. Knock knock
  3. Bone picking
  4. Getting uncomfortable
  5. A new woman
  6. From rocks to vegetables
  7. Friendships in science, part 1
  8. Friendships in science, part 2
  9. You want more heat??!
  10. Tick tick tock

What is your favourite ScienceforLife.365 post?

*title taken from this song

[image thanks to Klearchos Kapoutsis on flickr]





High five, Doc.

In November 2013 on November 14, 2013 at 9:59 pm

high five

Sarah: I’ve been somewhat of a grump this week.

Recovering from a terrible springtime lurgy whilst battling an undercurrent of daily hayfever makes me prone to having a whinge. Add a sick kid, lack of exercise and accumulated work, argh!

Today, I sensed a change in the wind.

This morning, prompted by a renewed fever and sore throat in my oldest kid, we tried out the new doctor at our local GP clinic. Mounted on his desk was……a thing. A structured, squarish black plastic thing, on which was perched his computer screen and keyboard. Could it be? Yes! A portable modification to make a standing desk!

I’ve written several times previously (Sitting and standingMaking a stand, The walking meeting) on my urge to make the standing desk a part of my working habit. So this discovery made me excited. Very excited!

I quizzed the doctor,

“Where did you get that? How much was it?”

Turns out it’s a prototype, and he’s the ‘Chief Ideas Man’ over at ZestDesk. He and his team have founded a business based on the mission statement:

One of the biggest causes of modern day illness is the fact we spend a third of our lives sitting at a desk. We are on a mission to make people more healthy by giving them a practical alternative to sitting. More specifically, we are building the world’s most beautiful portable standing desk.

Our prototype phase will be complete by the end 2013 and we will then be opening up pre-sales via a crowd funding site. Please support us so we can take it global!

Oh, did we have a good old chat. I’ll be keeping my eye on ZestDesk.

Also, I’ve broken out of my grumpy funk. My kids’ health is fine too. High five on all fronts, Doc.

[image thanks to johnseidman1988 on flickr]

Body crisis

In October 2013 on October 24, 2013 at 12:26 pm


Sarah: I was crazy enough to think that I could be a runner without looking after the rest of my body.

Yeah, I can run long distances.

Yeah, I’m fit.

Yeah, I don’t have time to swim or do sit-ups.

A couple of months ago, a niggling achilles tendon sent me to the physiotherapist. I visited a most excellent woman about my age, also a runner (and a very good one at that), and a renowned expert on core and pelvic strength (the kind that gets messed with in pregnancy and childbirth).

Not surprisingly, she told me my right achilles was inflamed. That made sense. Also, my quadriceps muscles (those ones at the front of your leg) were strong and well-developed from my running.

Hell, yeah, I’m a runner.

But pretty much the rest of my body was screwed. Abdominal strength, terrible. Butt muscles, pathetic. Hamstrings, tight and inflexible.


Also, my shoes were wrong and I needed moulded shoe inserts to support my insteps.


So now with the advice of the physiotherapist as well as a podiatrist, I’ve modified my fitness program. In full earnest, I’m applying Kirsti’s approach:

Repetition rapidly reinforces specific neural pathways.”

Everything I do needs to pull in and reinforce the use of specific muscles and their associated nerve pathways.

Swimming, with deliberate and conscious use of rear leg and abdominal muscles.

Gym classes with squats, lunges and abdominal strength exercises in front of a mirror to provide visual feedback on alignment.

Cycling classes with focus on using core strength, and pushing and pulling the pedal around its circuit.

Mate, I’m concentrating on exercise more that I ever have. It’s exhausting!

But the theory goes that if I think and recruit specific muscles into activation on a repetitive basis, soon they’ll be used automatically for all my activities.

And that means better fitness and form, all over.

[image thanks to here].

When history and genes collide

In October 2013 on October 10, 2013 at 10:26 pm

 Sarah Groot Eylandt

Sarah: Most history books tell us that Captain Cook discovered Australia in 1788.

Delve a little deeper, and you’ll find plenty of other snippets of information showing that the Dutch and maybe even the Portuguese explored Northern and Western coasts of our Great Southern Land centuries earlier.

Unfortunately, 16th century Portuguese exploration and sexual activity near or in Australia sealed its influence in a permanent way through embedding itself firmly in the genomes of local people. Machado-Joseph Disease is a neurodegenerative condition passed from generation to generation and most often seen in individuals of Portuguese/Azorean descent, but also found in a few families living in the North of Australia.

Currently on holiday at Groote Eyland, 50km off the Arnham Land Coast in northern Australia, I read about this disease and its presence in this region on an inflight document (Vincent Aviation is a major sponsor of the Machado-Joseph Disease Foundation).

In my head, I have an image of 15th and 16th century Portuguese traders passing through Indonesia and maybe even Australia, and spending enough time with local women to establish a few pregnancies carrying those fatal genes. Further trade and travel within the region spread those genes further and further, and now many hundreds of years later they still crop up.

Individuals with the disease typically experience “slowly progressive clumsiness in the arms and legs, a staggering lurching gait that can be mistaken for drunkenness, difficulty with speech and swallowing, impaired eye movements sometimes accompanied by double vision or bulging eyes, and lower limb spasticity.”

Sadly, it’s just another example of the catostrophic influence that Europeans have had on the course of Aboriginal history and health.

Common, but alone

In October 2013 on October 3, 2013 at 10:08 am


Sarah: Next time you go to an event or venue with lots of people, look around.

Approximately 1 in every 100 people that you see suffers from, or will develop, schizophrenia.

Truth be told, in reality the people that actually do experience this debilitating brain disorder probably stay well away from crowded public places. With disordered thinking, delusions and hallucinations common amongst sufferers, busy bustling places are probably the last place they’d want to hang out.

Despite its relatively high prevalence, schizophrenia remains a difficult disease to diagnose and treat, and approximately 50% of sufferers attempt suicide to escape the manifestations of the disease and its treatment.

Schizophrenia is believed to be a disorder resulting from abnormalities in the ways that nerves and organisational centres in the brain develop and form connections. Although lifestyle and social factors have a role in triggering disease onset, it does have a genetic basis – in other words, it’s in the DNA.

The problem is, we don’t know which bit of DNA is to blame. As a result, current approaches to both diagnosis and clinical management of the disease are non-specific and broad-brush in nature. It’s comparable to treating an ear infection with every known antibiotic. One will probably work, but you’ll also experience a hell of a lot of unwanted side effects.

Naturally, scientists and doctors are constantly on the lookout to identify new genes which might help them better understand and manage schizophrenia. Recently, Adelaide’s Dr Quenten Schwarz sniffed out a lead in this regard. To read more, see my latest Robinson Institute Science Story Exciting new target for schizophrenia diagnosis and treatment.

[image thanks to Photos by Mavis]

Once pregnant, always a mother

In September 2013 on September 21, 2013 at 1:54 pm

pregnancy shadow

Sarah: A New York Times article by science writer Carl Zimmer captured my imagination this morning.

In DNA Double Take, Carl presents and discusses recent evidence that our genomes (the total amounts of DNA in our bodies) are not as simple as we once thought.

One section of the piece tackles the genes in tissues of mothers:

Women can also gain genomes from their children. After a baby is born, it may leave some fetal cells behind in its mother’s body, where they can travel to different organs and be absorbed into those tissues. “It’s pretty likely that any woman who has been pregnant is a chimera*,” Dr. Randolph said.

*where a chimera in this case is a person with two different genetic profiles

Chatting with Dr Ngaire Elwood about this part of the paper on twitter this morning, we both agreed it was pretty cool that we retained a permanent record of our children in our own genomes.

And then it occurred to me that perhaps even pregnancies which don’t proceed to term are still present as a genetic ‘memory’ in women. Even though I only have 3 children now, perhaps there are elements of the fourth pregnancy I also experienced still in my body.

I love that idea.

[image thanks to zeevveez on flickr]

Bears in the wood

In September 2013 on September 17, 2013 at 2:18 pm


Sarah: Being a science writer can be a big responsibility.

Sometimes I receive serious shout-outs for help.

Like this one from my little friend Horace, whom I first I met about 10 years ago. Horace is a horse, and lives with his mummy and daddy in Brisbane. He may or may not be stuffed with cotton.

Dear Ms Science for Life,

My ‘friend’ Pooh would like to know whether there is a biological reason why anthropomorphised bears never wear pants?  Cases in point: Pooh, Humphrey, Yogi and Paddington (see attached image of Pooh with his winter jumper on … note absence of a pant).



This was my reply:

Dear Horace,

It would be my pleasure to explain.

Have you heard the saying ‘Do bears poop in the woods?’ Obviously the answer is ‘Yes, they do. And frequently’.

Imagine an animal with no opposable thumb or indeed fingers (case in point Pooh shown above) trying to unbutton and pull down trousers 5-6 times a day – only to have to then pull them up again after lengthy arse-wiping with leaves. It would get messy. Tres, tres messy. Better to leave pants off altogether and avoid this issue completely.

Happy to be of assistance anytime.

Yours in science,

Ms Science for Life

Don’t tell me science isn’t useful.