Tour of the mouse brain

This month is the 5-year anniversary of the publication of one of my all time favorite scientific animation videos (I don’t normally keep track of these types of anniversaries, I just happened to notice the date). This 3.5 minute tour of a mouse brain helps the viewer conceptualize the parts of the brain in relation to the whole, including how individual neurons work together and form new connections.

For an annotated tour, below I’ve listed all the terms that appear in the movie, with a short description about their functions or relation to other parts. I highly recommend that you plug in your headphones for this tour! The music and sounds are beautiful and add a lot to the experience. Continue reading

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Game review: Banished

A small group of travelers is banished from their previous civilization and wander into the forests to start over and establish their own society. As time passes, it’s clear that there are numerous challenges: avoiding starvation, having enough firewood and warm clothes to survive the winter, fighting disease, and replacing the workers’ tools as they wear out. Can this small community thrive and grow, relying only on the resources in their unforgiving environment? This is the premise of the game Banished, developed by Shining Rock Software (Windows PC, $20). Continue reading

Science teaching has suffered because science has been so frequently presented just as so much ready-made knowledge, so much subject-matter of fact and law, rather than as the effective method of inquiry into any subject-matter.

John Dewey, American philosopher and education reformer, 1910

It’s a little sobering to think that we are still struggling with the same problems in science education more than 100 years later.

Ishihara plate No. 13: You probably see the number "6", but I see nothing. (Image: Public Domain)

Students interview me about my color-blindness

I know a high school teacher who teaches science and had just finished a unit on sight and genetics with her students. She asked me if I’d like to be interviewed by her ELL students in class one day. Before I came to class, she asked her students to think of some questions, and then they each selected one to ask me while I was there (she told them ahead of time that I was an artist, so they were really interested in that). The students were already familiar with Punnett squares so we did those on the whiteboard.

It was a really fun and interesting experience for all of us, so I kept a copy and wrote my answers for others who may be interested. (Student names are changed). Continue reading

New direction for the blog

It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted, mostly because my life has been pulling me in directions other than thinking and writing about science. I’ve been doing a lot of design, especially, and I’ve wanted to share my projects with the world, but I haven’t had the venue for it. So I’ve been thinking lately that I should expand the scope of this blog to include more of my interests: science, education, games, and design. Of course, the Science Slug will still be the beloved mascot!

I’m really excited for this new direction and to start posting again! See you soon,

The Science Slug

Thinking about the Big Bang blows my mind

As an illustrator who’s dabbled in animation myself, I love the science videos by Kurzgesagt, who has just recently posted a new video on “The Beginning of Everything: The Big Bang.”

Besides the appealing graphics and Hitchhiker’s Guide-esque narration, a few things struck me about the video. One I’ll mention here is this almost casual observation: “But what’s the meaning of ‘light’ anyway, when there’s nothing alive yet that could have eyes?”

Since light and sight are so central to how humans function in the world, it’s easy to forget that “visible light” (commonly just “light”) is only called that because it’s the miniscule part of the electro-magnetic spectrum that our eyes are capable of detecting. There are numerous species who have more complex eyes than we do and can see more of the light spectrum, like mantis shrimp (Order: Stomatopoda). There’s much much more “unvisible light” in the Universe, from radio waves to gamma rays, that has been (and still is) bouncing around for millenia all over the galaxy. And we only experience just a tiny, little sliver of that time and spectrum, but we’ve learned so much already! And so much left to explore!

“Since we ourselves are made from dead stars, we are not separate from the Universe. We are part of it. You could even say that we are the Universe’s way of experiencing itself.” When one contemplates the Universe, and one’s place in it, you can’t help but be poetic.

PTS-MolecularMe

Matters of the head and heart

In a study published online on Feb. 10 in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science (PNAS), researchers at the Institute for Systems Biology and the U.S. Army Center for Environmental Health Research present molecular evidence that exposure condition similar to that experienced in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can cause heart tissue damage in mice. Continue reading

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Best way to get kids to like science? Inspire teachers

Science teachers and principals from Schmitz Park and Arbor Heights Elementary Schools in West Seattle attended a day-long workshop co-hosted at the Institute for Systems Biology. During their visit to ISB, the educators were enthusiastic to collaborate, learn about new curriculum materials, and see first-hand what an innovative science research space looks like at ISB.

“The day signified much more than these teachers learning about some instructional materials,” said Dan Gallagher, the Science Program Manager for Seattle public schools. “Two different schools, with both principals side by side, working together on their desire…to improve science education for their students is pretty awesome.” Continue reading

tumor paint

Lighting up a new way to treat pediatric brain cancer

Dr. Jim Olson, a physician at Seattle Children’s Hospital and research scientist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, likes to share stories of the patients and people in his life who provide a motivation for his research on brain tumor treatments.

At a recent Town Hall presentation, Olson shared a recent experience about his own mother, who was receiving radiation treatment for a cancer at the base of her brain. The physicians were attaching a metal frame the size of a football helmet to her head “the same way you would attach a Christmas tree stand to your Christmas tree,” by turning screws on the frame until they touched her skull and stuck. Continue reading

Ants act like a liquid or solid

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology presented their research on the physics of how fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) cling together to form a living “material” that can have the physical properties similar to liquids or solids. Because their underground nests in the wild can be flooded in the wild, the ants have this survival-mechanism behavior to form rafts that float on the surface of water.

> Read the article in the New York Times.
> View the abstract for the presentation from the American Physical Society.
> See more videos of the ants forming water rafts (Nathan Mlot, Georgia Tech).