13th March 2017 – Darwin Fu, Vanderbilt University

Darwin FuHello Biotweeps! I’m Darwin, a Chemistry PhD student in my final year (*knocks on wood* *prays to the ancient gods*) at Vanderbilt University. I spend my day writing programs for modelling how drug molecules interact with their targets. The goal is to improve our ability to use computers to predict which compounds will bind to a given disease target and the way they will bind. Better computational, or “dry lab”, experiments complement traditional “wet-lab” experiments, which can often be very time consuming.

I work in the lab of Dr. Jens Meiler (http://meilerlab.org) coding mostly for Rosetta (http://rosettacommons.org/), a software package for structural biology modeling. Rosetta is a collaborative project with 40+ research labs around the world actively developing methods for everything from designing catalytic sites of enzymes to predicting binding of HIV antibodies. You may have come across Rosetta in the form of Rosetta@Home, a citizen science distributed computing project, or through FoldIt, a computer game that converts unsolved protein structures into puzzles for players (see https://boinc.bakerlab.org/ and https://fold.it/portal/). You may have also heard about our recent exploration of comet 67P (just kidding, that is completely unrelated).

My research is focused on protein-small molecule docking and virtual screening for Computer-Aided Drug Design applications.  Depending on available collaborations, we work on systems ranging from G-Protein Coupled Receptors to Signal Transducer and Activator of Transcription proteins. Part of the job involves making computational tools more accessible to researchers who may be less well-versed in modelling. This usually means making tutorials, web servers, and graphical interfaces. I would love to continue along these lines after graduation and work in scientific software development. I am also interested in researching rare diseases and using modeling to repurpose “failed” compounds to structurally similar targets.

My undergraduate degree is in Chemical Engineering and Biochemistry from the University of California, San Diego. I had a choice between working on hands-on biomaterials research and molecular dynamics modeling of influenza infections. I chose the latter and went down a computational research path. I planned to do more biochemistry in grad school but a few weeks in the cold room and my terrible gel loading skills quickly changed that.

Besides research, I’m interested in science communication and citizen science, particularly for adult education. I also moonlight as a pub quizmaster and connoisseur of “weird” foods. My non-science dream job would be working in sports analytics. Feel free to talk sports, trivia, or odd eats with me (also scotch…yum).

Sadly, there won’t be as many relevant cute animal GIFs over the course of this week, but I promise there will be dancing protein animations instead. I hope to share my love of computer modelling and to learn more about computing applications in your fields. I am also in the process of starting a new outreach effort and would love some input. There may also be a little structure based contest with a nerdy prize. Stay tuned!

Reach me via Twitter (@EquationForLife) or check out the blog I’m restarting (https://equationforlife.wordpress.com/)

6th March 2017 – Tim Lucas, University of Oxford

tim-lucasI am a postdoctoral scientist using geospatial statistics to study malaria epidemiology. My focus is the disaggregation of administrative level malaria case data to pixel level estimates of disease risk. This is particularly important in areas of low malaria prevalence. I have written a number of R packages including Zoon, a package for ecological species distribution modelling. I have a statistics-focussed handle, @statsforbios.

27th February 2017 – Alex Evans, University of Leeds

alex-evansHi Biotweeps! My name is Alex and I’m a final year PhD student studying animal locomotion at the University of Leeds. My research is largely focused on integrating the mechanics and energetics of avian flight, but I also dabble in insect flight and terrestrial locomotion. I tend to work with small parrots such as budgerigars and lovebirds, but I’m a big fan of birds in general and will jump at the chance to work with any species!

My research generally involves looking at the mechanics and energetics from both the organismal level and the muscular level, so some days I will be training a flock of cockatiels and others I will be working with single muscle fibres. I’m also interested in the behavioural and aerodynamic aspects of flight, and hope to develop more skills in these areas in the future.

Prior to my PhD, I undertook an MSc in Biodiversity and Conservation, which was also at the University of Leeds. My dissertation project focused on the risks posed by pesticides to British pollinators. I got to do some super fun fieldwork working with farmers and solitary bees, and this experience pretty much set me on the course towards starting my PhD.

Outside of the lab, I’m always looking to get more involved with science writing and STEM outreach activities. I have recently written articles for the Society of Experimental Biology and Biosphere magazine, and I enjoy presenting and discussing my research with a wide range of audiences. During my week of curation, you can expect to hear more about my work with birds, bees and beetles, as well as discussions about animal research ethics and methods of science communication … and hopefully we’ll have a little fun too!

I can often be found posting animal GIFs and preaching about tabletop games on Twitter at @alexevans91 and I blog about birds and bioscience topics over at BirdBrainedScience.

20th February 2017 – Shelby Bohn, University of Regina

shelby-bohnI’m a MSc. student at the University of Regina, in Saskatchewan, Canada. The research I’m doing for my thesis explores habitat selection priorities of female silver-haired bats during the breeding season. These bats have a huge energy investment (raising pups) over a relatively short period of time, so the habitat they choose not only reflects a decision made on an energetic budget, but also gives us a hint at the type of habitat we might conserve for this species. During my fieldwork, I mist netted, radio tracked, and recorded characteristics of roost trees where bats chose to spend their days. I’m writing my thesis right now, and planning to start a PhD in 2018!

Before U of R, I did my undergraduate degree and honours thesis at the University of Winnipeg, in Manitoba, Canada. I studied how little brown bats with White Nose Syndrome differ in their behaviour from healthy little brown bats. I analyzed video from bat hibernation in captivity and noticed that infected individuals were less likely to groom or drink water, which is characteristic of a “sickness behaviour” response to illness.

Since starting research, I’ve gotten really excited about science communication (#SciComm). I love giving talks to public groups about my research, and bats in general. When I’m not writing or talking to strangers about bats (often) I’m making art while listening to feminist pop culture podcasts or dreaming about petting dogs. This week, I’m looking forward to talking about small mammal behaviour and physiology, my fieldwork, and my life as a human and scientist so far. For more info, you can check out my website www.shelbybohn.com, or my personal twitter @shelbybohn.

13th February 2017 – Lisa Buckley, Peace Region Palaeontology Research Centre

lisa-buckleyLisa Buckley is the Curator & Collections Manager of the Peace Region Palaeontology Research Centre, a grassroots research facility dedicated to the protection and education of British Columbia’s fossil vertebrate heritage, and is a vocal advocate for responsible management of fossil heritage. Highlights of this work include research on dinosaur tracks and traces of the Six Peaks Dinosaur Track Site (https://youtu.be/e_8EmzsdXhM), British Columbia’s first dinosaur bonebed, and the world’s first tyrannosaur trackways (http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0103613)

Lisa’s research focus within ichnology (study of tracks and traces) is the track record of Early Cretaceous shorebirds and wading birds. Part of this work is using the tracks and traces of modern shorebirds and wading birds to get as much information about fossil bird species and behavior as possible from tracks. Lisa has a blog called “Strange Woman Standing in Mud, Looking at Birds” at http://birdsinmud.blogspot.ca/

6th February 2017 – Amanda Glaze, Georgia Southern University

amanda-glazeHello BioTweeps! My name is Amanda Glaze and I am an Assistant Professor of Middle Grades and Secondary Science Education at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Georgia. I am taking over BioTweeps for Darwin Week 2017, one of my favorite weeks of the year and a topic that is on the top of my favorites to research and share.

I study the intersections of science and society, specifically public controversy surrounding topics such as evolution that are seen as “controversial” by the public. I also research and design programs to help other scientists and teachers improve public perceptions of evolution, and science in general, through formal and informal interactions. I have the benefit of walking in two worlds, as both a bench-trained biologist and a science teacher educator and have done research in both fields prior to the blending in which I presently engage. In addition to my present exploration of science, beliefs, and controversy, I have worked on a number of projects across related fields (B. thurengiensis protein, in situ callose biosynthesis in A. thaliana, β-Glucosidase and insulin potentiating factor IPF in Bitter Gourd, M. charantia, proteins) and am working in evolutionary ichthyology over the next year with my colleague Emily Kane as we use Guppy Kits to help students visualize evolutionary change!

If I could have a slogan for what I do it would be #ScienceForAll because, to me, being scientifically literate is one of the most empowering and important tool sets we can foster in the next generation and in others who are not so scientifically minded. We have all had conversations with people who don’t trust scientists or who have misconceptions about what it is that science does and how it gets done. Similarly, many of us are familiar with misinformation that is devastating to the social fabric, things like rejection of climate change, horror at the use of stem cells, and vitriol at the very mention of evolution. While these may not all seem equally meaningful, the key to understanding why the public rejects and, in some cases, fears science and scientists and taking steps to positively impact the communication and connections between the scientific community and the public transcends these topics in many ways.

A large part of what I do involves spending time talking to people about their experiences with science, whether in or out of school as well as their beliefs and how they intersect, diverge, and sometime conflict with scientific ways of knowing and explaining the world. In many ways I am a historian of the publics’ scientific stories. I am also actively engaged in quantitative research and frequently connect back with my roots in collaborations with fellow biologists whose own evolution research leads them to venture into the public and education arenas. My goal is to build relationships that foster understanding of the areas where science and beliefs diverge and develop means to bridge those gaps in ways that are true to science. What I am doing—seeking to meaningfully counter anti-science and anti-evolution mindsets, working with teachers in the United States (and heavily in the South) to more accurately and consistently teach evolution, and supporting outreach and communication with the public—is my personal effort to impact the future of science understanding, trust, funding, and support in the future for all of us!

30th January 2017 – Naima Montacer Hill, EnviroAdventures.com

naima-jeannetteNaima Jeannette is a passionate conservationist at heart. She currently teaches Environmental Biology at a community college in Dallas, Texas and freelance writes for various newspapers, magazines and online outlets. Naima has a Master of Science degree in Biology, with a focus on Wildlife, and completed a research thesis project on ringtails in Palo Duro Canyon State Park, located in the panhandle of Texas. Throughout her career she has been in the field as a scientist and environmental educator, and now focuses on being the communicative bridge between scientists and the general public. 

Here’s the real deal:

I grew up with a sense of wonder for the outdoors, so much so my first word was, “outside.” I never lost my enthusiasm for wildlife and wild spaces and grew my career following my passion. I’ve worked as a zookeeper, wildlife field research leader, teacher naturalist, environmental educator and in all of these roles I wanted to increase my knowledge and help others understand our connection to the natural world. It wasn’t until I started a blog that I found an outlet where I could reach people through written words. This inspired me to look toward science communication as an outlet to educate people about science and encourage everyone to practice conservation in their every day lives. My writing gives me the opportunity to meet and discuss conservation issues with scientists, private land owners, government employees, elected officials, and various community members. It is exciting to discover knew knowledge and translate often complicated science into easy to understand content every one can understand. 

I love everything outdoors from kayaking to hiking and am always up for a travel adventure with my two pups and husband. Let’s chat on Twitter, follow me @naimajeannette