Archive | science communication RSS feed for this section

Warning: One all-nighter can throw off circadian rhythms

30 Oct
Kayla Hunt is junior at the University of Florida majoring in Public Relations. Wanting to experiment writing on science and health and environmental topics, she decided Layman's Terms Media would be the perfect outlet. In her free time, she keeps  an informal blog titled Bloggish Gibberish that chronicles her life experiences as a college student.

Kayla Hunt is junior at the University of Florida majoring in Public Relations. Wanting to experiment writing on science and health and environmental topics, she decided Layman’s Terms Media would be the perfect outlet. In her free time, she keeps an informal blog titled Bloggish Gibberish that chronicles her life experiences as a college student.

 

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of contributing bloggers beginning their careers as journalists/public relations professionals at the University of Florida. Please see my earlier post about getting journalists excited about science writing early on.

UF physician gives tips on how to reverse insomnia

By Kayla Hunt

With the pressure of balancing academics, a social life and health, many students find it hard to make time to sleep. Experts warn that one all-nighter can throw off one’s sleep cycle, which can result in insomnia.

Dr. Mary Wagner, a physician at the University of Florida’s Sleep Center, said circadian rhythms – which serve as the internal clock that tells us when to wake up and when to fall asleep – are to blame for this.

There is a way to move circadian rhythms to a time where it agrees with a person’s daily schedule, but it takes a couple of weeks depending on the amount of change in one’s schedule, Wagner said.

“When you try to change your sleep schedule, it could be done by going to sleep and waking up roughly 15 minutes before your usual time,” Wagner said.

When accustomed to the original 15-minute change, add another 15 minutes and repeat until the desired time is achieved, Wagner said.

She also said no weekend exceptions should be given because your body will naturally want to stick to the later time again.

Circadian rhythms are a biological process that occurs in roughly 24-hour intervals, but our bodies naturally push these rhythms back over time.

“This makes it easier to push bed time later rather than sooner,” Wagner said.

Insomnia, which results from your daily schedule disagreeing with your rhythms, is the most common sleep complaint among Americans, according to the International Sleep Foundation.

“When insomnia goes untreated, it causes the person to have an increased risk of obesity, depression and ADHD – attention deficit hyperactivity disorder,” Wagner said.

Wagner said the reason people find it so easy to stay awake for a long time is because of how accessible distractions are made.

“The top causes for difficulty sleeping are artificial light exposure, social interactions and eating,” Wagner said, “but the internet and worrying are also major culprits.” Continue reading

Advertisements

Fossil fortune tellers: UF researcher uses fossil record to predict crustacean decline

28 Oct
Victoria Messina is a sophomore journalism student at the University of Florida. Though she typically enjoys writing about fashion and events happening around the UF campus, she decided to try something new by writing a science-based article for Layman’s Terms Media. “I decided to take the plunge into this science world that’s so foreign to me just to change things up a bit. It was really interesting and fun to talk to my sources and hear how passionate they are about this interesting and crucial subject.”

Victoria Messina is a sophomore journalism student at the University of Florida. Though she typically enjoys writing about fashion and events happening around the UF campus, she decided to try something new by writing a science-based article for Layman’s Terms Media. “I decided to take the plunge into this science world that’s so foreign to me just to change things up a bit. It was really interesting and fun to talk to my sources and hear how passionate they are about this interesting and crucial subject.”

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of contributing bloggers beginning their careers as journalists/public relations professionals at the University of Florida. Please see my earlier post about getting journalists excited about science writing early on.

 By Victoria Messina

By studying fossils from the Mesozoic Era,  a period 251-66 million years ago when reptiles shared the land with dinosaurs, researchers at the University of Florida now have a better understanding of the relationship between coral reefs and crustacean diversity.

The study showed that as coral reefs increased over the course of history, so did the biodiversity of decapod crustaceans such as lobsters, shrimp and crabs. But during a historical decline of reefs 150 million years ago, the biodiversity of crustaceans plummeted due to their  reliance on reefs for shelter and food.

Adiël Klompmaker, postdoctoral fellow at the Florida Museum of Natural History at UF and lead author of the study, said this is the first comprehensive investigation of the rise of decapods in the fossil record.

Postdoctoral researcher Adiel Klompmaker is lead author of a new study suggesting a direct correlation between the abundance of coral reefs and the diversity of many crustaceans. Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Jeff Gage

Postdoctoral researcher Adiel Klompmaker is lead author of a new study suggesting a direct correlation between the abundance of coral reefs and the diversity of many crustaceans.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Jeff Gage

Klompmaker said data showing the correlation between coral reefs and crustacean biodiversity had been previously lacking from the fossil record perspective.

His study, now available online and published  in November’s print issue of Geology, is also the first to quantitatively show that decapod diversity increased from four to over 1,300 species between the Paleozoic and Mesozoic eras in a time period referred to as the “Mesozoic Decapod Revolution.”

Klompmaker said this historical study gives scientists a clue as to what’s in store for the future of crustaceans.

“If reefs continue to decline at the current rate during this century, then a few thousand species of decapods are in real danger,” Klompmaker said.

Some scientists have predicted that nearly 20 percent of the world’s reefs may collapse within 40 years. Though complete extinction of all decapods is not likely, Klompmaker said adaptation to coral reef collapse would be very difficult for crustaceans that live in reefs and depend on them for food. The overall decline in coral reefs and decapod diversity poses major impacts, such as less availability of crustaceans like shrimp and crabs that are a major food and money source for many.

A small squat lobsters from the Late Jurassic of the Czech Republic. Photo by Adiël Klompmaker, University of Florida

A small squat lobsters from the Late Jurassic of the Czech Republic. Photo by Adiël Klompmaker, University of Florida

To most experts in the field, Klompmaker’s findings did not come as a surprise.

“After diving in reefs all around the Caribbean over the past 20 years, I have experienced their decline firsthand,” said Donald Behringer, assistant professor of Marine Ecological Processes and Field Ecology of Aquatic Organisms at UF.

Most research shows that the recent decline of reefs is due to both natural and human-induced causes.

Although storms and diseases have played a natural role in the deterioration, humans play a much larger role. One major human-influenced impact is ocean acidification, or the decrease in the pH of oceans due to excess carbon dioxide emissions. As the water becomes more acidic, the calcium carbonate base of the corals starts to corrode.

Andrew Zimmerman, associate professor of oceanography and geobiology at UF, said fossil fuel pollution is the root of all the human-influenced impact.

Klompmaker examines fossils of ancient crustaceans at the Florida Museum that may hold answers about the future of modern species. Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Jeff Gage

Klompmaker examines fossils of ancient crustaceans at the Florida Museum that may hold answers about the future of modern species.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Jeff Gage

“There’s much concern about major loss of species due to global warming on land, but the risk of mass extinction in ocean life is far greater due to combined effects of ocean acidification and global warming,” Zimmerman said.

Slowing the pace of climate change by reducing the release of greenhouse gases is the single most important change that needs to occur, though the positive effects of this change would not be evident for a long time, Behringer said.

However, there are more immediate steps that can be taken to lessen the brunt of direct human impacts on reefs. People who go boating, diving or fishing can take steps to make sure they are treating reefs in a sustainable manner, Behringer said.

For example, overfishing and coral injuries from boat anchors are two problems that can be easily fixed with proper management. Stricter fishing limits and enforcement are needed to ensure that certain areas don’t get overfished, Behringer said.  He also said simply implementing objects like buoys to protect reefs and alter human use patterns can possibly help reduce anchor impact. Behringer is currently working on a study to figure out the best way to tackle the boat anchor problem.

Some students around the UF campus are starting to realize the economic impact of at-risk reefs.

“So many people can be negatively affected by the decline of reefs, whether it’s someone whose job revolves around reefs or just a tourist who wants to enjoy the coral reefs,” said Evan Hill, UF sophomore studying marine sciences.

A quarry with Late Jurassic rocks representing a fossil coral reef in which many crustaceans were found in the Czech Republic. Photo by: Adiël Klompmaker, University of Florida

A quarry with Late Jurassic rocks representing a fossil coral reef in which many crustaceans were found in the Czech Republic. Photo by: Adiël Klompmaker, University of Florida

Klompmaker’s research showing the indisputable correlation between coral reefs and decapod presence has shown how reef deterioration negatively impacts the future seafood supply and the need for direct action. After all, history repeats itself.

“Everyone needs to be aware of it because everyone’s responsible for it,” Zimmerman said.

‘Catch a Wave’ exhibit brings the beach to Gainesville

24 Oct
My name is Nicole Parra and I am a junior studying advertising at the University of Florida.  Although my major doesn’t exactly scream out “SCIENCE!” I am a certified tree hugger. The environment plays a huge role in everyone’s life and more people should learn to appreciate it. I was very excited to contribute to Layman’s Terms Media because it gave me the chance to expand my horizons and try something new.  In the words of Aldo Leopold, “Harmony with land is like harmony with a friend; you cannot cherish his right hand and chop off his left.”

My name is Nicole Parra and I am a junior studying advertising at the University of Florida. Although my major doesn’t exactly scream out “SCIENCE!” I am a certified tree hugger. The environment plays a huge role in everyone’s life and more people should learn to appreciate it. I was very excited to contribute to Layman’s Terms Media because it gave me the chance to expand my horizons and try something new. In the words of Aldo Leopold, “Harmony with land is like harmony with a friend; you cannot cherish his right hand and chop off his left.”

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of contributing bloggers beginning their careers as journalists/public relations professionals at the University of Florida. Please see my earlier post about getting journalists excited about science writing early on.

By Nicole Parra

There are three words that describe the new  “Catch a Wave” exhibit hosted by the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida: totally gnarly, bro.

The exhibit, which is the closest thing Gainesville residents have to the beach, includes vivid pictures, real-life specimens and hands-on activities. Visitors can almost feel the sand between their toes without the need for sunscreen.

‘Catch a Wave’ is a collaboration between Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, UF and the museum.

“Surfing Florida: A Photographic History” is a traveling exhibit originating from FAU’s College of Arts and Letters. UF and museum scientists contributed to the exhibit by adding a second part, “Surf Science: Waves and Wildlife,” which includes a full-scale shark model, a dolphin skeleton and a display of different Florida beach sands.

Catherine Ward Carey, public program coordinator at the Florida Museum of Natural History, said the museum wanted to add to FAU’s exhibit by including an educational component.

“It was primarily a photographic exhibit, and then we’ve augmented it with natural history including surfing, snails, information on sea turtles and all sorts of cool things that are in the water with us,” Carey said.

Laura Caicedo, a marketing intern at the museum,  said the wave maker–an activity that helps teach visitors the science behind a wave–is her favorite part of the exhibit.

“It’s [the exhibit] a lot different than what we’ve had before,” Caicedo said.

Visitors can also find out their odds of getting a shark bite by visiting the museum’s famed International Shark Attack File, the longest running database on shark attacks.

John Wilson, a 19-year-old industrial engineering sophomore, said he decided to visit the exhibit because he has been surfing since he was 9 years old.

“The coolest things, I thought, were all the trophies and the pictures of the 1983 nationals and the dolphin skeleton,” Wilson said. “They were both very interesting and informative.”

Wilson said that the exhibit did a good job of showing  beaches from the surfer’s point of view while explaining the science behind a Floridian’s favorite place. He said he will be going back later this week.

Carey said the main purpose of this exhibit is to give Floridians a better understanding of their environment, particularly the beaches.

“With anything we do, we hope for a better appreciation and awareness of the natural world around us,” Carey said. “We do tend to focus our day-to-day living without noticing what’s at the beach,” Carey said.

The exhibit will run until January 20th, 2014. Admission is $4 for adults, $3.50 for Florida residents and seniors, $3 for children ages 3-17 and free to UF students with a valid Gator 1 card and museum members.

Can exercise potentially help treat prostate cancer symptoms? UF researchers want to find out

21 Oct
Savanna Wood a junior studying Public Relations at the University of Florida. Wood was excited to contribute to Layman's Terms Media to try a new type of writing. "I wanted to attempt science and health writing because it is a topic I am very unfamiliar with. I am hoping that attempting different types of writing will help me find my calling. I am excited to continue to expand my knowledge of health science."

Savanna Wood a junior studying public relations at the University of Florida. Wood was excited to contribute to Layman’s Terms Media to try a new type of writing. “I wanted to attempt science and health writing because it is a topic I am very unfamiliar with. I am hoping that attempting different types of writing will help me find my calling. I am excited to continue to expand my knowledge of health science.”

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of contributing bloggers beginning their careers as journalists/public relations professionals at the University of Florida. Please see my earlier post about getting journalists excited about science writing early on.

By: Savanna Wood

Researchers in the department of applied physiology and kinesiology at the University of Florida are currently studying rats to discover how muscle decrease, a symptom of prostate cancer, can be reduced or avoided.

Because one in six men are diagnosed with prostate cancer throughout their lifetime, Peter Adhihetty, who holds a doctorate in biology, and his partners are tirelessly working to understand how a patient’s mitochondria is related to muscle mass and function decrease caused by prostate cancer.

Linda Nguyen, a fourth-year Ph.D. student at the University of Florida who works with Adhihetty, said mitochondria, or the “powerhouse of the south,” are important because they produce an energy-rich substance, adenosine triphosphate, or ATP.  ATP is a source of energy used in physiological reactions such as cell division, and is otherwise known as the currency of metabolism.

Understanding how these energy-rich organelles, or subunits of these cells, affect the organs and tissues will help researchers discover ways to minimize the impact that prostate cancer has on muscles. Nguyen said she hopes this will eventually lead to natural treatment options, minimizing the need for drugs.

Rat bootcamp

To analyze the muscle complications that result from the tumors, Adhihetty and his assistants culture and grow cancer cells and inject them directly into a rat’s prostate, Nguyen said.

To do this, the researchers divide the rats into two groups: mice with tumors and mice without tumors.  Those rats are then sub-divided into an active group and a sedentary group.

Because this research project is done through the exercise physiology department, dividing the rats into groups based on levels of exercise helps to study how/if exercise directly effects cancer, Nguyen said.

After the cancer is fully developed inside the rat, the active groups of rats are ready to attend research boot camp. The rats train for an hour a day, five days a week, for seven weeks. Nguyen said the rodents are placed on treadmills to ensure they are equally exercised.

“After seven weeks, the animals are euthanized and the tissues are harvested,” Nguyen said.

To aid in the process of tissue harvesting, Dr. Adhihetty offers volunteer positions to some of his students. Courtney Criswell, applied physiology and kinesiology major, is responsible for pulverizing the tissues that are broken up into difference muscle groups.

The organs and tissues are dissected from the rats, put into tubes and frozen with liquid nitrogen.

“My job is to take those tissues and to pulverize them and put them into a powder, while keeping them cold at the same time,” Criswell said.

Alaa Elannoan, a student of Dr. Adhihetty, started his volunteering just like Criswell did. He is now onto the step after the pulverizing of the tissue: western blotting.

“This is one of the many experiments that we do with proteins and tissues to analyze them,” said Elannoan.  “This two-to-three day process extracts proteins from the pulverized tissue and turns it into a liquid.”

Nguyen said that after the tissues are harvested and liquefied, they are analyzed to further understand the affect that mitochondria have on muscle function in a prostate cancer patient.

A main limitation of this study is that the tumor does not always form in the rat. Nguyen said it is important to remember that these obstacles are not uncommon when it comes to forcing cancer into action. The cancer cell injection has to be completely accurate in order to achieve results.

Adhietty and his colleagues are continuing to collaborate with other researchers in the department to get a better idea of prostate cancer as a disease.

“We like to further the understanding of how cancer affects skeletal muscles on the mitochondria and how exercise can lower the deficit. We then can pass our results on and let them be used for clinical research,” Nguyen said.

From “ice cream socials” to science: Creating confidence in young journalists

15 Oct

banner_final2.jpgDuring the past few sleep-deprived months, I have been attempting to reflect on my role in science communication–as a journalist, as a blogger, as a future mentor and as a grad student. For those of you who don’t know, I started Layman’s Terms Media because I have always had a passion for science.

Ever since I was about five years old, my elders have encouraged me to write. They said I was good at it, that it came naturally to me. I guess my first-grade journal entries about what I had for dinner the night before were impressive. I could always expect to receive at least one new trendy journal at every birthday party.

To me, writing was just a way to express myself and the world around me, I never thought about pursuing it professionally. It was my vice, my learning tool and my sense maker.

My early career aspirations ranged from being an Olympic gymnast to other common childhood dreams such as being a doctor, teacher or movie star. I ultimately decided to attend journalism school not only because writing came fairly easy to me, but I also saw it as a way to learn a little about a lot of things.

I originally started Layman’s Terms Media as a senior project–one of which I predicted would be live only until grades posted, eventually doomed to get swallowed in the abyss of the Internet, never to be found again (except, maybe by some obscure search terms).

While interning and freelancing at multiple “mainstream media” outlets, I exhaustively tried to pitch stories about science, but I was constantly rejected. Instead, I would be told to cover the typical “ice cream social” (a word journalists use to describe an irrelevant, fluffy, feature story). Those types of stories are fun at first, but they aren’t the kind of scoop that gets your adrenaline going.  I decided to take matters into my own hands. I wasn’t going to progress with science writing as a non-scientist unless I started writing it for an audience, no matter how big.

And then it dawned on me….publishing is free on the Internet!

I guess I should’ve thought of this sooner since I had been blogging about nonsense since I was 13 via ancient blogging sites like Xanga and Live Journal.

And then I thought: Why not use that to my advantage and write what I want to write about? I mean, I had formal journalism training why not use it to learn and grow as a science writer?

From there, Layman’s Terms Media kind of turned into my personal platform to do so. With no editor (except myself) I began writing regularly. I set deadlines for myself as if this blog was an ACTUAL publication. I pretended I had readers, and would (and still do) post my stories on Facebook and Twitter in attempts to get some sort of critical eyes.

And here I am, two years later.  I have a steady readership–it’s modest, but it’s something–and I can honestly say that writing for this “publication,” although not mainstream, has satisfied me in ways I’ve never experienced while covering “ice cream socials.”

The point of this post is not to ramble about my personal mission to become a science communicator, or share my narrative about how this site came to be. Rather, this post is to explain where I would like Layman’s Terms Media to go. I am writing it publicly so that you, the audience, can hold me accountable for the vision I am about to share. Continue reading

#anatomylessonsbyWendy: Eyeballs and light in 15 seconds

14 Oct

#anatomylessonsbywendy

via @wendyomgzlol

Wendy Corrales joins us this week to explain how eyeballs respond to light!

Corrales uses Instagram to both teach and learn about scientific concepts related to the body. Check out her introduction here.

My name is Wendy Corrales and I'm a 28-year old science aficionado. I studied environmental science at Florida International University and am currently studying nursing at CQ University in Australia. I love the idea of getting people interested in science by explaining it in a fun way, and that is how my anatomy "lesson" videos were born. I truly believe that if people realised how some of the body's inner processes work, or how intricate, complex and mysterious the brain is, or the way that viruses wage war in the body, they would become fascinated as well. It's all about creating interest, which is what these videos are about. I hope you enjoy them.

My name is Wendy Corrales and I’m a 28-year old science aficionado. I studied environmental science at Florida International University and am currently studying nursing at CQ University in Australia. I love the idea of getting people interested in science by explaining it in a fun way, and that is how my anatomy “lesson” videos were born. I truly believe that if people realised how some of the body’s inner processes work, or how intricate, complex and mysterious the brain is, or the way that viruses wage war in the body, they would become fascinated as well. It’s all about creating interest, which is what these videos are about. I hope you enjoy them.

Book review– Superfund: The Political Economy of Risk

9 Oct

51818097KBL._SY300_By: Rebecca Burton

 

Whenever someone reads the word “Superfund” in the news media, negative words that come to mind might be, “controversy, delay, outrage, cancer, mistrust,” and the list goes on. Superfund and the political and public battles that go along with it are prime meat for the press, especially when you tie in environmental and health risks and “big government.” Coming from a journalist, I can easily see how these types of stories spread like wildfire. But, John Hird’s suggestions for reform of what he calls an inherently inefficient law that was doomed from the onset, may easily make hazardous waste sites less dramatic and therefore less newsworthy.

Although the book did not focus entirely on the problem with the public’s perception of risk, he did mention it quite a bit and I found what he had to say very insightful. Instead of the usual risk communication books that only cover superficial explanations of why experts are always pitted as “against” the public, Hird put the entire problem in the context of the law itself.

Most generic risk communication books suggest problems such as “mistrust of institutions” are to blame for public outrage, and that greater transparency and honesty are the typical cookie-cutter solutions. Nothing is ever that simple. Since my thesis is focusing on evaluating the risk communication efforts of the EPA and the Department of Health to residents who live near the Koppers Superfund site in Gainesville, this book really put into context the history of the law and why it was flawed from the beginning. By understanding this, I can better understand why communication efforts are so tricky, and may not be the right solution to the bigger problem.

Hird begins by explaining how the public perceives chemical hazards. This is important because ultimately public perception of these problems, along with the pull of legislators, is what prompted the solution of the cleanup of abandoned hazardous waste sites such as the infamous Love Canal in New York. Ironically, public perception and fear is also part of the problem with Superfund’s inefficiency. Hird suggests there are more pressing and  concrete environmental and health concerns that we should be fearful of and that Superfund sites are not at the top of the list. Hird notes that Americans rate hazardous waste sites as the number one environmental problem (although this book and the study he cited are outdated by now), even when compared to global warming, deforestation and other problems with more “sound” science to back up the claims. The reasons for this fear of chemicals stemmed from many factors.

First, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring garnered national attention to the risks of pesticides. After that, national news agencies began devoting much more space to environmental stories focusing on health risks such as air pollution, water pollution and solid waste. This was a stark shift from earlier environmental concerns, which focused on themes of conservation, wilderness and stewardship.

Hazardous waste sites are a particular concern to the public since they are typically involuntary. Citizens didn’t choose to have a health risk—no matter how minute—near their home or children. The involuntariness is what makes the public angry, even though at most sites, the risk is no greater than chemicals and pollutants one might be exposed to naturally in their everyday lives.

While most of the science today regarding waste sites poses the risks as being minimal comparatively, Hird notes that the amount of uncertainty along with research agendas means the risks could be bigger than we think, or they could be minimal. Most research suggests the risks are overstated.

In addition to the public’s fear of hazardous waste sites, mistrust of the Environmental Protection Agency is another reason that American’s disagree on the risk of hazardous waste site. But the public’s mistrust alone is not enough to cause the spout of blame, conflict and inefficiency that Hird explains has plagued Superfund. Hird also explained that like a small puppy who knows it is in trouble, the EPA sometimes will sulk and hide even more from the public, and will never brag about the accomplishments it has made to Congress, furthering political polarization.

Despite the controversy, the book proposes that Superfund indeed has good intentions, but those intentions are not carried out in the right way. Hird organizes the book into three sections: assessing and managing risks, efficiency, equity and distributive politics, and explaining and reforming Superfund. In each, he proposes some of the problems with each and in the last section he gives some suggestions for reform and the current limitations on implementing them. I will summarize each section, highlighting some of the themes that resonated with me throughout the book and offer my critique on the solutions. Continue reading