Tag Archives: science

But WHY?

“Why?” That’s probably my favorite question. Whereas some kids go through a brief phase of “But, why?” I never really outgrew that, which is probably one of the driving forces behind my choice to become a scientist.

My editor at Pro Se Productions, who is also a writer, discussed the “why” behind his choice to write pulp and also addressed the fact that most writers will give a rather vague answer when asked why we write and even why we write what we write.

So, why do I write and more specifically, why do I write my personal blend of science fiction, fantasy and romance?

The reason, as with many things, goes way back to childhood. Even before I read, I played make believe. Mr. Rogers showed me that in Make Believe, anything could happen. My family had some rocky times. To be honest it was probably rocky and troubled more often than not. In Make Believe, I didn’t have to be me, people were nice, the bad guys got what was coming to them– or more likely, realized how horrid they had been and became good, and all was right with the world.

I recall sitting down, even as young as five, to watch the evening news. I remember Ronald Regan’s re-election, Challenger’s explosion, watching the fall of the Berlin wall, Tienanmen square massacre, Iran Contra, and innumerable other incidents that are now little blurbs in the history books. While I rarely comprehended all the nuances of the events I witnessed on television, I felt the emotional impact.

I realized that horrible things happened in the world, but I was “the glass is half full, and if it isn’t I’ll make it that way” sort of gal. Along with my daily dose of reality, I watched re-runs of the original Star Trek, and then a few years later ST:TNG won my unending devotion. Those shows, with a smattering of other science fiction shows and movies, reinforced my beliefs that humanity could be so much more, so much better, but sometimes it took a single voice to lead the way. Science fiction wasn’t afraid to question the status quo. It wasn’t afraid to ask “What if?” It made you think. It made you ponder. It wasn’t about the special effects and explosions of today’s sci-fi movies and shows. It invested you in characters and you found yourself wrestling with dilemmas right beside them in your imagination.

On a small scale, when one reads, one is taken to another place, escapes to a universe where horrors or drudgery from everyday life disappear as long as you keep turning pages. Fiction can open your eyes to ideas in ways that mere didactic knowledge cannot. Open one mind to love, acceptance, tolerance and all of the things our world is in so much need of and you have planted a seed of hope for the human race.  Make it entertaining, fantastical, and gut wrenching and you make that world and those characters stick with a reader long after they put the book down.

How does all of that boil down to why I write?

In short, I write to change the world.

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Dr. Who?

Doctor ME!

Yes, I know, you expected the one with the TARDIS. I’m sorry, I’ve misplaced mine. It would really come in handy when dropping children off at different schools which insist on starting at the same time on opposite ends of town. Needless to say, Miss Drama has a few tardies as a result.

I graduated in December and am now employed. Yay for work, b/c work = paycheck. Now that I’m working, the urge to write has returned, at least in my non-comatose hours. I also want to garden, but it’s below 32 F outside. The motivation macro in my brain is clearly out of sync with the world. Perhaps it’s from zooming around in the TARDIS?

My companion seems reluctant.

My companion seems reluctant.

I suppose if I want to get writing done I’ll simply have to recalibrate the inertial dampers. What? That always worked in Star Trek, unless of course they had to reverse polarity.

One Step Forward…Two Back

The downside of being gluten free, aside from the complexity of eating out and cooking, is that there are people bound and determine to prove it is just a “fad”. I will grant that gluten sensitivity, and likely Celiacs as well, is a complicated pathology that involves more than just the gluten trigger.  This makes it no less real than say, schizophrenia, bipolar, major depression, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, or any number of diseases with complicated, hard to test pathology.

There’s currently articles going around claiming that non-Celiac gluten intolerance does not exist based on a paper published by a Dr. Peter Gibson who decided his prior published work was suspect and so repeated it, which reversed the results.

As a scientist, I’d like to point out a few things. His sample size was 37 individuals. Those individuals were divided into four groups and each got a different diet. Their diagnosis was mostly self-diagnosed and confirmed via questionaire. So basically, 37 people who maybe are gluten intolerant but could also have something else going on (yeast overgrowth, food allergy, parasites to name a few) were picked. On one hand it demonstrates the need for a definitive method of diagnosis, but also, that the experimental setup is questionable.

That’s a whopping nine folks in each category. What measures were taken to ensure patient compliance? Anyone who has attempted a GF diet knows how hard it is to avoid gluten. Also, two-weeks is not enough time for severe inflammation to reduce and for the body to heal. It often takes MONTHS. Wikipedia explains the whole FODMAP thing. Do some of the things on that list bother me? Yes. Do they send me into days of gastric distress like gluten and casein do? Nope. Many Celiacs and GF sensitive individuals, due to the nature of inflammation, have problems with many other foods that can exacerbate inflammation.

Were some of those patients likely not GF sensitive? Quite likely. This does not mean that gluten is not a problem for some people.

The important point is that non-Celiac’s gluten intolerance is not a new thing.

Read here or here for starters.

If you aren’t sick, don’t buy the hype. GF is not a fad diet. It isn’t the next new awesome weight loss trick. It’s a lifetime commitment required out of necessity.

I felt like puking up my guts for a solid year and at my worst was curled up in bed with debilitating migraines and intestinal cramps. My GI doctor told me to eat more fiber since I wasn’t a Celiac. Yeah, that didn’t really help. Trust me, if there’s a problem, you WILL know, as your body will make it pretty darn clear.

If you eliminate foods and find that you feel drastically better, don’t be afraid to trust what your body tells you, no matter what research gets shared around the internet.

Three Years Later

WordPress informed me I’ve been prattling on here for three years now. Has it been that long? Really? Wow.  This week has and continues to be a lot of WOW– no, I do not mean World of Warcraft. Sorry, but that’s a different realm of adventure.

I presented a poster at my first national American Chemical Society convention.

Teaching mode, ENGAGE!

Teaching mode, ENGAGE!

I met people from all over who are as equally passionate about science as I am. The Expo Hall showcased all kinds of nifty tech that us poor academics drool over, but can rarely afford.  It was also a wonderful, encouraging sight to see an equal representation of men and women, at least in the under 45 crowd.

While all of that science-y fun was going on, my publishers scrambled to get two stories out in time for MidSouthCon, which I attend starting today and ending on Sunday. The prequel short story, Daughter of Destiny: Reaper is available for purchase on Amazon, as is the novel, Crossroads of Fate: Daughter of Destiny. I have to admit, I teared up when I saw how awesome it looks. I started this book way back when Miss Drama was an infant. That’s eight years ago! It’s been an amazing journey of learning and making new friends. Now I get to share my stories with all of you, with plenty more excitement yet to come. For my blog followers, I say an extra thank you for liking, commenting, and sharing my online writing journey.

DaughterDestinyPromo_Color

The short story will be available free for MidSouthCon attendees, so if you plan to attend, stop by ProRow or Pro Se Production’s booth to get your code! Also, I’ll have nifty buttons as swag for my Fated Bonds fans!

 

The Stubborn Ones

Yesterday I attended a WIMS (Women in Medicine and Science) talk regarding being assertive. Today I ran across this article, a look at why there are still so few women in science.

In particular, the following excerpt resonated with me:

Four young women — one black, two white, one Asian by way of Australia — explained to me how they had made it so far when so many other women had given up.
“Oh, that’s easy,” one of them said. “We’re the women who don’t give a crap.”
Don’t give a crap about — ?
“What people expect us to do.”
“Or not do.”
“Or about men not taking you seriously because you dress like a girl. I figure if you’re not going to take my science seriously because of how I look, that’s your problem.”
 

I’m one of those, the stubborn ones. When kids teased me, instead of conforming, I dug in my heels. When I heard that boys were better at math, and my brother regularly demonstrated his skills, I simply worked harder When told that maybe I should just go into teaching, as real science was a man’s field I just laughed.

I gravitated toward the teachers willing to challenge me. Some, especially at the graduate level, push harder and demand more than they do of others. There have been days when I gave in to tears. It wasn’t fair. I had performed adequately– not stellar, mind, but adequately, on par with others. I’d even pointed out flaws in the other students’ work and been able to see things they hadn’t, and yet I got dressed down.

After emotions cooled, I comprehended why my professor pushed me harder. He stated as much. “You’re smart and you can do better. People won’t go easy on you. You’re on a hard path, but I think you can do it.”

At least he expressed his faith in me, but it didn’t make me like getting dressed down any more. Basically, his message was that I was a woman with personal odds stacked against her, in a field dominated by men, and to compete I had to not only do well, I had to blast away the competition.

At one point, when I was extremely frustrated and being told I might be forced to take the Masters because, basically, I had kids and my boss wasn’t sure I could meet the demands of a Ph.D. I had to argue my case to the department chair.

That professor who demanded so much of me told me, “You have what it takes, even more so than other students I’ve seen in this department.” He said a few choice words about anyone who thought otherwise, which is why I took his criticisms so hard later on.

While I’ve had a couple of female biology professors in undergrad I saw as mentors, the vast majority of my interactions have been with males. There isn’t a single female faculty member in my department.

Most of the time, those interactions have been positive, and they’ve been supportive.

The article mentioned the author’s lack of confidence as key to why she didn’t pursue science. I think that right there is the linchpin. I knew what I wanted from an early age, and nothing and no one would stop me. Professors saw that single-minded dedication. When asked what I wanted, I didn’t hem and haw. Rather, I laid out my goals. That assertive, goal oriented mentality is what garners support.

I’m an outlier. I recognize this. We, as a society, need to change that curve. Even as an outlier, there are sacrifices I’m not willing to make. There are career paths I won’t choose, because unlike some who may define their success solely by their career, my definition is much broader. I look at the stacked deck and know when to leave the table. I won’t pursue a tenure position- at least not as a young scientist. I simply won’t play a game that I have little hope of winning, not with three kids that need me around more than a university needs a new professor.

That’s the kicker. While some men opt out at the expense of their career, women do so by the droves. At the end, everyone loses.

There’s no easy answer, but it starts with encouraging kids no matter their gender. It’s up to us to change the structure of academia and industry so that success does not mean sacrificing our families on the altar of the corporate ladder. It means understanding and acknowledging we all have biases, and to find ways to minimize their influence.

Above all, it’s up to us to teach our kids to be the  outliers. I’m working on it, but they are so darn stubborn…

The cost of science

In the current economic state everything gets boiled down to the bottom line. How many discoveries are we missing? More importantly, how many young scientists, like myself, see the battles our professors wage and think, “Ah, hell no.”?

I was chatting with a visiting student who is doing research in our lab for several months. She, as well as the other graduate student in my lab all say the same thing. We have no desire to do what our professor does day in and day out.

Why?

Being a professor now entails a bit of teaching, a lot of inane meetings, and spending way more than a mere forty hours a week writing grants, re-writing grants and prepping reports if you are lucky enough to have received funding. The stress must be intense, because not only is a professor’s career on the line, the livelihoods of every technician, student, and research assistant depends on him or her.

A professor from my undergraduate university gave a talk here this week for graduate student day.

“Imagine, ” she said, “that Charles Darwin proposed a grant for traveling around for a decade or so just to observe and think about how different species of birds are related. That wouldn’t go over.”

The imaginative out-of-the-box thinking has to take place on our own time while we juggle all the things that pay the bills. Sounds rather like being a writer in many ways.  In fact, she emphasized that the best scientists had outside creative interests which kept that right-left brain balance in check.

My boss is one of those dreamer types. He’s always saying he needs to start a company because grants don’t pay enough, but he has no patience for business and would likely give away a drug if it cured something, rather than charge a hefty price like big pharma. He has endless ideas, many of which he might never get a chance to pursue.

The emphasis on the bottom line, having to work with very little resources, fewer and fewer trained personnel and still deliver high quality data is likely driving the next generation of scientists out of academia.

Why should we teach when the universities want you to water everything down? Why dedicate every ounce of our energy into running a lab when funding has become just as political as Washington?

As both a mother and scientist the state of our society worries me. The decline of the educational system combined with the fiscal squeeze in research are going to cost us much more in the long run than we save by any current spending cuts. I can only hope that we repair our system before it crashes and burns.

You’re Getting Warmer…or Is it Colder?

Today dawned with a chill in the air and blanket of fog worthy of London or San Francisco. By the time I went out for lunch, not a wisp of fog or clouds remained. A glorious seventy degrees, the itchy twitch in my left eye declares Spring is here.

Judging by what I was wearing, some poor soul trapped indoors who glanced out a window might think it was cold. I still wore my coat. What that observer couldn’t see is the cardigan vest, the long-sleeve blouse, and tank layered underneath.

Most of you are probably sweating just reading that.

Maybe I have a negative Boltzmann distribution of energy?

Confused?

Stick with me…

Earlier in the year scientists announced that they cooled molecules below absolute zero.  According to that writer’s explanation, temperature scales are circular. Supposedly at that temperature the Boltzmann distribution is upside down and going below zero is like circling back to hot. Yeah, I don’t get it really either, but I seem to share something in common with these confusing little gas atoms:

“Objects with negative temperatures behave strangely, for example energy flows from them to ones with positive temperature. ”

All of my friends and family would certainly confirm that I behave strangely.

In addition, I abandon body heat to my surrounding environment like I’m a billionaire tossing out wads of hundred dollar bills, when in reality I’m far from it. The result? I’m often cold….and broke, but that’s a different problem.

A joke I often tell, especially to crowds, is that I have the heat retention of an endothermic reaction. Once in awhile people laugh. More often they stare at me with eyes glazed over and give me reason to bemoan the nation’s horrid basic science education standards.

Assuming I’m not from some upside down distribution universe, it seems that a more likely explanation is fibromyalgia. It runs in my family, and people with one autoimmune condition tend to collect disorders like trading cards no one wants. Yes, I have pain, but not all of the time. I’ve noticed a distinct correlation between eating foods I know are difficult for my system to handle (pro-inflammatory in nature) and systemic pain. Gluten, should I happen to accidentally ingest it, triggers systemic inflammation and fatigue, but other foods can do that as well. If I grow lax in taking anti-inflammatory herbs and my vitamins, I likewise notice an increased incidence in flare ups.

Personally, I think the underlying pathology is the same for most, if not all autoimmune disorders, but since we don’t yet understand the causes, beyond a chronic state of inflammation, we end up cataloging certain symptoms as one illness and another set of symptoms as a separate illness. My current collection: allergies, asthma, gluten/casein intolerance, and fibromyalgia. If I count the gluten and casein separately, can I say I have a full house and maybe my body won’t call my bluff and I win the game?

A girl can try.

It occurred to me that aside from typical aches and pains of pregnancy, I enjoyed being pregnant. Aside from the obvious part of getting a teenie human out of the gig, for the first time my body behaved. My innards worked. I wasn’t freezing. My allergies….well, those mostly behaved. My asthma gave me no problems. Not to mention, my hair grew thicker.

Studies show there is a link between the mysterious process of creating a new little person and auto-immune disorders. Unfortunately big giant gaps filled with question marks dot the landscape of what we know. Connection? Undoubtedly. How/Why? No clue.

Not every auto-immune disorder reacts the same during pregnancy, either. Likely, age and number of pregnancies could also factor. One might theorize that the circumvention controls which protect the baby “protected” me. Then, after baby, I now had all sorts of kind-of-me cells floating around. Considering my immune system thinks dust mites deserve more attention than viruses, I can see how my easily confused system now thinks everything is fair game.

Of course, being from an upside down Boltzmann distribution universe could still be a possibility.