Muses: Parasite of the Day

If you’ve read other blog posts here or followed us on Twitter, you’ve likely noticed that we kind of like parasites. A lot. And whether or not you can muster up the same fascination, it’s kind of hard to argue against their importance; roughly 40% of species on earth are parasitic, and as many as 75% of relationships in all foodwebs involve a parasitic interaction of some kind.

Phalangium_opilio_with_parasitic_Mite_larvae_20060729_top (1)

Tirelessly working to inform the world of every last one of these amazing lifeforms is the brilliant blog Parasite of the Day. Writing up the unique behaviours of nematodes, hookworms, flukes and wasps with equal clarity and care, authors Tommy Leung and Susan Perkins have created what might actually be the best resource of its kind. I think what I like most about it is that it takes the appeal of its subject matter as implicit. There are no attempts to downplay the grossness or apologize for the squeamishness that might result from reading the posts.

Another extremely admirable thing about Parasite of the

Muses: David Ng

Dr. David Ng is definitely our kind of person. In addition to being smart as a scientist, he’s an excellent and inventive communicator with a great instinct for creating hooks. He’s also very skilled at devising relatable premises that are truly capable of carrying a scientific discussion. I wrote a lot about this in my post on science writing, and Ng is a perfect example. If you plan to write about science for the public you need literary ingenuity in addition to scientific smarts.

A selection of cards from one Phylogame deck. © The individual artists (CC BY-NC-SA 2.5 CA)One of Ng’s more notable creations is the Phylogame. The idea grew from a simple observation: Despite a widespread difficulty with memorizing scientific facts, schoolchildren have a staggering capacity to memorize varieties of Pokemon. So Ng and his collaborators gamified actual animal biology. And this isn’t just a cosmetic operation (though several different styles of starter deck are now available): the game mechanics hinge on scientific knowledge and include variations for different

Muses: DIY spectroscopy

The Public Lab is, I think, a generally stellar example of how to go about citizen science: they identify genuine, pressing scientific needs that are underserved by existing institutions, develop effective and practical ways of addressing them, and then deftly articulate both to the public. Those steps are difficult enough to get right individually, let alone all at once—and repeatedly. Their ingenuity, insight and deep understanding of practical citizen science makes them not just role models, but inspirations. And that makes them an excellent subject for our first “Muses” post—a category for people and projects we find inspiring.

A whole lot of science fan culture tends to focus on heavy machinery: think the Large Hadron Collider or the Curiosity rover. These things are important for physicists and astronomers (and fans like me), but if you’re in a wetland, a factory, residential area, or salmon farm and you encounter an unknown substance, particle collision is not going to tell you what’s in your water. For that, you need spectrometry. And for that, it turns out, you do not need a PhD.