I had an amazing experience at TEDx San Antonio, and received the awesome opportunity to present a pop up speech to an audience talking about my love of science and this blog. Plus I got many recommendations for interview you’ll be seeing here. In the meanwhile check out this summary of the event published by the Rivard Report:
Receive your first sheep eyeball at age four, dissect it with plastic knives
Watch nature documentaries (preferable narrated by a British dude (preferably the British dude is David Attenborough)) instead of saturday morning cartoons
Have a book of pointless questions your parents can’t answer, make your parents look up the answers (throw a fit if motivation is lacking)
If any species of animal is present ignore the boring humans
Take any science class offered at least twice (link to classes)
Refuse to wear shoes, ever
Find a book about medicinal plants, decide to heal the world with them, be very disappointed when you discover none of them grow in Texas
Make multiple wooden spears so you can live in the wild, feel terrible the one time you actually hit a bird (don’t worry the bird was fine)
Make survival kit, wear it under your dress at the school dance
Trade all your birthday presents for donations to a wildlife organization, impress them so much you get a private tour (it was awesome) Link to Organization
And one more:
11) always be really really really excited about science
12) (also never stop at just 10)
The outcome of this election is shocking, and yes I still get a hole in my chest when I think of next January. And yes, I am furious that I witnessed a freshman crying because she was afraid to come out now. I am scared for those who were planning on getting married next year. And yes, I am scared I might not be able to get married in the future. And yes, I needed some time to freak the f*ck out, hug my friends, and cry a little.
However today I was reminded of something very important, and something very relevant. Perusing my school library’s shelf of “books looking for a good home.” There were battered copies of Chicken Soup for the Soul, reference books from the 60’s, and a series on American Women. I picked one up to see a painting of a suffragist on the front.
Yes, Trump’s presidency is scary. But we fought for the right for women to vote for 50 years, and in 1920 we won. In 1840 the first woman earned a college degree, and in 1823 the first black man. in 1877 the first woman graduated from medical school, at the top of her class. In 1903 Marie Curie was the first woman to earn a noble peace prize, and the only woman to have earned two. In 2004 the first gay couple were legally married.
This litany of names gives me hope. We have faced discrimination, racism, homophobia, and injustice before. But we have climbed over and above it. Trump’s presidency might set this country back, but he can not make us forget the past triumphs. And we will continue to fight for all of our rights.
Yes, I am more afraid than I have ever been before. But I still believe in hope.
“It’s the boring stuff that makes a difference”
Most people might not consider Jenny Hixon a scientist. She crunches numbers, and writes grants, and stays up to ungodly hours reading dissertations. Jenny is a researcher for many nonprofits here in Texas, often focusing on public health and social problems. Jenny does the not-so glamorous part of being a scientist, but, as she says, “it’s the boring stuff that makes a difference”.
Jenny is currently researching a controversial topic here in Texas-abortion. Specifically abortion funds (nonprofits that help women get abortions) and how communities react to unjust laws. According to her research, abortion funds in texas have tripled since restricting laws have been passed.
Abortion rights were also what got her into this field. She was working on an undergraduate degree in music at UTSA when some anti-abortion protesters caught her attention. When their data did not add up Jenny went to the University Library and started doing her own research. This was the beginning of many many hours sifting through data.
Most of the work Jenny does can be categorized into the field of “Social Epidemiology.” Social epidemiology is based on the idea that an individual’s “health is a product of all lived experiences” Jenny explains to me. What she is saying is that it doesn’t ONLY matter what diseases I might be exposed to. My genetics, stress, diet, where I live, financial standing, it all plays a part in an individual’s health. For example if I am stressed out I am more likely to get stomach ulcers. Everything plays a part in an individual’s health. There are so many strands connected to every person that it seems an impossible job. Yet social epidemiology is about finding a thread and finding the effects it causes, or the other way around. Jenny focuses on how social forces impact health.
The worst part of the job is how time consuming it is Jenny says. She didn’t believe the power raw/localized data had until she saw it in action for herself. But her research often makes its way to Austin, and to the State Capitol. It’s proof that science can change the status quo, if you read enough research papers!
If you have a dog you know roundworms as the bad guys. In fact over half of the known species of roundworms are parasitic. But they aren’t always the bad guys. Jyotsna Sharma, a marine ecologist, studies the “good” species of roundworms. She uses roundworms as a bio indicator, an organism that scientists can study to see how healthy an ecosystem is. She is currently looking at roundworms found in the sediment of the Gulf, to see how the populations change before and after an oil spill. Before she was at UTSA she also studied similar populations on the west coast of Canada, and North Sea estuaries, as well as worms found in the skin folds of Stink Pot turtles.
Round worms constitute the entirety of the phylum Nematoda. Some claim that these small worms constitute 90% of life on the ocean floor. The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in 2010 dumped 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. We all saw the pictures of shores covered in oil, dead fish, and oil smothering sea birds. The work Jyotsna Sharma does set out to prove that the smaller organisms were affected as well. Even if the animals were microscopic and mesoscopic they are still important because of their roles in marine ecosystems.
The research teams gathered samples from the sediments of shorelines heavily hit by the oil spills. They not only compared what species were prevalent but also marker genes and morphological characteristics of some species. Before the oil spill, the animals were diverse and balanced. After the oil spill fungal populations bloomed, many were hydrocarbon-degrading fungi. After the oil spill many of the nematodes were predatory or scavengers, rather than a balance. The majority were also juveniles, suggesting that many of the adults had been killed off. Next Professor Sharma collaborated on a research paper discussing the recovery of nematode population recuperation after the oil spill. Her results showed that the population only started to gradually repair after 12 months. These results show that even after the physical signs of the oil spill were gone, it still had devastating impact on the ecosystem and organisms.
When researching Professor Sharma’s work I learned a lot about these little worms, and I thought to share some fun facts about them.
- Nematodes can be pretty scary. Some species of nematodes have a sharp stylet that they thrust into their prey. This tube appendage allows them to suck up the bodily juices, aka vampire worms.
- Digestive enzymes are produced in the pharynx. If the species has a stylet these enzymes can be injected into their prey to start digesting it even before it’s in the worm’s mouth.
- Nematodes have no stomach; the muscular pharynx connects directly to the intestine. The intestines have no muscles so the food is moved through the system propelled by the worm’s bodily movement.
- Nematodes are found in every part of the world, marine, freshwater, polar, topical, soil, from the tops of mountains to oceanic trenches. Nematodes were even found 3.6 kilometers (over two miles) underground.
- A species of giant nematodes live in the stomach of sperm wales and can grow to 8 meters long.
If you want to check out Jyotsna Sharma’s work here are the links to research papers:
I would also like to thank Ms. Sharma for talking to me about her research, and allowing me to post this article.
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