Intrinsic excitability of human motoneurons in biceps brachii versus triceps brachii

My first publication is now available from the Journal of Neurophysiology:

Intrinsic excitability of human motoneurons in biceps brachii versus triceps brachii

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Featured on Northwestern Breakthroughs!

This past week I was featured as a Student Profile on Northwestern University’s research newsletter Breakthroughs! It was a real honour to be singled out and given the opportunity to represent my program and the PT department.

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Hey Dr. Pinkglasses Episode 2: PG Newsflash

Episode 2 of the Dr. Pinkglasses Show is up! This one I took a bit of a different approach — instead of talking about an already established science topic, I tried to present a paper that had been published a week beforehand.

I think there’s something to be said for communicating science by discussing new results and discoveries, as opposed to educating people using established textbook facts. Of course, there’s a time and a place for background knowledge – sometimes you have to go there first – but by communicating recent discoveries, you touch on some very fundamental aspects of science:

– the feeling of discovery and the satisfaction of new knowledge
– the possibility that the conclusions of the paper are fallible (after all, a competing paper a month later could very well disprove everything wrong)
– the possilility of new questions (which I call the “I-Don’t-Know Line”)

In science communication, the process is just as important as the results.

But enough babbling. The paper featured in the first PG Newsflash is entitled The Metabolic Cost of Human Running: Is Swinging the Arms Worth It?

I have to give my thanks to Dr. Christopher Arellano (now) at Brown University for his support and feedback in presenting his research!

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New Article: The Quantified Self

Late with the updating, but I have finally published my second article with Helix Magazine on the Quanfied Self movement.

Having been a proud dabbler in QS for the past year, taking the opportunity to plug the Chicago QS Meetup Group.

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Dr. Pinkglasses Pilot Episode: Brain Freeze!

After months of humming and hawwing over whether I should do anything past the Flame Challenge project, I’ve finally gone and done it.

This is the first episode of the Hey Dr. Pinkglasses series, in which Gene from LA asks: “What is an Ice Cream Headache”?

Of course I’m not so happy with it as a first video, if only because I don’t yet have the technical expertise to make something really polished, but I look forward to getting better at this as I make more videos.

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Helix Magazine’s “Beyond the Bench”

Last week I had the privelege and pleasure of being featured in the first episode of “Beyond the Bench”, a new Youtube series by Northwestern Science in Society‘s Helix Magazine.

Beyond the Bench aims to explore the interests and personal lives of research scientists to see how their scientific training has impacted the rest of their lives. I’m super excited that NUBAO was featured in the video along with footage from both our Teacher’s Workshop and this year’s Brain Fair.

Northwestern Science in Society is doing some great things. I just finished interviewing Mark Moschel, the head of the Chicago Quantified Self and Biohacking meetup groups, for my second article with Helix Magazine on the Quantified Self movement. It’s really great to be working with these guys!

The Beyond the Bench article is here but feel free to watch the video below.

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The Flame Challenge and a BIG ANNOUNCEMENT!

I can finally come out and say it: I’m a finalist in this year’s Flame Challenge.

The Flame Challenge is a science communication contest run by the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, in which a question is posed and researchers have to submit a written or a video response to that question at a level an 11-year old can understand.

The catch is that the judges are all 11-year olds. 27,000 of them, in fact.

So when this year’s question was “What is Colour” (which, for a neuroscientist, can yield an interesting answer), I decided last-minute to submit a video. Before I started filming I was going through my desk and caught sight of a pair of bright pink glasses I had bought at Target for some unknown reason. I didn’t know how I was going to do this video. All I had to work off of were my grade school idols, Bill Nye and Beakman. They taught science, but they had character as well.

Well, why not, I thought, and grabbed the glasses.

I camped out in a corner of my lab on a desolate thursday night, after having stolen the departmental camcorder, and filmed my response. That Saturday I did the editing, fumbling along with Windows Movie Maker and stock sound effects. Just for kicks, and for some sort of measure of success, I included an email address at the very end for kids to message if they had any more science questions they wanted answered. Then, I submitted the video thinking it would get lost in the abyss and I wouldn’t hear back about it again.

Weeks later I’m on vacation in LA, and I check the email address — two emails. No science questions. Simply two messages from two 11-year olds saying they liked my video and hoped I won. I felt quite good after that, thinking I had done some modicum of good in the world, and left it at that.

The next week I get told I’m a finalist in the competition, and then told (much to my chagrin) that I wasn’t allowed to talk about it until the Worldwide Assembly on the 30th, lest my identity skew the results.

Anyway, it’s not my identity. Dr. Pinkglasses is Internet Famous. (I’ve already gotten my first hate letter, which according to multiple sources means I’ve made it to the big time). And I was Dr. P at the Worldwide Assembly talking to the schools that were webconferencing in to give their critiques of the finalists.

I’ve been sort of cycling between elated and nauseous for the past couple of weeks.

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NUBAO Brain Fair 2014!

Last week was the 4th annual NUBAO Brain Fair. While we usually hold Brain Fair at Nettelhorst Elementary in Chicago, this was the first year we tried to upgrade to a bigger venue by hosting the Fair at Lakeview High School.

That was probably for the best, as we had over 700(!) registrants and over 80 graduate student volunteers. We kept our old favourite activities, the most popular being our “Hold a Sheep Brain” Neuroanatomy booth, EMG-driven Lego Mindstorms and our newer Fat Brain activity (which makes a big show out of blending up pig brains and separating the fat from the tissue using ethanol). Every time I do Brain Fair I keep thinking we’ve reached our saturation point of fun activities and I don’t think we can dream up any more. But this year our organizers, Laura and Natalie, introduced two new booths:

– a snazzy device with a microphone and headset that produces an extra long delay in auditory feedback when you speak into it (and it totally messes you up when you try to talk);
– a giant neuron model that lights up when you pop “neurotransmitters” into open slots

Also, they added a feature at the end which I LOVE — a giant brain next to the exit, where visitors can write down the most important or interesting thing they learned that day, and stick it on the brain.

Anyway, yes, it’s also the first year in which I had handed off my responsibilities as co-organizer to our successors, and was content to be a regular volunteer. After 3 years co-organizing the Brain Fair, I feel a certain sadness in handing off something I helped create to the next generation of graduate students. But, the thesis calls (as well as other, newer projects) — and I’m happy to leave the Brain Fair to creative, enthusiastic people who can keep working toward the vision that we had when we first started this group. Nowadays for most NUBAO planning meetings I just sort of sit around and dispense a mix of advice and eccentric jokes. I think that’s how an emeritus professor must feel.
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Flame Challenge Finalists are UP!

For those keeping tabs on the Alan Alda Flame Challenge (a science communication competition in which scientists try to explain “What is Colour?” to 11-year olds around the world), the finalists in both written and video categories have been posted.

I’m going to be extremely interested in seeing how this plays out, because each of the finalists are using different stylistic strategies to connect with their audience. Big budget versus small budget; nameless narration versus a personality narrator; storytelling versus a conversation versus a lecture.

Since I like to run my mouth off about how science communication is the humanization of science, the attempt to put a face on research, it will be fascinating to see whether these videos support that hypothesis and to what extent. I’m going to be tuning into the Flame Challenge Worldwide Assembly on April 30th, will you?

Also, need I mention this website is now LIVE? No more bananaphone vaguaries for me!

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