Entries in Science (9)

Friday
Mar112016

The Importance of the Presentation in Science

Looking back to the start of my scientific career, I always assumed that once I had great data, my talks would be as flashy and convincing as the seminars I attended when top school professors sell their research. I still think that you need reasonably good data to give a convincing talk, but over the years I have seen many talks with amazing data that overall left a stale taste and didn’t excite any listener, even though the findings were quite remarkable if you were familiar with the field. On the contrary, I have seen talks about researchers saving the world with their work, of course only if you didn’t know that the work was comparably less exciting and fundamental. And I have realized for myself that once I had my 5-minute elevator speech down about my research, people were actually interested in my work and didn’t just ask me whether as a chemist I was able to replicate Breaking Bad or tell me how horribly they did in high school science. It was one of the more important lessons I have learned so far in my PhD: A good presentation is just as important as good results. Luckily it’s less time consuming and serendipity based than science to come up with a couple of intriguing slides. Some scientists have published articles about writing good papers[i], giving good presentations[ii] and so forth. Everybody has their own strengths and individual weaknesses, but there are some generally very useful guidelines to rapidly improve one’s performance in a talk.

For one, it is worth the effort to film one’s presentations. A good portion of what you learn with a personal “presentation trainer” becomes fairly obvious after watching yourself for just a couple of minutes. Did you have your hands in your pockets, was 80% of the content “as in, like, you know, that thing!” or were you reading off your own slides? You know when you hear a good talk and you know what’s bad about a talk most of the time, so watch yourself at least once on video.

In Germany we say “no master has fallen out of the sky”, which basically just reminds you to practice. A talk is at least twice as good if you’ve actually given it before, maybe not in front of an audience but definitely out loud. I didn’t take this advice early on in grad school and spent these last two hours before perfecting my slides. I am not saying that you shouldn’t have perfect slides, but practicing for an hour instead would have had a much more convincing outcome that having that one reference italicized. Which brings me to my next point…

Go over your slides with someone else. You have been staring at them for days, weeks, or however long, and they’ll look much better to you than they actually are. Also, choose someone with similar background as your audience. Always keep in mind that the most exciting statistics are just going to bore an organic chemist if the lingo is unintelligible.

There are a lot of things to keep in mind about not having too much text on your slide, how the title should be a summary, the right size of text, consistency throughout the talk, good color schemes (consider that a relatively large part of the population is color blind, so be considerate and use appropriate colors- there’s good literature about it[iii])… Lots of work, but negligible to the work you put into the science!  

Now there is much more to the art of presentation than that, but the point I’m trying to make is that there are a lot of scientists with amazing data, but often it is the presentation skills that set you apart from the masses and open doors for collaborations or jobs. Needless to say, I am over sitting in on boring talks about great science that would really shine with just a little extra time spent to perfect the presentation.


[i] Adv. Materi. 2014, 16, 1375-1378

[ii] Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2013, 52, 3780 – 3781

[iii] http://www.somersault1824.com/tips-for-designing-scientific-figures-for-color-blind-readers/

Monday
Nov092015

3D Printing Human Organs

3D printing has been used to construct variety of objects such as home decorations and even prosthetics. For these objects they are produced with plastic or metal materials. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon were able to modify a 3D printer to produce human tissues and organs.

The printer is able perform bioprinting by producing 3D biological materials using soft protein and polysaccharide hydrogels.  The materials are soft and fragile so during the 3D printing it would collapse on itself while it was in the air. To overcome this the researchers used a support gel to print the structures in with a technique called freeform reversible embedding of suspended hydrogels, FRESH. This gel allowed the printed structure to be fully formed with a support. Upon the conclusion of printing the support gel is melted by heating it to 37℃, body temperature.

Replicas of human coronary artery and and embryonic chick heart has been produced with this method. Using FRESH allows for low cost bioprinting and assists in tissue engineering.

 

http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/advances/1/9/e1500758.full.pdf 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zfl_tFdt2D4

 

-KP

Wednesday
Oct212015

Isotopes Beyond PET

Being in a lab that uses short-lived radioactive isotopes to study the human brain, we sometimes forget the utility of long-lived isotopes in other scientific fields. Reading the recent report of Bell et al. that indicates a potential for life developing on Earth as early as 4.1 Billion years ago,1 I was reminded of the vast historical knowledge humans have gained through isotopic measurement. In this study, zircons from the Jack Hills in Australia, known for containing the oldest terrestrial-formed material on Earth,2 were uranium-lead dated (4.1 Ga) and analyzed for the presence of partially disordered graphite (i.e. carbon, the atom of life). Zircons with graphite were analyzed for the presence of > 40 nm cracks—thanks to synchrotron transmission X-ray microscopy—to avoid regions that may have gathered carbon-based material after zircon formation. Crack-less regions were analyzed for evidence of biogenic carbon through 12C/13C isotopic ratio measurement.3 The 12C/13C ratio found in carbon-based inclusions in the Jack Hills zircon was consistent with the known biogenic carbon signature, suggesting that life may have had its start as early as 4.1 billion years ago, 300 million years earlier than previous reports.4 If earlier development of planetary life is the norm, it would increase current estimates of the prevalence of life throughout the universe. Bring on the aliens!

~GV

1)      Bell, E. A. et al. (2015). "Potentially biogenic carbon preserved in a 4.1 billion-year-old zircon". PNAS, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1517557112.

2)      Wilde, S. A.; et al. (2001). "Evidence from detrital zircons for the existence of continental crust and oceans on the Earth 4.4 Gyr ago." Nature 409 (6817):175–178.

3)      Schopf JW, Kudryavtsev AB (2014) Biogenicity of Earth’s earliest fossils. Evolution of Archean Crust and Early Life, Modern Approaches in Solid Earth Sciences, eds Dilek Y, Furnes H (Springer, Dordrecht, The Netherlands), Vol 7, pp 333–349.

4)      Mojzsis SJ, et al. (1996) Evidence for life on Earth before 3,800 million years ago. Nature 384 (6604):55–59.

Monday
May112015

New 3D Printing Inspired by the Terminator

Most current 3D printing techniques create three-dimensional objects via sequentially depositing materials (e.g., polymer) from an inkjet printer head in a layer-by-layer fashion under computer control. This process is usually time-consuming and might take hours to days to build an object. Additionally, the created objects are often mechanically inconsistent and weak due to their layered nature.

A recent Science paper reported a new 3D printing technique, which continuously grows 3D objects from a pool of UV-curable resin using a technique called continuous liquid interface production (CLIP). CLIP is a technique based on the equilibrium between the photo-polymerization of the resin and the oxygen-induced inhibition of the polymerization. A continuous sequence of UV light beam is projected from a transparent window below the resin pool, which leads to the curing of the resin and thus the growth of the object in the resin-air interface. On the other hand, this window is permeable to oxygen, where photo-polymerization is inhibited and thus prevents the resin from solidifying in the resin-window interface. CLIP is 25 to 100 times faster than the commercially available 3D printing techniques, and the resulting 3D objects exhibit mooth surfaces compared to those created by the traditional layer-by-layer deposition. At TED 2015, Joe DeSimone, one of inventors of CLIP mentioned that this technique was inspired by the liquid metal robot T-1000 in the famous movie, Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

~WZ

References:

Tumbleston, J. R., et al. Science, 2015, 347 (6228), 1349-1352.

Https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihR9SX7dgRo

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