Science writing

Whether I'm delving into why consuming silver can turn your skin blue or sharing about glowing creatures, I love learning and writing about science and the natural world. Here's a smattering of the pieces I've written.

 
 
US Coast Guard Photo/Alamy Stock Photo

US Coast Guard Photo/Alamy Stock Photo

Sponge can soak up and release spilled oil hundreds of times

March 6, 2017 New Scientist

A new material can absorb up to 90 times its own weight in spilled oil and then be squeezed out like a sponge and reused, raising hopes for easier clean-up of oil spill sites.

This contrasts with most commercial products for soaking up oil, called “sorbents”. These are generally only good for a single use, acting like a paper towel used to mop up a kitchen mess and then tossed away. The discarded sorbents and oil are then normally incinerated.

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Warning, may cause side-effects: Nanoparticles in the environment

November 22, 2016 Helix Magazine

As with medicines in our bodies, chemicals in the environment act and interact differently when multiple are present. For plants, insects, or microbes, chemical contaminants may be more or less toxic in combination than they are alone.

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Nanoparticles surrounding E. coli bacteria imaged by TEM. Image copyright Gray Research Lab. All rights reserved.

Nanoparticles surrounding E. coli bacteria imaged by TEM. Image copyright Gray Research Lab. All rights reserved.


Fog floats above McAlester Lake. Image: Carolyn Wilke

Fog floats above McAlester Lake. Image: Carolyn Wilke

The changing face of the North Cascades

September 22, 2016 Helix Magazine

Located a few hours drive from Seattle, the North Cascades National Park showcases the majesty of mountains frosted with snow, the splendor of ancient trees reaching to the skies, and the jubilance of meadows bursting with wildflowers.  Glaciers and volcanoes have shaped this landscape over millennia. The forces of nature pushed up mountain peaks, carved valleys, and dropped lakes like gems over the land, creating a region teeming with ecological diversity. Things here are still changing, but because of a different force: climate change.

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Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the bluest of them all?

July 21, 2016 Helix Magazine

High-level or long-term exposure to silver causes a disease known as argyria. Argyria permanently turns the skin a shocking shade of blue or gray. While this condition typically occurs because of silver ingestion, it can also result from the overzealous use of silver-containing nasal sprays and eye drops (neither of which is recommended by the FDA). Famously-blue Paul Karason was known as “Papa Smurf” (photo). He developed his azure hue from drinking a concoction of silver nanoparticles, a practice which he thought would improve his health.

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Wood frog image accessed from Wikimedia Commons, taken by biologist Brian Gratwicke.

Wood frog image accessed from Wikimedia Commons, taken by biologist Brian Gratwicke.

Nature's Mysteries: Frog Freeze and Thaw

April 8, 2016 Helix Magazine

Spring is here. In the forests of the Midwest, frogs are waking from their hibernation. Many of these frogs, including the spring peeper (Pseudaris crucifer) and the wood frog (Rana sylvatica), hibernate below the bark of trees or beneath leaf litter on the forest floor. As cold-blooded animals, they need heat from outside sources to maintain their body temperature. When the temperature drops, these frogs freeze.

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Don't Forget the Sunscreen

November 24, 2015 Helix Magazine

“Don’t forget the sunscreen!” The imperative cried before a trip to the beach is an important one, with the pasty white lotion saving many a sunbather from sunburns and damage from the sun’s UV rays, which can lead to skin cancer. Many of these lotions use small, invisible nanoparticles of the minerals titanium dioxide and zinc oxide to save your skin. But when the warmth of the sun’s rays encourages us to splash in the waves on the beach, we do not usually think of where washed off sunscreen components are going. When these incredibly tiny nanoparticles enter the environment, they become pollutants and how they interact with light is cause for concern.

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Image Source: Robert S. Donovan/flickr

Image Source: Robert S. Donovan/flickr


The Secret Life of Lichens

August 13, 2015 Helix Magazine

 Recently I visited the Field Museum in an effort to start chipping away at the deficit in my cultural exploration of Chicago. It was a fun outing, though it ended with fatigue, a very saturated mind, and the satisfaction that my perusal of the exhibits was very thorough. Out of all the interesting exhibits I saw at the Field Museum, the one that most captivated my attention was one on lichens, “the coolest things you’ve never heard of.”

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Bioluminescence in the Natural World

July 1, 2015, Helix Magazine

Things that glow have long captivated our imaginations. For me, the word “glow” itself evokes images of fairies and magical potions, or the latest Disney movie I’ve seen in which some luminous object is key to the storyline. Glow-ers of the natural world also provide beauty and fascination.

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The zooplankton Beroidae use their hair-like projections called cilia to propel through the water. U.S. NOAA/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

The zooplankton Beroidae use their hair-like projections called cilia to propel through the water. U.S. NOAA/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS


Regulating Toxic Substanes

June 25, 2015, Helix Magazine

Like many Americans, I’ve lived under the assumption that the chemicals used in all sorts of everyday products are thoroughly tested and known to be safe. However, every so often, we’re reminded that this is not always the case.

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Measuring Earth's Health

April 10, 2015, Helix Magazine

When I was visiting family this past week, my mother-in-law shared with us how she uses her Fitbit to keep track of how much she exercises, how well she sleeps, what she has been eating, and other lifestyle information. The numbers she watches—her number of steps, caloric intake, and so on—are “metrics” of her health and though they don’t tell her everything, they allow her to measure progress in keeping her health goals on a day-to-day basis. Just like there are metrics that are helpful in tracking human health, it would be useful to have indicators for the health of the earth.

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