senior scientist


Graceful and critically endangered, an encounter with a hawksbill sea turtle will leave even us conservationists speechless. Nature Conservancy senior scientist @heystephwear swam alongside one on a recent trip to St. John in the Caribbean. The Conservancy is working to protect their nesting beaches, often the same beaches where they themselves were born. @nature_caribbean #turtle #seaturtle #caribbean #ocean #iliketurtles #endangeredspecies (at St John USVI)

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You can explore the solar system—and maybe even help scientists discover a new planet—thanks to Backyard Worlds: Planet 9, a new citizen-science tool developed by NASA in collaboration with the American Museum of Natural History and other partners and released today.

“It’s hard to believe, but our solar neighborhood is still unexplored territory,” said Jackie Faherty, a senior scientist in the Museum’s Department of Astrophysics and a collaborator on the project. “There are cold worlds hiding just a short distance from the Sun, and Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 is a platform for bringing citizen scientists into the search party.”

Read more about the project on our blog.

A Genetic Oddity May Give Octopuses and Squids Their Smarts

By Steph Yin

Coleoid cephalopods, a group encompassing octopuses, squid and cuttlefish, are the most intelligent invertebrates: Octopuses can open jars, squid communicate with their own Morse code and cuttlefish start learning to identify prey when they’re just embryos.

In fact, coleoids are the only “animal lineage that has really achieved behavioral sophistication” other than vertebrates, said Joshua Rosenthal, a senior scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass. This sophistication could be related to a quirk in how their genes work, according to new research from Dr. Rosenthal and Eli Eisenberg, a biophysicist at Tel Aviv University.

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Does climate change really cause conflict?
While researchers agree that climate change can exacerbate human conflict, there are many that caution against using it to explain the root causes of war
By Amy Westervelt

The problem is both scientific and social. “If you want to show that climate change has contributed to an increase in civil violence, then you need to control for other factors,” explains Andrew Solow, senior scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts. “This is a fundamental scientific principle. But it is difficult to do.”

Half a dozen or so researchers have attempted to do this, and a few have come close. In 2013, Stanford researchers Sol Hsiang and Marshall Burke, for example, conducted a meta analysis of 50 studies on conflict and climate change and found that higher temperatures and extreme precipitation tend to correlate with greater incidence of conflict.

Pete Newell, a retired army colonel and a consultant to the defense department and other government agencies, says he has seen the impacts of water and energy scarcity firsthand in conflict zones. “In my personal opinion, that underlies a lot of the issues and conflict,” Newell says. “I saw it a few years ago, watching tribes along the Iraq-Iran border going to war over water rights. And it’s becoming worse as populations migrate to urban coastal centers and those areas’ ability to provide services are overwhelmed. As a precursor to conflict, lack of access to basic human needs is a major driver and it’s only getting worse.”

Lena Luthor/you fic pt. 12

Originally posted by cvtgrant

“Don’t!  Don’t fucking touch her!  Lena?  Lena, it’s okay.”

Rope digs into the wounds on your wrists, but you continue to pull against your restraints as hard as your depleted strength will allow.  You’re exhausted, in an incredibly familiar amount of pain, but it can’t possibly phase you at this point.  Not when they got Lena this time.  

A cold laugh rings in your ears at a volume that almost deafens you.  Bright light flashes from above and it illuminates the figure standing behind Lena’s battered form.  Lillian sneers cruelly down at her daughter, who is breathing heavily and struggling to keep her head up.  

“Get away from her!”

The words rip through your throat, which is hoarse from hours of screaming.  You had watched the two masked thugs in the room do unthinkable things to Lena, no matter how loudly you screamed.  

“I warned you.  I warned you both.”

Lillian steps slowly out from the dimmer side of the room, her heels clicking on the cement, and she gripped Lena’s head in bony, pale hands.  Your heart pounded so hard it seemed to rattle your ribcage.  

“No, no, please!  Don’t hurt her!  Lena-“

Her name caught in your throat as a sickening snap accompanied the way Lillian twisted her daughter’s head sharply to the side-

“Y/N, wake up!”

Lena watched your eyes flash open, wild with panic, and found your hand under the blankets as you shot up in bed.  A reminder of the state your body was in send a sharp ache through your chest from the sudden movement, but you were still reeling from the vision of what your subconscious had come up with.  Something in the back of your mind begged you to get a grip, but icy terror continued to pulse through your veins.  You didn’t feel safe.  Lena wasn’t safe.

“—it was just a dream.  Hey, can you look at me?”

Lena’s voice finally snapped you out of your hysterical state and she laid a hand on the less bruised side of your face.  Your gaze found hers in the dark bedroom and you scrambled to wrap your arms around her and hold her close.  She was okay.  She was here.  It was just you and her, safe in her room.

“I’m sorry,” you gasped out finally.

“Shh, it’s alright.  You’re alright.”

Lena rubbed a gentle hand up and down your back and you did your best to focus on the feeling of her touch and the smell of her perfume.  Little by little, the adrenaline in your system faded away and the sickening feeling in your stomach lessened.  Lena continued to hold you in the dark solace of her bedroom, occasionally reminding you that you were alright with soft words.  Once your pulse returned to normal, you pulled back from her and rubbed at your tired eyes; ashamed at how unabashedly fearful you had been in front of her.

“Do you want to talk about it?” she offered.  You could hear the expectation in her voice.  You couldn’t just pretend that everything was fine.

“Just, give me second.  I’m, uh, gonna use the bathroom.”

You clambered out of bed, coated in a cold sheet of sweat, and hopped your way into the bathroom.  With the door shut behind you, you grabbed your medication bottle from the cabinet, tossed a tablet on the sink, and turned the faucet on to mask the rest of what happened.

After splashing cold water onto your face, you dried off with one of the hand towels and hobbled back out to the bedroom.  By the time you laid back down next to Lena, a warm sedation had washed over your and the feeling of Lena’s arm across your waist added to it.

“You said my name, in your sleep,” Lena stated quietly.  You allowed your eyes to shut, but nodded.

“You were there, in the dream.  And so was your—“ you corrected yourself before the word mother could slip out, “—was Lillian.”

“I’m so sorry, Y/N.  But, you’re okay.  You’re safe, with me.”

“I know,” you assured her.  “It’s just…it’s hard not to think about what would happen if she did find us.”

“I understand.”

“I don’t think I’d be able to live if something happened to you, Lena.”

“I know the feeling,” Lena sighed.  You could hear the exhaustion in her voice and reminded yourself that she had to be up early.

“We should go back to sleep.”

You pressed closer to her, now incredibly drowsy, and shivered at the touch of her fingertips brushing where your hip stuck out from under your shirt.  The images of the nightmare continued to fade as she rubbed a thumb back and forth across the small patch of exposed flesh.

“I love you,” you murmured just before succumbing to sleep again.

“I love you too.”


“Hmm,” Lillian grunted as she peered at the spread of photographs on the metal desk in front of her.  There were plenty of her daughter outside of her condo complex, but none of the images had caught you.  “No sign of the low-life.  Those two idiots must have taken quite a toll on her.”

“There’s been quite a lot of progress down in the lab, ma’am.  We just need to figure out how to completely restore cognitive function after the personal storage areas of the brain have been over-stimulated.”

“Over-stimulation?  I told you I wanted the brain wiped.”

“Ma’am, that’s just not a viable option, even with this technology.  Not if the subject is expected to be able to retain artificial memories afterwards.”

“Hmm,” Lillian grunted again.  “I expected more of my employees.”

“We’ll keep trying, ma’am,” the senior scientist assures her.


You didn’t wake up until almost two in the afternoon.  The vivid nightmare had taken a lot out of you and as your eyes opened, you were immediately hit with a headache and pang of hunger in your stomach.  After a quick face wash, you brushed your teeth and hesitantly took the orange pill bottle out of the cabinet.  It was still over ¾ of the way full, but you were still uncertain about taking more.  You couldn’t afford to do this to yourself, or to Lena.  You had watched what painkillers could do.  Hell, you had sold them.  After deciding you’d rather deal with the pain than the idea of becoming a pill-popper, you put the meds back and hopped out into the main area of the apartment.

In order to quell the burning in your stomach, you grabbed one of Lena’s weird protein shake things out of the fridge and an apple from the bowl on the counter.  It was only when you sat down at the kitchen counter that you noticed the iPhone 7 box and the note beside it.

I know you got rid of your old one and perhaps Angry Birds will keep you entertained until I get home.  


P.S. I put my number and Kara’s into your contacts if you need anything

Wow.  Thoughtful as always.


A week passed.  Lena began bringing home extra work from her desk to entertain you while she was gone and you made a trip back to the hospital to get the stitches on your incisions out.  The nightmares came just about every night.  It became a routine for Lena to wake at least once a night to the feeling of you squirming beside her; distressed by whatever images were flashing behind your closed eyelids.  She’d pull you against her and whisper just loud enough to pull you out of your terror, and then peace would return to the bedroom.

And in the morning, you would wake up and snort crushed up oxy off of the sink.

You knew it was wrong.  You knew, somewhere in the back of your tangled thoughts that it wouldn’t last forever and it would have consequences.  But, in order to sit down and focus on something and pretend that what had happened hadn’t happened, you needed to.  

Lena wasn’t oblivious to the change in your disposition.  She noticed the way your eyes would slowly find hers and that they didn’t dance around the room as often.  The way you’d stare at nothing, apparently lost in your own head.  She told herself that you were just processing what had happened and the change in your life.  This was an adjustment for you, after all.  Living with someone was just something you needed to get used to.  



Kara landed on her newest friend’s balcony just before Lena was about to shut her computer down and throw the files on her desk back into their respective drawers.

“Kara,” she smiled as she always did when the blonde quite literally dropped by and stood from her chair.  “Hi.”

“How’ve you been?  Sorry I haven’t been around too much lately.  Busy city and all,” Kara apologized and pulled Lena in for their usual embrace.  She had come to care a great deal for the Luthor woman in the past few weeks.

“I understand,” Lena assured her.  “Things have been…consistent.”

“What does that mean?  Is everything okay?”

“Everything’s fine.  Y/N seems to feel a lot better.  I’m not constantly worried about her collapsing anymore—“ Lena bit her bottom lip before continuing, “—but she has been a little…different lately.  I think she’s just trying to deal with what happened.”

“How are you dealing with it?”

“I’m fine compared to her,” Lena scoffed.  “Kara, she has horrible dreams almost every night.  It breaks my heart.”

“Well, that’s understandable.  But, are you sure you aren’t taking on too much?  With work and her physical recovery and—“

“Kara, I’m fine.  She wouldn’t be struggling like this if she hadn’t met me and…you know I love her.”

“I know,” Kara replied and reached out to give Lena’s shoulder a comforting squeeze.  “Let me know if either one of you need anything, alright?”

“Thank you.”


Sometime that day, the real guilt hit you.  You were in Lena’s home, sleeping next to her in her bed every night, and lying to her every time she came home and you didn’t tell her what was going on.  

Around five, you sat down at the kitchen table, still high from your afternoon dose, and spun your prescription bottle around in your hands.  The remaining pills rattled around, almost seeming to taunt you, and your good leg shook up and down rapidly under the table.  God, Lena was going to be so disgusted with you.  To be fair, you were disgusted with yourself.

You sat there, waiting and consumed by the river of anxiety in your system, until the door to the condo opened and Lena’s heels clattered to the hardwood floor as she kicked them off.


“In here,” you called.  Your stomach was twisting and you sucked in a deep breath to try to quell the nausea.  Oh God, what if you had ruined everything?  

“Hi,” Lena beamed as she entered the kitchen, noticed your disposition, and paused.  “What’s wrong?”

“I need you to sit down and just listen for a second, please.”

“Okay,” Lena took the chair next to you hesitantly and eyed the pills in your hand.  

“I…I need you to take these away from me,” you started and slid the orange piece of plastic over to her.  “Please don’t hate me, but I’ve been—“ your voice failed you and your pulse started slamming in your ears, “—I’ve been snorting them.”


“I know, I know it’s bad.  I just…I needed to feel better about everything and I needed you to think that I was okay.  Please, please just don’t hate me, Lena.  I’m so sorry.”

“No, no, it’s okay,” Lena stood up from her chair, pocketed the prescription bottle into her blazer, and wrapped her arms around you.  “I could never hate you, Y/N.  We’ll figure out what you need to get past this together, okay?”

You nodded and let out a shaky breath.  

“Just tell me what you need from me, and I’ll help you.”

“I-I don’t know what I need, Lena.  I can’t stop thinking about…any of it.  And you’ve been so good to me and I just feel so bad for putting you through all of this.”

“Shhh,” Lena shook her head and put a hand on the side of your face so that you’d look at her.  It was hard for you to even match her gaze.  “Don’t.  It’ll be alright, I promise.”

Her face was so close to yours and her voice was so soft, it made you realize how much you missed her intimacy.

“Lena, please kiss me?”

Her lips hadn’t touched yours since before you were taken.  She had been afraid to do anything more than hold you at night, mostly worried about hurting or somehow overwhelming you.  Lena’s eyes searched your own questioningly.


“Please,” you begged.  Her thumb moved across your cheek and your breathing quickened when her gaze shifted quickly between your eyes and your mouth.  After a brief second of uncertainty, Lena closed the distance between the two of you and pressed her lips against yours.  

So, decided to make the relationship a little more honest and deeper.  I figured writing Lena trying to help the reader through her mental recovery might be interesting

I finally made a voltron OC! Still haven’t thought of a name, but I’ll just go with Rei right now(lol that name is like the mother of my ocs).

Rei is a Garrison pilot(Shiro’s junior!) and she was the co-pilot for the Kerberos mission. Even though she got high scores at piloting, her fighting skill is not that good. She always looks up for her seniors; pilots, scientists, even the engineers.

She always greets(and sometimes talk to) Shiro in Japanese and calls him by Shirogane-san. She is super formal especially when it goes to the person she looks up the most.

She is a clumsy person, but not when she is doing her favorite thing in the world: piloting. She is craaazy about space and has always dreamt of going on a mission to the space. Sadly, things didn’t go well on her first mission, the Kerberos.

When she was a Galra prisoner, she didn’t fight back that much so she wasn’t sent to the arena often. She often sit in her room in silence, counting the days to keep herself sane. When forced to kill at the arena, she always keep this mindset: “I’m going to kill only to free them from their sufferings.”.

When Shiro has panic attacks, she will soothe him in Japanese, hoping that it will make him feel better since it was his homeland’s languange. Later the Galra replaced her left eyeball with something like high-tech camera lens. All she can do was to be grateful she didn’t have to lose an arm like her senior, Shiro.


Sunday, 04.23.17

We took the train to NYC for the March for Science, and it was so great to see the number of people coming out to support science. After it was over, we dodged the rain in some bar nearby and spent the afternoon pleasantly buzzed.  It was nice to take a day to support something we love and get to spend time in New York as a bonus.

On the academic side, my “meeting” with my PI was…bizarre…to say the least. He didn’t know we were meeting that Friday but obliged me anyways, but I wasn’t the one who called the meeting either…it was a senior scientist who I’m working under. I came in thinking he would have a project for me to work on, like how my rotation project was set up. My PI came in thinking I read something interesting and was proposing an experiment so he was ready to hear a presentation from me. Idk, the whole thing was “wait…what is going on” for everyone involved. At least now I have more clear directions on what I should be doing in lab: I’ve just been reading and learning about photosystem II and the various components when I should be reading about ONE particular topic regarding PS II and coming up with a testable question for my project.

Hopefully my next meeting with him will be much better. I’m just very intimidated by my PI because he’s super smart and will call you out if you don’t know your shit, so I always make sure to be very knowledgeable when I speak to him.

Just wrapped up the Lunacon science program that I put together, and am delighted at how it went. A friend of mine from the con circuit, who didn’t know I was science track coordinator this year, told me nonchalantly that he’d been coming to Lunacon for ten years and this was “the best science track I’ve ever seen here.”

That was really nice to hear.

And I was super happy that part of that was having a fellow virologist and State Department senior Health Scientist, Dr. Jessica Petrillo, as part of the program. It really got across how much the government, even now, values the future and science that she was allowed to attend in her official capacity–and in fact enthusiastically encouraged to do so.

Something she said is still sticking with me. That basically, the government needs science fiction to show them what problems people care about, and to see what we want to see improved. In other words, that science fiction is art that is also a strategic asset.

Things that confuse me about Star Trek:

The Enterprise-D doesn’t have a Chief Science Officer. It’s a massive ship with exploratory purposes and there’s no Chief Science Officer. Even DS9 had a Science Officer, who was assigned before anyone even knew there were new scientific opportunities there. For a ship whose purpose is finding new scientific stuff, you would think there would be a Science Officer

The Strange Case of the Woman Who Can’t Remember Her Past-Or Imagine Her Future (Part 2)

Story by Erika Hayasaki

MCKINNON FIRST BEGAN to realize that her memory was not the same as everyone else’s back in 1977, when a friend from high school, who was studying to be a physician’s assistant, asked if she would participate in a memory test as part of a school assignment. When her friend asked basic questions about her childhood as part of the test, McKinnon would reply, “Why are you asking stuff like this? No one remembers that!” She knew that other people claimed to have detailed memories, but she always thought they embellished and made stuff up—just like she did.

McKinnon’s friend was so disturbed by her responses that she suggested McKinnon get her memory checked by a professional. McKinnon put the exchange aside for almost three decades. Then one day in 2004, she came across an article about Endel Tulving, the researcher who had originally characterized the difference between episodic and semantic memory.
McKinnon read about how, at the University of Toronto, Tulving studied an amnesic patient, K. C., who was in a motorcycle accident at 30 that resulted in brain damage affecting his episodic memory. He could not remember anything in his life except experiences from the last minute or two. Yet despite this deficiency, the patient could remember basic knowledge learned before his accident, like math and history, and when taught new information in experiments, he could retain lessons, even though he could not recall visits to the laboratory where he was taught. His case became crucial to Tulving’s theories about memory.

Like McKinnon, people with amnesia usually lose their episodic memories and keep their semantic ones. But amnesiacs tend to come by their memory loss through brain trauma, developmental disorders, or degenerative conditions. And they are often impaired in their day-to-day functioning; they cannot live normal lives. Reading about Tulving’s case studies, McKinnon recognized a resemblance to her own experiences—minus the brain lesions, injuries, or debilitating side effects. Her brain and life, as far as she knew, seemed to be healthy and intact.

One of Tulving’s arguments struck a particular chord. A profile of the psychologist reported his belief “that some perfectly intelligent and healthy people also lack the ability to remember personal experiences. These people have no episodic memory; they know but do not remember. Such people have not yet been identified, but Tulving predicts they soon will be.”
McKinnon felt too intimidated to contact Tulving himself; he seemed too famous. So instead she set her sights on Brian Levine, a senior scientist at the Rotman Research Institute in Toronto who had worked closely with Tulving and whose expertise in episodic and autobiographical memory caught her eye.

On August 25, 2006, McKinnon sent Levine an email that referenced Tulving’s prediction about healthy people with no episodic memories:“I think there’s at least a possibility that I might be one of the people he was describing.

“I’m 52 y/o, extremely stable, with a very satisfying life & well-developed sense of humor. Contacting you is a big (and, frankly, scary) step for me … I’ll appreciate any guidance you may be able to give me.”

“I GET A lot of emails from people with various issues,” Levine says. “With Susie, I felt like this was worth pursuing.” So Levine invitedMcKinnon to his lab in Toronto. His first move, in collaboration with researcher Daniela Palombo, was to begin looking for some underlying physiological or psychological explanation for McKin­non’s apparent lack of episodic memories: a neurological condition, trauma, or brain damage caused by anoxia at birth. They found no such thing.

Next, Levine ran McKinnon through something called an autobiographical interview, to vet her own report that she lacks episodic memories. Before the interview, his lab team spoke with Green, a close friend of McKinnon’s, and McKinnon’s brother and mother, asking each for stories about McKinnon that they would try to verify with her.

When Levine and colleagues quizzed McKinnon about events that her friends and relatives described—like the time she was in The Sound of Music during high school—she had no such recollections, even when she was probed with follow-up questions like “Do you remember any objects in the environment?” The interview seemed to confirm that, sure enough, McKinnon had no recognizable episodic memories.

Soon, Levine discovered two more healthy individuals who also seemed to lack episodic memories. Both were middle-aged men with successful jobs, one of them a PhD. One was in a long-term relationship. Levine put both men through the same battery of tests in his lab. He also ran all three of his patients through an MRI machine. Each showed reduced activity in regions of the brain crucial to the mind’s understanding of the self, the ability to mentally time travel, and the capacity to form episodic memories.

Levine published a study about Mc­Kinnon and his two other subjects in Neuropsychologia in April 2015. Since then, hundreds of people claiming to have severely deficient autobiographical memory have reached out to Levine’s team. Each must go through a set of tests as well, he says, and results might lead to only a dozen or so provable cases. But the response suggests that the discovery of McKinnon and the other two subjects wasn’t a fluke. “It raises fairly large questions,” Levine says. “What exactly does recollection do for us?” If members of our species can get by so well without episodic memories, why did we evolve to have them in the first place? And how long are they liable to stick around?

SPEND ENOUGH TIME with McKinnon and it’s hard to escape the creeping sense that she’s not just different—she’s lucky. Memories that would be searing to anyone else leave little impression on her. Like the time in 1986 when the couple was living in Arizona and Green was jumped by a group of white men while out fishing. When he came home, his head was covered with welts. “She went to get ice and she started crying,” Green says. He began to cry too. They felt terrorized.

Once again, McKinnon knows the salient facts of the story, but the details and the painful associations all reside with Green. ForMcKinnon, the memory doesn’t trigger the trauma and fear associated with it. “I can imagine being upset and scared, but I don’t remember that at all,” she says. “I can’t put myself back there. I can only imagine what it would have been like.”

McKinnon also quickly forgets arguments, which might be the reason she and Green have stayed together so long, she jokes. She cannot hold a grudge. She is unfamiliar with the feeling of regret and oblivious to the diminishments of aging. A 1972 yearbook photo shows that she was once a petite brunette with a delicate face framed by a pixie cut. (“Dorky little innocent thing,” she says, looking at the picture.) On an intellectual level, McKinnon knows that this is her; but put the picture away and, in her mind, she has always been the 60-year-old woman she is now, broad-­shouldered and fair, her face pinkish and time-lined, her closely cropped hair white and gray. She doesn’t know what it’s like to linger in a memory, to long for the past, to dwell in it.

More than a decade ago a woman named Jill Price came to the attention of scientists at UC Irvine. She exhibited a condition that is pretty much the direct opposite of McKinnon’s: the researchers called it hyperthymestic syndrome, or highly superior autobiographical memory. Price has an extraordinary ability to recall just about any fact that has intersected with her life: July 18, 1984, was a quiet Wednesday, as she writes in her memoir, and Price picked up the book Helter Skelter and read it for the second time. Monday, February 28, 1983, the final episode of M*A*S*H aired, and it was raining. The next day Price’s windshield wipers stopped working as she drove.

In contrast to McKinnon, who has received relatively little press attention, Price became an instant media sensation. Diane Sawyer had her on air twice in one day. Her powers of memory, after all, seemed supremely enviable, superhuman.

But as the UC Irvine researchers—and a story in WIRED—noted, Price’s extraordinary feats of recollection were accompanied by a kind of obsessive-compulsive fixation on recording the details of her life, one that appeared to have taken root after a “traumatizing” move to LA when she was a girl. As an adult in her 40s, she still lived with her parents. And she buttressed her memory with cramped pages full of notes on everything that happened to her in any given day.

Which is all just to say: When it comes to people with highly unusual memories, it’s not clear that we as a culture are so good at choosing who to envy.

YOU MIGHT THINK that McKinnon would lean on technology to help compensate for her disorder. After all, she lives at a moment when software companies are churning out products that are, essentially, surrogates for the very faculties she lacks. Isn’t a Facebook feed a kind of prosthetic autobiographical memory? Google Photos will even form gauzy retrospective mental associations for you: The artificially intelligent software plunges straight into your photo library, plucks out faces and related events, and automatically generates poignant little videos—synthetic episodic memories. Other software tools aim to capture your entire life in documents—emails, calendar reminders, schoolwork, voicemails, texts, snapshots, videos, and other bits of recordable data—to provide a searchable database of your memories.

And yet the life-logging impulse is lost on McKinnon. Once, she decided to keep a journal to see if she could preserve her memories. “I stopped doing that after two or three days,” she says. “If I get so obsessed with capturing every moment because I’m afraid of losing the memory, I’m never going to experience those moments.” And what else, really, does she have?
She does use email, which sometimes serves as a useful reference. But she doesn’t make a special effort to log her experiences there. And she doesn’t use social media. No Pinterest. No Instagram. She had a Facebook account, but she quit using it. It didn’t interest her.

Even if she had a Facebook feed, she would have very little to put there in the way of photos or videos. McKinnon once borrowed a video camera to film one of their departures on a Caribbean cruise, but she didn’t enjoy it. She lost the feeling of the moment, she says. She likewise doesn’t take photos. She says she doesn’t find them that compelling to look at. Sure enough, I notice there are no pictures on the ­couple’s refrigerator, shelves, or walls. No framed wedding portraits. No posed beach shots. There are just a few photo albums in an upstairs office.

McKinnon pulls down the album of her 1981 courthouse wedding to Green in Maywood, Illinois. There’s a shot of the friends who surprised the newlyweds on the steps outside. There’s one of Green opening a gag gift—a set of four mugs with images of cats having sex. McKinnon is practiced at laughing through all the anecdotes about the day that she has memorized over the years, with help from the album. But looking at the pictures, she says, feels like observing somebody else’s wedding.

Today, though, she learns something new about the day she married Green. As we look over the album, Green mentions a close friend who attended the wedding. “I didn’t even know she was there,” McKinnon says. That’s because there are no photos of this friend. Because she was the one behind the camera.

This actually feels like the kind of error anyone could make: Doesn’t the person behind the camera often get edited out of recall? Even when the person behind the camera is you?

While it’s abundantly clear that McKinnon isn’t using technology to become more like us, it’s conceivable that technology could, over the long run, make us all a bit more like McKinnon. My iPhone now holds 1,217 photos and 159 videos just from the past eight months. By focusing on clicking picture after picture, I may actually be blurring away my memories of these experiences through something researchers call “the photo-taking impairment effect.” And by automatically storing all those photos in the cloud—which relieves my mind of the burden of cataloging a bunch of memories—I may be short-circuiting some part of my own process of episodic memory formation.

“What would humanity lose if they lost some of that ability?”McKinnon asks during one of our conversations, as if wondering aloud for me. “If they had technology to replace it, what would be lost? The human experience would change, but would it be a plus? Or a minus? Or—just a change?”
I CAN HEAR McKinnon sniffling. We’re sitting in a dark movie theater at Olympia’s Capital Mall, watching Inside Out. Out of the corner of my eye, I see that she’s crying. Most of the movie takes place in the mind of an 11-year-old girl named Riley. The girl’s emotions, represented as cartoon workers in a control room, are on an emergency mission to save her from psychological catastrophe: the loss of her core memories, which look like little glowing orbs with video loops playing across their surface. The core memories power her personality islands, which—well, it’s hard to describe, but suffice it to say the structures of Riley’s personality begin to crumble when her core memories go missing.

McKinnon loves the movie, despite the fact that it seems to present her daily reality as an utter catastrophe. (When we talk about the islands of personality, core memories, and the control room of Riley’s consciousness, McKinnon laughs. “If I have the islands,” she says, “I’m not sure there’s any connections to headquarters.”)

I’m surprised to find out that, even though she doesn’t experience her own life as a narrative, McKinnon loves stories. Especially fantasy and sci-fi: Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games. She’s read all the books, seen all the movies and episodes. She can’t remember what they were about, but that just makes it better. Each time she rereads or rewatches something, it’s like experiencing it for the first time. (Here’s another thing to envy about her: She is impervious to spoilers.)

But she cannot for the life of her make up a story. She does not daydream. Her mind does not wander. This lack of imagination is common among amnesiacs. Most of us can visualize a beach scene on command, for example: We can picture lounging on a chair with a piña colada in hand, roaring waves, grains of sand between our toes. When McKinnon tries this mental exercise, she can visualize a hammock, maybe. “And then there’s probably a palm tree. As soon as, in my mind, I’d try to grab that palm tree, I lose the hammock.” She cannot fit the images together into a finished puzzle. She also cannot play chess, even though her husband plays often. “I can’t hold in my mind more than one move ahead.” In other words, not only does McKinnon lack a window into the past, she also lacks a window into the future.

McKinnon and I did a lot that day. We ate, we spoke, we walked around the mall. But of course, she doesn’t remember the details, nor does she seem to mind. While most of us experience life as a story of gain and loss, McKinnon exists always and only in her own denouement. There is no inciting incident. No conflict. And no anxious sense of momentum toward the finale. She achieves effortlessly what some people spend years striving for: She lives entirely in the present.

Photograph by Alma Haser

Source: Wired

Badass Scientist of the Week: Dr. Nathalie Cabrol 

Dr. Nathalie Cabrol is a planetary scientist and explorer currently working with the SETI institute. 

Born near Paris, she spent her childhood fascinated with the world above her head and the world below her feet. She pursued her interest in science and gained a degree in Earth Sciences at Nanterre University, but was soon hooked on planetary science when a professor showed her maps of Mars in the mid 1980s. Cabrol gained her Masters and P.h.D from Sorbonne, and while she was a P.h.D student, she became interested in the formation of lakes on Mars—an area that very few scientists were talking of at the time. 

In 1994, Cabrol took up a postdoctoral position at NASA. She was influential in arguing for Gusev Crater to be the landing site of the Mars Spirit Rover, on the basis that it may have housed water billions of years ago—and sure enough, Spirit found traces of ancient salty water in the rocks. 

Now a senior research scientist at SETI—the search for extraterrestrial intelligence—as well a member of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Team, Cabrol is focused on searching for evidence for life in the solar system, especially Mars. She is currently looking for signs of subsurface life, but while she uses evidence from the Mars rovers in her work, she also uses a lot of evidence from here on Earth, by studying extreme terrestrial environments that may be similar to the Martian environment billions of years ago. The Andes are especially pertinent to her research, as the elevated lakes are exposed to high UV radiation—in fact, her expeditions to one of the highest lakes in the world, atop 20,000-foot volcano Licancabur in South America, have uncovered new microbial and zooplankton species, and she’s planning further research in the Arctic, Antarctic, and Australia. 

Cabrol is also currently leading the Planetary Lake Lander project, which is developing strategies to explore the lakes of Titan and to monitor the impact of melting glaciers on the biodiversity in the Chilean Andes. These results are also expected to give insight into the potential of lie on Mars.

According to Cabrol, exploring Mars and its environment is vitally important because it can act as a warning sign, showing us the potential future of Earth. 

Watch Dr. Nathalie Cabrol’s TED Talk

“It is a shame that we lose those exceptional female scientists that give up at junior levels way before achieving their full potential as a senior scientist. It is really exciting to see that there is this push to change attitudes and add the tokenistic female on a board or to mandate a minimum number of females to be recruited to senior ranks but I see these as very superficial solutions to archaic rigidity. I would restructure the entrenched patriarchal frameworks within academia and research to enable a fairer trajectory for females.”

Dr. Fatima El-Assaad is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at UNSW Australia who focuses on infection and immunity.  She graduated with First Class Honours in Medical Science in 2013 for her research into brain injury in malaria.  Her work was the first demonstration that plasma microparticles previously thought to be inert are active contributors to microvascular lesions that cause brain injury in malaria.  Now at UNSW, she is developing biomarker tests for the early detection of infectious diseases and designing new-targeted treatments that could revolutionize personalized medicine.  She is also a mentor for the UNSW Science 50:50 initiative, working to inspire women to consider STEM careers.


Mars: The Planet that Lost an Ocean’s Worth of Water

A primitive ocean on Mars held more water than Earth’s Arctic Ocean, and covered a greater portion of the planet’s surface than the Atlantic Ocean does on Earth, according to new results published today. An international team of scientists used ESO’s Very Large Telescope, along with instruments at the W. M. Keck Observatory and the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility, to monitor the atmosphere of the planet and map out the properties of the water in different parts of Mars’s atmosphere over a six-year period. These new maps are the first of their kind. The results appear online in the journal Science today.

About four billion years ago, the young planet would have had enough water to cover its entire surface in a liquid layer about 140 metres deep, but it is more likely that the liquid would have pooled to form an ocean occupying almost half of Mars’s northern hemisphere, and in some regions reaching depths greater than 1.6 kilometres.

“Our study provides a solid estimate of how much water Mars once had, by determining how much water was lost to space,” said Geronimo Villanueva, a scientist working at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, USA, and lead author of the new paper. “With this work, we can better understand the history of water on Mars.”

The new estimate is based on detailed observations of two slightly different forms of water in Mars’s atmosphere. One is the familiar form of water, made with two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen, H2O. The other is HDO, or semi-heavy water, a naturally occurring variation in which one hydrogen atom is replaced by a heavier form, called deuterium.

As the deuterated form is heavier than normal water, it is less easily lost into space through evaporation. So, the greater the water loss from the planet, the greater the ratio of HDO to H2O in the water that remains [1].

The researchers distinguished the chemical signatures of the two types of water using ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile, along with instruments at the W. M. Keck Observatory and the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility in Hawaii [2]. By comparing the ratio of HDO to H2O, scientists can measure by how much the fraction of HDO has increased and thus determine how much water has escaped into space. This in turn allows the amount of water on Mars at earlier times to be estimated.

In the study, the team mapped the distribution of H2O and HDO repeatedly over nearly six Earth years — equal to about three Mars years — producing global snapshots of each, as well as their ratio. The maps reveal seasonal changes and microclimates, even though modern Mars is essentially a desert.

Ulli Kaeufl of ESO, who was responsible for building one of the instruments used in this study and is a co-author of the new paper, adds: “I am again overwhelmed by how much power there is in remote sensing on other planets using astronomical telescopes: we found an ancient ocean more than 100 million kilometres away!”

The team was especially interested in regions near the north and south poles, because the polar ice caps are the planet’s largest known reservoir of water. The water stored there is thought to document the evolution of Mars’s water from the wet Noachian period, which ended about 3.7 billion years ago, to the present.

The new results show that atmospheric water in the near-polar region was enriched in HDO by a factor of seven relative to Earth’s ocean water, implying that water in Mars’s permanent ice caps is enriched eight-fold. Mars must have lost a volume of water 6.5 times larger than the present polar caps to provide such a high level of enrichment. The volume of Mars’s early ocean must have been at least 20 million cubic kilometres.

Based on the surface of Mars today, a likely location for this water would be the Northern Plains, which have long been considered a good candidate because of their low-lying ground. An ancient ocean there would have covered 19% of the planet’s surface — by comparison, the Atlantic Ocean occupies 17% of the Earth’s surface.

“With Mars losing that much water, the planet was very likely wet for a longer period of time than previously thought, suggesting the planet might have been habitable for longer,” said Michael Mumma, a senior scientist at Goddard and the second author on the paper.

It is possible that Mars once had even more water, some of which may have been deposited below the surface. Because the new maps reveal microclimates and changes in the atmospheric water content over time, they may also prove to be useful in the continuing search for underground water.


[1] In oceans on Earth there are about 3200 molecules of H2O for each HDO molecule.

[2] Although probes on the Martian surface and orbiting the planet can provide much more detailed in situ measurements, they are not suitable for monitoring the properties of the whole Martian atmosphere. This is best done using infrared spectrographs on large telescopes back on Earth.

Seeing Air Travel in a Whole New Light

by Marsha Lewis, Inside Science

Each day, thousands of airplanes fly over the United States at the same time.

Nearly 87,000 flights crisscross the country each day.

“The United States is very crowded especially if you go to the northeast region … the northeast corridor is the busiest traffic anywhere in the world,” said Banavar Sridhar, a senior scientist at NASA Ames Research Center in California.

It takes a small army of air traffic controllers, dispatchers, forecasters and engineers to get all of these planes and their passengers where they need to go safely and efficiently.

Watch videos below on how a new system is tracking flights in real time and routing aircraft around weather to avoid delays.

Keep reading



Images acquired by NASA’s MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft show geologic features that indicate Mercury is likely still contracting today, joining Earth as a tectonically active planet in our solar system.

Previously undetected small fault scarps were observed in images collected during the MESSENGER mission’s final 18 months in orbit around Mercury, according to a new paper in Nature Geoscience []. During these last months of the mission, the spacecraft’s altitude was lowered allowing the surface to be imaged at higher resolutions than ever before possible.

Planetary Science Institute Research Scientist Maria Banks is a co-author on “Recent Tectonic Activity on Mercury Revealed by Small Thrust Fault Scarps.” Smithsonian senior scientist Thomas R. Watters is lead author and principal investigator of the research.

“These small-scale thrust fault scarps are orders of magnitude smaller, only a few kilometers in length and tens of meters of relief, than larger scarps previously known to exist on the surface of Mercury,” said Banks, who analyzed MESSENGER images to find and analyze these small-scale tectonic structures. “Steady meteoroid bombardment quickly degrades and destroys structures this small, indicating that they must have formed relatively recently. They are comparable in size to very young fault scarps identified on the lunar surface attributed to shrinking of the Moon.”

Fault scarps appear as cliff-like landforms. Larger, older scarps were identified in both MESSENGER and Mariner 10 images and are evidence of the global contraction of Mercury as its interior cooled causing the crust to shrink.

“The young age of the small scarps means that Mercury joins Earth as a tectonically active planet in our solar system, with new faults likely forming today as Mercury’s interior continues to cool.” said Watters, of the Center for Earth and Planetary Studies at the National Air and Space Museum.

Active faulting, paired with evidence for ancient faulting and also the recent discovery by PSI Senior Scientist Catherine Johnson that Mercury’s global magnetic field was present billions of years ago, offer consistent support for long-lived slow cooling of Mercury’s still hot outer core.

Slip along thrust faults associated with small lunar scarps is possibly connected with shallow moonquakes detected by seismometers deployed during the Apollo missions. Some of these moonquakes reached magnitudes of near 5 on the Richter scale. Seismometers deployed on Mercury in future missions would likely detect Mercury-quakes associated with ongoing slip events on small faults and reactivated older large faults.

Banks’s funding for this project came from a grant from NASA’s Mercury MESSENGER mission.

LOWER IMAGE…. A cluster of small lobate scarp thrust faults on Mercury’s intercrater plains (~38.90° N, 27.93° E). The longest scarp in the cluster (upper arrows) is ~4.3 km in length. (MESSENGER Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS) image frame number EN1029769395M). B. Close up view of small scarp shown in A. Inset: A small impact crater ~90m in diameter (lower arrow) is potentially disturbed or crosscut (note the lack of a well-defined rim on the scarp face) by the scarp segment, and another crater ~135m in diameter (upper arrow) may be horizontally shortened. The box in B shows the location of the inset. Figure modified from Watters et al., 2016.
Viewpoint: Women must fight sexism in science - BBC News
Nobel prize winner Sir Tim Hunt has caused controversy after his comments about the "trouble with girls" in the laboratory. This reflects deeper lying problems for women in the world of science, says Dr Anna Zecharia.

Nobel prize winner Sir Tim Hunt has caused controversy after his comments about the “trouble with girls” in the laboratory. This reflects deeper lying problems for women in the world of science, says Dr Anna Zecharia.

So should we just ignore an old-fashioned old man? My answer is a resounding “No”. We don’t need to demonise Sir Tim Hunt but if we shrug off his views as a generational quirk we are not looking closely enough and we fail to acknowledge how deeply these attitudes are embedded in our workplaces and how they are still holding women back.

Yes, when he was born women had barely won the right to vote and, yes, thankfully a lot has changed since then. But we are still grappling with a world where gender roles are blurring and these are important conversations.

Only 13% of jobs in the science and engineering sector are held by women. This is either because they are not “getting in” - as is the case with subjects like physics or careers in engineering.

Or it’s because they are not “getting on”. Even in areas like the life sciences, where entry and early career stages see roughly equal numbers of men and women, the so-called leaky pipeline kicks in. On average, roughly 17% of professors in the sciences are female.

By not speaking up we risk slowing progress further. Children as young as seven (and possibly younger) hold ideas about which careers are for men and which are for women.

Both the Wellcome Trust and the Aspires project at King’s College London have found that girls and young women are less likely to see a career in the sciences as being “for me”.

Parents are steering their daughters away from careers in engineering, with only 3% encouraging it as a career compared to 12% for their sons. The Institute of Physics talks explicitly about gender stereotypes in their workshops with young women - they need to because the proportion of girls taking A-level physics has remained stagnant at fewer than 20% for the past 20 years or more.

They are also piloting whole school approaches to gender equality because it’s clear that teachers’ attitudes may be part of the problem too.

One 14-year-old female student told me: “When my science teacher said there was no point trying for a higher grade [in science], I wanted to give up. I mean, if a teacher says you’re not good enough, they must know - they’re a teacher.”

Falling through gaps

It’s not hard to see why the UK has the lowest proportion of female engineers in the EU: they can’t even get in the door.

But why, when they get in the door, do women leave careers in areas like the life sciences in disproportionate numbers?

Firstly, let’s be clear - it’s not a new question. Recognition of gender - and wider - inequality in the sciences is why the Royal Society has an active Equality and Diversity programme. It’s why we have the Athena SWAN equality charter - and the acknowledgement that women are currently more likely to take career breaks (and be disadvantaged by them) is the reason behind many returners’ schemes such as The Daphne Jackson Trust.

The sector is trying hard to address this issue but women are still falling through the gaps.

In my discussions with ScienceGrrl members, particularly around last year’s Women in Scientific Careers’ Select Committee inquiry, it was clear that the reasons for this are varied - from worries about short-term contracts and the need to relocate, to those I will expand on below - and it’s well worth reading the report for a deeper insight.

There was some suggestion of conscious discrimination; one woman told me she had “heard a number of supervisors (both male and female) suggest that they are less willing to hire female researchers of reproductive age because they are worried about the disruption to their research programme”, and I heard occasional stories about harassment too.

Most of the time it was more subtle than that. For example, some women were uncertain of their maternity rights, and afraid to ask. Others were worried about the impact a career break for childcare would have on their career but didn’t have any solid information about their options.

One frustrated researcher asked me: “Why don’t we talk about having a family like it’s a normal thing to do?”

Organisations could do more to communicate policies and options to early/mid-career researchers - and perhaps more pertinently, to their bosses. It’s also not a women’s issue. Men choose to have families too, and moves towards greater flexibility are good for everyone.

Career bottleneck

It’s not just about having children. A key factor in progressing in a scientific career, indeed in any career, is having people who support you on the way. Considering the impact sponsorship by a senior scientist can have on a rising career, we need to do more to recognise it as part of a 360-view on what makes a successful senior scientist.

Currently, the personality of your supervisor can have a huge effect - especially if they hire and nurture only in their own image. Combined with observations that women are less likely to put themselves forward for promotion, and to take part in conferences that could help advance their careers, a bottleneck can develop.

But why would supervisors make biased choices, or women feel less confident? This is where I want to come back to Sir Tim’s comments. We live in a gendered world and we can’t look at the sciences in isolation.

Cordelia Fine’s book Delusions of Gender makes for excellent reading on this. We perpetuate stereotypes starting with the toys we market to children, and we rarely look back.

For example, one professor told me that she never noticed an issue until she became more senior: “When I had to assert my authority, I was seen as bossy and felt people liked me less - I felt penalised for not acting like ‘a good girl’.”

Do women cry more? I’m not sure about that, but it’s certainly less socially acceptable for men to show their emotions in this way. Narrow stereotypes about masculinity are no good for boys and men either.

Lack of opportunity

The problem with stereotypes is that they are a kind of “cognitive shortcut”. Relying on them to save time when making decisions can lead to unconscious bias - making split second judgements about an individual based on what you think you know about “their group”.

This has been shown to be an issue time and time again - from the study showing identical CVs were ranked lower, and challenged more, when they were thought to come from a woman; to showing that when auditions are held behind a screen, gender bias in orchestras disappeared.

Because women are not just under-represented in science and engineering - FTSE 100 boards are 23.5% female, and 22.8% of our MPs were female in 2010.

A jump in this year’s election mean that this number now stands at 28.9%, which some have put down to active measures such as Labour’s use of all-female shortlists. We need to start talking about gender equality across all sectors, and stamping out stereotypes wherever we see and hear them.

Gender stereotypes can affect confidence, and career choices. Girls perform worse in maths tests when made to focus on their gender before taking the test.

This is known as “stereotype threat” - the phenomenon that the anxiety caused by expecting to do badly means that you actually do.

It’s not that girls are “choosing” not to take physics or become engineers. Much in the same way that many of the women who leave the academic path, or don’t make it to the board, aren’t “choosing” not to play their part in upping the number of senior women beyond that ~20% watermark.

It’s not real choice, because low expectations, limiting stereotypes and inflexible career paths mean there is a lack of genuine opportunity. Girls and women are being kept out of rewarding careers.

From the public reaction to his speech, it’s clear that it is becoming less and less socially acceptable to make comments like Sir Tim’s. This is a good thing. But just because it isn’t spoken out loud doesn’t mean stereotypes will disappear.

Zero tolerance for explicit sexism of any flavour is the low hanging fruit. Language matters. But it’s the unconscious bias and its implications that we need to keep talking about, and challenging.

‘Leap second’ added for first time in three years

Midnight will come later tonight as for the first time in three years an extra second is added to the official time set by atomic clocks.

Leap seconds - and leap years - are added as basic ways to keep the clock in sync with the Earth and its seasons.

The addition will mean that the last minute of June will have 61 seconds; while 23:59:59 usually becomes 00:00:00, the leap second will ensure the time becomes 23:59:60. 

Peter Whibberley, senior research scientist at the UK’s National Physical Laboratory (NPL), said: “Because they depend on measurements of the Earth’s rotation, which varies unpredictably, leap seconds occur at irregular intervals.”

For more information and fun facts about this crazy timey wimey phenomenon, check out this BBC Future article. It will explain many things.

Also, special shoutouts to the Telegraph for their A+ article title

Beatrice Tinsley, the (uncelebrated) cosmologist you should know

Beatrice Tinsley was born in England on 27 January 1941, when cosmologists were only just realising the enormous scale and structure of the universe. Tinsley’s name is not widely known but her work in cosmology and astrophysics made fundamental contributions to our understanding of how galaxies evolve.

Tinsley’s research changed the standard method for determining distances to far-away galaxies. This was significant in determining the size of the universe and its rate of expansion - leading ideas behind the development of the Big Bang theory.

She completed her Ph.D and wrote an “extraordinary and profound” dissertation on the evolution of galaxies in only two years. Despite her enormous intellect, she was initially overlooked in the male-dominated world of astronomy. She found resistance to her ideas from many senior scientists and struggled to have her work accepted.

She eventually made her way to Yale University and in 1978 became a professor of astronomy and the chairman of the Conference on Cosmology’s organizing committee. In the six years she was there, Tinsley published many scientific papers which cosmologists today have said make her world-leading in the field. But, aged 40, she died of cancer. She would have been 75 today.