Recommended reads: breast cancer, false memories, extreme sleepiness, color perception and language, newborn parenting

Confocal image of an axonal rainbow of oculomotor nerve motor axons from a "Brainbow" mouse brain, with each neuron expressing a distinct color (Jean Livet, Jeff Lichtman Laboratory, Harvard University Cambridge, MA, USA)
Unrelated to recommended posts but too pretty not to share: Oculomotor nerve motor axons from a “Brainbow” mouse brain (Jean Livet, Jeff Lichtman Laboratory, Harvard University Cambridge, MA, USA)

Tracing breast cancer’s history by Carl Zimmer

In this fascinating post, Zimmer looks at the flip side of cancer-causing BRCA mutations (like the one that caused Angelina Jolie to opt for a double mastectomy).


Last year, a team of scientists at the University of Utah discovered an unexpected side effect of BRCA mutations. They looked at medical records of women who carried BRCA mutations and compared them to women with a normal version of the genes. The scientists found that women with the mutations weren’t just more likely to develop cancer. They also had more children. The effect was particularly strong among women born before 1930: they had, on average, two additional children (6.22 compared to 4.19). [read Zimmer’s post here]

Trust your memory? Maybe you shouldn’t by Jacque Wilson

This article delves into the sometimes controversial work of psychologist and memory expert Elizabeth Loftus. Her work has important implications for the law–especially in regards to eyewitness testimony and so-called repressed memories–as well as for how we view the ‘truthiness’ of our own everyday memories.


Using her finely tuned “recipe” for memory implantation, she guided study participants to believe they had gotten sick eating strawberry ice cream as children.

A week later, researchers asked about the ice cream incident. Many participants had developed a detailed memory — what Loftus calls a “rich false memory” — about when they had gotten sick. Subsequent studies showed this memory affected the participant’s actual eating behavior. [Read Wilson’s article here.]

*Re-awakenings by Virginia Hughes

This is a truly amazing personal and scientific story about a young lawyer who was literally sleeping her life away and the medical discoveries that helped her.


Sumner began having long sleeping spells like never before. She’d go to bed one night and wake up a full day later, or more—her longest stint was 53 hours. She’d open her eyes and feel completely disoriented, staring at her alarm clock with no idea whether the time was AM or PM. First it was once a month, then every two weeks, then every week. “I started approaching sleep with this trepidation,” she recalls. “Is tonight going to be the night?”  [Read Hughes’ piece here]

 *The crayola-fication of the world: How we gave colors names, and it messes with our brains by Aatish Bhatia

This post examines how language influences perception–particularly in the case of colors. I don’t want to give away the scientific twist at the end of the post, but the combination of anthropology, psychology, and linguistics makes this a must-read.


A study in 1984 by Paul Kay and colleagues compared English speakers to members of the Tarahumara tribe of Northwest Mexico. The Tarahumara language falls into the Uto-Aztecan language family, a Native American language family spoken near the mountains of North America. And like most world languages, the Tarahumara language doesn’t distinguish blue from green. [read Bhatia’s post here]

*I discovered these posts because they won Science Seeker awards. Check out other excellent award winners here

The carnival of evidence-based parenting: the new parenthood edition

This is a collection of posts that examine different topics related to the transition to new parenthood (sleep, bonding, swaddling, breastfeeding, happiness, etc). This carnival is a wonderful resource for new parents because all the posts are written from an evidence-based perspective but also include many relatable personal anecdotes. [see a list of all the posts here]

Updated clips page

M mammals
My daughter checking out the large mammals at the Harvard Natural History Museum

I’ve updated the clips page with my posts for the American Association for the Advancement of Science blogs from the last few months.

Here are my most recent posts, which are currently available to everyone (older posts are viewable if you are a AAAS member):

Career exploration resources for grad students and postdocs Driving Force May 22nd, 2013

A look at the NIH sequestration policies Capitol Connection May 20th, 2013

Is the ‘High Quality Research Act’ the antithesis of science? Capitol Connection May 20th, 2013

Help budding scientists–be a Science Buddy! AAAS Serves May 10th, 2013

The ‘irreproducibility’ problem Driving Force May 1st, 2013

10 ways scientists can use Twitter and rehab for scientists?


10 ways scientists can benefit from Twitter
I’ll admit that when I first heard about Twitter, I didn’t really understand the fuss (in fact I may have said something like “that sounds like the stupidest idea ever—what could you possibly say in 140 characters?”). But a little over a year ago I listened to a webinar that convinced me to give it a shot.

At the beginning things were slow, and I often felt like I was shouting in an empty room (when not many people are ‘following’ you this feeling is natural). But gradually I developed a network—actually, several networks—that I’ve found really helpful for me personally and for my career. Continue reading…

Can rehab help scientists guilty of misconduct?
Could remediation work for researchers who have committed scientific misconduct? A new program run by the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) aims to find out. Continue reading…

A plethora of posts (and a steminist profile)

Study: Pollutants may delay human pregnancies
A new study by Germaine Buck Louis and colleagues at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences took a novel approach to exploring how environmental pollutants may impact the time it takes for couples to conceive. Continue reading….

Study: Facial expressions of intense joy and anguish are indistinguishable
Studies looking at how people perceive emotions often rely on stimuli that look like floating faces. What has largely been missing in these studies is the role of the body in emotional processing. A fascinating new study published in Science used a clever experimental paradigm to tease apart how we use visual input from bodies more than faces to determine whether someone is having a very good or very bad day. Continue reading…

Project ARISE brings scientists and mobile labs into biology classrooms
Project ARISE (Advancing Rhode Island Science Education) connects high school biology teachers with Brown University scientists to enrich science education for Rhode Island high school students. Continue reading….

Play a game and help scientists map the connectome with EyeWire
Some people do jigsaw puzzles during their holiday breaks. This year you can help solve a different kind of puzzle by mapping a single neuron’s path through a mouse’s retina—right from the comfort of your couch. Continue reading…

Scratching at the neuroscience of itch
It may seem obvious that there must be at least one type of neuron that responds to things that make us itchy like a wool sweater or an allergic reaction to a new lotion. Until recently, however, scientists were unsure whether there were neurons that specifically process itchy stimuli or whether these neurons also process a related but very different sensation: pain. Continue reading…

My STEMINIST profile
The STEMINIST blog recently posted a profile about me.  To read more about how I got interested in science and my advice to other women in science, see the profile here.

Etsy gifts for science nerds

Don’t know what to get the science nerd in your life? Want to support small businesses this holiday season? Check out my list of handmade science gifts for science nerds:

1. The requisite science nerd t-shirt.

top row (from nonfictiontees); “unstoppable” (from geekthings); dino w/beer (from brewershirts); we have pi (from PiecesofSungreenEtsy)

and for the little ones:

microscope (from happyfamily); outlier (from NausicaaDistribution); xy (from Whimsy Onesie)

2. Ties

microscope and Project Mercury (from Cyberoptix); Einstein (from Scatterbrain ties)

3. Jewelry 

galaxy earrings (from tiny galaxies);  Darwin cuff (from JezebelCharms); mobius ring (from NOjewelry); circuit board necklace (from beadworkbyAmanda); moth wing necklace (from PoPkO); petrified wood cufflinks (from BetsyBenson)

4. For the home

I love you more than zombies love brains mug (from folded pigs); Rock Star Scientists magnets (from meganlee); botanical coasters (from ZNRDesign)

5. Grow

grow a citrus tree (from SevenAcreWoods); dinosaur planter (from BloominHappy2009); urban spring garden (by wendiland)

6. Etc. 

vintage octopus print (by vintagebytheshore); plush distributions (by NausicaaDistribution); retina dress (by Shenova)

Do you have any neat science gift ideas? Tell us about them in the comments!