Conversations about Science Writing: Nick Wigginton

MiSciWriters member Kristina Lenn chatted with Nick Wigginton, the assistant vice president of research at the University of Michigan, about the importance of communication among researchers and the big responsibility science writers carry in the current political climate.


 Anyone who has ever done collaborative research can list the benefits of being able to work with another group and learn about the cultural differences between researchers. Dr. Nick Wigginton knows better than anyone else how important communication is to successful collaborations.

Prior to his tenure at Michigan, Dr. Wigginton received his doctorate in Earth Science, and his dissertation was a collaborative effort by his department, physics, chemistry, and biology. This interdisciplinary gauntlet gave him the tools he needed to succeed as an editor for Science magazine where he needed to address the research and cultures of multiple departments.

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Setting the Tone: How Physics Can Help Us Understand Musical Harmony (Part 2)

Author: Joseph Iafrate

Editors: Christina Vallianatos, Scott Barolo, and Bryan Moyers

*Editor’s Note: This post has several sound files to help readers understand the author’s message better. These sound files can be accessed via bolded links.

Part one of this post explained how physics gave us a new language for talking about musical notes. In part two, we look at combinations of notes. Will two notes sound pleasant together, or will they clash? We can apply what we’ve learned about frequencies to get an answer.

The Harmony of Ratios

If you’ve ever used the Pythagorean theorem, you are well-acquainted with one of Pythagoras’ contributions to society. Pythagoras was an ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician dedicated to discovering mathematical principles in the world around him. During his time, the Greeks already had an idea of which notes sounded good together, a pleasant combination of two or more notes that we call a harmony. Pythagoras and his followers could identify harmony by ear, but they wanted to see if the math that permeated the rest of their worldview had anything to say about this phenomenon.

According to legend, they took two taut strings of different lengths and plucked them at the same time. The sounds seemed to clash with one another. So the Pythagoreans increased the length of one of the strings and tried again. It was a bit better, but the notes still seemed to clash in their ears. So they increased the length again. This kept going until the sounds complemented one another. Eventually they got it just right, and the two notes were in harmony.

Continue reading “Setting the Tone: How Physics Can Help Us Understand Musical Harmony (Part 2)”

Setting the Tone: How Physics Can Help Us Understand Musical Harmony (Part 1)

Author: Joseph Iafrate

Editors: Christina Vallianatos, Scott Barolo, and Bryan Moyers

*Editor’s Note: This post has several sound files to help readers understand the author’s message better. These sound files can be accessed via bolded links. 

At my elementary school, entering the fifth grade meant we could finally join the school band, and for most of us, that was a big deal. I had been set on playing the clarinet for ages, so I was ready and raring to immediately dive into “Hot Cross Buns” and “Mary had a Little Lamb.”

But before we could do that, we had to learn how to name the building blocks of those songs and the sounds we were making: the musical notes. Our learner books instructed us to orient our fingers in a certain way and call the sound that came out a “G.” Western music labels its tones with the letters A through G. There are also modified notes (sharp and flat) such that we reach twelve total note names.

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How Gecko Feet Will Make Your Next Move Easier

Author: Andrew McAllister

Editors: Ana Vasquez, Molly Kozminsky, and Kevin Boehnke

One of the most frustrating parts of moving is dealing with furniture. Most pieces need to be taken apart to fit through doors or into your moving van. Even if you’re lucky enough to have buff friends to help, one lost or stripped screw is enough to make you question your choice to cart everything miles away.

If only things could be simpler. Instead of screws, why not a super strong, reusable, and easy-to-detach piece of tape to hold your furniture together? Sounds like a tall order, but scientists inspired by a gravity-defying lizard, the gecko, are trying to make it a reality.

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#Scijack: Co-opting Twitter for Science Communication

Author: Ada Hagan

Editors: Whit Froehlich, Scott Barolo, and Irene Park

I doubt Dr. Shaena Montanari ever thought that a single Twitter conversation would earn her 3,000 new followers (1,000 within two hours) and help launch a new hashtag. But that’s what happened when she replied to a political tweet that mentioned velociraptors.

fig1 - scijackSource

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Analyzing without Lysing: Non-Damaging Techniques for Monitoring Cells

Author: Sarah Kearns

Editors: Whit Froehlich, Ada Hagan, and Irene Park

The interior of a cell is inherently complex with a myriad of processes going on all at once. Despite the clean images that are commonly shown in diagrams and textbooks, the parts inside are more of a whirlwind of structural components, proteins, and products (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Left is a cartoon image of a whole cell highlighting the different organelles (cellular compartments). Right is a computer simulation of the cytoplasm, the fluid between organelles. There are thousands of chemical processes going on within it.

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Conversations about Science Writing: Kara Gavin

Photo courtesy of Kara Gavin

For the first in our series “Conversations about Science Writing,” MiSciWriters editor-in-chief Irene Park chatted with Kara Gavin, a lead Public Relations representative for the Michigan Medicine and the Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation. Irene asked Kara some questions about her experiences that led to her current position and whether she has any tips for new, budding science writers.

The transcript is lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

MSW: Could you describe your current position?

KG: I am one of seven writers on the staff at the Michigan Medicine Department of Communication. I find and tell stories about research for a very broad audience to internal and external worlds – about the research going on in medical school labs.

I’ve been at the University for almost 18 years. When I first started, there was not a lot of research coverage. It was very much hospital PR [public relations] with very little research news. Over time, we noticed that we could get so much more attention with research news than clinical news. So it became more about finding stories about research and translating them into stories to represent the institution.

The advance of social media means that everything we produce reaches many audiences. We are always looking for reporters to get interested in the research we write about, so there is a media relations function still. Now, everything I write goes up the University of Michigan Health Lab blog. The blog was created last year as a platform for sharing not only research news but reflections on science and society and Q&A’s with researchers.

My job is equal parts writing, connecting reporters with our experts, and cultivating future stories by giving talks. I give several talks a month: teaching researchers how to use Twitter as professionals, or why they should engage in the PR process.

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