To celebrate reaching 1 million followers of @NatureNews on Twitter, Nature asked its audience to send in photos of their work. The response to #ShowUsYourScience was overwhelming. Here are the stories behind some of our favourite responses. We wish we could have featured them all.
Alex Evans is a PhD student at the University of Leeds, UK, where he works to understand flight. Although he works mainly on birds, Evans also investigates beetles such as this flower chafer (Mecynorrhina ugandensis). He will dissect out the beetle's muscle fibres and use them to generate data on energy use and power outputs.
“Hopefully, these results will help us to understand more about why we find such a diverse range of muscle mechanics and flight styles in beetle species and what may drive adaptations towards certain styles,” says Evans. “The main reason I was taking this beetle for a walk across my hands was mostly just because I find them fascinating to watch!”
By sequencing ancient remains from the Americas, Jennifer Raff hopes to understand the prehistory of the region, and how humans first arrived and peopled it. The ancient-DNA researcher at the University of Kansas in Lawrence generally starts her days in a special laboratory that uses positive-pressure air systems and ultraviolet lights to minimize contamination of ancient DNA, and which restricts access to people whose DNA has been sequenced, so as to identify contamination if it occurs.
In the afternoon, she works in a lab that deals with modern genomes, or on a computer, analysing sequences such as the one in this tweet. The move from ancient to modern is deliberate — it prevents the contamination of older samples with modern ones.
“It can be incredibly frustrating sometimes,” Raff says, “because few samples have preserved DNA, and even if DNA is present it will be highly degraded and scarce. But ancient DNA work has transformed our understanding of human history, and I absolutely love my work.”
Wild dogs feel the heat
Turning dogs into data is the science of Daniella Rabaiotti, a PhD student researching climate and conservation at the Zoological Society of London.
Rabaiotti is working on the impact of climate change on African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus), a species that many people assumed would not be greatly affected by rising temperatures. She is using a huge data set from radio-collared animals, allied with mathematical models (seen on the right of the picture) to tease out how the dogs will fare with changes in temperature, rainfall and other environmental factors influenced by global warming. Although she spends most of her time in the office, “I go out and collar some wild dogs and cheetahs occasionally”, she told Nature.
“The take-home from my research is that species you wouldn’t necessarily expect to be affected by climate change probably are,” says Rabaiotti.
Science room service
Richard Johnston was in Germany last year to test drive a microscope when he found that his only opportunity to prepare a sample of cuttlebone for scanning was in his hotel room. He even had to use the hotel hair dryer on the cuttlefish in question. Things did get “quite smelly”, he says.
Johnston, who co-directs the Advanced Imaging of Materials Facility at Swansea University, UK, looks to get ‘bioinspiration’ for materials science from nature. The microscope was clearly impressive because he is now expecting delivery of his own version of the £1-million (US$1.4-million) Zeiss Xradia 520.
This cute baby southern fiddler ray (Trygonorrhina dumerilii) is being released after helping Leonardo Guida to understand the impact of fishing. Guida is a PhD student at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, with the @LetsGetPhysEcol lab, and is studying how capture by fishing stresses sharks and rays (chondrichthyes). He catches pregnant rays by hand and then simulates a capture by trawler in an aquarium. Although it is not sought out by fishermen, this species is often caught as ‘bycatch’.
“The results of our work generally inform fisheries managers of practices which best ensure the survival of bycatch sharks and rays and ultimately assist in the development of sustainable fishing,” Guida told Nature.
Pablo Dávila Harris found himself in this cave last Sunday, collecting water and rock samples and trying to “decipher the relation between the cave structures and the host rock”, he told Nature.
A geologist at the Institute for Scientific and Technological Research of San Luis Potosí (IPICYT) in Mexico, he is part of a project looking at the area’s ‘tuff’ — a type of rock that forms from volcanic eruptions. In this case, the tuff was the product of a huge eruption in the Pleistocene. “We want to shed light on several scientific questions: How was the cave formed? How long did it take to form? What are the main processes responsible for the formation of the cave?” he says.
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