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Today I learned…

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… that when you are washing dead beetles (!), your grip with the forceps is very important. Too loose and a stray wrist movement will send a wet beetle flying towards you. Too tight, and the beetle will actually pop out of the forceps. And head right for you.

The next one will go down your shirt. You won’t ever be able to find it.

What happens to the ones that don’t die?

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Today an experiment I’ve been helping with has finished. Four weeks after it started, it’s safe to assume that all the beetles who are going to die of fungal infection are dead. So what about the rest of them?

I murdered them by stuffing them into the freezer.

And it feels more like murder than the usual way of killing them. Fungal spores are everywhere, and attack these beetles naturally. In a way, breeding the beetles in a laboratory keeps them safe from the pathogens they’d usually pick up fairly easily in the field. But most wild beetles don’t encounter freezers.

At the same time, I’m glad the experiment is over, since checking if they are dead is tedious and time-consuming, and of course needs to be done regularly if we want data of any quality. I had wished they would “just bloody die” at least a dozen times in the past 3 weeks. So I was almost relieved to be able to tape up the autoclave bag (they’ll be steamed tomorrow!) and dump them in the chest freezer. Which of course leaves me feeling guilty about being glad at the death of another living thing etc etc.

I’m so, so glad I do not work with mammals. I don’t know what happens to them at the end of an experimental run, but I’m deliberately not looking it up, because I’m sure it’s not pretty.

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Last week’s conference

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It occurs to me that I didn’t blog about my first conference, which I went to last week. It was held in sunny Caloundra, right near the beach, but I’m afraid I didn’t have time to get down there. The three days were crammed full of stats talks and workshops, and I’m glad I took copious notes because I’m not sure I remember much of it.

On the first day there were some great talks on optimisation of experimental design, which is very relevant to me right now. There was also an excellent talk on the last day on the same topic by an academic from the University of Otago whose name escapes me, but whom I promised to email with many questions. Good thing I took all those notes!

Most of the other talks were not as relevant to my studies, but still fascinating. I found the applications of Bayesian stats to sociology (eg. terrorism, breastfeeding) particularly interesting, and would love to see more on these.

Since I have little memory and no notes on me I don’t want to write too much more, but Sam Clifford gave a good wrap-up at his blog.

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I’ve been thinking about the themes I tend to touch on in my links posts. I don’t post even a tenth of the science I come across, but sometimes I struggle to work out if a particular article or post is appropriate. I try to stick to the things I think are most relevant to this blog, which means microbiology and arthropods, with maybe a bit of stats. Going back through old links posts, it’s clear that I also love molecular biology, interesting or unusual evolutionary adaptations, science communication/education (what’s the difference?), ecosystems, and interesting accounts of research and technology. That’s pretty broad!

But, well, my interests in science are broad. I have an applied maths background, I’m researching in microbiology and statistics, and I work on communicating all kinds of science to kids. When I meet other statisticians I quiz them not on the models they use but on the scientific mechanisms behind what they’re modelling. As I become a more experienced statistician I expect to also want to talk to them about their models, but I don’t think I’ll ever not want to talk to them about the science that underlies their data.

Restricting myself to one type of science would reduce the fun of curating the links, for me. So for the moment I’ll keep posting this eclectic series, because I think they are worth keeping and sharing.

A new development…

… in the way I look at household cleaning, thanks to working in a microbiology lab.

Prior to this I did the normal detergent and clean thing on dishes and surfaces, and of course casually washed my hands with soap. Since spending time in a pathogens lab, I am much more fastidious! In the lab everything we use is doused with ethanol, at a bare minimum, sometimes bleached, and if I’m doing any work in the biocontrol cabinet I leave the UV light on for an hour just to make sure nothing can survive.

Now I’m fairly sure I’ll only be happy at home if someone can tell me a) how I can buy/make massive quantities of ethanol without arousing the suspicions of the government, and b) how exactly one goes about getting a UV light installed in the kitchen.

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