A new take on an old sketch.

FP osteocytes 1.JPG

Pictured above are two osteocytes. Osteocytes are the most abundant cell type in the bone, derived from terminally-differentiated osteoblasts that become embedded in the bone matrix during bone formation and remodeling. These cells mediate bone remodeling in response to damage and mechanical forces.

Foutain pen osteoclast 1.JPG

Above is a new take on one of my earliest bone-related sketches – the lone osteoclast.


Fountain pens and Science Art

Last year I resumed corresponding with my grandparents by hand-written letters, something I had done in college but stopped as electronic communications became my predominant means of communication. My cursive had atrophied long ago, so I printed the first couple of letters I sent before I resolved to relearn cursive. Never being satisfied with the script I had learned in elementary school (New American Cursive), I began exploring for a handwriting style that appealed to my taste and discovered Spencerian script. I ordered a book and began practicing.

At the same time, I ordered my first fountain pen, the Pilot Metropolitan (the classic Spencerian script seemed appropriately paired with a fountain pen). I have since enjoyed expanding my fountain pen collection and exploring new inks. Pictured below is my fountain pen collection as of March 2017 (left to right: Pilot Metropolitan, TWSBI Diamond 580 AL, Lamy Safari, Noodler’s Ahab Cherokee Pearl, and Noodler’s Ahab Iroquois).

ab fountain pens.jpg

Through my exploration of the online fountain pen community, I found many artists using fountain pens to create compelling illustrations, so I was soon interested in exploring the artistic applications of this new-found hobby. Below are some of my first attempts at coupling fountain pens with a water brush to achieve some watercolor effects. Pleased with the initial results, I hope to continue to apply this technique to visualizing science.

ab watercolor 1.JPGab nemotodes.JPG

The nematode C. elegans: hermaphrodite (bottom) and male (top)ab cancer initiation.JPG

A sketch of cancer initiation in a layer of epithelial cells.

Exploring Questions in Biochemistry – A Colleague’s Assignment

Writing assignments are a fantastic ways for student to engage with and process material. Using the internet as a platform for student work encourages students to engage with a community beyond the classroom. A friend and colleague of mine, Dr. Salmaan Khan, who is teaching a biochemistry laboratory class at the University of Minnesota has tasked his students with such an assignment.

One assessment in the class has students writing a one page paper on a topic of their choice. The paper is structured in a question/answer format – students select a question relevant to biochemistry and explore the data around that question.

Dr. Khan established a blog to share student work. The resulting work can be seen here. He requested that I read and comment on some of the student work to engage the students. I have done so and I now put this to the larger community. Please visit and ask the students questions on their work.

These types of writing assignments give students practice at communicating to broad audiences on the web. This assignment carries even more impact for the students if they have the opportunity to engage with that community.

Primary Literature Jigsaw

I recently authored a guest blog post for the University of Minnesota’s Techniques in Teaching and Learning. In this post I outline my approach to integrating primary literature into the Advanced Cell and Molecular Biology course I am currently teaching at a local liberal arts college.

If you read it, I would appreciate any feedback, as well as hearing how others incorporate primary literature into their classroom.





Science Networking Project: The Handout

I would like to thank all of the individuals on Twitter and those who have commented on the blog for help in thinking about how best to use Twitter in the classroom.  Below is the handout I will be giving the students the first day of class.  Feel free to make suggestions for improvement, or to modify and use it for your own purposes if you like it.

Science Networking Project

Keeping abreast of the latest scientific news and research as one enters his or her career can be a greater challenge than one might think; therefore, developing skills to stay connected to the flow of scientific information is essential for one’s growth as a scientist. Until recently, keeping up with information in one’s field consisted of making an attempt to, at the very least, browse the titles and abstracts of the major journals related to that particular discipline. Amidst the many other responsibilities of a graduate student or developing scientist in another career track, staying current with research news is a focus that often gets ignored. However, with easier and more regular access to information through the Internet and direct connectivity to those with similar interests, this task is made much easier.

The social networking tool, Twitter, is used by many scientists and science writers and is a powerful technology for following breaking scientific news stories. Following specifically selected individuals connects one to a vast network of information. Many of these individuals specifically dedicate their time to looking for the most important scientific breakthroughs and tweeting about them. Furthermore, one can easily begin to see what new stories are of great importance, as multiple individuals will tweet about the same story or retweet what others have posted. And at times, great content is tweeted that escapes the attention of main players or major journal editors. So, while at the basic level twitter can function as one’s personalized news feed (and in the case of this course, tailored to scientific interests), this technology can offer much more.

Through Twitter one can connect to individuals and organizations that previously may have been inaccessible. Through these connections you can begin to develop your Personal Learning Network (PLN), defined on one blog as, “the entire collection of people with whom you engage and exchange information, usually online.”[1] Your PLN will be specific to your own interests and connect you to individuals that will become virtual colleagues for sharing ideas. For example, as I was entreating ways to use Twitter in the classroom, I connected with other faculty who had also used Twitter in their classroom and we were able to engage and discuss this topic. Beyond using Twitter as a way for you to keep informed with emerging scientific information, my greater goal for this activity is to assist you in forming a lasting professional network, the foundation of which will be your fellow classmates and myself.

Some of you may already use Twitter – perhaps for personal purposes, but you may have already begun to adapt this to your professional practice. For the purposes of this class, your Twitter accounts should become a professional representation of your online persona. If you have a Twitter account that you use for personal connections with friends (ie. Foursquare check-ins, etc.), I strongly recommend that you begin an alternate, professional account for use in this course and as you connect with other professionals. With that said, you may go to www.twitter.com and start your account. You may want to download the program “Tweetdeck,” which will allow you to more easily track tweets associated with the class. When you are write tweets for this class, be sure to include the hashtag #AB471, which will allow us to isolate all tweets associated with this course. To start connecting to sources related to this course, follow the individuals/organizations listed below.

Bloggers/Science Writers

Science Journals

Scientific Societies/Foundations

Science and Art

Women in Science




Suggestions for Tweeting:

  1. Find a news article, blog post, or other source. Write a short caption and provide a link to this source. (Tip: To shorten the original link you can use a site such as http://tiny.cc/ to create a short link. Doing this will reduce the number of characters your link consumes.)
  2. Tweet a question. In addition to sending me an email or posting on the Moodle site, feel free to Tweet your question. I will respond as quickly as possible; alternatively, a classmate or someone in your extended PLN will take the initiative.
  3. Respond to a Tweet posted by a classmate. Let them know you found interesting something they shared. Initiate a conversation about it.
  4. Find something in class particularly fascinating? Compose a short Tweet about it.

Sunday Night Sketches

Other responsibilities have kept me from updating my blog. Until I post something more substantial, I took a break from work this evening to draw.

An apathetic osteoblast, bored with his task of feeding the mono nucleated osteoclast precursors RANK ligand.

My attempt at the macrophage is for Heather over at Escaping Anergy and inspired by a couple of the images found here. Plus, the osteoclast and macrophage, both derived from the monocyte lineage, are sort of cellular cousins. Furthermore, considering that osteoclasts essentially spit up acid like Jeff Goldblum in “The Fly” to degrade bone matrix, and macrophages rival the gluttony of No-Face in “Spirited Away,” these cells might be a couple of the most bad-ass cells in our bodies.

Twitter Project: The Response

Thanks to some helpful re-tweets, some interesting discussion on Twitter and in the comments section of my previous post produced some suggestions and highlighted some challenges that may be encountered when trying to integrate social media into the classroom. I wanted to take a moment to summarize this discussion here, which, I hope, will generate some helpful followup discussion.

Kelly Gull (@asmkelly) re-tweeted the link to my original blog post and put me in contact with some others in the Twitter community who have implemented similar ideas in their own courses.

The first response I received was from Mark Martin (@markowenmartin) who tweeted, “Sure enough. I’m not sure the students were as enthused as I was.” This was quickly followed by Steven Hecht’s (@Profmicro) response, “My experience is more like yours. And…do you follow back students? Some things I don’t want to know.” The latter part of this response I found somewhat surprising, as I always assumed that I would follow the students back. One of the goals I envisioned with this activity, was to invite students to engage with a professional online community. Not following the students, in my mind, would suggest to them that while I wanted them to use Twitter, I wouldn’t be willing to engage in their network on the same level. I feel this creates a sense of exclusion between myself as the instructor and the students, making the tasks seems more like an assignment rather than an attempt to form a learning community. Alison Link, a masters student at U of M, is also interested in using Twitter as an education tool (Link to her Twitter Challenge project here). In a comment on my previous post on this topic, she entertains similar considerations as those expressed above:

“What do you think about the idea of adding syllabus language if Twitter or other social media is being used in class? I feel like could help clarify to students that they will be contributing to a public platform (such as Twitter) for class, and spelling out the different privacy options they should think about. (i.e. creating a separate “professional” account, altering privacy settings on posts, etc.)”

In response to Hecht’s comment, “Some things I don’t want to know,” I wondered whether having students create a separate professional account would limit any “TMI” situations. In fact, part of this exercise would include developing the students’ understanding of the importance of creating a professional online presence. Students should be aware that what they share is public and learn how to engage with the online community in a respectable, professional manner. Rebecca Achterman (@RRAchterman) tweeted, “I did not follow back, just used hashtag. Twapperkeeper made grading easier.” Aaron Best (@aaron_best) provided a similar response, indicating that not following students is a common approach, at least in the context of the discussion I have seen. For instructors who are not inclined to follow their students, there are tools for keeping track of the class Twitter discussion. Twapperkeeper is one example of how one can create an archive of Tweets based on #hashtag, keyword, and @person. Irrespective of whether one follows students back, using an archiving program such as Twapperkeeper seems essential to organizing for discussion and grading purposes.

The initial response indicating the difficult to motivate students to become involved tempered my enthusiasm for how successful integration of such an activity in my own class would be. A response from Best, however, provided some encouragement: “Engagement has been decent, not stellar. Some highly involved; others will never be. Happy w/ 1st try.” This was followed by a response from Mark Martin: ” First steps can be wobbly, I know. More structure, and pointage?” Kelly Gull also indicated that @dawessner has had success in integrating Twitter into the classroom, but as of yet he has not entered this particular conversation. I would be interested to hear his opinions. Also, from Best: “We’ve got some structured activities and similar learning goals… can discuss if interested.” Yes. Interested.

Perhaps a focus in this discussion should be specific activities that encourage greater involvement, activities that are engaging and provide a meaningful learning experience. One this topic I would be most interest in hearing from those who have attempted using Twitter in their courses.

1. In what ways are others implementing Twitter in their classrooms?

2. What specific activities have you developed that utilize Twitter or other forms of social media?

Perhaps by finding the most effective and engaging exercise to link with our use of Twitter in the classroom, we can limit the resistance on the part of students to using this technology. Quite possibly, one of my readers is aware of an existing resource describing effective classroom activities utilizing social media and could provide that. If not, I think it would be helpful to utilize this community to combine our ideas and identify the most effective among them.

Science Networking Project: Twitter Revisited

In my initial post on using Twitter in the classroom, I had only begun to explore the idea as a method of information retrieval – a way for students to keep up with current findings. Since then I have been exploring ways to incorporate Twitter in more active ways, developing activities around the use of this technology. The higher-order learning objective that I hope to attain through this project is to increase students’ ability to communicate recent scientific findings and become actively engaged in the scientific community through the use of social networking media. To avoid students attaching strong associations between this project and their preconceived ideas about Twitter, in my syllabus I have named this series of assignments the “Science Networking Project.”

Getting Started

There are some preliminaries to take care of before getting to the good stuff. The first being: students will need a Twitter account (@IleneDawn has also suggested the use of HootCourse – I have just started looking into this site and what it can offer). The exercise of using Twitter in the classroom is to show students that these social networking tools have become an important tool not only in disseminating knowledge but also in generating productive discourse. Students may already have experience with this technology for other purposes, so I believe it is important to gain an understanding of how students already use Twitter.

The first step in this project involves some brief discussion based around the following questions: If students already have a Twitter account, for what do they use it? Have they already begun to use it for information retrieval, or does it primarily serve social functions? If students don’t have an account, what are their expectations of this technology? Having a brief conversation about this may reduce students’ apprehension towards the technology and allow them to see it as a valuable tool.

The next phase involves the practical issues of establishing the class’s twitter community:

  1. Open a Twitter account.
  2. Add your Twitter handle to the student list.
  3. I will collect the names and compile them in a list, along with a list of individuals or organizations that tweet news related to the course.
  4. Students will receive a copy of this list and will be responsible for adding their classmates and the additional twitter feeds on the list.
  5. I will encourage them to follow peers even outside the class. Connecting to their extended peer circle will results in exposing to scientific information those who may not typically pay much attention to this type of news.

After students have opened an account and are connected to our, at this stage, limited network of followers, the core of this project becomes designing assignments that encourage students to become engaged with this community. Through these assignments students will employ higher levels of learning through synthesis and written communication. Relating to this section, I would greatly appreciate suggestions from my readers for possible projects. Below I include a short list of ideas I have considered, that other individuals have contributed, or that I have found on in other sources.

1. Retweet two science-related tweets that catch your interest.

This exercise gets the students to actively look through their twitter feed and at least be considering subjects that are of interest to them.  Grading for this assignment would be low-stakes, simply giving a small point value for having completed the assignment.

One could argue that this approach is far too passive – that students could just retweet the first two articles that appear to be related to the course and gain nothing from the experience. To avoid this, the exercise could be coupled with an opportunity for the students to exercise their writing skills:

a. Students submit a short explanation (1-2 paragraphs) of what they found interesting about this particular tweet.

b. If the tweet links to an article or website, have them summarize the content of the link.

2. Find an article from a popular source, summarize (this part would be submitted to me), and tweet about it.

I like this exercise because the student must process what they have read, turn it not only into a summary for me, but then also tweet about it.  The format of Twitter only allows for a very brief summary or tag line about the source, which means students must draw out the core message of the article.

3. Find a blog post of interest, summarize, and tweet about it. (This can be from a list of blogs I will provide in class, or one that the student finds on her or his own.)

4. Have students attend a talk and tweet about it. (Suggested by Dr. Cheryl Neudauer)

I welcome additional suggestions of ways in which I can make this experience as valuable as possible for students. I will update the list of twitter assignments in future posts.

I close with one example of how Twitter has been successfully integrated into a history classroom. I discovered this video through a tweet from @cristinacost. Dr. Monica Rankin at UT Dallas shows some of the ways she has integrated Twitter into classroom discussion. You see some of the positive response from the students about the experiment.

The Periodic Table of Haiku

In my preparing future faculty course this morning, @IleneDawn introduced another interesting example of merging art and science pedagogy – The Periodic Table of Haiku.

A description of the project from the link above:

“The primary objective of the Haiku project was to integrate chemistry and creative writing. By working with the characteristics of Haiku structure, the goal of this project was not only to deliver informative factual details of an element, but also to discover an original and fresh perspective of the same element. Students were challenged to portray a sense of focus, story, progress, and completeness within the 5-7-5 syllable structure. The project created sufficient excitement at UMR that Chancellor Lehmkuhle and some members of the faculty and staff (and in one case, the spouse of a faculty member) also decided to participate in the project. What you see here is the first iteration of the ‘Periodic Table of Haiku’ project at UMR.”

Click on the link above and enjoy what these students have created by clicking on the different elements.  What a fantastic and creative approach to getting students to think about the elements!

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