Category Archives: Women In Science

This Scientist Is OK- Jessa Watters

Jessa Watters is the collections manager of herpetology for the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. She works in the Cameron Siler lab studying reptiles and amphibians.

I had the pleasure of hanging out with her and some student researchers recently as they collected lots of little creatures..

Watters tells me she has always had a fondness for biology, especially turtles, so it’s no surprise she’s made a career in a field that studies them. She’s not a native Oklahoman but Watters is definitely an OK scientist.

Herpetology Field Trip

The Cameron Siler Lab is based at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. Researchers there study herpetology, which means they know just about everything there is to know about reptiles and amphibians.

They just started the first year of a three year grant to study the diversity of those creatures in Oklahoma. They’re also looking to see if any of them show signs of certain diseases that could have a major impact on the populations.

Special thanks to Jessa Watters, the herpetology collections manager, for letting me tag along on one of their field trips. We went to the James Collins Wildlife Management Area in Latimer County. It’s not know if any of the animals you see in this video suffer from those diseases. The researchers take what they’ve collected back to their lab to perform the tests.

If you know of a group of scientists doing field work in Oklahoma please let me know. I’d love to go out there with them. Drop me a line at scienceisok (at) outlook (dot) com.

Snakes and turtles and stuff

A student researcher examines a turtle.

A student researcher examines a turtle.

I had the privilege of spending an afternoon with researchers from OU studying snakes and turtles and stuff. Jessa Watters is the Collection Manager for Herpetology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. Herpetology is the study of amphibians and reptiles.

Watters is part of the Cameron Siler lab at the museum. She was joined by two students this weekend at the James Collins Wildlife Management Area in Latimer County, it’s near Robbers Cave State Park. I’ll be producing a story of my visit soon and show why they say studying these creatures is important.

Researchers from the University of Oklahoma study wildlife in Latimer County.

Researchers from the University of Oklahoma study wildlife in Latimer County.

This Scientist is OK- Dr. Lynn Soreghan

Dr. Lynn Soreghan is a geologist at the University of Oklahoma. She studies what’s called deep time climate, basically we’re talking about Earth’s climate from hundreds of millions of years ago. She does it by studying ancient dust that has now solidified and become rock.

In this video she talks about why she loves geology, what ancient dust particles tell you about climate of the past, and what she thinks about the state of science education in Oklahoma. You can really see at the 2:52 mark as she tries to find the words to describe her frustration with some of the meddling that goes on in science education in our state.

Ancient Dust and Fossilized Raindrops (sort of)

Dr. Lynn Soreghan is a geologist at the University of Oklahoma. She has one of the more unique specialties I’ve come across. She studies deep time climate by looking at ancient dust. It was formed hundreds of millions of years ago but has now become rock or stone.

Be sure to check out the 2:05 mark where you can see what are essentially fossilized raindrops!!! Okay, not really, but you can see the imprint made when it rained millions of years ago in Colorado. It’s supercool.

We talked via Skype.

This Scientist is OK- Dr. Anne Weil

Dr. Anne Weil is a vertebrate paleontologist at the OSU Center for Health Sciences in Tulsa. Her specialty is looking at a “lost branch of mammalia” called multituberculates. They lived roughly 180 to 30 million years ago. Here’s an example.

She started college wanting to be a novelist but soon found herself taking geology and paleontology courses. Next thing you know she’s paleontologist researching fossilized mammal teeth.

She’s an OK scientist.

HPV Vaccine- Safe, effective, does NOT increase Sexual Activity

The HPV vaccine prevents cancer. Simple as that. HPV is a sexually transmitted disease that leads to cervical cancer as well as a number of other cancers. It can be prevented, however, with  a simple vaccine.

Recent studies have found that the HPV vaccine is very safe. One study looked to see if the vaccine causes multiple sclerosis or any other nervous system related diseases. It does not. Another looked to see if girls who get the HPV vaccine become more sexually active. They do not.

This is a safe and effective vaccine that prevents cancers. Can’t say that enough. Dr. Amy Middleman is a researcher with the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. She’s studied how parents and health providers approach the vaccine. Her research has found a disconnect between the two, something she says needs to be resolved quickly.

Women In Science

Have you seen the commercial that depicts a little girl growing up, along the way getting more and more discouragement about pursuing science? She’s told not to get her dress dirty or to be careful and let her brother handle a power drill. At the end, it looks like she’s taking notes about a science fair but, really, she’s just putting on lipstick. It packs a powerful message about girls, science, and societal expectations.

The National Science Foundation conducted a study that found girls and boys have the same attitude about science in elementary school. By fourth grade 66% of the girls and 68% of the boys showed an interest in science. But, to me, the telling aspect of the study found that both boys and girls in the second grade draw a scientist as a man, specifically as a white man.

Research done by the National Girls Collaborative Project showed that women are more likely to go into the biological sciences as opposed to computer sciences or engineering. As an example, 44% of the chemists and material scientists in the United States are women but only 4% of the mechanical engineers are women.

So why the discrepancy? Researchers say there are number of factors from cultural norms to ethnicity to economics. I’ve interviewed some very successful female scientists in the past few months. In the video above they explain what they think needs to happen to get more women in science and why we need to take a good long look in the mirror and make some serious societal changes.

Medieval Dental Plaque Gets OU Researcher Top Honors

Research conducted by a University of Oklahoma anthropology professor has been named one of the top 100 stories of the year by Discover Magazine.

Christina Warinner directed a study of dental plaque from four Medieval skeletons. She published her research in Nature this past February. Discover Magazine was so impressed it’s ranked it the 69th best science story of the year and will feature it in an article in its January/February issue of the top 100 stories of of 2014.

According to OU, Warinner’s study found evidence of ancient DNA from wheat, pork, mutton, and a plant belonging to the mustard family. She also found ancient protein from cattle, sheep, and goat milk.

 

courtesy: University of Oklahoma

Photo credit: Malin Holst, courtesy: University of Oklahoma

The picture above shows a human jawbone that dates to the 1st-4th century from York, UK. Dr. Warinner doesn’t know the sex but says the person was in their 20s or 30s when they died. You can clearly see the build-up of dental plaque on the teeth. Dr. Warinner says this particular example tested positive of milk proteins.

Warinner wrote an article for CNN in 2012 explaining what she does and why it’s so important. “By extracting DNA from ancient human bones, we can reconstruct the human genome at different times in the past and look for differences that might be related to adaptations, risk factors, or inherited diseases,” she wrote. Adding, “The aim is to better understand the evolutionary vulnerabilities of the human body so that we can better manage and improve our health in the future.”

Want more with some cool illustrations? Here she is giving a presentation at TED in 2012.

This Scientist Is OK- Dr. Amanda Falk

One of the goals of this blog is to highlight Oklahoma scientists. I’m proud to debut the first in what I hope will be a long series of videos. I call it, This Scientist Is OK. It’s just an Oklahoma scientist, in their own words, talking about what they study, why they study it, what it means to you and me, and what made them want to pursue a life in science. I hope the videos show the love these men and women have for science and the scientific process.

This one features Dr. Amanda Falk. She’s a paleoornithologist at Southwestern Oklahoma State University in Weatherford. She spends a lot of time researching ancient bird fossils in Asia.

I really enjoyed listening to her. At the 2:43 mark she talks about how, as a child, her parents encouraged her to explore the world around her and how that directly led to her becoming a scientist. But I really like what she says about the wonder science can provide in our everyday lives, “Science provides us so many answers and makes the world around us a more interesting place, a deeper place.”