One year ago I started a job in Research Administration. Having worked in a lab for my science degrees and then as a researcher, it was a big change. I thought it might be fun to illustrate the differences that I’ve found between working in a lab and working in an office:
Being a bookworm I could
not miss the opportunity to visit such a wonderful place. I went for a Glimpse tour of the Reading Rooms: 15 minutes
of bliss where I was allowed not only to look around but also to take books off
The collections include mostly books about the Humanities,
like Religion, Politics, Literature, and History. I was amazed to see the Bible
in so many different languages.
Gladstone’s very own books are also part of the collection.
Most interesting to me was to find that some of his books were about Religion
and Science. I even discovered three volumes of Charles Darwin’s Letters!
I would have loved to have more time to browse the
collection and keep unlocking its secrets. Maybe one day…
A few days later, a letter came in the post thanking me for
my donation. Tiny details like these are also part of what makes this place so special.
Thank you Katharine Easterby for this.
The perfect atmosphere for writing and reading. Whether you
are a bookworm or not, this is a place not to be missed.
An interactive 360 degree view from outside Gladstone's Library. Click, drag and explore!
This scheme relies on volunteers with a non-medical
background and a connection with ovarian cancer who advice on research and “translate”
it into plain English. Some of the activities of a research advocate are:
Review research grant applications: help to shortlist the
best candidates by becoming “lay reviewers”, and see the outputs of
successfully funded projects at universities like Oxford and Cambridge.
Review projects: make sure projects are commented in lay
terms. For example the ROCkeTS(Refining
Ovarian Cancer Test Accuracy Scores) project led by
the University of Birmingham, intended to improve diagnosis of ovarian cancer.
The last part of this conference was about Target Ovarian Cancer’s RESEARCH PROGRAMME highlighting some of the projects they fund. The topics were absolutely
fascinating but the presentations were not at all tailored for the general
I felt really sad when this lady turned to me and said “I
didn’t understand anything”. It was not surprising when during one of the talks
one member of the audience actually interrupted the speaker to say “I don’t
understand what you mean by overexpression“.
I am a scientist, and during some of these talks I felt like
I was in a scientific conference! The slides showed figures that would
belong in a science paper with terminology that non-scientists would not
I know how challenging it is to translate research into
plain English, but PLEASE, make an
effort! How frustrating it must be for people connected with cancer when
they go to events like this, hoping to learn about the new treatments and
leaving baffled and confused.
So I’d like to take this opportunity to urge all the SCIENTISTS out there to DROP THE JARGON!
Participate in The BRCA protect Research Clinic. This programme, run by UCL, is trying to overcome the need of surgery by finding new ways of preventing breast and
Find if you
have increased cancer risk in your family with the Cancer Genetics appdeveloped by Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust.
Take part in the Target Ovarian CancerPathfinder 2016survey, campaigning for increased awareness, higher survival and better
funding for ovarian cancer. Open for women with ovarian cancer, clinical nurses
caring for women with ovarian cancer, and family and friends of women with
Visit the Penny Brohn UKwebsite to get information about their services and
Read Justin’s blog postto find out what being a Research Advocate is
like and how you can become one.
I was curious to know what
makes a successful crowdfunding campaign. So here are Emanuela’s tips:
You must set aside time for your crowdfunding enterprise. Preparation
should take about three months, then one or two months to run the campaign.
Have a good core team is a must. You have to get on board collaborators who can bring the skills you lack, for example, someone to do the social media work, someone to deal with the legal aspects, etc.
Have a realistic budget in place, including the salary for your core team. It takes a minimum of £10,000 to support a campaign. Bear in mind that you need to bring 30% of the funds before starting.
You need a sound social media marketing plan. An AMAZING VIDEO is KEY if you want to succeed, and so is the CONSTANT UPDATING of information via Twitter and other channels. And last but not least...
get a crowd!
You need to build an initial group of supporters (like
family and friends) who have to be there before the launch. Ideally, you need
to reach at least 10,000 people even if it isn’t direct reach. This is where
social networks like LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. come in handy.
If all that sounds like a hassle, why bother?
It is a very good springboard for the company
because people will know you. You’ll acquire clients and partners, and you’ll
be known to investors.
Have a look at some of the crowdfunding platforms:
It is 1766. A French expedition has been sent to
circumnavigate the globe. In a world dominated by men, a rumour starts spreading
. . . There is a WOMAN on board!
While I was doing research for my previous post, I came
across this article talking about the first woman to circumnavigate the
globe. I found it really interesting and decided to look for more information
about that. It turned out that a book had already been written: The discovery of Jeanne Baret by Glynis Ridley.
Jeanne Baret was born in France in 1740 and came from a working class family. This is the first striking fact about her: In those times,
how come someone who came from low origins ended up in a trip around the world?
Research about Jeanne’s life places her as an “herb woman”,
someone who collected plants and used them for medicinal purposes. This is how
she was supposed to have met the man who made her voyage possible: Philibert Commerson,
a botanist who lived around the same area. In her book, Ridley imagines their
meeting during one of the collecting trips.
The story tells us that Jeanne became Commerson’s lover and
moved to his place after his wife passed away. This is the second striking fact
about Jeanne: Why would someone with a high status would need a woman like her?
It is quite obvious that this must have been due to her great knowledge of
At the time, trips around the world were the way to claim
new lands. The French organised such a trip in 1766. The purpose of the trip
was to expand their territory and their scientific knowledge by collecting new
specimens. Commerson was invited to join as the expedition’s botanist and took
an assistant with him. I’m sure you can now guess who the assistant was. The
third striking fact about Jeanne: How did a woman manage to join such an
expedition? It was banned and unthinkable! So Jeanne’s clever idea was to dress
as a man and play the part of Commerson’s assistant.
Louis-Antoine de Bougainville was in charge of the
expedition comprising about 300 men and two ships, the Boudeuse and the Étoile.
A handful of journals lived to tell the story of what happened during the
voyage, that’s how we know about Jeanne’s disguise and what she did during the
I’m sure you are wondering, how was it possible that not one
single man realised that Jeanne was a woman? The most popular story is that Jeanne’s
cover was revealed during their stay in Tahiti. That must have been about 18
months after the journey started. It is said that the natives were the ones who
realised that she was a girl the moment she set foot on the island. This came
as a surprise to everyone on board, especially to Bougainville.
This story is not really believable. It is thought that Bougainville
made it up to avoid conflict due to laws banning women from those journeys. He,
like Commerson, must have recognised Jeanne’s potential to make their
botanising expedition a success. Not wanting to get rid of her, he had to come
up with a story. Here we have the fourth striking fact: thanks to her knowledge
and dedication, Jeanne was allowed to stay through the whole expedition.
We can tell by the surviving accounts that Jeanne had been
very brave and worked extremely hard to collect the specimens. She ventured
into the most dangerous lands, climbed steep hills and sharp rocks, always
carrying her botanising equipment, which included an incredibly heavy field press.
They went to places like Rio de Janeiro, Montevideo and
through the Strait of Magellan in South America; Tahiti, New Britain and New
Ireland in The Pacific. The final stop was the island of Mauritius in the
The expedition left for France in 1768, however, Jeanne and
Commerson stayed behind. They decided to go to Madagascar to increase their
collection, which amounted to more than 6000 pieces! This is now displayed at
the Natural History Museum in Paris. Commerson died in Mauritius and
Jeanne married a soldier called Jean Dubernat. They came back to France until
1775, where she lived till the age of 67.
Two of the most popular discoveries of this expedition were:
The bougainvillea (Bougainvillea
brasiliensis), discovered in Rio de Janeiro and named
Commerson’s dolphin (Cephalorhyncuscomersonii) (link and figure), which
they spotted while crossing the Strait of Magellan.
None of the new specimens were named after Jeanne. However,
it is said that while in Madagascar Commerson did name a plant after her. The
genus was called Baretia, and according to Commerson it comprised three species: Baretia bonafidia, Baretia oppotisiva, and Baretia
heterophylla. The plants have different shapes and sizes of leaves, hinting
at the dubious identity of Jeanne while they were at sea. There are now about
50 species belonging to this genus, which was sadly renamed to Turraea.
Up until 2012 there were no varieties named after Jeanne.
Then a group in the USA decided that it was time to commemorate her success: Solanum baretiaeis a new species of Solanum. This genus is one of the
largest and commercially important on earth and includes the tomato, potato and
eggplant. Solanum baretiae grows at
high altitudes (about 1900 to 3000 m) mostly in the south of Ecuador and north
of Peru, and like Commerson’s Baretia,
its leaves are variable.
At last Jeanne’s name has been honoured, a happy ending to the
story of a remarkable woman.
A pharmacist and insect collector, he was the first person
to give butterflies English names. He corresponded with Eleanor, and used her
observations and specimens in his famous illustrated catalogue of British
insects “Gazophylaciumnaturae & artis”.
Famous for his work on insect anatomy and his publication “The
Natural History of Insects”, Jan did more than dissecting only insects: He
designed the frog nerve-muscle preparation. With this, he disproved the theory
that nerve movement happened because of “animal spirits”, and opened up a way
to understand nerve function. Basically, all we know now about nerves happened
because of this man and his frogs. Amazing!
A famous physician during his time, and even President of
the Royal Society, he was also a passionate collector of plants and animals.
In 1687 he travelled to Jamaica to find medicinal plants. During
his time there, he bought vast quantities of Peruvian bark, then known as Jesuits’
powder, to bring back to Britain.
This powder is the source of quinine, the drug used to treat malaria.
is not all, while in Jamaica,
he came across the drink made from cocoa beans (chocolate). He worked on a
recipe to mix it with milk and sugar, inventing milk chocolate. Eventually he
sold his recipe to the Cadbury brothers and we know the rest of the story.
Thanks Sir Hans from us chocoholics!
His obsession with collections drove him to buy as many as
became available. For example, he acquired James Petiver’s in 1718, which
included the correspondence with Eleanor. Sir Hans offered to sell his
collections to the nation after his death. When this happened in 1753, his collections
included 5,439 insects and over 12,000 samples of plant material among many
other objects. This collection was part of the foundation of the BritishMuseum, which is now the Natural History Museum.
So what happened to Eleanor?
Sadly, Eleanor was not able to spread her wings as much as
she would have liked to. But even then, despite what people thought, she
managed to gather important information which she shared with James Petiver.
Eleanor’s work lives today as part of the collections in the Natural History Museum.
And what about her butterfly?
Eleanor did find her butterfly. It was named after her
because she was the first person to catch it: the Glanville fritillary (Melitaea cinxia). Despite being one of
the rarest, we can still find it on the Isle of Wight. It would be so sad to
let it disappear!
It is the fifth castle to be built in the same area. You can read more about the previous castles and why they disappeared here .
The Palace has a section underground where you can see the
ruins of the first (Absalon’s Castle) and second (Copenhagen Castle) castles. Among
the ruins of the second castle, stand the remains of what was once called The
Like in the story of Rapunzel, a remarkable woman spent almost
22 years imprisoned in this tower: Leonora Christina Ulfeldt. She was the
daughter of Christian IV of Denmark and was taken to prison only because she
was the wife of a traitor.
I was curious to know more about her, so I read her memoirs
which she wrote after her imprisonment. Her notes include a small autobiography
where she recounts how at 21 she learned Latin, Italian, Spanish, French and
English, and how she translated books from Spanish and from French. She also
talks about her marriage to Corfitz Ulfeldt, relating how soon afterwards, she
paid for his debts with her jewellery.
When she was taken prisoner, she was put in a cell that was
known as The Dark Church. She describes the horrible stench and the food and
drink as “bitter bread and bitter gall”. After a while she was moved up to a cleaner
cell where she spent most of her imprisonment. She honours God for her strength
and even acknowledges her suffering for “having loved a virtuous husband” and
for “not having abandoned him in misfortune”.
She relates how she had no unemployed hours: she read the
Bible, embroidered, and even taught one of the maids how to read. Not only brave
but also creative, she figured that by mixing clay with beer she could make
portraits, jugs and vases.
And she even recorded two observations which she
thought fit for a naturalist:
She discovered “a kind of caterpillar which brings forth
small living grubs like itself” and that “a flea gives birth to a fully formed
Leonora Christina is now in my list of heroines; I love how her
bravery, patience, and creativity got her through those 22 years.
What I loved the most about Oslo was the Viking Ship Museum.
I had never seen a Viking ship in real life. They are absolutely amazing.
I was impressed by their size, but what I found truly
interesting was that the Vikings buried their dead in those ships. I cannot
imagine how it must have been to inter such enormous things. The dead were
buried together with utensils and jewellery in the case of women, tools and
weapons in the case of men. There were also remains of dogs and horses, as well
as food and drink in some of the graves. It reminded me a bit of what they did in
Egypt. It is obvious that the way the bodies were placed surrounded by all those
objects had a special meaning. The literature suggests a belief in life after
One of the objects found in the graves that drew my
attention was the comb. Searching for information, I found this book by Steven P. Ashby. Steven tries to “see” how the Vikings lived by analysing the making
and use of combs. Combs played a very important role in Viking life, they were
made of antlers from red deer, reindeer or elk.
The book takes you through the stages of comb-making and
use. It analyses questions like how the Vikings got the rough materials, how
they manufactured the combs and if they sold them or gave them as gifts. It
also touches on themes like the uses of combs, for example, whether they were
used for grooming or as ornaments, if they were a symbol of status, and why
they were found in the graves. After reading it, I realised that my conception
of the Vikings was completely wrong. For one thing, they paid great attention to
When in Oslo visit The Viking Ship museum, a MUST SEE.
Kladrubers come from the Czech Republic. They were bred during
the 17th Century to be used for ceremonial tasks, like pulling
carriages. They can be grey or black. The ones I saw were mostly white with a
few grey freckles. A curious fact is that they are born dark and turn white
when they reach 6 or 7 years of age.
The grey population is rather small. So I was very sad when I read that they are an endangered breed. Luckily, conservation
programmes have been established to deal with problems like loss of genetic variability due
to inbreeding. However, they are also threatened by cancer and viral infections.
Like humans, horses suffer from skin cancer. Kladrubers in particular are prone to this disease. Part of
the conservation programmes include studies to find genetic markers related to predisposition
and resistance to melanoma.
Kladrubers are also victims of infection by Equine
herpesviruses. In particular, Equine herpesvirus 1 (EHV-1) affects the
respiratory tract and causes abortions in pregnant mares. Fortunately , we now have vaccines
which prevent the spreading of the virus.
I hope that thanks to the conservation programmes, these
horses will not be considered an endangered breed in the near future.
As part of my visit to Mexico City (see my post about the aquarium) I also went to the zoo.
Chapultepec Zoo is amazing because it is in the middle of the city. Entrance is free
and you only have to pay to visit some of the attractions like the butterfly or
The purpose of my visit was to see the pandas. I went
straight away to their enclosure and saw a female called Xin Xin. I was impressed at the amount of bamboo she was having for
breakfast. Then I wondered what the nutritional properties of bamboo were, and
whether humans could also eat it.
Searching the literature, I found this amazing review by a
group in India. Here are some of the facts I found most interesting:
Where to find bamboo:
There are more than 1250 species of bamboo distributed in the
world. In particular, around 1000 of these species are found in Asia. For
example, China and India are two of the main countries that produce bamboo.
People around the world have been consuming bamboo shoots
for generations. They have used it for sustenance and in medicinal
Not all species are edible. However, this has not stopped
the production of commercially available pickles, powders, juices and even
Bamboo shoots are highly nutritious. They contain protein,
carbohydrates, vitamins like B1 and B6, and minerals like potassium and the
antioxidant selenium. On top of that, they have low fat and high fibre content.
Bamboo shoots sound like a dream food. But there’s a dark
side to them: Raw shoots contain cyanide. Eating cyanide regularly, at doses
that are not lethal, can affect reproduction and cause thyroid problems.
cyanide poisoning can cause a drop in blood pressure, dizziness, head and
stomach pains, diarrhoea, convulsions, and even death.
To avoid intoxication, the shoots have to be processed by
methods like boiling, soaking, drying, and fermentation.
Some communities around the world use bamboo paste to treat
fungal infections and to heal wounds.
They also boil the shoots to make a soup which they use to treat stomach
There aren't many scientific studies regarding the medicinal
properties of bamboo shoots. Some studies in rats suggest that it might be good
at lowering levels of cholesterol. Indeed, research in this area has a long way
To finish this post on a good note, I’d like to share this article discussing the use of bamboo to make tiles. Wonderful!