Fun Science FRIEDay – Immune System Amnesia

Fun Science Friday, UncategorizedApril 28, 20170

Ah the measles, a childhood illness that most of my generation has never experienced; due in large part to the success of measles vaccination. A lot of people think the measles isn’t that big of a deal, its just some combination of a rash and fever that goes away in due time. While this is true in most people, in about 1 in 1,000 cases the infection becomes systemic and moves to the brain resulting in death, in what is known as  measles encephalitis.  The measles vaccination resolved this issue but also had an unexpected secondary effect.

16th-century Aztec drawing of someone with measles (Photo credit: Unknown – (2009) Viruses, Plagues, and History: Past, Present and Future, Oxford University Press, USA, p. 144)

When the measles vaccine was first introduced in America in the 1960s, scientists were perplexed why childhood deaths from all infectious diseases plummeted along w/ the measles; even deaths from diseases like pneumonia and diarrhea were cut in half.  An obvious assumption was the drop in childhood deaths was just a result of our advances in modern medicine. While there is undoubtedly truth in the assertion that modern medicine was advancing rapidly in the mid-20th century, whenever the measles vaccine was introduced to Europe a few years later, and even now as its being introduced to third world countries, the same phenomena has been observed. Places that have the measles vaccine see a steep decline in deaths from all other childhood diseases. So whats going on?

Nonmeasles infectious disease mortality and measles incidence time series are shown for (A) England and Wales, (B) the United States, and (C) Denmark. The vertical dashed lines indicate the year of introduction of the measles vaccine. (Photo credit: Mina et al. 2017, Science)

Michael Mina, a postdoc in biology at Princeton University and a medical student at Emory University, and his colleagues think they may now have an explanation. The measles virus predisposes children to all other infectious disease for a few years after having the virus. When a person becomes infected with the measles their immune system becomes suppressed (this occurs with most viruses), but measles takes this suppression to a whole new level because it also erases immune protection to other diseases. Essentially after you contract the measles, it causes your immune system to undergo a sort of amnesia. This is an issue because the immune system operates off of memory. Typically when you get a virus like influenza or the chicken pox, you initially get sick, but your immune system figures out how to fight the disease and going forward immune memory inoculates you from that strain of influenza or the chicken pox. But if you get the measles, when your immune system comes back if has forgotten what it once new. Measles erases the immune system memory of how to fight diseases, and makes you susceptible to diseases you already developed immunity too.

So after measles infection, the immune system essentially has to start all over again, from square 1. It’s this unique phenomena about the measles which makes measles vaccinations so important and effective at reducing childhood deaths from all other illnesses.

You can read more about this study which was recently published in the journal Science.

The Holy Grail of the portable hardware-hacking lab: A cordless soldering iron that actually works.

Gear Reviews, Reviews and InterviewsApril 25, 20170

This is a mess. This isn’t even everything I brought for Make for the Planet.

All electronics kits are not created equal. Between the OpenROV, Oceanography for Everyone, and hack-a-thons around the world, my work has taken me out of the lab and into the field, fantail, and classroom to build instruments, hack oceanographic equipment, and train next generation of open-science oceanographers. This has placed a huge new demand on my standard kit, a collection of electronics and hardware tools and components that allow a creative maker to build anything, anywhere. Portability is key, but portability comes with it’s own challenges, especially for that most vital of electronics tools, the humble, powerful soldering iron.

A good soldering iron is absolutely critical to the kinds of projects and workshops I run. Without it, we can to the delicate electronics work necessary for getting a piece of equipment working in the field. But traveling with soldering irons is a nightmare. These high-wattage devices don’t always play nice with local electrical infrastructure. Even using the *right* power converters we’ve blown fuses and burned out power supplies. In the best case scenarios, the irons just don’t produce enough heat to get the job done. In remote regions, local options are often non-existent. When we go, we bring everything with us.

There are portable soldering irons, but they have their own problems. Gas-powered irons require a fuel source that may not be easily obtained and are not always welcome on flights. They also lack the fine control we need. Electric options tend to be of the “cold heat” variety, which is a poor tool for circuit board work and can generate a current that burns out components and shorts your project. Heat-based electric soldering irons are weak, short-lived, and often utterly ineffective. I resigned myself to lugging large soldering stations around the world, hoping for the best when it comes to finding an adequate power supply.

And then I discovered the Hakko FX-901(more…)

The impact of the March for Science

ScienceApril 24, 20171

Along with an estimated forty thousand other scientists, I braved the rains to attend the March for science in Washington DC. I went with a bit of trepidation, as I was wondering if anyone would attend, but the staging post at the based of the Washington Monument was absolutely packed.

Donald Trump blamed rain (a brief smattering of drizzle) for poor numbers at his inauguration, but pouring rain and cold did not deter the masses of scientists who attended the March. Although we be derided as “snowflakes” for protesting the current administration, clearly scientists are snowflakes made of Titanium.


Deep-sea Disco, Giant Icebergs, Pokémon Go, and more! Monday Morning Salvage: April 24, 2017

Monday Morning Salvage0

Fog Horn (A Call to Action)

  • Still time! The EPA is seeking public input on the new administrations approach to environmental regulations. They are required to seek public input. They are required to respond to public input. Go tell them how you feel. Public comments close May 15. Here’s the docket with instructions on how to comment: Evaluation of Existing Regulations.

Flotsam (what we’re obsessed with right now)

  • This deep-sea mining Disco video is something.

Jetsam (what we’re enjoying from around the web) (more…)

March for the Science that uplifts humanity.

BloggingApril 22, 20170

The March for Science has a diversity problem.

Ok, to be clear, the committee organizing the march is the one with the problem. As they’re about to find out, a movement like this will resist, among other things, the efforts of a few to take ownership over a much grander view of life. The Science March on Washington (and the marches in your home state) is bigger than one organization.

Five months ago, we issued a mandate for Southern Fried Science, that we would strive to tear down barriers, to breach the dam, because Diversity is Resilience. Seeing the March for Science struggle and seemingly succumb to the same weathered barricades reinforced, for me, exactly why we need that mandate.

“Science isn’t political” is a lovely Platonic platitude that we whisper reassuringly into comfortable ears.

It is not so.


Titanic tourists, nodule mining, right whales, and more! The Monday Morning Salvage: April 17, 2017

Monday Morning SalvageApril 17, 20170

Fog Horn (A Call to Action)

  • The EPA is seeking public input on the new administrations approach to environmental regulations. They are required to seek public input. They are required to respond to public input. Go tell them how you feel. Public comments close May 15. Here’s the docket with instructions on how to comment: Evaluation of Existing Regulations.

Flotsam (what we’re obsessed with right now)

Jetsam (what we’re enjoying from around the web)


Hone your social media #SciComm skills with ocean science pros.

BloggingApril 14, 20170

Looking to boost your ocean outreach skills in a more formal setting? We’ve got two opportunities for social media training with ocean science and ocean communications experts from Southern Fried Science:

LUMCON Summer Course: Join me at the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium on the Gulf Coast for a week-long workshop on Science Communication Using Social Media led by yours truly. We’ll cover the foundations of social media platforms and best practices for communicating your research to both general and targeted audiences. We’ll also discuss metrics and measuring how effective your outreach really is.

Duke Environmental Leadership Program: For the fifth year, Dr. Amy Freitag and I will run Social Media for Environmental Communications, a 7-week, online-only course that digs deep into the fundamentals of using social media for environmental communications, provides a critical assessment of the available tools, and teaches student to design effective communications campaigns and assess their impact.


Make for the Planet with Conservation X Labs and the Earth Optimism Summit!

ConservationApril 11, 20172

Invasive species, overfishing, ocean plastics, wildlife tracking, and measuring ecosystem services, are some of the most daunting challenges in conservation.While these challenges require a combination of social, commercial, and regulatory cooperation to address, they can also be tackled through technological innovation, which can bypass some of the largest hurdles to implementing practical, timely solutions.

On April 21, 2017, 18 teams of conservationists, technologists, makers, and hardware hackers will gather in Washington DC and tackle five conservation challenges selected by a panel of experts at the Make for the Planet, part of the Smithsonian’s Earth Optimism Summit. Over three days, teams will work to develop prototypes, strategic frameworks, and model systems that address specific issues within the broader challenge prompt of terrestrial species invasion, overfishing, ocean plastics, wildlife tracking, and ecosystem services. (more…)

Octopus Genes, Decolonization, and a mega-dose of Citizen Science! Monday Morning Salvage: April 10, 2017

Monday Morning SalvageApril 10, 20170

Flotsam (what we’re obsessed with right now)

Jetsam (what we’re enjoying from around the web)

Instead, I believe that this march needs to be completely apolitical and nonpartisan. I think that we should protest the current administration, which wants to repeal laws guaranteeing clean air and water, claim that climate change is a hoax, and remove scientists’ access to quality healthcare, but in a way that doesn’t alienate members of the current administration. We should demand change, but vaguely, and from no one in particular.



Meteor hunters, deep divers, and ocean action! Monday Morning Salvage: April 3, 2017

Monday Morning SalvageApril 3, 20170

Flotsam (what we’re obsessed with right now)

Jetsam (what we’re enjoying from around the web) (more…)

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