A year of 3D printing in the home: does it live up to the hype?

3D Printing. No new technology in the last decade has been heralded with as much hope and hyperbole as the promise of desktop replicators fabricating whatever object you need at the push of a button. 3D printing has made huge steps forward, with more sophisticated machines at lower prices, new materials that vastly expand the printer’s capabilities, and the breathless optimism that foresees a printer in every home, as mundane and easy to operate as a conventional printer*.

A Printrbot in the home.

A Printrbot in the home.

And yet, for all the hype, most personal 3D printers are pressed into service fabricating plastic tschotskes — low quality, low function items of little to no utility. While the raw potential of 3D printing continues to expand, the promise of personal printers seems mired in the sandbox: an expensive toy for grownups. A toy that produces heaps of plastic detritus that will eventually find it’s way into the environment.

I posit here that, while it is true the the vast majority of people currently have no practical need for a 3D printer, under the right circumstances, a personal 3D printer can be an incredibly useful tool in the modern home.

A little over a year ago, we bought a personal 3D printer. It’s a Printrbot Simple Metal, a tough, no nonsense machine that works as well in my home office as it does at sea. Its footprint is small, and it can handle object up to 150 mm by 150 mm by 150 mm. Not huge, but big enough to be useful. And yes, this printer has primarily been used to fabricate parts for Oceanography for Everyone and other scientific endeavors. You can read more about that here: A 3D-printable, drone and ROV-mountable, water sampler and Oceanography for Everyone: Empowering researchers, educators, and citizen scientists through open-source hardware. I’m not talking about the scientific utility of the printer, but rather, how it fits into our homestead.

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New book by Doc Gruber raises money for shark research

Reading Shark Doc, Shark Lab to the next generation...next to some sharks!

Reading Shark Doc, Shark Lab to the next generation…next to some sharks!

After a week of teasers, the Bimini Biological Field Station (“Shark Lab”) has finally unveiled the secret of #SharkDocSharkLab. It’s a book written by Sonny “Doc” Gruber, the founder of Shark Lab (and the first President of the American Elasmobranch Society, and an overall legendary figure in the world of shark research)! “Shark Doc, Shark Lab”  tells the life story of Doc Gruber himself, as well as what Doc has learned about sharks in his decades studying them. The book also includes reflections from many of the scientists who have worked at the Bimini Shark Lab over the years.

Shark doc, shark lab

Shark doc, shark lab

Best of all, all proceeds go to support research and facilities upgrades at the Bimini Shark Lab! You can buy a copy here starting at $29.95, but you can also get a signed or personalized copy for a larger donation.

Playing against the slaughter rule

My middle school baseball team was bad. Really bad. Ball droppingly, bat throwingly, pitch ditchingly bad. It was a good inning if four of our batters made it to the plate. A great inning if the other team didn’t rotate through it’s entire line-up, twice. Our MVP was the kid who caught a ball. And if you think this is going to be one of those articles about how one tough player (me?) turned a bunch of scrappy underdogs into winners, it is not. I played right field, and not particularly well. We lost, often.

In peewee sports, at least in the US, there’s something called a “slaughter rule”. The slaughter rule ends the game if a team is losing by more than a certain number of points. In our case, it took something like a 20 run difference to trigger a slaughter. The slaughter rule exists so that outmatched teams don’t have to slog through 7 innings of a brutal losing streak, racking up demoralizing 112 to zero defeats. Once, we got slaughtered in the first inning.

Were it not for the slaughter rule, I would probably still be out somewhere in right field, wondering if maybe I should sign up for the Latin team next year.

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On spending a month publishing science fiction from our Ocean Future.

January 2016 was different.

We blocked off an entire month, primed it with some of the best speculative fiction from our ocean’s future, wrapped it in a narrative to connect seemingly disparate topics, and launched Field Notes from the Future, 41 blog post imagining the issues we would face in 2041, 25 years in the future. This was the first time in the blog’s almost 8-year run that we dedicated an entire month to a single concept. It was also the first time that the authors collaborated and coordinated our content.

I am incredibly happy with the results. Field Notes from the Future gave us a chance to flex our creative muscles in new and exciting ways. It gave us an outlet to express our hopes and fears, to expand on our concerns, and to look beyond the horizon and imagine the conflicts that have yet to emerge.

Science and Science Fiction have always been deeply connected. For all the great work of the “heroes of science communication”, the STEM-advocates, the science outreach professionals, it was Clarke, Verne, Shelley, Wells, and Le Guin who inspired me to pursue a career in science. Science shows us the world as it is, Science Fiction imagines the world as it could be.

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Frequently asked questions about sharks (and about me)

Every week on twitter (and every few weeks on my Facebook fan page,) I host a one hour “ask me anything” session. I also give lots of interviews to the press, and occasionally answer high school students’ questions about what my job is like for class projects. Some of the same questions tend to come up over and over. Here are some frequently asked questions and my answers to them.  Feel free to quote anything on this page for a class project or media article and attribute it to me. 

1. What is your job?

A:  I am a Ph.D. candidate and research assistant at the University of Miami. “Candidate” vs. “student” means that I passed my qualifying exams, an important test for graduate students. Research assistant means that my funding comes from doing research and not teaching. Depending on my audience, I’ve also described myself as a marine biologist, a shark researcher, an ecologist, a conservation biologist, a science communicator, or simply a scientist.

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OceansOnline: How can internet tools help marine scientists and conservationists?

IMCCNext summer’s 4th International Marine Conservation Congress will include an optional full day add-on called OceansOnline. This add-on day, inspired by 2013’s successful ScienceOnline Oceans, will focus on how social media and other internet tools can help ocean scientists and conservation professionals with research, collaboration, and public outreach.

OceansOnline is suitable for total beginners who want to learn how to use these tools as well as advanced users who want to learn much more about their applications.  Scientists and professionals who are advanced users of internet tools are encouraged to attend this meeting even if ocean conservation biology is not your primary research specialty.

OceansOnline will consist of three types of events: workshops, presentations, and facilitated discussions:

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Politely optimistic: What do the Canadian election results mean for ocean science and conservation?

Julia skate trawlJulia Whidden completed her Masters in Biology with a focus on marine conservation from Acadia University in Nova Scotia, Canada, in 2015. Her project evaluated population demographics and species identification of two at-risk species of skate in the inner Bay of Fundy. She joins Dr. Neil Hammerschlag’s lab at the University of Miami for the year as a Fulbright Student and shark research intern. Follow her on twitter! 

DCIM101GOPRORachel Skubel graduated with an M.Sc. in Environmental Science from McMaster University where she studied climate impacts on water cycling in temperate forests, and a B.Sc. from the University of Western Ontario. Her current research interests revolve around how oceanic predators will be impacted by anthropogenic environmental changes. She is a currently a shark research intern with Dr. Neil Hammerschlag’s lab at the University of Miami. Follow her on twitter! 

Up until this past year, the thought of Canadian politics had probably never crossed your mind. For some of you, your introduction to the topic may have been via the astute criticisms of John Oliver published this past weekend. His YouTube video currently skyrocketing at just under 3 million views in less than 48 hours, may have even been the introduction to Canadian politics for some Canadians. Let’s face it: in comparison to the flashy and sometimes trashy race of our neighbors to the south (ahem, you Americans), Canadian politics are usually tame, boring, and dry. In 2011, our last major election, 61.1% of Canadians voted (14.8 million), but up until the election last night, at least 68.5% have actively contributed to changing the dire political and environmental landscape formed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative cronies over the past 10 years. This voter turnout is the highest since 1993, and certainly demonstrates that – not unlike your defeat of Republicans following the Bush years – Canadians were ready for change.

To our newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, we say welcome and we’re ready for action.

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In the future all scientific research will be funded by Taco Bell …


At my university, we recently received a missive from the academic powers that be that faculty research productivity (and thus promotion, raises and tenure) will primarily be measured by the “amount of research funding (direct and indirect) received by the department and the college”.

I think this is a major problem and is a common one across universities.

It’s well known that some fields have lots of research funding available, while other fields don’t (for example). So effectively the above missive means that academic hiring and promotion decisions will not be done on a level playing field. Read More

How to pitch an Ocean Kickstarter for us to review

I put this up as a closer on our last Ocean Kickstarter selection, and am posting here as a standalone for anyone who may have missed it.

Email me at southernfriedscientist@gmail.com with the subject heading: Ocean Kickstarter: Your Project. This isn’t limited to Kickstarter, projects on IndieGoGo, RocketHub, GoFundMe, or any other site are eligible for an Ocean Kickstarter of the month. We will review based on three criteria:

1. Is it sound, reasonable, and informed by science?

2. Is there a clear goal, timeline, and budget; and are they partnering with the people who have experience hitting those marks?

3. Do some of the parties involved have a successful record with other crowdfunding projects and experience delivering on rewards.

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