Tiny, parasitic wasps are really cool. (5 reasons why I spent two years watching wasp sex)

In college, I spent two years of my life asking: when two species of wasps mate, why do their hybrid offspring die? To try and figure this out, I watched wasps have sex, counted the eggs they laid after mating, counted any adults that survived from those eggs, mated the survivors to other wasps, ground them up, and checked one of their genes to see if it was more like one of their parents or the other. After two years, I left the project and lab behind, and still had no idea why hybrid offspring die... until now. A new Science paper demonstrates that I spent my two years looking in entirely the wrong place. It isn’t the wasps’ genes that cause their hybrid offspring to die: it’s their microbiome. Specifically, it is the types of bacteria that the mothers leave behind when they lay their eggs. When the authors added a few specific types of bacteria to hybrid eggs, almost all of the offspring survived. It’s incredibly satisfying to see this question finally answered, and the authors have also done a great job translating their work and putting out lots of resources like the original research paper in Science,

Tesla Coils are Cool

By Emily Dennis, @emilyjanedennis I watch a lot of hockey. As a Detroit Red Wings fan, I know that The Joe is the best hockey rink: it has the best music, the best zamboni guy, the best octopi traditions, and the best players. So, I can't believe I'm saying this, but the Tampa Bay Lightning has the best goal-celebration in sports. Whenever the amazing Steven Stamkos or one of his teammates score a goal, this happens: That is a Tesla coil. The Tesla coil is named after its inventor, Nikola Tesla. In the late 1800s, Tesla and Thomas Edison were both working on competing forms of electricity. Tesla worked on alternating current (AC), a current that changes direction at an imperceptible speed: 60 times a second! Edison invented a device to supply direct current (DC) power, the kind of power that flows in one direction, like a battery. Lucky for us, Tesla won this “War of Currents” and we now have AC power in our homes. DC power isn’t as good for our modern needs because the farther it travels, the less efficient it gets. It’s also significantly harder to increase and decrease the voltage of DC power than AC

Bees Are Cool

By Emily Dennis, @emilyjanedennis  Bees are cool. In the early 1900s, researchers like the tremendous Karl von Frisch noticed that when a group of bees gets too big, the queen will lay eggs and then leave the hive, bringing with her 10,000 of the worker bees. These bees swarm on a branch for several hours, or even days. Then, they all fly off at the same time and head toward their new home. Until 2010, the way the bees make this collective decision was a mystery. Recently, we discovered that the swarm sends out scouts to collect information and then ‘debate’ about which site is best. At the end of this process, they all agree on one site and then fly there to build their new home. When I first heard about this, I wanted to know how scientists figured it out. It’s really difficult to do experiments with bees because they need miles of space to fly around. To get around this problem, the research team, led by Dr. Thomas Seeley, did their experiments on an island that didn’t have any good natural homes for the bees. This allowed them to set up artificial bee homes of different qualities

Creativity is Cool (Happy Birthday Charles Darwin)

By Emily Jane Dennis,@emilyjanedennis Creativity is cool. Today is Darwin’s birthday. Instead of talking about his life or how he made everything in biology make sense, I want to talk about two of his drawings. Darwin’s first (left, 1837) and final (right, 1859) evolutionary trees These two drawings, separated by 22 years, are a perfect illustration of the creative process in scientific thought. On the left is the first ever evolutionary tree, and on the right is Darwin’s final tree from On the Origin of Species.When he sketched out this first tree, Darwin had already spent years coming up with and expanding on his idea of transmutation (what we call evolution). I think about this drawing as a proof, a way to visually evaluate what he had been mulling over for so many years. He used this figure to take a bunch of independent thoughts and pull them together to address one big question: how do the species we see today relate to species that existed in the distant past? I like to believe that the “I think” above Darwin’s first tree drawing is a glimpse into his inner-critic. It was written by that doubting voice inside his head, urging him to find


By Emily Jane Dennis @emilyjanedennis I have (so far!) two degrees: a B.S. in Molecular Genetics and a B.A. in Studio Arts. In college, I spent a lot of time at the lab and in class, but all of my free time was spent at Sage Art Center: home, sweet home(Sage Art Center) I did everything at Sage. I met all of my friends at Sage, I took classes there, I met awesome professors there, I made art there, and I even snuck in after hours. I was a Sage addict. I made mistakes at Sage. I listened to music too loud there, I got into pointless arguments there, and I made a fool of myself there... more than once. I grew up at Sage. What kept me coming back was the incredible creative energy I felt every time I walked in the door. People were always trying something new, something interesting. We failed a lot, but we kept trying, kept coming back, and kept sneaking in to work all night on our projects. In the end, we had created something... and sometimes, it was really good. This is the same thing that I love about being a

Snowflakes are pretty

By Emily Jane Dennis @emilyjanedennis It’s been cold here in NYC. After lots of mild weather, the last few cold days have been tough. Personally, I’ve found solace in three things: hockey, puppy sweaters, and snow.    These pictures, from William Bentley’s collection are simultaneously extremely familiar and eerily otherworldly… Whenever I look at phenomenal photographs I always want to know the story behind these pictures. Really, who gets paid to document and investigate snowflakes? The basics: Snowflakes/crystals are made of water molecules. They begin forming when water vapor gets cooled down quickly, forming droplets with dust. As these droplets freeze, they bump into other water molecules and droplets, and grows and grows (or doesn’t). Each snowflake is made of roughly 1,020,000,000,000 water molecules! (check  my math here- assumes a 3mg flake ) Lots of snowflakes are identical, but the more complex ones are very unlikely to have a twin. How do we know this stuff? Some really famous thinkers, Johannes Kepler**, René Descartes, & Robert Hooke (Mr. Microscope) described snowflakes as early as the 1600s, but true scientific investigation really started in the 1950s with Ukichiro Nakaya. Nakaya was a physicist and took pictures of ALL snow crystals (not