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The Black Hole

Science and Media Collide… in a good way.


I just had a pair of new students start under my supervision in the lab and I decided to try something new.  Along with the standard “who’s who in the lab” and “here are a few good reviews and papers to get you started”, I passed along two things that I think are simply wonderful products of the web.

When students start a PhD, they are generally pretty green – I remember when I started and I was one of the greenest.  Often one of the best things to get you motivated and on the same page as everyone is listening to the experts and hearing their opinions on the hot topic issues in the field.  Wouldn’t it be great if you could simply send new students on a conference where they could see the top handful of people in their field – well, now you can – sort of…  you see, the magical Internet can be used for more than Facebook, email, sports, and video games.  You can really find anything, and fulfilling the dream of “seeing the experts” is easily within your grasp.

So, this morning I passed on these two items:

1.  Videos of Lectures on Cancer and Cancer Stem Cells:
Alexey Bersenev (@cells_nnm) shared a great list near the end of last year that I simply forwareded as a start to get their heads around these topics.  These include excellent lectures from eminent scientists that are simply available for free on the web:
Robert Weinberg – Cancer stem cells and malignant progression
Owen Witte – Prostate tissue stem cells and cancer progression
John Dick – What makes cancer stem cells tick?
Sean Morrison – Stem cell and cancer

2. – A website that covers the vast majority of talks (most of them open to the public) that are occuring in Cambridge.  This site is simple and straightforward and even provides a reminder service that can send you an email on Sunday night with “this week’s talks” and another reminder on the day of the talk – the reason it works… people use it.  This is something that cities across the world can and should use as a model.

So, we’ll see what my students think, but I have a feeling that interesting and creative resources like these will become the norm for my “day one resources” to give students.

Just this evening, something else came to my attention as a novel way of helping us deal with the seemingly increasing instances of scientific misconduct.  Erika Check Hayden just published an article in Nature News entitled Lab fakery explored in interactive training tool which asks questions about how we deal with suspected misconduct as a witness:

A new interactive video, The Lab, soon to be available online, and on DVD for universities that get US federal funding, poses that and other ethical dilemmas with the aim of making research-integrity training more useful and effective

Individual labs are also getting used to the idea of putting new forms of media together to improve their messaging and communication.  Stellar examples include Hans Clevers’ animated videos on intestinal stem cell and Brett Finlay’s on infection and immunity.  Particularly interesting (another tidbit via Alexey) is that some labs are now even making promotional videos about their research:

1. Leonard Zon’s lab.

2. George Daley’s lab.

Another great example is the Journal of Visualized Experiments which is a really neat way of sharing protocols in the 21st century.  Basically, a video crew comes into a lab and does a segment on the technique with the people who are experts in it.  This is becoming more and more popular in industry as well with many companies showing how to use their products via video downloads.

Finally, and on a slightly unrelated-to-science note, I think that RSA Animate is an absolutely brilliant medium to share thoughts.  Hands down this is the most innovative way to create interest in lectures that I have witnessed in a long time.  Basically, they select lectures and draw out on a whiteboard the interesting bits and then sync the lecture with a sped up version of the drawing process.  Very cool stuff – I particularly like this lecture on motivation from Daniel Pink and this lecture on reforming public education from Sir Ken Robinson.
Our world is very neat right now – embrace and enjoy it.

David Kent
Dr. David Kent is a principal investigator at the York Biomedical Research Institute at the University of York, York, UK. He trained at Western University and the University of British Columbia before spending 10 years at the University of Cambridge, UK where he ran his research group until 2019. His laboratory's research focuses on the fundamental biology of blood stem cells and how changes in their regulation lead to cancers. David has a long history of public engagement and outreach including the creation of The Black Hole in 2009.
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  1. SB / January 19, 2011 at 03:44

    This is super cool, thanks for sharing!

  2. Gary Myers / January 23, 2011 at 01:37

    Thanks for the great blog, thoughts, info and links. I remember when I was working in a health psych lab in university and was given an opportunity by my supervisor to attend not one but three conferences to get the physical experience of learning in that type of setting. It was amazing, and I was fortunate to be able to attend.
    Your approach is such an incredible opportunity to experience via the web research, knowledge and collaboration via the web. Thanks for the links. And a great way to share “very cool stuff” with students! Not all students may get the opportunity to attend events, workshops, conferences in person. The accessibility of the web for students continues to abound! Thanks for the post.