Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Nice Suprise---One of My You Tube Videos Is On Boing Boing (Plus An Update!)!

As the Polar Vortex begins to grip part of our country again this week, I was thinking about how in Tacoma we have not had a great deal of super cold weather this year.  Lucky us.

We microbiologists use "the cold" a lot in our work, from keeping enzymes chilled, to making cryogenic frozen stocks, and similar activities.  My -80 degree freezer is always humming in my little research laboratory.

Imagine my surprise when someone on Twitter alerted me to the fact that one of my YouTube videos is on the "cool tech" website Boing Boing.  Here is the link.  And here is my video, again.

video


The author of the post, Maggie Koerth-Baker, did a great job of explaining the fascinating ice nucleation bacteria.  I do indeed use Pseudomonas syringae as my "ice-nucleator" in a demonstration to my Microbiology students each year, and I wrote about doing so on this blog two years ago here.  Though the video in the Boing Boing article is fine (that is my hand in the video, by the way), I like this next one better, since it has bonus student commentary---and you can see the nucleation event pretty clearly.



I had heard about ice nucleation bacteria for many years, but learned the "demonstration" from the great Jo Handelsman and her colleagues, who use it as a classroom exercise with introductory students.  So my hat is off, once again, to Jo and company.  Joseph Conrad in "Lord Jim" wisely wrote that "You shall judge of a man by his foes as well as by his friends."  On the basis of my friends, I am lucky and rich indeed!

This incident also shows the value of Twitter.  I literally had no idea that someone was writing that article, and the only way I found out was being alerted by a "microtweep."

Anyway, thanks to Boing Boing and Maggie Koerth-Baker!

UPDATE:  I am very grateful to Ms. Koerth-Baker, again, for her writing about that YouTube video of mine.  The video has appeared in several other places besides Boing Boing.  

The video (and short write up) have appeared on Gizmodo in Australia,  the Periscope Post in Turkey, the Business Insider in India, Digital Journal, and most surprisingly to me,  the Huffington Post in the United Kingdom. Interestingly, not a single one of these news organizations dropped me a line or informed me.  No harm was done, nor was I misrepresented. But as I mentioned above, the only way I heard about this was via people reading the material letting me know! I'm glad they did.

I was also contacted by the folks from the PBS show Radiolab. When I spoke with their representative, I was surprised to learn that they had not read or seen any of the news reports or videos discussed in this post! The story they told was that they had become interested in rapid ice formation via bacteria (snow making, maybe?) and asked around.  Someone at Princeton University (I don't know who), gave them my name.  

I do not know if I will actually have a real interview to be broadcast (I don't think it likely, to be honest), but it was a LOT of fun for me to talk with them about science education, bacteria, and related topics.

Coincidences abound!

The other amusing part was that the YouTube video that Boing Boing popularized (the first one in this post) has had more than 60,000 views now...and it had had less than 2,000 just a few days ago.  So the "Social Media Sphere" (maybe noosphere is a good expression, with apologies to Teilhard de Chardin) is a powerful entity.  Anyway, more than a few people have criticized my video, claiming that it was rigged, or had nothing to do with bacteria, or (my favorite) was carried out using a sodium acetate solution (which also can precipitate from a seed impressively).

These nay sayers did not read about bacterial ice nucleation in the lab or the classroom (referenced and linked above).  And they also give me a great deal of credit for being far brighter and more devious than the sad reality suggests!

Thanks for the interest and for reading.  It will be interesting to see what happens next...

UPDATE #2:

NPR's show RadioLab did indeed have a segment discussing ice nucleation effects, including from bacteria, here.  Sadly, I was not an on-air interviewee.  A couple of staff members talked with me and communicated via e-mail with me about the topic, and I was happy to help out.  And I did get a acknowledgement.  They even mentioned my video without using my name (oh, well).  

On their website (linked above), the NPR folks did create a video showing ice nucleation (and a toy horse---listen to the podcast to understand the interesting reason why).  Here is the video:


Cool (!) as it was,  I have to say that I like my videos better (a proud "parent" perhaps?).  And the second video I posted shows the initial nucleation event very clearly---with, as I say, bonus student enthusiasm!

Someday I will get to promote Microbial Pride via radio or television.  Though I will sheepishly admit that I have a perfect face for radio...

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