Race Cars and Teamwork

Over the weekend, I got to spend a day at a beautiful racetrack watching some high-performance machines show off.  The best part about this weekend/day experience is the opportunity to watch the result of some serious teamwork. What is put onto the track- a Corvette, Ferrari, Ford, Porsche, or otherwise- is a product that has been meticulously designed, built, tested, repaired, tweaked, and refined to the highest quality of car. It’s also a place where the safety and features of our own vehicles get directly tested under some extreme conditions. Saturday was a really hot day, and driving for 3.5 hours straight at over highway speeds puts a lot of demand on the electronics and engines and people alike.


So what goes into all of this?

These cars are specially designed; although the chassis are classic icons (think Corvettes or Porsches), the internal engines are redesigned time and time again to get the most power out of the least amount of fuel; something that we look for in our own cars. A team of design and research engineers does this long before the car gets to the track, even before the car or engine is physically made.

The car is then built or modified by mechanics who know and understand every working detail of that particular machine, and these mechanics are able to communicate very well about the car in question. The biggest part of teamwork, of course, is communication. The driver needs to know the exact limitations or abilities of the car, and also needs to be able to relay back any specific issue.

That leads to the pit crew, the spotters, and crew chief- all people who work a certain role with certain abilities, be it a quick tire change or tune up, or an extra set of eyes on the track, or someone keeping track of every duty to ensure that the team runs efficiently, with no loss of excess energy.

All of this leads to a seriously amazing feat of engineering; a car built to test and verify our own everyday safety, with the added fun of racing it up and down hills, through left and right turns, and the possibility of bringing home a very big and very shiny trophy for their efforts.

What can we learn from this?

Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses; not everyone can do everything all at once. There needs to be balance in a team to cover all of the bases, and a mutual respect for one another’s roles. Take a study group, for example: each person brings their own notes and understanding to the table, and shares it with the others. Someone takes notes on the textbook, the other the lecture, the others make alternative study guides, bring food, manage time, etc. The same thing goes for a baseball team- each person has a position in the field and a position in the batting order, and although they all contribute separate skills, they are all still one team working for one goal.

In science fields especially, no one can understand every underlying field completely. A group of Biologists may be comprised of someone who knows Ecology, someone who knows Biochemistry, and someone who understands Physiology, and together research an underlying factor within a population of organisms. The same goes for any field with subspecialties, as well.

Fandom works the same way too- a group of friends might have a trekkie, a whovian, an otaku, and a robot nerd- each one shares their fandom while sticking in their subspecialty; it makes for a more enriching and fun time that way.

Something to keep in mind is your own skill set- what are you good at? What do you want to get good at? Is there anything small that you’d like to achieve? Small skills will build up into bigger skills; think an RPG game with levels. Don’t give up on an ‘eh’ skill- you’re just earning experience points towards a higher level!




Weekly Update (On Time!)

Good Morning!

Hope everyone had a wonderful weekend! For those of you on the East Coast (US), I hope you stayed cool!

Here’s the lineup for this week:

  1. Science is a Team Sport: Race Cars and the importance of skills
  2. Pokemon Diversity Study (In-depth Part 1)
  3. Studying: Why is it so difficult and how do I do it?

This is going to be a fun week because we’re going to branch off into some non-fandom territory, while keeping it fun. I’ll also be introducing a ‘study sheet’ for studying! This should start the prep for the upcoming semester and schoolyear. #thesemesteriscoming

Stay cool!



Diversity studies and interviews

Good Morning, everyone! I’m so thankful to Anika Dane for interviewing me about my ConnectiCon 2016 panel and about Pokebiology! I’m humbled about the response I’ve gotten, mainly because I wasn’t expecting one! Please go check it out here!

Because I’ve had such a busy work week, I haven’t gotten the chance to type up a new post. However, I have a little activity for those of you playing Pokemon GO:

Mini diversity study- Although the algorithm is specifically random, which means that the Pokemon around you are randomly spawned within a certain group, it’s a good way to introduce what ecologists and environmental biologists do in the real world.

The goal is to see which Pokemon spawn in which area, how large they are, and maybe (if you get ambitious) the types of moves they have.


All of this information is handily given to you when you catch the Pokemon! This includes the general area that you caught your Pokemon in as well and the date of which it was caught!

Here’s the quick steps for this study:

  1. Choose an area to do your study in. It can be a park, or a downtown area, or a beach! Make sure you write down what kind of environment it is; is it a forest, a grassland, does it have a pond or a river? You could even sketch a map of it!
  2. Catch Pokemon! Remember to be careful about other people and animals in your chosen field site. Write down how long you are catching Pokemon- if you are doing this over a span of days, keep track of which days you caught which Pokemon.
  3. Go through the Pokemon you caught; you could give them certain names or labels after you caught them, or you can look at the GPS figure down on the bottom of the information screen.
  4. Open up a spreadsheet (or, make a table in your lab notebook!)
    1. You’re going to want columns for Species (Pokemon type), Weight, and Height. Moves are optional! That can get very hard to organize, but if you’re up to it, put down moves!
    2. Now, record all the Pokemon you caught for that area! You can now do whatever you want with those Pokemon.
  5. At this point, you’ll want a break. Excel is a cruel mistress who preys on eye strain headaches. Have a popsicle.
  6. Now go back through your data- Excel has a neat sort feature I like to use. You can now see the most common Pokemon you caught, how many different types of Pokemon you caught, and their sizes!
  7. Now, you can do a neat little write up or question session:
    1. How many different “species” did you find?
    2. Do the species make sense in the environment you chose? (Were there Magikarp in the street?)
    3. What was the most common Pokemon you found? Were they small or large?
    4. What are some questions you have about the Species or Pokemon you found? What are some ways you could answer those questions?
    5. Would you do another study? How would you change what you did out in the field?

So, this can take weeks or hours, it all depends on how you want to develop your own study! I suggest having a notebook with you to take notes or sketch interesting things. Don’t forget to learn about the area you’re working in! Maybe describe a bird you saw, or learn about a native plant. Keep it in your journal! You might find an interesting correlation!

I plan on doing a mini study this weekend; I look forward to everyone going out and trying it on their own!

Have a great day and an awesome weekend!



Weekly Update (Late)

Hey all!

So I had a slight mixup this weekend and was unable to post- sorry! But, I’ve got my laptop back and I’m excited for Friday and Saturday’s content! So here are my updates:

  1. There’s a Pokemon Go meetup in Middletown, CT on Saturday! Go see ConnectiCon’s post on Facebook for details. I can’t go, but I hope some of you can! Make sure to stay plugged into the non-Pokemon things going on around you as well.
  2. I’ll be camping up in Lakeville, CT watching some awesome machines- as much as I’m a Biologist, I’m very much an engineer at heart and I LOVE to watch cutting-edge cars having fun on a track. I’ll be also handing out some fun facts to those I see playing Pokemon Go!

Here’s the big announcement: in Late August, we’ll be featuring some Full Metal Alchemist content regarding general chemistry thanks to one of my good friends! 

I hope you’re all excited! If you want something explained or featured on this site, please feel free to contact me!


Synthetic Stingrays and Ditto: Cells gone wild

I found this super cool article today on NPR.com (SEIZURE WARNING on the video they used to demonstrate). It came out last week, but since my life has been super busy, I was just as excited to find it today while deciding what to post! It covers a “Synthetic Stingray”, a very neat project that utilizes mouse cells to develop a working, reactive set of muscles for a gold and silicone skeletal system. Their end goal, of course, is to build a heart. But, big goals take tiny steps. (Featured Image: Header of the stingray from NPR/ScienceMag)

So, how did they do this?? Cells are cells, right? They just… build things.

What these researchers did was they used cultured mouse heart cells- cardiomyocites. (Cardio: heart,  myocites: muscle) All cardiac cells/ heart muscle cells/ cardiomyocites are really specialized muscle cells that are sensitive to electricity. Flash back to all the cartoons and medical shows that use AEDs or “Crash Carts” when a character seems to have a heart attack- depending on the problem, that electricity can help a patient’s heart reset the rhythm of the beat; this rhythm is actually the way the entire heart moves to pump blood through the body.

After taking these cells from a mouse, they ensured that these heart cells (cardiomyocites) would respond and contract when a light was shone on them;  they managed to do this through a series of alterations to the cell’s DNA so that an individual cell could build and equip itself with the right machinery. Sound familiar?


Above: everyone’s favorite breeding Pokemon, Ditto

Ditto are plausibly the result of a failed Mew experiment; cells that were meant to build themselves with the right machinery to become a Mew. Now, of course, they’re a trainer’s best bet for breeding a Miltank or a Tauros. BUT! What we can infer from Ditto’s transformations and ability to breed is that Ditto is probably made out of stem cells.

Oh man, that’s a loaded word. 

It’s true that there is a lot of controversy around stem cells in the ethical stance, but what I’m highlighting about stem cells is their ability to turn into different categories of cells. Skin, Brain, or Heart cells are just examples of the kinds of cells in your own body (and plausibly Pokemon, as it’s been noted they have cells). Totipotent stem cells have the potential to totally become any cell in an organism. Compared to pleuripotent stem cells and multipotent stem cells, which can only form into a category of cell in varying degrees of specificity, totipotent stem cells have the potential to form an entire animal. Ditto has the ability to mimic Pokemon down to the very moves they’re using against it– that’s pretty totipotent.

So, these researchers were able to take a skeleton made of gold and silicone, alter a cell to react to light instead of straight electricity, and have it move with the precision of a stingray. That’s a seriously neat way to use the potential of cells in our own world, even if we can’t have our own Ditto. (Sidenote: anyone find one in Pokemon GO yet?)

Author does not claim ownership of Pokemon or Ditto. Please see website statement on the front page. The article cited is linked at the top of the page. There is a very flashy video!! Please be careful. 🙂

Let’s talk about REAL environments

So. You’re out and about, catching your team, stepping on rocks and stones and random backyards… when suddenly you see that Ratatta you’re catching is on one of the biggest rocks in the  rocky intertidal.

Wait. What’s a rocky intertidal?

01b69484d46bc403048f22dd04e444717e0113281c.jpgAbove: my handy assistant Matt skipping through the rocky intertidal of Hammonasset State Park, Madison, CT


As you can probably guess, an environment is a space. We can think of an environment in a large scale, like a country, or a small scale, like a room or a pond. In either case, an environment is a complex area made up of living and non living things.

Think about where you are at this minute. You are a living thing, interacting with a nonliving thing (your digital device).

Your current environment could be simple, your room or your desk. Or, it could be busy, like a coffee shop. In either case, the environment is important because no matter what your environment is, it influences your current behavior. If you’re cold, you put on a sweater. If you find the coffee shop too noisy, you either put headphones/earplugs in, or leave.  The same properties apply to the real world and, consequently, to Pokemon.

Take a Viridian Forest as an example. You have Caterpie and Pidgey and Weedle all living in a forest environment. 01737ff8dc47911eca46a68b7666581a0e5d398fe8.jpgThis has a huge influence on the Caterpie because it needs to protect itself from predators, such as Pidgey. So, Caterpie adapted through it’s tree/bush/grass camouflage, and the special ridges on it’s legs to crawl upside down on branches. This keeps Caterpie safe, uneaten, and more likely to evolve into a Kakuna or Butterfree and breed. Weedle, similarly, adapted and evolved to have that poison stinger that too many of us as novice trainers forgot about. (And then walked with the blurry poison screens to the nearest Pokemon Center. ><)

Still haven’t answered that question, Connie. What’s a rocky intertidal??

Alright. So we covered environments and their importance on the living things inside it. Obviously, environments come in different types and “flavors”. The scientific word for these classifications is Biome.

Biomes: zones determined by the vegetation type or physical environment

So, a lot of “abiotic” (non-living) and “biotic” (living) factors go into this classification. A desert with no rain, sandy or rocky terrain, and sparse vegetation (plant populations) is very different from the salty, wet, and windy conditions I like to work in on Long Island Sound. But even then, these classifications get even more precise. 

Long Island Sound (LIS) is what we call an estuary, a mix of salt and fresh water. This is a HUGELY different environment than the Atlantic. Fresh rivers from the inland (CT and beyond!) mix in with the saltwater and create a unique environment that takes into account salinity (saltwater), temperature, and even chemical runoff. Animals within LIS are influenced by this dynamic, ever changing environment.

Long Island Sound is an even more incredible area if you look at how the shoreline works. You have the water itself, where many species of fish and crabs spend their entire life at different depths. Then, you have the salt marsh, a muddy and grassy area that acts as a buffer in between rivers and the sound. The salt marsh is home to fiddler crabs, ribbed mussels, and many species of birds. Most notably, the marshes are the main environment that saves the inland from storm surges when hurricanes and other large storms come blowing across the coast. Then, you have the rocky intertidal. The rocky intertidal on the Long Island Sound shores exists thanks to the Wisconsin Glacier, which scraped across the continent and dragged huge boulders to where it finally stopped. All of the different types of rocks then created a fantastic environment for algae (seaweed), crabs, snails, and anything that needs to stay wet even when the tide has left for the afternoon/morning/evening/night. The one big issue for the rocky intertidal on LIS is the Asian Shore Crab, Hemigrapsus sanguineus, which is an invasive species from Japan.

So, these biomes are good evidence for adaptation and influence on behaviors. The rocky intertidal especially sets a huge challenge for animals. They need to stay wet, cool/warm, protected from predators, and many of them need to stay anchored to the rocks.

So that Rattata just drew your attention to a pretty nifty (and sometimes ankle-twisting) environment. Pokemon that would live in this environment would probably be Shellder, Krabby, and the occasional Corsola. And Magikarp. Because Magikarp are EVERYWHERE.

(This article is intended for educational purposes. Please do not plagiarize; it will only lead to issues for you. Please see the FAQ for more information)

(I do not own Pokemon; mentions of Pokemon and images belong to Game Freak/Nintendo and their contributing parties. Use of images is for educational use ONLY. Please see FAQ and homepage for full statement)




First Impressions on Pokemon GO

(From a Biological Perspective)

So Pokemon GO is kind of awesome. Sure, Niantic is getting the bugs out, but that’s the world we live in today. My only issue with the app is that people seem to lose common sense with it? Please keep your common sense. PLEASE don’t assume that you’re not that rude/distracted to become that person on the news because boy howdy, that leads to a slippery slope of suddenly playing it on the toilet. (Oh wait, that’s happened. ><)

Anyway, I find it really amazing that people are forced to actually go out to historical sites and LEARN about their area. (Or find Jesus/God/A spiritual life, because since Pokemon GO has been a thing my brother has suddenly gained an immense interest in going to every parish in the diocese) I’ll be honest- while at ConnectiCon I learned  about the little areas around Hartford not related to the Revolutionary War and thought they were the COOLEST thing. There was a plaque outside of the Con that marked where one of the last famous Jazz clubs was within the city- as a saxophonist I found that super cool. I am also rapidly learning the actual names of statues and things. That’s helpful for giving directions.

Pokemon wise, the fact that Pokemon come in extra small, normal, and extra large is FANTASTIC. They give you the measurements! And the GPS location of the catch! It’s begging for some kind of population study. Even though I’ve pointed out numerous times that Pokemon and it’s derivatives were NOT DESIGNED BY BIOLOGISTS, it’s still a neat tool to understand actual real life population studies, like my current flounder project.

Magikarp also looks really silly if you try to catch it while walking because it flops around alongside you.

I’m also super excited to get back to running because I have TWELVE eggs that need hatching and currently only one incubator. Hopefully the app will get in touch with the already there pedometer though, because battery life is not it’s strong suit.

All of the above of course, depends on us trainers as a group. Too many people getting injured/mugged/walking into traffic, as well as the intersectional issues (like the one seen in this Jezebel article addressing POC and the danger they face playing the game) is going to give this awesome game and interesting educational tool a bad rep, and I really don’t want that to happen. So be smart, catch those Magikarp, and have fun!

Welcome to Whimsical Science!

Hey All! I had a tumblr under the same name, but I decided to make a standalone site through WordPress to better host everything I want to do! I’m hoping that Whimsical Science will be a fun, educational, and awesome place to study and discover new things.

That being said, (written?) my ConnectiCon 2016 Panel, Pokebiology 101 was an awesome hit! Thank you to everyone who came to learn and have a good time. I’m hoping that you took away a little something to give you a better insight into our real world environment (and maybe Pokemon GO…)

Take the survey, too, if you have time!

The video of me speaking through my PowerPoint (Not the panel itself, I can’t figure out if I was, in fact, recorded) will be posted by the end of the week. If you didn’t save the  UC Davis Pokemon Phylogeny link, there it is!

Have an awesome week!