New Year, New Look, Big Changes

After two years of running the Read More Science blog for popular science book reviews, I find myself leaning in a different direction. I spent a lot of time considering this decision, and I’ve decided to change readmorescience.com from a blog for book reviews to my personal website as a science writer, so I can focus on other things.

For a long time, I’ve been on falling further behind on book reviews I owe to authors and publishers who’ve sent me copies of their books. This is stressful, especially considering how much I love to read and how frustrated I am that I can’t make more time in my life for it. As a working student, and then working multiple jobs with COVID-19 going on and my leave of absence from school, book reviews fell to the wayside. Every time I tried to revive the blog or gain traction, I lost my footing. I couldn’t keep up.

Rather than continuing to stress over it, I’m changing my approach. When I have time to review books, I will review them. I am trying to make my way through my current stack of review copies waiting to be read, and then I will be accepting much fewer books for review. In the meantime I am focusing on growing my portfolio as an amateur science writer and journalist. As much as I would like to do everything that is on my list of aspirations, sometimes I have to prioritize other things.

If you enjoy my writing, you may be pleased to hear that I was invited to write more frequently for Medium. I highly encourage you to consider the platform’s monthly $5 subscription, as your visits to my articles as a member result in pay for myself and other writers. There is a lot of great writing being published there, and I find it much more enjoyable to scroll through the site’s many interesting articles rather than
“doomscroll” on social media.

Speaking of, my social media is also taking a new direction. Rather than growing the Read More Science brand, I am refocusing on simply being myself — a young science writer with a love for reading nonfiction. If you’ve followed along with my year on Twitter, you may know I had a few rough patches. I appreciate the support and kindness my readers offered during those difficult times, and I am actively working to become a more professional, more patient person who advocates for kindness and empathy in every social media interaction.

It’s a challenge I fail at every day, but in this age of cancellation campaigns and the popularity of put-downs and cyberbullying, I won’t stop trying. I am refusing to participate in that negative culture anymore, and I regret having participated in it when I first developed an audience on Twitter. Social media is what we make of it, and I aim to make it a more positive and productive aspect of my life so that my presence has a good impact on others.

I hope 2021 brings more good things into your life as well as my own. After such a long and difficult year, we certainly need it. I plan to practice gratitude and focus on cultivating contentment with my life. I hope you find satisfaction in your own as well.

Onward and upward,

Sarah

Lulu Miller and the Futility of Fish

You can find my review of Lulu Miller’s book Why Fish Don’t Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life on my Medium page.

A Memoir of Life, Love, and Land in the Pacific Northwest

In her new book Ground Truth: A Geological Survey of a Life, author Ruby McConnell explores the land on which she grew up and its relation to her life and the people around her.

Mount Saint Helens features prominently in McConnell’s book. Photo by Adam Wood, Unsplash

It’s not often I come across a book which I cannot put down. From the moment I opened Ground Truth, my gaze remained fixated to its pages until at last I reached the back cover. Author Ruby McConnell has managed to take the addictive narrative-style from memoir writing and apply it to a geological exploration of the Pacific Northwest. The result is a stunningly well-paced blend of both pop science and personal touch.

Ground Truth is at its core, technically an autobiography of McConnell’s career in geology inspired by the eruption of Mt. Saint Helens in 1980. And yet, it’s so much more than that I would have a hard time writing it off as a scientific memoir. It’s more like shared memories of a mountain. Throughout the book, readers can sense the looming presence of the old volcano in everything McConnell writes about. Its presence pervades every chapter in an understated way, careful not to draw too much attention from other subjects, but still there — a quiet, if distant, fixture in the landscape you might just be prone to forget unless you’d experienced its violent eruption. The book begins and ends with Mt. Saint Helens in mind.

“Geology is a lot like life,” writes McConnell. “Geology is always a science of imagination, but the study of geology, particularly in the early years of one’s education, can be a faith-based experience. It requires one to picture forces like heat and pressure greater than our bodies and technology are able to withstand, often happening over time periods that exceed our life spans, all of humanity, or even the current configuration of the continents.”

This may make geology hard for some people to grasp, but really, what it comes down to is storytelling: “A lot of geology is about taking what is seen on the surface and telling yourself a story about it.”

And certainly stories of the land and rock pervade McConnell’s memoir, fusing with her stories of growing up in the Pacific Northwest and pursuing a career in geology. We accompany her on memories of backpacking through Alaska, of conducting environmental reconstruction for her work at houses threatened by the ocean’s rising tides, and in a particularly difficult trip to the location where her sister, a chef, overdosed and died. The theme of junkie or chef runs through the rest of the text, leaving the reader to wonder about the significance of the question long after closing the book. I’m not sure I’ve found an answer or even fully grasped the intention behind the question yet.

In science, the term ground truth refers to information gathered from direct observation, or empirical evidence, rather than inference. And indeed, Ground Truth is a collection of observations about the landscape and geological features of the Pacific Northwest from the past to present day, set alongside observations from McConnell’s own life. As with any life, there is both revelations and regret.

The result is a very likeable, interesting, and respectable summary of McConnell herself and her career in science that is sure to inspire those both within and outside of the Pacific Northwest. Any reader is likely to relate to the author’s misadventures with relationships, difficult and transformative personal experiences, and perhaps admire her tenacity to pursue a career in a field — and outdoor activities — dominated by men.

In one such tale, McConnell describes backpacking in Alaska with two young men and an argument about whether to carry a gun to protect themselves from bears. Though she is made to feel like an unwanted outsider multiple times by multiple men during the experience, it’s a chance encounter with a small group of women on bikes, alone and without guns, that leaves the greatest impression on McConnell (as well as the reader). She didn’t need to be invited into the outdoors by impatient men after all — women belonged here as well. It is a moment of courage and surprise, perhaps even relief.

The book is short, and at times I felt frustrated that McConnell doesn’t share more with her readers. Brief chapters keep the pacing brisk, but doesn’t leave enough space for reflection on difficult subjects like death and miscarriage. We linger over rocks and landscapes, but slip through bad memories. Perhaps this is what any scientist needs to do in order to process such difficult experiences. But as readers, our desire to sympathize with McConnell is sometimes overlooked by the brevity with which she dips her toes into these darker memories, like someone changing the subject after we express our condolences.

But she doesn’t necessarily shy away from these difficult subjects either. McConnell has no hesitation about stating the truth about what happened to the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest, how they were betrayed by the government and forced off their land, how so many innocent lives were taken as white settlers made their claim to the resources of the region; and then failed to be proper stewards of the land. Her land acknowledgment in the beginning of the book lists the Tribal Nations of the Pacific Northwest, forcing readers to confront the names and identities of the people who once lived here, on land that white settlers took for their own.

Overall, Ground Truth is a highly readable little paperback with many interesting anecdotes and takeaways for readers. One such lesson is recounted by McConnell toward the end of the book, when she writes:

“I am ready for a life unencumbered by the demons, memories, events, and people of my past, sure of who I am and unafraid of judgment. In the bedrock, water, forests, and deserts of this region I have at last found my groundtruth, which as a single word is defined simply as ‘fundamental truth.’ For what we look for when we search for truth of the self is not scientific certainty or some kind of divine knowledge by authenticity.”

Ruby McConnell

You can purchase a copy through Bookshop.org and support independent bookstores with your order.

Exploring Cosmic Catastrophes With Astrophysicist Katie Mack

In her recent release The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking), Mack invites readers on a journey through the various possible catastrophic conclusions to our universe.

Heat Death. Vacuum Decay. The Big Crunch. These deceptively simple terms are just a few of the names for the ways that scientists believe our universe may end.

I’m not talking about the end of our little Milky Way Galaxy. I’m talking about the end of the universe itself: the incomprehensibly large thing within which we and our little galaxy exist.

Some scientists are fascinated not with the beginning of the universe’s existence, the Big Bang, but with its end. Dr. Katie Mack, a theoretical physicist at North Carolina State University, is one of these people.

Even though many of us may mistakenly think the universe could go on existing forever, scientists have realized that this is not the case. When Mack learned that the universe, and our existence with it, could end right now, at any moment, it changed her.

“The shock and vertigo of the recognition of the fragility of everything, and my own powerlessness in it, has left its mark on me,” she writes. “There’s something about taking the opportunity to wade into that cosmic perspective that is both terrifying and hopeful.”

She describes the ‘overview effect’ astronauts often have when they return to Earth after having perceived it from a distance. “For me,” writes Mack, “thinking about the ultimate destruction of the universe is just such an experience.”

Fortunately for readers who may not have pondered this kind of question before, Mack begins her book with the Big Bang, helping us non-cosmologists understand the expansion of the universe from its hot and dense conception. It’s a tough thing to explain infinities, but Mack manages to both educate and entertain. We get interesting graphs and illustrations, wit and humor, and (to my relief) very little math.

The End of Everything is classic popular science, in the spirit of Brian Greene with a touch of Carl Sagan. Scientific, but approachable; Humorous at times, but enlightening nonetheless.

I particularly enjoyed Mack’s explanation of the Big Rip: “You can think of it as an unraveling,” she writes. “The first things to go are the largest, most tenuously bound. Giant clusters of galaxies, in which groups of hundreds or thousands of galaxies flow lazily around each other in long intertwined paths, begin to find that those paths are growing longer.”

As they drift away and lose their pull, the distant stars no longer follow their expected orbits. From our vantage point on Earth, “our night begins to darken, as the great Milky Way swath across the sky fades. The galaxy is evaporating.”

Soon, slowly, the planet begin to drift away too. “Just months before the end, after we’ve lost the outer planets to the great and growing blackness, the Earth drifts away from the Sun, and the Moon from the Earth. We too enter the darkness, alone.”

It’s delightfully unnerving, and Mack tells us all about these possible endings in tantalizing detail. They’re enough to keep you up at night, wondering, watching the stars out your window and hoping they don’t blink out.

They probably won’t any time soon – at least, that’s the message I got from The End of Everything. For now, cosmologists like Mack can study the collapse of the cosmos in relative peace.

For those of us who don’t speak the language of advanced mathematics, books like these are a fascinating and delightful way to explore a subject most of us would never have the chance to otherwise. Mack has done readers of popular science a great service – and her contribution to the genre is sure to find its place alongside classics like Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, and Brian Greene’s The Elegant Universe.

A beautiful, entertaining, and rapturous exploration of the mind-boggling science behind the universe’s demise.

Purchase your copy through this Bookshop.org link and support independent bookstores and Read More Science!

How Materials Shaped Our Society

Science communicator Ainissa Ramirez inspires readers with profound stories from history about the materials that shaped ourselves and our world.

Did you know that activist Frederick Douglass was the most photographed man of the nineteenth century? He believed in the democratic power of the new technology to create lasting images of ordinary people. He also “let his portraits combat the stereotypical images of African Americans in the 1800s,” writes author Ainissa Ramirez in her recent book, The Alchemy of Us.

But Douglass discovered a problem with photography at the time. The chemicals used in film “were developed around perfecting the portrayal of white skin,” writes Ramirez, and “black faces became underexposed.” Their eyes and teeth were exaggerated by the film’s failure, transforming portraits into the very same damaging caricature Douglass and his colleagues were trying so hard to fight.

At the start of the Civil Right’s era, Kodak was the primary producer of color film. They didn’t listen to the complaints of black mothers who couldn’t photograph their children; but they did listen to the corporations that said they couldn’t adequately capture certain dark colored objects for their customers, Ramirez notes ironically. And so Kodak formulated new film that would better capture dark colors, creating the technology that would allow people of darker complexions to appear more clearly.

But the bias of film technology did not end there. Ramirez points to how American photography was used for “darker enterprises abroad”. She describes how in the 1970’s , two black employees of Polaroid discovered their employer was illicitly based in apartheid South Africa. It turned out that despite the United Nations’ warnings to corporations not to collaborate with the oppressive government there, Polaroid was secretly supplying the film technology to create “passbooks” that restricted and segregated black lives.

These two employees, Caroline Hunter and Ken Williams, created the “Polaroid Revolutionary Workers Movement” and worked with the Black Panthers to stop Polaroid from working with the government of South Africa. Seven years later, writes Ramirez, Polaroid finally withdrew: “Polaroid’s departure started the process of dismantling apartheid, like a flicked domino, and Nelson Mandela would come to the United States to thank the PRWM for preventing the further capture of black South Africans.”

This example is from one of my favorite chapters in Ramirez’s thrilling new book. She weaves history and science together to tell stories of developments in materials science that transformed society, but how people transformed these materials as well. Her writing is immersive, often reading like a novel with intimate dialogue between historical figures — many of whom readers may not have known existed, or may be surprised to learn a new fact about.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the comparisons and conclusions Ramirez draws in each chapter as she presents her thoroughly-researched stories are nothing short of brilliant. Although steeped in history, each chapter feels startlingly relevant to the issues our society faces in the present day. Culturally aware and constantly rooting for the marginalized, Ramirez’s book is the history lesson we desperately need — and an important Black voice in science communication today.

The seamless weaving Ramirez accomplishes as she introduces a technological feat and historical story is nothing short of inspiring. The example I gave above is just one of many stories of science shaping society (and marginalized people shaping science) that Ramirez explores. Her analyses of them are astute and intelligent. This is an impressive collection, and she presents it convincingly in a well-composed argument. It demands respect.

The Alchemy of Us is a book that belongs in high school classrooms and college curriculum right up beside copies of Angela Saini’s books Superior and Inferior. If you have enjoyed historical explorations of science, such as Deborah Blum’s The Poison Squad or Daniel Stone’s The Food Explorer, this book will make an excellent addition to your shelf. Its focus on people of color is a welcome presence in the overwhelmingly white-authored genres of science and technology.

A thoroughly enjoyable read you’ll be reluctant to put down, and eager to share with friends.

Science Friday Summer Book Recommendations

Photo By Science Friday

This week, I was featured on Science Friday with Stephanie Sendaulas to talk about what we think readers like you will enjoy reading this summer.

Follow this link to read about our recommendations and listen to us chat with Science Friday’s host Ira.

A Statement on Committing to Anti-Racism

Photo by Jay Mullings on Unsplash

From Sarah, editor and creator of Read More Science:

At the moment, there are Black Lives Matter protests happening in every single one of America’s fifty states. They were sparked by the recent and unjust murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. But they are also a response to the unceasing incidents of police brutality and racism in this country.

As a white person and a science communicator, it is my responsibility to use my platform to participate in amplifying the Black Lives Matter movement and actively work on becoming anti-racist. This week on Twitter, I am uplifting Black Birders Week, an event put together by Black birders and naturalists to highlight diversity and bring attention to inequality in the outdoors. In addition, I am using my science writing coursework to write a feature article on Black Birders Week. I have also compiled a list of anti-racism resources for fellow white women.

When I started Read More Science two years ago, it was always my goal to uplift underrepresented authors of pop science books through reviews and social media posts featuring their work. To date, I have reviewed books such as Angela Saini’s Superior, showcased books about Black women in space science, discussed the ramifications of Henrietta Lacks, and am currently working on a review of The Alchemy of Us by Ainissa Ramirez.

But this isn’t nearly enough. Moving forward, I intend amplify the work of Black authors and scientists. I invite – and will reach out to – Black scientists who are interested in writing reviews of pop science books for Read More Science, to help uplift their platforms. I also encourage aspiring Black authors and science writers to reach out to me directly at sciencebookreviews@gmail.com for free editing services and feedback on their work, support and advice, as well as assistance on the path to publication.

If you are white, I urge you to take action now. There is much work to be done if we are to truly change the system. We must be willing to do our part and make reparations however we can.

Sincerely,

Sarah Olson Michel

The Internet of Genes

A new book by Italian molecular biologist Sergio Pistoi explores at-home DNA testing and what it really means for big data and genealogy.

If you’ve ever taken an at-home DNA test, Serio Pistoi would label you a “spitter” – someone who swabbed their saliva and sent it off to a company like 23andMe to be analyzed for a fee. Even if you haven’t had your own DNA tested, you likely know someone who has. DNA testing surged in popularity when it became available (and affordable) to the masses. In his book, Pistoi investigates what this means for us and for future generations.

“If you could zoom in on one of your cells and make your way among the maze of microscopic wires, membranes and organelles that fill its interiors, you would see a bubble distinct from the rest: this is the nucleus, the cell’s genetic control room,” writes Pistoi, a science journalist who holds a PhD in molecular biology. “Zoom further in on the nucleus and you’ll see a microscopic noodle: this is the DNA (short for Deoxyribonucleic Acid), the compound that contains the genetic information for almost every organism on Earth.”

In the first chapter, Pistoi introduces readers to DNA, as well as chromosomes which make up genes, which compose proteins; the building blocks of cells. “While genes live quietly in the nucleus, the proteins they code do all the jobs required for life,” writes Pistoi. “The funny thing is that genes account for only 2-3 percent of our DNA. The bulk of our genetic material does not code for any protein, which has puzzles researchers for decades.”

This excess, dubbed “junk DNA”, actually turns out to be “the diffused brain of the genome, an elusive mastermind that can summon into action thousands of genes at once, directing their work as if they were extras in an action movie.”

Pistoi’s writing is lively and easy to follow along with as he guides readers through his own experience becoming a “spitter” and navigating the world of DNA testing. He describes the positive aspects of it, such as predicting risk for certain diseases: in one chapter, he tells the story of a woman named Monica, who survived ventricular fibrillation thanks to a defibrillator installed after a DNA test revealed she carried a rare hereditary heart disease. Her life was saved thanks to the preventative measure the DNA test allowed her to take.

Unfortunately, what DNA testing can tell consumers is still limited. Pistoi writes that “when it comes to predicting our health, things are rarely so straightforward, and knowledge can even turn against you.” He discusses the supermarket of DNA testing and why the FDA cracked down on consumer genomics companies for the risk of bad interpretations of results. He also considers the risks of knowing the inevitable – what would happen if the people around you knew you were susceptible to schizophrenia or dementia? He asks, what if those people were your banker or your employer?

DNA privacy is a real and serious concern. And yet companies are building social networking sites based on connecting people with similar DNA. Pistoi indulges readers in his personal experiences with these sites, which was generally a positive experience for him, as well as the more serious drawbacks of DNA testing.

“With the growth of DNA-tailored treatments also comes the risk of choosing therapies based on flawed tests,” Pistoi writes. “But the media reported stories of patients for whom this method has failed miserably, like John R. Brown…who switched his depression medication after taking a GeneSight test and wound up suicidal in a psychiatric hospital.” Even though researchers are optimistic, the limits of current technology and the potential catastrophic ramifications of mistakes are clear. For now, the future is difficult to determine.

The biggest concern readers may have is whether they can be a spitter safely. Pistoi says privacy is like a volume knob, not and on/off button: “Everyone has a level of privacy that suits their needs: the goal is to balance the utility of sharing with the risk of exposing information unnecessarily.” Pistoi also says reputable consumer genomics services will keep your identity separate from your DNA files, and that he used a pseudonym and prepaid credit card and different address when he bought his kit. You an even check the results by logging in through anonymous browser and hiding your IP address from the company.

His hints and tips are actually pretty beneficial. The only downside of the book is it appears to be self-published, and there are occasional obvious printing errors and editing mistakes. But aside from that, it is a great read and very professionally done.

At the end of the book, he includes a list of practical essentials to know before buying an at-home DNA testing kit, as well as a Q&A section with other useful information. Overall, DNA Nation is an informative and well-written book about DNA testing today for those who want to test, or may never do it themselves and are just curious to know more. This brief and entertaining guide to the internet of genes is perfect for anyone interested in the science of ourselves.

How Physics Found Out Why Cats Always Land On Their Feet

A few of my favorite things – history, science, and cats – come together in this lively and entertaining adventure into a question that has plagued physicists for hundreds of years.

Apparently physicists’ fascination with felines didn’t begin with Erwin Schrödinger’s dilemma with a cat. Long before Schrödinger designed his thought problem about a cat both alive and dead to illustrate a problematic paradox with quantum mechanics, cats were already frustrating physicists with a different question: why do they always seem to land on their feet? This is the question explored in Falling Felines and Fundamental Physics (Yale Press 2019).

In this brief, yet brilliant romp through history, physics professor and blogger Gregory J. Gbuir (@drskyskull), guides readers through the long journey to answer that question. At first, I was somewhat skeptical an entire book could be devoted to a single question, much less maintain my interest until the end. But little did I know just how complicated, exciting, and surprising the history of this particular question would prove to be. 

Before photography was invented, paintings were the only way the movement of animals could be frozen in time. It wasn’t until the mid-1800’s that technology would first begin to allow curious individuals to attempt to capture how, exactly, animals move. Gbuir, who is clearly quite apt at both historical research as well as writing, does a marvelous job guiding the reader through the origin and development of photography and how it was eventually applied to the problem of cats.

If you’ve ever been curious how cameras came about, you’ll get to learn all about it in the first two chapters – and it turns out to be quite engaging. Gbuir includes the earliest surviving heliograph from around 1826. Made of “Bitumen of Judea, or Syrian asphalt,” it “was chemically modified by light exposure into a form that was resistant to being dissolved in petroleum. A film of this bitumen could be put on glass and exposed to light, becoming hard in spots where the light was brightest and remaining soft in the dark regions.”

When photography, as it came to be called, developed further and became faster, a scientist finally applied it to capturing animal movement. Eadweard Muybridge, who produced the famous “Horse in Motion” gallery in 1878, inspired the work of Étienne-Jules Marey, who would produce a short film called “Falling Cat” in 1894. When Marey presented his findings to the French Academy of Sciences that year, outrage ensued. What he presented, according to a report from the time, was “a scientific paradox in direct contradiction with the most elementary mechanical principles.”

Falling cat, Wikimedia Commons

Now things were really heating up. Physicists turned their attention toward answering the question of exactly how cats managed to turn themselves right-side-up seemingly without momentum. How did the cats even ensure they were turning the right way? It puzzled physicists, and Gbuir carefully keeps his readers puzzled as well, leading us through each clue chronologically.

Along with the history, Gbuir also introduces readers to general concepts in physics to ensure we understand why the cat falling question was so confounding. Even though I have not taken physics yet, I was able to understand his discussions reasonably well. I didn’t feel overwhelmed at any point.

The history was slightly more engaging for me because I’m currently taking a course on the history of science in the twentieth century and we just discussed physics at the turn of the century. Many of the figures in my class were also discussed in Gbuir’s book, helping me contextualize the book further. But even without a history class, readers will be able to follow along quite well. Gbuir’s writing is excellent and the storytelling is easy to absorb.

Gbuir takes readers from the past into the modern day by the end of the book. In 2016, a researcher named Alexis Noel presented her surprising findings about the cat tongue to the American Physical Society Division of Fluid Dynamics Meeting. She showed how hooks on the cat’s tongue, which help untangle the fur as they groom, are also “hollow and pull liquid into them via capillary action” to help the cleaning process.

Insights like this are helping inspire new ways to engineer robots. Biorobotics eventually led to the creation of a robot that twists like a cat when it falls to right itself. This is a fascinating application of the physics of how cats always land on their feet. And Gbuir includes plenty of interesting anecdotes and stories about cats and physics, my favorite being that of F.D.C. Willard. This is the pen name of a Siamese cat of physicist Jack Hetherington, who was told he could not publish as a single author in the Physics Review Letters journal in 1975 and so included his cat as a co-author.

Hetherington could not hide the identity of his colleague for long, and some people were “delighted” with the revelation, according to Gbuir. F.D.C. Willard even signed a copy of the paper with his paw. Gbuir includes a photo of both the famous cat and the autograph in his book, which I loved. There are lots of other great images included throughout the book, helping illustrate the stories Gbuir discusses and bring his subjects to life.

This is the perfect book for readers who enjoy a little history with their science and can appreciate a tender fascination with felines. And as for the answer to how cats always land on their feet, you’ll just have you to read it and find out.

Updates: School, Social Media, and Upcoming Reviews

First off, I am grateful for the outpouring of support from those of you who regularly interact with me on social media and have reached out to check in during my absence. It’s heartwarming to know that so many people care about my well-being and took the time to read my previous blog post. Taking a break from social media has given me a lot more time to stay on top of my emails, and I’m thrilled to be receiving so many about books to review on the blog. In the past week, I’ve received more emails about new and forthcoming books to review than I have in the past several months! This is exciting and I’m immensely looking forward to getting plenty of new content on the blog. Keep an eye out for those reviews – I’m working on one now for Falling Felines and Fundamental Physics.

One of the reasons that Read More Science has been relatively stagnant for the past six months is because starting university has consumed a substantial amount of my time. When I was just working at an independent bookstore, I had a lot more time on my hands to read and review books. Now, as a working student, it’s much more difficult to fit that into my schedule, but I am prioritizing it thanks to some changes in my schedule.

A surprising positive to quarantine during this coronavirus pandemic is the flexibility of working from home. My position at the marine microbiology lab has changed from washing flasks and beakers to working remotely on a lesson plan about ocean science for K-12 students, because we are no longer allowed to go into the lab on campus. This is a great science communication project and a way for me to learn about science education. In addition to that, I’m taking a workshop in Linux/Unix and command-line in order to learn a bit about data analysis and bioinformatics, which will help with my venture into microbiome research.

Aside from work, the classes I am taking this term are already captivating and exciting. One of my upper level classes is environmental writing, which is part of the Science, Technical, and Professional Communication Certificate here at Oregon State. Another is a history of science course, which focuses on the twentieth century and is taught by a professor in the History and Philosophy of Science graduate program here at Oregon State (which I am immensely interested in). Lastly, I am still working through precalculus, which is the last piece of math I need before venturing into chemistry and biology and calculus this coming academic year.

If you’re familiar with my academic background from my previous writing, you may know that I come from a very poor math and science education and was afraid to take those STEM classes when I first started college. But when I changed my major from English to Microbiology and transferred into Oregon State this past fall, my intention was to immerse myself in general sciences and work my way up into the microbiology coursework I am so interested in. The wrench in my plan was the discovery I am much farther behind in math than my adviser and I first realized. I essentially started with high-school level mathematics in the fall term and have been working my way through the prerequisites for those general chemistry and biology and calculus courses I need to take next.

During my absence from social media, I am immersing myself in my studies and preparing to have what I hope will be a productive and pleasurable spring term, despite the strangeness of doing school and work remotely. I am actually surprised by how much I am enjoying working from home. I think there may be positive sides to this quarantine situation that I was not expecting.

One of the downsides of mandatory self isolation is that my fiancé and I have had to postpone our wedding, which was set for the end of May. I had announced on social media that I plan to change my name and will be writing as Sarah Olson Michel after our marriage is official, but now we are unsure when the wedding will actually take place. Therefore I am delaying the launch of my new personal website, which I’ve spent the past few months working on, until we’re actually married and that name change is official. I also wrote about feminism, changing one’s name, and my own path to making that decision if you’re interested in reading about it.

Lastly, I’ve gotten some questions about whether I intend to return to Twitter after my social media absence. The answer is absolutely. I am trying to break the habit of depending on my phone and spending too much time on social media, and also focusing on school and work. But I very much miss those lovely interactions with people I regularly chatted with via Twitter, and it does feel strange to be left out of the loop of what’s going on. I check the news every day, but limit it so as not to be overwhelmed.

The past five days off social media have lightened my heart. I am already starting to feel refreshed and invigorated, reminded of my goals and intentions, and hopeful for the future. Times are strange. We must all work together to have hope, be positive, and push for change. And remember, if you’re starting to feel anxious or overwhelmed, books can be a source of solace.

Onward and upward!