Backyard Science

This week’s post is about the ubiquity of science, it really is all around us! You don’t need to be in a lab to be investigating how the world/universe works. Even your back yard can be a great place to introduce people to scientific enthusiasm!

Inspiration for this post cam last week when I was wandering round outside at home and happened to look in a water-filled barrel. The water was full of little invertebrate larvae, which I assumed were sandflies. A quick google search revealed that I was indeed correct and I even took some inside so I could see if they would metamorphose. Unfortunately, I think I had too many in a small container and they didn’t look too happy by morning. But the great thing is that it prompted me to look into the development and life history of these annoying little beasts. I learned a few interesting facts about the creatures I hate so much (just thinking about them makes me itch) from Te Ara – The Encyclopaedia of New Zealand.

Here are some photos I took of the larvae I found.

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And another showing the very classic allergic reaction I get when bitten. Maybe I should do a post about allergic reactions soon?

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I hope this post has inspired you to hunt out some science in your back yard to involve your family and friends! Feel free to add your every-day science ideas in the comments 🙂

Journal Club- Icy surfaces and large socks

This week, I am starting what I hope will remain a monthly journal club post on this blog. Since the aim of running this blog is to get some science communication experience, I think a journal club is a great way to get some feedback on my scientific writing for a broad audience. I’ll try and pick out a paper every month that I think is fun or exciting in one way or another. It’s very likely that this will result in a main focus on biology, but if there is a topic or a publication you’d like to see me cover, I am very open to suggestions!


For my first journal club, I am breaking out of the biology mould and going for a paper entitled “Preventing winter falls: a randomised control trial of a novel intervention” (found here on pages 31-38). I have picked this paper because it will be a fun start to my journal club, and also because it has come out of the lovely University of Otago, where I studied for four years. The authors were awarded an IgNobel prize in 2009 for their work, IgNobels are awarded yearly at a ceremony at Harvard University to “honor achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think.” I encourage you to look into previous winners and watch the ceremony on YouTube (unless you are lucky enough to score a ticket to the live event) come October. The results of this paper may also come in useful for those of my readers who reside in the colder parts of the Northern Hemisphere at the moment.

The authors of this study wanted to test the hypothesis (championed by many Dunedin residents) that wearing socks over the outside of your shoes could help you avoid becoming a victim of icy walking surfaces in winter time. The study was approached using epidemiological methods, in a similar manner to which you would approach a drug trial or other medical intervention. So, the authors randomly assigned participants to either a control (shoes) or intervention (socks over shoes) groups.

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 10.19.47 pmAn image from the study demonstrating correct use of socks over shoes on icy days.

Then, they assessed the outcome of the trial in various ways as the participant made their way down the icy slope of the study site. There were self-assessments of slipperiness by the participants, and also by the authors. The authors also assessed each participant for confidence of walking downhill and controlled for intervention-induced recklessness by timing each participant’s journey between predetermined landmarks. Selecting appropriate measurements and controlling for confounding factors is important in any study, and I think these authors designed their study fairly well. However, a sample size of only 30 (total) seems a bit lacking to me and could be addressed in future socks-over-shoes assessments.

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The final results (summarised in the above table) of the study indicate that wearing socks over one’s shoes does seem to reduce self-reported and independently observed slipperiness as well as reducing the time to get down the slope. However, a few participants expressed concerns over whether or not this intervention was conscious of fashion norms, this was mentioned by the authors, but no serious alternatives were suggested or considered (though I don’t have other, more fashionable suggestions either). Further research directions were suggested by the authors- ““Research questions for the future include “does wool perform better than synthetic?” and “which socks perform best in a cost-effectiveness analysis?””


I welcome any feedback on writing style and journal club topics, and I hope that these posts result in lively and/or amusing discussions on the research discussed!