Friday, May 22, 2015

This video will make you feel slight visual hallucinogenic effects!

Visual illusions are awesome! It's fun to mess with our mind's perception without having to do psychotropic drugs (although, visual illusions are honestly even better when you are on psychotropic drugs). 

I just came across a pretty sweet visual illusion video from ScienceForum that caused my vision to blur in a way that reminded me slightly of how my vision used to work when I would take a small dose of LSD (it's been a long time since I've tripped, but I can remember the feeling pretty well). I highly recommend watching this video!

So, hold on to your britches there, sports fans. This video is going to take you for a little bit of a ride. Okay, maybe it's not that crazy, but you should feel some visual illusions that will make you think you're hallucinating (note, watch this in full screen and with no other distractions):

Pretty sweet, huh? 

Tricking your eyes and your brain to momentarily perceive the world in such a blurred way is fun. Of course, this video just causes your vision to shift a little bit, so you're not getting all the fun (or terror) of deeply hallucinating.

Messing with our perception of the world can be fun. Our minds are not infallible in how they interpret the inputs from our sensory organs, and yet we often feel certain that what we think we see and hear and feel and do is the exact truth. Visual illusions are awesome since they force the observer to test their perception.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Mindfulness and Me

Patchman Meditating, by Jordan Pearce

Earlier this year I came to a realization about myself: I was becoming too judgmental about where I was in life (or, at least, in the American ideal of what life is "supposed" to be), and I felt completely unfocused with regard to my daily life. I felt distracted by my perceived failures, and I was most assuredly mentally and emotionally depressed. So I decided to do something about it.

In an attempt to regain a connection with myself, I took up daily mindfulness meditation. That decision has been personally rewarding and I've found myself more motivated, more relaxed, and just plain happier. I feel like I can better control my focus now, and I've been slowly building healthier thoughts about what I'm doing in my life. 

I'm by no means an expert on mindfulness meditation, but I thought I'd share a few of my thoughts as I begin my path to being more mindful about myself and my connection with other people and other parts of this life. Below are some of the things that I've done so far to begin my mindfulness meditation practice.

A monk in meditation, from imgkid

Finding Some Headspace

When I first started daily meditation, I wasn't really sure what to do. I grew up training in the martial arts and have tried to meditate many times before. I guess I was too quick, even now in my thirties, to try to force myself to "think about nothing". 

I think there's a very common misconception that meditation needs to be about completely clearing your mind. As an active thinker and a scientist, that's not something I've been very good at. I imagine most of everyone else is pretty much in that boat as well. It's hard to tell yourself to stop thinking.

In fact, I think every time I tried to meditate when I was younger and I told myself "okay, now I'm meditating; stop thinking" it actually forced my mind to wonder even more. Each time I felt like I was losing control of my ability to stop my mind from wondering, I lost my focus on the meditation and would end the practice. There are a lot of articles online suggesting that this is one of the most common problems, if not the single most common problem, that a lot of people have with meditation (outside of any negative stereotypes some people might associate with meditation).

Finding guided meditations has been the key for me to get started in mindfulness meditation. It's helpful to have someone else's guidance, to hear their voice, and to try following the paths they've already cleared. There are lots of tools out there, online and in print, that can help with guided mediations. My favorite so far, and the one that has helped me to really get into guided meditation, is called Headspace.

Headspace is an online and mobile app that offers guided meditations as led by former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe, a person whom Ed Halliwell of The Guardian has said is "doing for meditation what someone like Jamie Oliver has done for food" (see this New York Times article for more). Here's a video from a popular TED talk that Puddicombe delivered where he introduces the idea of taking some time to be mindful:

If you check out the Headspace website, you'll see that you can sign up for free and even check out the first set of ten 10-minute meditations for free. Those first ten meditations were fantastic! Puddicombe's guidance is wonderful and the introduction to mindfulness is superb. 

Each of those ten meditations started with finding some awareness of the sounds in the local environment and the feelings in the body. A slow scan of the body was helpful in noticing how things were feeling, while Puddicombe pointed out not to dwell on trying to make something feel different (instead, just noticing how everything feels at that moment). Much of the time in those meditations dealt with focusing on the breath; being aware of the inhalation and exhalation and the process of breathing. Focusing on the process of breathing seemed to make it easier to focus my awareness on one key thing. Indeed, much of my work in mindfulness meditation so far has centered on this idea of focusing on my breathing.

Artwork from

Thoughts will come and thoughts will go...

One of the best parts of the first ten meditations on Headspace is that Puddicombe helps the practitioner to realize that there are thoughts that are going to pop up in the mind, but the key is to let those thoughts go as soon as they come without judging yourself for the fact that the thoughts are there in the first place.

I found this part to be the key to my awareness in my meditations. I had to consciously be aware of when thoughts would come into my mind and then let them move on without worrying about whether or not I'd come back to them. However, maybe more importantly, I had to stop judging myself for the presence of those thoughts in the first place.

This process of having thoughts come and go might sound easy, but it's something that I've found to require lots of conscious work. Perhaps what makes this part of the Headspace meditations even better is that near the end of each of the first ten sessions, Puddicombe advises the practitioner to take a moment to let the mind wonder, to allow the mind to entertain those thoughts that come. It's like a brief moment of wonderment. The mind goes off and explores whatever thoughts might come and go. Interestingly, I feel like the thoughts that I entertain this way, after having spent some time focusing on one thing, are fuller and more beneficial thoughts.

I've really enjoyed the free Headspace meditations. I would very much like to subscribe to Headspace, but the cost is a little more than I can currently afford. It's not very expensive (it can be as low as about $6 a month), but I really prefer not to have any more monthly charges in my life right now. Perhaps, depending on where my meditation practice takes me, I will look into subscribing in the future. However, for now, there are lots of free guided meditations out there for anyone who is interested!
Image from the website

Videos and Apps with Guided Meditations:

After trying the Headspace meditations, I've been searching around for guided meditations that fit me and have found lots of good stuff. Here are some of my top suggestions for what's worked for me so far:

The Honest Guys on Youtube

The Honest Guys have a collection of awesome videos with meditation music and/or guided meditations. I like their approach and have found their guidance very helpful. I highly recommend trying out some of their videos to see what you think. Here's a rather good one that focuses on relieving stress, if you would like to give it a try:

Jason Stephenson on Youtube

- Jason Stephenson has also has a variety of guided meditations that have worked well with my practice. I've found so far that there are some guided meditations that just don't work for me, for various reasons. I've found so far that some of Stephenson's meditations didn't seem so easy to get into, while some of them have been smooth and have fit me very well. Here's a rather good one that is aimed at beginners but seems like it can be beneficial for anyone who seeks guided meditations:

Insight Timer, a mobile device app
- Insight Timer is an app that you can download for a smartphone or other mobile device. The app offers a large variety of guided meditations (I've only completed the shorter offerings thus far, as my practice is still usually short in time). Insight Timer also offers a simple timer for meditation. The free version of the app has a simple bell that rings to start and end the timer, while there appears to be a paid version of the app that has more variety in the types of bells and numbers of rings.

Stop, Breathe, & Think

- There are of course other apps to try as well. I've recently started on called Stop, Breathe, & Think. Their guided meditations are available for mobile devices and they also have a web app. I've only just discovered their meditations, so I can't say much about them, but I like their app so far and I think I'll be using it more in the near future.

You can find this image and an article with 5 interesting techniques for meditating here

Moving Beyond the Guide

I've really enjoyed guided meditations so far. They've helped me to overcome the barriers I've previously had to meditating and have made the experience very rewarding. I think that I'm now at the point of moving beyond the need for guided for all of my meditations. I've found myself enjoying meditating on my own, though I still like to have some peaceful music playing. I'm hoping to continue my mindfulness meditation practice, perhaps even eventually helping to guide others with the practices that I have found helpful. If you're interested in mindfulness meditation, then here are a few more things I've found that might interest you:

Here are 7 great suggestions for things to watch out for when meditating (from Barabara Markway at Psychology Today). 

- The Chan Meditation Center has some interesting thoughts about how to meditate, and also offers this nice 8-form moving meditation

- This article from Greatist has 10 ways to meditate, from Tai Chi and breathing meditation to dance and walking meditation

- Here's an article for beginning meditation from Gaiam Life

- Finally, this article has some interesting ideas for meditation for people who are really against the idea of sitting and meditating

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Skull on My Wall

The above picture was produced from an x-ray scan of a human skull. That picture hangs on the wall above my desk at work. 

I like to look at this picture from time to time. It makes me think about life and my own mortality. It reminds me to be mindful of the entirety of my body, as there's more to it than just the flesh and the bits we see everyday. Below the skin of the cheeks, the lips, and the eyes, there's tooth and bone.

This might sound kind of macabre and maybe disturbing. Why would I have a picture of a skull on my wall in the first place? Well, the skull in this picture is my skull. That's why I have it on my wall. I get to see my own face in the mirror every day, but I'll never get to see my own skull outside of an x-ray image like this.

Skulls are pretty awesome. I had to have this x-ray image of my own skull taken back in 2012 when I was admitted to a hospital in Spain. Can you guess from the image why they wanted to x-ray my head?

Monday, May 18, 2015

Because everyone needs some awesome in their lives: Taylor Davis and Lindsey Stirling playing tunes from Zelda on violin

I was just working through my daily dose of free writing and listening to my "Beats for Studying" station on Pandora when a tune from Zelda, as played on the violin by Taylor Davis, came on. I loved it. I'm a nerd. I'm cool with that. 

Anyway, I thought I'd share. Here are some sweet videos from both Taylor Davis and Lindsey Stirling playing violin (they're both excellent musicians!):

Gerudo Valley (Taylor Davis)

A Zelda Medley (Lindsey Stirling)

A Zelda Medley (Taylor Davis)

And then one more; this one isn't from Zelda, but rather is Taylor Davis playing "The Hanging Tree" from the film The Hunger Games: Mockingjay. It's pretty freaggin' awesome.

The Hanging Tree (Taylor Davis)

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Getting Back to Martial Arts Training!

Amanda and I posing for a photo; taken in 2008 by Stace Sanchez of KickPicks

I consider myself to be a lifelong martial artist, but it's been a long time since I trained with an instructor or with other people at a school. My martial arts journey has been a long one, starting from the time I was five. I've realized lately that regular martial arts training is missing from my life. Luckily, Amanda and I recently won a gift certificate for three months of training at a local martial arts school! This week we started training in Goju Ryu karate and Matayoshi Kobudo at Boulder Kodokan. I'm super excited to get back to more regular training.

My Martial Arts History

I started learning martial arts when I was 5 years old. At that time, my father had been training in Tang Soo Do (TSD); he saw my interest and got me involved as well. I trained in TSD through much of my childhood, until getting away from it in my adolescent years. Toward the end of high school, I got back into TSD for a short while before deciding to try out other forms of fighting arts, like Japanese Jujitsu, Aikido and Kenjutsu, and sport kickboxing.

During college, I returned to TSD to join my father and his wife at their new martial arts school in my old hometown. Interestingly, that was at a time when my father and his wife were beginning to transition away from the old school affiliation we'd had (there's a long story there that I'll probably write about some time in the future). My family were also in the process of shifting their training in Tang Soo Do to something more fitting for their goals. During that time, I became very experimental with my martial arts training. I started learning far more about the intelligent application of the martial arts to the real world and my training became a mixture of my knowledge of grappling and kickboxing with Tang Soo Do forms and techniques practiced more like the Shotokan versions. Much of that was thanks to the influence of my father, Master Gene Lau, as well as Master Jay S. Penfil, one of the best martial arts tacticians I've ever met. I also started reading and watching a lot of the work from Master Iain Abernethy, who's work on real-world applications of traditional martial arts is a great resource for any practitioner of the martial arts.

I had a golden period in my martial arts training for a few years where I was teaching at my father's school, Red Lion Karate, while we made a transition toward the Okinawan martial arts (my father now trains in Isshin-Ryu and Kobujutsu). When I first moved to Colorado, I did my best to continue training while looking for a new school. I probably checked out every martial arts school in the area, but all of them were fairly expensive for our finances at the time. A couple years passed by before Amanda and I spent a year training in Krav Maga at Colorado Krav Maga. We love the people who train there, but the drive was long and arduous and added to the expense of our training. It's now been about three years since I've trained in the martial arts (even though Krav Maga is modern combatives more than martial art).

I've been training on my own at home for the last six years, especially with kata and Okinawan weapons, but there's only so much that I can do on my own. Amanda is now working for the Humane Society of Boulder Valley and at a recent auction they held there was a gift certificate up for bidding that offered three months of training for two adults at a local martial arts school. We had to have it! I checked out Boulder Kodokan when we had first moved to Boulder and I really liked the school, but we couldn't afford the training at that time. Now we have the money and the drive to get started again. I've never trained in Goju Ryu karate before, but some bits of Goju Ryu were added to Isshin-Ryu, so I've seen some of what Goju Ryu has to offer. I'm honestly very excited to start training at this school. I started training martial arts 26 years ago, and I feel like it's definitely time to add some new martial arts knowledge and regular training in my life once more. I'll probably start posting a bit more regularly with regard to my training in Goju Ryu; to share the good, the bad, and the "meh" about the style and what I'll be learning.

Stick training on a mountain in Boulder, Colorado

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Book Review: The Science of Avatar

I just finished reading The Science of Avatar by British scientist and science-fiction author Stephen Baxter. It was a most excellent read and definitely a book worth talking about.


The film Avatar blew the socks off audiences worldwide back in 2009. Some people were even noted to have become depressed over not being able to personally experience the world that the film created. You've probably seen Avatar. If not, go watch it. You'll be happy you did, but here's a brief overview anyway:

Quick Summary: Avatar is a story about an ex-marine who travels to a world called Pandora to take control of an avatar, a genetically engineered organism that can be linked to a human "driver's" mind, so that he can interface with the indigenous, intelligent alien species (on whom the avatar is mostly based; though there are human components as well). This indigenous species are a humanoid group who call themselves the Na'vi (they are very reminiscent of various ancient Native American tribes). The ex-marine, Jake Sully, not only interfaces the Na'vi, but befriends (and eventually falls in love) with one of them. The conflict of the story is developed through the exploitation of Pandora's resources and disregard for the Na'vi and other wildlife by a company called RDA (Resources Development Administration) and their militarized force of employees (similar to our modern Private Military Contractors). The story develops as Jake Sully sides with the Na'vi in a battle against RDA and their "offense" forces. This is just a brief review of the story. If you haven't seen the film, go watch it. If you haven't seen it in a while, go watch it. I'll be here.

Seen it? Awesome!

I remember the first time I saw Avatar in the theater and thought to myself, "What a fantastical alien environment they've created here for the audience." I was stunned by the visual beauty and depth of the alien world, Pandora, and its similar-yet-alien biosphere (let's face it, most viewers would have a hard time watching the film if Pandora were truly alien - and so there are creatures that are very similar to life as we know it, and that's okay). I also really liked the story. 

It's a fairly typical story of the technologically-advanced bully wreaking destruction upon the indigenous ecology; we've seen this time and again. Many people made associations between the story of Avatar and that of stories such as Ferngully and Dances with Wolves. The blog Madatoms went as far as to create a rather humorous diagram showing some of the basic comparisons between Avatar with Dances with Wolves, Pocahontas, Dune, and Ferngully:

"Avatar Dances in Ferngully's Dune" from Madatoms

Sure, the story of Avatar was not exactly new, but I think James Cameron and the other creators of the film did an excellent job telling the story within the world they created. They gave us a thrilling look at a possible dystopian future for Earth (briefly), interstellar travel, a new biosphere on an alien world, genetically engineered surrogate organisms that we can literally control with our minds, a possible role of mercenaries in future warfare, and, probably coolest of all, a biosphere where organisms can neurologically link together (thus giving the entire biosphere a "brain/mind" of its own). 

Stephen Baxter did a fantastic job reviewing some of these key points in his book on the science of Avatar. I thought I'd share a few of his ideas as well as mine for each of the major sections of the book. 

Science fiction is often inspired by scientific discovery (and vice versa); The background is a painting by willroberts04 on Deviant Art

The Science of Avatar

Stephen Baxter is a fantastic author of hard sci-fi stories. He has a background in mathematics and engineering, but has made a name for himself by writing science fiction stories with alternate history and future history slants. His approach to The Science of Avatar comes from someone who understands sci-fi but who also has a great bearing on modern science. 

The primary sections of Baxter's book are "Earth", "RDA", "Venture Star", "Pandora", "Hell's Gate", "Living World", "Na'vi", and "Avatar"; these sections discuss the possible future of Earth, the resources extracted from Pandora, interstellar travel, the planetary science related to Pandora, the potential future of human colonization of other worlds, the biology developed for Pandora, the tribe of the Na'vi, and finally the nature of the avatars.

By breaking down the film into some key points, Baxter made it easier to tackle some of the more intriguing ideas that were developed by the film's creators. The book considers everything from the ecology of Pandora to the nature of the fictional resource "unobtainium" (which appears in various science fiction stories and in various forms; in Avatar, unobtainium appears to be a mineral that serves as a superconductor at room-temperature).

Credit: Dylan Glynn
We're only given a brief glimpse of the dystopian future of Earth in Avatar, although Jake Sully gives us an idea of what it might be like: "See, the world we come from, there's no green there. They've killed their mother..." Yes, that's a little vague, but it leads us to imagine a future Earth that has succumbed to global pollution, climate change, and sprawl such that ecosystems have been destroyed globally. 

An early draft of Cameron's Avatar screenplay had intended a bit more detail of future Earth: "Jake stares upward at the levels of the city. Maglev trains whoosh overhead on elevated tracks, against a sky of garish advertising... Most of the people wear filter masks to protect them from the toxic air... It is a marching torrent of anonymous, isolated souls." This sounds like a sad future for Earth, but it is by no means unheard of with regard to science fiction. There have been plenty of sci-fi stories that have considered dystopian futures for Earth (including the films Automata, Mad Max, Blade Runner, 12 Monkeys, Cloud Atlas, Elysium, Looper, and WALL-E). 

The future of Earth in Avatar appears to be one where industrial pollution and overpopulation have finally driven the Earth to the verge of global collapse. However, the real industrial trouble we see in the film is the extraction of resources (namely unobtainium) from Pandora without any regard for the ecosystems or intelligent species who live on that world. 

We currently extract an exceedingly large amount of raw material from the Earth each year to support our industrial, technological, and commercial infrastructure and to provide for the lives that many of us enjoy. It's hard to find good estimates of the actual amount of material we mine, but most numbers I've seen range in the billions to hundreds of billions of metric tons (around 60 billion metric tons of raw material each year sounds like a reasonable estimate). Although some nations have implemented various forms of regulation on mining operations to avoid industrial pollution or the devastation of ecosystems, mining across the globe still causes deforestation, acid mine drainage, and a range of other environmental impacts.

This is the Bagger 288. Like the other Bagger mining vehicles, this sucker is one of the largest land vehicles on the planet.

The Resources Development Administration (RDA) plays the "bad guy" in Avatar. They're developed to fit with the stereotypical image of a mining company or tech company that develops their product with little to no interest for the wellbeing of the ecosystem from which they take their goods. In The Science of Avatar, Stephen Baxter does a fantastic job of considering whether or not this is a potential future for resource development. Baxter mentions some of the current plans for resource development in our solar system, especially from asteroids. Given the potential for resource development organizations to act humanely and with vested interest in more than just profits, it's sad to admit that many times in the history of our species we have pushed forward for our own gain without regard for the rest of the natural world. Maybe our future of exploring new worlds will involve companies like RDA, though I hope by that point we'd learn to act better, especially when encountering new worlds.

The Hallelujah Mountains from Avatar

One of the cooler story points in Avatar is the nature of the Hallelujah Mountains. Much like the the floating island of Laputa in Jonathan Swift's Gullivers Travels, the Hallelujah Mountains fit with a common fantasy of islands floating in the sky, but in Avatar they give these floating mountains a scientific basis. The Hallelujah Mountains are composed mostly of the mineral unobtainium. The creators of Avatar built a backstory for the origination of unobtainium along with the formation of the moon Pandora and the planet it orbits (Polyphemus, in the Alpha Centauri system) - an object (either a planetary body or maybe a neutron star) impacted Pandora early in its formation causing an enrichment in the moon with the mineral unobtainium. As Stephen Baxter points out in the book, though, with a back-of-the-envelope calculation one could see that the magnetic field required to raise the Hallelujah Mountains into the air is thousands of times greater than the magnetic field here on Earth (not only that, but it would be far stronger than the magnetic fields produced by our Sun). Although the film's creators have built a Polyphemus and Pandora system with intense gravitational fields, it's still not likely to be enough to raise the Halleljuah Mountains. However, sometimes the fun of merging science fact with science fiction is having the creative license to push the boundaries of truth a bit. Which might be what the film does with the idea of the avatars.

Jake Sully checks out his avatar in its amino tank

The avatars are pretty sweet. It's not unthinkable that we may be able to port ourselves into created bodies in the future. We're already pushing into more immersive media with improved 3D films, steps towards better virtual reality with tech like the Oculus Rift, and developing CAVE systems (I had the chance to try one of these immersive systems at the Desert Research Institute some years ago). With increasing interest in virtual worlds (like Second Life), I can definitely see people in the future looking to find ways to take on new personae, possibly through the control of another body in the real world. In fact, a pretty fun movie came out not too long ago looking into just that: Surrogates is a 2009 film featuring Bruce Willis which portrays a future where nearly everyone interacts in the real world through surrogate robots. But will we get to the point where we can take control of a biological form like that of an avatar?

Baxter points out in The Science of Avatar that the basic biological structure of the organisms of Pandora does not utilize DNA/RNA and proteins the way that Terran life does. This means that to make an avatar requires an understanding of Pandoran biology to the point of genetically engineering organisms, but, moreso, it requires that the scientists who create the avatars are capable of appropriately decoding human and na'vi heritable traits (not so hard for the human side these days) but then that they be able to logically code these two forms of life together to make a third form that becomes the avatar. It doesn't seem too outlandish, but it definitely would be a huge marvel of science to attain that level of biological engineering. It seems to me that if we were to get to that point then we could easily have fixed Jake Sully's paralysis or even may finally develop gene therapy to the point where we could make it so that human colonists could live naturally on the Pandoran surface.

Avatar ends with Jake Sully having his conscious self fully transitioned from his human body into his avatar body. It's an interesting idea, for sure. Although there really isn't a good reason to believe in dualism (the idea that our physical minds and our conscious selves are different), a lot of people have been wondering lately if we may be able to upload our brains to computers in the near future (neuroscientist Randal Koene wants to see this happen, though there are other who doubt it's even possible). The 2014 film Transcendence, starring Johnny Depp, is one of the more interesting takes on this idea in recent media. Not only does Avatar force us to question whether we could create a newly biological form like an avatar but also whether it would be possible to code everything from the structure of our brains into the brains of one of these organisms. A very intriguing consideration.

The Science of Avatar considers all of these points and more. For instance, Baxter goes into what we currently know about the possibilities for life beyond Earth, the relativistic effects of near speed-of-light travel, the history of rocketry, what we currently know about exoplanets, the potential for terraforming, and more. The Science of Avatar was definitely a fantastic read. It's inspired me to watch the film again (but this time paying a little bit closer attention to the world of the film). I think Baxter could have filled the book with so much material as to make it a tome of information, but he wrote it so that it's accessible to just about anyone and can be read in as little as one sitting. Now that I'm finished writing about the book, I think it's time to watch Avatar again. 

In case reading this hasn't inspired you to watch Avatar again yourself, maybe having a listen to the film's soundtrack will help:

Sunday, May 3, 2015

SAGANet's Mentor of the Month for May 2015

I've been given the honor of being the Mentor of the Month for May by the site SAGANet (the Social Action for a Grassroots Astrobiology Network). SAGANet was founded by early career scientists working within the diverse and vast realm of astrobiology. I've been a member of SAGANet since 10 May 2012. Now, four days after the third anniversary of my joining the site, I will be giving a talk through SAGANet about my current work as a graduate student, focusing a lot on my work in education and public outreach (I think I'll specifically talk a good bit about what I've been doing to become a better public speaker). Anyone can join in and watch the talk online. If you're interested, here is some more information:

"Mentor of the Month" featuring Graham Lau!

When: May 14th at 1PM US Pacific/4PM Eastern/8PM GMT

Where: SAGANLive

Join us for a LIVE one-hour event with SAGANet Scientist-Mentor and PhD student Graham Lau on SAGANLive!

About Graham: Graham Lau earned undergraduate degrees in biology and chemistry from York College of Pennsylvania in 2007. He studied astrophysics and geology at the University of Colorado Boulder before entering a graduate program centered on astrobiology. His doctoral research, funded by the National Science Foundation and NASA, focuses on microbial sulfur cycling in glacial environments. Graham is an accomplished orator, having won competitions in public speaking through Toastmasters International and NASA Famelab. Graham can be followed through his blog, A Cosmobiologist’s Dream (, where he writes about math, science, culture, and the future.

Talk Title: So there I was: Telling stories about our science

Talk Abstract: From standing on the top of a glacier in the Arctic and feeling rather chilly to standing on a stage in front of a large audience and feeling rather nervous, my journey as an early-career scientist has taken me from research in the field and the lab to finding my voice as a communicator of science. I intend to share with you my current work as a graduate student. This includes my current research on microbial sulfur cycling in a High Arctic glacial system as well as my endeavors in public outreach and education.

About the "Mentor of the Month" series on SAGANet: SAGANet is more than just a social network, but also a hub for scientists to engage with the public through our e-mentoring programs. Each month, we feature one of our international cohort of scientist-mentors with a special one-hour event highlighting their scientific and/or public engagement activities. 

There's also some relevant information on the event posted on SAGANet.

If you've been following my blog and now you want to see my face and hear about what I'm doing in life, then come check out SAGANet on May 14th!