A new kind of science blog


On the first day of the new academic year, an ambitious new blog hit the ground running. ScIU: Conversations in Science @ Indiana University is a brand-new tool for connecting with life in the lab at the IU College of Arts and Sciences.

Spearheaded by the assistant dean for research and director of science outreach in the College Jo Anne Tracy, the project had instant buyin from a remarkably dedicated group of graduate students, several from PBS, ready on cue to convey their passion for the research and ideas behind what they, their mentors and collaborators do as scientists. The hope is to spark a genuinely two-way conversation, which will enable those on both sides of the computer screen to learn more about the other’s views.

As Tracy sees it, its purpose is “not just to ‘talk about’ science but to actively solicit from those outside of the scientific arena what they would like to know from scientists and how scientists can help them make informed decisions in their lives.”

“One of the wonderful things I have learned from this project,” adds Tracy, “is that graduate students are very aware of the importance of engaging the public in science and of their role in creating a science-literate public. They want the opportunity to write about science for this purpose and I am really gratified that I stumbled on a means to help them do so.”


Take the blogpost of PBS graduate student Noah Zarr, who gives us a tantalizing peek into the PBS Cognitive Control Lab and a quick overview of what cognitive neuroscience is all about, as a field “concerned with the structures and processes in your brain that allow you to think, act, and understand the world.”

Zarr likewise sees the blog as a way to remember “what it was like before I took so much of the discipline for granted, as well as a way to inform the wider community about our work, maybe even attract some curious undergraduates to the field.” More likely, perhaps, he also sees it as a way to entice readers “to spend just a few extra minutes considering the implications of psychology and neuroscience to our lives and to society.”

Or take PBS grad student Rachel Skipper’s blogpost, which highlights the cutting-edge research in the department, exploring links between gut microbiota and the brain. The community of microbes in the gut are not only necessary for digestion; they also influence social and emotional behaviors.

The research – supported by an NIH grant awarded to PBS faculty, Jeff Alberts, Chris Harshaw and Cara Wellman and biologist Greg Demas – has significant real-world implications for the many infants placed in neonatal intensive care units every day in the U.S. and elsewhere.

For Skipper, “The creation of ScIU has been a fun process. I’m always looking for opportunities to participate in scientific outreach, and this project is an especially interesting one. Writing less formally and for a new audience, I’ve also enjoyed reading submissions from other graduate students who write for the blog. We’ve posted a lot of cool stuff so far, and there’s more to come!”

Hoping to incite questions, concerns and curiosity, as they say, “we may be your neighbors, your instructors, and your colleagues, but we also aim to foster a passionate discussion about science among everyone at IU with an interest.”

Go to blogs@iu.edu/sciu to learn more and to read new posts every Tuesday morning.