Photo:

Alexandra Kamins

Yes!!! Bumped two straight days in the May rowing Bumps!!!! Funny that we spend all this time AVOIDING running into things, and for four days are ecstatic when we do...

Favourite Thing: Discovering things! The best part of science is finding out things that you didn’t know before or, better still, finding out things the WORLD didn’t know before. It doesn’t matter if I’m uncovering unknown bushmeat markets or figuring out just the right mixture for dry ice rockets–I love that thrill of discovery.

My CV

School:

Emory University, Atlanta, GA from 2005-2009

University:

University of Cambridge, 2009-2012

Work History:

Emory-Tibet Science Initiative, India; Goldsmith Veterinary Clinic, Greenwood CO, USA

Employer:

Cambridge Infectious Disease Consortium, University of Cambridge

Current Job:

PhD Student

Me and my work

I look at diseases that can “jump” from one kind of animal to another–including humans.

These diseases that can infect all different kinds of animals are called “zoonotic diseases.” They are popping up all over the world, and can be quite dangerous–anyone heard of swine flu? Ebola? HIV? All of these diseases came from animals, even though they infect people now.

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I look at these fruit bats in Africa, which can carry lots of diseases that can make people sick without affecting the bat at all. One of these diseases, called Nipah virus, has killed hundreds of people over the past ten years in south-east Asia–and now we know that African bats carry the virus! So who might be at risk? I’ve tried to answer that by talking with all sorts of people in Ghana, West Africa, including people who hunt, sell and eat these bats as food. Next, I’ll be actually looking at blood samples from Ghanaians to see if they’ve ever gotten sick from something a bat gave them. I’m a PhD student in a fabulous team from the University of Cambridge’s very own Infectious Disease Consortium. We have vets who look at the bats and what diseases they have, statisticians who navigate the crazy world of numbers, modelers who try to predict things like what the spread of a disease will be across a whole population, public health people who try to make guidelines and policy to manage disease risk, and social scientists who check out how people might be impacted and how their behaviour affects their risk of getting a disease.

As for more about me, I’m proudly from Colorado, USA–think sun and snow! My dear 1/2 ton truck and a winter day…

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I graduated last year from Emory Unversity, in Atlanta, GA, with a BS in biology. My profile picture is me with my aphids that I studied for my honors thesis, looking at whether ladybird beetles took up any of the helpful bacteria carried by the aphids I fed to them. I believe whole-heartedly in a need for “one health”–animal, human and environment. I’ve studied  in Namibia, Botswana, Kenya and now Ghana, looking at just how interconnected we all are.

I am also a huge advocate for good science communication; I’ll be the first to admit that scientists are some of the worst communicators out there…maybe only outstripped by politicians. Writing for my university’s science magazine, Hybrid Vigor, let me play with telling complex scientific stories in a fun, clear way. But probably my most beloved outreach work was in Dharamsala, India, where I was lucky enough to helping Emory in implementing a science program for the Tibetan monks in exhile there. Anyone who thinks science and religion are incompatible (…like half the US…) should spend a month in the stretches of the Himalyas. Here they are running their very own science exhibition:

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On more personal notes, I’m madly in love with an ex-Rescue Swimmer (anyone seen ‘the Guardian?’)  business man named Dave Dobias, whom I’m plotting to marry as soon as I’m done with my PhD. Luckily, he’s in on the scheme.

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I’m a hardcore day-dreamer who dabbles in art and writing, but I can’t sing a single proper note. Just like all of us are connected, art and science aren’t as far apart as you think! Here’s a piece I did for my science illustration class:

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My favourite hobby is riding horses, and the thing I probably miss most about home is my horse Noah!

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My Typical Day

A typical day could be anything from crunching numbers on my computer to chasing fruit bats down the streets of Ghana, West Africa…

My time is split between Cambridge and Ghana. I usually spend about a month at a time in Africa, where I carry out my interviews, check out the market places where bats are sold, track down bat hunters, or help gather blood samples from the bats. Here I am with one of the wonderful vendors in a bushmeat (wild animal meat) market in Ghana:

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If you want a little snipet of a typical interview day in Ghana, please feel free to check out this blog post I wrote in December: http://thekokopellipub.blogspot.com/2009/12/field-work.html

In Cambridge, my computer and I have some serious bonding time as I process all the information I’ve collected so far! I will also meet with my advisors and supervisor to discuss what I’ve find out, attend seminars (and occasionally fall asleep if it’s an immunologist…), check in with all of our collaborators and continue to plan the next phases of the research. I write up my findings once I’ve crunched all the numbers to smithereens (a very scientific word). I just finished up my first year report, and am currently working on my first two journal papers ever. I’m so excited about submitting them! Besides the fact that papers published in official scientific journals are the currency of academic research, I’m thrilled to have the chance to share my work with all the scientists across the globe.

What I'd do with the money

Make sure that students get to EXPERIENCE science, not just memorize it.

Science isn’t textbooks. It’s not lists of data, looking at diagrams, or even memorizing names and facts (don’t tell your teacher!) Science is the amazing process that we use to find out all about the world around us. We may use charts or numbers to explain an idea, but at the end of the day, science is all about a burning question and the fantastic quest to answer it. The only way to really understand science is to DO IT. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s hard, complicated or expensive to really get to practice science. I would use the £500 to expand the efforts such organisations like “CHaOS” at Cambridge, which travels to schools all across the UK to give students the chance to play hands-on with science. I want develop easy-to-use extras that teachers can add to a science lesson to help students see the scientific process of questioning, testing, revising and testing again. Understanding science is so important, even if you have no interest in being a scientist. Someday you might have to vote on a stem cell research law, decide if a genetically modified apple is safe to eat, understand a severe weather prediction, or even use some crazy new version of the internet that you access by thinking about it! Science is behind all these things, and you’ll want to know how scientists figured it all out.

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You really never know where science can take you. This is the Temple of Poisedon, on the edge of the Greek sea. I was here with three other young scientists setting up an exchange program between the science centres of Univsersity of Crete and Emory University. Never stop exploring!

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

I’m a creative, tenacious Tigger

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Why make me choose?! I like almost everything but sappy country songs, rap with no melody, and jazz with no beat.

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Live 22 years on earth.

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

That I win a Nobel Peace Prize for the improvement of people’s lives everywhere from my scientific work, that I spend the rest of my life with Dave Dobias, and that I’m as tough and strong as Demi Moore in ‘G.I. Jane’!

What did you want to be after you left school?

A vet that saved the world. Or maybe a professor. Or a disease detective that helped stop the next pandemic. Or a brilliant author. Luckily, I’m still in school, so I’ve got some time to figure it out.

Were you ever in trouble at school?

Nope. I was one of those annoying goody-two shoes. But I always wanted to drop flour off this great five-story open staircase in chemistry and ignite it…

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

Have a 10 year old student grin and say, “Wow! I never had someone explain electricity like that to me before. I really get it now!!”

Tell us a joke.

Heisenberg was speeding down a road, and got pulled over by a cop. The cop swaggers up to Heisenberg’s car and demands, “Do you know how fast you were going?!” Heisenberg begs, “Don’t tell me! I’ll pay the ticket!! Just don’t tell me!” The cop says, “You were going 90!” Heisenberg swears, “Crap. Now I don’t know where I am!” (If you don’t laugh heartily, go look up the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. If you still don’t laugh, let your inner geek out!)