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Joy today: Learning scientific writing

Sharing a big accomplishment. This semester in my biomimicry grad program, I’m just beginning to learn scientific writing. The past few weeks of assignments have been tough for me because I’m so used to writing for the public with a lot of focus on the poetry of storytelling.

But for scientific writing, you have to really dive right into the science and then find some small ways to weave storytelling into it. It’s been a bit of a painful mind shift for me. In fact, I was *just* speaking about this with my friend and mentor Ken Lacovara today. (To be honest, I was whining about it, and Ken graciously listened.)

Well I just got back my grades this week after turning in writing assignments about hagfish slime and tree communication. (Huge hat tip to Alie Ward, Ed Yong, and Smithsonian Magazine whose work I used as reference sources!) Perfect marks. I. AM. GETTING. IT!!

If you’re interested, here are the intro paragraphs of these 2 pieces of work:

Hagfish are eel-shaped marine animals. When threatened, they produce gallons of slime in seconds that is a modular and nested mass of protein threads that are ~1 to ~3 microns in size. For comparison sake, a human hair is ~50 microns and the human eye can only see an object that is over ~40 microns. Because these threads are so fine, the hagfish slime is able to get into all of the crevices of its attacker’s mouth and gills, rendering them unable to function while the hagfish makes its escape. If we were able to harvest the hagfish slime, or perhaps replicate its structure and composition in some way, it would produce incredibly soft fabric that would be softer than anything on the market today because of its incredibly fine modular protein threads, nested side by side, making it 100,000 times softer than Jell-O.

Trees are able to self-organize and communicate with one another via chemical processes. They use these processes to warn each other about dangers nearby. They share resources. They nurture their young and their injured neighbors. These tree processes are nearly invisible to the human eye and human experience. To see them and understand them, we need to dig deeper into the root systems and the biochemical process that plants use to communicate and help one another. In short, their process of photosynthesis gathers and uses light energy to convert carbon dioxide and water into sugar. These sugars can then be stored, transported throughout the tree, or converted into energy that the tree can then use to nurture all the processes of its own cells, communicate with other trees, or nurture other trees. This chemical call and response between trees communicates needs and those needs are then in turn met by neighbors. As it turns out, a lone tree would have a hard time being successful on its own. So while it’s doing everything it can to help itself, it’s also organizing with its neighboring trees to help them all survive and thrive as a whole. Like us, they’re stronger together.

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