Last Friday the Burke Museum hosted FOSEP’s inaugural 1000 Word Challenge with fantastic results. Just under 200 people were in attendance, and the grand prize winner by Yasmeen Hussain included, “Some man things are better at listening than others. I want to know if the man things that are better at listening are also better at making babies.”
The 1000 Word (or ten hundred word to be exact) Challenge was born out of the XKCD comic strip Up Goer Five, a very successful attempt at using only the 1000 most common words to describe the blueprints of the NASA rocket Saturn V. Geneticist Theo Sanderson created a text editor that tells if each word typed is one of the 1000 most common words (and thus allowable), and soon scientists around the world were challenging each other to describe their own research using only these 1000 words. The Burke Museum was already planning an end-of-the-quarter happy hour and invited FOSEP to hold their 1000 Word Challenge during the event.
FOSEP received almost 40 individual entries from across the campus, from researchers in atmospheric science to biology, from anthropology to applied materials science. David Domke (professor and acting chair for the Department of Communication at the University of Washington (UW)), Alaina Smith (Director of External Affairs at the Burke) and Andrea Cohen (Museology Program Assistant at the Burke) served as the judges for the event.
On Friday afternoon, the judges narrowed down the entries to the top 15. These 15 contestants were then each given an opportunity to share both how they would normally describe their research at a scientific conference and how they describe their research using only the 1000 most common words in the English language. Contestants were judges on three criteria: Language – Does the entry convey the work of the grad student in a clear and concise manner, using the 1000 words in an economical and grammatically correct fashion? Style – Does the entry go beyond clear word choice to incorporate humor, prose, rhythm or other elements of style to good effect? and Presentation – Does the candidate present their entry effectively? Considerations are enunciation, volume, posture, and dress?
The winners were as follows:
Grand prize ($100 to University Bookstore) – Yasmeen Hussain, Graduate Student, Biology
Use of Language – Kate Allstadt, Graduate Student, Earth and Space Sciences
Style – Jonathan Calede – Graduate Student, Biology
Presentation – Brandon Peecook, Graduate Student, Biology
Yasmeen at a scientific conference: I study the link between sperm chemotaxis and fertilization success. Eggs in animals such as sea urchins release chemicals that act as sperm attractants. Sperm use chemotaxis – that is, orientation towards the source of a chemical gradient – to find the eggs. However, it is unknown whether sperm chemotaxis directly contributes to reproductive success.
Yasmeen’s 1000 entry: I study tiny things that are man and woman parts of an animal. The woman part talks and the man part listens. The tiny things have a conversation so that they can find each other and make babies. Some man things are better at listening than others. I want to know if the man things that are better at listening are also better at making babies.
Kate at a scientific conference: I study small earthquakes at Mount Rainier that occur in week- to month-long swarms of up to thousands of the same earthquake that repeat at regular intervals. These earthquake swarms closely resemble the type of seismicity that can precede a volcanic eruption, but I have found that the earthquakes occur when heavy snow falls on the mountain and are actually generated by the glaciers reacting to the additional load. Now I am trying to find easy ways to discriminate glacially generated repeating earthquakes from those that could be a sign of a reawakening volcano.
Kate’s 1000 word entry: I study noises made by big rocks that were built by hot stuff bursting out of the ground long ago to see if more hot stuff is going to burst out of the ground and maybe kill some people. Sometimes big blocks of ice moving around on these big rocks make the same kinds of noises as when hot stuff is about to burst out, so I am trying to figure out how to tell which is which and when.
Jonathan at a scientific conference: The goal of my work is to investigate the taxonomic affinities of the Cabbage Patch fauna (Montana) with adjacent biogeographic regions and ecomorphological disparity across paleocommunities at the dawn of modern mammalian communities. To this end, I am building a community-wide dataset of taxonomic, taphonomic, and ecomorphological characteristics for the coeval Arikaree Group (Great Plains) and John Day Formation (Oregon). The drastic changes in global climate and the heterogeneous spread of grasslands in North America associated with the transition from archaic Eocene to modern Miocene faunas make this turnover particularly relevant to understanding the evolutionary interplay between habitat and mammalian communities and the assembly of modern mammalian communities. I undertake field work in Cabbage Patch to collect additional fossils and geological data to validate the biological analyses.
Jonathan’s 1000 word entry: I study what’s left of groups of hair-having animals that lived a really long time ago near where we live now. I study these groups of hair-having animals because they are more like the hair-having animals we have today than the hair-having animals that lived even longer ago. They are also interesting because they lived at a time when stuff was happening and it was getting warmer, then cooler, then warmer. Today, it’s getting warmer and warmer. If we understand what happened to these really old hair-having animals when stuff happened, we might be able to know stuff about the hair-having animals we have today.
How can we learn about stuff from these old hair-having animals? I find what’s left of the hair-having animals in rocks, give them a name, and put them in groups. I do that for different places that are kind of close to one another. I end up with many names and different groups for each place. Then I look at how different the groups and names are from one place to another. I want to know if some of these places shared animals with the same name or same groups.
I hope that by understanding how different hair-having animals are across the land and how that was coupled with shit happening we can tell how those groups of animals were put together and worked as a team (in which your friends eat you and you die and end up in rock).
Brandon at a scientific conference: I study the recovery patterns of terrestrial tetrapod assemblages in the wake of the end-Permian extinction, 252 million years ago in southern Pangaea. My research focuses on the timing of the extinction recovery and its taxonomic make-up. I also study life history traits, such as growth rate, in some of the post-extinction taxa (Dinosauriformes).
Brandon’s 1000 word entry: I know what you’re thinking. A man who studies dead animals looks at boring bodies all afternoon. Wrong! I use dead animals, and I mean really dead, like dead for a long, long time, to ask fun questions about life’s past. I look at how times of big death change the number and kind of animals known from a place. How long after the time of big death until groups of animals are back to normal? Are they still the same type of animals? I also study the relationships between the animals. Some of the really dead animals I study are the favorite really dead animals of many people. That means I get to have fun talking about my work with them!
The following are the additional entries for the 1000 Word Challenge. Thank you to everyone who participated and helped make this an amazing event! FOSEP would like to thank the Burke Museum, especially Carl Sander, the judges, and the Museology program for donating the wine! The event was so successful and so much fun that FOSEP plans to make this an anual event!
Renee Agatsuma – Public Health Genetics
I look at people who get sick and can’t move well, lose moving control, sometimes can’t walk straight or well, and sometimes do not have a good memory. I want to know why. Is it from their family or from what they do in their life? Are those people also more able to get sick with other things? Why might they get sick with other things?
Shelly Arreguin – Materials Science & Engineering
I break large pieces of matter into many small pieces, so I can make a larger single piece as a part that will be used in getting cleaner, safer, longer lasting power. I make these pieces such that they are very hard, can get very hot and handle very strong forces. I will then break them and look at pictures that show how they cracked and what parts of the cell was knocked out from these forces. This is important in understanding how they will work when used under these situations. This work will help make the world a clean, green place to live.
Mackenzie Barton-Rowledge –
I study the tiniest things that still are a little bit heavy. In stars that are getting really, really big really, really fast, these things are made and they change from one type to another. There might be some new types that have not been seen before, but if they change into the other types too easily, they could take the power times time from the star too fast. I try to figure out which numbers are okay and which are not okay for saying how these new things change types.
Sara Bender – Oceanography
I study how single cells in water grow when food is low to better understand why these beautiful animal-like tiny trees rock the house in huge bodies of water near land.
Hilary Bethancourt – Anthropology and Epidemiology
I study how what we eat kills us, and I question whether we would live longer and feel better if we ate the food early humans ate. I think many people are wrong about what they say we should eat, but I also think humans are able to handle a lot of new and strange foods. The question is which new foods are bringing us to our death the quickest.
Matthew Blosser – Physics
I study the bags that cells come in (that give cells an inside and an outside). They are very large in two directions, but small in the other one, about one part in a hundred hundred of a human hair. They also move easily in the two large directions, like water. One interesting thing they can do is to make areas that are different on the same bag. Many people think this is important for life. I study how things are different when different parts of the bag can change each other from far away from each other. I find that there is not a big change to how the bags form different areas, which people did not expect. I do this by studying very simple bags, much more simple than those found in life.
Bonnie Brown – Atmospheric Sciences
Knowing where a strong ring of winds with an eye over the water is going to go is easier than knowing how strong the ring of wind will be. I make wind rings on a computer many times that could all be real but are a little different. I then use the numbers from all of the rings made by the computer to find smaller areas that are important for how strong the wind will be. I change the important areas and make new rings of wind with the computer and check how strong and how different the new rings are.
Samantha Byrnes – Bioengineering, Global Health
I am making new ways to tell if someone is sick without needing to go to the doctor. These new ways are fast, can be used at home, and people don’t need a lot of money to get them.
Stephanie Cruz – Anthropology-SocioCultural
I study the people who take care of dead bodies when they die. These people sometimes make plans and talk in a way about those dead bodies that set the way other people think about the dead. They are making most people think and ask, is a dead body still a person? When do people stop calling them persons and use them as things in their studies?
Miranda Fix – QERM
I study different ways to find out how much of the sun’s light ends up under a stand of trees, because we want to know which way is better. I also ask questions like: what kind of light is it and where does it go? Are the answers different on bright days and dark days? If we know how much light is in this spot, how well can we guess how much light is in that spot? Does it also tell us how many baby trees will grow in these places? Having answers to these questions can give us ideas for managing stands to control the light given to baby trees, so that we can have happy trees for our children and their children.
Ivan F. Gonzalez – Physiology and Biophysics
Pain keeps you away from things that can kill you. But sometimes you feel too much pain even when nothing really bad happens. What went wrong with your pain sense?
I study cells in your body that tell your brain about pain, trying to find some answers to that question. I do not use people to study this; I grow easy-to-grow cells in hot boxes, writing changes in their inner plan book to make them have children that look like pain cells, not like their parents. I also make them have children with parts of different colors, so I can see them move inside the cell in bigger-than-real moving pictures. I want to learn what makes them change, responding to the outside world either with too much or too little pain. For that reason, I put those cells in water with food and then change things that may make the cells start responding outside what is normal (a safe guess, thanks to earlier work). I then take pictures and see what parts of the cell move, while touching the cell with a glass stick paired with a computer that shows me what would the pain cell say to your brain. Finally, after watching the moving parts of the cell that seem to be important for pain, I try to control them to make pain either go away or become bigger. I hope this study will clear the road for helping people that feel too much pain all the time.
Shivani Gupta – Bioengineering
I work on a part of a cell that sticks, that comes from a tiny animal found in your stomach and your shit. This part sticks to sweets in a cool way, so that when you try to pull it away, it actually sticks stronger. My group is trying to figure out how this works so that we can use this cell part to make other things, like something that helps you figure out if you’re sick when you can’t ask a doctor. We’re also changing this cell part so that it sticks to more important things, and trying to control how and when it can stick to that thing. When we make these new cell parts, we end up with hundreds and hundreds of cell parts that may or may not stick the way we want them to. So, my job is to make a faster way to better pick out the cell parts that do stick the way we want, and to the things we want them to stick to.
Anders Hansen – Physics
My friends and I look at the very small things that all the other things in the world are made of. When these tiny things are as warm as this room, they move really fast and it is hard to see them. Instead, we make them very cold, using bright light that moves in straight lines. This bright light makes them much, much colder than anything else. When the tiny things go slow, we can play with them using other bright light. We also see how they play with each other. Sometimes we use the things that stick to the outside of the food box in the kitchen. When we show this to the very small things, they play with each other even more! Sometimes they make tiny best friends and they hold hands, because they see the food box things. That makes us happy!
Bryce Harrop – Atmospheric Sciences
When the soft, white things in the sky turn dark, we know it is about to rain, but have you ever thought about how cold the things that make the rain are? At the top, these big, dark things are very cold. So cold, in fact, that the wet parts turn to ice. It turns out that we don’t expect these things to get warmer or colder years from now. Where the air is clear, it cools down because of the water in it. This water is also in the air form, and is very good at cooling the air. Cold air, however, is not very good at holding air water. If the air gets too cold, it can’t hold much air water and this actually keeps it from cooling down more. In the warm, wet, sun-filled part of the world, the big, dark, rain-making things only go as high as the air water can cool. While other things can help, most of the cooling is set by how much air water there is, which, in turn, is set by how cold the air is. All this means the tops of those big, dark, rain-making things stay just as cold, even if the big body of water under them gets warmer.
Matt Hills – Atmospheric Science
I study how air moves over and around an area of high ground. The air goes up, and if either the high up mean wind is stronger than the mean wind near to the ground, or if there is a warm layer of air over a cold layer of air, or some of each of these reasons, then the air then comes back down as a wave train that grows in space away from the high ground. If there is enough water in the air, we can see the waves. These waves are important because they can change if it is hot, cold, or raining in that area, and even in far away places.
My big work is to study how the waves change in time using a computer, especially how they die, and then explain how it happens. The big thing I have found is that given a mean wind field that changes in time and space, these waves can grow, change and die. I am now looking at other reasons that can cause the waves to die, to see if there is a faster way this can happen than I have already found.
Seyda Ipek – Physics
I study very small bits of matter, which are many ten hundreds smaller than hair. I imagine there are different bits than the ones we know of. I look at how these new bits play with other bits to father yet newer bits and pieces. I sometimes make them roll like a ball to see if their right or left changes. I also make the new bits and the old bits hit each other very hard and fast, and look at where they fly off to. If they like one direction more than the other, now that is interesting! I also study what happens if I make these new bits very hot, and let them cool off while rolling down the side of a bell. This is interesting because it tells us how the biggest place which has hundred hundred hundreds of worlds and stars became to happen after the Big Burst.
Amy Jordan – Anthropology
I want to find out if people were using food to show which group they were in.
A long time ago, some guys in one places wanted some different food that was not in their place, so they went off to some other place and fought the people there. Those guys (“the fighting guys”) and took the land and food stuff of the people in the other place. The people in the other place were killed or made to work for the fighting guys. The fighting guys set up areas in the new place to make more of the food they wanted. The fighting guys sent the food home and got lots of money for it. The fighting guys made other people from a lot of other places work at their new places to make the food.
I want to know if the people from the other places got along with the fighting guys or if they made a new way of life in their new home. I am looking at things people were using to eat with to see what people were eating. Some food was easy to get and some food was hard to get. Some people liked one kind of food better than other kinds of food. I am looking at what was left on the things people were using to make and eat food to see what people were eating and I am trying to find out where those things came from. So far, I have found out that people with a lot of stuff didn’t live in the same place as the people who were working at the food growing areas.
A few years ago, I went to the far away place and I found stuff that people used a long time ago. I looked at three places that people lived. I tried to find the spot that had the most stuff from a long time ago. I brought that stuff home with me and I looked at it. I found how long each piece was and what color it was and what it was made out of. Then I went to a far off land with strange animals that don’t have babies in the woman’s stomach. When I was there, I looked at the stuff left on the broken pieces of the things that people were using to make food using a thing that made other things look bigger. The little things that looked bigger that I saw told me that some people ate one kind of food that I was looking for. In old stories, people with lots of things ate this kind of food. I found the food on pieces of things that the people who had lots of stuff used! This was a good thing. This meant that I might be right about what I though happened a long time ago.
Now, I still have many small things to look at that I have to make bigger. I have to look at things people used to make and eat food from spots in the far away place where people who had lots of things lived. I will be able to tell if people who had lots of stuff ate different food than the people who had very few things. If people who had very few things ate food that was different than the people who had a lot of stuff, it might mean that the people who didn’t have a lot of stuff didn’t like the people who did. It might be that the people who didn’t have a lot of stuff wanted to keep eating the old kind of food that they were used to and didn’t want to eat the food that the new people brought. I still have to find the kind of food that people who did not have a lot of stuff ate so I can look and see if it the same stuff that I am finding on the old pieces of things that they used a long time ago.
It is strange when someone studies the people that don’t have a lot of stuff because for many years, people who wrote books thought that only people who had stuff are interesting. It is also strange to look at people who don’t have a lot of stuff in the part of the world that I went to. But people where the fighting guys came from are interested in what happened a long time ago. And people here (in the US), some of them who had people that were their father’s father’s father who had to come here from far away, are interested in what happened in other places a long time ago when people who did not want to leave their home had to go work somewhere strange to make food or other things for people who had a lot of stuff. In the world today, a lot of people live somewhere that had people who had a lot of stuff who made people who were from far away make stuff so the people who had stuff could buy more stuff. And the people who were working missed their home and their food and their things and tried to make new things in the new land to be like the old things they missed. It is interesting and important to study how people who had to move made a new home in a new land, even when they were sad, and how people who came from far away changed people in the new place they moved to.
Christine Lloyd – Microbiology
Some tiny living things can make us sick when they get into our stomachs (and lower), but others live there all the time and help us get the most from our food. Sometimes, the same ones that help us can hurt us, especially if they end up in the wrong place. I look at what changes happen when the good ones go bad; we hope that we can find out how they make us sick and stop them from doing it (or at least help make it happen less often.)
Karen Michael – Environmental and Occupational Health (SPH)
I study tiny living cells that can live in the air, the ground, water, on tables, in animals, and in humans. We need these cells to live, but they can also make us sick. The cells I look at do not die when given things that are supposed to kill or control them. Continued bad use of the killing things make the cells even harder to kill. This leads to using harder killing things that can make us sick too. It also spends more money. I look for these cells in places where hospitals send clothes-like things that go on beds to and doctor jackets get clean. I want to know how well the clothes get cleaned and how many of the tiny cells are killed.
Tiffany Pan – Anthropology
When mom is having a baby, she and her baby share cells that stay with her for many years. By letting another person’s cells stay in her body, mom is letting her guard down against things that can make her sick. However, because mom can put up with having some of the baby’s cells (which have part of dad) in her body, I think letting her guard down may allow mom to be better at having more babies with the same dad.
Andrew Prendergast – Biological Structure
When you are very little, like not even one day old, there is a group of cells (I’ll call them young cells) that moves around and makes other cells (I’ll call them old cells) as time goes on. The young cells are of one type, but the old cells are of many types.
You see, the old cells can be part of your face and also these cells that make your skin dark or light but it also makes cells that sense pain and touch and when it’s hot or cold. Since there’s so many types of old cells, the young cells have to decide which type they want to be. How do they decide?
There is this stuff inside all cells that tells them what they are more or less. You can think of it as if it were a set of directions, like if you were building a bed out of parts from a bed store (that also has balls made of ground up animal). You would need the directions, or it would be a bad bed and would break. I’ll call this cell direction stuff.
If you take away these directions from cells, they also break, and maybe they don’t know how to become a type of old cell. We can then decide that those directions were important for making that type of old cell.
I work in animals that move in water. They are cool because they don’t think well (not like you or me who think great and use big words) and so I don’t feel bad when I kill them. Also, there are a lot of them and actually, when they are very young you can see through them.
I broke a lot of cell direction stuff in water moving animals, and then looked for animals where the cells that sense pain and touch and hot and cold weren’t there. I found them and called them animals that don’t feel things very well. This was cool because I only broke one tiny piece of cell direction stuff and the animal was missing only one kind of old cell.
Mario Rosasco – Pharmacology
I study how when you shock a cell it takes the shock and makes new things happen inside the cell. I also look at what parts of the cell respond to that shock and what the new things happening inside the cell do to change how the cell responds to more shocks. I think that this will be important in figuring out why the brain gets sick sometimes and how to fix it when it does.
Abigail Schindler – Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
I study how getting drunk when you are young changes your brain. Also how getting drunk when you are young changes how you think about things when you are older.
Whitney Seferos – Anthropology
I want to know about men who make love to men, women who make love to women, and those who are called men or women by others but feel different. I am looking at how having or not having friends, and whether they are sick, can change how these people tell their own life stories.
Corey Snelson – Biochemistry
In the past, I finished a study looking at how the two different sides of the brain were different from the time a baby was a single cell until the time the baby would grow up. Then I started a study to look at how different cells that make you think were different from each other when they came from the same first cell. But there was no money for this study. Now I help another person study how a single cell can turn into two cells and become the kind of cell that can make your body move. From here I hope to change the kind of job I have so that I can work with the people who lead all of us in our land and help them come up with ways to fix problems.
Karen Studarus – Electrical Engineering
We search for the best way to get power from wind, old dead life, far away places, and especially water so that you can turn on your lights or use your computer when you want to.
A few things make the problem harder: Because we can’t store much power at all, we must figure out how to make as much as we use (and use as much as we make!) every minute of the day. Wind power changes fast and surprises us, so we don’t know what power we are working with until the last minute. We want to use our water for many things — not just power. When we can’t do everything we want, how do we decide which people to make angry, which things to break, which animals to kill, which houses to let water into, and which money to lose?
Our work will let the people who manage water and power ask,
“Exactly how sure are we that we can respond to surprises in the next minute, hour or day?” and get good answers in both numbers and pictures.
Chris Terai – Atmospheric Sciences
The soft, white things made of water in our sky can help cool the blue and green ball we live on by kicking the sun light back to space. I study whether these soft, white things in the sky will stick around or die away if there are more tiny bits in the air. Because rain usually kills the soft, white things, I fly through the soft, white things to study whether more of the tiny bits make water drops smaller to form less rain and keep the soft, white things around.
Helena van Tol – Oceanography
I want to understand relationships between small things in the big blue water. Small animals that eat sun light and wear glass boxes are not friends with some smaller animals that eat their shit after killing them. The small mean animals sit on top of the glass box and can not move except by slipping. These relationships are important because animals that wear glass boxes are good for the big blue ball we live on.
Sarah Webster – Applied Physics Lab–Ocean Physics
I work on helping a self-driving under-water-flier know where it is when it is under water. It uses sound that comes from a known place at a known time. The sound carries in it the time it was sent, and the under-water-flier knows when the sound arrived, so it can figure out how far the sounds went by knowing how long the sound took to arrive. The sounds also tells where it came from, which tells the flier something about where it is. Doing this many times from different places lets the under-water-flier guess where it is very well.
Sharri Zamore – Neurobiology and Behavioer
I look at how flies that bite for blood use hot air to find people. Most people look at how flies that bite for blood sense air that come from human mouths, but these flies also can sense hot and cold using crazy hot sense things on their head sticks. No one knows if they can use these hot sense things to find people.
I let these flies move around in a long wind box with a thing that makes air hot, put on one side of the box, and watch where they go using a thing that takes lots of pictures very fast. I can make pictures fly tracks in air to find if they spend more time on the hot side of the long wind box (and how fast the go, and things like that), to see if they pay attention to hot air when they are flying.
I can use these tracks and ways they fly to make a computer fly, which is in a long wind box in a computer, act more like a real fly. This computer fly has brain parts like a real fly, so I can use it to guess what hot and cold the brain parts are using to find the thing that makes air hot.