A Blog Around The Clock

Survivorman! Interview with Aaron Rowe

Aaron Rowe writes for WIRED Science blog and we have first met at the Science Blogging Conference three weeks ago.

Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Who are you?

I am an Eagle Scout, doctoral student in biochemistry, colossal foodie, storyteller, and amateur comedian. My recreational tastes are far from the mainstream. I don’t enjoy watching sports, drinking alcohol, eating meat, amusement parks, or loud music.

Most of my hobbies could be described as constructive — cooking, writing, making videos. What I want to do more than anything is assist, educate, entertain,
and protect people.

The topic of my research is electrochemical aptamer biosensors — DNA that can identify tiny molecules quickly. Previously, I have worked on the organometallic synthesis of testosterone analogs that inhibit the enzyme aromatase.

My favorite hobby is science blogging. I have always loved sharing the things that excite me with other people. Also, I have a very strong desire to improve science education.

What’s your story?

I grew up watching Mr. Wizard on Nickelodeon and fell in love with chemistry from a very early age. It also helped that my parents subscribe to Science News and often leave it lying around in the bathroom. Sometime before the first grade, I begged my grandmother to buy me a chemistry set. Perhaps due to some arrogance on my part and the influence of my peers, I gravitated away from biology and toward engineering in High School. That was a mistake. It took years of
reading popular science magazines like Wired, Scientific American, Chemical and Engineering News, and Discover to realize that my true love is the molecular life sciences.

And, what do you really do?

On a typical work day, I wake up, go to lab and do hours of benchwork while reading news and scientific literature between experiments, try a new restaurant at lunchtime or on the way home from work, then read some more literature and chat with friends while blogging.

On a longer timescale: Give tons of unsolicited advice. Read lots of scientific literature within and outside of my field. Worry about my friends and family. Have tons of ideas. Follow technology news religiously. Make tons of dry, twisted, or silly jokes. Visit ethnic grocery stores. Watch independent films. Go camping in the desert. Listen to unsigned bands on KCRW — a public radio station. Deviate from established scientific procedures with the hope of finding a better way to do things.

Oh, and how did the conference blow your mind and change your life?

It was one of the few times when I have met so many people that feel like my brothers and sisters. Simply reflecting on some of those amazing connections has nearly brought me to tears.

For example, Bill Hooker and I began a very energetic conversation about the topic of my research. His questions were extremely insightful and it made me think that blogger scientists are, figuratively speaking, the spiritual descendants of those great researchers throughout history that zealously communicated with one another through letters. Blogging is sort of the next step in the evolution of scientific communication, and those scholars who have a knack for collaboration are drawn to it.

i-9553631b1f1d71c702527b216b6dbb58-Aaron Rowe Interview pic.JPG

What do you want to do/be when you grow up?

In short, an accomplished writer and a scientist that very directly helps people.

Vernor Vinge, Ben Stein, Ben Franklin, Craig Hawker, James Economy, Kevin Plaxco, and Isac Asimov are some of my role models. Vinge won a Hugo award while holding down a faculty position in computer science. Stein has a graduate degree in economy and quite a Hollywood career. Ben Franklin was a true Renaissance man. Craig Hawker and James Economy returned triumphantly to academia from industry. Plaxco wrote a book on Astrobiology and published game changing papers in two very different fields of molecular life science. Asimov was both a science communicator and a fantastic storyteller.

Some of my close friends have also been tremendously important role models, but they don’t seem to have noticed yet. :)

Perhaps I will eventually be a professor that writes popular science books and contributes creative content to television, video games, and new media. My best guess is that my road to a tenure track position will be very far from traditional. Before pursuing an academic job, I will be a professional writer, science reporter, and work in the molecular diagnostics industry.

Although I am single right now, my best bet is that eventually some girl will be silly enough to marry me. Betting odds are that she will be a scientist. It really sucks that female scientists often get stuck following their male counterparts around. Since my career plans are pretty flexible, that norm will end with me.

When and how did you discover science blogs?

The first science blog that I read was Bodyhack on the Wired website. Since high school, I have loved the magazine. When I started visiting the site regularly, I already had a keen interest in tissue engineering and hoped that it might offer some information about that subject.

Reddit brought me to the Seed scienceblogs. While perusing the front door, the Retrospectacle blog jumped out at me because it is about neuroscience. One of the stories looked familiar because it had been on BoingBoing just days beforehand. After reading four posts and the sidebar, I was completely hooked.

What are some of your favourites?

The Chem Blog
Carbon Based Curiosities
Retrospectacle
Nobel Intent
Nanoscience and Nanosociety

Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while at the Conference?

Pondering Pikaia is off to a good start
The INFO Project blog is fantastic
Research Blogging

Is there anything that happened at the Conference – a session, something someone said or did, a new friendship – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?

Deepak Singh is cool beyond words. Some people know a little about everything. He knows a lot about everything and is a very unpretentious guy.

Moshe Pritsker, the co-founder of JoVE, is incredibly selfless and creative. Just before going to the airport, I offered him a ride to brunch. He did a quick calculation and decided to take the hotel shuttle instead. If he had accepted my offer, which would have undoubtedly been more comfortable for him, there is no question that I would have missed my flight. Also, he seems very humble and receptive to suggestions — no matter who they come from.

And now a special movie for my readers:

We made it for a Discovery Channel spoof contest and were picked as semifinalists. Unfortunately, they did not show it on television. My costars are Steve London, who was my 9th grade English teacher, and the potheads are played by his two sons Zack and Josh.

It was so nice seeing you at the Conference and thank you for the interview.

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Check out all the interviews in this series.

Comments

  1. #1 Paul Shin
    February 16, 2008

    Aaron is a unique individual and an all-around kind of guy. I have had the pleasure to chat with him personally on a wide range of subjects and find him open minded and quite knowledgeable in his own right. Very nice interview Aaron!

  2. #2 Nissim Salem
    February 17, 2008

    What Aaron fail to mention is that he’s also have a black belt in Karate.

  3. #3 Coturnix
    February 17, 2008

    Ha! So do I. We should have practiced at the Conference.

  4. #4 Deepak
    February 17, 2008

    I think I am going to frame that quote and show it to my wife :). Thanks Aaron. It was wonderful spending time chatting with you, and hopefully not for the last time.

    Deepak

  5. #5 bill
    February 17, 2008

    I get “no longer available” when I click on the video.

  6. #6 Coturnix
    February 17, 2008

    Hmmmm, it’s playing for me….

  7. #7 bill
    February 18, 2008

    Huh, now it’s working for me too. Might be something about my home computer (I’m at work now).

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