A guest post today from the lovely Natasha Agabalyan (BSMS doctoral researcher). You can download and read Turned to Stone: Natasha’s New Scientist article [PDF] – with many thanks to New Scientist for allowing us to reproduce this material. Natasha tell’s the story of how all this came about…
I am currently in the second year of my PhD in cell biology and embryology with Professor Darrell Evans. It’s a lab based thesis, which is great as I love feeling like I’m actually physically doing something day to day – even if its killing cells by mistake!
The subject of my thesis is fascinating – and one that even I was not aware of before applying for it. Here’s an interesting fact for you: tendon can turn to bone! And no it’s not a freak of nature, it actually happens in a lot of us on a small scale. If we damage our tendons by over exercising or tearing them by mistake, tendons are not great at repairing themselves like muscles do. They tend to do a poor job, leaving tendons very weak and if that wasn’t enough, can lay down a bone like material within the tendon tissue. This also happens in age, possibly due to repetitive strain on the tissue. What’s more, tendon seems to have been neglected in scientific research: shockingly, not much is known about the general biology and development of tendons. The overall objective of my PhD is to identify the basis of the mechanism that results in the ossification of tendons and find out what role the tendon cell plays in it.
Alongside my research, I am a budding science writer. I have found a passion for writing about science, as it allows me to creatively express my fascination for science! I currently run a blog named The Science Informant in which I explore various science topics, from why we faint to the psychology of appetite. I am also Science Editor of Sussex Newspaper “The Badger” and contribute to various online magazine including “Cosmos Magazine” and “Guru Magazine”.
My article for New Scientist is based around the topic of my research – tissues turning into bone – and gives a broad, up-to-date view of the subject. It covers the incredibly debilitating disease that is FOP (Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva – a genetic disease in which most of your tissues turn to bone), an introduction to tendons and how tendon ossification can affect most of the population in age before reporting on some exciting new therapy prospects being studied at the moment.
A huge amount of work went into writing the 4 page feature – especially as a beginner to the field of science writing and with the rigorous requirements of a magazine such as New Scientist! It started off by my going to a networking event for science communications students up in London. Let me tell you – it was probably the scariest moment of my life! When a pub is filled with people you aspire to work for and talk to, it can be somewhat intimidating! But from that I made some great connections, including with a New Scientist editor. Keen as ever, I sent her an article based around my research topic. It was all wrong for them – length, structure, focus – but she very nicely agreed to guide me through the process of writing something that would fit in the magazine! Exciting! I learnt a great deal whilst writing the feature – not only about writing for New Scientist but about how to interview people, how to grab your readers and how to accept a lot of editing! The feature named “Turned to Stone” was published in December and was the perfect Christmas present: Being published in my favourite magazine has been a huge thrill! I can’t wait to write the next one!