Raised in Sydney, Australia, Archa Fox became interested in molecular biology during high school. “I have a clear memory of that moment when I realized that my science teacher couldn’t answer my question to the level at which I needed an answer, which was a bit of an epiphany. It really made me think about going to a molecular level of understanding biology,” she says. Fox went on to get a bachelor’s degree from the University of New South Wales and a PhD at the University of Sydney before going abroad to do a postdoc in Angus Lamond’s lab at the University of Dundee in Scotland. There, she had little idea that the first project she worked on would lead to the discovery of an entirely new cell component, the paraspeckle.
“I think maybe a lot of people feel at the beginning of their postdoc that they’re casting around trying to find things to do, things to work on,” she says. “I actually had written an application to go to [Lamond’s] lab to work on a completely different project to the one that I ended up working on. So I did feel like a fish out of water at the beginning.” In 2006, she moved back to her home country and started her own lab at the University of Western Australia in Perth, where she has been studying paraspeckles ever since. Outside of the lab, she enjoys hiking—or bushwalking, as she calls it—with her son and daughter. “I’m really fortunate to live in a part of the world where we have amazing weather,” she says, but adds that there are professional tradeoffs to her Australian locale: “It takes four weeks sometimes for an antibody to arrive,” she says. Read more about her paraspeckle discovery on page 34.
When Emily Makowski was in eighth grade, she wrote a news article as an assignment in English class. The piece impressed her teacher, who suggested she would make a good journalist. But Makowski didn’t think much of the recommendation until years later. She was shy as a 14-year-old, she explains, and “I never really pictured myself interviewing people.”
Later, though, while working as a technician in a biology lab after graduating from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland in 2016, Makowski began to warm up to the idea. “I studied mouse retinas, and I remember I would annoy all my coworkers with random facts about eyes, like I would tell them about how scallops can have 200 eyes,” she says. “I realized that I was just interested in so many more things than I could focus on in one lab.” She began doing some freelance science writing on the side. A few years later, she entered MIT’s graduate program in science writing, which she completed this September, just before starting her internship with The Scientist.
Makowski enjoys conducting interviews and asking scientists about their work, but her favorite aspect of science writing, she says, is “being able to translate complex scientific terms into ones that are easier for people to understand. . . . Science is so cool, but I think sometimes people don’t know where to begin.”
Immunologist James C. Zimring was inspired to write his first book by the students in a class he taught on scientific methodologies in experimental biology. First at Emory University and later at the University of Washington, students “really didn’t want to know how to do a Western blot, how to do PCR, how to do flow cytometry,” he says. “They were more interested in questions of a kind of an epistemological nature,” such as how scientific claims to knowledge are generated and where errors in understanding come from. He set out to write course notes for the students to help answer their questions, and in the process realized that the same questions that plagued them in the classroom were responsible for the disconnect between science and the lay public. The project evolved into a book both for students of science and for a general audience. That book, What Science Is and How It Really Works, was published in September.
Zimring, who joined the University of Virginia faculty in July after seven years at the Bloodworks Northwest Research Institute and the University of Washington, says conflicting narratives about the value and methods of research add to society’s confusion about how to interpret and weigh scientific claims. “For at least the past several decades, the debate about science has been carried out by those who are not involved in science itself. It’s very damaging,” he says. “I think it’s time—long past due, actually—that scientists themselves get involved in the debate directly, which is what I’m trying to do.”