Suzanne writes:

Dear Prof. Racaniello and the entire TWiV team (“Hi, everybody”),

Every week I listen to you telling me that you welcome my email, and I am finally writing. I listen to audio books as I drive, and some years ago fiction ceased to hold my interest. I loved science as a child, but I allowed myself to be discouraged by circumstances. I decided that there was no reason not to continue learning now, even though I followed a different path and have had a long career as a librarian, currently at a community college. I always enjoyed helping science students with their research, and I began listening to science books for the general reader: For the Love of Physics by Walter Lewin; several books by Sam Kean; and everything I could find by Richard Feynman. Then I tried one of those audio courses, Unseen Diversity: The World of Bacteria by Betsey Dexter Dyer–I was hooked! I listened to the entire 14 lecture series four times, and continued with her audio course on basic genetics.

Then I discovered your podcasts, which are absolutely fascinating. Of course there was much I did not understand, and it made a huge difference to me that you consider Caleb might be listening, too. As I listened and learned, I decided I wanted to learn more, so last fall I enrolled in a general biology course at my college, and then in the spring I took microbiology. I lived in a constant state of amazement as I learned. I joined ASM and decided to come to Microbe 2016, since I live near Boston, so here I am in the convention center lobby writing to you. I will be attending the TWiM and the TWiV recording sessions while I am here.

In closing, I need to tell you something that is very important to me about your podcasts: I am beginning to understand how scientists think and how they work together, asking questions and solving problems. Your passion to communicate science to the general public is incredibly important, and I offer my deepest gratitude to you and your esteemed scientific colleagues.



Lotte writes:

Hello Tvivome! I hope you’re all doing well.

First of all, I am a German civil engineering student and I’d like to thank the TWiX podcasts for helping to keep me sane, especially during my exam periods. (There’s only so much math a normal person can tolerate.)

I like the format, I like the hosts, I like the guests. I like the way you talked about getting more women onto the program during the first episodes – and then you did it. I like how you let your guests talk about the things they do, how they do it, why they do it. A lot of the reporting on women scientists has been about who they are, rather than what they do. For me, an ordinary, curious person who surely is no genius, reading those kinds of accounts made it seem impossible to ever become like those great people. On the other hand, hearing amazing scientists like your guests talk about what they do makes me feel like I want to do what I can, and just see where that takes me.

At the beginning I found the weather a bit annoying, but working my way through the back catalogue (took me two years, I’ve done it!) I realized that it helps to put things into a context. To see the findings discussed that day as findings of that particular time, not some timeless, ethereal quantity which will be true forever. Plus, it helps me get an understanding of how Fahrenheit feels like … ­čÖé

Another point that has been made several times was you checking facts while recording. I think that’s exactly the way it should be done; every single one of you marks the things you say according to how sure you are about their accuracy, how much of it is speculation, how up to date the information is. And you double-check when you are just too unsure. Showing how you do it is teaching people like me how to do it ourselves as well as how to accept the ambiguity and incompleteness of information that is necessarily part of reality.

As for ‘you guys’, there is an easy way to check whether an expression is gender neutral/inclusive, or ‘gender absorbent’ – that is, imagine addressing a group of women. Would you address them ‘you guys’? On the other hand, I don’t think an expression like this by itself is a problem, as long as the people addressed know it is meant to include them. Problems arise when a minority first enters a group and they can’t simply assume they are being included with terms like that; they have to either act on the assumption they are included (and risk being openly rejected when they aren’t), or ask – and asking makes them stand out as if they wanted special treatment.

There’s little I could say about the content of the papers discussed – trying to learn, but I am still a layperson, but I wondered if you might ask Ted what kind of computational skills were necessary for the paper on ERVs?

Heads up to the ‘perpetuum mobile’ Rich chose – you can get that kind of motion with the help of a magnet. Oscillations are relatively good at conserving energy, but the mechanism in question would lose quite a bit at the joints and when transforming potential to cinetic energy and back. Without feeding back energy into the system, the motion should dampen. I would do it with a electromagnet. (Sadly, the creator gives no measurements for the mechanism.)

I wish you a great week and I’m looking forward to the next 150 and more episodes,

Patricia writes:

Hi TWiVists,

You’ve heard all the lovely things I have to say about you before so I’ll keep the glowing part short: I just wanted to mention that I owe you all for a great expansion of my scientific knowledge in both biology and meteorology; I also owe you all for entertaining me for the cumulative months I’ve spent in the tissue culture hood throughout my PhD and now my postdoc, so thanks again for all you do.

The weather in NYC is ah-MAZ-ing – if only we could keep it like this all summer – at a balmy 20 degrees C (dunno what that is in Fahrenheit, I apologize – I just never adapted) with not a cloud in the sky and just a gentle puff of fresh air every few minutes to remind you that a breeze is possible. In the lab, it is currently 17 degrees C with an aggressive blast of cold air from the A/C vent above me.

I’m actually writing with picks that you are welcome to break up across episodes, since there are a few:

First, and most urgently, the NECSS – Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism ( – running May 12-15 in NYC, with all sorts of variations on registration (single day, single event, etc.). If someone’s picked it in previous years, I totally missed it, but I am very excited to go for at least one of the days!

Second, since despite what I assume are your best efforts, you do not produce enough hours of TWi podcasts to fill all my hours in the hood, here are a couple of other podcasts I’m enjoying: I started out with “People Behind the Science” (, where Dr. Marie McNeely, an American neuroscientist, interviews researchers from all walks of science. She’s got a fairly formulaic set of questions (in the episodes that I’ve listened to so far) but the responses are quite interesting. She specifically requests advice for budding scientists from each guest, which I find really informative.

…And having chatted with a labmate about the People Behind the Science podcast, she mentioned that it sounded a lot like the BBC’s Life Scientific, which I then downloaded and fell in love with, and is my last pick ( Jim Al-Khalili is a physicist, and he interviews a lot of high-profile scientists for BBC’s Radio 4. Because of the nature of the people he interviews, he asks a little more hard-hitting questions, and delves into current events and historical conflicts between scientists or disciplines, and so it’s also a very enlightening radio-show-turned-podcast.

All the best, keep up the excellent work!


P.S. My computer went a little nutty yesterday when I was first trying to send this email, so today’s weather is a little less perfect – only 17 degrees C outside, still sunny. The lab A/C has not let up, and thus it is probably closer to 16 degrees C, and no sun ­čÖü

Peter writes:

Greetings TWiV team.

I saw this Ebay listing and thought it may make a listener pick of the week:

Drinker-Collins Iron Lung Respirator Museum Piece Serial No. 345 (built 1937)

This is a museum-quality collectable medical artifact in restored, working condition. The iron lung was invented by Phillip Drinker at the Harvard School of Public Health. This is the oldest iron lung remaining of those manufactured by the Drinker-Collins company (serial #345). Based on seller’s research, less than a handful of these Drinker machines remain, in museums. It was the first iron lung in South Dakota, paid for with community funds raised by the American Legion. It was discovered in a construction yard, purchased by the seller, and initially restored on the History Channel show AMERICAN RESTORATION (episode titled “American Respiration” first aired in 2013). Extensive additional detailed restoration, mostly by the seller, has followed. After the show was filmed, the iron lung was displayed at the Deadwood, SD hospital where it was first delivered in 1937, at the Historic Homestake Opera House in Lead, SD (where funds were raised in 1937 to purchase the respirator), and at The Journey Museum in Rapid City, SD. The machine weighs over 800 pounds, but rolls easily on six casters.


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