Category: scicomm


Computer Science Is A Lot!

In case you didn’t know, I went back to college for a Master’s in Computer Science. My original degree is Fine Arts. 

But before I can start the Master’s Program, I have to do a bunch of Math and Computer Science Undergrad courses. Calculus, Data Structures, Object Oriented Programming, and so on.

How hard could it be? I’ve made so many Science Raps and watched so many Education Channels–it should be a piece of Cake!

OMG. I was so wrong! Studying Computer Science is so difficult! For me it was not Cake. It was more like Brussels Sprouts.

And just like my experience with vegetables, the discipline for Computer Science is an acquired taste. I had to dedicate a lot of time to studying and doing homework. I got help from tutors, mentors, peers, and professors. I had to make a lot of mistakes in order to succeed.

Now I’m about ¾ of the way done with the Undergrad requirements. I’ll be starting the Master’s Program in the fall!

So if you were wondering what the context and inspiration for my latest video was–now you know!

Hi Mike! I was in your shoes, too! I had a BA in Psychology, but it was really hard to keep finding contracts at Microsoft during the recession (I graduated in 2005) when I was competing with people who had computer science degrees and way more experience.

So I went back for a BS in engineering (I studied chemical) and eventually continued on to a masters in biomedical engineering. But that first term back in school, I had to retake Calculus I, since the last time I took it had been 10 years ago—it had been so long since I had taken a math class that I had to relearn algebra at the same time!

This stuff is HARD, and it’s important for people considering STEM majors to know that if they are struggling, it’s not just them! So thank you for posting this! Before I graduated, one of my undergraduate professors would half jokingly introduce me as the best student in the department, and I often felt like a total idiot in some of my classes.

It’s rare for scientists and engineers to also be effective science communicators, so I’m looking forward to seeing what direction you take as your education progresses!

April 14, 2019

I always wondered about the houses of snails. Do they… create them? Why that shape? Will they essentially die if they were separated from their house or can they like… grow a new one or steal a discarded one like a hermit crab? In that vein: does the house grow with them or do they have to shed it if it gets too small…? 🧐🤔

Great Questions!


iNaturalist links to the above snails for IDs:
Top: [1] [2] [3] Middle: [4] [5] [6] Bottom [7] [8] [9]

Snails are in the class Gastropoda with slugs, and the only difference between the two are that slugs don’t have a shell. But, it’s hard to tell what to to call some species.


This is a Long-tailed Semi-slug from Malaysia (Copyright Arnold Wijker, photo from iNaturalist [link]). It has a shell, but it can’t fully retract into it, so it acts more like a slug. The shell is partially covered by flesh in this photo, but the semi-slug can completely cover the shell with its mantle.

If you go up one taxonomic level to phylum, slugs and snails are mollusks–same as clams (bivalves, two shells!) and cuttlefish (which is where cuttlebones come from, if you have pet birds, you are giving them cuttlefish bones chew up!). So you can trace the evolution of the shell in Mollusca from bivalves, to gastropods, to cephalopods (one internal shell, though the chambered nautilus still has an external shell!)

But back to your questions!

Do snails create their shells? 

Yes, absolutely! Do you create your skeleton? Do you create your skin? It’s the same situation for them.


Snails are born with their shells! I used to keep a planted aquarium, which meant I often had snails GALORE (they would ride in on my new plants, and reproduce like crazy). Snails are hermaphrodites, so you don’t have to worry about if you have males and females, as long as you have two (or even one–some species can self-fertilize!), you will have a million in a week. The eggs of the snails I had in my aquarium were held together with a clear jelly, and the developing snails in the eggs were white. In the lower photo below, you can see the babies in the eggs. The white parts are their shells–their skin was still transparent.

A much larger baby snail I found in my tank is in the above left, with my index finger for scale (still a tiny baby!). In the top right, I have included a very tiny baby snail from my back yard in Texas. This baby was so small his shell was still transparent!

Another question you asked kinda answered another one: 

Why that shape? Do the shells grow with them? 

This one gets really interesting! So, snails are born with their shells. But unlike arthropods, they don’t molt. They keep the same shell their entire life, for the same reason turtles do:


From Wikipedia [link]; Original by Al2, English captions and edits by Jeff Dahl 

All their organs are in there! Some snails will even let you see inside, like with this glass snail from France!


Photo by Julien Renoult, available on public domain via iNaturalist [link]

So what do they do when they need to grow? Let’s look a little closer.

Here is a common snail in Texas, called a Texas Liptooth Snail [iNat link]. This is a full-grown adult:


These are pretty small snails, so let’s look in the microscope:


Check out those ridges! Maybe you have noticed these ridges on other snails before, or maybe you haven’t. The ridges are much more pronounced on this snail because the shell is so small, but those ridges function similarly to a ring on a tree–it represents a period of growth. The shell is made up almost entirely of Calcium Carbonate, the same mineral that composes limestone and eggshells (you know, like in bird eggs?). That tiny smooth area in the center of the shell is the portion that formed while the snail was inside the egg, then as the snail ate, the nutrients from its food were used to grow extra rings at the opening of the shell, which became steadily bigger, which allowed the snail’s body to grow! Then it could eat even more food, put down bigger rings, and on and on.

So now you may be wondering, I’m talking about snail shells which are usually spiral shaped, which can be long and narrow, wide and flat, or any variation of the two. But I’m not even talking about that weird… pointy cone thing I included in my opening collage?

You mean… the limpet? 


Oh yes, the limpets. These ones are Tortoiseshell Limpets from New Zealand [link] You may have noticed them on saltwater beaches, stuck to the rocks, and you may have confused them for strange looking barnacles, or maybe you had no idea what they were and you just ignored them or forgot about them. Or maybe you had a different name for them. But, yes, they are gastropods. And yes, that makes them snails.

These grow almost exactly like trees: much more simply put, they are little cones, and as they grow, they make a ring at their base, which makes them a little bit larger. For some species, the availability of nutrients will result in different colors in their rings, so you can see their age very clearly!

So what happens if they lose their shell?

I think by now, you can probably guess. They can’t really “lose” their shell, because it’s part of their body, which you can see if you take a really close look at snails (or you just, harass the heck out of them like I do). 


Snails that hold onto their shells with their mantles!
TOP: A tailed snail I saw in Malawi (Africa [iNat Link]) BOTTOM: One of my aquarium snails


Shy snail friends attempt to retreat to safety but can’t because their organs are in the way
LEFT: A large friend from Malawi [iNat link] RIGHT: A Wolfsnail friend from Texas [iNat link]



If you can get a view of a snail from the right angle, you can see their body coming out of their shell.


LEFT: Globular drop [iNat link] RIGHT: Decollate snail [iNat Link], both from Texas
GIANT friend on my arm from Malawi [iNat link]

Thanks for asking, I hope I satisfied your curiosity! 

March 16, 2019


i had a skype meeting with my scicomm professor today because I couldn’t make the original time. We were discussing the hands on project I have to do for the class. Just so you know, I’m super disappointed with the class so I don’t have a lot of patience. 

Me: Well I could do something that’s more museum related. There’s this activity that I do with the Girls Exploring Science Program about taxonomy. 

Professor: ok, tell me more.

Me: So I would use the basic concept behind that activity, but make it into a sorting activity where people get to sort specimens into groups based on similarities they see since that’s part of what museum people do. I sort stuff to morphospecies all the time in my job. I want to do something that gives people an idea of what a scientist/museum person does since they aren’t able to see behind the scenes.

Professor: Oh so you would be teaching them about speciation?


me: No I would be teaching them about using morphology to classify organisms. Classical taxonomy. 

I came SO close to loosing it today. SO Close. Everything has to have a “science concept or idea” behind it that you are trying to convey to the audience. Yeah ok, it’s science communication. But I like to do activities that allow people to step into the shoes of a scientist since it’s important to me to express that everyone can do science! I like to do activities that allow conversations which is part of the reason I like to show up with live animals or boxes of specimens and just talk to people. I don’t want my activity to just be “Oh learn about this concept” and nothing else. I want it to be more immersive.

My Hot Take That Nobody Asked For

Note: this post is bolded because I want everybody to imagine that I am, if not actually yelling it, then at least very assertively attempting to get my point across

The second you make SciComm or Outreach about “teaching” anybody ANYTHING, you have already failed.

I completely and totally see why you would be frustrated with this professor, because her approach to this field is fundamentally antithetical to her goals.

Most people do not want to be taught anything. They are tired of teachers telling them a bunch of boring garbage that has no relevance to them that they will never use, which wastes their time while simultaneously making them feel insecure about their intellect/abilities.

However, most people are very curious about the world and how it works, but OUR BULLSHIT MEDIA & EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM has drilled it into us that ASKING QUESTIONS means we’re idiots, and hey, guess what, I did ask questions in school and most of the time, the teacher had no idea what the answer was. Most people are incredibly intelligent in ways that even they are unable to recognize or unwilling to admit. WOULDN’T IT BE GREAT IF THERE WAS A WAY FOR SCIENTISTS TO REACH THE PUBLIC, IN A NON-CONFRONTATIONAL WAY? WOULDN’T IT BE GREAT IF THERE WAS A WAY FOR THEM TO THEN DIRECT THIS PUBLIC TO ADDITIONAL RESOURCES WHERE THEY CAN LEARN MORE ABOUT THIS TOPIC IF THEY SO WISH???

Oh hey look it already exists, it’s called “science communication” and/or “outreach” and IT ONLY WORKS WHEN YOU DON’T TRY TO TEACH PEOPLE CRAP

What does work, then? GET PEOPLE CURIOUS. Give your audience a taste of something strange, something unusual, something exciting. And what is exciting to your audience could seem mundane to you. You would not BELIEVE the reactions an entire class of 1st graders had to me bringing a couple Polyphemus moth caterpillars as special guests. And they weren’t even that big yet! These kids had NEVER SEEN REAL CATERPILLARS BEFORE!!! They could not handle it! They went NUTS! I did not give them a lecture on caterpillar anatomy and make them fill out worksheets. I SHOWED THEM THE DAMN CATERPILLARS EATING AND POOPING AND MOLTING. What would they get out of knowing what prolegs are called? I don’t even care if they remembered any of the facts I told them. All I care about is that they left my presentation thinking “WOW BUGS ARE INTERESTING!!! I want to spend more time outside so I can see more bugs!”

Any “science communication” activity that is “learn about this concept” is not science communication, it’s a CLASS. What is your audience going to get out of a class? NOTHING. I’m so sorry you have to sit through it. Get the credits and forget everything you “learned” because it’s GARBAGE.

A disgruntled Director of Outreach >:(

Februrary 13, 2019 (3 am oooh boy)

The Great Job Hunt 2018 – SciComm Edition:



Hey all. I originally posted this on twitter but maybe some tumblr folks can benefit from it too. I was job-hunting and found lots of SciComm jobs that don’t really fit me but might be someone else’s perfect match, so I compiled everything in a spreadsheet.

Also, yes, tumblr is still blocked here so I only check it when I need to post. If you have something to say about this spreadsheet (or if you wanna nerd out about sea slugs), I’m on twitter & instagram @franzanth and discord franzanth#8986.


Oh hey this thing again!

The Great Job Hunt 2018 – SciComm Edition:


Hey all. I originally posted this on twitter but maybe some tumblr folks can benefit from it too. I was job-hunting and found lots of SciComm jobs that don’t really fit me but might be someone else’s perfect match, so I compiled everything in a spreadsheet.

Also, yes, tumblr is still blocked here so I only check it when I need to post. If you have something to say about this spreadsheet (or if you wanna nerd out about sea slugs), I’m on twitter & instagram @franzanth and discord franzanth#8986.