Science Magazine is debuting a new special series called the XX Files that peers into “the extraordinary worlds of extraordinary women scientists.” From Ashlee Rowe’s midnight hunts for scorpions, Elizaveta Solomonova’s exploration of “expert dreamers,” and Kate Prigge’s study of disease-sniffing dogs, the XX Files celebrates female scientists doing what they love and doing it well.
“It was done with two motivations,” Sarah Crespi, Science Magazine’s supervising producer for the series, told IFLScience. “One, put a spotlight on women scientists and two, find some really amazing science that people will just be really excited about.”
For a few weeks a year, Ashlee Rowe scours the rugged mountains of southern New Mexico for scorpions. In the pitch black of night, Rowe and her team switch on their ultraviolet headlamps and watch as the stinging critters glow green under the UV light. The fluorescent scorpions skitter away under the harsh glare, but with a quick nip of her forceps and a zip bag, the creatures are safely bagged for the lab.
Rowe’s endeavors are not just the exploits of 21st-century hunting games. Her midnight pursuits are all in an effort to learn more about their venomous stings, and why some animals – like the grasshopper mouse – seem to have developed a resistance to its pain. Could uncovering the key to this resistance inspire the next generation of pain treatments?
Elizaveta Solomonova spends her nights sleuthing through the sleep spindles of “expert dreamers.” With more than a third of our lives spent sleeping, such dreamy explorations are vital to our everyday lives. That’s because sleep disorders don’t just make bedtimes an ordeal, they can also make the every day a nightmare.
One such sleep disorder that Solomonova studies is sleep paralysis, the moment between waking and sleep where a person is unable to move yet is still conscious, sometimes accompanied by frightening hallucinations. For many people, this will happen once or twice during their lifetime, but for a small number of individuals, sleep paralysis can become a frequent occurrence that requires treatment.
Stick a Q-tip in your ear, give it a twirl, and then cap it in a vial – that earwax contains a collection of chemical cues. Yet how do molecules from the things we eat, for example, end up in our earwax? That’s one of the questions chemist Kate Prigge studies. By harnessing different sensing technologies, she explores whether odor is a viable method to detect disease. She even uses working dogs to determine whether their powerful noses can pick up on certain chemical signals.
“No two individuals smell the same,” said Prigge in the video. “Much in the same way you have an individualized fingerprint to identify you, you in fact have an individual odor print.”
While such an idea may sound extreme, it’s actually not unheard of. For some time now, scientists at Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia have been exploring the use of dogs for disease detection, specifically ovarian cancer. Evolution has had plenty of time to hone a dog’s sense of smell – perhaps, we can harness their sniffing power to detect early signs of cancer.
All three videos were produced and edited by Nguyen Khoi Nguyen.