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New Science Video Series Highlights Work of Women in Science

Studies of scorpion venom as a potential pathway toward non-addictive pain treatments are one of the many projects led by women scientists featured in a new Science video series: "XX Files."

The eight-part series, produced by the Science Digital Media team, illustrates the work of scientists such as Ashlee Rowe, a zoologist and neurobiologist at Michigan State University.

Rowe's research focuses on scorpion venom and how it manipulates the nervous system to harm and potentially kill the victim. Rowe and her team of students catch the scorpions by night in New Mexico with the aid of UV lamps.

Her research also looks at a species of venom-resistant mice that prey on the scorpions.

"If we can understand that mechanism at the biochemical, molecular, and the physiological level, we might be able to develop better pain treatments that shut down pain signals without being addictive or having lots of unpleasant side effects," Rowe said in the episode.

"XX Files" also featured a profile of Elizaveta Solomonova, an interdisciplinary neuroscientist who works with the Dream & Nightmare Laboratory at the University of Montreal. Solomonova is interested in studying participants' dreams in order to gain insight about how their brains work during their waking hours.

For this research, Solomonova conducts studies that monitor participants' bodily sensations during various stages of sleep. After the participants wake, they describe their dreams.

"The tricky thing is obtaining rich and detailed reports, so some researchers train their participants in self-observation techniques," Solomonova said.

Because her work focuses on bodily sensations during sleep, Solomonova enlisted a group of participants experienced in Vipassana meditation, which emphasizes the importance of bodily awareness. Ultimately, Solomonova hopes to assemble a group of "expert dreamers," capable of providing detailed accounts of their dreams.

The "XX Files" project began over a year ago, when the Science digital team sought a series that could spark people's interest in science while featuring women scientists in a variety of settings.

One motivation was to counter an underrepresentation of women scientists in the media, said Sarah Crespi, the supervising producer and a senior web editor at Science.

"The idea was to really bring to light the diverse types of scientific pursuits available out there and showcase that women are doing all of these things," Crespi said.

Covering a wide variety of science topics was also a high priority for the project.


Science Multimedia Editor Nguyen Khoi Nguyen edits the final episode of the “XX Files” video series. | AAAS/Stephen Waldron

Nguyen Khoi Nguyen, who films, edits, and animates the videos, said that the scientists were carefully chosen from many disciplines in order to make the series feel like a "kaleidoscope of science."

The production team filmed across North America for the project, traveling from Canada to California. Nguyen has just returned from Palo Alto, Calif. after shooting the final video of the series, which focuses on humpback whales. The video is now in post-production, which takes about three times as long as shooting.

"We tried to find subject matter we knew would be really visual," Nguyen said, "and my job was to make it digestible to a general audience."

Despite the wide range of scientific fields covered in the series, Nguyen noticed a common trait among the scientists.

"They're willing to do this because they know it's important to communicate their science," Nguyen said. "They're all great advocates for what they do."