Meet Monica May, SANDSWA Logo Contest Winner

By Alyson Smith

Monica May, a science writer at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP), recently won the SANDSWA logo design contest. Her concept features a lighthouse – a reference to San Diego’s fishing and shipping history and May’s view of science journalism as illuminating facts to protect our society.

May enjoys learning about both science and how authors craft compelling stories. After earning a bachelor’s degree in molecular biology from UC Santa Cruz, she worked in a lab at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology studying dengue fever. In pursuit of a position that combined her loves of science and storytelling, she worked for Canale Communications (a life science-focused communications agency) before moving to her current position.

monica-mayMay puts her science writing skills – many of which she learned through the Science Writing I course at UC San Diego Extension – to work at SBP, where she has been for six months. She writes press releases about institute research, coordinates media relations, and writes a newsletter for donors and the general public. She is also tasked with handling the institute’s social media accounts, and she enjoys the challenge of effectively communicating science on each platform. “It’s a cool way to story-tell,” she says.

May joined SANDSWA after the kick-off happy hour last July. She appreciates this opportunity to meet local science communicators and participate in members-only events such as the behind-the-scenes tour of the Fleet Science Center. She encourages everyone in (or interested in) this field to join SANDSWA and explore science writing courses at UCSD Extension. She believes that “especially in this digital age, it’s so important to know people and to have a network and community.”

Outside of communicating science, May enjoys reading, hiking with her beagle, and exploring San Diego’s arts and culture scene.

You can follow Monica May on Twitter here and read her articles for SBP here.

The new SANDSWA logo: Monica May suggested the winning concept, which was then designed by Priyanka Paurana.


Miniature Tornadoes and Other Joys of the Fleet Science Center

By Xochitl Rojas-Rocha

San Diego’s Fleet Science Center, it turns out, is full of delightful secrets as well as science.

The San Diego Science Writers Association turned out on a chilly January evening to start 2019 with a tour of the city’s popular science museum. We began with a brief overview of the science center itself, and then were released (and encouraged) to find a partner and play alongside the children at the exhibits.

SANDSWA members check out the Fleet’s wood shop. Photo: Steve Murray

The fun bit about science is that you’re never caught up; there’s always something you haven’t explored. The exhibit floor was home to a display with alternating hot and cold coils that taught you about how your body senses differences in temperature; the iconic whisper dishes that demonstrate how a murmur can pass undisrupted over the heads of screaming children from one side of the room to the other; and even a display that uses vapor to show the formation of a tornado, in miniature.

Yet, the highlight of the tour might have been traveling behind the scenes to see how the museum’s IMAX dome theater worked. According to the museum’s website, where you can find a list of current showings, the theater screen can generate images nearly eight stories high. But it’s the machinery behind it all that is so surprising. Two huge reels have to be loaded with the physical film before the audience can enjoy their show. The projector itself is equally massive, and rises from the floor with a deafening rumble. No one makes this technology anymore, which makes the film itself incredibly expensive to replace if it’s damaged. The IMAX dome theater at the Fleet is the last of its kind.

original imax projector circa 1970s
Original IMAX projector, ca. 1970’s. Photo: Lynne Friedmann

Moving into the future, the museum’s goal is to push for stronger connections between existing science education programs. Staff described an ongoing collaboration in Barrio Logan that provides the community with information on whichever topic they want to learn about, including nutrition. Also arriving at the museum in the coming months? An exhibit about the science behind magic — think levitation and invisibility. How would those magical acts work, if they were real?

The human brain loves newness, and so I love visiting places I’ve never been most of all. The tour of the Fleet Science Center was a treat. I’ll be coming back again, just to watch that IMAX projector in action!