Category Archives: Other Events

Chemists Rock the 2014 FOSEP 1000 Word Challenge!!

On Friday, March 21st, the Seattle Forum on Science Ethics and Policy hosted its second annual 1000 Word Challenge at the Burke Museum of Natural History. Last year, no chemistry graduate students or postdocs made it to the finalists round of the competition. This year, however, two of the prizes were taken home by one chemistry graduate student and one postdoc! Congratulations to us!

For this challenge, graduate students and postdocs crafted descriptions of their research using on the 1000 most commonly used words in the English language. The competitors then presented their research descriptions to 3 judges and other attendees. The descriptions were judged in three areas: Language, Style, and Presentation.

As we all know, chemistry can be quite difficult to explain to our non-chemist family members and friends, especially since we use so much chemistry vernacular. Thus, distilling our research down to a summary that only uses the 1000 most commonly used words is quite a difficult (and fun) challenge. How do we talk about the fundamental atoms, molecules, protons, electrons, nanoparticles, etc., that we study without just calling them very small things? They’re more complicated than that!

My lab mate, postdoc Miriam Bowring, and I decided to give it a shot. It’s funny how we came up with such similar descriptions, from the vocabulary to the structure, even though the first time we heard each other’s summary was at the event! I will admit that we do work on very similar projects. Here’s what we came up with:

Miriam Bowring: Winner – Best Style

“Unimolecular synthetic models to probe multiple-site concerted proton electron transfer.”

Everything in the world is made of very tiny bits. The very tiny bits are too small to see. They move from one place to another all the time. This allows people to live, leaves to grow, and power to work in our homes. No one knows exactly why the very tiny bits move the way they do, but I would like to find out. There are two kinds of very tiny bits that usually like to be together. When these two very tiny bits are together, and they both need to go somewhere else, they sometimes go faster by going together instead of one at a time. The funny thing is, the very tiny bits can go fast by moving together, even if they are going away from each other. Why is moving together better? I have made something to help me find out. I put the two very tiny bits in the middle, with places for the very tiny bits to go on either side. Soon I will use light to see how fast the very tiny bits go, and I will check if they are moving together and see what changes make them go slower or faster. This way, I will find out what the very tiny bits are doing, and what controls how fast they move. Since the very tiny bits make up our bodies and everything else, one day, my work might even help other people save lives!

Jessica Wittman: Winner – Best Use of Language

“Separated Proton-Electron Transfer in Ruthenium Complexes with Distant Carboxylic Acid Sites.”

Inside every person, animal, tree, or TV, tiny, tiny bits that are too small to see are moving around in an ordered way. Some of them are friends who like to hang out and move around together. When a pair of tiny bits who are friends have very little space between them, and then one moves away, the other misses it very much and wants to leave, too. It’s sort of like when your best friend at work leaves and then work’s not as fun anymore. Other tiny bits start out with a lot of space and other stuff between them, so when one moves, it doesn’t matter so much to the other. This would be like if you had a friend in another state who moved to a farther away state; it doesn’t really change your day-to-day life.

I am studying how close the pairs of tiny bits have to be for one to notice when the other moves. If we know how close they have to be to notice each other, we can keep it in mind when we build our own things out of these tiny bits. In some cases, we don’t want the tiny bits to be sad and miss their friends because then they can be a real pain in the ass. In other cases, we want the tiny bits to be sad so we can push them to go to a new, better place!

Also, congratulations to the other winners, especially the grand prize winner from the biology department, David Slager! We all had a blast, and maybe we can do another one of these events later this year!

WiSE Conference 2014: An Inspiring Event for Students and Professionals in Science and Engineering

This past Saturday, I attended the annual Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE) Conference on the UW campus. This was my first time at the conference, and overall it was a very inspiring experience! The program featured keynote presentations from Dona Sarkar, a Principal Systems Engineer at Microsoft, and Randi Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of Zuckerberg Media and former Director of Market Development for Facebook. These women are exceptional role models for women starting out in the tech industry. The day also included a variety of workshops and panel discussions on topics relevant to women scientists and engineers at every stage of their education and career. Event sponsors, including Intel, Boeing, and Microsoft, hosted a mini-career fair in the morning as well.

The first thing I would like to stress about the conference is how the atmosphere was so positive and supportive. It was not difficult at all to find and start conversations with women professionals in science or engineering that were eager to give career advice. Everyone I talked to was also willing to continue the discussion at another time, and many business cards were exchanged. I’ve never been to an event where people were more proactive about talking to new people. I believe that many of the post-collegiate attendees come to this conference with the goal of providing guidance and advice to science and engineering students. Additionally, the organizing staff, mostly made up of WiSE students from UW, exuded a positive attitude without fail for the entire day, which definitely caught on with the attendees.

Of the day’s events, Dona Sarkar’s and Randi Zuckerberg’s keynote presentations were particularly inspiring to me. Both women talked about their paths to their remarkable career achievements in a personal and entertaining way that made them both very relatable. I came away from both talks feeling that these women were not so unlike myself, and that I can achieve great things in my career even if they may seem unattainable to me right now. I also was heartened to learn of Dona Sarkar’s personal hobbies. She accomplished the impressive feats of both becoming a published novelist and starting a fashion line without sacrificing her dedication to her work.

I thoroughly enjoyed my day at the UW WiSE conference. I made great connections and left feeling much more confident in my career prospects as I begin my search for a job. I highly recommend this event to all science and engineering students, from undergraduate to graduate, as well professionals in these fields and high school students interested in a career in science or engineering.

Jessica Wittman, WCS-UW Treasurer

1000 Word Challenge

UW Chemistry Graduate Students & Post-Docs:

Have you ever tried describing your research to a non-scientist friend or family member, or a young child, but only got a blank stare? Communicating science to a broader audience can be a difficult exercise, so here’s an opportunity to practice with your peers! Come join WCSUW for our workshop on communicating science to a broad, non-scientist audience!

We will be hosting this workshop on Wednesday, June 19th, at 6:30 pm at the College Inn Pub.

Please bring:

1) a short summary of your research as you would present it to your chemistry colleagues and

2) a short summary of your research intended for a broader audience (see rules below).

There’s one important rule: In order to keep your second research summary simple and to challenge you to step outside your comfort zone, we want you to write your research summary using only the 1000 most commonly used wordsin the English language. Don’t know the 1000 most commonly used words? No problem! Just go to to use the Up-Goer Five Text Editor to write your research summary. The text editor will tell you when you have used a word that is not one of the 1000 most common words. Try to keep both summaries limited to ~3 to 6 sentences or ~30 seconds.

Attendees will get the chance to recite both research summaries to the group. Research summaries will be judged on categories such as clarity, creativity, and overall best. Winners will receive prizes!

If you’d like to read some examples from scientists in a variety of fields, check out these links:

Please email me ( if you have any questions!

Jessica Wittman

Vice President, WCS-UW