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Science selfies and dictionary additions

by Linda Wang , Matt Davenport
June 1, 2019 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 97, Issue 22


Scientists who selfie

The next time you decide to share a photo about your research on social media, you just might want to take a selfie, or self-portrait.

Photo of Martina Hestericova.
Credit: Martina Hestericová
Social media maven: Martina Hestericová shares her selfie.

Sound silly? Not according to Paige Jarreau and her colleagues, who found that the public perceives scientists who share their research through selfies as being warmer and more trustworthy (PLOS One2019, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0216625). This is important because scientists can use selfies to challenge negative stereotypes about science, says Jarreau, who is the director of communications for LifeOmic, a health-care software company in Indianapolis.

The science selfie movement is apparently catching on. In 2017, as part of her research, Jarreau’s team created the hashtag #ScientistsWhoSelfie. Since then, on Instagram alone, that hashtag has been used in over 14,000 posts.

Martina Hestericová, associate principal scientist at Lonza in Switzerland, began posting selfies from her lab as a way to show kids what scientists do, but she quickly discovered that it amplified her efforts to communicate what she does to the public. “You would not believe the difference it makes if I post a selfie and if I post a simple picture of my experiment,” she says. “The engagement is sometimes 10 times higher if I turn the camera around and show myself performing the experiment.”

Photo of César Urbina-Blanco.
Credit: César Urbina-Blanco
All smiles: César Urbina-Blanco says to have fun.

César A. Urbina-Blanco, a postdoc at Ghent University in Belgium, is an avid user of the #ScientistsWhoSelfie hashtag on Twitter and Instagram. “Being a Latin American and an immigrant scientist, I can hopefully inspire people from underrepresented backgrounds to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering, and math.”

His tips for people who want to take selfies? Safety first, he says. Second, smile and have fun! “It’s not about being perfect; it’s about being genuine and sharing your passion.”


Look it up

Structure of geosmin.

Some words could catch on a lot sooner with the public if they had selfies and hashtags to help them make their way into the dictionary. Take the century-old word geosmin. The term for that earthy smelling compound that often surfaces after a rainfall just made its first appearance in Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary in April.

“I am a bit perplexed that geosmin, which has been in the scientific literature for at least 125 years, is only now making it into the Merriam-Webster dictionary,” says David E. Cane, emeritus professor of chemistry at Brown University. The odoriferous compound was discovered in 1891 by the French chemist Pierre-Eugène-Marcellin Berthelot; the structure was determined in the mid-1960s by Rutgers University chemist Nancy N. Gerber.

Cane wonders why it took so long for the dictionary folks to get around to acknowledging geosmin’s very existence. “The literature on geosmin as a source of off odors and taste in drinking water, wine, and fish is extensive,” he says. Now that they have, it’s better late than never, he adds.

Linda Wang and Matt Davenport wrote this week’s column. Please send comments and suggestions to



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