Elizabeth Tasker

Want to talk science?

 
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I love writing and talking about science to really any audience. My articles have been published by a wide range of magazines and news sites, including Scientific American, Astronomy Magazine, Nautilus, space.com and the Conversation. I most often write about exoplanets and space missions, but I've also covered earthquakes, star tables in ancient Egypt, bear hibernation, and tactical voting, among other topics! 

My magnum opus is my popular science book on exoplanets and planet formation, the Planet Factory, which was in published September 2017 (November in the USA). More details about the book and book-related talks can be found over here

I am a regular writer for NASA's NExSS 'Many Worlds' blog and at JAXA I created, Cosmos; a monthly research blog covering different missions and activities at the space agency, and also write and edit the English news for our mission to the Martian moons

I also frequently give public talks, including TEDxHokkaidoU, ELSI Origins (public event focussed on origins of life), Tokyo's Space Cafe and NerdNite, as well as at local schools. I'm was delighted to give the public lecture at the ELSI Symposium this year, as well as speak at the student organised space club conference at the American School in Japan.

ELSI Origins I: Space Dust to Sentience. "Life Beyond Our Planet" by Dr. Elizabeth Tasker.

In 2015, I gave a talk at TEDxHokkaidoU on the search for the origins of life with JAXA's Hayabusa2 mission. The audience were mainly Japanese and there was a simultaneous translation of my talk. As a result, I speak slightly slower than normal!

Debunking:

People, we have not found Earth 2.0!

 

A frequent topic I write and speak about concerns the discovery of Earth-sized exoplanets. Media reports frequently over-reach our current knowledge, claiming these new worlds are Earth's twin or Earth 2.0. Unfortunately, our current knowledge does not allow us to make this claim!

Current observations can only tell us the planet's size; typically the radius, sometimes the minimum mass and occasionally, both. We can't currently probe the surface conditions of the planet, so have no way of knowing if its surface is potentially habitable, or even if it has a solid surface at all! 

Such claims that we can find Earth-like planets have serious consequences. Firstly it's untrue and insults our audience. It also risks jeopardising the creditability of the field and threatens funding for future missions. Why would plans for an instrument to detect habitable environments be supported if it is believed we have already found these planets?

I talked about two great exoplanet finds in Astrophiz podcasts. Talking with host, Brendan O’Brien, we look at our nearest exoplanet, Proxima-b, and the seven planets around TRAPPIST-1 to ask what we really know about these systems.  A few of my articles on debunking Earth 2.0 are here (a complete list of articles is below):

  1. It’s our Solar System in miniature, but could TRAPPIST-1 host another Earth?, The Conversation, 2017
  2. Yes, we've discovered a planet orbiting the nearest star, but let's not lose our minds, Scientific American, 2016
  3. Why it is misleading to compare exoplanet Kepler-452b to Earth, The Conversation, 2015
  4. No, that new exoplanet is not the best candidate to support life, The Conversation, 2014
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Outreach:

Why reach out?

While journal papers transfer information between specialists in the same field, the detailed and technical style is not designed to be accessible to a broad audience. This imposes multiple limitations on both the scientist and the science. The scientist misses out on credit for their ideas, since circulation is confined to a small audience. Their institute also suffers, since the lack of accessible information on research activities makes it difficult to promote programs to prospective students and faculty members. It also throttles scientific progress, since information can not cross easily between disciplines if publication is only in field-specific journals heavy in jargon. With today's most challenging scientific problems requiring interdisciplinary research, we need a better circulatory system for ideas.     

... this is a long-winded way of saying I created a series of blogs at institutes I have worked at!

[2017 - ] The Cosmos research blog at JAXA is designed to highlight current activities at the space agency, including plans for future missions, workshops and personal accounts of successes and failures by scientists and engineers.

[2017 - ] JAXA's Martian Moon eXploration (MMX) mission will launch in 2024 and visit the two small moons of Mars, Phobos and Deimos, before bringing a soil sample back to Earth. This mission has a news site in both English and Japanese (although I only write the English version!) to share updates on mission preparation.

[2014 - 2016] The Spotlight on Research blog at Hokkaido University highlights research across different departments. In 2016, we also produced a brochure of ten different articles to share at the AAAS meeting in Washington DC. In 2014 & 2013, I was also a feature writer for Hokkaido University alumni magazine. 

[2010] A blog for McMaster University's Department of Physics and Astronomy. Topics often focussed on an excellent lecture series run by the McMaster Origins Institute. I also produced a newsletter that year for the Origins mailing list.  

 

 
Bibliography:
 

Magazine

[2018] 'Mission Control' for Nature Astronomy (June), 'Bringing home a piece of our past',

[2017] Feature piece for 'How it Works' magazine (October), 'Searching for another Earth'.

[2016] Feature piece for 'Astronomy Magazine' (April), 'New missions mine asteroid secrets', on the Hayabusa2 and OSIRIS-REx sample retrieval missions to the asteroids.

[2015] Feature piece for 'Scientific American' magazine (October), 'Stars of the dead', written with Sarah Symons on her research on ancient Egyptian star tables. 

[2014] 2nd prize in the 'Chemistry World' (UK Royal Society of Chemistry's publication) science communication competition: 'Tunnelling through barriers to explain the impossible'. 800 word article published in their magazine that introduced the work of Naoki Watanabe (Hokkaido University) in exploring how molecules form in the frozen depths of star forming clouds. (Brief description of the competition here.)

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Additional sites

space.com: 'If Hitomi is Lost, What Science is Lost With It? (Op-Ed)', 2016

Nautilus: 'Humankind’s Most Ambitious Search for Life’s Beginnings', 2015

Blog post follow-up for 'Chemistry World' on the hows and whys of the piece entered in their science communication competition.

Article for 'The Toast', 'How to build a galaxy and fight an army', 2013

2nd Prize in the Royal Astronomical Society writing competition for graduate students for an article on 'How to Build a Universe', 2004

Article published in the university alumni magazine, 'Durham First', on an anti-malaria drug being developed by researchers at Durham University, UK, 2000.

Winner of the Daily Telegraph Young Science Writers Awards with a piece on light emitting plastics, 1999.

 
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