Listicles · PhD Life · Princess Life · Uncategorized

Pixar Women, PhD Part 2

EVE – Ecology.

EVE’s sole mission was to collect data about life on Earth. She’ll likely need to work on her data analysis skills but armed with a PhD, she will be invaluable to the re-colonization of the planet. Specializing in urban ecology or sustainability, she will have a lot to contribute to establishing a healthier relationship between humans and their new ecosystems.

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Ellie – Latin American Studies.

Ellie’s one dream in life was to go to Paradise Falls in South America. Based off of Iguazu Falls in Argentina, Ellie’s dream might have come true sooner if she studied Latin American Studies in graduate school. She could have done field research near the falls or at least traveled to conferences hosted in the region – and conference travel is a great way to see new parts of the world using university (or external scholarship) funding! Focusing on ecotourism or the relationship with animals across different Latin American cultures would be perfectly suited for her experience as a zookeeper!

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Joy – Positive Psychology.

Eternally optimistic, Joy would want to figure out how to bring that same happiness to others. The positive psychology branch of psychology focuses on human flourishing rather than floundering, on what makes a good life worth living, with several studies on techniques for promoting feelings such as self-confidence, compassion and gratitude. Joy might even build on work by Fowler & Christakis about how contagious happiness is. I’m sure she’d be looking out for Riley too by investigating how this phenomenon holds in young adult populations. I wonder if this might even explain the popularity of boy bands.

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Sadness – Social Psychology.

On the flip side of Joy, Sadness would likely study depression, dabbling a little bit in its relationship to memory formation. I would be worried about Sadness facing impostor syndrome while in graduate school but with Joy by her side and studying depression herself, I think she’s well-equipped to take on any emotions that come with the hard work required.

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Cruz Ramirez – Mechanical Engineering.

Cruz is apparently quite a whippersnapper with the latest technology but she’s also mastered motivational speaking. She’ll put those smarts to work studying ways to improve engines (and other machines to train her fellow cars). Her personality will really shine through when she leads her own lab because she will likely be a very engaged mentor and well-regarded member of her department.

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Mama Imelda – Musicology.

Mama Imelda always wanted to do music but repressed that part of her when Hector left her; pursuing a PhD in Musicology would allow her to fully appreciate music. While she would not be performing as much, she would be able to study music and its cultural contexts. I think she might be particularly interested in exploring several case studies of familial relationships with music in Mexican culture.

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Coco – Marriage and Family Therapy.

If only Coco had earned her PhD earlier, maybe Hector could have visited his daughter on Día de los Muertos a few more times. Coco would definitely use her doctoral training to help her own family and dozens of others resolve their interpersonal conflicts. She could even specialize in Latin American therapy and would be a valuable resource in the era of family separation at the U.S. border.

Voyd – Astrophysics.

I can already see it: Violet and Voyd earning their PhDs in physics simultaneously even if they are across the country or world from one another. With the ability to create wormholes, Voyd would likely be fascinated with the next best thing: black holes. Thus, a PhD in astrophysics would give her the training on the underlying mechanisms of her own powers and she’s already got a get-up suited for space travel.

Edna Mode – Textiles.

Although most fashion designers do not have their PhDs, Edna is something else. These programs are found more outside of the U.S. but would be well-suited for her passions for materials that need to perform in extreme conditions. With her reputation, she would likely be a superstar at conferences and would no doubt be able to find a great deal of funding. She might not enjoy the longer-term projects typical of PhD research but she seems well-suited for pulling all-nighters to prepare for presentations the next day.

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Listicles · PhD Life · Princess Life · Uncategorized

Pixar Women, PhD Part 1

Bo Peep – Animal Sciences.

Bo Peep has conspicuously been missing in the last two Toy Story movies and I think the possibility of her disappearing to go earn her PhD in Animal Sciences is somewhat likely (although I don’t know how she would be able to manage without her support system of the rest of Andy’s toys). This shepherdess would be overly qualified to conduct research on sheep behavior and agricultural practices that can improve the lives of her baaaa-es and other ruminants.

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Gypsy – Quantum Physics.

Armed with the knowledge that her moth (and other butterfly) wings are composed of nanostructures with incredible potential for new technologies, Gypsy would want to better understand the physics underlying her own biology. Because the structures are so small that they need to be studied with electron microscopes, Gypsy would have to pursue knowledge in the realm of quantum physics. Then, she would be able to explain how light interacts with these materials for various applications even if most people think it’s just magic.

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Rosie – Theater and Performance Studies.

Rosie was quite theatrical in her role as rhinoceros beetle tamer in P.T. Flea’s circus. She would combine her affinity for the performing arts with her curiosity about gender studies. With most of her life having been defined by her relationship with her husbands, Rosie would spend the years of her PhD examining how women were portrayed in various plays, musicals, and other genres.

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(For the princesses of Bug’s Life, check out this post)

Jessie – Conservation Biology.

Jessie would turn her passion for taking care of various critters into a career. Although she might have had a mildly traumatic experience with museum conservation, biological conservation is much more up her ally. She’d be able to save species on the brink of extinction by collecting data on ecosystems – her focus of course would be on the deserts and mountain areas of the American West and their animal inhabitants.

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Boo – Mythological and Religious Studies.

Boo’s formative experience in the Monster World would shape her desire to understand why other people develop a fear of monsters when she clearly was not afraid. This field would give her the tools to explain why people believe what they believe as well as document how societies cultivate shared beliefs. If she really has time-traveling powers as the Pixar theory says she does, she could even do comparative analyses of medieval Scottish beliefs with ideologies of Monstropolis.

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Roz – Criminal Justice.

I’m pretty sure that Roz already has her PhD in Criminal Justice, but even if she doesn’t, now that her mission at Monsters, Inc., she has plenty of time to go back to school. Her dedication to finding the bad guy and maintaining secret identities is the glamorous side of studying criminological theory, public policy, statistics, and forensic science, all of which she would be trained in as a PhD student.

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Dory – Cognitive Psychology.

Motivated by wanting to better understand the relationships between her own memory loss (specifically, anterograde amnesia or the inability to form new memories) and her seemingly more proficient place-based memory, Dory would pursue a PhD in Cognitive Psychology. She would likely study various techniques to assist in coping with anterograde amnesia while using those techniques herself to become a successful academic. She might also specialize in spatial and place-based memory and spend a few years on a project investigating the neuroscience of hippocampal place cells.

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Helen Parr/Elastigirl/Mrs. Incredible – Material Sciences and Engineering.

Although the origin of supers’ powers in the Pixar universe is still unknown (whether it is due to genetic mutation or some sort of government experimentation), Elastigirl would want to leverage her expertise in flexibility in her PhD program. She would research the stretchiness of various materials like hydrogels and conditions that affect this property to improve its durability and functionality in military and civilian applications.

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Violet Parr – Physics.

Violet’s powers are both a function of visible light, so she would study physics, and more specifically optics, to earn her doctorate. Because invisibility requires modifying the frequency of light reflected off of objects to be in a range that is not visible to the human eye, Violet would build on the research that Edna had to have known about to develop the teen’s supersuit so that the phenomenon can be more deeply understood. While her shield generation also seems to rely upon ultraviolet light, it defies Newtonian laws of physics so she would definitely have to do a few experiments to be able to explain this ability.

Sally Carrera – Law.

Sally says that she used to be an attorney so she has earned her doctorate in law already. Although she did not very much enjoy her legal career, she used her knowledge to help out Lightning McQueen when he got into trouble in Radiator Springs. She could do plenty more pro-bono work for other troubled cars but also seems to be well-suited to consulting for people fighting to preserve historical landmarks and fighting against business owners who want to destroy such things to turn a profit.

Colette Tatou – Organizational Psychology.

Colette’s experiences in Chef Skinner’s kitchen would make her interested in improving the working conditions of several other kitchens, especially for women in the industry. Earning her PhD in Organizational Psychology would give her the theories and tools to be a consultant to numerous restaurants to improve their productivity and employee satisfaction. Maybe Disney Parks and Resorts would even hire her!

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Which Pixar PhD woman are you most like?

Disney Tips · Disney Trips · Science of Disney · Uncategorized

Science of Disney: Elephants and Bees

One of earth’s biggest creatures is being saved by insects.

As part of Animal Kingdom’s 20th Anniversary celebration, I attended a Tiffins Talk in which I enjoyed a four-course meal inspired by and specially prepared to accompany a presentation from a Disney scientist about their conservation efforts. During this talk, Dr. Joseph Soltis gave a very engaging talk about how he, his colleague, Dr. Lucy King, and the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund are helping to save elephants with honeybees.

What’s the problem?

Elephants are impressive creatures but the species has faced constant treats from humans. Even with reductions in the ivory trade, humans and elephants still come into conflict, especially in countries like Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, and Sri Lanka. One of the biggest causes of human-elephant conflict is crop raiding, which is when elephants wander onto farmland in search of food. Because they are so big (and have big stomachs), the farms are decimated and the farmers lose both their own food and their source of income. As a result, farmers sometimes kill or hurt elephants to prevent further damage and protect themselves.

What could be done?

If only there were some way to keep elephants out of farms. Standard or even heavy-duty fences won’t work because they are expensive to put up and maintain and elephants might knock them over anyways. By putting collars on elephants to track their location, farmers can be alerted any time elephants cross a virtual fence line and then scare the elephants away enough times until they are conditioned to not even approach a farm. Again, these collars are expensive and still can result in more conflict than is necessary. Other techniques, like the ones outlined in the Save the Elephants Human-Elephant Conflict toolbox, can also help to some degree. Fortunately, some observations from locals led to some scientific discoveries that have significantly reduced human-elephant conflict.

Elephants often retrieve food from trees – whether it is the fruit or the leaves. But one Kenyan guide that was leading Dr. Soltis and Dr. King, shared that he had noticed that elephants never retrieve food from trees with beehives. Elephants in Zimbabwe are also known to forge entirely new paths through jungles to avoid trees with beehives. This is quite curious because elephants have relatively small areas that are sensitive enough to potential bee stings (inside of the trunk, eyes, and ears) and it does not make a lot of sense that such large creatures might systematically avoid bees if they cannot do much damage.

Studies about Elephants’ Fear of Bees

So the researchers set out to see not whether elephants are harmed by bees but instead to study whether elephants are afraid of bees. Rather than using actual bees, researchers played recorded bee sounds using giant speakers hidden in foliage near elephant meeting spots. And then they watched to see what the elephants did. When the bee sound was played, all but one elephant family ran away in under 90 seconds; half of the families ran away in under 10 seconds. In contrast, when just white noise was played (because it is always a good science to have a control condition), all of the elephant families stayed in the area for about four full minutes or casually walked away. This suggested that elephants have learned about and/or remember their personal experience with bees and that bees do not have a pleasant association. Similar behaviors were observed in elephants in Sri Lanka in response to the sounds of Asian honeybees (King, Pardo, Weerathunga, Kumara, Jayasena, Soltis, & de Silva, 2018).

Communicating about Bees

In addition to running away in response to hearing bee sounds, elephants produced rumble calls, shook their heads, and tried to throw dust on themselves. To better understand this behavior, Dr. Soltis, who is an expert in elephant rumbles and has conducted several studies with the elephants at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, headed up a follow-up study. He wanted to know specifically if elephants’ rumble calls for bees were actually being used in similar ways as to how humans screaming scream “Spider!” or “Mouse!” when they are fearful and want to alert others.

To answer this question, the research team used a similar protocol as with the recordings of bee sounds except in this case, the speakers played recordings of the rumbles that the elephants had made in response to bee sounds. Elephant families moved away from the speakers much more often and moved farther when the rumble calls for bees were played than when just white noise or when modified rumble calls were played. Additionally, families moved faster and shook their heads more when the rumble calls for bees were played than for the other two control sounds. Dusting behavior was not observed to be significantly different across conditions. It seemed that indeed, elephants were communicating their identification of the presence of bees to others so that they all could avoid being stung.

Conservation Implications

As a result of this discovery, Dr. Soltis, Dr. King and their partners in Kenya wanted to put this research to use. They could have given the farmers some large, expensive speakers to play bee sounds but they did something even better. The research team started testing the effectiveness of bee fences for reducing crop raiding. To set up a bee fence, beehives are set up at the perimeter of farms and connected with wire. Any time an elephant hits the wire, the hives are disturbed and the bees produce swarming sounds. These are the same sounds that elephants are afraid of so the elephant will run away from the farm. The early tests were successful and crop raiding has significantly declined for farms with beehive fences. Not only do the beehive fences protect the farms and thus allow the farmers to keep their main source of income, the honey from the beehives can also be harvested and sold for additional revenue.

Unfortunately, you cannot buy this elephant honey directly outside of Kenya, but you can donate to Save the Elephants using the links here to support this program and prevent further human-elephant conflict.

What would you want to research in partnership with Disney? Comment below!

References

King, Soltis, Douglas-Hamilton, Savage & Vollrath (2010)

Lucy King’s Dissertation (2010)

King, Douglas-Hamilton, & Vollrath (2007)

King, Lawrence & Douglas-Hamilton (2009) Beehive fences deter elephants

King, Douglas-Hamilton, & Vollrath (2011) Beehive fences effective deterrents

Soltis, King, Douglas-Hamilton, Vollrath & Savage (2014) Different Elephant Alarm Calls for Humans and Bees

King, Pardo, Weerathunga, Kumara, Jayasena, Soltis, & de Silva, 2018

Save the Elephants – Elephants and Bees Project

Save the Elephants – Geo-Fencing