How Dolly Parton supported COVID research

Plus: Sandy Cash's song about Vera Rubin, science shops on Etsy, a book recommendation, and lots of links.

The year is almost over and it finally feels like there's light at the end of the tunnel, with several vaccines showing promising results. But almost as exciting was the revelation earlier this month that some of the research behind Moderna's vaccine was funded by Dolly Parton.

In 2013, Dolly Parton was in the passenger seat of her friend’s car when another car crashed into them at an intersection. She was taken to Vanderbilt University Medical Center where she met Dr Naji Abumrad, with whom she became fast friends. This friendship has been strangely influential for many of us, even though we'll likely never meet either of them. First, Naji's son Jad Abumrad, of Radiolab fame, was able to get access to Dolly for his popular podcast Dolly Parton's America. And earlier this year, a conversation between the two friends is what led her to fund COVID-19 research at Vanderbilt. But Dolly was as surprised as anyone to find out that her name appeared in a research paper, and only heard about it minutes before she was due to appear on TV for a scheduled interview to promote her latest Christmas album and Netflix film. (Yes, she makes all of us look lazy and unaccomplished! She's also doing a live online talk at the British Library on Tuesday, to talk about libraries and her children's literacy programme.)

But, surprising as it may be, Dolly Parton is not the first big country music star to fund medical research. In 2005, Willie Nelson raised money for stem cell research at UT Southwestern, where musician/scientist Eric Olson has since held the "Annie and Willie Nelson Professorship in Stem Cell Research".

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Music by Musisci: Sandy Cash

Science writer Sandy Cash is also a folk musician, and wrote this ode to astronomer Vera Rubin.

Science gifts on Etsy

These Etsy shops all sell fun and creative science-themed gifts that would make amazing holiday presents.


Interesting things



Book Recommendation

Hank Green’s A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor is the sequel to An Absolutely Remarkable Thing. You really need to read them in order or it will be very confusing, but if you enjoyed the scientist character in the first book, you’ll be pleased to know that she plays an even bigger part in the sequel. The science is fictional, but the research settings are realistic (as you would expect from a writer who is also a science communicator!)


Things I wrote

For scientists:

  • I have an entire separate newsletter just for scientists. It’s called Share Your Sci, and it sends out short tips on science communication for busy researchers.

  • The Nature Masterclass course Narrative Tools for Researchers is now out. This was the main thing I worked on this year! Scroll to the bottom of the page for the link to the free sample lessons if you don’t have access.

  • For Hindawi, I wrote a post about common reasons why a submitted manuscript might be rejected before peer review.

  • Science communicators and scientists working on science communication tasks can join me on December 10 for the last virtual coworking session of the year!

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