Saverio Truglia
Saverio Truglia

How Emily Graslie is Reinventing Museum Education

Saverio Truglia
Saverio Truglia

By Emily Graslie, as told to Regan Hofmann

When Emily Graslie, 26, started The Brain Scoop, she was just hoping to find a few like-minded Tumblr readers to share her love of taxidermy. Five years later, she has 300,000 rabid fans tuning in to YouTube to watch her explain everything from millipede reproduction to specimen dissection. Here, Graslie tells us how she became the first-ever chief curiosity correspondent for Chicago’s Field Museum, where she’s tasked with introducing natural history to a new generation.

I was always an “outside” kid. I wanted to make epic paintings about the natural world, so I declared my art major my first day at the University of Montana. I was surrounded by natural beauty, and knew it was a resource we were losing.

My coworker at the campus store showed me the natural history collection at the university’s zoological museum—it blew me away. There were volunteers skinning rodents, and she asked, “Can Emily do one?” I was like, “I’m not trained to do this.”

She said, “If you can sew a stuffed animal like in home ec, you can skin a mouse.” It was true! I got to sign my name on the label, the same way you might sign a piece of artwork.

I started volunteering at the museum and painting portraits of specimens. But oil paint takes so long to dry, so I started doing photography, posting photos on Tumblr and hoping I’d find others like me. And I did! I met Hank Green of Vlogbrothers, which is huge on YouTube, and he asked if I’d be interested in having my own show. That show, The Brain Scoop, has just passed 300,000 subscribers. In April 2013, we had a meet-up at Chicago’s Field Museum, and 100 fans came. The museum’s president told the head of collections they needed to hire me. Now our videos are produced there.

I could keep making videos where we open a specimen drawer and go, “How cool!”—or we can work to secure funding for scientists. A curator at the Field Museum needed evidence that his research would reach the public to win a National Science Foundation grant, so he asked if we could do a series. We got the grant!

I’ve also become an activist, opening up the conversation about how to keep women and minorities in the sciences. I want to tell more cool stories—I just don’t know what form they’ll take next.


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Feeling Down? Lifting Weights Can Lift Your Mood, Too
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There’s plenty of research that suggests that exercise can be an effective treatment for depression. In some cases of depression, in fact—particularly less-severe ones—scientists have found that exercise can be as effective as antidepressants, which don’t work for everyone and can come with some annoying side effects. Previous studies have largely concentrated on aerobic exercise, like running, but new research shows that weight lifting can be a useful depression treatment, too.

The study in JAMA Psychiatry, led by sports scientists at the University of Limerick in Ireland, examined the results of 33 previous clinical trials that analyzed a total of 1877 participants. It found that resistance training—lifting weights, using resistance bands, doing push ups, and any other exercises targeted at strengthening muscles rather than increasing heart rate—significantly reduced symptoms of depression.

This held true regardless of how healthy people were overall, how much of the exercises they were assigned to do, or how much stronger they got as a result. While the effect wasn’t as strong in blinded trials—where the assessors don’t know who is in the control group and who isn’t, as is the case in higher-quality studies—it was still notable. According to first author Brett Gordon, these trials showed a medium effect, while others showed a large effect, but both were statistically significant.

The studies in the paper all looked at the effects of these training regimes on people with mild to moderate depression, and the results might not translate to people with severe depression. Unfortunately, many of the studies analyzed didn’t include information on whether or not the patients were taking antidepressants, so the researchers weren’t able to determine what role medications might play in this. However, Gordon tells Mental Floss in an email that “the available evidence supports that [resistance training] may be an effective alternative and/or adjuvant therapy for depressive symptoms that could be prescribed on its own and/or in conjunction with other depression treatments,” like therapy or medication.

There haven’t been a lot of studies yet comparing whether aerobic exercise or resistance training might be better at alleviating depressive symptoms, and future research might tackle that question. Even if one does turn out to be better than the other, though, it seems that just getting to the gym can make a big difference.

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