It’s always exciting to find another person working at the less-crowded intersection of art, science and kitties, so I was delighted to discover the work of Talia Jewell, a scientist who makes needle-felted, catnip-infused toys for lucky cats. She sells her creations at her etsy shop, Mycrobe , and she shared a little of the background behind her unique work.
Q: Tell us about your background in science and what you do in your day job.
A: I’m a postdoctoral researcher in José de la Torre’s lab at San Francisco State University. The lab’s focus is evolution, ecology, and physiology of thermophilic ammonia oxidizing archaea. My specific project is elucidating the intermediates within the ammonia oxidation pathway and determining alternate substrates for the key enzyme, ammonia monoxygenase. Or, as I like to describe it to my grandma, I study how microbes from very hot environments eat nitrogen compounds. The best part of my job is fieldwork. Imagine being paid to go to Yellowstone National Park and collect samples from hot springs far off the beaten track!
Q: How did you get the idea of making cat toys, and particularly science-themed ones?
A: I spoil my cats. I’ve spent a lot of money spoiling my cats. Eventually I realized I could make my own cat toys and save money. This did not work out, as I still spend too much on my cats. But now at least I have a hobby to support this habit! I had only learned of needle-felting a few months before I got the itch to try it out. I bought a how-to book, made their first example (it was an owl), and went my own catnip-fueled direction after that. I found my niche.
Q: What are your most popular science-themed toys?
A: By far, my most popular sciency cat toys are giardia (beaver fever) and flagellate naeglerias (brain eating amoebas). I feel a bit guilty about this since I’ve always been pro-prokaryote and sneer a little (just a little) at eukaryotic labs. Caulobacter is my most popular bacterium. Shockingly (to my lab mates especially) I have yet to make any archaea toys!
Jewell adds that she loves it when scientists request custom orders for their own special microbes, so ask away! If you’re not into microbes, she also has cat toys from fields as diverse as entomology and astrology. As a special bonus for readers of The Finch and Pea, she’s created a special discount coupon. Use the code FINCHPEA for 15% off your entire order through Nov. 23, 2012.
You can shop here and follow Talia on Twitter @MycrobeCatnip