Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Naples Archeological Museum: A Virtual Visit



For anyone with an interest in Pompeii and Herculaneum, a visit to Naples is a must. Inside the Naples Archeological Museum is the world's largest collection of artifacts unearthed from the ancient cities lost tragically in the 79 AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius. But for those who can't fly to Italy this week, here we revisit a Rick Steves video detailing some of the highlights in the museum.

Steves comments in the beginning of the video that "the local king" demanded that the best treasures be excavated from Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabiae. This is a partial truth. The rest of the story is that King Charles was acting on the authority of his mother.

Queen Elisabetta was descended from the Medici dukes of Florence and the Farnese dukes of Lombardy. It was Elisabetta who initiated and funded the first excavations of these cities in the 1700s, and the priceless Farnese collection available to Archeological Museum visitors today (mentioned at around 3:45 in the video) was her own.

Mount Vesuvius before the eruption
At 0.49, we see one of the most famous frescoes from Pompeii. The beauty of this piece is that it shows Mount Vesuvius as the Romans saw the volcano, covered in foliage and apparently dormant. Prior to the eruption that buried the Roman cities, Mount Vesuvius had not erupted since about 1800 BC. The Roman citizens of Pompeii and Herculaneum were totally ill prepared when it happened.

Since that eruption, Mount Vesuvius has erupted several more times. In 2010, it was predicted that another major eruption will occur within the next eight years. We are getting very close to that day.

Why, then, do so many priceless artifacts still remain beneath the ash? At 0.54 of the video, we see several bronze statues from the villa of Julius Caesar's father-in-law. What Rick Steves neglects to mention here is that this was the famed "Villa dei Papiri," the most extensive ancient Roman library still extant today. The fact that the majority of this library is still buried beneath a volcano that could erupt again at any time is a tragedy waiting to happen. The history of the excavation of this villa, and the reasons why it has not been fully excavated, are discussed here.

Despite the fact that efforts to excavate the Villa dei Papiri have been repeatedly halted throughout the centuries, the many voyages into the villa have offered a very complete description of it. Visitors to the Getty Villa in Malibu, California, have the luxury of seeing this grandiose palace as it was in the time of the Romans. The Getty Villa is a museum dedicated to artifacts from Pompeii and Herculaneum, and the museum itself is a full-scale reconstruction of the three-story Villa dei Papiri. One can meander through the vast gardens of the Getty Villa and find a reproduction of the Drunken Faun statue mentioned at 1:18 of the Rick Steves video.

Alexander the Great mosaic from Pompeii

At 2:04, we see one of the most priceless mosaics from Pompeii: the mosaic that depicts the victory of Alexander the Great over Persia. Of course, it was Alexander who founded the Egyptian city known today as Alexandria, and it was his legacy that followed through 250 years of Ptolemaic pharaohs to the last ruler of the dynasty, Queen Cleopatra.

This mosaic was found in the House of the Faun, an extraordinarily large Pompeii villa that could only have been owned by the highest of elite. Exactly who owned the House of the Faun has never been established, but the Alexander the Great mosaic was not the only Egyptian influence found there. Other notable artwork excavated from the villa included several scenes of the Nile river.

No discussion of the Naples Archeological Museum would be complete without mention of the Secret Room, which requires an additional fee to enter. Rick Steves brings the viewer into this room for free at 2:45 in the video. The Secret Room contains much of the erotic art from Pompeii, of which there was plenty.

Reconstruction of the Alexander the Great mosaic
One section of the museum not mentioned in the video is the Egyptian section. Along with a respectable collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts, this section contains human and animal mummies and a bit of information about the mummification beliefs of the pharaohs. Contained within the mummified crocodile is a delicious secret. Stay tuned.

To visit the Naples Archeological Museum, visit the museum's Official Site.






This blog post explores a non-fictional theme or locale that is incorporated in The Vesuvius Isotope, the first Katrina Stone novel. Buy The Vesuvius Isotope in print or ebook.

From the ancient ruins beneath Mount Vesuvius, a two-thousand-year-old document has emerged. It is the only text ever attributed to the ambitious, inquisitive, and cryptic last pharaoh of Egypt...

When her Nobel laureate husband is murdered, biologist Katrina Stone can no longer ignore the secrecy that has increasingly pervaded his recent behavior. Her search for answers leads to a two-thousand-year-old medical mystery and the life of one of history’s most enigmatic women. Following the trail forged by her late husband, Katrina must separate truth from legend as she chases medicine from ancient Italy and Egypt to a clandestine modern-day war. Her quest will reveal a legacy of greed and murder and resurrect an ancient plague into the twenty-first century.




Kristen Elise, Ph.D. is a drug discovery biologist and the author of The Vesuvius Isotope and The Death Row Complex. She lives in San Diego, California. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

What type of cancer do you work on?

Are you writing a science thriller?  What about a mystery with a forensic component?  If you're seeking advice from an expert in the sciences, look no farther than Katrina Stone, professional biologist and protagonist of "The Vesuvius Isotope."  To learn more about Katrina's areas of expertise, click here.  To ask a question of your own, click here.  Below, a reader asks:

What type of cancer do you work on?

Katrina's answer:

I do not work on a specific type of cancer. I work in early stage drug discovery – that is, finding the best drug in the first place, long before it enters human clinical trials. Once it enters the clinic, a cancer drug goes first into “Phase I”. Phase I trials are safety trials, but they also guide clinicians toward an “indication” (type of cancer) that seems appropriate for that drug. So, the majority of cancer drugs find their niche in Phase II of the clinic.  This is several years after the drug has left my hands.

However, early stage discovery efforts (my focus) are frequently geared toward looking for a drug that will be applied to a certain indication. To pick this indication, we balance the probability of success (is it a cancer that CAN be treated?) with unmet medical need (are there enough patients that have this type of cancer?) and other factors.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Cover Reveal: The Vesuvius Isotope


In the ruins of Herculaneum lies the Villa dei Papiri, a sprawling palace once owned by the father-in-
law of Julius Caesar. In the 79CE eruption of Mount Vesuvius, the villa and its extensive library were buried and perfectly preserved. Today, they have been partially excavated. The thousands of documents within the library are still legible.

A document unearthed from within the Villa dei Papiri has just been translated. The document describes an ancient remedy for metastatic cancer in women. It was authored by Julius Caesar's last lover, Queen Cleopatra VII. It is, in fact, the only written text that has ever been attributed to the highly educated, multilingual and scientifically-minded last ruler of Ptolemaic Egypt.

The two-thousand-year-old remedy described in the document is the only hope for thousands today.

When her Nobel Laureate husband is murdered, drug discovery biologist Katrina Stone can no longer ignore the secrecy that has increasingly pervaded his recent behavior. Her search leads first to another woman, and then to the two-thousand-year-old document. As Katrina races to solve her husband's murder, she is led from ancient Italy and Egypt into the modern-day conflict that her husband was killed for. And she learns that his death was only the beginning.

The temple on the front cover of The Vesuvius Isotope is the Temple of Isis at Aswan, Egypt. On the right hand side of the image is a relief of the goddess Isis herself. This goddess, the ancient Egyptian goddess of medicine, was adopted by Cleopatra when the queen publicly deemed herself "the New Isis" during her reign over Egypt.

The coin on the front cover is a typical, modern depiction of Cleopatra. But the coin on the back cover is the actual image of her. It is this coin that Cleopatra minted during her reign. It is this image that she chose to project for posterity.

Far from the sexy seductress of Hollywood, the queen was not, in fact, considered the least bit attractive by her own peers. How, then, did she so cleverly manipulate the two most powerful Romans in the world - first Julius Caesar, and then Mark Antony? The answer to this question lies in The Vesuvius Isotope.

I would like to thank Damonza's Awesome Book Covers for the Awesome Book Cover.

Buy The Vesuvius Isotope in print or ebook.

From the ancient ruins beneath Mount Vesuvius, a two-thousand-year-old document has emerged. It is the only text ever attributed to the ambitious, inquisitive, and cryptic last pharaoh of Egypt...

When her Nobel laureate husband is murdered, biologist Katrina Stone can no longer ignore the secrecy that has increasingly pervaded his recent behavior. Her search for answers leads to a two-thousand-year-old medical mystery and the life of one of history’s most enigmatic women. Following the trail forged by her late husband, Katrina must separate truth from legend as she chases medicine from ancient Italy and Egypt to a clandestine modern-day war. Her quest will reveal a legacy of greed and murder and resurrect an ancient plague into the twenty-first century.



Kristen Elise, Ph.D. is a drug discovery biologist and the author of The Vesuvius Isotope and The Death Row Complex. She lives in San Diego, California, with her husband, stepson, and three canine children. 


Friday, May 10, 2013

This Weekend! The Mysterious Galaxy 20th Birthday Gala


San Diegans, don't miss this event at Mysterious Galaxy this Saturday, May 11th! I will be there to support an awesome indie bookstore and my fellow authors. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Calling his bluff


“You just bluffed to an audience of five thousand scientists,” I say, grinning.  “Ballsy.”
“I didn’t bluff!” Jeff says, and he is red in the face but laughing.  “I said we’re working on it, and we are.  We’ll get there!  Just wait!”
I shake my head.  “So your lab is going to single-handedly solve this puzzle that the Department of Defense has been struggling to solve since 2001?”
“YES!”
“You’re one of those guys who won’t ever ask for directions, aren’t you?”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Just that you’re the type of person who won’t accept anyone’s help.”
“How do you know that?  You don’t know me!”
“Oh, I think I do.  It's like looking in a mirror. But what if I told you I already know the answer?  What if I said that I have proven the full mechanism of action for anthrax?”
“I’d think it’s a huge bummer that the woman I was just thinking of inviting out to dinner turned out to be a total crackpot.”  This time, he is the one with the smug grin on his face.
“Oh, really?  So then, you’re convinced that you can solve it, but it’s absolutely impossible that I could have?”
“Pretty much,” he says, but he jumps back as if I might hit him.
“OK,” I say.  “I’ll make you a deal.  Take a crackpot to dinner, and I’ll bring some of my recent data with me—the stuff I am not yet discussing in public.  But first, what are the stakes?  What do I get if I’m right?”
“Dessert?” he offers, and I refrain from asking what delectable treats are on the menu.

Excerpt from The Vesuvius Isotope, the first Katrina Stone novel. Buy The Vesuvius Isotope in print or ebook.

From the ancient ruins beneath Mount Vesuvius, a two-thousand-year-old document has emerged. It is the only text ever attributed to the ambitious, inquisitive, and cryptic last pharaoh of Egypt...

When her Nobel laureate husband is murdered, biologist Katrina Stone can no longer ignore the secrecy that has increasingly pervaded his recent behavior. Her search for answers leads to a two-thousand-year-old medical mystery and the life of one of history’s most enigmatic women. Following the trail forged by her late husband, Katrina must separate truth from legend as she chases medicine from ancient Italy and Egypt to a clandestine modern-day war. Her quest will reveal a legacy of greed and murder and resurrect an ancient plague into the twenty-first century.






Kristen Elise, Ph.D. is a drug discovery biologist and the author of The Vesuvius Isotope and The Death Row Complex. She lives in San Diego, California, with her husband, stepson, and three canine children. 


Friday, May 3, 2013

Is a Ph.D. a real doctor?

Are you writing a science thriller?  What about a mystery with a forensic component?  If you're seeking advice from an expert in the sciences, look no farther than Katrina Stone, professional biologist and protagonist of "The Vesuvius Isotope."  To learn more about Katrina's areas of expertise or to ask a question of your own, click here.  Below, a reader asks:

Is a Ph.D. a real doctor? 

Katrina's answer(s):

My favorite answer:  Yes a Ph.D. is a real doctor!  A Ph.D. really went to school for a really long time! 

A fair answer:  A Ph.D. is not a "doctor" as you might think of one.  A Ph.D. biologist does not see patients, has limited training in anatomy and cannot prescribe medicine.  Drug discovery scientists, usually carrying Ph.D.s rather than M.D.s, design and physically generate the medicines that “real” doctors prescribe. 

The technical answer:  Anyone with a Ph.D. (in ANY field) officially carries the title of “doctor”, just like anyone with an M.D. (medical doctor), D.V.M., (doctor of veterinary medicine), D.D.S. (doctor of dental surgery) or any other “doctorate” degree.  A professor at a university carries a Ph.D. and thus is technically a doctor, but is frequently referred to instead as “professor.” 

Ph.D.stands for "doctor of philosophy", which really annoys me as it's completely misleading. Philosophy is a subject I know nothing whatsoever about.

For the record, a Ph.D. goes to school longer than an M.D. and then usually makes less money.  But we have way more fun and are not on call.  It’s a good life…