Meet microbiologist Rachel Collins in these videos, blog posts, and interviews from NOVA's "The Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers." Rachel studies the effectiveness of various antibiotics against different bacteria. As a child, she spent her weekends in a lab with her father who was a chemist.
Rachel Collins is a microbiologist who studies bacteria and antibiotics. Her favorite bacterium smells like butterscotch.
Rachel is a professional wrestler who goes by the name of Mschif. She is your "Soul’s Tormentor."
Green Hair in the Lab
Rachel Collins follows in her dad's footsteps and becomes a scientist, only with green hair.
The Show Must Go On
Rachel Coliins turns into wrestler "MsChif" and scares the Secret Life team… a lot.
30 Second Science with Rachel Collins
We give Rachel Collins 30 seconds to describe her science and she body-slams bacteria.
10 Questions for Rachel Collins
We ask Rachel Collins 10 questions and she professes her love for George "the Animal" Steele.
The wrestling bug
Rachel’s day job—testing how bacteria react to our dwindling antibiotic arsenal—is extremely important, for drug resistance is one of our scariest public health threats. One of the most well known superbugs is MRSA ( M ethicillin- R esistant S taphylococcus A ureus), which causes painful sores, fever and pneumonia and is impervious to a slew of common drugs. Every year, more than two million MRSA infections rack up some $4.5 billion in healthcare costs and kill 90,000 people.
As recently as 1998, MRSA was thought to be a problem only in hospitals and other confined settings, such as nursing homes and prisons. But in the past decade, researchers have realized, much to their horror, that the bug crops up all over the place—including, famously, in high school wrestlers.
In 1993, for example, one boy on a high school wrestling team in Vermont got an infection on his arm. It healed, but he still managed to spread it to his teammates and to wrestlers from 11 other teams. Years later, the incident was recognized as one of the first MRSA outbreaks outside of a hospital. It makes sense: wrestlers have lots of skin-to-skin contact, not to mention cuts and excess body fluids, all of which makes it easy to transmit infections. Plus, many high school athletes wait until they get home to take a shower, rather than use the locker room. (And how many do you think actually scrub their masks, pads, and clothes immediately after a match?)
There’s a growing awareness of the superbug problem among public health authorities. For example, many high school athletic associations have issued hygiene guidelines to prevent the spread of MRSA. Last week, the National Institutes of Health announced that there will be four new clinical trials in the next five years to test how changing the dosage and duration of known drugs can help stave off infection.
Still, few new drugs are in development, and the bugs get stronger every day. In a study published earlier this year, microbiologists collected samples from various surfaces—such as wrestling mats, and locker room benches, sinks, and doorknobs—in nine high schools in rural Ohio. Every single school had at least one surface that tested positive for MRSA.
So, wrestlers, hit the showers, will ya?
Learn to scream!
Science is no easy field to work in, and it takes a lot of guts to stick with it. Luckily for Rachel Collins, she’s 100% guts. Not only does she juggle two vastly different lives, but she dominates in both science and in wrestling.
And it turns out the line between Rachel and MsChif is pretty blurred—she happily went to the airport still in her wrestling garb after our interview with her, and she totally delighted in all the looks she got.
Check out the video below of Rachel teaching me a thing or two about unleashing my own inner MsChif.
The love of the sport
By Rachel Collins
September 11, 2010, I’m sitting in the locker room getting ready for the first match of four for the weekend of SHIMMER . I always look forward to the SHIMMER weekends. It’s the one time I get a chance to see all the girls I’ve become friends with, not only across the States, but across the world. I’m putting on the MsChif gear and make-up, stretching out and contemplating a new submission to put on my first opponent. The question in mind was how to smoothly get into it.
About 10 minutes before the doors opened to let the fans in, I grabbed one of my friends and asked her to come down to the ring with me to make sure my idea would work. The way I thought to get into it was nothing too fancy, a maneuver I’ve done probably 7,336 times before. However, this time I happened to put my hand down in a position that didn’t allow my arm to turn with me as my shoulder needed to. Once in motion it couldn’t be stopped. I heard a ripping sound in my shoulder, but didn’t think much of it. It wasn’t hurting. I attempted to shake it off and said, “Give me just a minute.” Then I looked down at my arm and said, “Alright, maybe not.” I had dislocated my left shoulder. Sometimes the unfortunate happens. Thankfully, we have great support at these matches. I was brought straight to the ER where they took me right in without having to wait. As my shoulder sat out of place, that’s when all the pain really started to set in. My “SHIMbulance” driver stayed with me throughout the process. He was beyond awesome as he kept me talking about the most random things just to keep my mind off the pain.
So why do wrestlers put our bodies at risk to put on a show? Simply the love of the sport, the challenge, the adrenaline high, the roar of the crowd and all the people that are brought into our lives that never would have been there without wrestling. I get the chance to work with men and women who live hundreds to thousands of miles away that I never would have met otherwise. These are people who have made my life so much richer, and I’m more than willing to endure the hours on the road for them.
But doesn’t it hurt? Of course, but I believe we wrestlers have to have a much higher pain tolerance to keep coming back for more. It just doesn’t affect us the way it would the average person. You could use the same argument for other sports, Boxing, MMA, football, they all have painful jobs as well and yet continue to do them.
I went back to the show right after being released from the ER. I knew I’d be bummed out to be there and not able to wrestle. But I was still slightly surprised at how badly it affected me. I was actually saddened watching all of these matches going on knowing I should be a part of it and wasn’t able to be. So will I be back? Without a doubt. Will I go back to that submission hold again? Absolutely, but I’ll get into it by a safer method next time.
Your Soul’s Tormentor,
Ask Rachel your questions
Q: How did it feel when you beat Sara Del Rey for the title and then how did it feel when you lost the title to Madison Eagles? Yes, Im a huge a SHIMMER fan and this is about as close as I'll ever be able to actually ask you the question.
Rachel Collins (RC): Beating Sara Del Rey for the SHIMMER title was awesome! She’s a very tough opponent and not easy at all to keep down for those 3 seconds. Losing to Madison Eagles… well, she’s certainly great wrestler. There is no denying that. I’m just biding my time waiting for my rematch!
Q: My students were really surprised by your secret and had lots of questions for you!
1) If you could take on any wrestler who would it be?
2) What is the green mist made of and does it taste bad?
3) What made you want to study microbiology?
4) Have you ever found a bacteria that you couldn’t kill with antibiotics?
5) What was the worst injury you have gotten from wrestling?
6) What is your favorite wrestling move and did you have to learn gymnastics?
7) What is your favorite antibiotic?
Thanks for sharing your science and your secret with us!
RC: Hello to Ms. Naymark’s class!
1) I don’t have anyone in particular. I’ll take on any wrestler who thinks they’re up for the challenge.
2) That is a secret I will never reveal, it’s certainly bad for my opponents anyway.
3) I’ve already had an interest in several areas of science. Microbiology just happened to be the one in my path in life.
4) Not personally, there is usually one to find a bacteria resistant to.
5) That would depend on how you define worst. Most painful? dislocating my shoulder. Most problematic in possibly needing surgery at a later time? I have torn both ACL’s, a usually necessary ligament in your knees. Or head injuries? I’ve had two concussions. Wrestling isn’t just fun and games, there is definite risk to it.
6) I actually already had a background in gymnastics. I was in it for 13 years before I ever started wrestling.
7) Not sure I really have a favorite one.
Q: What elicits a bigger shock: Pro wrestlers finding out you are a scientist or scientists finding out you’re a pro wrestler? Alternatively, if the WWE comes calling, do you take it at the risk of it interfering with your scientific career?
RC: Both actually, scientists are just as shocked to hear I’m a wrestler as wrestlers are to hear I’m a scientist. No way would I ever answer a call to WWE. Nor to TNA for that matter. TNA has already tried, several times. I have too much fun in wrestling to ever go to one of those companies. There they control you, they change your name and look and decide how you will wrestle and when. I like being myself and won’t give it up for TV.