Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Random Musings from the World of Science

Recent seminars and a scientific retreat (put on by the department I work for) have led me to some conclusions:

- Scientists need to work on their stand-up routines. I've met many an eloquent and witty scientist in my time. So why is it that the less witty and eloquent are always the ones who try to bring humour into their scientific speeches? I was lucky enough to hear some excellent talks during a one day retreat on Friday, but what sticks in my head are the few speakers who foolishly attempted to be funny. Don't get me wrong, I love a good laugh, but bad humour doesn't help anyone.

- On the other hand, scientists have their fun sides. Scientists like to name things in a funny way: genes called "Groucho", proteins called "Skizzle", and there's even a "Sonic the Hedgehog". Scientists also have deviant minds: I work on proteins that obey "molecular sexuality" where one protein inserts its end into a pocket in another protein... Try and explain that at a conference without getting thrown out for lewd hand gestures!!

- Scientists like chocolate! Yes, I know most people like chocolate, but scientists seem particularly drawn to it. A case in point occurred at the retreat. At one end of the room was a bowl of large Snickers bars. One entering the room at 8am (after having walked past the numerous breakfast offerings) a faculty member saw the bowl and exclaimed "oh great, breakfast", before hurriedly downing a bar. Later in the day, my boss was sitting by the bowl. During a speaker change-over, a senior faculty member on the other side of the lecture hall called to my boss in a whispery voice: "Get us a Snickers bar!"

- Finally, I ask why are we here. I'm not really getting philosophical; it's just that during a talk yesterday someone asked why we age when we have all the genetic tools to prevent it. The lecture responded: "We are designed to procreate and raise our young. After that we are expected to die"... Lovely!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Science: It makes me laugh, it makes me cry (Part 2)

We had a seminar today. Following on from the previous seminars this week, I was hoping for some laughs. What we got was laughable. The presentation was horrible, with the presenter having no clue, and often uttering the phrase: "the authors did something... I don't know what... Oh well, it doesn't matter." When your talk is meant to be based on a journal article and the research it presents, it does tend to matter...

In far happier news, the lost protein I talked of yesterday was found (partially at least)! Through quick thinking, and good luck we have managed to recover enough of the protein to continue with the purification. We've also managed to fix the two broken pieces of equipment. It has been a good lab day!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Science: It makes me laugh, it makes me cry

Well, "cry" might be a bit dramatic, but it makes a point. Science is what I do, and it's what I want to do for the rest of my life, but it can bring out all manner of emotions!

Yesterday we had our weekly "Research In Progress" seminars. They caused me to chuckle, not once, but twice yesterday (which is quite something, as they are rarely what you would call "interesting").

Firstly, we heard a talk about two different diseases being studied with a mouse model. In these studies, 40% of the mice in one trial died. While this may not seem laughable (it isn't), it amused me when the slide stated that the study showed "40% morality" (these mice were clearly killed by the 60% without morals, according to a student in our lab)!

In the second talk the speaker put up her title slide, which read at the bottom:
"Joanne Blogs, Ph.D.
RIP - 10/02/07"
I guess she expected bad reviews!

So what about the crying? I've just finished trying to help one of our students with her protein purification. I say "trying", as I was unable to do much. In the lab we have two indentical pieces of equipment to purify proteins (FPLCs), which are fantastic when they work. One of them broke yesterday (it was sucking air into the system... very bad!), so our student used the second machine. These machines collect your protein in tubes, only this machine wouldn't progress beyond the 1st tube (if that)!!! After much anger and gnashing of teeth, we finally had to fire up the broken machine and pray for it not to suck air for long enough for us to get some protein. When we ran this machine, the protein was not to be found!!! Having given up hope, we cleaned the machine up to pack it away, only to find a protein-like peak flowing into the waste!!

While this has no impact on my own work, it truly is disappointing to watch a students first protein purification go down the toilet like this.

Tomorrow is another day, and with another seminar I'm hopefully of some more laughs!