Tag Archives: science

Cell Cultures and Me

I don’t know why but I’m always somewhat stressed when doing cell culture stuff. Like, I’m afraid to hurt the cells.

Also, I talk to the cells. Call them ‘my pretties’. Put them to sleep in the incubator, double checking that it’s closed properly and they have enough CO2 and it’s warm enough.

Gosh, I get so attached to my cell cultures. I wouldn’t be able to handle an actual pet, it’d be too intense.

Noodle.

P.S. Sigh, I so need to start thinking about these posts before Sunday rolls around.

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Science Fiction and Scientific Minds

So, a few days ago, I had a conversation with a new friend who is also a scientist and happens to share my love/addiction to television. We talked about science fiction shows and, in particular, lack of good ones. And it made me think.

I think about science all day. Laws of nature. Will this work based on what we know? Does this make sense? How exactly does degraded material leave the body? Why does that reaction happen? Stuff like that. I love it. But after doing that for 8 or more hours, I just get tired of it. I want to forget about the limits of our reality and our knowledge. I imagine things. I like to let go and watch or read fiction – quite often it’s not science fiction, but this post mostly pertains to the latter. As my Dad (fan of hardcore science fiction) says, I just like to see what the human mind can come up with. While I appreciate when science knowledge is used and presented, you know, correctly, I’m (that’s me, not my Dad – I don’t know his exact opinion on the matter) also not bothered by stuff that is way out there. Weird new elements with fantastical properties discovered by random dudes in a random mine*. Complete surgical brain removal that doesn’t kill a person – or the brain – and then re-implantation of the said brain**. Mass spectrometry giving all the answers as though by the click of the fingers*** (OK, to be honest, this does bother me a little, but I concentrate on the cute technician and move on). Medicine (or poison) taking effect in the matter of seconds****. Or when one scientist knows everything***** (because, duh, don’t all scientists know everything there is to know? Or wish that we did at least, or is it just me?).

However, I sometimes encounter people (not necessarily scientists) who have a very low tolerance limit to these sort of liberties and disregard of the rules of the universe as we know them. And I wonder – does my, let’s call it, willingness to believe make me a bad scientist? Or, to put it in another way, does that mean I don’t really have a scientific mind? Whatever that is. Or – and this is what I like to think – does it mean that I am open to considering even the craziest possibilities and that’s actually a good thing? What is your opinion on the matter?

Wondering if I should be rethinking my career plans – not really, but also kind of yeah, though not for the above reason… or not just because of it,

Noodle.

*Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD

**Star Trek: The Original Series at its craziest

***Most crime investigation shows

****Most medical shows

*****Almost any show with a scientist character

Knowing What I Know Now: What I’ve Picked Up As An Undegrad

There’s a new undegrad student working at the lab (incidentally, their major is the same as mine was – Biophysics). It makes me feel a bit strange – not being of the youngest ‘generation’ at the lab anymore. It feels a bit weird being asked questions about this protocol or other and classes and stuff. Weird, but kind of good. I feel like I can actually help in some cases. On a rather nice coincidence, Jeremy Yoder is holding a carnival over at molecularecologist.com: Knowing What I Know Now – giving advice to yourself in the previous stage of scientific education/career. It’s very inspiring and full of excellent thoughts – I’m taking notes from all the contributions. And since I guess I’m now old enough – here goes a few things I’m glad I did as an undegrad and a few things I wish I had done better/differently:

Start Working/Doing Research (and actually show up)

I guess I’m mostly glad that I started working at a lab pretty early – at the start of my second year. It wasn’t paid or anything , I just started working towards what should be my Bachelor’s degree. I only wish I had started in my first year; maybe then that first year wouldn’t have been so depressing with only the often boring introductory classes to occupy me, but I just couldn’t make myself do anything about it.

To be fair, I don’t think I did too well at that first lab. For one thing, at least at first, I rather failed at the showing-up part because I used to be so hung up on the actual studying. Looking back, I needn’t have studied so hard. I know, it’s a bit weird, but I was so afraid of failing classes that I studied too much (my friends certainly thought so). I could’ve balanced classes and lab work better. Oh well. Showing up is key.

Try out different labs

The second thing I’m very glad about is that, after sticking with the first lab for roughly two years, I finally braced myself to leave (for some reason I was rather scared to do it). So I applied to a number of summer internships at quite a few labs (there’s this cool centralised science summer internship programme in my country, but I’m sure there are all sorts of different opportunities everywhere). And it turned out really well. So well that I’m still at the same lab more than two years later.

Also, It might be common knowledge but I didn’t know it and, in the transition process, I also realised that the work atmosphere and stuff like that is just as important as the research project. Or something. I pay a lot of attention to that now.

Take challenging classes

I’m also glad that I braved some challenging elective classes. Those turned out to be my favourite courses, even though I had to work more than I would have otherwise.

Going abroad to study for a semester is another idea I’m glad I had. I was told I should save it for later when I’ve studied more, but I’m glad I did it in my third year, even if I didn’t use all the opportunities that the trip presented. I managed to get reasonably good grades in a couple of rather tough physics classes, so it worked wonders for my confidence. Quite frankly, that alone would be enough for me to be completely satisfied about the whole thing.

I only kind of wish I had done more suggested (not required) background reading during those 4 years of Bachelor’s studies; all those books professors suggested at the beginning of each course – I checked out hardly any of them. Darn House, Doctor Who et al.

Feeling so grown-up, I think, I’ll go play with my Legos now to forget it,

Noodle.

P.S. I’m really not sure if I actually know anything. I just feel that instead of blindly stumbling in the dark, I have a candle now, but I still can hardly see. Maybe by the time I finish a Post-doc I’ll have a flash-light, or something.

It’s a Love/Frustration Sort of Thing

Disclaimer: the following paragraphs are the product of a brain which spent entire Sunday trying to catch up with studying. Please, just go along with it, it made sense in my head, but might have got scrambled somewhere down the neural pathways, or something. Thank you for your cooperation.

Lately, I feel I’ve been hearing a lot about this thing called ‘alternative careers’ (in science) because apparently loads of folks holding PhD degrees can’t find a job in academia. Before, I actually hadn’t even considered that I could work somewhere else.

However, the last couple of weeks have been absolutely crazy at the lab because a task I hoped to have a few months to finish suddenly got a much closer and more strictly enforced deadline (meaning, I actually can’t let it swoosh past). And naturally, when one is in a hurry all sorts of things start to go wrong: stuff that is always cumbersome is even more cumbersome, things that shouldn’t take much time suddenly requiring a lot of tweaking, and even things that you take for granted fail. The latter is particularly annoying because it takes so long to determine what actually went wrong. Which means working way past reasonable time every day. And the situation is not helped by the fact that I still have to go to those pesky classes, because, hey, mid-term and assignment-presenting season is approaching.

So, the concept of a 9-to-5 job (and no classes) is sounding pretty good right about now. But. Even though I’m dead tired and frustrated every day, I still can’t help but sort of love it. Especially when I’m the first to arrive at the lab in the morning or when I’m the only one left at night, working. I don’t know how to describe that feeling exactly but it feels cool. However, at the same time I just kinda hope it doesn’t last too long,

Noodle.

Thoughts From Stockholm Modern Art Museum. Part 2

This is the second part of my thoughts from the Modern Art Museum in Stockholm. The first part is here. This part probably won’t make much sense unless you read the first one.

My Art Academy friends always tell me how it’s all about ‘the concept’ of the artwork these days (i.e. they don’t only have to make an artwork but also explain the concept, the idea behind it), but until visiting the Picasso/Duchamp exhibition I never fully understood what that means. I love ‘art of ideas’! Even more so, because, again, it seems a lot like science to me.

However, one might argue, how can we know what was an artist’s original idea? If we don’t know the idea, there’s no point in the art. Maybe s/he didn’t think anything of it, at all. For instance, I rather think that it was the case with the bicycle wheel, which apparently was constructed as a distraction when Duchamp was upset after he was snubbed by a Cubist exhibition. But that doesn’t really matter, in my opinion. We can still look for meaning – that’s what humans do, don’t we? We can still see something that we wouldn’t see if we were just looking at a stool or a bicycle wheel. Maybe we can even (gasp!) see something inside ourselves.

Picasso, who apparently hated Duchamp’s un-art-like art, said that “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” In my opinion, Duchamp takes that pretty much literally: he takes everyday objects and ‘washes the dust away’, he makes us look at a snow shovel hanging on a wall, for example, and not think of the annoying chore (the title “In advance of a broken arm” can give a few fun ideas). However, I think, the problem might be that he, and modern art in general, sometimes makes us work a little hard, so to speak. He doesn’t present us with anything like a beautiful romantic landscape. Looking at a urinal on a pile of bricks and calling it ‘Fountain’, it may seem that a clean soul isn’t very pretty at all. But that’s how it is, isn’t it? It’s not all pretty inside each of us, and modern art makes us look at it. Or not. No one makes us look at art, and even much less actually see anything in it.

That being said, Picasso’s works don’t really hold up to the ideals of beauty either, do they? Weirdly distorted faces and body parts angling in weird directions, and, in later works, just piles of square shapes called ‘A Guitar Player’ or something. However, I find the process of the Cubist painting delightfully scientific. The idea being that in order to represent a three-dimensional shape on a two-dimensional canvas, you have to be turning your object full circle as you paint it. But we see what sort of weirdness comes out of this – this is also interesting from a science point of view, when we discuss how the object of our research is changed upon the act of measuring its properties. Maybe all we get is just weird distorted projections?

And here I’m going to insert another Duchamp quote that I picked up at the exhibition just because I like it so much:

If a shadow is a two-dimensional projection of a three-dimensional world, then the three-dimensional world as we know it is a projection of the four-dimensional universe.

I’m going to stop here, and save my thoughts on Andy Warhol and some other works from the permanent exhibition for part three,

Noodle.

Thoughts From Stockholm Modern Art Museum. Part 1

Last Sunday, I took a rather whimsical trip. I got on a train and travelled for two hours to Stockholm with only one destination in mind – the Modern Art Museum, which is hosting a Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp exhibition, He Was Wrong (what a delightfully ambiguous title, isn’t it?).

Now, you may not know this about me, but I love modern art. I don’t know exactly why, I just like staring at it. But this exhibition unexpectedly provided me with a bit of an insight into that, actually.

I must confess that I was slightly disappointed at first, seeing the proportions of the exhibition, which was comprised of two rather small chambers – one for Picasso and one for Duchamp. The reason for the smallness of the Duchamp section became clear to me when I read his quote on a wall: “I only made thirteen of them [readymades] during my life, so it’s not much of an occupation”. And I actually ended up spending two hours in those two small rooms, circling back to my favourite pieces multiple times, staring at them for ten minutes at a time, glad that I came alone, because I wouldn’t have felt well knowing that my companion was getting bored. So, there you go.

A cause of another slight rush of disappointment came when I noted that most (if not all) works of art in Duchamp’s room were labeled “replica”. However, the guide explained how most of Duchamp’s works had been either lost or destroyed, as apparently sometimes even the author himself didn’t consider them art. Also, Duchamp himself actually didn’t mind replicas of his works exhibited around the world.

Then I spent ten minutes staring at the replica of the very first readymade he ever constructed – an upside-down bicycle wheel mounted on a stool. It was fun – I had to keep restraining myself from turning the wheel (a small sign read “Please do not touch the artwork”) and it kept occurring to me that I wasn’t looking at a wheel or a stool – both of those things had lost their original functions.

At some point, I realised why I like it so much – because it’s almost like science. Or maybe not. Maybe it’s the other way around, and I like science so much because it’s almost like art. I doubt I’ll ever know. Anyway. A scientist analyses a little part of the world and then s/he can either record it or s/he can go a little further and try and find if s/he can use something already in existance to make something new. For instance, we can make tiny boxes out of DNA to put drugs into them and deliver to the parts of the body that are sick. DNA exists to help pass information about organism structure to new generations, but people take it and make it serve a new purpose. Similarly, an artist takes a wheel and a stool and by attaching the first onto the second he makes something new.

There will be people who will just walk by or even scorn that they had to pay to see something they could’ve made themselves. But the point is that they didn’t. The idea occurred to Duchamp. It doesn’t even matter that it’s only a replica. It’s still his idea. The execution isn’t that important to Duchamp (according to the guide). So, when we look at a weird bottle rack, we aren’t looking at a bottle rack (it’s not used to put bottles on it), we aren’t even looking at something Duchamp made (again, it was only a replica), we’re looking at an idea that occurred to Duchamp. I love it even more, now that I realise this.

I’ll spare your time and stop here. I’ll continue my thoughts from the Modern Art Museum next week, when I’ll already have left Sweden and will probably be swamped by mundane to-do lists as I try to catch up with the life I left at home three months ago,

Noodle.

Science Is Real

I had a realisation last weekend.

A collaborator from abroad came to visit this lab and I had the chance to sit in / participate in all of it. And it was very cool and pretty educational. I realised, for instance, that I need to learn how to properly introduce myself and the work I do. However, that was not the big realisation.

At some point among all the talks about different trials and experiments, it suddenly hit me:

This science shit is real.

(Pardon my foul language but I need that to express the greatness of the realisation.) It’s happening. It’s making changes. And stuff, you know. It’s difficult to explain. I mean, I sure better know it’s real, after all, I’ve been working at it, too, for over 3 years now. Folks from different countries visit the lab back home, my co-workers and supervisors are coming and going all the time, to the extent that some of them seem to be out of the country more often than not. And I keep toiling away at my projects, which feels more like playing at times. I love it, of course, but it’s very easy to forget the bigger picture and start to wonder about the point of it all. Thankfully, my thesis supervisor often (whether consciously or not, I don’t know) reminds me of it. But this is the first time I feel like I actually belong to the picture. Well, at least sort of.

I don’t know if I made any sort of sense here, but there you go,

Noodle.