Merry Christmas – nerd style.

19-2011-large

Dears readers/followers,

Just a little note to wish you happy holidays; whatever you are celebrating, or not celebrating ūüôā

This picture was all over twitter a few days ago, and I found it really cool. It’s from the Nikon microscopy contest, and represents various cells seen under fluorescent microscope. (stained and pasted all together of course)

The lab romance amplification

In the series “incredibly nerdy things going on in a research lab”, here is probably one from the TOP 5. I already posted before the picture of an agarose gel saying I love you.

Well, a few days ago, this one below went viral on twitter, and it is a story of a guy who literally proposed with an agarose gel.

A8wVQ

The picture can be found here; and the whole story, how it was prepared, went, and ended is here. I just love it. Here are some excerpts :

The most difficult part of the entire thing was actually coming up with a good enough excuse to get her to image a gel in my lab!

 

The gel actually didn’t take that long (though it was terrifying loading it), but I made a mockup in Illustrator beforehand

Still laughing …

 

 

Famous PI Quotes -4- “Science is like sex: sometimes something useful comes out, but that is not the reason we are doing it. “

Did you know this quote dear readers ? It is attributed the famous american physicist Richard Feynman.

Richard_Feynman_Nobel

 

“Science¬†is like¬†sex: sometimes something useful comes out, but that is not the reason we are doing it.

 

 

To be honest I thought it was really funny at first, but also a bit more profound then it actually seems. It leads to the question: So, why do we actually do science ? 

In the book I am currently reading, it is written that David Baltimore¬†(Also mentioned in a previous post) claims that the answer is “To gain more knowledge”. In a utopic world, this is the only decent answer a scientist should give.

In our real morose world, this question is more and more often answered by “To cure diseases”, or “to make our lives better”. But these aims are in no way the purpose of science, they are simply a direct consequence of it.¬†

Only a little handful of discoveries, and probably no major paradigm shift have ever occurred because someody wanted to cure a disease. But all these major discoveries gave birth to entirely new applied research fields, therapeutics, technologies, investments, jobs, economical growth, etc …

 

I wish more people (and especially the one deciding of the science budgets) would actually see the big picture here. And that was it for the quick late night meditation of the day ūüôā

 

Halfway. *sigh*

Here I am. Halfway trough my PhD thesis. Already.

I did not even have that much time to think about it yet. Lab life, and life outside got more busy and hectic then usual; and somehow it does not fell that it will slow down anytime soon. Everybody tells me that a PhD goes like an exponential curve. A slow and relaxed start, but a fast acceleration towards the ends. Right know I can feel I am right at the moment of final acceleration -already- because let’s face it, 2 years is nothing in research time.

photo

So why not reflect on these 2 first years of being a PhD student. After my master’s, I though I knew already many things, and that doing a PhD would not be such a new experience. Well, could I have been more wrong ? I explained in a previous post what is is to be a happy PhD student, and how nice it can be. The amount of things I learned since two years is tremendous.

1. I am grateful to have landed in a such a good lab. Nice colleagues, nice atmosphere, and nice supervisor. I had just the right amount of supervision, and the right amount of space and liberty to blossom without to much pressure or competition. I think the most important thing I learned is a certain way to think about science; and a way of doing it in a realistic but also joyful and exciting manner. I am very conscious of all the things I still have to get a grasp at, but for the first time it feels like this is doable. It’s not that scary anymore.

2. Also, I feel like I belong to the scientific community now. As a candid, naive, new member; but member nevertheless. I am getting more and more interested in the history of science, scientists, and the way it truly works (or let’s say, always carries on despite of all the rest of the world events) . I have an growing list of book, articles, blogs I want to read, and only worry about the fact that I will never have enough time in my life to read about all the things ¬†I’m interested in.

3. Also, just as importantly, I feel like I belong to this new generation of scientist that can make things change. (Yes, I am an optimistic) I will write about this much more in the coming months, but I see and hear science changing, voices raising. Scientist talk on twitter, blog about their research, ask for open access, text mining, alternative ways of publication, men/women equality, better work conditions, and recognition by society. It’s like we’re reaching this point where people are too unhappy to let the system go on. And I definitely want to be part of the change.

So now, 2 more years. To get more data, publish, make to most out of it, and figure out what will be next. We will see. I’ve never been too much of a planner.

graduation-cap

Book review 3: Sydney Brenner – A Biography

I’m reading more and more often now, and continuously buy book from amazon, on hardcover or kindle version. One of the latest is this one:

Sydney-Brenner-Friedberg-Errol-9780879699475

“Sydney Brenner : A biography” by Errol Friedberg. (Amazon link here)

What did I think about it ? 

LOVED IT ! ¬†Sydner Brenner is one of these scientists that enters in the “living legends” category. If you wouldn’t know he still lives on the same planet then us (and gives conferences), you would bet this book describes a fictional and slightly unreal character.

I read it more like a historic novel about molecular biology then a biography; and was totally hooked to the story. For the biologists of my age (25), DNA, RNA, PCR, molecular cloning, sequencing genomes, are stuff we learned from text books as undergrads, without realizing it was such recent history. I still have a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that 40-50 years ago, people where trying to figure the very basics of DNA, genes, genetic code, mutations, etc …¬†

When reading the book, you are not even tempted to think ¬†“come onnnn, how was that not obvious to you, geniuses ?” or be bored, because it’s written so well that you forget about your own knowledge, and “live” the discoveries with Brenner, Watson, Crick, Nirenberg, and so on. Seriously they could make a nerdy TV Show out of this.¬†

And you realize (because you tend to forget) that it’s easy for no one in science, not even “geniuses”. The chapter describing Brenner and Jacob doing the “Tape experiment” in California was an eye opener. For a month, they did not get any results and where completly depressed about it. But they did this “extra-mile”; taking a deep breath (at the beach); and going to the lab one more time. And make it work. Good to remember it when stuff fails.

Aside of the anecdote, the book is literally a journey trough Brenner’s scientific, from school in South Africa to Singapour & beyond. From the birth or molecular biology to next-generation sequencing.¬†

I learned so many things reading it, but also laughed a lot; because Brenner seems to be one quirky and funny fellow. One anecdote I can remember is this fake “personal communication” they put as a reference in a 70 pages long article as being from “Leonardo de Vinci” ! An one of the reviewers picked it up saying “Who is this italian guy ?” There are so may of these little jewels in the book, I will probably read it all over and bookmark them !¬†

That last sentence probably tells you everything that actually needs to be said …¬†