Whoa…

When I first started this blog, I did some Googling and looked for other pages put together by postdocs, graduate students, scientists, etc.  In general, I found quite a few, many of them fun and informative.  They all had something in common though.  That is: at a certain point, whoever was on the other end writing literally FELL. OFF. THE. PLANET.

I vowed I would not do the same.

Then I did.

But I’m still here.  Still alive.  Still postdoc-ing.  I’ve published a paper.  I received two grants.  I’m working on another paper.  I have formed collaborations with others in the lab.  With other labs too.   I’ve made friends and I’ve made enemies out of friends.  I watched a colleague die of cancer.  I had an existential crisis.  I wondered why I was in science when I was working so hard all the time and couldn’t spend anytime with my family.  I spent more time with my family.  I felt extremely guilty I wasn’t working more in lab.  I worked more and more and I took on more work because I felt like as long as I was working there wouldn’t be any time to stop and wonder about how much I should be working.  But I’m still here.

The Fair Labor Standards Act: A Movie

It’s December 1.  You may have heard the FLSA was going to take effect today.  Or not.  But for a lucky few your pay may still change.  Mine won’t.  Keep on workin’ hard fellow postdocs, I understand your commitment.  Here’s something I made to commemorate all of you who spend long hours in lab during the week and on the weekends and holidays!

FOR SCIENCE!

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Nobel Prize: A Poem

This week is Nobel Prize week!  On Monday, the prize for Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Yoshinori Ohsumi of the Tokyo Institute for Technology (Here’s his website.  I think..it’s in Japanese).  More than 25 years ago, Dr. Ohsumi and his lab took the yeast cultures they were growing, starved them of nutrients, and noticed the starved yeast accumulated small spherical structures inside.  Through their experiments they determined that the starved yeast were recycling parts of themselves.  This process, never-before described in yeast or animal cells, is “autophagy”.  Or self-eating (ooooo, sounds “Halloween-y doesn’t it?).

It’s a hot topic in science, so I thought I would educate myself by reading Ohsumi’s original publication.  A couple of things:  When I first went searching for the paper, I didn’t realize that 25 years ago meant 1992.  I was expecting it to be dated 1975 or something.  I may have had a bit of a panic attack when I fully realized it’s 2016.  Almost 2017.   Second, if you want to read the paper yourself, here’s the link .  It’s free.

And last, here’s a blackout poem for you made from the abstract.  I don’t know why I did this.  I guess I’m a weirdo.  Or, maybe it’s just hard to just sit down and read an article all the way through sometimes–so think of it less as a “poem” and more like a post-doc attention span simulator.

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A recipe for brains (cookies)

braincookiesAfter a hard days work, sometimes all you want to do is come home and make (eat) cookies.  So, naturally, I made these delightful sugar cookies shaped to look like brain bits.  And, I have to admit, painting the royal icing on to look like white and grey matter was pretty satisfying.  You too can amaze/disgust your colleagues by bringing these to work!

Sugar cookies

1 stick o’ butter
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder

Preheat the oven to 350.   Mix the butter, sugar and vanilla together until it gets smooth and creamy.  Whip in an egg.  Make sure it’s not too cold so stuff doesn’t separate.  Add in the rest of the ingredients and mix until its combined.  It will be crumbly.

Dump everything onto a clean counter or piece of parchment paper and squish it together to make a disk.  Using flour to keep it from sticking everywhere, roll the dough out so that it is only 1/8-1/4 inches thick.

Cut into brain shapes.  I used a butterfly cookie cutter and just squared off two of the sides so it looked like this, but really you could freeform this with a knife and it would look great.

Place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and cook to perfection (about 15-20 minutes).

Let them cool.  Except for that one…that one needs to be eaten.

Royal Icing

1 lb powdered sugar
3 Tbs meringue powder (apparently this is a thing you can buy this at Walmart, craft stores, and some grocery stores.  It comes in a white canister and can be found by cake decorations)
At least 5 Tbs water
Pink/Red and Green food coloring
Sandwich bags
Toothpicks

Mix everything together and whip it until it looks glossy like meringue.  It should be a stiff toothpaste-like consistency at first.  I separated about 1/4 of it and used it to outline the “white matter”.  Another 1/4 I dyed red to outline the “grey matter”.  To create the outlines, I just put the icing in a sandwich bag and snipped a small hole in the corner and used it like a pastry bag.

I then added more water to the remaining 1/2 of the icing so that if you dipped a spoon into it and pulled it out, a ribbon of icing would run off the spoon back into the bowl and would hold its shape for a few seconds before disappearing.  1/4 of this thinner icing I dyed light pink for the “white matter”.  The other 1/4 I used the pink and the green together to get more of a flesh tone.  I used toothpicks to apply the icing to the cookies; basically, you just goober it on and as long as it’s not too thick, it will fill in the outlines you have created with the white and the red icing and you can use the toothpick to fill in any holes you see.  Let them dry about an hour.

This was oddly therapeutic for me, as I hope it will be for you!

 

 

Items you will need on your scientific quest. Part III

Box of hoarding

#5 A drawer of hoarding.  Find a good deep drawer.  Chances are there are several unused ones throughout the lab.  And by “unused”, I mean a previous graduate student or postdoc shoved a bunch of items (filter paper, cuvettes, cotton swabs, odd plasticware) into a drawer presumably to disapparate them and there they have remained since.  Empty said drawer.  Fill it with your secret stash of buffers, special pipette tips, favorite labels, troll dolls, etc.  This is now an amazing treasure trove of science.  And, because everyone assumes that the drawer is full of old garbage, no one will find it.  Enjoy stunning your coworkers when the lab supply of a critcial reagent runs out and you can miraculously procure some from your drawer of hoarding for just this occasion.

Reality meets sci-fi


I made a video.

In part, it’s because I was home with a head cold and didn’t want to do real work.  So I listened to a local classical music station and curled up on the couch in the fetal position. Then I heard a piece by Beethoven that reminded me of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Which is an awesome movie.

It was released in 1968–a whole year before the first moon landing–and yet watching the movie you feel like mankind was (is) ready to travel to Jupiter.  My favorite scenes are those that make space travel appear totally natural.  Eating meals on a shuttle, landing at a moon base as if it’s another trip to the airport, jogging around a spaceship.  And so, in that vein, I used video from NASA space shuttle and International Space Station missions to create my own Kubrick-esque short movie.  It’s a silly thing, but a reminder that in science fiction there are great ideas.  And, sometimes, those ideas can become reality.  And that’s a pretty exciting thought for this scientist…

This work was created using both audio and video from the Internet Archive (archive.org). The videos were from NASA images.  Specifically, I used scenes from STS-6 (1984), STS-9 (1984), STS-66 (1994), and Expedition 8 (2003).   There are images of real experiments conducted in space including:  a cylinder filled with silicon oil to model fuel storage, a water droplet forming a perfect sphere, a recording of an eye during a visual-vestibular test where the participant stared at a moving pattern and eye motion was tracked using a special contact lens.  There a pictures of the Earth from space, of lightning storms at night, of the moon setting on the horizon of the planet.  There’s a clip of a Russian resupply module approaching the ISS, shuttle launches and landings.  I would urge you to check out the archives because the full length videos are mesmerizing and the bravery, professionalism, and humor of the astronauts they feature is truly inspiring.

The audio is Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4, in B-flat major, Op. 60 and was recorded by the Cleveland Orchestra with George Szell conducting and was released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial ShareAlike license.

Everything in this video is either licensed for remix/reuse or is in the public domain.  This video is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial ShareAlike license.