Thursday, 31 October 2013

Name the Biologist

This one is inspired by Halloween and he may have inspired someone else.

As for the last instalment - it was indeed John Tyndall. His contribution to biology was in finding a form of sterilization by creating "optically pure" air in which he rid a box of all air borne particles. He then found that food did not go off and concluded this was due to the removal of micro-organisms in the air. This backed up Pasteur's "germ theory" and his sterilization or "tyndalization" technique was used for some time.

This was pretty much an aside for Tyndall as he was a physicist at heart and was the first to come up with proof for the Greenhouse effect and an explanation for why the sky is blue. This last discovery, according to some (and Brian Cox), is the origin of the phrase "blue skies research". This type of research is curiosity driven where the scientist follows the results and/or whatever inspires their curiosity. This type of research can allow for discoveries that were never anticipated much like Tyndall's obsession with light and air particles lead to a sterilization technique (and a fireman's aspirator). These days funding agencies are far more happy to fund "objective-based science" eg cure a disease, build a fusion reactor making it harder for curiosity based scientists to get funding. Although with a little bit of inventiveness a researcher can make their research appear goal oriented )

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

5 Scary Costumes for Biologists

Halloween is almost upon us and while everyone else is dressing as Miley Cyrus and/or her wrecking ball, here are some costumes that will strike fear into the bravest of biologists.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Sweet Dreams Aren't Made of These

Had to get out of bed excessively early. Why? Because I was having a reoccurring dream where I was performing RNA extractions and realising I'd done something stupid mid-way. Things like realising I didn't have a glove on or I hadn't washed surfaces with SDS first. A particular favourite was discovering I'd put the flies and Trizol in a 10 ml falcon rendering it impossible to squash them with a pestle and then wondering if i could get away with decanting them into a 1.5 ml eppendorf.

It seems pretty sad when even my anxiety nightmares are science based.

As you may have guessed - I'm planning on doing RNA extractions later in the week. Hopefully these mental trial simulations will mean the real thing goes more smoothly!

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Science Songs

By all accounts this was an intentional play on words by the band. "Selfish Jean" by Travis.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Name the Biologist

It's back, thanks to a little bit of inspiration from TV

This guy is old school and biology was just a small aspect of his scientific expertise. More importantly, his research style is one that many biologists have to wrestle with.

I'll put the answer up within a week.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Freezer Flood

Returning to work after a week and a half vacation is always tricky. First of all pretty much everything of use from my bench was stolen. Marker pens, tips, scissors, you name it. So I just went and took some more from another colleague who is away. The cycle is never-ending. A rational response would be to just make sure everyone has one of all the essentials but it seems to be a sport in my lab. On Friday I discovered that my bay area was flooded. Even weirder was the fact it was coming from the freezer that doesn't work so I've no idea how it managed to condense enough water to cause a flood. Almost as if it briefly came back to life just to annoy me. Not anymore. I've unplugged it. On the other hand the liquid nitrogen containers were dangerously low. I went to fill it up only to discover that both reserve tanks were also empty (see previous mantra). I took them down to be refilled. I'll check tomorrow to see whether they still need filling. I suspect they will.

The rest of the week seemed to involve repeatedly encountering the last of everything. This really winds me up but I guess the fact I don't personally take over ordering means I'm also to blame. I do try and adhere to the "you take the last one you order more" policy.

The "green" pipette tips have transmuted into gold as we don't have any more. This one is a bit odd as several people have claimed to order them and they've never arrived so I think that one is a distributor problem. The result is that a bartering system has now started in order to get our hands on tips within the lab. I'm also being super efficient with the use of the green tips. If I can use a "red" tip (10ul), I use that and gone are the days when I'd recklessly use a green tip for making mini-preps. I probably should count how many I have left every evening to ensure none of them are stolen. Hell, I should probably take them home with me every night.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Brian Cox's Science Britannica

I missed his last show as I thought it was a bit unfair how a physicist is taking all of science for himself in terms of BBC's science programming. This show is about Science in the UK though so I'll let him off as he's British and a scientist.

The first episode is about the perception of Scientist's as Dr Frankenstein and he posits where in British history the public fear may have arose and how it still remains to this day. He touches on the atomic bomb, GM food and animal testing and while those who are against all of those things won't be convinced I think he presents good arguments for them all to the general lay person and how scientists have a goal in mind rather than aimlessly "interfering with nature".

He also suggests that public engagement by scientists is the best way to combat the negative perception. The show makes good on this promise by interviewing several scientists involved in the controversial topics mentioned along with Sir Paul Nurse head of the Royal Society.

There are couple of funny moments. I liked how Brian giggles like a child when looking at a drawing of a horrible tumour from the 19th century. Then there's the staged "looking thoughtful on a train" scenes. My favourite moment though is one that I can only assume is the result of a dare. Brian is listing all of the big British discoveries in science which are popping up on the screen. The list includes, wireless telegraph, the first traffic light, jet engine, underground rail, the microphone, theory of evolution, the Christmas cracker, the structure of DNA and the discovery of elements. Does anything in that list strike you as not being that amazing? I'm not convinced the Christmas Cracker is in the same league at all. Maybe it revolutionised Christmas but it's not that amazing or useful.when compared to all the other things. Hopefully a tongue in cheek joke from the makers of the show.

I'll try and watch the other episodes and share my thoughts on them when I get the chance.