Saturday, 15 June 2013

Stopping by the Lab - A Poem

Following on from my last post, I got a request to have a go at sciencifying Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost.

And so I give you Stopping by the Lab on a Summer Evening:

His lab it is, the boss I know.
He vacations in the summer though;
He will not see me stopping here
To finish papers before deadlines go.

My other friends must think it queer
To work without a supervisor near
Between the benches and piles of plates
The hottest evening of the year.

I give my newest samples a shake
Thinking there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the hum
Of incubators and plates that shake.

I dream of rest that’s long and deep
But I have promises to keep,
And hours to work before I sleep,
And words to write before I sleep.

I'm actually quite enjoying this new game, so I'd be open to other requests for songs or poems, preferably with direction on areas of science you'd like to include. I'm tempted to start trying some current events ones. The general ones might get a bit repetitive after a while. :S

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Dusting for Science

Hey! I'm actually still here. Scary, right? So I've been spending some time thinking about blogging of late and I really need to get some more of that done, really. So hopefully more of this coming soon. But for now, something quick that I wanted to drop off from facebook for you all, because I'm feeling creative and pretty pleased with myself for this one.

So today, as with most days, one of those images that circulates flew through my newsfeed. It's this one, actually:

So apparently (according to wikipedia) this poem was originally written by Mrs Rose Milligan of Lancashire back around 1998 and it bounces around the Internet and such as one of those things that's meant to inspire (and give you an excuse to do less work). In particular it extolls the virtues of getting out into the world and not burying yourself in work, something I am commonly accused of.

Anyway, having duly posted this to my profile, I was then challenged by a very good friend and colleague of mine to science/Cambridge-ify this poem. Having a bit of spare time on my hands, that's what I decided to do and here's where I ended up (my apologies to those who aren't familiar with science/Cambridge, there's some explanations of terms below and I hope you can appreciate this anyway):

Blot if you must, but wouldn’t it be fun
To punt the Cam and enjoy the sun,
Bake a cake or take a ride,
Leave the lab and enjoy the world outside.

PCR if you must, but there’s not much time
With dinners to eat and college chapels to climb,
Choirs to hear and films to see,
Friends to cherish and people to be.

Sequence if you must, but real life’s out there,
With the wind in your face and the rain in your hair,
Cycle home on the backs to a big mug of tea.
This day’s had more than enough science for me.

Code if you must, but bear in mind,
Tenure may come, it still won’t be kind.
And when you go – and go you must –
All of your papers, will gather more dust.

So, I replaced dusting with various common techniques relating to my PhD. Blotting is a technique that allows the identification of different molecules in a biological sample, especially proteins and DNA. PCR is commonly used in biology and phorensics to make copies of DNA and can be useful for identifying specific genes which can be used to tell where the DNA came from and what it does. Sequencing is how you know what sequence of the letters A, C, G and T make up a specific piece of DNA and coding is what you call it when you write a computer program.

Menawhile, tea is quintessentially British and I really wanted to put it in there. Cycling, choirs, dinners, wind and punting are all things people commonly link with Cambridge, although I personally don't cycle here. And I had to leave the original line about baking cake in there because everyone expects me to make cake.

Here's one of my recent attempts (that's my college colours and the cockerel from the college crest):

Oh, and also some ninjabread men (that's gingerbread men doing martial arts):

TTFN *boing*

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

All the same at Heart

Two weeks ago now, I was talking to someone about the sort of work I do (when I’m playing at being a scientist) and she mentioned that she knew someone else who studied rat hearts. She said she thought this was very odd, as surely there can’t be much in common between the heart of a rat and a human heart, so what could there be to learn? I was quite pleased with the response I was able to give so I wanted to put it up here too. 
Not so different really. Sarah Palin helps to demonstrate that we're not actually so different from any other animals. (Images from Therealbs2002 and
It’s quite a common misconception that the biology of a human is very different from the biology of any other animals. What can we ever hope to learn from them that would be any good to us? The classic example of this comes from Sarah Palin – that fount of well-informed scientific knowledge – who famously commented that ‘[Tax] dollars go to projects that have little or nothing to do with the public good — things like fruit fly research in Paris, France. I kid you not.’ I was also reminded of this by the recent story about scientists making a ‘jellyfish’ out of rat heart cells. This sounds like a bit of fun but may actually come to revolutionise heart transplant procedures by allowing us to grow operational heart muscle from just a few cells. More on that later.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

The big cure for the big ‘C’

This time I'm not going to make any promises. I'm going to try and keep this place going better than I have done but I may get distracted again. There's a lot of fun stuff ahead, but it should mean you'll get to see me cropping up in other places very soon. In other news, if you didn't see it, I got a post on the network on Monday which I'm very excited about. It's on the theme of new beginnings and organising my first conference.

I'd also like to say a quick hello to some of my readers that I've had the good fortune to meet around Cambridge since I last posted anything. I'm always surprised that people have actually heard of my ramblings and am glad that I'm not talking to myself here (although after so much inactivity that may have changed :S )

Anyway, people are always asking me if I've cured cancer yet. This is one of the things that my lab and many others are working towards, in a roundabout sense. But it seems likely that there will never be one cure for all cancer and here's why:

At the risk of being cliché, given all the recent media activity (which I have spectacularly missed the opportunity to write about), finding the ‘cure for cancer’ is to biology what the Higgs Boson was to particle physics. Everyone’s working on it and it means a lot – not just to our understanding of the universe, but to human healthcare – and it may not even exist.

People like to think there can be a simple pill that will fix any problem in life from cancer to cellulite, obesity to osteoarthritis (source).

It’s very nice and easy to think of one simple, easy to administer cure – this is the ultimate dream for many illnesses – but most diseases just aren’t that simple, in particular a ‘cure for cancer’ is a very misleading concept.  It suggests that cancer is one illness that is the same every time it occurs and therefore should have the same solution each time. Actually, there are probably as many cancers as there are people with cancer, with each one unique and different to any other, to some extent.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

tMoL: Big Cell, Little Cell

I’m writing this as a homage to one of my closest friends on the blogosphere. The every wonderful LabRat has finally ended her fraught relationship with scientific research and is throwing herself wholeheartedly into science writing. Whilst I am hugely envious, I wish her all the best and hope she will remember me when she is rich and famous. Look out for her in future publications.
By way of background; Lab Rat has always had a fixation with the simpler things in life, by which I mean bacteria.

False colour E. coli, bacterial/prokaryotic cells.
All living organisms are made up of cells individual living units which are relatively self-supporting and capable of total self-replication, although this is complicated by the intricate interactions between different cells in larger organisms. Whilst larger creatures, like humans are made up of billions of cells, the vast majority of life on Earth exists as single celled microorganisms that cannot be observed with the naked eye.
Cells fall into two main groups, larger and more complex organisms, plants, animals and fungi are called eukaryotes (that’s us humans too) and have much more intricate cellular structures. The earliest forms of life, with the simplest cells are called prokaryotes, which include bacteria.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Resurrection: Halloween, spooky proteins and the return of ClearSci

It’s Halloween night and a dark shape is moving towards you through the ether of the information superhighway. Surrounded by the blackness you feel something closing in, disturbing the thick layers of accumulated dust. Just as you’re about to start screaming in terror… IT’S ME!!! Lights on, and by gosh it’s a mess in here, I don’t remember putting all of these spiders up for Halloween. Eww! Eww, eww, they’re real. I’m really going to need to spend some time cleaning all of this up…I’ll deal with that later.

Halloween revival.
So, if you’re here that means you’ve been on the look-out for more of my slightly eclectic and sporadic brand of science writing and I will try not to disappoint this time. Just so we’re all caught up, no I’m not dead and neither is this blog, it just went into reverse-hibernation over the summer (that’s called aestivation, if you’re interested). Also, neither of us has been temporarily reanimated for Halloween, this will hopefully be working its way back into my normal routine.

Summer was great! Although crazy, so I didn’t have much writing time (poor excuse I know). I joined the college graduate committee so I’ve spent a lot of time planning and organising events for our new freshers and negotiating college politics. I also finished the third rotation for my first year (currently in editing for the Wellcome Trust), selected my PhD project and wrote the full project proposal (I’m back with the second lab, playing with fission yeast genes). All of that earned me an MPhil which I will be collecting sometime in the new year.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Sci Comm: The Next Generation

Hi everyone! As always it's been a while. Sorry. There's been a lot of conferences lately and I'm currently house hunting, which means this place and my PhD have both been feeling a little neglected. First I'd like to congratulate NASA for another successful shuttle launch today and second, I have an exciting new post for you.

This is all about a one day conference that was held here in Cambridge last Wednesday for a select group of people from sicence media, predominantly including journalists and film makers, all of whom have extensive and well developed online personas. Several of us from BlueSci where very honored to be asked to attend too, as the focus was squarely on the future. Where we at BlueSci, as aspiring science writers could take the field in the coming years.

The day was full of exciting and controversial bits of debate and we got to hear lots from many different view points about what science journalists should be doing and how we should be interacting with academics and the public. Here I have outlined the major topics discussed, more details are available elsewhere (see the end). Whilst I dod find some opinions difficult to agree with, it was interesting to hear what everyone had to say and I feel I have gained a lot from the experience.

Also I'll hopefully be posting again soon as following this conference I saw Simon Singh again, along with Ben Goldacre and Brian Cox on their Uncaged Monkeys tour here in Cambridge, so stay tuned for that.

The crest of Jesus College
What is the future of science media and science journalism in the 21st century with all of this new media and the shift of communications onto the Internet? This was the focus of a one-day conference hosted by John Cornwell at Jesus College, Cambridge.
The day took the form of a series of open discussions with two leaders providing focus to the discussion. After a warm welcome by John Cornwell, John Naughton opened the first session by discussing the opportunities and challenges involved in adopting new media. He focused on how newspapers have become news organisations, with the paper being one of many media products. Science journalism was effectively compared to a developing ecology where a few large dinosaurs are being replaced by a myriad army of journalistic, blogging termites with a corresponding increase in productivity. The reduction is media size was also highlighted; people buy tracks not albums, read stories not papers and posts not blogs. He asked the questions: How do we add value to a story amidst such competition? And who pays for good journalism when so much of it is free online?