Wednesday, January 30, 2008
At morning tea, two of my workmates were complaining about how their teenagers did nothing to help around the house. I felt smug!
Monday, January 28, 2008
Friday, January 25, 2008
"Did you see any diatoms?" asked R's Mummy when I enthused about the uni-cells (and the awesomely destructive rotifer) that I'd seen under the microscope in my 1st year Cell Bio lab. "What's a diatom?" I asked, so she showed me some pictures and described diatoms in such loving detail that they immediately became part of my personal mythology (I learnt a lot about passion for research from R's parents).
R's D, who also worked on diatoms, once described them as "siliceous micro-fossils", which rather lacks romance and (pick the geologist) also ignores the fact that there are thousands of diatom species still in existence, but does prove that diatoms rock!
I suspect the computer chip thing is pretty speculative (and maybe a bit of manoeuvring for grants), as what they have actually reported is identifying 75 genes involved in silicon processing in one species of diatom (Thalassiosira pseudonana) from a screen for genes expressed during silicic acid starvation. They've chosen 30 genes for further study, of which 25 have no similarity to known genes, so I'd guess they have a lot of knock-outs to make and/or proteins to express and a lot of characterisation to do before they fully understand the function of even one of these genes, let alone describe the process and learn to manipulate it in any meaningful way... So unless they have an enormous and unusually well-financed team, diatom-fabricated computer chips are probably a lifetime away. Still, it's a magical idea, and to me, it's ideas like these that justify pure research in fields as apparently esoteric as diatom genetics.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
I want to write about Kapcon and some cool science I read about today, but I also want to sleep. Sleep wins...
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Denaturing, annealing, and extending.
Well it’s amazing what heating and cooling and heating will do
And the chorus:
PCR, when you need to detect mutations.
PCR, when you need to recombine.
PCR, when you need to find out who the daddy is.
PCR, when you need to solve a crime
Disclaimer: This is in no way an endorsement of Bio-Rad, although I do use some of their products because they have me trapped into a dependancy cycle.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Friday, January 18, 2008
More disturbing (but probably also contributing to the block), was Study reveals sex bias in science, which showed that after in the 4 years after double blind peer review was introduced by Behavioural Ecology Journal, 8% more female authors were published than in the preceding 4 years... actually, I think I should really read what factors were considered in the original article, because I can think of a number of reasons other than outright sexism why this might be the case... not least the tendency of senior researchers to prefer research done by their mates (on the surface this really can look like a boys club).
Also extremely disturbing and sad, the unsurprising 'news' from a study in The Lancet that a third of child deaths could be prevented similarly by adequate nutrition of children or their breast-feeding mothers. I wish I knew where to start...
David Attenborough's next series Life in Cold Blood, should hopefully help to popularise reptiles, which is just as well given that, sadly folk medicine is causing many reptile species to become endangered. The Critter cams of the title really are pretty cool though!
In further dodgy social science... smelling chocolate chip cookies can make you more likely to break your budget, so watch out for yummy smelling clothing stores!
More usefully (glad to see there is still some research funding for medicine), it looks like researchers can detect protein markers for the early stages of breast cancer in saliva and are currently trying to develop a 'lab on a chip' saliva test which they postulate could be administered by dentists. Here's hoping they'll succeed and the test is not prohibitively expensive!
At home packing (can you tell?) to head off to Welly to express my (even) geekier side at Kapcon, so tata 'til Tuesday at least...
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Last night at 10:30 when James came to say his leg was hurting and it wasn't getting better ( a regular occurence) I offered him a sticking plaster and he said "No Mummy, that won't help... I need one like that". Desperate for sleep, and concerned for future nights, I lied and said I didn't think we had one handy. I am a bad Mummy who tells the truth about Santa but not crepe bandages!
Monday, January 14, 2008
Lunch claimed to be chicken pita and appeared through the glass of the cafe cabinet to be a sizable pile of chicken, pepper and spring onion, stuck on with melty cheese with mango chutney coating the whole thing liberally, but strangely, when I took it out of the bag at work it had metamorphosed into rubbery penne pasta in white sauce with 2 small pieces of chicken and the other things merely decorating the top. Not so delicious. Feeling ripped off.
Recommended activity today is label-reading. Turns out I spent much of last week trouble-shooting my PCR (polymerase chain reaction to make more DNA from other DNA) because I can't read! Instead of using cDNA (DNA made from mRNA), I was using (repeatedly) the control tube from which the reverse transcriptase (the enzyme that makes the DNA) had been omitted (I didn't carry out that step myself, which I think is a slight mitigating factor, but the label WAS clearly printed). I'm soooooo blonde!
Turitea opened again today. It is so good not have to drive home and back twice in the hot car to feed T. And my PCR is working again! I feel light, frivolous and on the verge of mediocre discovery!
Friday, January 11, 2008
Some cool examples:
- These rhesus macaque monkey mathemeticians scored almost as well as university students in a test of mental addition (I'm guessing the scores in the article are means and I wonder if some monkeys scored better than some humans?)
- And these five-year-old chimps beat adult humans (though also their mother) at correctly remembering a sequence of numbers (I wonder how human five-year-olds would compare)
- Tamarins, although not tool-users show evidence of "motor planning ability", grasping an object in the correct orientation to use it
- Elephants (my favourite putatively sentient species), as well as recognising themselves in the mirror and imitating trucks, can apparently recognise potentially hostile groups of people by scent and clothing colour (so don't wear red on safari!)
Weirdly though, we may be using the kind of olfactory intelligence we usually ascribe to dogs and pigs to decide whether we like a new person or not.
Finally, only tenuously relatedly, and obviously still a long way from reality, this research suggests it might be possible to build a machine that can read your mind (at least if you let some dodgy scientist type close enough to implant electrodes in your brain).
Thursday, January 10, 2008
'Home' in Palmy since Sunday, to childcare chaos (thank goodness Turitea re-opens on Monday) and no hot water (fixed now), weather ranging from humid, grey and showery to torrential monsoon, and gut-wrenching loneliness that is slowly being eroded to mild homesickness by the day-to-day camaradie of work (how do at home single parents survive?).
Best decision of 2007
Realising I would be a happier person and a better parent alone and that I would be unable to cope with a new baby, J and N and arranging for N to leave
Greatest Challenge of 2007
Parenting a new baby and a toddler without a partner
Happiest event of 2007
The birth of our wee T on 12 July
Biggest (though not only) thankyous for 2007
- My wonderful parents, who came from Wellington to stay with me for several days when N left and then for a whole month around the time T's birth, looked after me and J and helped me set up systems to cope with parenting alone, then had us to stay for a further 10 days soon after
- The lovely Ruth, who listened patiently to my whinging almost every day for about 6 months, had N to stay for 9 fraught weeks after I kicked him out, and who came to stay for over a week when I went back to work at the end of my maternity leave and, among other useful things, helped me pack up N's stuff, a job I was dreading!
- My amazing midwife, who was supportive far beyond the call of duty and who even lent me her digital camera for a month so I could take lots of photos of my wee darlings (I finally bought one on Monday, so expect many pics!)
- My workmate T, who was the 1st person to say I should kick N out, who was hugely supportive throughout and who I have to admit, is usually right.
Resolutions for 2008
- To find a new way to enjoy raisins every week
- To live in the moment, work hard and be the best I can be as a scientist and as a parent, but not to let home stresses affect my efficiency at work or vice versa
- Not to lose my temper unless it is really warranted and even so, to think before I speak or act
- To treat this year as my last ditch attempt to make it as a scientist, but to start seriously researching my other options. If by October when my current funding runs out (or maybe a bit before if that is where things are heading) my work is still unpublishable and my contract still tenuous I will cut my losses and find a 'real' job and a fab childcare arrangement in Wellington.
- Not to spend longer than 5 minutes at a time beating myself up about 'slippage' (a lovely word from our milestone forms) in these and other goals ;-)
Happy New Year everyone! Lunchtime is long since over so I better get on with it.