Posted by: hematophage | March 27, 2012

Not dead yet!

So it’s been a while.  I don’t really have a good excuse, other than…well, we’ve been busy, here in the Abbot Lab.  Eusociality is off in Costa Rica doing something with ants, IDEK. soldiermorph and gallfungus are second-semester seniors and are solely interested in graduating. doctorlouse is her usual awesome self, but we’re not giving her much support here with the blog.

And I’m writing a manuscript, and I’m almost done, no really, ALMOST.

I’ve been almost done for two weeks, so it’s clear how the last little bit is going.

I also have almost wrapped up my medical drama of the last year. I don’t think I wrote about it much, but I was visiting the ER about once a month for syncope episodes of some severity, including two ambulance-worthy events, two experiences with trauma teams cutting off my clothes (something to avoid, if you have the opportunity), and three admissions, the last one for two days (of utter boredom). BUT I have a real diagnosis of Mast Cell Activation Disorder, lots of antihistamines for management and an epi pen, so it’s nice to be on the treatment side of things now and not the waiting-for-shit-to-happen side.

As a result, though, it hasn’t been my most productive year. But with my Zantac/Zyrtec/Cingulair cocktail and a tapering off of doctors’ appointments (two more outpatient procedures and I’m done), I can hopefully turn that around soon.  There’s been one odd side effect, though: my circadian clock seems to have…shifted.  I’ve always been a morning person, most productive before about 10am, happy on five or six hours sleep. As this disease has progressed, I’ve been sleeping through three alarms a morning, late for anything that happens before 9am, and generally looking like a slacker. But, aside from mast cell flare-ups (which knock me out for like 12 hours after), I also can’t fall asleep most of the time til like 2. So I think I’m going to have to give up on the 9am thing and shift my lab schedule accordingly. Frustrating.

Anyway, this post is just to say that we’re on semi-hiatus, but I haven’t given up, at least. Hopefully eusociality and I will keep things going strong in the summer — and maybe doctorlouse will even give us a couple updates on her summer research at Michigan!

Posted by: eusociality | February 2, 2012

Top 10 Worst Things about Working in a Lab

I found a link to this fabulous article in Science this week.  You can check out the site here or I have pasted it below.  It is written by Adam Ruben, Ph.D., who is a practicing scientist and the author of Surviving Your Stupid, Stupid Decision to Go to Grad School.  I actually feel the opposite about #2.  Lab coats rock!  Anyway, you take a look:

I have found that, no matter what the context, I will click on nearly any article with a number and a superlative in the title. I don’t really need to know anything about cheeseburgers that I don’t already know, but call an article “The Eight Best Cheeseburgers You’ve Never Heard Of” or “The Five Largest Cheeseburgers That Appeared in Films,” and suddenly I’ve got a bit of required reading to do.

And now, so do you.

Maybe you’re an ordinary person, not a scientist (we call you “Non-scis” behind your backs), and you’ve just clicked here for some light lunchtime reading. But if you’re a scientist, perhaps you can relate as we identify … drumroll please …

The top 10 worst aspects of working in a lab.

10. Your non-scientist friends don’t understand what you do.
Even when talking about their jobs to outsiders, your friends in other professions can summarize their recent accomplishments in understandable ways. For example, they can say, “I built an object,” or “I pleased a client,” or, if your friend works on Wall Street, “I ate a peasant.” But what can you say? “I cured … um, well, I didn’t really cure it, but I discovered … well, ‘discovered’ is too strong a word, so let’s just say I tested … well, the tests are ongoing and are causing new questions to arise, so … yeah. Stop looking at me.” At least you’re doing better than your friends with Ph.D.s in the humanities, who would answer, “I put sheets on my mom’s basement couch.”
9. The scientist who is already the most successful gets credit for everything anyone does.
If you discover something, your principal investigator (PI) gets credit. If you write a paper, your PI gets credit. If you submit a successful grant proposal, your PI gets credit (and money). And what do you get? If you’re lucky, you get to write more papers and grant proposals to bolster your PI’s curriculum vitae.
8. Lab equipment is expensive and delicate. And you, you’re not so coordinated. Nope. Not so much.
Oops! You could pay to replace this one broken piece, or you could hire another postdoc.
7. Sometimes experiments fail for a reason. Sometimes experiments fail for no reason.
As anyone who works in a lab knows, things that work perfectly for months or years can suddenly stop working, offering no explanation for the change. (In this way, lab experiments are like Internet Explorer®.) This abrupt and inexplicable failure changes your work to meta-work, as you stop asking questions about science and start asking questions about the consistency of your technique. You can waste years saying things like, “When I created the sample that worked, I flared my nostril in a weird way. So this week, I’ll try to repeat what I did last week but with more nostrils flarin’!”
6. Your schedule is dictated by intangible things.
Freaking cell lines, needing to be tended on a regular basis regardless of your dinner plans. Freaking galaxies visible only in the middle of the night. If it weren’t for your lab work you’d have such a vivacious social life! Sure. That’s why you have no social life. It’s the lab work.
5. Science on television has conditioned you to expect daily or weekly breakthroughs.
Have you ever had a breakthrough in the lab? Yeah, me neither. Sure, I’ve had successful experiments, which usually means that the controls worked and no one was injured. But a real, eureka, run-down-the-hallway-carrying-a-printout, burst-into-a-room-full-of-military-personnel-and-call-the-President-even-though-it’s-three-in-the-morning breakthrough? Not yet. Unless you count the programmable coffee maker that, after much cajoling, made decent coffee at the appropriate time. Maybe I should publish that.
4. Your work is dangerous.
People say their jobs are killing them, but you work with things that could actually kill you — things like caustic chemicals, infectious agents, highly electrified instruments, and angry PIs.

CREDIT: Hal Mayforth

3. Labs are not conducive to sex.
Unless you work in a sex lab, which may or may not be a real thing, it’s unlikely you can convince anyone to crawl under your lab bench with you (“Just ignore the discarded pipette tips, baby”) and, as protein biophysicists say, put their zinc fingers in your leucine zipper. But hey, prove me wrong, people.
2. You have to dress like a scientist.
When I worked at an amusement park, I had to wear a purple polo shirt tucked into khaki shorts with giant white sneakers, so I suppose things could be worse. But some of our (scientists’) uniform choices are pretty unflattering. Disposable shoe covers look like you stepped in two shower caps. Safety goggles trap humidity as though you’re cultivating a rainforest on your face. And white lab coats with collars and lapels make men look like nerds and women look like men who look like nerds.
1. You can feel time creeping inexorably toward your own death.
If you think I’m being melodramatic, you were obviously never a grad student or postdoc. As a grad student or postdoc, you spend longer than you’ve planned working on something less interesting than you’d believed, all while earning less money than you assumed reasonable with an endpoint that’s less tangible and less probable than you thought possible.

If this was the kind of article with a “Comments” section, you’d scroll there and see people berating the spoiled scientist for complaining about his work when there are far worse jobs in the world. You’d also see anonymous nastiness, blatant ignorance, and a rant about Ron Paul.

Luckily, there is no “Comments” section (thanks, Science!), so I can preemptively tell you that yes, I know there are worse jobs than “scientist” — “baby thrower,” for example, or “cow exploder.” But this is Science, so if you want to read about the top 10 worst aspects of being a cow exploder, go borrow a copy of Cow Exploder Digest. And wash your hands after reading it.

And yes, I know that there are great aspects of working in a lab as well. You get to work with your hands. You experience the beauty of a well-designed experiment. You can even ask questions about the universe and, occasionally, answer them. But since these last points were neither in list format nor preceded by an overreaching superlative, I’ll understand if you’ve already stopped reading.

Posted by: soldiermorph | January 29, 2012

Lab Life, Life Ruiner

Today I have come to the realization that working in a research lab has forever ruined certain aspects of my life. Long gone are the days where I can watch a movie that includes any sort of laboratory or science related scene without vehemently criticizing the irregularities or unrealistic nature of the entire scene. I know it shouldn’t bother me that in the most recent Rise of the Planet of the Apes movie that the entire animal research facility is entirely composed of easily breakable glass, but after doing any kind of research I let things like that get the better of my cinema experience.

Notice all the glass that breaks very easily later in the movie....

 This sort of, well I would call it obsession, extends into virtually every aspect of my everyday life. I can’t even take a shower without looking to see what chemicals are in my shampoo and determining whether or not we have any of them in our lab (EDTA seems to be in everything). I’m even so used to thoroughly washing glassware in the lab that I try to wash my dishes at home the same way, that is until my mom yells at me for using too much soap and wasting all the hot water. Somehow my lab-life and my normal life have morphed into some sort of hybrid that struggles distinguishing between the two. I had already accepted my fate long ago when I realized that I actually enjoyed listening to one of my friends talk about his woes with western blots. So I guess this will hold true for the rest of my life. I think I’m ok with that cause the honest truth is……… I kinda like it.

See I told you EDTA was in everything....

Posted by: doctorlouse | January 28, 2012

The Archaeopteryx Image Crisis

My absolute favorite dinosaur as a child was, without a doubt, the archaeopteryx.  Not only does it have the coolest sounding name, but it also is generally accepted as the oldest bird species.  Birds are the only clade of dinosaurs that survived the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction, so the archaeopteryx was a pretty significant animal, as well.  Since they are my favorite dinosaur type, I get pretty excited when a new article turns up about them.  So when I saw the article about archaeopteryx coloring posted on ScienceNews a few days ago, I couldn’t resist.  Usually the bird/dinosaur is drawn with beautiful, colorful feathers, such as the green ones in the photo above.  New evidence, however, suggests that they may not have been so flamboyant.  Scanning electron microscopes can be used to measure the dimensions of organelles called melanosomes, pigment-carrying structures present in the feathers of these fossilized animals.  Researchers compared the dimensions to 87 melanosomes of known color from present-day bird feathers to those of the fossils, and they identified the color of an archaeopteryx feather, which is actually black like a crow, not the usual bright green, red, or blue color that is shown in most illustrations.

This same procedure has been used to identify the color of other non-feathered dinosaurs as well.  The flamboyant image of the archaeopteryx, however, can’t be dismissed completely since only one feather has been examined using this method so far.  Sure, one feather might be black, but who knows what the rest of the animal looked like?  It very well could have looked like the picture above with a mix of black and blue feathers.  The image of my favorite dinosaur has not been irreversibly dulled yet, but the true picture will undoubtedly be revealed soon as this new technology is advanced.

Posted by: eusociality | January 26, 2012

Dr. Suess

I don’t know if you all knew this about me, but one of my favorite movies is Horton Hears a Who.  Now, if you have not seen it yet, go find it and watch it.  I will wait…

Glad you are back.  What did you think?  Amazing?!  “ASAP.  Whatever that means.  Probably act swiftly awesome pachyderm.”  Well, I was watching the movie again for the 17x last night, and no, this post will have nothing even closely related to science involved in it, and it started me thinking about who is this Dr. Suess character?  I, of course, started at Wikipedia.

Dr. Suess was born the pen name for Theodor Suess Geisel.  He was born in 1904 and died of throat cancer in 1991.  He had a long career publishing over 60 books, mostly children’s books.  In fact, some of his books are on the list of best-selling children’s book of all time:  Green Eggs and Ham at #4, The Cat in the Hat at #9, and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish at #13.  Interestingly, he started off writing/drawing political and satirical works for many famous magazines and newspapers including, Judge, Life, Vanity Fair, Liberty, New York Daily News, Chicago Tribune and Washington Times-Herald.  During WWII, he published many political cartoons denouncing Hitler and Mussolini and even worked drawing pictures and making propaganda films for the War Production Board.

It wasn’t until his later years that he moved from Springfield, Massachusetts, to La Jolla, California to begin writing children’s books.  One interesting story about one of the books is that in 1954 Life published a report on the increased rate of illiteracy among school children.  The director of the education division complied a list of 348 words he felt were important for 1st graders to recognize and challenged Dr. Suess to create a book with 250 of them.  Nine months later, Dr. Suess returned with The Cat in the Hat.  He had used 236 of the words.

Another interesting fact about the book my favorite movie is on is that many people believe the line, “A person’s a person no matter how small,” is a node to pro-life.  In fact, Dr. Suess never started his books with any sort of moral lesson.  He preferred to let his books speak for themselves.  He demanded that the pro-life group retract the use of this phrase and they did.  Actually, Horton was written as an allegory for the Hiroshima bombing and the American post-war occupation of Japan.

So that is all I have for you about the amazing Dr. Suess.  I do recommend you check out Horton Hears a Who.  I will leave you with this last Dr. Suess quote, “Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.”  Now, that somewhat applies to science.

My favorite Dr. Suess book!

Posted by: gallfungus | January 25, 2012

Wednesday Words of Wisdom

Study the science of art and the art of science. (Leonardo da Vinci)

Posted by: eusociality | January 19, 2012

Welcome back.

Hello all.  We apologize for the brief winter hiatus.  Along with getting loads of work done, I, like so many graduate students, wasted time surfing the internet.  Here are some of my top picks:

1.  From

2.  From  The only blue-eyed koala.  Frankie, named after Ol’ Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra.

3.  From  This is a new website Star-Nose introduced us to.  Terrible idea.

Wow…productive break.  Hope you all enjoy.

Posted by: hematophage | January 17, 2012

Welcome back!

Hello all, and welcome back from the Abbot Lab’s holiday hiatus!

I think everyone around here had a successful break, but we’re happy to have our undergrads back this week and kick off the MOST PRODUCTIVE SEMESTER EVAR here in the Abbot Lab!

ALL of them.

Some highlights from our breaks (note: bossbug, hematophage and eusociality didn’t really take breaks, or at least, not long ones):

  • Bossbug apparently cracked a rib on his iPhone (don’t worry, the phone is undamaged). Yeah, we don’t know either.
  • Hematophage is now a cyborg!
  • Eusociality drove over 2500 miles, just so she and Indy could spend New Year’s Eve at her parents’ house with GI viruses.
  • Gallfungus drove over ten miles to get home for the holiday.
  • Poor soldiermorph didn’t get to go to his beloved childhood home because his parents thoughtlessly moved to a different state while he was away at school. Also, he seems to have returned to Nashville with some sort of plague.
  • Doctorlouse survived her harrowing trip abroad (judging by the pictures, she didn’t do any actual schoolwork while there), and we’re happy to have her back in the lab!

Abbot Lab New Year’s Resolutions:

  1. Stop missing blogging days.
  2. No, but really. Blog more.
  3. Get four papers submitted before the end of the semester
  4. Procrastinate less. (check out this website!)
  5. Make t-shirts with our lab slogan. (“Alcohol kills germs. And fear. But not glory!”)
Posted by: eusociality | December 15, 2011

Amazing animals… sloths!

I would like to start a new series on amazing animals.  This week, I stumbled across my new favorite Youtube video… The sloths are coming… slowly.  It is the trailer for a documentary on a sloth sanctuary in Costa Rica.

Here is the video link!  I think I have watched in at least 10 times now.

Two-toed sloth

Anyway, the first thing you notice about the sloths is how amazingly slow they are.  In fact, while watching the video, you cannot help but think… “Wow, they are easy prey.”   Sloths actually have very few natural predators.  Their main predators are jaguars, harpy eagles and humans.  Because they blend in with the tree so well and move so slowly, the do not attract much attention from the predators.  Plus, their fur hosts 2 species of symbiotic cyanobacteria, which also helps with camouflage.

Three-toed sloth

Another strange thing about their fur is that is grows the opposite direction from most mammals, from their extremities to their body.  This is because it hangs upside down so often its fur can still protect it from the environment.  Another strange thing about sloth anatomy is that they have 9 cervical vertebrae, whereas most mammals have 7.  This allows them to turn their head 180 degrees to look for predators instead of using the energy to move their entire bodies.

Last interesting sloth fact of the day, sloths are in the superorder Xenarthra along with anteaters and armadillos.  There are six species of sloth in 2 families (two-toed and three-toed sloths).  Interestingly, the common ancestor of the 2 groups is though to have lived 35-4o mya.  The two-toed sloths are far more closely related to an extinct group of ground sloths than the three-toed sloths.  This makes the adaptation of sloth living, slow moving, camouflage, etc, is actually an interesting example of parallel evolution.

Posted by: abbotlab | December 14, 2011

Comic post!

Because you know you needed to see the Abbot Lab Patronus Collection.

…and our houses.


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