scientists on tumblr

Early morning #AAALAC inspection selfie. Big Wigs already said the inspectors were impressed with my #enrichment and #behaviouralmanagement program! WOOT! #animalwelfareismyjam #facesofresearch #womeninstem

Do you wanna build a phylogram?
  • Do you wanna build a phylogram?
  • Mark Scherz
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A scientific parody of Do you wanna build a snowman? from Disney’s Frozen. Lyrics by hyacynthus and myself. Vocals by me. A music video may be forthcoming.

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Harvard University and XVIVO have released this video of the inner workings of a cell. This is the most detailed and accurate depiction of proteins inside a cell that’s ever been made. Amazing stuff. Love seeing the jittery movements. These are slowed down so we can see what’s going on. 

Regarding lab accidents, mishaps, failures and discoveries

I shouldn’t have to tell any scientist this, but I have to remind myself of this, so presumably some of you have forgotten as well. That’s okay. It’s natural. But here’s the thing – never stop investigation at the point of reaction failure.

I’ve got an anecdote.

I work in a polymer lab which means my goal is usually to produce a piece of plastic. Typically this will be a film – think like saran wrap but thicker. A sheet of plastic that can be cut, shaped, punched, and all other manners of manipulations to test it for novel physical or chemical properties.

I’ve spent a few months trying to replicate a reaction from literature. It should have been easy. Should have been. And all together it has been fairly successful – I can certainly make that polymer but my molecular weight has been too low. When your molecular weight is too low, you can’t make a film. You can make a spread of some plastic that crackles like paint from the 1500’s but you can’t make a useful film. Such has been the struggle.

First we tried a procedure that was scribbled by hand into a Moleskin from a colleague. Didn’t work. But he hadn’t done that reaction in years so I got to thinking about what might be the issue.

So I broke it up into two steps after pitching an idea to my PI in a whirlwind of whiteboard drawings. Didn’t work. It worked….better…but still not good enough.

We tried exactly the literature too, of course. Somehow, that didn’t work that well either. Polymer, yes, but crackling, brittle, and useless.

We tried inventing our own procedure using what we knew about the synthesis. Wouldn’t it be neat if you could do a one pot synthesis of a polymer in a sonicator? …doesn’t work. Oh well.

So, one day, I’m making an attempt at producing this polymer. It’s a 24 hour reaction. (That was the appeal of trying the sonication route – could we cut time by agitation? Turns out we can’t vent enough of the by products off for to be viable, at least in a bath sonicator. A tip sonicator could work but they’re expensive and we don’t have our own to mess around with.)
But again, 24 hour reaction.
My worst nightmare.
My biggest fear.
I have nightmares about what could happen when I run these – the stir bar shifts slightly off center and smashes the thermometer or the water flow to the condensing tubes slips and I end up having to clean up 12 hours of water just pouring into the hood and all over my reaction. Or the gas tank runs out. (That one has actually happened.) Or the grad student doesn’t realize you’re running an oxygen sensitive reaction and takes your argon tank for his project. (That one has also actually happened.) Or the variac is old and the components inside are not to be trusted and it takes your 60C reaction up to 170C while you’re having nightmares about this kind of thing at home…and you come into lab to a burnt up round bottom flask with no solvent and a stir bar trapped in a polymer mess.

Take a guess. That one actually happened.

Luckily, this polymer was not prone to crosslinking (crosslinked polymers can’t be dissolved) so I just got more solvent and let it soak in a round bottom flask of solvent until I could free the stir bar, filter out some weird solid parts (a few crosslinks? Burnt…stuff? I don’t know.) and get the solution. The solution that had been through more than I intended for it to suffer through.

At this point the procedure was to continue to part two of the reaction, crash out the polymer, filter it under vacuum, obtain a solid powder (the prospect of a solid powder is attractive to industries that use polymers, as opposed to purchasing a wet resin), redissolve said powder and attempt to cast a film.

Did I mention the powder should have been a yellowish/peachy/off-white color? Did I mention it came out…well, lavender? Purple!
It shouldn’t have worked. I tabled it, marked it off as a failure. Sure, I dissolved some of it but I just left it on my shelf and decided it was probably worthless. I mean…it was purple. And the polymer I’m seeking is known to be yellowish. So, this had to be another failure in a long string of them, right?

And then I looked up at my shelf one day and it wasn’t a purple solution anymore. It had turned orange…over the course of some days. Weird.

So I popped the damn thing in the oven on a really un-engineered curing cycle, which is to say, I just threw the damn thing in a vented oven and said, “screw it.” (I would have used the real one I know works for the commercial material but I accidentally locked the programmable oven into a separate program earlier in the day. Whoops!)

We were about to go home. I took it out of the oven I had put it in.
And then I peeled it off the glass. Polymer film. Thin, flexible, strong.
And I was so freaking shocked that I just handed it to my PI silently while staring at the sink. Perfectly still, staring at the sink at the end of the day before a long weekend.

“What’s this?”
“…you know that reaction that got supposedly ruined when the variac jumped?”
“The burnt one?”
“The burnt one.”
“…wow.”

So, moral of the story – KEEP YOUR FAILURES. TREASURE THEM. SEE WHAT THE HECK HAPPENS WHEN YOUR REACTION GOES VERY WRONG.

Monday morning, we start a whole new round of testing because we just got some clues. And maybe it’s the polymer I was trying to make but maybe it’s a little be different. It’s gonna be chemical Nancy Drew and I am pumped.

Evolution is just a theory... just a theory for which there is overwhelming supporting evidence.

#evolution is not science and I’m fucking tired of having it shoved down everyone’s fucking throat despite it not actually having conclusive evidence #evolution: number 1 religion in America  #it is not okay to call this science  #it is not okay for stigmatising anyone who refuses to bow to your unfounded beliefs 

Here’s the deal:

I’m not going to link to the person who posted these tags on a reblog of something I posted. That would be unkind. It is bad enough that I am going to rip them a new asshole - they should not have to deal with public humiliation as well. Anyway, it is this mindset, and not this person, that I want to attack. No one person should have to bear the brunt of an attack on a whole way of thinking, especially when they are a product of that broken system.

Warning: incontrovertible evidence for evolution and strong anti-ignorance vibes below the cut.Read on only if you have an open mind and are willing to admit that you might just be wrong about evolution not being a real thing. Or if you already acknowledge that evolution is a real thing and want to see what it looks like when an Evolutionary Biologist gets told he is studying something that doesn’t exist.

Keep reading

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Scientists on Tumblr doing more animal vocalizations!

Featuring the talents of myself and markscherz as: horses, indris, brown lemurs, elephants, turkeys, rain frogs, dolphins, whales, and more! We hope you enjoy the video - we certainly had fun making it.

To watch our first video, click here.

Got any requests? Let us know by sending us asks!

(conservationatukc, do iiiiiiiiit. Give in to the temptation… you know you wanna.)

Guys. Guys. It has come to my attention that not everyone in science tumblr knows about ResearchGate. This… this must change.

You know Academia.edu? ResearchGate is the professional academic’s version of Academia.edu. It’s a bit like someone sifted out only the good parts of LinkedIn and Academia.edu, and distilled it into the ideal science social network.

ResearchGate allows you to upload your own papers (and tells you whether or not it is legal to do so), access the papers other researchers have uploaded, request papers from other researchers if they haven’t uploaded them (saving you agonising and awkward emails!), keeps track of your overall impact factor (basically the sum of all of your publication impact factors) as well as a ResearchGate score that is somewhat more comprehensive, and even how often people are viewing and downloading your publications, allows your colleagues to endorse you for various skills, and so on and so forth!

One of the best features is that you can ask academic questions, like “How do I deal with multiple markers with the same location value (in cM) in a QTL analysis?”, and then researchers who have experience or knowledge can come along and provide answers. This is particularly good when you are struggling with methodologies for which no good publications really exist, just loads of people with cumulative years of lab experience. By asking and answering you can increase your RG score.

No, they’re not paying me to say this. I fell in love with ResearchGate as soon as I started using it. I genuinely believe this is one of the most valuable websites any academic can have access to right now, and so many people are missing out on it. So I heartily encourage you to sign up!

(Note: you can only sign up if you have an academic email account. You can connect it to facebook later to log in more easily, but they want to know you’re a real researcher. You can request an account without an academic email, but you might not get it)

Astronomy term of the day

Hypernova = A type of supernova explosion with explicitly more energy than normal supernovae. Hypernovae are also called super-luminous supernovae. Usually hypernovae are formed at the end of the life cycle of a star that is about 40-90 times the mass of our sun.  That’s so incredibly massive that I’ll include a picture for perspective. 

The image above shows just how puny our sun is compared to a hypernova candidate. Hypernova candidates are pretty goddamn massive. Simply mind boggling. 

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In which I attempt a few animal vocalizations… and get pounced on by Winnie.
Thank you all again for following! I love hearing from you so keep sending in those questions (and lovely messages), and be sure to let me know if you post your own animal vocalizations video. anthrocentric, I’m looking at you.

Note:
While I do want to be all fancy schmancy for you guys, I’m actually rather dolled up for the Women in STEM / Intro to Ethology talk I gave this morning as a part of a high school’s Signature Math, Science, & Technology Program!