Jan 18

A Little Science (and Magic) Update

The Majestic Green Sea SlugAfter a few weeks back in the lab I seem to have little to show for it. My transgenic bacteria from last semester all seem to have succumbed to the cold, dry environment of our lab fridge so I’m starting somewhat from scratch at this point. I was able to save my original B. megaterium strain; though, so I haven’t been set back too far.  Also, I’m going to work on a new method for preserving my stocks in a colder freezer, so this lesson might have saved me from losing future (and more important) work.

On another science front, I used my time over winter break to write a few articles pertaining to science for my old friends over at GeeksAreSexy.net.  Here’s a list:

Some of the articles got rather nasty comments, so it wasn’t the greatest ego booster, but I think readers sometimes expect everything they see nowadays to become comprehensive and include every possible detail.  It seems like sometimes there’s no space between layman and expert anymore.

With more paid articles came more ways to promote my blog and my Twitter account.  For that reason I actually started POSTING again to said Twitter account.  Feel free to follow me if you aren’t already via the Twitter tab on the right.

Lastly, I haven’t mentioned the great art of magic on here in quite a while, but after a bit of a hiatus and a period of only doing the same tricks over and over, I have started working on some new material.  In fact, I recently started actively routining my effects to flow easily from one to another (less “what should we do next” in the future I hope).  The newest effect I’m working on at the moment is very challenging and requires a lot from me.  But I hope in a few weeks to be able to debut it for you all!

Thanks for reading my update.  The best way to follow my hijinks on the web is Twitter, as I’m always posting there and sometimes to Facebook.

Dec 02

Glow On Little Microbes, Glow ON!

Motile bacteriaThe semester is drawing to a close, so I thought I’d share a bit of what’s going on with me…

First of all, after a full rotation in Dr. Stein’s laboratory, I’ve transitioned into Dr. Stewart’s lab. While Stein Lab was very interesting, I think it was a little too genetic for my interests and really didn’t work for me personally. It’s a shame too because all the people there are really doing some important stuff. At any rate, I admit I feel much more at home in Stewart Lab.

Dr. Stewart studies motility and signal transduction. While those two terms may not be familiar to the average reader, they are explained easily enough. Motility is simply the ability to “move.” Bacteria move through a system called “chemotaxis,” where they can sense good chemicals “attractors” or bad chemicals “repellers” in their environment. For example, food might be considered “good” and an antibiotic might be considered “bad.” When they see an attractor they continue to go straight. When they see a repeller, they tumble randomly until they move in a beneficial direction (which activates straight swimming). Their movement is controlled by whether their flagella are moving clockwise or counter-clockwise.

How do bacteria “know” a good chemical from a bad one? How does that information influence the flagella? This is what Dr. Stewart and I are working on. The system for relaying such information is called signal transduction. Receptors on one end of the bacteria recognize components of the environment. Somehow the proteins in the rest of the cell carry signals from the receptor all the way to the motor of the flagella.

While there is a pretty good model for how this works in most bacteria, we have chosen a less widely known Bacillus species, Bacillus megaterium, to use as a model we can visualize with fluorescent markers.  Essentially B. megaterium translates to “great beast” in English, which suits it because it is about 5 times larger than E. coli, one of the most commonly used bacteria.

So far I’ve spent my rotation measuring the length of each B. megaterium strain and testing it for motility on a special growth media.  Now, after several weeks of little changes here and there, I’ve successfully transformed one of the strains so that it glows green under fluorescent light.

Check back in a little while…I should have an image of said bacterium for your viewing pleasure soon…assuming it’s ok with my PI and all.

[Bacteria Illustration from TreeHugger]

Oct 24

A Little Look into MPRI

Ok, so this may be a tad confusing but it is worth it if you wanna know a little more about my program.  I am part of Cell Bio and Molecular Genetics (CBMG) in Maryland’s Graduate School.  In a kind of tangential association with the grad programs, MPRI (detailed below) pulls together many labs from many departments and helps them connect all of their collective resources.  

While the lab I’m currently rotating isn’t specifically in MPRI, a number of my professors star in the following video and in general it gives you a pretty good idea about what I am doing with myself.

For more info check out their website!

Sep 22

Reflections on the First Month

Alrighty, well it’s been a little over a month since I started this whole grad school experiment so I figured I’d offer up my experience thus far.

The other day I was considering how I should think about my work, my courses, and the social wackiness that makes up a graduate community. Often I would be sitting in one lecture and literally worrying about the NEXT ONE! While maybe other, more studious students have probably experienced this many times, I had not until recently. I’ve always had a very laid back approach to school in general, but now that I have so much coming at me all at once, I’m beginning to legitimately worry about my classes and maintaining my position at The University.

umd

Amidst all these considerations of school and scholarly work ethic, I have determined that I am not the first to go down this road and I’m certainly not the worst to attempt it. Some of my peers’ skills, knowledge, and experience have surprised and intimidated me. Initially that got me thinking that I was in the wrong boat.

Time spent in my research laboratory has somewhat quieted these fears because I know, if I let myself think rationally, that while some of the best students around me might know more about one thing or another, I am much more comfortable in my lab than they would be. This is not because I am particularly awesome at microbiology, but simply that I do actually have a passion for the kind of pure research that my lab is conducting and most of the others have interests that lie elsewhere. I’d hate to see the world of science if all the people were like me (or if people like me were totally absent).

On the same vein, inventing a social life from scratch has been a bit challenging. While I’ve been able to become close with most of my peers in CBMG, branching out much further has been a challenge to say the least.  Other grad students seem to pigeonhole themselves away in their labs and offices, making them hard to meet and harder to get to know.

There are seemingly millions of undergrads all over campus but there is this strange barrier that most of us grads feel holding us back from joining in their activities.  To some extent it feels like we’ve moved on to another level, and to some extent I think I feel like I’ve lost the chance to do what they’re doing.

Overall, I think the message of the first month is to slow down, take a step back, and get some perspective. While the exams are more important than maybe undergrad ones were, I don’t believe they’re anything I can’t handle and if I do run into trouble, I feel that the department and some of my peers have the will to help me through tough spots.  Socially, I guess I’m going to just try experimenting and seeing if I can carve out a little friendly space here in the wilds of Maryland.