nature highlight

October 28, 2010 at 7:41 am | | cool results, literature, science community, single molecules

My colleague’s JACS paper was highlighted in Nature. I’m especially excited about that, because I’m a coauthor. ;)

The strange thing is that, despite our suggestions otherwise, the Nature folks chose a not-the-most-interesting figure from the paper. Of course, I’m more than happy that they showed any of our awesome figures! But, instead of showing one of the super-resolution images that Hsiao-lu made, the highlight shows a proof-of-labeling image, which is diffraction-limited. That said, they did select one of the live-cell images. I suppose it could be worse: they could have picked one of the controls. Or not displayed a figure at all.

Thanks Nature. I don’t mean to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Well, I’ll highlight our paper here. And choose my favorite figure (it’s protein localization in a little-bity bacteria):

should i join the postdoc union?

October 25, 2010 at 8:07 am | | open thread, postdoc life, science community

Postdocs at Berkeley (in fact the whole UC system) formed a union a few years back. Recently, the union negotiated a better contract with UC, which brings the postdoc pay up to … wait for it … the NIH minimum! That’s actually a big step. (Read more about it in Nature.)


  • I can listen to Woody Guthrie without feeling guilty
  • it supports a good cause: I do think that postdocs need someone looking out for their interests
  • it is a relatively small amount of money to ensure that postdocs have representation


  • it costs 0.28% of my paycheck to join (although that’s only around $100)
  • my money might go towards those terrible political ads on TV
  • the general possibility of making my relationship with my PI more adversarial

I’m conflicted. Thoughts?

bouncing water droplets

October 19, 2010 at 8:32 am | | nerd, wild web

Fun video:

For your Tuesday.

caveat grumptor

October 13, 2010 at 8:05 am | | blogs, science and the public, science community

Royce Murray doesn’t like blogs.

No that’s an oversimplification of his editorial. Actually, his worry is that science blogs are more fun and easier to read than real science journalism (which, by the way, is hard to find); meanwhile, bloggers have no required credentials, no accountability, and might just be lying to everyone.

Damn straight.

UPDATE: In case it isn’t clear, Royce Murray is one of my favorite chemists and teachers. UNC is my Alma Mater, and I really appreciated his class. While most bloggers are pretty unhappy with Royce’s editorial, I wasn’t offended. I basically agree that neither the public nor scientists should be getting information from blogs without a grain of salt. Especially this blog. I’m sarcastic 83% of the time.

nobel roundup

October 6, 2010 at 5:55 am | | news, nobel

Hmmm. IVF but no The Pill. (Actually, I think that would have been a good split prize for Medicine. Would have been a big FU to the Vatican, though.)

And Scotch tape graphene won the physics prize. Weird. Graphene is very new and basically unapplied as yet. But the Nobels are supposed to go to discoveries, and pulling graphene off of graphite with Scotch tape is a discovery.

And it was cross-coupling for chemistry (our #16 prediction): Heck, Negishi, and Suzuki. Oops, we mispredicted Sonogashira. I don’t know enough about organic reactions to know if this was the right move, but most folks are saying Negishi deserved it.

Congrats to all these well-deserving laureates! Hearts out to all those who were hoping for the prize this year, and didn’t get the call. (Especially Sonogashira, who must be pretty bummed right now…)

Read Paul’s liveblogging of the announcement.

Now just waiting for Twitter to win the Peace prize!

UPDATE: A guide to reporters by Chemjobber.

i hope this isn’t faked….

October 4, 2010 at 7:25 am | | EDSELs, literature, single molecules

… because it’s so beautiful! Schaller et al. have used the Sheetz-Spudich sliding assay to watch collective motion of moving biomolecules. Like watching flocks of birds:

Or crazy swirling patterns:

For these awesome results, I’m awarding the authors an EDSEL for “Coolest paper (if it isn’t faked) of little filaments spinning around in circles of 2010.”

Not that I have any reason to think that these results are faked. They just seem so crazy and beautiful. Animated, even.

crick’s lost letters

October 1, 2010 at 7:05 am | | history, news, science community

Some revealing letters of Francis Crick have been found—mostly to Maurice Wilkins—and they discuss Rosalind Franklin. Here are some of the excerpts that I found interesting. For instance, this letter from Wilkins to Watson and Crick after they proposed the double-helix model:

My dear Francis,

I gather you have got the coordinates of your model or some worked out. Do you think we could have a copy of what you have?

The crystalline data is clearing up nicely. To think that Rosie had all the 3D data for 9 months & wouldn’t fit a helix to it and there was I taking her word for it that the data was anti-helical. Christ.

We have redone a lot of the 3D more accurately on mouse & will need all the extra accuracy for dealing with some of the finer points.

Regards & to Odile too.



P.S. I think I have a flat.

But “Rosie” had been focusing on the A structure of DNA, which generated clearer crystal diffraction pattern images. Unfortunately for her, crystalline DNA-A wasn’t helical. Crick agreed when he eventually saw her data:

This is the first time I have had an opportunity for a detailed study of the picture of Structure A, and I must say I am glad I didn’t see it earlier, as it would have worried me considerably.

All in all, it sounds like Franklin was generally unfriendly to her colleagues (and competitors). Wilkins wrote to Crick of Franlkin’s leaving King’s College:

I hope the smoke of witchcraft will soon be getting out of our eyes.

It sounds like her colleagues didn’t like her too much. But there was friction from the beginning: Wilkins thought that Franklin was going to work for him … or at least they would work together on DNA … and Franklin had been told that she would work independently. What a mess.

I feel bad for Franklin having to deal with these sexist jerks. Watson and Crick were probably the most annoying, because they didn’t do any experiments; instead, they’d listen to Franklin (and others) present their data, then run off and make a model. Annoying. Intellectual thievery almost. (And Watson and Crick admit as much, referring to it as “burglary” in one of their letters.)

But on the other hand, it seems Franklin made some serious mistakes interpreting her data and was quite abrasive. No angels here. No devils (or witches?) either.

I suspect that if everyone had worked together and been friendly, Watson and Crick would have proposed the correct structure much earlier. Not only that, but I think Franklin would have been given more credit by the boys. But that’s just my speculation. I just know that I’d prefer to collaborate with folks than fight with them.

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