Inappropriate Labware

May 31, 2010 at 9:38 pm | | hardware, science and the public

We have these Al bases floating all over the place.  I guess when Stanford sanitized their mascot, we never got around to PCing our opto-mechanics.

seminal (hehe)

May 17, 2010 at 3:52 pm | | science community

This has got be be a joke, right? The letter to the editor suggests that the term seminal is “sexist” because it refers to semen (figuratively meaning full of potential).

No way this is serious.

P.S. The letter writer describes the word as “distasteful.” Hehe.

naturally depressed

May 14, 2010 at 10:36 am | | everyday science, grad life, science community

The documentary video “Naturally Obsessed” follows some graduate students at Columbia through their trials and tribulations in science. Personally, I found parts quite depressing. However, it is an interesting video and I wish they would film other labs to round out the picture.

Or watch here:

Here are some of my thoughts (spoiler alert!):

The nature of their research, protein crystallization, is especially depressing: because the results are all-or-nothing, the students work very hard and may see zero reward. In other bench sciences, this can also be true. However, it is often the case that there are many small discoveries and accomplishments along the way. Protein crystallization work, on the other hand, means that if you find the structure, you publish; if the protein doesn’t crystallize well enough to get a structure, you don’t publish. Ouch.

The person I felt the worst for was the blond kid, Kil. He was so positive at the beginning of the film—almost to a fault. Near the middle, he begins complaining about the strains being a graduate student has on his life and relationship with his fianceé. At the end, we learn that Kil and his fianceé broke up (at least partially because of grad school), and he has no interest in academic science. The viewer is at least relieved to discover that Kil gets a good job after graduation!

The ending of the film reminded me of the end of The Graduate: it was bitter, but maybe only intended it to be sweet? Rob, earns his PhD, has a baby, is happy, and becomes a postdoc. But I feel bad for him trying to raise a child on a postdoc’s salary (his wife is also a graduate student). Not to mention the fact that he is already over 30 years old and has several years of a postdoc ahead of him. I’m just not sure it’s the happy ending the film-makers intended. On the other hand, Rob seems really motivated and wants to become a professor, so maybe he’s on his way!

My overall opinion is that the film is interesting, and fairly accurate. However, I think a couple more episodes could really strengthen the documentary. This episodes follows a graduate student as he “succeeds” by toiling away for years, getting a chance success, and then publishing in Science. Instead, I would like to see the day-to-day, week-to-week, year-to-year successes of graduate work: positive interactions and collaborations with fellow students and postdocs, brainstorming in meetings, little “ah-ha!” moments while sitting over a sample, and publishing in J. Phys. Chem. B. In the end, I think this little documentary does a good job of portraying the ups and downs of grad school. However, I think another few episodes in different types of labs would reveal a more realistic overview. Moreover, I think it would be healthy to show students accomplishing smaller steps along the way to their PhD or best paper, instead of the view that students must toil away for 6 years with no rewards until the end.

(via BiteSizeBio)

cleaning-chemicals industry takes on the final frontier…

May 5, 2010 at 10:56 am | | science and the public, stupid technology

invisible stains. Finally, there are cleaners on the market that can clean up stains that are undetectable by any of the human senses.

Have you seen that commercial for a toilet-bowl cleaner? They say, “Bleach only hides stains.” Then they pour some purple stuff on the ceramic to reveal the hidden “stains.”

Um, what? Isn’t hiding a stain mean you get rid of the stain? By definition? I think it’s nuts that the cleaning-chemicals industry is inventing the problem of invisible stains. I have a solution to this problem: don’t pour that purple stuff in your toilet!

And then there are those “chemical residues” that watch you shower. The invisible, undetectable residues. How do we know that invisible residues are there at all? The TV tells us that they are there, of course. But wait, how do we know that the alternative cleaner doesn’t leave an invisible residue?

All this reminds me of the Emperor’s New Clothes. Or, more aptly, that old joke about the elephant repellant (“You don’t see any elephants around here do you? It must be working, then!”) People need to ignore these silly commercials and relax a little bit about cleaning. Just scrub the toilet bowl every week or two with a brush, then wipe the seat etc. with diluted bleach and be done with it! Jeez!

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