...not a creature was stirring, etc. Just wanted to give a shout out to the Members of my Tribe, bravely holding down the fort while everyone else enjoys their ham and figgy pudding. All the equipment is available, and I have Mr. Ipod to keep me company! And, if you're in the bay area and are bored tonight, swing by the Latke Ball, that's where I'll be!
(h/t to The Poorman Institute for the video!)
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Thursday, December 18, 2008
I always approach meetings with a combination of excitement and dread. My inner-child-scientist is always excited; new science! New people! Interesting talks! Gadgets! Data! Fun!
On the other hand, I've been to enough conferences to know that, in reality, I tend to spend a lot of time bored. I don't have a great attention span in general, and I have a very low tolerance for bad talks. And, as Sturgeon's Law tells us, 90% of all talks are bad talks. So, conferences require a great deal of mental energy to stay alert, awake, and engaged. And don't even get me started on posters; trying to absorb scientific data from a 4' by 3' board covered with 12 point type while surrounded by hundreds of jabbering people is close to impossible for me.
That being said, I always come away with something, a few kernels, and its these things that make it all worthwhile. Plus, the science is really only half of the reason to go to a conference; the other half is the networking: seeing old friends and colleagues, gossiping, finding out who's hiring whom, and ingratiating yourself with your betters. And, that's really the fun part, since that part usually involves beer.
In the past, I've been to the Biophysical Society Meeting, but since ASCB was in San Francisco this year, and I had some money from my F32 grant to cover the registration costs, I thought I'd give it a shot and see what it was like.
One thing that struck me is that there are several different ways that you can break down the participants into groups, and the meeting seemed to use each of these at different times: by technique, by disease, or by molecule of interest, for instance. Biophyscists tend to be very technology/technique oriented, so I attended several technique-oriented sessions, on single-molecule techniques, and imaging and biosensors. Unfortunately, the single-molecule material being presented at ASCB was not, by and large, ground-breaking work, from a technique standpoint. It was mostly the usual suspects: centroid tracking of molecular motors, microtubule studies, and optical trapping of polymerases were all covered. It seemed disjointed, I think, because the ASCB is such a biology-oriented meeting, and having technique talks lumped together without regard for the biology didn't seem to be in the spirit, in some ways.
On the other hand, there was a lot of good stuff at the biosensors and imaging sessions. The Hahn lab at UNC has developed a genetically encodable photoactivatable protein, which could, in theory, do for photoactivatable proteins what GFP has done for fluorescence microscopy. The Smith lab at Stanford had some amazing mouse brain images at the single neuron level developed with a new technique they call "array tomography", which involves physical sectioning of the tissue into ultrathin slices prior to imaging. There were also numerous talks on new photoactivatable proteins for use with PALM, although few actual applications.
I also got to see some friends who I haven't seen in a while. Arne Gennerich was there, who is flying between UCSF and Albert Einstein, in the process of setting up a new lab there. We talked about hang gliding, motorcycling, hot dogs, and shoes. And some science. Josh Shaevitz was also there giving a talk, allowing me a glimpse into the origins of the crap hat.
Betsy Villa, a friend from grad school, was there, on her way from Munich to Mexico for xmas. One of the things we talked about was the difficulty for a biophysicist of figuring out what's really novel, and what's just run-of-the-mill at a cell biology conference. For instance, on the last day, I spent most of the day at talks on non-coding RNA, which included a lot of material on microRNA. There were a lot of people doing screening assays to figure out which microRNAs affected which tissues, and in what ways, but there was very little discussion of what the mechanistic details were; the emphasis was more bio-informatical (if that's a word), trying to establish simply links between particular miRNAs and particular genes. After watching several of these talks, it all started to blend together for me. Was this really the state of the art? Or was this simply something that you could do that would be low-risk and produce lots of papers, something to help you keep your grant and get tenure? I wasn't sure.
One thing I was sure of was that almost none of this material would have been comprehensible if we hadn't gotten as far as we did into our Fat Alberts Club at lab. I'm very grateful that we stuck it out as long as we did, even if we didn't get to the end of the book.
I may add some other thoughts as they occur to me, but that should give you the basic flavor, and I have to go finish cleaning up my labeling reaction stat.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Just in time for the ASCB meeting this weekend, Ron Vale has a review article in Cell titled Microscopes for Fluorimeters: The Era of Single Molecule Measurements (samizdat copy on the Vale lab web site here.) In it, he points out the fascinating tidbit that the typical forces observed in force spectroscopy measurements (~5 pN) are actually several orders of magnitude less than the gravitational attraction between you and the journal you're reading (assuming that your'e reading it in hardcopy, in journal form, which is almost certainly not correct. But still.)
I'll be at ASCB this weekend, and I will not be liveblogging, but I will do a post-meeting roundup on some of the stuff. One thing to make sure to attend will be the subgroup meeting on Saturday, At the Limits: Optical Methods for Single Molecules, Cells, and Organisms, from 12:30 to 5. Ron Vale will be speaking there, along with lots of other fun people.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Friday, December 5, 2008
I did my doctoral work at UIUC, and it is traditional there for physics grad students there to try to meet actual real women by going to dance classes. Salsa was the usual choice, but I would frequently see signs up in the physics department for Argentine tango. So, the following comes as no surprise to me: Via Greg Laden over at Scienceblogs.com, we find the following video of Markita Landry from Yann Chemla's group at UIUC, doing an interpretive dance of her thesis, titled "Single Molecule Measurements of Protelomerase TelK-DNA Complexes":