Halloween Costumes: Retro Science Style

Your Promega Connections bloggers were sitting around reminiscing the other day, “Back when I was in the lab…”. Kind of like Thanksgiving Dinner among your elderly relatives, it wasn’t long before we were one-upping each other with horror stories from our days at the bench–stories that included escape artist rats, a leaky sequencing gel apparatus, and the iconic radioactively contaminated post doc.

We decided to turn that conversation, with a lot of help from our favorite science cartoonist Ed Himelblau, into retro Halloween costumes based on our memories of things we used to do in the lab that don’t seem like such a great idea now. Enjoy…and if you have a few retro horror science costume ideas of your own you would like to add, feel free to comment.

First up: Cesium Chloride Preps.

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Vitamin D and Asthma

We all like sunshine, right? In fact this time of year, some people pay a pack of moola and travel great distances in search of stronger solar.

Research reports continue to tout the benefits of vitamin D (1). In several studies from 2009, researchers found that patients with low blood levels of vitamin D had worse asthma symptoms than patients with higher serum vitamin D levels. In addition, patients with low vitamin D levels didn’t respond as well to asthma therapies as the patients with higher vitamin D levels.

A study done at National Jewish Health Center in Denver, Colorado, found that that low vitamin D levels influence a number of aspects of asthma, including lung function, bronchospasm and response to steroids. Results of this study are soon to be published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine (2). Continue reading

How to Use the Flexi® Vectors (Part 2 of 2)

pFN24K HaloTag® CMVd3 Flexi® VectorIn previous entries, I discussed the naming convention for the many Flexi® Vectors available from Promega before addressing how to choose which vector is appropriate for your use. However, I did not cover all the Flexi® Vectors available. In fact, I saved the HaloTag® Flexi® Vectors for this final installment. Continue reading

Representations of Science

As a storyteller, I notice that there are two stories to most life science research. The first is the story of process, and the second is that of results. Coming from a liberal arts background, the nuance of the second – how chemistry, concentration, base pairs and phosphorylated molecules interact to deliver a measurable result – often escapes me.

I can appreciate process: an idea, followed by a near-endless series of small tests to evaluate the viability of that idea. I can appreciate the sifting of signal from noise, and the dangerous seduction of a tangent, a curious detail, and the empty promise of a lead. Conceptually, these things make art and science close cousins. I can walk comfortably on a conceptual ground, but the hard grammar delivers a path beyond my training and knowledge.

To my eye, this research looks like nothing more than the transfer of clear liquids from tube-to-tube. Sometimes the application of heat is involved, and refrigeration is essential. Visually, the two most exciting things you’ll encounter are a slight color change in a microcentrifuge tube or a bar graph. At the cellular level, we may find a grand narrative of transformation , death, and recovery; at the molecular level we can witness attraction, separation, reconciliation. Yet capturing these events requires either a miracle or a mountain of costly resources. When we want to visually communicate the story of pure DNA , we are left with the story of pipetting liquids.

In developing video protocols for our products, I’ve attempted to keep that point in mind. There are things I cannot practically show, and what I can show needs to be carefully presented in order to remain both accurate and interesting. I’ve also tried to cut details that work better in text without introducing confusion for end users.

Here’s one of the results:

[wpvideo pAyMVHa2]

I invite you to keep an eye out for future video protocols. In the meantime, you should leave a comment and let me know what procedures and products you think would benefit most from this kind of treatment.

The Notorious “Not-A-Verb” List

book_sqGetting What You Want from Your Science Writing, Part V
Like all editors, the science editors at Promega each have pet peeves about language usage and writing, and you can often find us engaged in animated discussion about usage of the word “utilize” or “employ.” We maintain the corporate style guide for writing and usage, and we provide many resources for Promega employees who find themselves composing at the keyboard.

One of my favorite writing resources is our “Not-A-Verb” list. Continue reading

Indy (I’m not dead yet)

DrosophilaI take my hat off to the original inventors of Drosophila gene nomenclature. They managed to create names that are clear descriptions of the genes effect, are easy to remember, and express something of the humanity of the scientists behind the discovery. Once you’ve heard it, you can’t forget that Cleo (Cleopatra) is only lethal in the presence of Asp, or that in tinman, the embryo has no heart. I really appreciate the ease-of-use of FlyBase and the incidental entertainment value of many of the Drosophila gene names.

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Wolfram|Alpha: The World’s Knowledge, Computed

Friday, May 15th, 2009. 11 days ago. The 135th day of 2009, in the 20th week. 36.71% of 2009 had elapsed, and 63.29% remained.

Depending on where you keep your ears tuned on the internet, it may have passed as just another nascent weekend, or you may have been waiting for this day for quite some time – not because it was the 97th weekday of 2009, but because of the launch of Wolfram|Alpha.

I can’t claim the hot level of anticipation that others would – I’d heard the name thrown around on tech blogs and treated with a certain reverence. But starting about two weeks ago, I got feverish emails and IMs from various net.friends.

“Wolfram Alpha launches on Friday.”

“Did you hear about the launch?”

“Check out this screencast NOW.”

Anything subtitled “Computational Knowledge Engine” would normally earn ample mockery from my friends and I, but a few quick queries on the site should disarm all but the most eager attackers.

This is no mere search engine: compare this random string of letters – ACTTACAATG – and the difference in results between Google and Wolfram|Alpha.

There’s an entire section of examples of Life Sciences queries, including a Molecular Biology subsection.

This is less search than it is some kind of very fancy calculator. My hunch is that we’re only hearing the beginning of this tool.