Saturday, August 30, 2008

Making my life a little less microscopic.

Last night I was talking to Middle Sister on the phone. She was at work and so occasionally had to put the phone down to ring up customers (she has yet to take my, "just lock the door while you're on the phone" advice) and also I was somewhat bored listening to her. I tend to be a pacer when I am on the phone, totally took after Mom on that one. So I was pacing my living room when the newspaper the county puts out that I normally just toss caught my bored eye. The front page feature read, "Captain Midnight's Run for Cystic Fibrosis*". So while Middle Sibling babbled I read the article to see what it was all about. A father with a son that has CF started it last year and it is a 5K run to raise money for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation which funds research to develop better drugs to help people with CF live longer and healthier lives as well as working to find a cure for the disease. The run was today (Friday) and started at 7pm and the article said that walkers were welcome.

This was one of the charity runs that you pay to participate in and there didn't seem to be any kind of form to try and get people to sponsor you, which was perfect for me, I suck at fundraising stuff like that! Middle Sibling used to be a distance runner (while I was a sprinter) so I asked her how many miles 5K is, she didn't know and wanted to know why so I told her. She totally did not get the concept of paying to walk 5K and did not seem to think I should spend my time and money on a walk for CF, since she thinks she might have MS she thinks I should do a MS charity thing instead (as if I cannot possibly do both...). She didn't know the answer to my question but google did, it is about 3 miles. So 3 miles, in town, I could walk, it was only $16, and it started at 7pm and not 7am, sign me up! And so I did, I got there a bit late since Aunt D called and I didn't ignore the call (I was tempted since I totally knew I would be late if I took it), but only about 5 minutes or so and not so late that they didn't let me join. I am still trying to figure out how people were finishing very soon after I started, their times must have been amazing!

I did feel like a poser/slug as I was walking the route, talking on my cell phone as people were running by me about to finish. But oh well, I was NEVER a distance runner and with my knee** the way it is running wasn't really an option, especially since I had done a sprint to catch the bus this morning and after three weeks off I went to water aerobics 4 days in a row and so my body is a tad beat up to begin with. My mom called while I was starting and since she had surgery on her foot that afternoon (and I was hoping she was hopped up on pain killers and would provide amusing dialog, alas not) I actually told Aunt D I was going to do the switch thing and talk to her later (I RARELY switch over, I find it somewhat rude). Mom asked what I was doing as I was making comments about wondering if I was going the right way or not (I didn't look at nor have a map and the route had a section that overlapped), a friendly volunteer told me I was going the right way. I told Mom I was doing a 5K, she asked why and I told her it was for CF, she asked if it was one of those things where I asked people to sponsor me (we did one when I was a kid) and I told her no and that I gave them $20 and walk 5K. She had a hard time understanding the concept too. "You could walk 5K for free..." I told her it was for charity and to raise awareness, she seemed to kinda get it. It helped that I told her I got a tee shirt and some coupons from it too, LOL!

About half way or so through Mom took another call and I was left to walk by myself with only the occasional volunteer or onlooker for company. The sun was setting and there were some rather scenic patches along the route, it was very nice and peaceful. They were giving the speeches and handing out awards as I was reaching the end, the meeting place was across the street from the finish line so I plodded along to the end, a volunteer walked with me as another took my time (57 minutes, though my late start was not factored in so it was more like 50 minutes). I came in dead last, but as it was not a race (well it was to some of the participants, not the broken one(s) though). I guess the woman before me insisted she was last, took some pride in it, who knows perhaps time-wise she was in last, it was all in fun I'm sure. No matter what I felt good for going, while I do not know anyone personally with CF I have read blogs written by or about people who do have it and when I was a kid my mom went through a phase of reading books by an author who mainly wrote about characters who were sick and dying and there were a couple that involved CF and they left an impression (I mainly read whatever my mom has/is into at the time).

For me the charity does not have to be about something that directly involves me, I am not that significant but I can be part of something that can help someone else and that is what it is about. It really helps me put things into perspective at a time when I need that, not only given the issues I am having with my job and my health but with the major case of cynicism I have developed as a result of the insanity that is an election year (I am getting to the point where I beyond loathe politics). Things like this help show that there is good in the world and not everything has to involve idiots lying to people to try and con them into voting for them so we can give them our money and have them waste it on stupid crap and support issues that I find vile or screw me over.

For an hour that crap all faded away and it was about coming together to support research to make around 30,000 people in this country's life better. It was about a 4 year old boy who lives in this town and has to take a ton of medication so he can digest his food (really puts my 10 pills a day into perspective), who has a feeding tube because he just can't ingest enough food in a day to grow, and who has to wear a vest twice a day that shakes his chest to clear his lungs of mucus so he can breath and not get as many lung infections. I hope we can beat this thing in little Quinn's lifetime, it wasn't too long ago that he would not have made it this far but with the efforts of researchers and people supporting them he has a decent chance to make it into adulthood. I want him to end up a wrinkly old man recalling how we beat the disease that would have killed him to kids who find it hard to believe that Cystic Fibrosis ever killed anyone (much like many diseases that are easily treated now were killers in the not too distant past).

So overall a great experience I plan to repeat next year and I plan to keep my eye out for similar events in my area. I really wanted to go on the March of Dimes Walk for Babies but the locations were a bit far especially since it started really early in the morning (9am is early!), and they do the whole finding sponsors thing that I mentioned sucking at. It would have been really cool to have gone and possibly met one of my favorite bloggers Loren and her munchkins. And given the fact that my godson was born prematurely (28 weeks 2 days) that one hits close to home. Maybe next year I can find a way to go *cough suck it up cough*.


Pictures (I wish there was a caption option on blogger, if there is someone please tell me)
1: My trying to take my own picture while walking and trying to not be obvious about it because I totally felt like a dork taking my own pic while walking a 5K run.
2: A straight part towards the end, those orange cones were my guide for the beginning and end, things got a little confusing in the middle but thankfully there were volunteers that helped (I am rather navigationally challenged).
3: My new shirt, I wanted to change into it while participating but since I was late starting and there wasn't a good spot to change shirts on route plus I was wearing a black bra and I didn't really want to do the white shirt with a black bra thing cuz I know it would have totally shown through!
4: The hill that tried to kick my butt and somewhat succeeded, hill was steeper than that pic makes it look!
5: Sunset at the end of the event.

*Cystic Fibrosis is a recessive genetic disorder, which means that the mother and the father have to carry the defective gene for their child to inherit it. Normally there is a protein that balances the amount of sodium and chlorine in mucus, in people with CF the gene that codes for that protein is mutated and does not produce a protein that functions properly resulting in them having thick sticky mucus that builds up in their lungs and also clogs the pancreas so the digestive enzymes it produces don't make it into the GI tract. For more information on the disease and ways to get involved in helping visit the CF Foundation. And for a very interesting and compelling perspective on living with and loving someone with CF go read Nate's blog.

**I was a sprinter for two years on my high school track team and developed tendinitis in my right knee. It is not usually a big deal but flares up for various reasons and running is not good for it so I try to avoid it.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

This can't be happening!

My tiny little baby niecey is in kindergarten right now (her first day).

















She did not attend preschool and so there was no easing into it for this auntie. I have demanded pictures of the event, they had best come through with them! I wish I could have been there to walk her there and see her off but alas I am stuck here with my contaminated cultures (even if they weren't contaminated I'd still be stuck here). I was talking to Middle Sister last night, she is concerned about Niecey not being popular/liked and wants to dress her all fancy to make a good impression. I told her that kids that age don't really care what the others are wearing. Cheryl is worried that she will be unpopular like she and I were and that she will be bullied. And then there is me, I am still trying to grasp the fact that my baby isn't a baby anymore!














I saw her dismembered looking gray head come out facing me the day she was born (#1 most disturbing thing I have ever witnessed). I stayed in the hospital with Middle Sister until they were discharged (2 or 3 days), only leaving to go to work and get food/shower. I got yelled at by a nurse when Middle Sister and I decided to take a walk in the hall with me holding Niecey. Apparently they were worried that I would drop her and they would have to fill out reams of forms, which I can appreciate but seriously if there was a risk of my dropping her wouldn't the hospital be the perfect place to do so?! From the day she was born until August of 2005 I was part of her everyday life with few exceptions. I moved here when she was two years old and was worried that we would lose the strong bond because of it, thankfully it hasn't happened, it has changed a bit but it is still there.

Being here and not seeing her everyday made her growing up go even faster in my perception and now she is 5 and in kindergarten and I am left with memories of a tiny little baby (by tiny I mean 8lb 2oz at birth so not that tiny). A baby who would cling to me if something was scary, who I finally convinced thunderstorms and fireworks were not scary (the fireworks one nearly killed me, she was literally strangling me and I was pinned down). A baby I saw take her first steps. A baby who didn't like to cuddle (cuddling time cuts into getting into things/destruction time) but usually would spare a hug and a short cuddle for her Auntie Kee. A baby who delegated giving kissies to her teddy bear(s) for awhile. A baby who has grown up into a beautiful little girl whether her auntie is ready or not.

I love you Niecey, you'll always be my baby no matter how old you get!

Picture 1: I used to kangaroo Niecey in my hoodie when the weather was cool, she made a nice heat source. She is a couple months old in that pic.

Picture 2: Me hanging with Niecey in the hospital when she was a day or two old.

Picture 3: Niecey playing in the truck I rented when I moved out, she loved it until she found out what it was for!

Picture 4: A cute pic I took of Niecey when she visited me this month.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Contamination

The contamination I spoke of earlier appears to be more widespread than we originally thought, as in I now have two out of four of my cultures showing signs of it. The "patterns" are still rather random and I am having trouble figuring out what caused it, I can't fix it unless I find the source (I suspect it is either the stocks or myself at this point). Once a pattern seems to emerge a result comes along that throws it out. V asked what we are going to do, I suggested hitting our heads on the lab bench until we don't notice/care anymore. My boss graced the path lab with her awesomeness, it was amusing that she has the same approach to looking at slides under the scope that I do, stare at one, switch to the second, go back to the first, second, first... Then go cross-eyed and look at the plates awhile before going back to the microscope. She got tired of it and said "This is why I'm a chemist." So much for my trying to convert her! The bugs look similar under the scope, hence the switching, and also we really really want them to be the same and the right bug, but alas when Dr. M looked at them he confirmed my (and likely her) sneaking suspicion, they are most likely not. Good thing I don't have stomach acid or I'd have an ulcer by now!

I have options, we will get through this, it is just very frustrating that I am once again stalled and poor V is as well. I feel extra bad for V since she has been going insane with this too and it originally looked like it could be "her fault" now it looks like it is not (it could be mine). Hopefully I will get to the point of posting more regularly, I have posts swimming around in my head but it takes time to get them written, and some require photoshop and possibly Baby Sibling. Plus I really need to get my progress reports done, they are a pain and two are late (the two I don't care about as much and protest having to do).

In the mean time here is a video I made of what I am recently doing a lot of. I actually made three, at risk of scaring you all away and having Baby Sibling laugh hysterically at me I am posting the one that I narrated. What I am doing is called "streaking" it is often used to test the purity of a culture, in my case I am actually spreading what are pretty much pure cultures onto plates that I added a chemical to that makes my research organism (Bifidobacteria) turn blue and the others stay white. This will likely confirm that I have contamination in at least two of my cultures. Oh and I wore the lab coat just for you so feel special, I rarely wear one, that's how much I love you guys.


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Updates

Big Bear's old bow has safely arrived, Niecey Poo is very happy to have it back along with all the other stuff I sent. I think Graw opened it with her so there was no mysterious sugar high, lol.

In other news the super yeast appears to be working, I am working on getting Daddy to e-mail me the details so I can have the next installment of The Adventures of Super Yeast for you guys. I'm also begging for pictures, unfortunately there are none of the beginning steps, perhaps next time.

Also I have declared an ice age, it is 53 degrees outside, so much for global warming! This has been an unusually cold summer here, while it is nice not to roast in the heat I'd rather not freeze to death in August. Have I mentioned I don't like cold weather? Have I mentioned I don't like it getting below 65 as the low? Have I mentioned that it is quite common to see me in a winter coat in April (it did snow this April...)? Yeah, I am a bit of a baby about the cold, but in my defense I have a circulation thing and am somewhat allergic to the cold (I had no idea it was possible but it is). And yes I should totally move down south but pretty much everything I hold dear is up north so I'm kinda screwed. At least I have my electric blanket and comforter!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Bon Voyage

Today I met V in the lab, haven't seen her in awhile since she is a morning person and I am a vampire. We went over our game plan for trying to figure out what is going on with the culture that keeps getting contaminated for her but not me. Her technique from what I've seen is solid, hell if we were unknowingly being judged she would kick my butt since I have developed short cuts that are not in the official rule book. We suspect there is a chance her pipette is contaminated, but that would make more sense if all the cultures were contaminated and not just the one... Oops, sorry, went into analyzing mode, I'm back. If you cannot tell this issue is somewhat of a big deal.

Microbiologists are obsessed with purity, contamination is generally one of our greatest enemies. We fight it with fire, chemicals, and good technique. Of course contamination led to one of the greatest discoveries in medicine. Dr. Alexander Fleming was actually looking for antimicrobials, he often worked with Staphylococcus aureus (the bacterium that causes food poisoning and is a common hospital acquired infection, it puts the SA in MRSA). Well he had some plates of S. aureus lying around (perhaps he had plate hoarding OCD like I do!) and one of them was contaminated with mold and he noticed that there was no bacteria growing by the mold. Turns out this mold was Penicillium notatum, which produces penicillin. I've had quite a few plates contaminated with mold but none have been quite that spectacular, though some are really cool looking! My coworkers likely question my sanity more than usual when I find a plate contaminated with a cool looking mold and dub it my "pet mold" and watch it growing until the plate dries out or it just stops. That picture is of one of my pet molds, this one formed a rather intricate pattern and has been fun to watch.

Well I finished with all that and was tinkering/loitering in the lab for a bit and got roped into helping order lab supplies for a bit. Then I noticed the time, it was 3:40, the next bus was at 3:50 and I wasn't sure if the post office closes at 4:00 or 4:30 (yes the post office here closes insanely early!). I almost rudely take my leave, one of those the person keeps asking you stuff after you tell them you have to go several times. I detour on the way out and google the local post office, it closes at 4:30, I had a shot at making it. The 3:50 bus gets me home at 4:00, then I had to throw crap into the box I found, tape it up, and address it before jumping in the trusty oldsmobile and hightailing it to downtown. I made it with 10 minutes to spare and the line was miraculously short given that the invasion of undergrads has doubled the population of this town in the past week.

I hand the nice lady the box and tell her it is the most important box she will have for the day. She looked at me as if I were totally mental and likely was considering pushing the emergency "crazy person is here, send backup!" button that I so know they have, telling her that it contained a priceless treasure didn't help my case either, until I mentioned that it was a ratty satin bow that a certain 5 year old loves to death. Then she got the "awwwww" look and was super sweet and told me I was such a wonderful auntie as she was getting the quote for overnight. When I heard that it would be over $20 I informed her that I am not THAT wonderful of an auntie! Besides, every time I have talked to Niecey one of the first things she has said was "Why haven't you mailed me Big Bear's old bow yet?", because she totally thinks that the USPS has same day delivery or something, she's gotta learn sometime... Ok fine, I'm cheap! But I did upgrade from the $4.70 or so "It may or may not get there in the next 6 months" option to the 2-3 day priority mail at a whopping $4.95, that makes me at least a sorta wonderful auntie right? The nice postal lady said she will likely get it Saturday since it is only going a state over.

I didn't attempt to insure it, though I have been contemplating the philosophicalness (oh hell yeah I can invent words) of it. To Niecey this is a priceless treasure she would trade just about any of her other possessions for I suspect. To pretty much anyone else it is a ratty piece of crap that they would carelessly toss in the trash. Thankfully my ingenious idea to have Big Bear "guard the car" when we go out somewhere that I came up with awhile ago automatically transfered to whatever lovie she brings on a trip and so there was less worry about losing the bow in public. Oh and FYI the car almost got stolen by TWO car thieves while we were in the lab, but thank goodness Big Bear was there guarding it and bit their butts and they ran away! Big Bear is so my hero!

And so dear readers who have followed the saga of Big Bear's old bow it is time to officially say goodbye, at least for now. Bon voyage Big Bear's old bow, have a safe journey back to Niecey Poo!

Oh and don't tell but under the fake grass skirt (another thing Niecey forgot here) there is candy, lots of candy. If Daddy or Baby Sibling read my blog they will have a heads up and likely intercept it, if they don't and Niecey opens the box unsupervised they may wonder why she is crawling on the ceiling >=) hahahaha!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

I Kick A$$

So I have noticed an award circulating around recently among some of my favorite blogs, never would I have imagined that it would land here. But then I read one of my favoritest favorite blogs, LiteralDan, and saw he had gotten this award and very much agreed with the person who awarded it to him, and then as I read the rest I was stunned, he gave it to me! Hmm guess I'll have to cancel the "cloud of deadly germs" I was sending towards Minnesota in hopes of getting him to evacuate and return to Chicago and start regularly blogging again...

So here is the award:

Kick Ass Blogger Award

Isn't it pretty! Here is what I am supposed to do now that I have won:
  • Choose 5 bloggers that you feel are "Kick Ass Bloggers"
  • Let 'em know in your post or via email, twitter or blog comments that they've received an award
  • Share the love and link back to both the person who awarded you and back to www.mammadawg.com
  • Hop on back to the Kick Ass Blogger Club HQ to sign Mr. Linky then pass it on!
Hmm, only 5, I can do this.... In alphabetical order (Baby Sibling is likely laughing at me again for that) here they are:

BusyDad: Gotta give props to the royalty, His Highness Jim, if it weren't for taking care of his mini-me he could totally have taken back China. Just think of it, then I could say that I read the emperor of China's blog and he left me a comment on my peasant blog! Oh well, he might not do it but I have great hopes for Fury, that kid can get things done.

McMommy
: Who else can make having a goiter cool and come up with something as ingenious as the diaper urinal, McMommy can that's who!

Nuclear Family Warhead: NukeDad delurking me catalyzed the start of this blog, I was only vaguely considering it at that point as a possible future thing. And seriously with a name like that you know the blog is going to be amusing, and he does not disappoint!

Sweetened Taters: Loren is the mother of the cutest identical triplets I've ever seen (in pictures). She also has a great sense of humor that often has me laughing out loud. One of her accomplishments that seriously impresses me is the fact that she is going to college at the same time as having THREE toddlers to keep alive and an awesome blog to maintain.

The Roaming Southerner: Alex is hilarious, we have some of the same values and like me she is a transplant who misses home.

There are so many more I'd love to give this award to but I want to have a chance that my readers will come back to this humble little blog after reading those 5 spectacular blogs!

Thanks Dan, you made my day!

Letters to bacteria

Dear Bifidobacterium breve,

You know I have a special place in my heart for you. You have always been my star bug surviving in whatever situation I put you in like a champ, I wish your siblings would behave as well as you do! That being said I have to bring up your recent bad behavior. It seems that lately you have been falling in with the wrong crowd. While I appreciate your domain's* diversity and recognize that it makes a total mockery of what human beings consider diverse I ask that you remain in pure culture and only hang out with the yogurt cultures that are intentionally put in with you. I know this seems harsh but how can you shine if you are overgrown by some bully organism? And poor V, she has worked so hard to learn how to treat you just how you like it and just when she is getting all independent and confident in her abilities you throw her this curve.

And don't you try and pretend you aren't contaminated, even my lab assistant was able to tell the difference between you and the impostor organism. Is this a ploy to drive us insane, because it is working!? I am glad that V decided to test you out before moving ahead with her project, she was on to you and your sneaky tricks. And that was very sneaky, behaving for me and not her making me think it was all a fluke. You will be in so much trouble if your stock** is contaminated! There had best be no other organisms growing on your plates currently in the incubator, and don't you think I won't check, you have definitely earned yourself some time under the microscope.

V and I would really like to get past this rebellious phase of yours and be able to get some real research done. Don't you want your name in the journals with us writing about how wonderful you are? Well that is never going to happen if you keep stalling us like this! So please, just go back to behaving like the wonderful organism I know you are.

Love,
Karen

First picture: Image of B. breve taken through a light microscope, 1000X magnification. Notice the irregular shapes and sizes of the cells (the little dots and lines), Bifidobacteria tend to be irregularly shaped rods.

Second picture: Image of unknown contaminant, same details. Notice the uniform perfectly formed rods, this is a pretty good indicator that this is not a Bifidobacteria sample.

*Based on genetics all lifeforms currently fall into one of three groups called domains, bacteria, archaea and eukaryota. Bacteria are the most diverse group, in comparison human beings are all the same, to me it shows how ridiculous prejudices based on genetic traits (like skin pigmentation and the like) are given how infinitesimal the differences really are.

**A stock refers to a stored sample of an organism, there are several different methods of storing them including freeze drying (like the yeast in the Super Yeast post), and frozen stocks (aka glycerol stocks). I prefer working with frozen stocks, which are prepared by mixing glycerol into a pure sample of an organism in broth and keeping it in a -75 C freezer. The glycerol makes it so when the sample freezes it has less ice crystals, ice crystals are sharp and can shred the cells you are trying to save.

Monday, August 18, 2008

More Sunday Stylin': Rocking Big Bear's Old Bow














Niecey at 3 years old and Big Bear looking less loved.


When Niecey was very little I found some little teddy bears real cheap at walmart in the baby section. I tried to always get her stuff from the baby section so that she wouldn't choke to death on a button or something. I think this was her first Christmas so she was about 5 months old and of course I had to buy her a ton of presents. Well Baby Sibling didn't have the means to get her a present, both because she was a broke high school student and because she didn't drive (though I took her places when I had time). She saw the cheap teddies and figured they would work for her budget and so bought them off of me. Niecey Poo fell in love with one and it was her second lovie (her first was a beanie baby white wolf named wolfie and it got lost at some point). I am fairly certain her first word was teddy (tuh tuh) and this teddy started her teddy addiction. She lost it and bonded with a bigger fluffier teddy until it too got lost. Then about a year later I was trolling around after work and found myself in the Osco (Osco is like CVS or Walgreen's but usually in the same store/building as Jewel which is a grocery chain in IL, together they are called Jewel Osco) and what did I see but a huge teddy bear that was only like $10, score! I brought this bear home and when she saw it she was quite impressed and toddled over to me and was a little shy at first (it was about as big as she was at the time) so I had it give her a hug and they've been friends ever since. Niecey LOVES to recount this story, while she does not remember what happened I reconstructed it for her and she loves to hear it and tell it. Dad started referring to it as her big bear as I recall and that is how Big Bear got its name.















Fast forward a few years, Big Bear is an extremely loved bear and it is very obvious by looking at it. Originally it had stuffing throughout its body/arms/legs/head. Pretty much all the stuffing was compacted by the frequent cuddling and ended up in the arms, legs and head and the body is pretty much empty. I offered to restuff Big Bear but she does not like that idea at all. Another feature of Big Bear is its satin bow, that is basically her favorite part of Big Bear, she loves the feel of the silky fabric (it is not so silky now but that doesn't bother her) and will often cuddle Big Bear in such a way that she could have the bow in her hands close to her face so she could feel it with her fingers and her face. I was not there the first time the bow fell off, Cheryl reports that she made the most pitiful/traumatized scream when it happened, she had been swinging Big Bear around by the bow and it was just too much for it. Auntie Cheryl and I think Graw got Big Bear's bow back on and it eventually became a regular thing until recently Middle Sister sewed on a new yellow bow since the brown one is getting too old to keep reattaching, thus it became "Big Bear's old bow" and it is a lovie in and of itself. The problem is that she left it in my apartment and I did not see it until after they had driven off. I told her that when Graw comes to visit me that she can bring it back with her and she seemed ok with this for a bit. She is growing increasingly distraught about not having it though.















Tonight she decided that waiting is unacceptable and begged me to mail it back to her, I most likely will do so, I just have to find a box and get enough time to make a trip to the post office which closes ridiculously early here. Mom just found out she is going to need surgery to remove a growth in her foot and so she might not be coming here as planned so that is also a factor. So much for me negotiating a trade, the bow for my new unactivated cell phone she sort of accidentally swiped (it was in her pocket and I forgot to check)! The bow is way more important (seriously) than the phone, not just in Niecey's opinion but in mine as well, especially since I glued my old phone back together so it should be good for awhile longer (I am not thrilled with the new phone and like the old one). I took the following picture hoping it would amuse Niecey and get her to stop crying about wanting me and the bow but it only made her more upset, sigh. Guess I am just not cool enough to rock Big Bear's old bow.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Adventures of Super Yeast: Introduction

And now the start of what Jim at BusyDad has been waiting for, the start/introduction of the super yeast series!
A couple years ago I was trolling the local Target looking for Christmas presents, I think I was on a mission from Aunt D since I normally do not shop at Target (tiny walmart is closer and 24 hours, I like to shop in the middle of the night), a couple times they have sold out of a toy in the Chicagoland area but not here so I've "saved Christmas". The local target is huge, and it isn't even a super target, so it is a decent place to go to buy cheap crap great gifts for everyone on my list. As I was trolling (I rarely know what I am going to buy someone, I am more of a "I'll know it when I see it" gift picker outer) around and got to an end cap and it had all kinds of odd products that amused me. As I was looking at all the weird things they hoped to entice people into buying (at least some it was the as seen on tv stuff) there it was, the perfect present for Daddy, a home brewing kit! I bought him the Mr. Beer kit and a refill thing that had extra bottles and supplies.

When I was little Dad attempted to make his own beer, it was not the most successful adventure for him, not the first time he had done so either. I figured that perhaps if he had a kit that it would help him get it working and then he could branch out, I knew the kit stuff would not satisfy him, especially since the brewing tank only allowed about 2 gallon batches. He had all the equipment from when he had attempted brewing in the past, this included a 6 or so gallon bucket which I think is good for 5 gallon batches. The main thing he has done "wrong" in the past was the priming step at the end. When you brew beer you start with a certain amount of sugar in your wort, the yeast metabolize (eat/use) it and in the presence of oxygen they produce carbon dioxide and if there is no oxygen they produce ethanol and some carbon dioxide. Eventually they either use up all the sugar or they get to a point where the concentration of ethanol is too high and it inhibits further growth. When you get to the bottling step you have to "prime" the beer with some sugar so that the yeast will metabolize it and produce carbon dioxide otherwise the beer will be flat. In the past Dad had always tried to add the sugar to the bottle and quickly cap it, this was a somewhat messy and inexact method that would often produce beer that was either a bit flat or way over-carbonated and when opened the beer would shoot to the ceiling.

When I took my undergrad general microbiology course we had a lab that went with it, in that course we made pickles and beer. When we made the beer we used a kit and for the priming step a certain amount of sugar was mixed into the bucket of beer and then it was bottled. This produced a uniform carbonation that was perfect. I mentioned it to Dad but he totally brushed it off. The Mr. Beer kit instructs using the method my micro course did and he tried it and it worked. I think this was actually the main thing that held him back in the past, that and my mother complaining about it smelling (though it didn't smell that strong to me). The Mr. Beer kit got him going and he hasn't shown any signs of stopping, in fact he has gotten very into it and studies the concepts behind it all, he sounds like a food scientist/microbiologist sometimes!

Last semester I took my last of 5 seminar classes, seminar is basically a course where we meet once a week and either give a talk or listen to speakers. One of my favorite profs got conned into giving a seminar and his current research was in ethanol production and so that is what he spoke about. He gave more of a discussion talk, which was cool since I knew enough to sound intelligent while participating! As is customary part of the introduction was introducing us to the bug, in this case yeast ( Saccharomyces cerevisiae) which is a fungus. His lab was using an industrial strain that had been developed (not sure if it was genetically engineered or "bred") that had a higher tolerance to ethanol and therefore would ferment more of the sugar and produce a higher amount of ethanol. Here are some numbers, store bought beer tends to have about 4.5% ethanol (Kerr & Greenfield, 2003), beer brewed to completion I think is upwards to 14% give or take (whatever wine that has not been distilled should be about right), and if memory serves me the industrial strain can get up to 24% give or take in small scale batches (large scale tends to limit it a bit).

Since this professor was my first boss at this university and a valued member of my committee (group of 5 professors I choose who guide my journey through grad school and decide if and when I get my degree) I used that connection to obtain samples of this strain of yeast for Daddy, I mean what's the use of having a microbiologist for a daughter if she can't get you yeast to play with?! Almost didn't get it, I found out that he had accepted a position at another university not long before he left. Thankfully for me I contacted him in time and he asked one of his grad students to get it for me! I got it just in time for Daddy's birthday, he has been looking forward to playing with it since I told him about the strain. Who knows if it will work in beer making or not but it should be fun to play with and Daddy has agreed to give me updates and such about how it is going so I can blog about it (I told him about my blog). I'm hoping for pictures of the process but I am not sure if Daddy knows how to use Baby Sibling's camera and Baby Sibling is often not around for the beer making.

Sample bottles of Super Yeast.

He hasn't started a batch yet, as I recall he plans to use it in the Mr. Beer tank, he uses that when he wants to experiment with recipes and such so if it is disgusting he doesn't have to drink as many bottles of it (throwing away beer is against the rules I guess). It probably won't be too long before he is playing with the super yeast, figured I'd get the introduction up now so I don't get behind. Once again thanks goes to Baby Sibling for making that nifty graphic for this series!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Guess that Gizmo


Way back when I introduced (somewhat prematurely) what I plan to have be a regular feature on this blog: Guess that Gizmo, I hadn't even convinced Baby Sibling to make an awesome graphic for me (check out that awesomeness, thanks Baby Sibling!!!!!). I've been contemplating how I wanted this to work and decided that I am going to borrow some concepts from The Roaming Southerner and have it be a contest where people earn points over a given time frame and at the end someone gets a nerdy piece of blog bling that they can display proudly if they so choose (the time frame will give me time to figure out how blog bling works...). So here are the official Guess that Gizmo rules:

1. Guess that Gizmo will follow an academic calendar give or take:
  • Fall Semester: Late August through Mid December.
  • Spring Semester: Mid January through Early May.
  • Summer Semester*: Mid May through Mid August.
2. The point system is as follows:
  • Wrong but amusing answer: 1 point
  • Right answer: 2 points
  • I will not be giving the right answer until the end of the semester so more than one person can be right, for multiples of the wrong answer(s) only the first person gets the creativity point(s).
3. There is currently no limit on the number of guesses, if a miracle happens and I get swamped I may need to revisit this one.

4. Guess that Gizmo is meant to be fun, don't take it too seriously! There are things I encounter in labs that I have no idea what they are and sometimes try to guess what it is/does, figured that it might be fun to see what other people might guess.

5. And since one never knows: I am not making any statement for or against a brand/product/company by including it or its competitor in Guess that Gizmo (though I will totally sell out for an anaerobic incubator**! I am NOT kidding!) and my employer has absolutely nothing to do with the content of this blog and it is written on my personal computer.


*As a grad student I do not get the summer off, school is year round for us, so why should you all get the summer off Guess that Gizmo? ;) (LiteralDan's use of footnotes amuses me greatly and so I wanna be cool like him and use them on my blog, citing my source makes it totally ethical to blatantly copy him)

**Anaerobic means without oxygen, the bacteria I work with are anaerobes and will not grow in the presence of oxygen so I have to put my cultures in airtight jars with expensive packets that convert the oxygen into carbon dioxide and/or water, pain in the butt and limiting. An anaerobic incubator is pretty much #1 on my wish list. I have come close to having that dream come true, once it was the wrong thing and broken anyway (that was soooo embarrassing, though it tricked Dr. M too) and the next Boss Lady decided we needed a food grade centrifuge (machine that spins samples so that the solids in a liquid go to the bottom and stay there as the liquid is poured off) more than we needed the most awesomest incubator in the world (she is right, part of the project calls for people to sample what I make and so I need equipment that has never been in the path lab to get the study approved by the ethics board, she is not cool with my idea that we could just recruit people we don't like for the taste panel...).

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Why having an art major sibling rocks.

Baby sibling is an art major, she is about half way done with getting her associates degree but currently is not working on her degree since her financial aid got dropped. Her area of interest is jewelry, her favorite saying is "There's no such thing as a starving Jeweler." in response to Middle Sister belittling her for her choice in majors. I don't believe I have ever suggested Baby Sibling change majors to something more useful, she has basically always been an artist and I am not sure that she would be happy doing anything else.

Being the sibling of a molecular biology major who planned to go into microbiology Baby Sibling learned a thing or two about bacteria. She can spout out a over-sanitizing speech almost as good as mine. I tried to con her into taking micro as her life science course but she refused and took botany instead, brat. Joke was on her, the botany class sounded much harder than micro. Of course her favorite courses were the jewelry classes. I think she knew she wanted to be a jeweler before she took those classes and taking them reinforced it. So what is the result of this formula: Baby Sibling in jewelry class + future microbiologist big sister? Why you get these of course:


Picture 1: Three necklaces that are disks with bacteria shapes adhered to the surface, she despises the two on the left because they were the first she made and she had not yet perfected her technique, the one on the far right is her favorite and the one she didn't try and steal back from me. I love all three of them and she is so not getting them back!

Picture 2: A microscope charm necklace, I invested in a bunch of the charms and chains and she made them all into necklaces and we are hoping to sell them (turns out I am a very crappy salesperson). I am encouraging her to tap into the nerd jewelry niche, I think it is possible for her to make a living off such jewelry (bonus is I get a sibling discount!).

Baby Sibling also rocks photoshop with her fancy mouse drawing pad thingy and comes up with things like this to amuse me and give me blog fodder (in reality she is actually doing it so she can laugh at what a nerd I am):

Explanation: There is a staining method that differentiates between two kinds of bacteria called Gram staining (after Dr. Gram who invented it). Most bacteria are either Gram Negative (pink), or Gram Positive (purple). Lactobacilli are Gram + rods. She actually came up with this gem mostly by herself, asked me which color was positive and what kinds of bacteria were, I had no idea what she was up to.

And that dear readers is why it rocks to have an artist baby sibling.

Love you Baby Sibling!

~Update 1/5/2009~
Note to all the people viewing this: I am very curious how you found this post and for those of you who found me that way what you are searching for on google images that leads you here. If you do not mind letting me know in the comments I would appreciate it, you can comment anonymously or use the name/url option (url is optional on that) if you want your name attached but do not have a google/blogger account. Thank you for your interest in my blog and baby sister, if you are more interested in her than me (I am the scientist, she is the artist) you can check out her blog.

Are you a better listener than a five year old?

Daddy and Niecey left, I miss having them around, except for the apartment destruction it was great having them! One thing I did while they were here is test a hypothesis that I had developed using the scientific method. Remember my disclaimer, you are getting my version of this and some of my information is second hand, while I believe it to be correct there is going to be some bias, especially from the second hand information.

Step 1: Observe and state the problem/question.

Last year I decided to see how quickly I could get my work done, part of it was that I wanted to leave for my vacation early and part of it was my challenging myself, testing my limits. Well unfortunately I surpassed my limits and my right wrist had to spend about 3 months in a splint, 3 or 4 months of PT, and a steroid injection. Boss Lady and I started exploring options to help me get back to work and to be able to stay working, I found the EDP3+ ELECTRONIC LTS PIPET 100-1000UL. Pipettes are instruments that are used to obtain a specific volume of a liquid and transfer it where you want it, they are used in practically everything I do and the manual ones can be very hard on the tendons, especially if you are using it for hours everyday. I got it and proceeded to read the manual and figured out how to set it so that it only switches between the two volumes I use 99.9% of the time. Not being the most tech savvy person in the world I was quite proud of the fact that I figured this trick out and if it didn't have that feature I would have needed a second pipette since scrolling between them took too long. This pipette allows me to do my job, without it I would end up back in the splint (I occasionally use a manual to do very small tasks so know).

Enter the visiting professor. The university has been hosting several professors from different countries the last couple semesters, it is some sort of foreign exchange program for profs. Currently there is one from Northern Africa in my lab (the path lab) who has been a source of lab drama since his arrival. Dr. M went out of country not long after his arrival and so, from what I gather, Prof Wannabe was assigned to guide/help him. PW insists that he told the visiting prof what he should do and he shouldn't have had to be around to do anything at that point. Well obviously there was/is a misunderstanding because the visiting prof hung around the lab and either asked people to help him or offered to help people who were working, signifying he was bored and either had nothing to do or didn't know what to do.

Often when I refuse his help he will ask if he can watch me work, I can't think of a polite way of refusing that, this is where the cultural difference is rather apparent to me (that and when he said something about women being fragile). People from different cultures have a different idea of the amount of personal space one needs, unfortunately for me his has a very small circle whereas Americans tend to have a rather large one (try it, walk up to someone you are not close to and see how close you can get before they get uncomfortable, just don't get arrested I don't have that many readers!), I learned this in speech class as an undergrad and have had it reinforced often in the past month. Trying to do precise work with someone standing within a foot of me is very nerve wracking! The first time he watched me work I was cranky, I had a tube break and the humidity messed with my plates making it take an extremely long time for the samples to soak into the agar. He kept telling me I had spread long enough and it was spread even, which would have been true for any other organism but mine for whatever reason HAS to soak in 100% or the plate will be crap, I kept telling him this but he either didn't understand or he was just saying it to break the silence (I was somewhat ignoring him so he would get bored and leave me alone).

After awhile, he asked if he could look at my fancy pants electronic pipette, I did NOT like this idea (having younger siblings made me territorial and this instrument is essential for me to work) but couldn't think of a very polite way to refuse so I handed it to him and politely and very clearly telling him NOT TO PUSH THE BUTTONS please. I put it in his hand and turned and started spreading a plate, this literally took less than 5 seconds, and I heard it beep. I turned and probably gave him a stern/annoyed look and told him NOT TO PUSH THE BUTTONS again, this time perhaps not as politely. I keep spreading and hear the second beep, he had pushed the suck up/dispense buttons and once again I told him NOT TO PUSH THE BUTTONS, my tone was likely getting annoyed. Then he pushed the scroll buttons a couple times, so far all these buttons are ones that won't do anything "harmful" and I once again tell him NOT TO PUSH THE BUTTONS while I am spreading, trying to look at the plate so I don't screw it up, but at the same time watching what is being done to my precious. We are at the point where there are two buttons left unmolested. He hits the one labeled "Reset", I am not exactly sure what that one does but have pressed it without it doing anything so repeated my request that he NOT TO PUSH THE BUTTONS and didn't panic until I saw his finger heading straight for the last button, the menu button. With that it was over, I did not bother to ask (he obviously had a broken listen as my father would say, if you count it out I asked him 5 times to not push the buttons) I grabbed it out of his hand and set it on the lab bench away from him and I don't believe I said another word to him until he finally retreated to the lab office. Pushing the menu button is how one changes the settings, since I set it so long ago I do not remember how to set it and if he managed to unset it then I would have had to stop what I was doing in the middle of it, let my remaining samples sit out and go to my office to find the manual so that I could hopefully reset it.

I was quite livid, I am pretty confident that his not listening to me was not a language barrier issue but one of blatant disrespect. His english is not perfect but I am quite sure it is not to the point where he could not understand "do not push the buttons". A day or two later I was in the lab office loitering and he started going through his list of credentials, what degrees he got, in what, what he does for a living and where... Then he told me he is a professor not a baby, and he didn't need to be treated like a baby and I think something about how he wouldn't have messed up my pipette (he is not the easiest person to understand) because he is a professor(???). This got me thinking and the more I thought about it the more his comparison made sense, I had treated him similarly to how I would have treated Niecey or Buggy if either of them were being naughty and not listening, though I probably wouldn't have given either of them so many chances (I may be indulgent but I am not THAT indulgent with them, I am sensing Baby Sibling's "nuh uh" so I will preemptively say "uh huh!" now). And this got me thinking further and I began speculating as to whether my 5 year old niece, who is not known for her listening skills, would listen to me better than a full grown man of the visiting prof's credentials, this is the "problem".

Step 2: Form a hypothesis that will answer/explain the problem.

My 5 year old niece will listen to me better than the visiting professor and take longer before pushing the buttons than he did.

Step 3: Experiment to test the validity of the hypothesis.

For the first experiment I brought Niecey to the lab, ethanol washed the pipette, told her clearly not to touch the buttons and to just hold the pipette for me and handed it to her. Result: after 30 seconds she had not yet touched the buttons and I got bored and thanked her and she gave me back the pipette.

For the second experiment I did the same thing except this time I was plating and therefore using the pipette in the same manner I did when the visiting prof was there (much better experimental design), remember I didn't even get one plate done before he pushed the buttons. I asked if she could be my pipette holder while I plated and that she not press the buttons while holding it, she agreed. Result: I spread all the plates for that set and she handed me back my pipette when I finished not pressing any buttons the entire time (she had bored of this after one set and so I only got one rep in of this experiment).

Step 4: Analyze Results and Draw Conclusion(s).

Based on two experiments both of which resulting in the 5 year old not pushing any buttons after being asked not to and the fact that she loves to press buttons (data not shown), I accept my hypothesis and conclude that my 5 year old niece is a better listener than the visiting prof.

Step 5 is reporting the results, which I have done here. And just so everyone knows this post was written for entertainment value and the visiting prof can be quite pleasant and I get along with him most of the time, I just don't trust him with my pipette. We settled our differences after he accused me of treating him like a baby, and I am willing to say that perhaps I did treat him like a baby but given the circumstances I feel my actions were justified. I think it is very interesting when we have someone from a different culture around and can exchange ideas and knowledge, which is what the program is all about, but of course there are bound to be conflicts when you get people together who view things differently and this is a great opportunity for us to learn to deal with these conflicts in a manner that benefits all, an essential skill given how everything is going global these days.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Introducing my new lab assistant

Today Niecey raided my closet and found some old balloons I had bought on clearance years ago (I am a bit of a pack rat/impulse buyer who forgets she bought something). I blew up a bunch for her and we played with them for hours, $1.00 well spent! Pa showed her how you can rub them on the couch and then stick them to the ceiling. I told her that it was making electricity and that is what held them up and showed her that she could also make it by rubbing her hands on the balloon and then it would stick to her hand. She was quite impressed!

Niecey has been wanting to see where I work and see my microbes from even before she got here. Everyday she has asked me when we will go to the lab to see my bacteria and I told her they were sleeping (they were incubating, the plates were boarder line not ready when I took them out). So after informing her of the "Don't touch anything unless I hand it to you" rule several times I brought her to work with me. I sanitized everything and let her count the plates that I didn't need. Counting plates is a tedious job that is made easier by a "colony counter", which is just a hand held device that you push the button and it clicks to the next number, this of course was a great toy for my little click monkey. Dad coined the phrase "click monkey" to describe someone who keeps pushing buttons when they don't need to, like clicking an icon or link 5 times because it is not loading fast enough (Niecey and my mom are both chronic click monkeys).

Counting plates is what I do to get the data for my experiments, basically I want to know how many bacteria I have in my sample and so I dilute it out until there are between 20-200 bacteria per milliliter and spread it across petri dishes containing agar where each cell (theoretically) will land and then grow into a visible spot (colony), which I count and then multiply by how many times I diluted it, typically my bacteria grow to about a billion or two cells per ml. Plates that have less than 20 colonies are considered statistically insignificant, but make for great counting practice for a kid about to enter kindergarten. I was also testing one of my cultures for contamination and so was making a slide to view under the microscope. So Niecey, and Dad, got to see bacteria in two different ways (I could have shown them bacteria grown in broth tubes but that is somewhat boring), on plates you are seeing a colony that has millions or more cells together forming a spot and with the scope you see what the cells look like by themselves.

All in all a good day with Niecey and Daddy. Perhaps I have inoculated Niecey's mind with the idea that science is fun and cool and it will grow into a love of the subject. And you have to admit, she looks adorable in a lab coat!


Safety First!

Shop 'til Pa Drops

Today we visited the Target and K-mart, we've been to just about every store in town and finally found shirts that Dad liked at a price he was willing to pay ($8.00). Target was very similar to the last walmart trip except Niecey stayed with me and did not run away. In less crowded areas I let her push the cart without my holding onto it and all was well in the world, but then when she was headed in the direction of people or shelves full of light bulbs and such I would steer her away and she would not be a happy camper. When we finally made it to checkout with the $1 item stuff I found amusing I saw a candy bar I wanted and so threw it in with the other stuff while telling Niecey she does not need a yo yo, pokemon cards, littlest pet shop stuff, etc. Whoever decided to put little toys in the check out lane along with the candy should have to take a bunch of small children through the lanes on at least a daily basis for the next 50 or so years for coming up with that one (marketing genius yes, but also pure evil).

Niecey can be a very observant child, especially when candy is involved, so she was very much aware of the fact that I slipped a candy bar onto the belt. She wanted to carry the bag to the car for some reason... I told her that I was not born yesterday and I would carry my own bag. In the car one the way to K-mart we struck a bargain, she would get part of the candy bar if she behaved, and behave she did. She went from having a fit when someone even suggested she sit in the "baby seat" of the shopping cart to insisting on sitting in it, she even buckled the strap! We found the shirts Dad wanted and off we went, it was so easy!

This post is dedicated to the makers of Twix, now I will at least have K-mart on the list of places I am still allowed to shop at (no we have not been banned nor kicked out of any of the other stores)!

Just look at that obedience (eat your heart out Auntie Cheryl), and proof that the "washable" markers I bought are not very washable, that is after about 4 hand washings. After an hour long bath there is still marker on her hands!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

I am going to be banned from Walmart at this rate

My town has two Walmarts, the new super walmart (which is HUGE) that we loosed Hurricane Niecey on the night they arrived, and the old walmart (which is tiny). Since they did not have what my dad wanted at the super walmart and we went to eat at a place close to the tiny walmart we decided to swing by there after dinner. Also I owed Niecey a new toothbrush since Pa packed her old toothbrush and I bribed her with the offer of a new toothbrush (either Wall-e or transformers or possibly some other cartoon character she is obsessed with) if she would brush her teeth with the old one without a fuss. Bribery does not always work on her since by the time you get to that point she is into total melt down mode and there is NO reasoning with her. I caught her at just the right time and in just the right mood so it worked.

So we get to tiny walmart, it is around 7 or so and so there are actually people in it, which is weird for me since I normally shop in the middle of the night to avoid the psycho walmart crowds. We have a few Niecey fits, she wants to push the cart, she doesn't want me touching the cart (I always hold it on the side so I can keep her from hitting people and running off), normal 5 year old behavior. We make our rounds and get to the toothbrush aisle and she went through all the different options until she settled on a wall-e toothbrush featuring Eva. During this time Pa decided he had to use the facilities and took off. After picking out the toothbrush we discovered that we had "lost" Pa.

Having shopped with my father for the past 25 years I know that he is prone to wander, especially if what you are shopping for is boring. Usually he can be found in the magazine aisle or a bench in the front of the store (depending on the store) so I was not concerned. Besides this is like the smallest walmart on the planet and while he had the car keys I had the apartment keys and the knowledge of how to get there (besides when he drove the rental truck 3 years ago he has never driven around here). Niecey decided that she must find him immediately though and takes off running. I was expecting us to walk at a somewhat brisk pace towards the magazine area possibly calling out, "Pa where are you?" a few times for show and so was not prepared for the mad dash giving her a head start. I yelled at her to stop and come back, which apparently in fiveyearese means, "RUN!!!!!"

She actually managed to spot him, not sure at what point, because she recognized his shirt from across the store (it is a little on the bright side and again a rather tiny store) and so knew where she was going. Being focused on the kid I did not bother trying to spot Dad. My main thought was to catch her and not run into any of the shoppers, oh yeah I am dragging our cart behind me (I needed a "cage" for when I finally caught her). I am not sure if I am the only one who goes through this thought process when chasing a small child, for the first part it was a bit crowded and I was hoping that yelling at her to stop would work (I can hear Baby Sibling laughing at me already) and so was not going at full speed and debating if this situation warranted it. Once we hit the check out lane area and the crowd was slightly thinned and people were making way for the chase I decided it was time to end this. Back in high school I was a sprinter, and I have been doing water aerobics regularly and so am not totally out of shape, so I brought my running/jog up to a full sprint and caught her. Being bigger than her for now (I am height-challenged) I put her in an Auntie-lock (this involves wrapping my arms around her chest and trapping her legs with mine and in my meanest voice I scolded her and told her that when I tell her to stop she must stop and she is never to do that again. Then Dad made it over to us and helped me put her in the front cart seat (she HATES that seat, it is for babies!) before making his intended visit to the rest facilities.

This is going to shock Baby Sibling, once she was in the cart she was visibly unhappy about it but silent. I paced around and blatantly ignored her letting her stew in my lecture and disapproval a bit. When I decided she had cooled down enough (I did not need a cool down, I was very much in control of the situation) I explained why she was not to run away from me like that. Tried to instill a healthy fear of being kidnapped but at the same time not make her neurotic. Ah the balance between traumatizing enough to keep them safe but not to the point they need a shrink for the rest of their lives. The rest of the trip was uneventful. Hopefully she will take this lesson to heart and we won't have to work on it again, being the niece spoiling auntie she rarely gets to see makes my yelling at her somewhat effective in these circumstances, more so than the rest of the family's I think.

Think I'll stick to my usual middle of the night shopping and wear a disguise until this all blows over!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Invasion


Dearest readers my apartment has been invaded. With what you ask? Ants? Termites? Roaches? Swarms of bees? None of that, well there were some ants awhile ago but taking out the trash fixed that right up and there have been these weird wasp/hornet things flying around outside (I am NOT telling my mother, hopefully they go away before she visits, if you hear a deafening noise coming from about the middle of the country at the end of August now you know what it likely is...). Nope, my apartment has been invaded by something much more sinister (and cute, just look at that picture!). Daddy, Niecey Poo, and Big Bear (who has a new yellow bow, I took that picture when I visited over the 4th of July) arrived and I think will be here a week. Hopefully my apartment will survive this encounter! Sitting in the car for about 6 hours, even with frequent rest stop visits in which there was no rest (Dad said she ran around real good at them), certainly gave that child plenty of energy, they got here around 10pm. I suggested a trip to the super walmart since Dad forgot to pack things and my fridge was rather empty, and of course since it is better to unleash the pent up energy of a 5 year old on the unsuspecting walmart associates than on my apartment and its inhabitants, at least they are being paid to listen to Hurricane Niecey. I was rather considerate though, I replaced almost everything I saw her misplacing and didn't let her run over any of them with the shopping cart (not the easiest task!).

So I am not sure how much blogging time I will be able to get in while they are here. Niecey can't know about this blog since I do not want her mother to know about it (Niecey is not very good with the whole secrets concept). I am already so far behind on the blog reading too since I have been working a lot to get to a point where I could take most of this week off, I miss you guys!

Don't think I have forgotten about your awesome comments on my last post, I LOVED them! Makes me want to start a Guess that Gizmo series, there happens to be one in the hallway between my lab and another, I don't know what it is but it could be fun trying to think of things that it could be. I actually have several series ideas floating around in my brain, I'm semi waiting until I have more readers to get into it (though time has been a bigger factor than that). I need one of those hit counter things, I know I have three regular readers (one of them has no choice, I have pictures of her she'd rather not be made public* >=) ) .

Send some calming non-destructive thoughts my way, last time Hurricane Niecey headed this way she left quite the wake of devastation, even though I moved so much of my stuff into the basement. At least she is past (sorta) the "I anna hoe oooo umping"** phase!

*While I do have such pictures I totally wouldn't do that to Baby Sibling, she reads because she enjoys making fun of my nerdiness.

**Toddler to English translation: I wanna show you something, most likely it is something that I destroyed or got into that you really didn't want me to but either neglected to move into the basement, my mother left it in my reach, or you made the fatal mistake of misjudging my climbing abilities and thought you put it up high enough, very dumb on the last one Auntie Kee!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Sunday Stylin'


What does a stylin' microbiologist wear to work on a Sunday you ask? Why she wears her matching GIANTmicrobes shirt and hat of course. I am not much of a hat wearer but I wanted to get a picture of me in the shirt and hat for my mommy since she bought them for me. I am totally in love with the giant microbes, even though they are totally off in saying they are a million times actual size with the majority of them. I am pretty sure I have them all and most of the new miniature ones. I can be a pain in the butt to buy presents for since I started working, I usually buy whatever I want and so there is nothing in particular to tell family members what to get me. I bought all the original giant microbes but since then I don't buy them (Mom would kick my butt if I did!), they are strictly reserved for the family.

Anyone want to make a guess as to what I am posing next to? Leave your guess(es) in the comments, there are points for creativity and amusement factor, and of course points if you get it right =)!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Lab "Family"

The majority of my time here is spent in one of two places, my apartment or the building I work in. My title is taking on a whole new meaning isn't it? Yeah, that is why I chose it, I was amused with its double meaning, I'm a microbiologist and I don't have much of a "life". But just because my life occupies such a small area doesn't mean that nothing happens within it. Almost daily I am exposed to, and sometimes participate in, the lab drama. Did you think that the lab was a place for nerds to come together and make discoveries and advance science and civilization? A friendly place where coworkers work together in harmony and keep everything spotless? Excuse me a second, HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!! Ok, I'm better. And of course I should point out that not all labs have the crazy drama that mine has, I've worked in several that everyone basically got along great in. The lab I am currently doing most of my work in however has some very strong character clashes which makes for a somewhat volatile workplace at times.

The main lab I work in (yes I work in/have access to more than one, I'll probably explain later), is a biosafety level II lab. A level I lab works with bacteria that generally do not cause illness in humans (not sure if animal or plant pathogens are allowed), level two is for pathogens that aren't that dangerous (they only kill some of the people), level III lab works with the more dangerous bugs, not sure if there is a level IV or higher under this system but if there were it would be for the scary bugs that only crazy people work with (I may be crazy but I am not THAT crazy!). The level II lab I work in works with food borne pathogens (they make people sick) and sometimes food spoilage organisms (they make food go bad but don't make people sick). For the pathogen research it is mainly Listeria monocytogenes (really dangerous for small children, the elderly, people with low immune systems, and most scary pregnant women and unborn babies), E. coli O157:H7 (most E. coli strains are safe and potentially beneficial, O157:H7 is the black sheep of the group and one nasty bug, especially to the very young and old), Salmonella, and Staphylococcus aureus (this one you mostly hear about in hospital infections, multiple antibiotic resistant strains are known as MRSA, it can also cause food poisoning, won't kill you in that case but for awhile you wish it would!).

Then there is me, I work with four species of Bifidobacteria, they are a kind of bacteria that are GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe), and many of them have properties that make them probiotics (live microorganisms that when consumed in adequate amounts provides health benefits to the host). If you were to visit my lab and given the choice between licking one of my plates (plate = petri dish/plate, a shallow plastic dish with a lid used for growing bacteria and other microorganisms) or someone else's plates I would definitely recommend mine (not that I have tried it, licking plates is wrong on so many levels and they are cultured in the path lab!), or V's since she is working with my bugs for her project too.

Now that you know the bugs here are the people:

Boss Lady: Boss Lady is the professor I work for, she is way more than just my boss, she is my mentor, my major professor, my PI (principle investigator) and more. Boss Lady is not a microbiologist, she is a chemist, I often call myself her "pet microbiologist". Her lab is a chemistry lab (I keep trying to get her to convert it to micro) so I don't do much work in there, it is mainly a place I keep supplies so I won't be cluttering the path lab with my stuff and a place I hide when things get too crazy upstairs and I need to go to a quiet and relatively clean lab. I am Boss Lady's only grad student at the moment, one graduated just as I started working for her and the other graduated a year ago (I miss her terribly). The great thing about being a microbiology grad student doing micro projects for a chemist is that instead of everything being worked out with Boss Lady and I, we usually have one or two other professors collaborating with us and so I am learning how to communicate with a group of professionals. The main microbiologist we collaborate with is Dr. M., it is his lab I do the majority of my work in and will talk about the most.

Dr. M: He is great, lets me work in his lab, answers my weird/stupid questions and is one of the nicest people.

M: Dr. M's son, he tends to help do the prep work when there is a lot of media or something needed, he is a good kid.

V: She is a fellow grad student working under a different professor than mine, she somehow got suckered into working on a yogurt project that involves incorporating the Bifidobacteria into yogurt supplemented with other healthy stuff. I'm really enjoying working with her.

The Dishwasher: He is an undergrad, real sweet kid, great to work with. Like all undergrads hired by Dr. M., he has a project to work on, his job is not to just clean glassware and whatnot but to actually do research. There is a grad student that tends to believe that the undergrads should be doing the cleanup for more than just their project, I have debated him on that several times. I maintain that they are not hired to do the menial crap work, they are hired to do a project, it is not fair nor feasible to expect them to get research done and clean up after everyone else on top of their coursework, oh and they are only allowed to work 20 hours a week during the semester under university policy. So I always joke with this undergrad that he should be washing dishes and informing him that I have dirty test tubes that need washing (I would NEVER let him actually wash my dishes, that is my responsibility not his, plus Dr. M pays him not Boss Lady). He also earned this nickname from writing on the board to "leave the dishes for me", when he gets busy his dishes pile up a bit and once in awhile someone will just wash them and it makes him feel guilty. I always tease him when I see a note like that.

S: S is a grad student, she just started working on her master's last semester. She has been working in this lab for awhile, she came in as an undergrad. Since Dr. M didn't have any grad students she and another undergrad who just graduated and got a job (not crazy enough for grad school, we miss her terribly), they were basically acting as grad students for the lab (ordering supplies, organizing cleanup, etc) so the transition in "status" was pretty easy for her.

S2: New lab worker who I previously worked with, she is trying to decide what she wants to do and is leaning towards getting an arts degree. If she does then I can tell Baby Sibling that I know an art major that took and passed calculus so I wish her the best of luck!

Prof Wannabe: Prof Wannabe is a grad student, last summer he was a summer intern. He had something else lined up out west supposedly but for whatever reason decided instead to stay here and go to grad school even though he made fun of the university and does not like the town. He is the one who seems to think that undergrads should be responsible for all the menial crap, if he can get someone else to do his lab work for him he will (apparently "graduate research assistant" means you don't actually do the research... he does do research though, just when he has help he lets them do as much as possible), he comes off as very arrogant and selfish, intentionally or not. From stuff he has said and done he basically does tasks that are the professor's job and often does not do the work that grad students are normally expected to do (Dr. M is way too nice), and that is why I decided to name him PW. I try to get along with him, I feel sorry for him because it sucks to be hated like he is (I've actually been there) but he brings it on himself and doesn't listen when I try to tell him how/why he pisses everyone off. He will be the subject of several posts in the future I'm sure as he is a major source of lab drama.

Those are the "permanent" people in the lab, other people may pop up from time to time. I'm still trying to decide what to call the lab drama stories, I want a name that basically turns a soap opera's name into something nerdy. Baby Sibling and I haven't come up with one that stands out at this point. If any of you can think of a name for such a series give me a comment, if I pick your name you'll be all famous and everyone will love you ;). Baby Sibling would love you for sure because then I'd stop bugging her to think of names!

*Disclaimer: lab drama stories are told from my perspective and are biased to how I see things. Sometimes I may tell a story that my information is second hand but I find it amusing, in those cases there is double the bias.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Scientists are People too

So far I have told you about how I became a blogoholic, revealed that I am not all that tech savvy, and introduced you to my immediate family. Background information pertaining to me as a person, introducing you to the human side of me before I get into anything involving my work/studies. I've noticed that sometimes people have a perception of my kind that we are these ultra nerds and can't relate to "normal" people and don't even try to understand us when we are talking, total waste of time! This was especially obvious to me when I got an e-mail from my Bubbie (Mom's mom). I had e-mailed her during my first year of grad school and she had replied with something along the lines of she doesn't understand me when I tell her stuff. This bothered me on two points, the first was that I tend to get complaints that I don't stay in touch enough and so was trying to do better. Second was that I didn't bring up anything about my research or subjects that I was taking or anything that might confuse her. I think I told her I got an A- in biochemistry, but I didn't try to go through glycolysis (the way sugar is broken down and used by many cells) with her, and that was the most complicated the e-mail got. I remember going back and reading it to figure out what I said that could possibly have been over her head, because yes I will admit that there are times that I do forget that not everyone knows things that I spent 4 years of college pounding into my head. That was not the case, she simply assumed that I would talk about complicated scientific concepts and so she didn't bother to read the message and wonders why I don't stay in touch.

And so dear readers I wanted you to get an idea of who I am as a person before I became a scientist, because I am both! One of my goals in life is to be able to effectively communicate with fellow scientists but also to retain the ability to communicate with "the public". That is actually one of the purposes of this blog in fact, to hone what I consider an essential trait that some people who go through higher education lose along the way, though some of them may have never possessed it in the first place. If there is anything I bring up and either forget to define or don't define it in understandable terms I want you all to let me know! I forbid you from feeling stupid for calling me on something. I have spent 7 full years at the college level studying this stuff, not to mention that I had a decent background from high school going in, did you? I bet there is a whole lot that you know that I don't know, you should see my eyes glaze over when my mechanic friend starts explaining how my engine works. One of the most important things I have learned in life is that everyone has something, Baby Sibling has art, I have microbiology, does that make me smarter or better than her, no, just different.

I think it helps that most of my friends are not scientists and that I spent all 4 years of my undergrad as a deli clerk and work was essentially my social life (still is) and so if I wanted to discuss something I learned in school and found fascinating/amusing/just plain geeky cool I had to learn to put it into terms the people around me would understand. Aunt D's sister paid me one of the biggest compliments I've ever received, I think we got into a talk about genetics and I was explaining some of the concepts of heredity and she told me how impressed she was that I could explain it in such a way that a "dummy" like her could understand. Not being knowledgeable on a subject does not make one stupid, it just means they have something more they can learn. Who wants to know everything anyway, life would be pretty boring and there would be nothing for us scientists to do as our job is to discover and define the unknown, which is, thankfully for our job security, infinite.

OK I better stop now, this topic is one that I am passionate about (if you couldn't tell) and can ramble on about forever. And when I started this post it was going to be about something completely different! It was going to be a funny post that was going to prove that this blog is worth reading and everything.