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MIT blogger Elizabeth C. '13

Snot, Livers, and Fractals by Elizabeth C. '13

What a world.

Hello world! I have returned from the — well, to be honest, I never really left this place. I just lurk and cruft and linger in the tunnels, hidden away from view even more than the average student.

(I graduated, now I work here running this thing, and my office is off main campus so I don’t usually see students on a day-to-day basis.)

Anyway, I’ve made my triumphant – but temporary – return to the blogs because 1. shameless self-promotion (why else) and 2. if you’re seeing this, it means Lydia is a kind shepherd of the blogs who puts too much trust in my sense of judgement, and I have taken advantage of that trust. While I can’t really explain the latter, here’s the deal about the former:


Let me back up a bit. See, back before dubsmash and the Doge meme and that one video of the goat singing Taylor Swift ever existed (I know, how did we even), I took a class from The Most Excellent Professor Katharina Ribbeck on biomaterials, whose research is on mucus. (I studied bioengineering as an undergrad.) And what I learned was just how magnificent of a material snot really is. Fast forward a few years, and I’m making educational science videos on farts and poops, but sneezes and snot are the truly awe-inspiring bodily functions lingering in the back of my mind.

Lingering… UNTIL NOW.

Bonus facts about snot: Mucus is actually a pretty non-trivial barrier in drug development. It’s so good at protecting the body that things like therapeutic nanoparticles have a hard time penetrating the layers to get to the right places in the body. So some of the research on drug delivery is essentially figuring out ways to coat drugs to sneak past the mucus in your body. Also, mucus is pretty good at keeping bacteria from infecting the body, so folks like Prof. Ribbeck are trying to create fake mucus, essentially, that you could use in place of antiseptics/antibiotics to prevent antibiotic resistance.

 (I mean, honestly. How did we ever do without Doge.)

In a weird convergence of universes, I ended up teaching a class that Ceri TA’d and Yuliya took, and we all ended up making episodes for season 3 of Science Out Loud in this delightfully strange, multi-generational bloggerfest. If you come back to this post in a week, you’ll get to learn why the liver regenerates (but why other body parts don’t, and why we can’t regrow limbs like lizards) from Ceri, and what fractals and cell phone antennas have in common from Yuliya. Or maybe they’ll blog about their episodes…

Let me know if you guys have questions about what it’s like to do research at MIT (especially as a undergrad – you can work in Prof. Ribbeck’s lab!), the Course 20 (Biological Engineering) department, digital learning, finding the perfect gif for any occasion, etc.!