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MIT student blogger Paul B. '11

The Scientist by Paul B. '11

Questions of science, science and progress.

I spent today playing with yeast cells, and I couldn’t be happier.

Let me back up. As you may already know, this summer, I’m working with Professor Angelika Amon of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research. Today was my first day and I decided to come in at 8:00 – which, in turn, meant waking up at 6:30 in the morning.

Let me repeat that. Six-thirty in the morning. If you haven’t been to college yet, that might seem like a quite reasonable time to wake up – and, really, it wasn’t that bad. But compared to my usual wake up time of 9:00 last semester, in order to make it to my first class at 10:00, that’s a pretty big switch. Just pointing that out.

As I was saying, though, I showed up my lab at 8:00, rather proud of myself for making it on time – only to find that I wasn’t even the first one there! I suppose there’s a lesson in here somewhere: no matter how dedicated you think you are, at MIT, odds are someone else is just as committed than you are. I think this is actually a good thing, in the long run.

Anyway, almost soon as I walked into the Amon Lab, I felt surrounded by friendly and helpful faces. The first person I met, a grad student named Ilana, was all too happy to help me find Eduardo – a post-doc and my primary mentor for the summer. After introducing me to a number of other grad students, post-docs, and technicians, Eduardo taught me a few basic but important techniques: pouring agar plates (growth media) and dissecting yeast spores.

Pouring agar plates is about as exciting as it sounds, but dissection is actually really important. In the Amon Lab, dissection doesn’t mean cutting apart a yeast cell and examining the organelles; rather, it refers to separating different genotypes of yeast from one another under a microscope using a needle…which is a lot easier said than done. As everyone in the lab keeps telling me, becoming skilled at dissection requires a bit of patience and lots of practice, practice, practice. Which is why I’ll be working on my dissection technique even more tomorrow.

I’m not sure what Eduardo would think if he knew I considered this “playing with yeast cells,” but I certainly enjoy it.

Heading home to my fraternity, as I was walking through Lobby 7, I happened to glance up at the famous inscription, and discovered that the words “Established for the Advancement of Science” suddenly held an entirely new meaning for me.

36 responses to “The Scientist”

  1. Charlotte says:

    @Oasis’11: “The long and short of it: DON’T USE TAP WATER (even though you are inevitable to autoclave the mixture anyway). I’m still not entirely sure what the reason is (the bacteria/fungi would die through autoclaving – something about micromolecules/impurities in the tap water, I think).”

    –I think the reason lies in the endotoxins released by bacteria. According to Qiagen’s DNA purification kit handbooks (aha, you think reading the instruction pages are enough), these endotoxins are not destroyed by autoclaving. As such, we have to use purified water such as MiliQ water.

  2. Keri says:

    The other day in lab, we discovered that our Millipore hasn’t been working properly for the last two years.

    ….meaning we’ve been using the equivalent of tap water for EVERYTHING we have EVER done, all the while thinking it was distilled and deionized.


  3. Anonymous says:

    How has no one commented on the awesome Coldplay reference (“Viva la Vida” comes out soon!)?
    I’m pretty sure Mitra used the same line with regards to applications: “Questions of science, science and progress, can’t speak as loud as the heart.”

  4. Teresa '11 says:

    6:30am? Wow! And I was upset about having 24.900 (Intro to Linguistics) at 9:30am!

    Prefrosh, there is hope! Not all UROPs require getting up early. In fact, I rarely have to go into lab for my psycholinguistics UROP and do most of my work on my own time.

    And yay! Yeast!

  5. anon says:

    MIT just sounds awesomer and awesomer as I read more about it.

  6. Caroline '11 says:

    …I doubt anyone gets to my lab before 10. Especially during the summer. =)

    Playing with yeast cells? Pssh. I spent today being a lean mean soldering machine. Soon the laser systems I am building will be ready so that I can TAKE OVER THE WORLD!!!! MWAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!

    Oh wait…physics already governs the universe. Nevermind – Operation Evil Scientist is complete.

  7. Aditi says:

    I wake up at five sometimes and fall asleep barely halfway through the day :S
    Waking up at 6:30 and then staying awake the whole day to do *actual* productive work is rather impressive

    yay Paul! (and research) smile

  8. Paul says:

    Caroline, my friend, lasers may be pretty awesome…but biology is still cooler than you, because you are biology. wink

  9. Oasis '11 says:

    I think in my previous entry there was something about agar plates.

    The long and short of it: DON’T USE TAP WATER (even though you are inevitable to autoclave the mixture anyway). I’m still not entirely sure what the reason is (the bacteria/fungi would die through autoclaving – something about micromolecules/impurities in the tap water, I think).

    Anywhoo, I got quite a scolding after they found out what kind of water I’ve been using. oops =/

  10. donaldGuy says:

    hey Paul, did you know that the logs did the song you allude to on their last album natural .. it is quite a good rendition.

    also.. yay Research!

  11. sylvia says:

    hay “>order clonazepam ihrfaf

  12. Yuzhi '12 says:

    Is it easy to find UROPs that are open to “beginners”? and do many UROPs pair you up with a mentor to help teach you things? or do they expect you to just know how to do it without too much teaching?
    I checked the UROP website. There are so many interesting researches and UROP opportunities, but they all sound quite complicated to begin as a new UROPie.

    btw, I am on Caroline’s side, fumes from soldering more awesome than fumes from agar and whatever you are growing. Engineers are taking over the world!

  13. Paul says:

    Yuzhi: In a word, yes – it is more than possible to find a “beginner” UROP (I’d consider mine to be, more or less, a beginner UROP at this stage). You always have some sort of supervisor in a UROP, although some are very involved in your research and others are more hands-off – it depends, and both approaches work. You asked some great questions, I’ll be expanding on my answers to them (and other UROP-related things) in the near future. smile

    By the way, technically I want to be a bioengineer, not a biologist. ^_^

  14. Piper says:

    I’d choose biology over toys any day =D.

    (Don’t get me wrong, toys are REALLY, REALLY cool. But I too am a bio[chem]engineer =D.)

  15. Shannon '12 says:

    @Anonymous- Coldplay was totally my first reaction when I saw the title, too.

    And psh, bio is the answer to life, and if you’re not alive, engineering becomes slightly difficult. Therefore, biology trumps all. QED. :p

    Also, I agree with Charlotte’s reasoning on the water thing. Effin’ bacteria and their stupid endotoxins. Don’t even get me started.

  16. Snively says:

    Psh, I’m up at 5 so I can get to work to build action figures.

  17. Ty'12 says:

    “Oh wait…Physics already governs the universe” => Translation: PHYSICS RULE THE UNIVERSE WAH HA HA HA!!!

  18. Ty'12 says:


    In case we ARE having a pro/anti Bio war…


    1st) Physics makes the World go round…
    WITH GRAVITY!!! (otherwise, you’d implode–due to pressure inside you being greater than zero pressure, no atmosphere)

    2nd) Toys are AWESOME. They are fun, and the ELECTROPLUSHIES ARE SOOOOOO COOL!!! They remind me of Physics E&M =)

  19. Anonymous says:

    Biology and physics should coexist peacefully.
    It’s the way the world was meant to be.

  20. Mollie says:

    Haha, I get into lab at 8:30 every morning and I’m always the first one in.

    I have an undergraduate this summer (a Harvard one, ew), and he started yesterday too. I’m trying not to overload him — I want to just teach him absolutely every technique he needs to know, but I have to remind myself that his poor brain needs time to absorb.

    (And Charlotte, I’ve recently gotten to the point where I read the Qiagen webpage, plus the handbooks, plus the instruction sheets. There’s a lot of important stuff about those stupid kits that they conveniently fail to mention in the instruction sheets!)

  21. Anonymous says:

    Coldplay was totally my first reaction too when I saw the title! Colplay rocks!

  22. Anonymous says:

    Yay, summer UROPS rock!
    I love the Coldplay reference. For some reason, that songs really gets to me every time I listen to it.

  23. Ashwath says:

    Yeah, Coldplay’s ‘The Scientist’ is really brilliant….

  24. Oasis '11 says:


    I marveled at those nice and tidy Qiagen kits the first time I saw them…haha.

  25. Li'12 says:

    @Anonymous: That song makes me really emotional/contemplative, too!

  26. Ew, 6:30? That hurts >_Ew, 6:30? That hurts >_<
    I thought getting up at 9:00 last semester (for my 9:00 class) or 10:00 (for my 10:00 class) was bad enough….

    Although I will hopefully remain normal shifted over the summer? My plan as of now is to get up at 10 and head to my UROP and stay there for 8 hours. I think I would die if I tried any earlier than that tongue laugh

    …I can’t believe I used to be happy getting up at 7, back in high school haha

  27. Rachel'12 says:

    mm, i love that song smile

    are you going to wake up that early EVERY day?

  28. I, too, am doing research at MIT this summer/fall, but my research is at the Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and I look at stars and pretty false color images.

    @Ty ’12 and Shannon, yes, physics does trump biology. (Sorry, Shannon! But without stars, the elements needed to make life wouldn’t exist!)

  29. Piper says:

    But without biology, physics would be pointless =D

  30. Claire says:

    I love pouring agar plates! I’m partial to the smell.

  31. Bah, in a few years time, some people have to get up at 6.30 a.m. for WORK everyday.

  32. Ty'12 says:

    @ Meagan’13: PHYSICS!!! Yaay!!

  33. anon says:

    Just curious– how do you guys go about getting high-school research opportunities at MIT anyway?

  34. Paul says:

    @Meagan: Once upon a time, I wanted to be an astrophysicist. Then I discovered oncology. wink Still, that’s awesome – the Kavli Institute is pretty cool. Good luck!

    @anon: You’d have to ask Meagan to be sure, but I would presume the same way I started doing research at Notre Dame while a high-schooler: emailing professors. (I may talk briefly about my high-school research experiences in a future entry, since they were pretty formative in my development as a scientist and an engineer.)

  35. Meagan says:

    @anon: I got involved with Kavli through a program called the Chandra Astrophysics Institute that is offered every year for high school students in the Boston area. Technically, I don’t live in the Boston area, however I begged them to take me in and they did! After a year with the program (on a project involving the Orion Nebula) and working with Kavli scientists, I asked for another research project and got involved with supernovae. So, my advice would be to do as Paul said and email professors, however, this may not be very reliable. I did this a few times with professors at Brown University (I’m from Providence) to no success. However, if you can find an educational outreach program (the Chandra Astrophysics Institute is an epo project for inner city high school kids) it may help you develop good contacts with professors and post docs at MIT or any school for that matter which can lead to research projects.

    Also, if you do email professors, ask if they have grad students you can work with. I’ve talked to a few people that have had extremely valuable experiences working with grad students in research during high school. Grads are typically closer in age and can, sometimes, relay concepts to high school students more efficiently than professors. In any event, good luck looking for research.

    @Paul: Once upon a time, I wanted to be biologist. But then I became obsessed with Russian history, wanted to be a cosmonaut, and abandoned that fruitless endeavor but kept looking skyward. Good luck with the yeast, too!

  36. Owen says:

    action figures..? wow…nobody watches pokemon anymore?