Tag Archives: research

I applied to two PhD programs: the neurobiology department and the biological-chemistry department. What I really wanted to do was understand how synapses work; I wanted to be a neuroscientist. But I was not accepted by the neurobiology department. I was absolutely, flatly rejected. As a result, I could not work on synapses. Instead I worked in the biochemistry department and became a probably pretty decent biochemist, working on membranes.

Now the reason I mention all this is that it illustrates something, which is, I wanted to understand how a synapse worked. Had I been accepted as a neuroscientist, I would have probably worked on it. But I wouldn’t have solved it. The tools weren’t there. The time wasn’t right. Instead, I became a biochemist. I took on a much broader view of the same subject. And I ended up, somewhat by accident, solving the fundamental problem of how synapses work. Had I set out to solve that problem in a more direct way, I might not actually have gotten there first. It’s always good to know what you want to do, but be prepared for what comes. Luck plays a significant role. I went into cell biology wanting to be a neuroscientist, and I ended up a neuroscientist by accident.

James E. Rothman, one of three winners of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, on luck.

From “A Nobel Prize winner on Why We Need Foundational Research” [New Yorker | Elements]

(via thenoobyorker)


Researchers Using Quantum “Squeezed Light” to Image The Insides of Cells

Conventional optical imaging is limited by the process of diffraction, the way light spreads out when it passes an object. The amount of diffraction depends, in part, on natural uncertainties in the position of the photons. Physicists think of this uncertainty as quantum noise. 

In recent years, however, they’ve have worked out how to minimise the amount quantum noise by carefully manipulating the way photons are created. They call the resulting photons “squeezed light” and there has been no little excitement over their potential to beat the conventional diffraction limit in all kinds of applications.

One obvious use is in cellular imaging where squeezed light offers biologists a clear advantage for exploring cellular processes. Various groups have used squeezed light to make pioneering measurements inside cells. But the process of imaging to reveal spatial variations in the structure of a cell, has so far eluded them.

(via First Quantum-Enhanced Images of a Living Cell | MIT Technology Review)

I fail to see…

How sharing the KONY 2012 video or putting up posters and wearing wrist bands will have any positive, lasting effect on the situation in Uganada.

First of all, I don’t think raising awareness in the west is as meaningful, or directly effects, improving the situation in Uganda. As I have said several times before, I don’t think awareness is very usefull unless it’s accompanied by positive action, and the actions the IC is encouraging don’t cut it to me.

Second of all, a large portion of the profits from the sales and donations received by IC go back towards makeing more videos and raising more awareness, although I admit, some goes directly into groundwork, not nearly as much as I would like.

Third of all, I think it is dangerous to perpetuate the idea that North Americans charity is the only way that the situation in Uganada will improve. Although I support non-profits and charities, I think they are only a part of the solution, and a video that portrays white men as coming in and promising to fix everything, seems damaging to me in some ways. In the same way, I think spreading a picture of how Uganada was 4 years ago, in some ways dissvalues the people and organizations, both foreign and Ugandan, which have been working hard to improve the situation there. I know that having a primarily negative video is more motivating for people, but I don’t like being emotionally manipulated, and I would like to see more Ugandan voices and Ugandan’s being empowered, isntead of being conveyed primarily as victims.

Just to be clear, since I’ve recieved this comment a lot, I DO support improving the situation in Uganada through various charities and non-profits. However I DO NOT suppport Invisible Children, because I don’t like the way they divide their funding, I DO NOT support sending more US troops in to Uganda, and I am concerned that their video perpetuates damaging stereotypes and gives a fairly one dimensional representation of the situation, that leads people to believe that the situation is much simpler then it actually is. However, for those of you who have researched and do agree with IC’s policies, and want to help fund them, I think that is great. I am more interested in encouraging people to research the charities they donate to and making their minds up for themselves then I am in changing their minds about the charities they have researched thoroughly already.

I DO support action. I just support, pausing and thinking critically and researching before diving in.