Saturday, January 10, 2009

Order of the Science Scouts

I first saw this site a while ago, but now that I have a science-themed blog I've decided it's time to award myself some merit badges. This is very exciting because I was never a Girl Scout (despite eating many of their cookies) and hadn't earned any sort of badge before.

This "talking science" badge is required of all scouts. My friends would probably agree that I talk about science to the point of being a little odd. Even my scientist friends! When we're milling around after a neuroscience lecture I often turn the conversation to some unrelated science topic (such as, for example, the evolutionary biology of duck phalluses), forcing them to wonder where I find the free time to absorb these bizarre facts. I'd like to thank the internet for helping me freak these people out on a regular basis.
The "I blog about science" badge. Pretty self explanatory given that it is posted here on my blog, which is about science. I'd like to expand the scope of this blog to include not just stories from my own graduate school experience, but also some blogging on peer-reviewed research. (Once the semester starts again I'll have to write paper critiques for my class, anyway. Ah, blogging your homework... killing two birds with one rather tedious stone.)

Haven't set my hair on fire yet. Although, come to think of it, it might be in my best interest to invest in some barrettes or something.

I do have some experience in sexing fruit flies (and finding virgins -- these are defined as fruit flies who have hatched so recently that they haven't yet had time to get knocked up), as pictured on the badge. However, my friends know that my true area of expertise is as a mouse OB/GYN. I can stick a probe into a mouse's vagina with the best of them. (This is done to check for vaginal plugs which form after mating. Plug-checking determines the day of fertilization, which is important if your experiment involves any treatment or collection of specimens at a specific stage of embryonic development.) I can also roughly gauge how pregnant a mouse is by how fat she's looking, and I know that if you want your mice to get busy, you should put the female into the male's cage, rather than vice versa -- the male is less shy when he's on his home turf. 

I have touched a human brain with my own hands. It was not a living brain, and I was wearing gloves, but I still think that's pretty awesome. We studied brains from the cadavers in the medical school's anatomy lab for my Neuroanatomy and Systems Neuroscience class. They came whole and sectioned. I suffered many a formaldehyde headache during that segment of the class. Then I had to take an exam based on identifying different brain regions in human specimens. 

Worship me -- I've published in Science. I was 24th author, so maybe the badge should have an asterisk beside it or something. 

After spending a few years working with lobsters and crabs as a research organism, I have retained a special place for crustaceans in my heart. This is especially ironic when you consider that I have a potentially deadly shellfish allergy. I own what some might consider to be an excessive amount of lobster-themed memorabilia -- living in Boston for six years makes it almost too easy to acquire such things. And I'm always in the market for more! I also like cephalopods, as pictured on the badge. I can't eat them, either. 

Just about anyone who's put time in at a wet lab has worked with acids, even if only to pH things. Indeed, I was dissolving things in hydrochloric acid back in my high school AP Chemistry days. Some of my more experimentally-minded classmates decided to test the effects of acid immersion on a cockroach that they found (I went to high school in Florida, so test subjects were plentiful). I was not privy to their results. I am, however, familiar with the effects of sulfuric acid on one's pant legs, thanks to some unfortunate splattering in my undergraduate organic chemistry lab. 

I've been known to refer to my graduate program as "the neuroscience frat" for our propensity to close down any graduate school event that involve free drinks, the fact that we've purchased entire kegs for departmental mixers, and the more advanced candidates' fearsome skills at beer pong. That being said, I am usually smart enough not to go back to the lab after partaking of these festivities. Usually. 

On occasions when I've been working with bacteria or with human blood and/or saliva samples, I have washed my hands before using the restroom. And then again afterward. I tend to wash periodically throughout the day, even when I'm not eating or excreting. If you ever need some hand cream, your friendly neighborhood life scientist probably has a stash to ward off the skin chapping that this can cause. 

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