Thursday, June 30, 2005

The Time Traveler's Wife

Since I am an avid reader, I decided that from time to time I would post my thoughts on some books I've read. Last night I finished reading The Time Traveler's Wife. It took me a while to read it because it was pretty lengthy but also because it was one of those delicious books that you don't want to injest too much of at once. You want the story to sink in and to roll around in your mind for awhile before you tackle some more. The story was absolutely beautiful. People had sometimes described this book as science fiction because the main character time travels, but I disagree with this assessment. His time traveling, though supposedly due to a genetic disorder, is something that the reader must just accept and the author doesn't try to make it more than it is by dealing with the nature of time. As a scientist I MUCH appreciated this. Like any other reader, I just went with it. And while Henry's time traveling is what the novel is about, it's more of a device that Audrey Niffenegger uses to make time seem fluid and to make the story one in which the relationship between Henry and Clare is completely different depending on which one is telling the story. It's like their relationship changed with the reference frame. It was brilliant. As a scientist who is familiar with relativity and the odd things that it does, I found this idea even more intriguing. This reminds me of a joke for those of you who were expecting something funny: A bar walks into a man. Ooops! Wrong reference frame!

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Sooooooo Embarrassed

My hunt continues for the bio people. The program coordinator for the fellowship I'm applying for gave me a list of potential co-advisors. Since the device I have envisioned would be a mechanical sensor (heart rate, breathing rate, blood press pressure, etc) the list of contacts seem to be people who are involved with these processes. The first guy I wrote to was a cardiac specialist. Sounds neat, right? I emailed him with my idea and didn't hear anything back. The second guy was a neonatal specialist. That got me full of all sorts of ideas about external fetal sensing for pregnant women. Cool! Yeah, he didn't write me back either. The coordinator gave me a third name of a guy which he described as specializing in hypertension. Again, pretty interesting. He wrote me back saying that he wasn't sure if he could help me, but he'd take a look at my proposal and get back to me. After the first two rejections, I felt this response was good news. I decided to find the website of this potential collaborator to get more details. This is what I found:

"My research interests are broadly focused on the control of reproductive processes in the male with special emphasis on the interactions among the hypothalamus, anterior pituitary and testes."

What?! That doesn't sound like hypertention stuff and now this guy thinks I want to work on crotch sensors. No wonder he sounded so skeptical in his response. How many grad students, I take that back, how many FEMALE grad students come to this guy saying, "I want to work on testicles with you"? Feeling a little embarrassed about the whole thing.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Bio+Nano = Moolah

Scientific funding tends to depend greatly on a scientist's ability to use buzzwords and key phrases. A few years back, there were huge surges of funding (and thus output) in the areas of biotechnology (including genetic coding and sequencing as well as protein folding and the new "proteomics") and nanotechnology (electronic components with size scale on the order of a billionth of a meter). Once scientists got a whiff of all this money being spent funding on these areas, many of the possibilities were soon exhausted. Next, scientists thought, "Hmmm.... If all this money is being spent on biotechnology and nanotechnology, how much money will they give me to do BIONANOTECHNOLOGY?" This new hybrid, mutant, money-making field was beginning to take over applied research when I started my graduate studies. My masters degree was done on ferromagnetic and ferroelectric materials that could be categorized under nanotechnology. Recently, I decided to apply for a national fellowship that gives a buttload of money to students specializing in "interdisciplinary" research, or, basically, bionanotechnology. I spent about a week writing an impressive proposal full of all the words funding agencies loved and did an interview rearranging these words into new phrases. The feedback I got was that my proposal and interview were very good and I had good ideas. Unfortunately I was lacking in making my proposed device applicable to biological applications. In other words, too much "nano" and not enough "bio". They said if I could find a colloborator more into the "bio" aspect who would be willing to work with me, I would be funded. Last week and this week (and probably next week) I'm looking for these "bio" people. I've learned a very important lesson in all this: you never get to do the research you REALLY want to do. You have to change what you want to do to fit what's in, what's hot, what will get you the most funding. Oh, by the way, the reason I was given this second chance was because there were two openings for funding. Two students that had had this fellowship declined it for their second year. It seems they were offered more money (a buttload and a half) through another fellowhip given by Homeland Security. My prediction is that the next wave of mega bucks will go to projects involving BIO-NANO-DEFENSE-WEAPONS-ANTI-TERRORIST-TECHNOLOGY.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Code Red (well, actually code tabby...)

One of the best (and sometimes worst) things I've inherited from both my mother and my grandma Celia is an intense love of animals. Especially cats. Considering my mom and my grandma come from different sides of the family, I was destined to be in trouble. If it weren't for Dean, I'd be the epitome of a crazy cat lady. We have three cats: Nellie, Wrigley and Allison. When I tell this to people, I generally get the same reaction,
"Wow! Three?!"
This can be a little irritating because it seems perfectly normal to most people to have two. Having three automatically makes you a freak. My standard response to this reaction is,
"Well, we only wanted to have two, but accidents happen...."
Which is basically true. When we moved down here, we adopted Nellie from a local feline rescue (which is sadly no longer in business). Nellie was thrilled to be an only cat. Unfortunately for Nellie, her owners find it absolutely impossible to turn their backs on a cat in need. One morning we were awoken by Wrigley, who was a kitten at the time. He was hungry and howling outside our door (on the second floor! It had to have been fate.). For the record, he hasn't really ever stopped howling. We took him in and since he was a kitten, Nellie really had no problem with him except that he's pretty rambuctious. I won't go into too many details about how we got Allison. I will only reveal that the night we adopted her there was alcohol, and one hell of a sob story (which turned out to be mostly made up).
Where am I going with all this? Well I was taking out the garbage tonight and discovered a situation in need of immediate attention. A cat and her litter of kittens. OH MY GOD. I don't need to describe them, they were kittens. That's all I need to say. Thank God they seemed feral or else I wouldn't be writing this now, I would tending to my 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th cats while breaking my mother's record of Owner of the Most Cats out of Anyone I Know.
And to answer the question everyone is thinking: Yes. I fed them.

Friday, June 24, 2005

The Pimple that will Save the Nation

I currently have a pimple on my chin that actually looks like a tumor. It is disgusting. Despite the fact that it's a little embarrassing, Dean keeps making jokes of the "yo mama" variety.
"Your pimple is so big it needs its own zip code."
"Your pimple is so big it has its own pimples."
"Your pimple is so big it has two votes in the electoral college."
It was this last comment that got me thinking. The last two presidential elections were very close. In 2008, who knows how close it will be? Two electroral votes might be all it takes to finally get a democrat back in the White House. So I've decided to take it upon myself to eat as many candybars and Oreo cookies that it takes to get my pimple those two electoral votes. If I succeed, my pimple will forever be known as the pimple that saved the nation.


I am going to start my first post by assuring my readers that they will not have to deal with the following things on my website:

1. Pictures of my cats wearing clothes. Rest assured, you will see plenty of pictures, none of which will contain dressed animals.

2. Discussions about Star Trek, video games, or graphic novels. Sorry labmates.

3. Mathematical proofs. I'm an experimentalist.

4. Stream-of-consciousness-type writing that tackles such heavy topics as the meaning of life, what constitutes "art" and why I should rule the world.

What I do hope to post are tidbits about me: my life with Dean and the kitties, my friends, my work, and my hobbies so that my loved ones can be reminded why they care and why they're happy I DON'T call everyday...