Works and Days



LBPA Bacteria Lab at ENS Cachan: Kerry Jones, Winter Shadow 2016

Imagine you’re me. You’re 20 years old and you love DNA, but have very little on your resume to show for it, save a former lab tech job and a prayer that your future employer can detect your enthusiasm. You’re dragging a conspicuously neon suitcase down the street of a Parisian suburb following the signs to École Normale Supérieure de Cachan, a private University with a reputation for its scientific prestige. Not surprisingly, your three days of 1990s-era in-car-insta-French CDs have done nothing to prepare you for the conversation with the security guard explaining what you’re doing there. For the next two weeks, you’ll be having these conversations with everyone you meet by courtesy of the immediate observation that you are out of your element. Your comfort zone is 6667 km away, and you are really excited not to be in it.

For my Winter Shadow Internship, I was working under the supervision of Bianca Sclavi, a biophysicist in charge of the Bacteria Lab at ENS Cachan. Suffice it to say that my Winter Shadow experience was a learning opportunity, but also an experience of exposure on many counts.

LBPA is an interdisciplinary lab, so projects not only pass through the hands of biologists, but chemists, mathematicians, and physicists as well. In addition, Bianca often seeks the assistance of collaborators around the world from Minneapolis to Cambridge to other side of Paris. Coming from Reed, where the Bio Department and the Physics Department ironically feel miles away from one other, this was one of the first surprises about LBPA: how scientific inquiry in its raw form refused to stay in one place. With this in mind, as well as Bianca’s tendency to work on multiple things at once, it was often easiest to follow the development of individual experiments.

Notes from a Paris Biology Lab, Presidents Summer Fellowship, Ch 2

open notebook with laboratory notes

Lab notes

Hello! I am starting the beginning of my fourth week of my internship here in Paris! Wow, time goes by very quickly.

Today I read a great article called Disciplinarity: An Introduction by David R. Shumway and Ellen Messer-Davidow. It had a sweeping overview of the history of disciplinary education, and cited many of the current scholars of the transdisciplinary revolution that is catching on in academia. It was fascinating, and I hope to re-read it later tonight. I also did some research on William Whewell, a 19th c. polymath. He wrote on so many subjects that it is hard to get an idea of his character, but it is clear that he was an influential thinker in Britain. He is most well-known for his philosophy of science, history of science and moral philosophy (SEP). Some neat facts about him are that he coined the term "scientist," and that before him scientists were "called natural philosophers." Ha! The irony! I wonder how many scientists are aware of the philosophic implications behind their title…. Whewell was also very close to the influential scientists of his time. Darwin, Faraday and others would come to him to invent terms such as “anode,” “cathode,” and “ion” (those were invented for Faraday). Anyways, Whewell is someone who I hope to do more reading on. He seems like a great mind and his work is very pertinent to my studies.

Notes from Wehrli Lab, OHSU

Biological slide featuring a protein complex unique to Wnt signaling

Fluorescence image of Drosophila wing disc in cross-section. Cell nuclei in blue, membranes in red, and a protein complex unique to Wnt signaling in green.

After several weeks in a fruit fly lab, I now feel quite confident in my ability to dissect larvae, create new crosses from different fly strains, and prepare tissues for microscopic imaging. Although I had never performed these techniques just two months ago, I now carry them out from memory on a regular basis. Without realizing it, I have learned how to identify many of the common Drosophila mutants that are used to create experimental crosses. I am also learning how to combine various protein or RNAi constructs in a single Drosophila line in order to interrupt or better visualize components of the Wnt signaling pathway. However, the most amazing thing to me is how much my dissection skills have improved. On my first day, I was shocked that I would be expected to remove organs from a larva only two or three millimeters long. Now, I can perform the task readily, although not nearly as quickly as my more experienced co-worker, Misha. I still have a lot to learn about the mechanisms involved in Wnt signaling. Understanding the research is far more difficult than simply carrying out the procedures. While I now know quite a bit about working with fruit flies, the complexities of the signaling pathway still elude.

Notes from a Paris Biology Lab, Presidents Summer Fellowship

Maya with lab partners

This is the first of a series of blogs about the adventures of a Reed President's Summer Fellow. I am a student of philosophy learning the ropes of interdisciplinary studies for two months in Paris, France. I am focusing on the philosophic implications behind scientific research in a microbiology lab at ENS-Cachan led by Dr. Bianca Scalvi. The research at this lab is based on trying to understand the initiation of DNA replication.

I am neither a scientist, nor a philosopher. I am simply someone who wants to understand the way our society works. I have a background in chemistry, and spent a summer synthesizing organic compounds in a lab directed by Dr. Youngblood at UNT. That experience offers me an advantage in the microbiology lab. I am familiar with the environment of a laboratory and I am able to understand the basics of the research without too much trouble. My background in philosophy seems to have been with me since I was a child, yet I have only come to realize how much I enjoy the discipline when I started at Reed College two years ago. I have taken some courses in philosophy at Reed, and I try to approach each situation I find myself in with an open and philosophic mind.