Works and Days



Presidents Summer Fellowship, Nanofluids and Gene Mapping Part 2, Abrar Abidi

For his President's Summer Fellowship, Abrar Abidi ’16, physics major is working in a lab at McGill University in Canada, helping to develop new nanofluid technology to improve DNA mapping methods. Read on for his second blog installment:

On so many warm summer evenings here, red and white flares shoot up on the horizon, hissing as they go, before exploding with a deafening pop, forming a lavish spectacle in the Montreal sky. Often as I sit in my little Victorian-era apartment, sudden bangs and crackles send me rushing out to the roof of my building, so I can look toward the harbor, where on an otherwise forlorn stretch of land, six thousand rockets now fire heavenward in a single night. Yearly, the largest firework festival in the world—a kind of pyrotechnic Olympics—takes place in Montreal throughout the month of July. Groups from countries across the world, with their eyes set on prestigious awards, collect in this city to show off their talents in front of three million people. This year, England won the gold medal, while France took home silver and China, bronze. All this amid a procession of other festivities celebrating jazz and African cultures and circus arts and film and comedy. On the few nights not occupied by these events (and we’re still talking only of July), there are huge live music shows, free to the public, many taking place a two-minute walk from my front door.

The lab is a far quieter and colder place. With vents constantly blowing dry, chilly air on every floor of the building, I’ve taken to swaddling myself in at least three layers. Fortunately, the work I do expunges all my guilt for staying indoors. The opportunity to participate in this lab’s experimental efforts is what lured me to McGill in the first place, and in the previous month, my project has taken on a more experimental flavor. Sara, a good friend and researcher with whom I’ve been working closely since June, gave me the task of analyzing thousands of fluorescence microscopy images, zoomed in so close that a fraction of the width of a single human hair could easily eclipse the viewfinder. Fluorescence microscopy is a remarkable technique, where special dyes are used to stain the object of interest, causing it, when illuminated by a powerful lamp, to cast a vivid, luminous glow, no less dazzling to the eyes than the firework displays I can sometimes see from the lab window. Our microscopes are trained on minuscule nano-devices that Sara very cleverly designed and fabricated. Below the glass cover slip, and within these tiny devices, anywhere from a few dozen to several hundred strands of DNA can be seen drifting here and there, tossed about by Brownian motion, flashing like fireflies in the night. Then, with the flip of a switch, the strands rush toward the centers of a series of equidistant spaces, where they accumulate and extend, resembling a phalanx poised for battle. A dial that controls the frequency of a current sent through the device can manipulate their movement, alternately dispersing and concentrating the DNA. The potential applications for this invention are dizzyingly exciting: nothing less than the technology future generations might use to map entire genomes, at speeds and with accuracies far beyond anything currently possible.

Presidents Summer Fellowship, Nanofluids and Gene Mapping, Abrar Abidi

For his President's Summer Fellowship, Abrar Abidi ’16, physics major is working in a lab at McGill University in Canada, helping to develop new nanofluid technology to improve DNA mapping methods.

A chemist who had close friendships with both Albert Einstein and Ernest Rutherford was once asked to share his recollections of the two men. In response, he explained:

“[Einstein] always spoke to me of Rutherford in the highest terms, calling him a second Newton. As scientists the two men were contrasting types—Einstein all calculation, Rutherford all experiment… There was no doubt that as an experimenter Rutherford was a genius, one of the greatest. He worked by intuition and everything he touched turned to gold. He had a sixth sense.”

Off Quad Rule: Part 2


The protein curve, calibration curve, and initial lymphocyte concentration results from last week came back and were excellent, or “acceptable” in research terms. A little more explanation (sans math, I won’t bore you): The protein curve is a plot that measures the concentration of protein loaded into a well of the plate vs. the optical density associated with it. This is determined by incubating the loaded well plates using a dye reagent, which will produce a distinct pigmentation for each protein concentration in the individual wells. Using colorimetry, protein concentration can be quantified by detecting differences in tint and give results based on a specific wavelength. The same goes for the calibration curve, however the purpose for this is to make sure the ELISA Assay kit works, and to make sure the person operating it knows how to properly use it. The initial lymphocyte concentration results are done to get an estimate of the typical concentration of lymphocytes in the blood samples, this is run in tandem – so to say – with the protein curve. This determines the lymphocyte concentrations relative to the known quantities, and depending on the dilution factors (10x and 100x in this case), also gives suggestions about whether or not to dilute samples. That was quite filling; I hope you’re still a little peckish after all that.

 Paella y Sangria

Wehrli Lab Notes, Daniel Lybrand '13

I am currently working at OHSU in the lab of Marcel Wehrli, Ph.D. The lab studies development in Drosophila (fruit flies) and focuses on the Wnt signaling pathway, one that features prominently in developmental biology research. My first week at OHSU has introduced me to a completely new area of biology. Most of my prior research experience has been in plant physiology. I have never worked with Drosophila before and know almost nothing about their development, so I am guaranteed to learn something new every day.

As a novice in the field, I learn from both Marcel and his research assistant, Misha (also a Reedie). I don’t yet have a project of my own, so I usually assist Misha with her experiments. Some of what I learn is completely new – techniques that I have never seen before.

In the past week, I have learned how to distinguish between male and female flies, how to tell a virgin from a fly that has never mated, how to dissect a fly larva, and how to identify the imaginal discs within the larva that eventually develop into various appendages. Other things are familiar but must be re-learned, as different labs carry out basic protocols in different ways. Antibody staining fruit fly larvae is very different from staining plant tissues!