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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

I've been so excited about this book since I first heard that Rebecca Skloot was writing it!! I was more than ready for a popular book about cell culture called The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Imagine the honor when Rebecca asked me to preview an early copy to check for scientific errors! (only found one tiny one!) It is a marvelous read! It is almost impossible to encapsulate how this book has something for everyone and highlights not only the history of cell culture, but the history of ethics in dealing with patients: informed consent, patent rights and more! It is also a story of humanity and family. I loved, loved, loved this book. I only recommend books that touch me, that have good messages and good science and communicate their ideas in an understandable way. This book does all that and more. The writing style is breezy and easy to follow.

I did my book review in my cell culture room for effect and I talk about immortal cell lines. 

A couple of other bits of news. I have joined the University of Illinois iGEM team as an advisor and general cheerleader. Once the team is chosen and the Wiki is opened you will be able to follow our synthetic biology team as they create something amazing from pieces of DNA called BioBricks that are inserted into and expressed in E.coli. This is very amazing. Past projects have allowed bacteria to smell like mint or pineapple, to flash different colors and to develop film. The possibilities are endless! The project will be presented and judged against teams from all across the world at MIT in October. Stay tuned! 

So, you all know of the Nobel prizes, right? Right around the same time, Improbable Research gives out the IgNobels. What fun way for scientists to (hopefully) laugh at themselves. Another way to know that some of us don't take ourselves all that seriously is to be inducted into the The Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists! I'm pleased to say I am a member! I'm excited.

And if your hair is less than flowing or completely absent, they have the counterpart called the Luxuriant Former Hair Club for Scientists!

Until next time, 

Kindly, Joanne

Tue, February 2, 2010 | link 

Monday, February 1, 2010

Flammability of Nail Polish and the semester I wish wasn't

One day I was wondering what the difference is between Quick Dry nail polish vs. Long Wearing nail polish? What do they add that's different to influence these properties?

I'll get to those differences in a second. Overall, it is difficult to determine exactly since nail polish ingredients seem to be somewhat proprietary, at least in terms of precise proportions. 

As I was looking into this, I happened to discover that a very fun piece of material used in cell biological labs and a staple of magicians everywhere, nitrocellulose, happens to be the main ingredient. I could not possibly imagine the reason for this, so investigated further.

What resulted is the following video where I explain the flammability properties of nail polish. Not only is nitrocellulose quite flammable, but so are the solvents used to give nail polish the ability to dry quickly-they evaporate quickly precisely because they have a low boiling point and thus low flashpoints! By definition this makes them flammable!

Flames begin at about minute 3, skip to there if you don't want to know what nail polish and pregnancy tests have in common. After that is a silent time lapsed portion demonstrating mass loss of nail polish due to evaporation. Also, it seemed appropriate to add a blooper reel at the end!

Oh look, I'm imitating a chipmunk! Laughing

I was hoping to compare the evaporative properties of both the quick dry and the long wearing, expecting the mass loss of the quick dry to be, well, quicker. My results were inconclusive, but I feel I need to design the experiment better.

I thinking that the quick dry nail polish may initially go on in a very thin film, so evaporation can happen more quickly. Many resins and plasticizers would be diminished in order for that to happen. Since resins and plasticizers add to the long wearing property, often quick dry nail polish chips sooner than the long wearing version.

It seems I have a follow up project.

Now, onto something a bit more serious. In what may be the most unfortunate convergence of events, Fall 2009, and in particular, the course covering my most beloved topic of histology has the dubious distinction of being the arduous semester I've experienced as a university instructor.

  • My father passed away. I buried him a week before classes began. The grief was overwhelming and nearly paralyzing,
  • I was in charge of another course that I would not normally have simultaneously.
  • And in a complicated series of political and administrative decisions based on assigned personnel, I was required to change how the course was run in less than a week's time.

Overwhelmed by bewilderment and sorrow, the choices I made for delivering the information were less than optimal for student learning. I take full responsibility on that level. My normal personableness and concern for student learning took a temporary backseat to pressing family matters.

I wish I could take the semester back, and give these students the excellent material this course is known for providing. I feel for them and their annoyance in having to learn the material in a less than excellent manner. The course is undergoing significant changes and will return to top notch shape by Fall 2010. I expect no less from myself as someone whose affection for the material is unparalleled.

On a more cheerful note, tomorrow, I will share with you about a most phenomenal book. If you've resisted getting a popular science book until now, this one is one I think you should make the effort to obtain.

 Kindly, Joanne

Mon, February 1, 2010 | link 

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