As a graduate student in neuroscience, I’ve sat through my fair share of science lectures. Aside from distracted students and enzyme cascades, a common recurring theme are Nobel Laureates. Time and time again we would be presented with a key concept and the experiments that led to its discovery, followed by a slide showing two or three smiling older men and a Nobel medal. That medal is included on PowerPoint slides to validate the lesson for the day and to give students something to aspire to. Seems pretty perfect, right? A lone genius would devise a theory, test it, walk away with a Nobel, and live happily ever after.
The problem is that this narrative fails dramatically at illustrating the way science is actually conducted. It doesn’t promote the critical thinking necessary for future scientists, and it alienates students that don’t see themselves represented in the pantheon of Nobel Laureates.
Most graduate students I know have had a string of academic successes in their lives – they maintain good grades and are considered the ‘smart ones’ in the family. In fact, their hard-working nature has made them accustomed to being successful. Graduate school, however, tends to cause an abrupt end to their streak of success – a steep plunge into the abyss of failing scientific experiments. Scientific projects are infamously maligned by far too many reproducible failures. One can argue that it is the nature of scientific research – when you’re pushing the boundaries of the unknown, you are bound to encounter a few hurdles, right? Being a graduate student myself, I often wish I had been forewarned, so I could have equipped myself with the tools required to survive the storm.
Children’s angelic voices were accompanied by science experiments on February 28 at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center. The Children’s Chorus of Greater Dallas (CCGD) “Earth, Wind & Sky” concert drew inspiration from science themes, including astronomy and biology. CCGD invited SPEaC to perform experiments and answer “Ask a Scientist” questions live onstage during the concert interludes. SPEaC was honored to be in the midst of spectacular artistry, from both the fabulous young singers to the talented CCGD staff that designed, coordinated and conducted the concert.
“Instead of cursing the darkness, light a candle”–Benjamin Franklin
Some organisms don’t need a candle, a star (like the sun), or even electricity for light. A few bacteria, insects, fungi and marine creatures produce light on their own, a phenomenon known as bioluminescence (“bio-“=life, “-luminescence”=light). Bioluminescence, the end product of a chemical reaction occurring inside cells, has evolved multiple independent times in nature. A general chemical reaction is shown below depicting how light is produced by the enzyme luciferase, which cleaves the molecule luciferin to produce oxyluciferin and light. In some organisms, the chemical reaction is this simple; however, other organisms, such as bioluminescent bacteria, have more complex systems to produce light that is an expansion of this simple framework.
Luciferin + O2 ———————————-> oxyluciferin + light
V. harveyi plated in the form of “SPEaC”.
Artistic rendition of plated V. harveyi to demonstrate what the bacteria look like as they bioluminesce in the dark.
The vision of William H. McRaven, chancellor of the University of Texas System
Recently, William H. McRaven, Chancellor of the University of Texas (UT) System, spoke to the UT System Board of Regents to outline his vision for the future of the UT system 5, 10, and 20 years from now. During his speech Chancellor McRaven discussed his initiatives to implement what he described as “Quantum Leaps” in the ability of the UT System “to provide the citizens of Texas the very best in higher education, research, and health care.” Continue reading →