Apologies to the movie ‘300’.
The really great thing about being a scientist is that my activities are far, far from rote and I spend most of my time light years away from my comfort zone.
Take last week.
One of my students is defending her masters thesis next week and she and I are frantically editing her thesis. She is comparing the metabolic pathways used by different types of bacteria to construct themselves from carbon dioxide. This is a picture of how it all comes together, borrowed from the KEGG website. It isn’t as bad as it looks.
Well, OK, maybe it is. My grad student has about 50 pages of notes, a godzilla-sized excel workbook that she used to do her calculations, and a large bottle of ibuprophen on hand at all times. To relax, she kayaks from De Soto Park to Marathon Key. Really.
I am also preparing for a research cruise and needed to load a ship with my science gear today. The cruise isn’t until November, but the ship is ported nearby in St. Pete and leaves tomorrow. I will be meeting the ship in Manzanillo, Mexico in November. By loading gear on now, I am avoiding a whopping bill for shipping it to Mexico.
So, here’s how things went.
1. I needed to construct shipping crates for some of my gear. I had originally intended to purchase these, but one of my pieces of equipment came in over budget (the euro gained relative to the dollar since I wrote the proposal). I watched a youtube video (not kidding), raided the hardware store, and built them in my garage.
Done. Rock and roll. I am a master of rough carpentry. Don’t look too closely; they ain’t pretty, but they’ll do the job.
2. Next, I read my student’s thesis and emailed her a bunch of edits. Doing my best to strike a balance between encouraging her to move forward full-throttle without sending her to a bunny-in-headlights terrified paralysis. Our deadlines, they are a-loomin’.
3. I need to figure out how to measure enzyme activities at sea, so I did a literature search and designed an assay using gel filtration columns. Spent a week trying to get it to work. No go. Will try thin layer chromatography next, which involves 8″ by 8″ glass plates. Gee, what could possibly go wrong if I bring a bunch of 8″ by 8″ glass plates onto a rocking ship?
4. Went through another round of edits with my student. Things are coming along but there are some problematic biochemistry calculations we will need to revisit tomorrow. Student is understandably fried but needs to keep rollin’. I know she can do it. Pyruvate, baby. It’s just three carbons. You got this.
5. Needed to figure out how to pack a centrifuge into a box. This is tricky since centrifuges are heavy AND delicate. Made a custom foam insert by sealing the centrifuge into two garbage bags, placing in a larger box, and filling the larger box with spray foam. Once the spray foam had hardened, I had, depicted below on the left, a centrifuge inside a cube of solidified spray foam. I then had a party with my reciprocating saw to buzz off the top and split the bottom pieces, freeing the centrifuge and allowing the custom foam packaging to be opened and closed to pack the centrifuge for shipping. I ❤ my sawzall.
Custom foam insert for shipping centrifuge: done. However, my hands got some spray foam on them that is taking a while to peel off, so I look like I have a wicked case of eczema. Or leprosy. I caught one of my undergrad researchers staring at my hands. Did not explain. Funner that way.
6. Edited grad student’s thesis again. Things are coming together nicely.
7. Packed six crates of gear and created a detailed inventory for each. This is necessary since once I get on the ship I will need to do my experiments with whatever I have on hand. Several times a day I do this mental exercise where I walk through each experiment I plan to do at sea and think about what I will need: equipment, supplies, reagents, safety gear….so I need to know exactly what I have already loaded on the ship. Thus, the itemized packing list:
8. Grad student has regained the ability to blink. I was getting worried. Thesis is ready to send to her committee. You go, girl.
9. Loaded all the crates onto the research vessel Atlantis today. 273 feet long, and five abovewater decks of lime green science Nirvana, which will be my home next November.
Rock and roll.