In which I bring Lego to lab meeting

Our floor recently initiated a monthly lunchtime meeting as an informal feedback conduit. Although the individual labs all work in one mammoth communal room, the research that goes on is disparate. The key to propelling your project forward might be someone else’s knowledge, or a helpful reagent stashed unbeknownst to you in a fridge just one bay over. But without communication, you’d never know that help was so close to hand.

The meeting operates a “no PowerPoint” rule. I understand why this was decided: to prevent the exercise from morphing into a dreaded pain in the ass, with people taking hours agonizing over a talk that was never meant to be more than a breezy summary. It does, however, sometimes make it difficult to get across an abstract concept, or an experimental set-up where a picture really is worth a thousand words.

None of my team was available yesterday when it was our lab’s turn, so I took on the update myself. As it happened, I’ve been tinkering on something personally over the past year and needed some fresh advice and perspective – especially as one of my New Year’s resolutions is to do more lab work overall. Having already witnessed several undergraduate students glaze over when trying to describe our nifty virus constructs verbally, though, I decided to bring along a prop, where each functional part of the virus construct was represented by a different colored Lego brick, so I could show what happened to expression when the various inducing chemicals were added:

I also brought along a Lego-based cell which I used to explain my reverse genetic strategy, removing parts of the cell pathway one at a time to show how you could use this to work out which processes were important for bacterial invasion. I could tell from the head nods that people were getting it in a way that probably wouldn’t have happened if I’d been blathering on blind.

Best of all, I got some great advice – and access to some biological materials that I had no idea were available in the department. We also bandied about a few collaborative ideas that might bear some fruit one day.

In other Lego news, on the home front, this is what happens when you let your toddler anywhere near your lab. It’s a good thing I saved the assembly manual!

About Jennifer Rohn

Scientist, novelist, rock chick
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