In which things go down as well as up

Day Three in the lab at Heidelberg, and the pace is brisk and relentless. After a few minor set-backs, we are now knee deep into rearraying my siRNA library onto glass chips, which will take a good chunk of several kindly people’s time and about five days in total. In parallel, I am wrestling with the machine-readable spreadsheet that the microscope will need to label the 884,736 eventual timelapse images in a manner that will make assembling, and annotating analyzing the movies possible.

Breathing space A hideaway for precious downtime

Meanwhile, back on the biological front, we’re doing pilots on my beautiful new cell line to optimize image acquisition. They are rather lofty creatures, with layers of actin structures in various planes, from the basal adhesions to the dorsal microvilli – which slice will give the most information? There are decisions to be made too about time resolution – I am only here for three more weeks, and we must perform three replicates to make any future automated analysis meaningful. But even though I have two microscopes at my disposal which can in theory image four chips per scope, there are only so many spots that the hardware can visit per second. In other words, the spirit may be willing, but the stage and turret are weak.

The lab is crowded at the moment – great technology lures in lots of visitors, and after a homeless day perching on a lab stool, I’ve been given a lovely makeshift berth in a small room with a rather noisy office-mate:

Meet Robbie, the VersArray chipwriter robot. She makes a lot of noise and her moods go up and down, but she’s got great pins.

It’s only fitting I share with her, since she’s working so hard to print my siRNAs. And I’ve got a good view out the window – when the cottonwood fluff is actually sparse enough to see through.

There will be more to report soon, but for now I leave you with today’s hard-earned words of wisdom:

A watched Speed-Vac never lyophilizes.

About Jennifer Rohn

Scientist, novelist, rock chick
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24 Responses to In which things go down as well as up

  1. Eva Amsen says:

    Robbie is a girl robot? Roberta?

  2. Richard P. Grant says:

    Of course she’s a girl robot. Don’t you know anything?

  3. Eva Amsen says:

    Clearly not.

  4. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Weird Anglo custom — vehicles and machines have to be female. Historically, this may have been so that men could have the hapless illusion that they were in control of them.

  5. Richard P. Grant says:

    I suspect the tradition was started by sad nerds who couldn’t get a date…

  6. Jennifer Rohn says:

    /resists urge to make comment

  7. Richard P. Grant says:

    {giggles helplessly}

  8. Heather Etchevers says:

    LOL on the Speedvac aphorism!

  9. Jennifer Rohn says:

    God, it is so true. And the more you get paranoid and check, the longer it takes.

  10. Eva Amsen says:

    But… doesn’t naming machines override the default gender? Like Thomas the Tank Engine, or Herbie?

  11. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Um…yes. I guess it does. Which seems like a metaphor for something deeper, only I’m too Friday-tired to work out what it is!
    End of my first week in the lab and I’m ready for a beer. I polled the locals and the prevailing feeling is that the best German beer is probably something called Radeberger, which as luck would have it is served in the hotel bar.
    Bottoms up!

  12. Richard P. Grant says:

    ‘she was never seen again’

  13. Jennifer Rohn says:

    I’m definitely avoiding the local forest Wild-Schwein (wild boars) until the pandemic all-clear!

  14. Richard P. Grant says:

    Take a gun with you. A big one.

  15. steffi suhr says:

    the best German beer is probably something called Radeberger
    Bleck! Nonono, don’t listen to those locals, Jenny!
    Anyway, ships are also ‘female’ – and that doesn’t get overridden by names, which can be rather confusing. Take the Lawrence M. Gould – she is not a very attractive example (does orange make me look fat?).

  16. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Hahaha. Actually, Steffi, it’s the local Heidelbergers who are recommending the Radeberger (which is from around Dresden, I think?) over their own local stuff. So go on — give me a recommendation for what to order next time! By the way, I found one of those crescent-shaped Bretzel thingie-ma-bobs…really nice.
    A lot of people here are quite afraid of the boars, and won’t walk in the forest after dark. (Or as one of my colleagues here put it, “I am being careful for the wild pork.”) Apparently they make a loud snuffling noise, but if you can hear it, it’s probably too late.

  17. steffi suhr says:

    It’s mating season for wild boars, I think – and being careful in the forest after dark is probably not as daft as it sounds. The males get quite massive, and have impressive tusks. Be careful unless you’re this guy, that is. However, I’m more worried of running one down in my car on the way to work…
    And yes, one should definitely be very careful with ‘wild pork’.
    Beer-wise: well, I’m from Northern Germany, and I think that (generalization alert) goes with a taste for more acerbic/bitter beers, such as Jever. Of course, there is also Lüneburger Pilsener, which used to be very nice – but it’s now brewed in Hamburg, and I haven’t gotten around checking whether it’s still good.

  18. Frank Norman says:

    Squinting at my screen in early morning myopia I’m getting confused between beers and boars here.

  19. Jennifer Rohn says:

    A beer with tusks (or a bitter boar) would certainly catch my attention.
    I’d like to eat wild pork once. Apparently the chef at EMBL is very good at acquiring local game when it becomes available and I am assured that it might appear on the lunch menu in the next few weeks.

  20. Richard P. Grant says:

    If the current gig doesn’t work out I could offer my services as pig-catcher general, I guess.

  21. steffi suhr says:

    Apparently the chef at EMBL is very good at acquiring local game when it becomes available and I am assured that it might appear on the lunch menu in the next few weeks.
    That’ll be after he runs one down on the drive to work.
    (Note: if you run down a wild animal and take it with you to eat, that’s considered poaching in Germany – even though it may seem the reasonable thing to do at the time…)

  22. Richard P. Grant says:

    Similarly the UK.
    So the trick is to drive around in pairs…

  23. steffi suhr says:

    Sorry Jenny… A beer with tusks (or a bitter boar) would certainly catch my attention
    …I had to check it out.

  24. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Hahahaha. It was inevitable, I suppose.
    I haven’t been able to find any Lune-whasit pilsner yet, but there are only two bars on this side of the hill. My weekend jaunt into ye olde city center might yield more promising results.

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