Monday, 28 April 2008

Science Poetry.

So, it's revision season, and I am innocently revising the process of neurotransmission for my pharmacology exam, and I stumble upon this. An epic poem, about... well... neurotransoissiom. If only I could submit it during my exam.

The Story of the Rebels Who Caused a Revolution in the Land of Body - by Nomi Burnstock

A busy bee called ATP
Whose wings were full of energy,
Who worked and built inside a cell
Emerged to see what he could tell
To each and every other cell.
To run, to fly with friends and foes
To keep the body on its toes,
To tell of dangers, urgent needs,
Inspire each organ to heroic deeds.

Nora Drenalin, his female mate,
Flew around with him in a constant state.
Acetyl Colin was a frequent threat
And put them in a constant sweat.
And VIP came soon to see
Joined quickly then by 5-HT
Not far behind flew Substance P
And then came Nitric Oxide too
Too see what mischief he could do.
Adenosine, that flighty bird,
Although she'd lost her phosphate,
Insisted she was coming too
And off with all the rest she flew……

They hurried here, they scurried there
These rebels reached most everywhere
They flew to visit Heart and Lung
The vessels proved to be quite fun
Then Stomach, Gut and Bladder too
Could hardly wait to join the queue
But patiently they had to wait
For Uterus and Sperm, these friends
Together with Vas Deferens
Claimed first attention from these defectors
Providing them with fine receptors.

Now Brain looked on from up on high
And gave a long protracted sigh
‘I am the master of the land
Bring me the chief of this rebel band
When he has dined, and wined, reclined
I'll give him a piece of my mind.'

So ATP flew up to see
What Brain had got in mind.
‘Leave this to me young 5-HT
With Nitric Oxide and Substance P
Even good old VIP
You can stay behind.'
He took with him to make amends
Nora Drenalin and Acetyl Colin, his old time friends.

But sickness came to the land of Body
Even Brain began to lose his nerve.
Bladder lost his continence
And couldn't find it anywhere
Gut constricted. Gripe persisted
Pain objected loud and clear.
All the bloody vessels
Chose to tighten and complain
Causing high blood pressure
To say nothing of the pain
Of angina and migraine.

‘Listen to me' said ATP,
‘If you Brain have not become too addled.
Acetyl Colin and Nora Drenalin
Can no longer cope alone,
They need help and co-operation.
I'll call my merry band in on the phone.
We'll all work together
To keep this body well.
And if by chance we don't succeed
A drug company you can tell.'

They formed a club called Autonomic
Welcomed Brain as a friendly guest
Set out their plan to work together
A healthy Body their unified quest.

Then Roche came to help and Servier too
Helped establish the messenger system anew.
In health and disease
As you will see,
Adenosine and ATP,

With NO and 5-HT,
Worked in close collaboration
With Substance P and VIP.
Faithful Acetyl Colin and Nora D too
Rejoiced with the organs throughout Bodyland
For finding such a merry band.

ATP, that busy bee was pleased and happy as could be
For he'd completed well his mission:
Admitting Dale's principle and Burnstock's too
To the minefield of neurotransmission.

I sometimes often wonder if scientists have too much time on their hands.

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Evolution - the truth

Here is one of a set of comics that have been inflicted on me during my time at university by the famous 'crazy Mrs White' who pounces on students between classes. Enjoy.

Monday, 21 April 2008

"Ugly As Sin"

Man, it must be a sad life, being a vulture. (Unless you happen to have nabbed a part in the Jungle Book - then I guess you've pretty much made it in life...)

But spare a thought for all the other not-quite-so-glamorous vultures out there. Not only do they have nowt to look forward to bar the odd pound of decomposing flesh, they have to put up with getting slagged off in the press by biologists.

Quoting Texas bird man Ian Tizard at the Schubot Exotic Bird Center, "Unquestionably, they're as ugly as sin."

The scavengers have been getting a hard time for killing calves (which, let's face it, are way cuter) and authorities from various American states have recently granted permission to shoot them, despite their protected status.

And as if to add insult to injury (or, more likely, death), Tizard said of their bare necks, "You don't want your neck all matted with blood if you're sticking your head into a carcass. The bare skins are an adaptation, but it sure makes for an ugly bird."

Image: w

Monday, 14 April 2008

The, erm, "exciting" world of referencing tools

' issue 105, 106, 108. Dang, where's 107?Having been an Endnote user for almost ten years now, I don't understand how people ever managed to write out reference lists by hand. And by "ever managed" I mean "could ever be arsed".

Unfortunately the venerable Endnote doesn't really work the way that many of us do. It isn't particularly geared up for browsing, and why should it be? it was invented in the dark ages before the intertubes was one of the most useful tools that the researcher had for reading research, back when people (*gasp!) actually read paper journals!

Things are different now. This is the third millennium AD. We live out our scholarly lives though information transmitted to us via our computers. We browse our way to journal articles through RSS feeds, blogs and links from other articles. We read research on screen, not in hard copy. We like to store copies of our journals on our hard computers, on portable drives, like USB sticks and even iPods (other Mp3 players are available, apparently).

I recently started using CiteULike to log interesting articles I come across, which I may then go and download and read, adding it laboriously to my Endnote library if it's of particular use to my current project. In addition, back home on my mac I use Papers to organise and read my, erm, papers in an intuitive, post-iTunes type way. All this seems rather disjointed in an age where browser is king. This is where Zotero rocks up and tries to woo me with its integrated, Firefox based, open source, Word and functioning ways. I've not actually tried it out yet, my PC at the lab is rather locked up by the IT department and doesn't allow for Firefox to be installed, let alone any FF add-ons (although I think I have a copy of Firefox Portable on a memory stick somewhere), but Zotero might well be my holy grail for reference management. If not, it does at least represent part of the future of our consumption of academic research.

What about you? If you are an active researcher (pre- or post-doc), a student, or even just a hyper geek who reads scholarly works for shits and giggles, how do you go about managing your articles?

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Standout Handouts III

Under my lab coat will be Bio-Rad LaboratoriesKnowItAll® t-shirt. These green gems were a hit among conference attendees, along with Bio-Rad’s also Wii™ giveaway. The first Wii™ winner, Pablo Sacasa of Florida International University, models his KnowItAll® t-shirt with Bio-Rad Laboratory Director Greg Banik.

Swag in hand, I can avoid purchasing clothing and office supplies for another year.

Standout Handouts II

ACS Journals’ swag was sweet – a Nestle® 100 Grand® bar labeled “Organic Letters: 10 years and over 100,000 citations” to celebrate Organic Letters’ milestone. In a FSS full of mini candies, this full-sized bar was gobbled up by conference attendees. Showing off this chocolate treat is Sean Abell, ACS Assistant Director of Product Marketing. Mr. Abell also handed-out a color changing light-up pen, courtesy of ACS’ weekly magazine Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN). Pens were the giveaway at this FSS, but all paled in comparison to C&EN’s. This pen also goes quite nicely with my new lab coat.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Standout Handouts

Accompanying every ACS Meeting is the ACS National Exposition. Some call it a “trade show” or a “vendor show”. I call it “Free Swag Show” or FSS for short. The FSS is where you stock up on a year’s worth of pens, notepads, Post-its®, t-shirts, bags, candy, and if you’re really lucky, a laptop, iPod® or Wii™. With a FSS this large (300+ companies), swag is plentiful. Here are the standout handouts:

Top swag at this FSS goes to Nature Publishing Group (NPG). For signing up for email alerts, attendees get an embroidered lab coat. Modeling this fantastic bit of swag is Dr. Stuart Cantrill, Chief Editor of Nature Chemistry and co-author of the blog The Sceptical Chymist . In Dr. Cantrill’s hands is another piece of fantastic swag – NPG Post-its®. These sticky notes are conveniently bound into little booklets, fitting perfectly into my new lab coat’s pocket.

Details on lab coat accessories (more free swag) to follow...

Monday, 7 April 2008

Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez

New Orleans is hosting the American Chemical Society’s Spring Meeting this week, April 6-10. Along with thousands of other chemists, I am in the city (that’s “Nawlins” y’all) presenting research, attending talks, and networking. Now for the real reason we’re here…jazz, food, and other delights to be found in the French Quarter (just the “Quarter”).

The city’s motto is “Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez” (Let the Good Times Roll). Conference organizers and attendees have adopted it as their own. Yesterday, the Younger Chemists Committee kicked off the conference with a session titled “The Chemistry of Alcohol”. The chemistry of beer and brewing came first, followed by an explanation of why good beer goes bad, how the pre-Columbians brewed, and the science of wine production. Let me tell you, the room was packed and the questions were non-stop. I guarantee no other talks during this conference will be so well attended and participated in.

Several ACS Divisions’ poster sessions ran from 7-9PM, including my own. An excellent jazz quartet provided music, giving the session a party atmosphere. I talked with several chemists, food and the Quarter being popular topics. We talked about research, too! Fascinating research involving bioluminescent spiders, life-saving alligators, and the facts on artificial sweeteners. Keep your eye on Null for details and tune in to this blog for more on the ACS Spring Meeting.

Germans are so much greener than we are

I wish I was German.

Not only are the Germans impossibly well organised and capable of making legendary cakes, they have some sound environmental policies, the like of which would undoubtedly cause havoc if they were to be introduced over here.

In Germany (or at least in Stuttgart, where I was in March), your car is assigned a grade depending on how polluting/energy inefficient it is and branded with a sticker to remind you of it. Idiots who drive gas guzzling four-by-fours are prevented from driving in city centres, and if they catch you at it, oh, you'll pay.

In Germany , if you go into a supermarket, nobody offers you a plastic bag. Everyone takes their own re-usable cloth bag - this probably comes of being so incredibly organised.

In Germany, they don't have bins, they have compartmentalised units with clearly marked spaces for paper, cans and then all other items. At home, Germans sort their waste neatly into separate recycling bags, which are handed out at the supermarkets.

Nobody bats an eyelid about any of this, it seems. Yet when other nations start following suit, it makes headlines.

I have noticed, however, that the staff in Sainsbury's have started asking if I'd like a plastic bag, rather than waiting for me to complain that I didn't ask for one. But that might be because they know me by now...

Anyway, I propose we start a revolution. Everyone: replace your placcy bags with a couple of cloth ones, grab a permanent marker and scrawl "Plastic bags suck, vive le revolution" all over them. Stick two fingers up to dozey check out staff and their establishments (although don't actually, because we might get in trouble).

The epic stroy of Elsevier and the arms trade

Reed-Elsevier, everyone's favourite academic publishing company (well, some people's fave. I'm not all that partial to it for reasons that should become clear) used to run the Defence Systems & Equipment International (DSEi), a massive arms fair held at ExCeL in London's docklands. This Event was used to sell high precision weponary items like cluster bombs, which reports in the Lancet (published by Elsevier) suggest are responsible for many civillian deaths in wars zone such as Iraq. Nice. (Read an excellent editorial by Richard Smith about it here)

Thanks to a concerted effort or boycotting and protest by many high profile academics, Reed-Elsevier promised to sell off the gun, bomb and death promoting aspect of its business by the end of 2007, and we all cheered.

Alas, hidden away in the business pages of the Times (yawn, I know), is this little nugget of information that they have failed to do this. Disappointing.

One to watch to see if they get round to it...