Zero-G problems

20 03 2012

written by Damian

We have been talking a lot about space recently in FSL, and I was interested in how zero gravity affects the human body, especially for long term stays in space.

Floating around in space has always been a dream for me, experiencing near zero-G, or micro gravity, imagining myself with nothing pulling me to the ground.

The first problem occurs with the circulatory system. Our bodies were born on earth, and we have lived on earth all our lives, with earth’s gravitational pull. This means that our legs have to push the blood in our veins very hard to keep the blood from pooling at our feet. When you take gravity out of the equation, the blood now is pushed into our head, causing dangerously high blood levels, and possible hemorrhaging.

The second problem is bone and muscle atrophy. Gravitational pull, forces us to push against the ground when we stand, which keeps our leg bones strong, and the muscles intact. With no gravity, our legs shrink. When astronauts return to earth, it can take months to return their bodies to their original potential.

The severity of both above problems can be reduced by wearing tight belts to regulate the blood flow, and special exercises to keep muscles and bones strong. Once on the ground again, astronauts spend weeks working themselves back to their original prowess, only one crucial problem remains. The eyesight of an astronaut after an extended duration space mission becomes dangerously worse, and does not, so far, have a cure.

This newest problem is pressure of the brain as gravity does not hold fluids in the brain down. These fluids press on the back of the eye ball and the optic nerve, causing ridges in the cornea. These ridges are associated with a number of serious diseases, and are bad news when trying the do the fine tasks associated with certain space missions.

Due to these problems and others, a human trip to Mars may just have to wait.


Gene Researcher at the Taubert Lab: Day 4 & 5

18 03 2012

I spent my last two days at the Taubert lab extracting plasmids from bacteria. I followed the alkaline lysis procedure in which bacteria is exposed to NAOH and sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS), a strong detergent. The cell membranes of the bacteria burst and the substances inside the bacteria spill out. Sodium acetate, an acidic solution, is then added to neutralize the solution. I observed that by this point, the cell membrane material and DNA material have precipitated. I then separate the cell contents by centrifugation. The resulting substance is extracted to purify the plasmid DNA.

I used a spectrophotometry too. It is a photometer that can measure intensity as a function of the light source wavelength. It is used commonly used for the measurement of transmittance or reflectance of solutions, but it can also be used to measure the equilibrium constant of a solution.

I have learned so much this week at the lab. I can’t wait to work in a genetics lab in the future!!

– Alice Yip

Gene Researcher at the Taubert Lab: Day 3

18 03 2012

Today, I learned about Western blot also known as the immuno blot. Just as PCR detects and amplify specific DNA sequences, the western blot detects specific proteins in a sample. I once again used gel electrophoresis to separate proteins by 3-D structure or denatured proteins by the length of the polypeptide. This time I used SDS- Page as in most proteins, the binding of SDS to the polypeptide chain gives an even distribution of charge per unit. I also heated the sample to 60 degrees Celsius to promote protein denaturation and thus, help SDS bind. A tracking dye was added to the protein solution so we could track the progress of the protein solution through the gel during the run. Afterwards, the proteins are transferred to a membrane where they are searched using antibodies specific to the target protein. Since it was my second time making gel electrophoresis, I found easy to pipette the solution into the holes.


Although reading about Western blotting does not take that long, the actual process actually took the whole day. And in the end, only one of the two samples worked. I was a bit disappointed, but I guess that is what happens in science: experiments don’t always turn out the way you want them to turn out.


– Alice Yip

Gene Researcher at the Taubert Lab: Day 2

13 03 2012

Today, I experimented with gel electrophoresis, a method used to separate proteins by charge and size. In this experiment, it was used to separate DNA fragments and proteins. Nucleic acid molecules are broken apart by applying an electric field which transports the negatively charged molecules through an agarose matrix. As I was observing the electrical field, I noticed that shorter molecules move faster than longer ones and I concluded it was because shorter molecules travel more easily through the pores of the gel. For this procedure, I followed the QIA Quick gel extraction and the buffer I used was TAE.


 After the electrophoresis is complete, I stained the molecules in the gel to make them visible. I was able to see them under ultraviolet light while using protective gear, of course. I took a photo, but the color of the DNA turned out to be an unattractive green and the gel was black. I could not even recognize the green parts were DNA when I took the photo. I guess this sheds light on another side of genetics and it illustrates to me how DNA does not look “beautiful” in real life.


While waiting for the gel to thicken, I made bacterial and seed cultures and synchronized worm growth in C. Elegans.

Another day at the lab has passed by without me even realizing it until now. I wonder what I will be doing tomorrow!

– Alice Yip

Gene Researcher at the Taubert Lab: Day 1

13 03 2012

Today was my first day at the Taubert lab in the Centre for Molecular Medicine and Therapeutics.

In the morning, I met Dr. Stefan Taubert and he told me about his lab and the research done there. Dr. Taubert and his team studies how the human body regulates undesirable contaminations such as toxins and needed dietary mechanisms like lipids. Lipids can be detrimental as too much of it may lead to diseases, but lipids are also essential for energy upkeep, cellular structure and other biological progressions in our body. Troubles in lipid biology uptake can result in obesity, diabetes and heart disease. These diseases affect many people around the world. In the Taubert lab, the researchers investigate nutritional biology by studying a transparent worm called Caenorhabditis elegans. These worms metabolise lipids and remove hazardous poisons using biological mechanisms that human processes use. Therefore, scientists can use the C. elegans as a model to study the processes in humans. Dr. Taubert explained to me that the biology of the worms may be exciting, but the primary goal is to understand the biological aspects of human diseases.

I then met Donha Park, Ph.D who is a research associate in the Taubert Lab. He explained to me more about the research that happens in the lab and the basics of genetics and molecular biology. He told me about PCR (Polymerase chain reaction), a crucial scientific technique used to amplify a single piece of DNA across numerous orders of scale, creating thousands to millions of copies of a specific DNA sequence. Then, I did some hands- on work. But first, I had to learn how to use a pipette. The pipettes that scientists use at the lab are high- tech! The equipment is very precise and everything is sterile. I learned how to do the first part of PCR. The method mainly focuses on thermal cycling including cycles of repeated heating and cooling of the reaction of DNA melting and the reaction of enzymes of the DNA.


Before I knew it, it was already 5:30 pm and I had not even finished going through the PCR process. I finally understand why it takes scientists many years before they discover something significant that has not been found before. I am amazed by how long it takes me to go through the PCR process, but also by how much PCR can do! Without PCR, scientists would not be able to understand genetics and DNA.


– Alice Yip

Time Management, Resume Writing and Schmoozing: 3 skills of a Professional

11 03 2012

It is currently 11:14 pm. At 10:51 exactly I sat at my computer, opened Microsoft Word and said that I will begin writing as soon as I “quickly” check my Tumblr. The quick check ended up taking 10 minutes, followed by another 13 minutes of Facebook/Twitter. I thought this was quite ironic, as it is exactly what we were taught NOT TO DO during our last Future Science Leaders session on Time Management. Jo-Ann, a manager at Science World had given us a package on how to properly manage time along with what is considered a “time waster”. Social media was #1, and my 23 minutes of time spent on it, was definitely not productive.

I can guarantee that most teenagers and many adults fall into the traps of not managing time properly. Unfortunately having the right skills is the difference between successful and unsuccessful (or overly stressed) people. Thankfully we were given the opportunity to learn how to be more successful with managing our time. Here are some key points to remember:

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2012 AJAS/ AAAS Conference : My experience

20 02 2012

When I was first invited to attend the annual American Junior Academy of Sciences conference, I was extremely eager to improve my project and present it to other exceptional students from all over North America. As a few months passed by, and no improvements were made,  we still created a poster and a presentation. There were a ton of things we could have changed and a ton that we did not remember, but it was too late. We prepared ourselves to face humiliation in the eyes of 100 science nerds.

Day 1:

Wednesday after school I drove to the Westin Bayshore Hotel (realizing that driving in Downtown is a horribly stressful) and went up to my hotel room. I was warmly greeted by my project partner and a girl who came from Oregon. She was very friendly and walked me to where we had to sign in for the conference. As I was singing in, the volunteer said that apparently somebody had already signed off on my t-shirt. She looked at me as if I was an impostor, but had to let it go, since there was nothing much that could be done. That was a great welcome indeed. That night we had a welcome dinner that consisted of many delicious snacks and a fondue fountain. It was entertaining to observe everyone freaking out about the fondue running out, but I soon realized that they were right – all the strawberries had been devoured. When dinner was over my fellow FSL students and I had to endure a talk from one of the organizers. Apparently she had heard about new students in assigned rooms, so with a fake smile, she gently threatened us. Though we were mad at first, it all worked out. The welcoming speech was pretty boring, but following it was a magic show. The young magician/hypnotist  had some pretty mind-blowing illusions. Though we all know it’s not real magic, it was still pretty entertaining. After the show my new friend and roommate went to talk to him about hypnotism (which later resulted in a few death glares from his parents, who turned out to be the organizers of the event).

Day 2:

I woke up at 5 am and went to work out in the gym. This was totally crazy, because I’m definitely not the type to wake up early and exercise. Afterwards we were provided a bus to wherever our tours were. I had chosen the UBC tours, so we arrived at the Life Sciences institute. There we were provided a delicious breakfast (from which we Vancouverites took a few extra muffins for later) and a warming introduction by the Dean of Science, whom I had previously met at a Science Fair. He gave us a rather reassuring speech about how there is a 1 in a million chance of an earthquake happening in the next five hours, and we were sent off to our tours. My first tour was at the Brain Research Center, which has inspired me and showed me what truly interests me in science. We were given a few presentation on what sort of research goes on there and the ones that struck out were the following. First, they are figuring out a way to stop strokes from doing too much damage before the ambulance arrives. Second, they have built a machine that uses a magnet to stimulate various brain regions to perform different functions. The example that was given is that they can determine the brain areas associated with love, and then use the machine to stimulate those areas in a person and make them fall in love. A more realistic use is, if for example someone is homophobic, the machine can inhibit the brain areas active when experiencing the feeling, results in a more accepting person. Though there are ethical issues with such a machine, I believe if used wisely, it can be great. During this tour I also talked with a professor who allows students to come do research for him in the summer, so I am looking forward to contacting him for an opportunity. After our first tour we had lunch with some scientists, but by the time our table was up, all the good food was gone (which upset me). Nonetheless I talked to some UBC staff involved with admissions and realized that have a pretty good chance of getting in. My next tour was to the Chemistry department. It was pretty boring, except for the liquid nitrogen ice cream. That was good. Later in the day we were required to attend the President’s address for AAAS. Dr. Nina Fedoroff gave a 1.5 hour speech on her life story and research, which was pretty dull to listen too. Though her research is definitely interesting, the way she explained it was overly complicated and confusing. Our mentor/chaperone/coolest person ever later explained epigenetics in 3 minutes and it made much more sense. The dinner following the address was very disorganized, but we did hear a speech by our own Governor General. Following arrival at the hotel we participated in a very fun game of Liar’s dice, where I got very hyper and won one of the games.

Day 3:

Our morning started out with the Breakfast with Scientists. This was held at the Pan Pacific, and we were allowed to choose which table to sit at. My friends and I sat at the table with Professor Gregory Weiss and with Honourable Lillian Eva (Quan) Dyck, a senator and a Dr. They were both very nice and interested in our research. They talked about the hardships of science and what research is like and made an interesting point about how they prefer cultural diversity in science, because it provides different point of view on one problem. After the breakfast we proceeded to set up our posters in the exhibit hall. Right away Natasha and I found a few typos on our poster and had a good laugh (though I freaked out at first). The session itself was rewarding. Surprisingly a few people were really interested in our research, and so we had some pretty good conversations. I learned that when it comes to presenting, simplicity is best. Some of the other AJAS students had conducted really important research and had presented some amazing results. Others weren’t so great, but in general we were surrounded by a group of scientists with great potential. After a few hours we inconspicuously decided to walk around the exhibit hall. I tried doing a tumor removal surgery on a new apparatus designed for med students. It was very stressful and I definitely did not perform high class surgery, but after all my dream is to be a doctor/researcher not a surgeon. Afterwards all the FSL students decided to miss the plenary lecture and we headed back to the hotel. It was pouring rain outside, and of course I did not bring my umbrella. At first I shared an umbrella but then I just decided I would walk without one. It was the first time I was soaked by the rain, but I have to admit it was pretty amazing. The feeling of the rain washing all your troubles away was enchanting. Dinner was very good that night and was followed by a very intense game of catch phrase. Though I was used as an example to describe a very interesting word, it was a good laugh. The game continued on into the night, but I felt very tired and went back to my room, to curl up in a warm blanket and listen to some soothing music.

Day 4:

The day began with me attending a few lectures. 2 of them were horrific and I left within 10 minutes. 2 other ones were OK, but nothing special. It was now time for our Oral Presentations. They were much less stressful than I expected. It was a round table discussion with three other people about our research. The group I was in was very nice and I learned a lot about what you should and shouldn’t do when conducting an experiment. Next up was a Plenary Panel. The speakers that were presenting were James Hansen, Olivia Judson, Hans Rosling and Frank Sesno. All very famous people for the science community, they were discussing the importance of communication in science. Their panel was both hilarious and informative, and demonstrated the importance of communicating your ideas in a way, that the general public understands. Hans Rosling (also my new idol) did a very intriguing presentation on how the Earth’s population will maintain itself in the years to come, using toilet paper for explanation. The man is pretty much ingenious. The other speakers were also good (except for when Olivia said that social media is noise) and gave a whole new perspective to science. Next up we were supposed to go to a Banquet at the Aquarium, but instead went to a Tweet-up/ dinner. The dinner was delicious (and paid for, which made it even better) and we had the chance to meet some interesting people. I met a PhD student from UBC, who was very nice and who gave some advice and what to do to get to Med School. We then began walking towards our hotel. On our way we took a little detour through a mini park, which was fun, though it was freezing cold. The AJAS Dance that was planned for that night was not at all what I expected. We dance for about 30 mins, but there were not nearly enough people to have a lot of fun. We went back our room, gossiped and listened to some music, then went to sleep.

All in all the convention had been an amazing experience. I am very glad that we were given the opportunity to attend such an event and to network with such innovative and intelligent personalities. I also think that us FSL students have bonded over the past few days and I hope that bond lasts for a long a time. I do not think I want to attend the Conference next year in Boston, but I am definitely looking forward to starting some research and beginning a great carer in science.

AJAS Delegates