I got the second COVID Moderna vaccine dose on Monday morning. Same as the first dose, I had a long line to wait in.
While waiting the volunteers passed out goodies. UC Davis Health sponsors the local soccer team, the Sacramento Republic, so all the gifts were related to the team. They were out of soccer balls so I got a t-shirt.
Once inside I got the vaccine pretty fast. Easy and simple just like the first time.
My lab works with tuberculosis, which requires BioSafety Level 3 (BSL-3) containment. You know what else needs BSL-3 containment? COVID-19!
BSL-3 lab spaces have a lot of specialized safety features that make them expensive to construct. To save money different labs at UC Davis often share the same BSL-3 space and just schedule their time in that lab space to not get in each other’s way.
Because of that, when researchers started working on COVID-19 at UC Davis they needed a place to do it. My boss’s space was volunteered, so now another lab researching COVID works in the same space as us.
Besides the safety features, the BSL-3 also requires biohazard suits and respirators. Additionally anyone working in the room within 24 hours of COVID being used in the room has to do temperature checks for two weeks afterwards. Our safety protocols have been successful and no one working in the space has contracted COVID-19.
But working in that space puts our lab into a high risk factor, just like healthcare workers. As such, I got contacted by my HR supervisor at UC Davis Health that I’d been approved for being one of the first people to get one of the COVID vaccines.
So here’s what that was like!
I scheduled an appointment for 8:30am on the first day of distribution. I got there at 8:25, checked in, and promptly waited for an hour in line.
I recently finished listening to an audiobook version of Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath. The nonfiction piece focuses on how being an underdog can occasionally confer advantages that the “overdog” doesn’t expect.
The book uses a wide-range of examples of underdogs overcoming their disadvantages and actually using them as jumping off points to topple bigger and stronger opponents.
This isn’t a new idea to me or the world. Scholars were peddling this theory at least 1,500 years ago when the Roman Empire fell. I first read about it in Frank Herbert’s science fiction masterpiece, Dune, where the fictional race of Freman are hardened by their desert homeland and are able to overcome the forces of the Padishah Emperor. Continue reading →
Some of you may be asking, “Where, oh where, has GoCorral gone? Where is the weekly update of his blog? There hasn’t even been a picture of his toenails to tell us he’s still alive!”
Well, I am still alive, I’ve just been rather busy with school these last few days.
Among my many responsibilities I have had:
1. A massive final project on homologous genes to the C. elegans myosin gene, unc-54, that is rapidly approaching 50 pages in length.
2. A final paper on intron retention being the first sign of speciation.
3. Scheduling and preparing my thesis proposal presentation.
4. Grading essays for the basic biology class I am teaching this semester.
5. All the usual stuff I have to do.
I’m keeping a good handle on #1 and #5. #4 is a slow truck that keeps on going.
Due to all the other stuff I’ve been doing #2 did not turn out as good as I would’ve liked. I loved the thesis of that paper, but I wish I’d used more time to find additional supporting evidence and described the supporting evidence in a better fashion.
#3 is the most exciting one! My thesis proposal presentation happened on Friday and was probably the most important moment in my career up to this point.
I got super nervous before giving the presentation and made a few mistakes in the preparation and delivery, but it still went quite well.
I passed the proposal which means I can continue on with my project! Woohoo! I do have to update my abstract to reflect my definite research goals which were outlined in the meeting.
That’s what I’ve been up to. There’s still more to do! I predict I’ll be done with most of it by the end of next week. After that, regular blog updates will resume.
NASA made an interesting announcement, they’re looking for new astronauts!
This came as a surprise to me as I’d thought NASA had discontinued all manned missions.
As far as I know the halt on manned missions happened for two reasons, funding is tight and NASA is an obvious thing to cut and we already did the man on the moon thing so why go again?
As to the funding, I’m not sure what’s going on there. Regardless, the missions NASA is planning are scheduled ten years out so the funding situation could be entirely different then.
But what are the new missions?
Not going to Mars like Mark Watney in The Martian, but almost as good!
NASA will be landing an astronaut on an asteroid.
There are a group of asteroids called “near-Earth asteroids” that have orbits around the sun pretty similar to Earth’s orbit.
A couple of the near-Earth asteroids are as big two kilometers across (about a mile).
Before landing a person on an asteroid, NASA plans to land a rover like what they did with the Rosetta space probe on a comet. Then a manned mission will commence in 2025.
I don’t know which asteroid NASA will be landing an astronaut on, there are a whole bunch to choose from. Regardless, this appears to be the next step in manned space exploration.
NASA hopes this will be a stepping stone to manned missions on Mars.
In addition to the work on the asteroids, astronauts are spending longer amounts of time on the ISS. They’re doing this so we can see what precautions need to be taken when someone is in space for years at a time.
A mission to Mars would take a year or two, so we need to be prepared for how someone’s mind and body reacts to being in space for that long.
So enough about why NASA is hiring astronauts, how do I get the job?
If you’re like me, upon hearing the news that NASA is hiring you immediately looked up the qualifications they’re looking for.
They want someone with at least a Master’s degree in science or engineering. I’m working on that, so good so far.
The next big qualification is 1,000 hours of logged jet plane fight time.
If you’re paying for lessons and rental time on a plane that amount of logged time would cost upwards of $50,000. So you either have to be really serious about flying jets recreationally, a commercial flyer, or a member of the airforce.
There are a few other qualifications, but nothing as big as those two.
Obviously I don’t meet that requirement, but maybe some kid is reading this and is thinking, “If I get a Master’s in physics and learn to fly a jet then I’d be ready to apply to be an astronaut by the time NASA starts doing missions to Mars.”
I did some cool stuff last semester in my science classes that I’d like to show you guys.
The gist of it is… This picture:
This is a picture taken by my lab group in my basic lab technique class last semester of a mouse fibroblast cell moving into a simulated wound on a glass slide.
Fibroblast cells are kind of like the contractors of your body when you get a scratch or wound. There are your first responders to the “disaster,” your immune system, and then fibroblasts go in to start the process of rebuilding your tissue by laying the foundation for other cells to move in.
A lot of scientists are interested in wound healing. How can we make it faster? How can we make it better so people don’t have lingering problems after the superficial injury has healed? How can we prevent infection? How can we prevent scarring?
Those questions are tested with a variety of experiments but one of the msot common is the scratch assay.
A bunch of fibroblasts are grown on a glass slide until they practically cover it. Then the slide is scratched.
The fibroblasts move into the scratch, thinking it is a wound. Their movement into the scratch is measured in a couple different ways and those measurements can tell us a little bit more about how wounds heal.
Which brings me back to the picture my lab group took. Obviously its got a lot of color and is very prety, but what are all those colors? What’s going on in that picture?
My lab group scratched the space above the big cell in teh picture. The cell is now moving into the scratch.
The red lines are called actin. Actin is the support structure of your cells. Cells move by extending actin filaments where they want to go and breaking them down behind them.
The green parts are called vinculin. Vinculin is spread throughout the cell and localizes into spots where the cell is attached to a surface to assist in adhereing to that surface. All those bright green spots are where the vinculin is helping the cell hold onto the glass slide.
The blue parts are cell nuclei. Each cell has one nucleus and I’ll bet you can pick out the one that belongs to all the actin and vinculin in the middle of this picture.
I did a lot more stuff on scratch assays in this class and leaarned a few new techniques, but the best part was definitely getting this picture.
Oh and apologies to any color blind people. I have no idea how to spearatae out the red and green things for you. Enjoy!
While letting myself into my lab a woman approached me and said, “Hi!”
She had just graduated UC Davis and was looking around all the buildings she hadn’t been in much.
She was a Landscape Architecture major (didn’t even know you could major in that). My building is for biological sciences, so its understandable that she had probably never set foot in it before.
My lab’s building, Briggs Hall, is interesting from an architecture perspective (but maybe not landscape architecture).
The building was built in 1971 when there were a lot of campus demonstrations (still are! Pepper Spray Cop was at UC Davis).
A method of cutting down on demonstrations was giving students no places to gather indoors. Thus Briggs Hall’s layout is amazing confusing and even I get lost in it after working in the building for several years.
Briggs also doesn’t have any staircases inside. All of the stairs are on the exterior of the building. Don’t ask me what lunatic decided that was a good idea for a four story building.
Anyways, the recently graduated student asked if there was anything interesting in Briggs.
I showed her my lab. She glanced around in it, but not being a biologist she didn’t really understand anything in the lab.
I showed her the -80°C (-112°F) freezer which she did like as summer is starting in Davis.
I also showed her my favorite part of Briggs, the back exit by the police station.
The back exit is where all the old equipment is put that no one wants anymore. These are the pieces that are too big to just throw in the trash.
There’s old computers, old centrifuges, old heating blocks, old incubators. Tons of cool science equipment.
It’s this sort of industrial wasteland and NO ONE EVER GOES THERE.
My lab is super peaceful, but if something ever got too stressful and I needed to go outside, this is where I’d go.
Why does industrial junk calm me down? I had an air filter going in my room constantly when I was a kid. That constant hum while I slept made me associate industrial hums and old appliances with peaceful rest.
So now places like this always calm me down.
Course, the graduated student didn’t get any of that business. Shook her hand and congratulated her on graduating after I showed her the junk pile before going back inside to my lab.