work & science


It’s also for autumn, which goes nicely with apple season. The beginning of apple season, for me, marks the approach of cooler and generally more pleasant weather, plus the availability of one of my favorite snack foods. (Apples are also a major component of my fallback dinner plan of apples-and-peanut-butter.) Since my discovery of farmers’ market apples and the wider selection of varieties available, I’ve grown especially fond of Ginger Gold, Honeycrisp, Royalty, and Suncrisp apples. Mmmm. (*Crunch*.)


Of course, A is also for axon guidance, to which I devote far more of my time and energy than I do toward apples, but this isn’t a science blog. Briefly, axon guidance is the study of one aspect of neural development, in which neurons send branches to the cells with which they’re supposed to communicate in the developed nervous system; we’re working on figuring out how the cells match themselves up. (If you have questions, I’m happy to talk science over e-mail.)



(Hmf. I can’t get the picture to link to the Ravelry group, but I don’t have time to mess with it now.)

When this posts, I will (I hope) be on a plane to Atlanta, where I will await another plane to Denver, on my way to Boulder.  In the spirit of vacation, and since I never posted them here, I present a couple of my favorite pictures from my lab’s two June field trips.


boulder field with tree



That first picture is from our lab canoe trip, shot with a waterproof disposable camera; the rest are from our lab hike in Hickory Run State Park, specifically the boulder field there, and were shot with either my digital camera or my "real" camera. 

The place where we went canoeing, on the Brandywine, was fun, though perhaps on the more challenging side of what I was anticipating, my prior canoe experience having been very mellow.  Still, it was fun, but I never again need to see people wielding a chainsaw from a canoe.  (They kindly turned it off when they saw us approaching.)  And next time, the canoe-steering learning curve should be steeper.

Hiking at Hickory Run was awesome.  The trails could’ve been marked better, but we didn’t have too much of an adventure…  It was wonderful to be in the woods, to pick blueberries, and to see this amazing boulder field.

I expect to be away from the internet until Wednesday evening, by which point I may even have finished some knitting.  I got in a good few inches on the wool/mohair sock on Sunday, but that’s pretty much been it this week. 

See you (or, well, your internet presences) next week!

After having had most of them saved to my computer for months, I’m finally getting around to posting the Science Scout badges for which I qualify:


the ‘talking science’ badge: It’s a big part of my life, so I tend to talk about it.  Just not here, so much.


arts and crafts: This one should be obvious.


the ‘confident around an open flame’ badge: Bunsen burners in lab, campfires and fireplaces outside of lab.



the ‘sexing up science’ badge: I used to maintain recombinant-inbred lines of flour beetles.



the ‘has handled human organs’ badge: My first neuroscience class got to hold [thick] slices of [preserved] human brain.



the ‘has done research with no conceivable practical applications’ badge: I like basic science.



the ‘I know what a tadpole looks like’ badge: I should hope so, seeing as I’ve dissected eyes out of them.  And I helped take care of some Xenopus (adults and tadpoles) in college.



the ‘cloner’ badge: Not much, but probably enough for the badge.



the ‘experienced with electric shock’ badges, levels 1-3: nonhuman organism, nonself human, self

I’m probably stretching the Level I definition, since the nonhuman stuff I’ve shocked is dissociated cells, but the other two are from neuroscience classes in which we gave each other [very] mild shocks as part of our somatosensory perception unit.  (If you space the two electrodes in a certain way, and time the shocks right, it’ll feel like the shock is moving continuously between them.)



the ‘I have used a standard telescope’ badge: Lunar eclipses are fun to watch.



the ‘doing science under the influence’ badge: What, you think I actually leave work after drinking champagne at post-defense parties or beer at departmental happy hours?  (Well, yes, of course, just not immediately.)  I also had one advisor who suggested beer as a potential aid to dissection when one’s hands are slightly shaky.



How about the rest of you?



I spent even more time than usual in lab and otherwise working during February.  Since I can’t share what I was actually working on, I snapped a couple of pictures of things on my bench (lab workspace).  (Yes, they’re usually covered.  No, I’m not worried about having left the tubes and tips uncovered for long enough to take these pictures.)

Well, most of my trip wasn’t precisely photographable (and the abstract book and my notebook were heavy enough that I didn’t want to also carry my camera), but I took some pictures at the wildlife refuge we went to last Wednesday. (It’s right near the meeting we went to.)


click for full-size version

I was exhausted enough when we got back to the hotel every night to knit more than a couple of rounds on my flame sock (over the course of five days), but I did do some knitting in the car on the way there and back. Pictures tomorrow or Wednesday.

1. I presented a poster (of my labwork) for the first time this week. It was stressful, somewhat awkward, and exciting.

2. This has really been my ideal kind of Friday night: some minor socializing (a happy hour for a friend who’s been given permission to write his dissertation), maybe some errands (grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s, including sushi for dinner), and hanging around my apartment with a book, my computer, and Mel. The rain and wet-street traffic noises are excellent bonuses.

3. I slid down a few steps of my staircase on Wednesday morning, on my way to take out the recycling and fetch my laundry. Ow. (Still.)

4. What’s wrong with this picture?


If you answered, “Oh, no! A broken Lantern Moon dpn!” you get a [virtual] silver star. (Or red or green, if you like those better.) My plan is to see if I can sand down that end and refinish it somehow.

If you answered, “Oh, no! The heel was supposed to be black onyx, not amber!” you get a [virtual] gold star. I’ll be ripping back the heel flap as soon as I locate the black onyx yarn. And I was so hoping to finish these soon… Oh. Wait. I know where the black onyx yarn is now. It’s in the cuff of sock two. Hmm…

5. Hey, look! I’m knitting something with my handspun and I’m planning to keep it!


I really wouldn’t call this color “pine”, although I do like it. It’s too close to “seafoam green” to be “pine” to me. I might allow for “blue spruce”, though, if a tree name were desired.

Oh. You wanted to know what it’s going to be? A wristwarmer. I’m thinking I’ll be able to get one wristwarmer out of an ounce of roving, so I’ll use two colors of the corriedale from my Boogie sampler. They should be done just in time for air-conditioning season.

6. Maryland Sheep and Wool is in two weeks! Two weeks from now, I’ll be camped at a state park near the festival! Whee! (I hope I’m not still sore from the steps.)

7. I’ve already basically planned out my Maryland budget. I want a couple more bobbins for Amy, a couple of skeins of Socks that Rock or something similar, in good almost-solids, and some fiber. I need to figure out how much to get for a potential sweater.

8. I’m going to be moving (my apartment, not my blog, and only a few blocks) in June. And I have a medium-sized presentation in the end of June. So if I’m unusually scarce in the next several weeks, figure I’m either working or packing or cleaning.

9. Mel did the whole screen thing again this morning. There was a squirrel on the cables (I don’t know what kind…) that run along/just outside of the back of my building, such that the squirrel was only about six inches away from the highest point Mel could reach. The squirrel, clearly familiar with windows, was pretty nonchalant, if a bit chittery. Mel, on the other hand, was very, very excited and frustrated.

I just got up to shoo Mel off of the dining table, which is still covered with blocking boards and pins because I need to reblock the shawl. (I couldn’t wait for it to dry fully because I’d’ve missed my train. It was fine for inspiring awe among nonknitters, and it’s not like it was anything like cool enough to wear a shawl last weekend.) When I grabbed him off of the corner closest to me, I thought I saw something drop off of the other side of the table. No, it wasn’t something on top of the blocking board…it was the corner of the blocking board. Ah, well, at least they were cheap. And I have a handy pickup truck for if I want to get some sort of replacement.

In a similar vein, there was a bit of conversation at my lab happy hour (goodbye-probably-only-for-the-semester to our summer rotation student) this evening. I don’t recall quite how we got to the topic, but I said something about how I hadn’t even been knitting yet at happy hour (that time), and then I pulled out my sock, since people were asking what I was knitting these days. Angela asked something about the fiber content, I think Thomas said something about other knitting projects…and somehow the conversation evolved toward my saying something about the size of my stash. Being nonknitters, they did not immediately think of yarn or spinning fiber. Nope. Much mirth ensued. (But no one gets either flame or smoke anything like that close to my yarn stash! Even the Chanukah candles stay on the table, on the other side of the room.)

And, while I’m being tangential and rambly because it’s late: On the train to Trenton on Saturday, a group of women sat down in the seat across from me and found a small (~2cm square) ziplock bag of green leafy stuff, which I (and they, clearly) presumed was what my labmates pretended to think my stash was. (In case you were wondering, they gave it to the conductor as soon as he came by.)

I was a bit apprehensive about the idea of a lab beach trip. My preferred style of beachgoing involves weather no warmer than about 70ºF and a lot of wandering around and looking at/for shells and small animals and plants (and tide pools when possible), and I was pretty sure that at least the weather wasn’t going to happen at the Jersey Shore in August. On the other hand, I didn’t want to be the one person who didn’t go, because it couldn’t be all that bad, right?

It turned out to be fun, despite disgustingly hot weather and a lack of appropriate clothing on my part. Since I didn’t have a swimsuit, I stuck to wading and knitting and photographing. (Click the thumbnails for larger images.) Fortunately, my advisor brought a beach umbrella, so I got to sit in the shade.

Wavespeople2 Emptybeach
my labmates in the water; the beach

Horseshoecrab Sandcrab
horseshoe crab; sand crab

I took this photo for the texture of the shell, but I like the way the texture of my fingerprint comes through so strongly.

V_cutout Fbsonsandyskirt
V., knitting; the flower basket shawl at the end of the day

As you can see, I wasn’t the only person knitting at the beach, just the only one knitting lace. V. knit a square of about 2″ on a side with the cotton I’d had sitting over my desk for a year. It was waiting for me to be willing to finish the towel I was going to give my grandma for her birthday last August. Since I forgot to send her the present I bought her in Boston, I’ll just send them both–I cast off the towel so V. could learn to cast on. I didn’t get a lot knit on the flower basket shawl, just about two pattern rows, but I did get in a lot of gazing at the breaking waves. Eventually, when I settle into one place to live for many years, I want it to be someplace with both ocean and mountains easily accessible. (Okay, fine, one of the two can be merely visible, as long as it’s a reasonable day trip.)

I was starting to look at some slides on the confocal this afternoon, and it looked decidedly questionable. Not only was the staining dimmer than I thought it should be (based on looking at it on the other microscope), but the plain light bits (which are a lot harder to screw up) were also really dim. I checked the amount of oil on my coverslip, and there was plenty, so that wasn’t it. Then I was reminded that the objective might be dirty. OH MY GOODNESS, cleaning made a difference. Those two pictures? Same growth cone, same settings. The other impressive bit? I couldn’t see anything on the objective when I took it off the microscope to clean it. So (note to self) even if it isn’t visibly dirty, it might be desperately in need of cleaning.

On Friday (the 8th), I headed down to Somerville, waving to Amy Boogie along the way. After a few slight mishaps due to lack of signage (ah, Massachusetts, and thank goodness for maps), I made it to my friend Olivia’s house. We headed over to a local Thai restaurant, where, much to our surprise, the noodle dish I ordered (sri rad na?) came with penne. It was still quite tasty… When we got back to Olivia’s, she gave me a pair of presents:

a dipping bowl and a beautiful, birch bark-framed mirror

On Saturday, we went to investigate Mind’s Eye Yarns in Porter Square. Alas, they were closed for vacation. So we headed over to South Station so I could get my train ticket home, and then we wandered around Chinatown for a little while. Out of curiosity, I tried a lotus paste bun. It was tasty, although mild and a little sweeter than I usually like, but does anyone know what the yellowy blob in the middle of the pasty bit would’ve been? Some sort of processed lotus root?

After that, we decided to go to the public library to see an exhibit on printing. Unfortunately, it’d closed the day before. Since the clouds had mostly gone away, we went out to Revere Beach. We walked up and down the beach for a few hours. It was great. The water was a bit warmer than in Maine, so we could keep our feet in the water. I can’t think of the last time I’d been to a beach in anything approaching wading weather, so this was long overdue. Olivia’s also perfect company for beachgoing, as she’s a marine biologist.

Revere Beach

Olivia told me what kind of clam these are, but I forgot

a crab shell, remarkably intact

a moon snail

We had lunch from a stand across the street from the beach. I had cheese fries, with about two years’ serving of bacon. In sharp contrast, we had watermelon, blueberries, and popcorn for dinner, while watching a movie that I think was called Boys On the Side.

Sunday was a day of wandering around Cambridge. We started with Woolcott, where I spent a while looking at all the yarn and came away with two fifty-cent patterns. The rest of Harvard Square was a bit more successful at getting me to spend money. I bought two CDs at Newbury Comics (and I was sorely tempted to buy more than that). Lunch was at a wonderful vegetarian pizza-and-stuff restaurant; I got grilled portobellos with red pepper-almond sauce and basil-tofu mash (on pizza), which I’m going to have to try to replicate sometime. After that, we walked along the Charles and then over to Central Square. We poked around in a store full of Archie McPhee-like stuff, got ice cream, and then went to a great bookstore where I found a book I’d been looking for for a while.



…And then we wandered back to Olivia’s, and to her lab, where I got to meet their pet sand crab and see their snails and mussels.

a balloon flower along the way

This was very much a summery vacation. An afternoon at the beach, watermelon, blueberries, and ice cream while I smelled of sunscreen. Quite a difference from Maine, where I was wearing long sleeves over a t-shirt and almost shivering… If only the weather would realize that summer vacation is over and stop being so hot and humid.

It’s been a week of craziness and leaving-the-computer-at-work. Actually, it’s been odd enough that one of my coworkers assumed that my activities could only be due to a new boyfriend. (Not so.)

Last Sunday’s basketball game was enough fun that I had planned to watch game 6, but I was guilt-tripped into staying home with Mel, who leaped onto my shoulder and purred for five minutes when I got home from work. So I watched Star Wars and listened to the second half of the game. I knitted a bit more on the dulaan hat. And then I checked the size. Instead of being the ~21″ I’d been hoping for, it was more like 26″ around. I ripped it all out, and then kicked myself for not just making it into a baby sweater. Ah, well.

On Wednesday, I met up with Cyn, Jill, Sarcasmo, SuperTarzan, Amy, Sam, and Jim for Batman Begins. It was fun, particularly because I was with such a large group. I knitted the rest of the cuff of wildfoote sock #1 during the first half, and then I gave up on the knitting. (Only the explodey bits really had enough light for me to see what I was doing…)

I did wind up watching game 7 with Anj and Sue, and I made some progress on Klarabrite (along with, of course, having a lovely evening, in which I discovered that brussels sprouts are tasty). The extraordinary amount of tv/movie intake for this week continued on Friday, when I watched The Empire Strikes Back, and then yesterday morning, when I got myself out early (for me on a Saturday, at least) to see March of the Penguins. I cast off the first wildfoote sock while on the trolley and el on the way there, and managed a figure-8 cast on before the movie started. Unfortunately, I didn’t get all the way through the next round of knitting. A bit of advice: do not attempt to knit off a figure-8 cast on in the dark. It got kind of messy. At least I had beautiful video of really cute penguinlets to distract me from my knitting failures.

a finished sock!

the mangled toe of movie-knitting

After the penguins, I came home with the intention to do lots of cleaning, but I’m really good at procrastinating. Example: my mom’s going to be here in about two hours. My apartment is still a wreck, and I haven’t even done my make-up co-op shift. What am I doing? Blogging. Other example: yesterday afternoon, I was going to clean the bathroom, take a shower, and find a nice dress/skirt to wear to my advisor’s barbecue at 6. What did I do? A little bit of cleaning. My passengers and I would have arrived on time, at least, but we learned that the other half of the lab was about half an hour behind us, so we took a scenic detour past Haverford College. Once we got there, though, and had had dinner, I chatted a bit about knitting and crafting with my advisor’s wife, who runs a knitting club at a local elementary school.

I’ve been work-busy this week, so I haven’t spun or knitted in days. I’m about to go remedy that, but I thought I’d share a sample of what I have been doing:

untreated growth cone

It’s a growth cone from chick dorsal root ganglion (sensory neuron), grown overnight and then fixed and stained for two modification states of tubulin, a cytoskeletal protein. This image is about 30µm on a side. For those of you who’ve heard my litany of complaints about the confocal, this is why I put up with it.

Monday: Finish immunostaining and start imaging. Go to grad student association meeting and drag Michelle home to meet Mel.

Tuesday: More imaging. Peter Baas seminar on microtubules in axons (mostly transport, some severing)–very exciting. Spend lunch talking about science (rather unusual). Finish imaging. Go home and collapse.

Wednesday: Image processing, all day. Leave early (6:30) to meet Cyn for dinner and the Mountain Goats show. Go home and collapse.

Thursday: Oversleep. Go to work, intending to set up an experiment. Discover that there are no coverslips left. Remedy that situation and read half a paper. Leave really early (3:00) to meet Chloe and Rose (yay, Rose!) for an afternoon of wandering around town. Meet up with Cyn and Amy for the Decemberists show. Go home and collapse.

Friday: Go to work, read a paper and a half. Wash some fish embryos for Ang. Go to a two-hour TA meeting (the last one!). Go to happy hour with some other TAs. Feel much tipsier than normal for the same amount of alcohol. Come home and collapse. Try to play with the kitten.

Some more details:
The Mountain Goats show was great. It was kind of crowded and hard to see, but John Darnielle is a very good songwriter who enunciates really well. The solo cellist who played first was pretty good. (I much preferred the more melodic of the pieces he played, and I could’ve done without the weird-noise bits.) Shearwater, the second act, was pretty typical for an opening band. Not bad, but I couldn’t tell you what any of the lyrics were (enunciate, people!), and not musically exciting. The banjo was a nice touch, and the ivory-billed woodpecker drawn on it was cool (as was the banter about the ivory-billed woodpecker–not what I’d expect to hear at an indie show), but not enough to make me like them.

We stopped by Loop, the new yarn store at 19th and South, yesterday afternoon. They have a lot of nice stuff, including several lines that Rosie’s and Sophie’s don’t carry (Blue Sky Alpaca, Frog Tree, something that’s like Manos but is softer, lots more Lorna’s Laces). I would totally have bought stuff if not for Maryland Sheep and Wool tomorrow. Oh, and I saw Christy at Loop, which was pleasantly random.

The Decemberists show was also great. It seemed less….emotional? than the Mountain Goats show, but it was much dancier. I was dancing a bit, but Cyn and Amy were obviously having a grand time. (Me, I like contra and English dance because someone’s telling me what to do.) Standing on the balcony was a very good move, since there was actually room to dance.

I have the feeling there was something else I was going to say, but I need to gather up my things for MDSW (thereby disturbing Mel, who’s asleep between my ankles and my computer) and crash.

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