Tuesday, April 28

Insect love

Normally I would not say I love insects, but one look at his gallery- I am in love with these scary monsters!

Thursday, April 23

Earth day was yesterday folks

If you Earth day is something that was instituted very recently, you are wrong. April 22nd was declared the Earth day in 1970 in the US. It is mostly celebrated as Earth week these days. The International Earth Day is different and is celebrated on March 21st, the equinox day. Whichever day or week it is, I am really proud that Harvard is really big on reduce, reuse, recycle policy and I am proud of myself because I don't throw anything that can be recycled or reused (no, I am serious, not even the tiniest scrap of paper gets thrown in the trash). In fact Harvard does much better than a lot of other universities. So do Boston and Cambridge- these cities are far more advanced in terms of their sustenance policies than most other.
Quick diversion here: I am proud of my parents too because they are big on the three Rs so much so that my dad made a usable mug out of a milk bottle!
For some of us, it might not mean anything at all. But think about it- how hard is it really to recycle folks? Plastic recycling can be harder because there are codes but paper, come on!!! We all can do that much at least for our part.
The other thing I believe everyone can do is to plant SOMETHING, ANYTHING really! I live in an apartment and would love to have a big (or small really, अरे कुछ भी चलेगा भैया) garden But I have decided it is too hard for me to not have green living things as my pets so decided to grow my own apartment garden. Since space is a limitation I am not planting a lot, obviously. But the big question now- will the seeds I sowed, germinate?!
People do so many creative things though- be it Dervaes's homestead in Pasadena, CA or the brainchild of Tom Szaky and Jon Beyer, Terracycle Inc.
To me Earth day or Earth week is just a reminder about how beautiful this place we live in is and it also reminds me that I do not have to hike or trek along the thousands of trails spread across various parks to enjoy the bounty that is nature.


PS I must say in this tech age, I have not encountered a slower site than Terracycle Inc. I hope they read this post and get a better page that loads faster!
Wow yesterday was all gloomy post, today all earthy...seriously this must be mid-life crisis...

Wednesday, April 22


While the world is facing a financial meltdown, I think I am facing an existential meltdown. Well maybe meltdown is a strong word- may be I could call it existential crisis. You know the usual- "நான் ஏன் பிறந்தேன்" (I think that is the correct spelling in Tamil- it means why was I born, used to be our favorite phrase in BITS) type issues. So I am a great believer of a few things, among those are these two "every person is here for a reason- you just have to find out for yourself what yours is" and "everything that happens, happens for a reason".
But I find myself in this whirlpool of incessant thoughts about "what I should be doing?"
I thought science is what I should be doing but something has changed (well me getting really excited about good science and great research minds has not been tarnished yet!) and I don't feel like I belong! But I feel like I don't belong anywhere. I am at a stage in my career now where I have to decide on something and ACT on it. I am failing at the first step, decision-making. Here I am wavering about it all, thought this ended like ten years ago! Its asking the question "what should I become when I grow up?" all over again and that feels strange.
I think I will play along, ponder over such questions and hope that once it is actually time to make the big decisions, everything will miraculously fall into place.

PS Aha..picture is worth a thousand words, so now will you believe me?!! May be this might be what others call "mid-life crisis"?!

Wednesday, April 8

Yeaah..go ahead replace us

Beware we will all be soon replaced by machines or may be perhaps we can sit back and relax while we let robots like Adam do our experiments for us (smell a long vacation here). Adam has been developed by Amanda Clare's group in the UK. He can come up with hypothesis and test them too. How cool is that people?! But he still needs somebody to add more lab consumables and of course clean the waste he generates. May be I should get an Adam- since he can perform all those things that I am doing right now.

Ross D. King, Jem Rowland, Stephen G. Oliver, Michael Young, Wayne Aubrey, Emma Byrne, Maria Liakata, Magdalena Markham, Pinar Pir, Larisa N. Soldatova, Andrew Sparkes, Kenneth E. Whelan, and Amanda Clare (3 April 2009)
Science 324 (5923), 85. [DOI: 10.1126/science.1165620]

Tuesday, April 7

Close proximity

What do you do when you are in close proximity to people like her? She is only 4 years older than I am and she already features in the top 100 living geniuses (see the article here). She is one of the three women who graduated summa cum laude from Harvard Medical School. You can read her profile in
Science 25 April 2008: Vol. 320. no. 5875, pp. 442 - 443, DOI: 10.1126/science.320.5875.442
Her foray into stardom came about when she found a novel way to identify targets for positive selection during the course of evolution. It is a pretty neat technique, although the math part goes over my head.

PS I am mediocre but at least I am not surrounded by it! Here I am, can't even get a PCR to work...

Friday, April 3

Schadenfreude, hope not

Schadenfreude is a German word that describes the pleasure that one derives from others misfortunes. It is very closely related to envy. In this nice paper, the authors show that despite the two emotions being correlated they activate different regions of the brain. While envy activates neural connections related to pain, sch.. activates the reward center of the brain. But can anything be ever so simple.....of course not. The authors show the interplay between social pains and pleasures.

Taken from
Matthew D. Lieberman and Naomi I. Eisenberger (13 February 2009)
Science 323 (5916), 890. [DOI: 10.1126/science.1170008]
Analyses of brain activity reveal a link between social and physical pains and pleasures.

"If maintaining one's social value is a need like other physical needs, then the greater the pain caused by negative social comparisons, the greater the pleasure in response to seeing the comparison target socially devalued (schadenfreude). The authors found that greater envy and dACC activity in response to a negative social comparison was associated with greater schadenfreude and ventral striatum activity when learning of that comparison target's subsequent downfall."

Basically what it means is if you envy someone, you get greater pleasure when misfortune strikes them. In fact Leiberman and Eisenberger think of this as something akin to physical needs such as food when you are hungry! What is even more interesting is the fact that the brain is treating things as important as lack of food and water similar to social pains such as envy. Now why would that be?

If you have access you should read the article (don't worry if you don't understand much of it) and for people who
are not used to neuroscience jargon, you should read the perspectives that is referenced above.

Hidehiko Takahashi, Motoichiro Kato, Masato Matsuura, Dean Mobbs, Tetsuya Suhara, and Yoshiro Okubo (13 February 2009) Science 323 (5916), 937. [DOI: 10.1126/science.1165604]