A stroll through the labs

I’ve only been gone for a few months, but it feels like eons since I donned a pair of gog­gles and got my gloves dirty in a chem lab.

Today I tagged along with a couple of fellow sci­ence com­mu­ni­ca­tions ladies to peek around some of the labs on campus.

First we stopped in to see what physics pro­fessor Paul Cham­pion was up to. Unfor­tu­nately, we missed him but we did say hello to a post-​​doc who showed us the laser equip­ment they use to study pro­tein dynamics. A series of mir­rors and lenses are care­fully arranged to direct a laser beam onto a pro­tein mol­e­cule. The energy from the laser is trans­ferred to the pro­tein and resulting vibra­tional changes in the mol­e­c­ular bonds are detected by another laser beam. Many of Champion’s studies inves­ti­gate heme con­taining pro­teins (think hemo­globin), which have roles in oxygen storage, elec­tron trans­port, sig­naling and catalysis

After this, we went upstairs to chem­istry pro­fessor Mike Pollastri’s lab. As soon as we walked in, a wave of nos­talgia swept over me. The faint smell of organic sol­vents, the hum of roto­vaps hap­pily spin­ning away, the orga­nized chaos of in-​​process exper­i­ments filling ven­ti­la­tion hoods.…I almost got teary eyed just being there!

Pollastri’s mis­sion is a noble one: He and his team sift through thou­sands of FDA approved drugs trying to find ones that can be adapted to treat dis­eases like African Sleeping Sick­ness and cystic fibrosis, which are often over­looked by major phar­ma­ceu­tical companies.

It was fun to drop in unex­pect­edly on these guys. While sci­ence writing is much better suited to my short atten­tion span, hop­ping around from one topic to another, it’s nice to know that some of you are out there plug­ging away at all nitty gritty exper­i­ments needed to answer our planet’s biggest ques­tions and tackle its most impor­tant chal­lenges. Thanks!

Photo by Lori Lennon