And All of a Sudden I Remember Why I Like Science

The training grant (thanks NIH!) that pays my so-called salary and gives me money for computers and things had a little extra money left over this year. So everyone on it gets an extra $350 to spend on some sort of computer equipment or software at the UCSD bookstore. Oh, and it has to be useful for science as well. So no iPods, digital cameras, etc.

So what am I getting? An external hard drive (YAWN)…and a flatbed scanner that can scan 30 35mm film negatives at a time. F’ing sweeeeet. This will definitely help sway me back in the direction of shooting film and subjects other than rock stars. Speaking of which, I’ve got a roll of 36 exposure film sitting at home that needs to be scanned in. It’s ISO 3200 film, but I shot and developed it at ISO 400, so I’m very interested to see the results. Details in shadows vs. graininess and all that.

But what good is it for science, you ask? My lab doesn’t have a scanner, and I frequently have important results that need to be scanned in. Like amplified DNA run on an agarose gel:

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The bright bands are DNA under fluorescent lighting. Running it out on a gel will separate it based on size, because the gel is kind of like a matrix, with a lot of holes. Smaller things move faster and thus further through the holes when an electric current is applied (DNA is negatively charged), while bigger chunks take a longer time and thus move less. The lanes with multiple bright bands are DNA “ladders” – mixtures with DNA of different defined sizes, so when you run your bit of DNA on a gel next to it, you can tell approximately how big your DNA chunk is. Yay science.

Anyway, I can technically scan these images on the flatbed I already have, but it’s old and half-broken (it’s supposed to be a printer too, but hasn’t printed anything in close to 3 years). And sometimes I run proteins on gels, and you detect those with actual film, so it’ll be nice to have the transparency option for scanning, instead of having to take a photo of the film and then scan that in.

Hooray for new toys and science! Now it’s back to work, redoing something that, surprise surprise, didn’t work the first time I tried it. Oh yeah, now I remember what I don’t like about this job.