About Bernadette

I'm currently a high school senior at St. Lucy's. I love blogging, science, and analytical writing. These posts are meant to convey the exploration of science through the eyes of a student in which each experience - whether through hands-on experience, reading, research, or conversation - is new, refreshing, and hopefully enlightening to your mind. Some aspects you might find interesting: 1) I hope to expose areas of science that are not intensely studied within the high school context into the lives of students of my age. From research opportunities to high school science fairs to how to advance one's interest in a certain field, I hope to be a liaison between the professionals of the scientific community and the next generation. 2) I am religious, not freaky super super religious, but to an extent where my faith is of great importance to me. The relationship between science and my religion (Catholicism) has always been of great interest to me, a topic I like to discuss frequently. 3) I am also interested in scientific and health policy. "Science and politics?" you may be thinking. "This girl is crazy!" True, but as I am still in high school, I have developed a great interest in many things. 4) I love scientific research. Ever since my summer internship at the UCLA Department of Radiation Oncology, my ability to read and actually understand scientific academia prose has ignited a love for research and all it entaiils (yes, even bad data is better than no data!) My experiences in science include earning top grades in Biology and Chemistry Honors Placement. This upcoming year, I will be studying AP Biology and Physics. I would love to have taken more classes, but our science program at my high school is limited. I am currently a biomedical research intern at the UCLA Department of Radiation Oncology. I was also recently selected to do research through the Southern California Junior Academy of the Sciences. For my achievements in science, I have been awarded the Cordova Family Science scholarship from my school, awarding the student with top honors in such classes and the potential to have a career within science.

The Uselessness of Ideas

Hello, hello. I have made a return to ScienceBlog. In honor of being born in the social media and “immediate-attention” generation, I will share a blog that I most recently wrote on my Tumblr. Not very science-y, but maybe it will spark some minds.

“Okay, I admit it. I’m a realist. A genuine one, too. I think I know the fine lines between quixoticism, idealism, realism, pessimism, and there’s-no-way-in-heck-that’s-gonna-happenism. Lately, however, I’ve noticed that I’ve been quite condescending to those that borderline quixoticism and idealism – people who are impulsive, people who don’t follow through, people who act on “spurts” and in the end finish nothing they hope to accomplish, people who say “AHA! I HAVE THE BEST IDEA EVER!” and just wallow in the idea’s “greatness” but don’t do anything about it.

It is these types of people that worry me the most.

And frankly, if I truly think about it, if I can truly classify each person on the planet, many people would follow under the aforementioned categories. There are too many people who so easily give up hope, and there are too many people who don’t practice what they preach – whether it be due to a lack of initiative, shyness, apathy, or any other obstacle. Take KONY, for example. With all my heart, I hope and pray that the inspiration that is occurring through this global social media epidemic right now will continue. It is beautiful. But will it last? KONY has its share of haters (who are uninformed hypocrites… but we’ll save that rant for another day) and undoubtedly its wealth of supporters, but I hope that the fuse of inspiration will continue to last. Keep going KONY.

There are people who have great ideas – who want to go big, who have large-scale fundraising plans, who want to really change the world. People have great ideas. But really, that’s all people have sometimes – they only have an idea. An idea is useless without the courage to act upon it. And it’s so frustrating to see how people have so many “ideas”…. and leave them simply as “ideas.”

Maybe that’s why I’m so condescending. Maybe that’s why I’m such a damn realist. Maybe it’s because I know, through a realist perspective, that nearly 99% of the great ideas in this world vanish into darkness and go unnoticed. Or maybe, I should become more of an idealist and have more faith in humanity.

But c’mon… let’s be real.”

Got $149? Perform PCR in your own garage.

As you have seen from my past posts, I’m in a huge dilemma. I’m an opinionated and stubborn student (and teenager for that matter). Science is an esoteric field; To say I’m of the “lost generation” is a bit exaggerative of me (I have seen and heard of too many geniuses of my age!), but it is apparent that I wish experiences with applied science were available beyond the words of my AP Biology textbook. It’s something I feel quite strongly about; after all, it comes to a point when pictures of the organelles of eukaryotes and prokaryotes start making your eyes droopy.

However, now it seems that the science god may have answered my prayers. Deviating from the ordinary lecture from my AP Biology teacher, Mr. Kays told us he was buying his own centrifuge. I was startled. Centrifuge? Those contraptions were thousands of dollars, probably worth years of what a high school

The infamous Personal PCR. $149. Visit cofactorbio.com for more info.

teacher earns nowadays (which is sad, isn’t it? Teachers undoubtedly deserve more recognition in their craft). He couldn’t afford such high technology. So how was Kays getting his own centrifuge?

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the website where Kays ordered his DIY centrifuge. But, I came across another startling discovery when he told us about cofactorbio.com. Turns out, a DIY movement is underway amongst other science enthusiasts like myself who believe the academia of science is a bit “pretentious”. In the perspective of an ordinary undergraduate biology major of an overcrowded public university, one would not be able to perform individualized research until probably the junior/senior years of college (reasonable estimate). But why wait that long when you could say…

… perform a personal PCR on yourself for $149?
… or sequence your DNA to find out if you have the gene indicating a “slow/twitch muscle” for less than $100?

Yep, it’s possible. Kays told us about cofactorbio.com. The everyday lab routine PCR and amplification of DNA is available all in the environment of your household. And it’s seemingly affordable too. It may not be “pretty”. It may not be sleek and classy-looking, but it does the job. (Or so Mr. Kays says it does).

Though I may not have much evidence to the credibility and effectiveness of DIY science machinery, it’s an astounding reality that science maybe isn’t becoming as technical as I expected and was so sure about. There are enthusiasts, hardcore enthusiasts out there who have realized science’s high level of “worthiness” and “seniority”, and have made it a mission to bring the experience of professionals to the hands of people who simply (and genuinely) love science. As I have said before, sometimes words and concepts aren’t enough. Sometimes mathematical equations, data, and scientific abstracts fail to satisfy one’s implacable yearning for concreteness rather than concept.

Sometimes you’ve just got to experience science firsthand. And with such DIY equipment, why I wouldn’t be surprised if you begin finding momentous discoveries in your own garage.

For more information on DIY science, I read this awesome article on the PLoS Blogs Network, http://blogs.plos.org/wonderland/2011/09/08/neuroscience-for-everyone/. Hooray for further enlightenment!

A message from a scientist of the next generation.

Science. If there was one word to describe science, it would be convoluted. Science is indeed a world full of infinite possibilities – where international theories accepted for hundreds of years get overturned by a few years of scientific research; where there will still be adherents to centuries-old, outdated theories in a technologically advanced world; where despite the perceived simplicity of life on earth, there exists forces beyond that of the atomic and molecular level. Science has become of such academic par nowadays that I believe it has isolated some of its future generations, only welcoming the most intelligent of the current population and encouraging the rest of its “wannabe science lovers” to pick up a Scientific American at the local drugstore and settle for work at the local McDonalds for the next 20 years or so. No, I’m kidding.

But as a student contemplating in a career in the sciences, I will bluntly say this: I’m not exposed to the science that I should be. Though this might be to the limited nature of the science curriculum at my school which is highly concentrative on the social sciences (which has allowed me to develop a great love for essay writing and government), I had to endeavor on my own to develop my science experience beyond the classroom. And a lot of the science experience that I am currently involved in right now is a result of pure serendipity, luck that I happened to type in the right words into the Google search box, lucky that after insipidly xeroxing papers as a “medical volunteer”, (as a side note: Are there any hospital student volunteers out there that actually do cool and interesting work? Because the most interesting thing that I did was transfer calls from nurses to their respective doctors, and on a scale from 1-10 on the cool scale, I would rate that as a 2.47.) I was able to talk to Dr. Iwamoto and perform research in his lab this summer.

The fact is that science has become too exclusive rather than inclusive. Living in the suburbs of Southern California where I am within a decent distance to all types of environments – city, mountain, and desert, I have seen it with my own eyes. If one doesn’t go to a “magnet” high school or a specialized STEM-promoting high school, the exposure of science is limited beyond one’s classroom. Moreover, it is the people who go to these schools that are only offered or exposed to such opportunities as internships, fellows, and camps that expose one to the different fields of science.

I remember when I went to an annual meeting presentation for a science association in which student researchers presented their annual projects with a Powerpoint slideshow to a select audience. I was interested in during research through the program and I attended the meeting to see what I would be getting into. I read the students’ abstracts in an accompanying book with all the projects in it. Here, I’ll grab it and type the first abstract title I see.

“Expression of multipotency markers in adult adipocyte-derived stem cells as a function of time”.

Here are the few thoughts that ran through my head when first reading this:
1) The only words I understood in that whole phrase was “stem cells and function of time”.
2) What?

The academic jargon of science is indeed a toughie. So tough that I didn’t know what this girl’s abstract even SAID. But mysteriously, after a summer at the lab, I reread it.. and I deciphered the mysterious message of what was once an undecodable abstract. But the ordinary science-loving student who took even AP Biology and passed with a 5 wouldn’t even know what this abstract said for the life of him or her. The esoteric language of science is so exclusive that to even learn a bit of what a scientific article one says, one must go through years and years of learning and in-depth training. And too often is this training started at an older age than appropriate, often at a collegiate level.

I propose a change to what is accepted in society. Yes, we want the brightest students to contribute to our continually changing field of science, but we also want the eager students – the students who don’t have as strong of a background, but are willing – with their every dedication, availability, and science-loving mind – to take all of the science they can in. There are students out there who love the concepts, love the words in their textbooks, and can visualize each theory with detailed pictures in their mind. But, that’s not what science is. Science isn’t about rote memorization of what has already been done. Science isn’t about knowing the strides someone else has done for the field and simply being in awe of it through the distant words of a textbook.

Rather, science is about innovation, the discovery of seeing the same ol world through a new pair of lenses. Has one realized that? That all the findings we are exposed to are simply new ways of looking at the world that has been constantly evolving, yet providing living things a habitat for billions of years.

So I beseech the current scientists of this generation – the wise devotees and proteges of Darwin, Lyell, and Curie – nurture and educate the younger generation, those who are eager to be just like you. Your legacy of knowledge can only be sustained if passed down, if shared to others who will take your place. Make your enthusiasm and love for the craft contagious and start young. Undergraduates are already at too mature of a level to only be beginning to find out the real world of science beyond the dissection of a frog. Yet, every start is the beginning of a journey itself. Take us as your own and allow students to become your proteges, to become the legacies of yourselves.

Speaking for those who want to have a career in the sciences as their future occupation, we truly do want to learn, and though we are comprised of different intelligence levels, backgrounds, and environments, we all have a mission to instill value in a world that seems to need inspiration and goodwill at every constant moment it can get. We will apply your knowledge and accumulate our own as well for the betterment of this world.

Serendipity: The other scientist in your laboratory

Interning at the UCLA Department of Radiation Oncology has given me a firsthand experience with the laboratory environment. When I arrived on my first day, I was completely clueless to the workings of a lab. Sterility? Oh yeah, I wash my hands. Flasks and centrifuges? I’ve seen pictures of them in my science textbooks. Yet little did I know how particular the lab environment was and how careless I was in being part of its workings. I opened sterile glass tubes outside the hood; I added .4 too much (which is a lot considering its minuteness) of a microliter of Ultravist to medulloblastoma cells (which could have a very likely explained for the ridiculous bell curves after using the FACS, flourescence-activated cell sorter, machine); I jumped out of fright due to the ominous noise of the 20 year old centrifuge and opened the lid too early only to discover its vortex was still spinning rapidly. Let me just tell you. Being in the lab was definitely a new experience.

But, I wasn’t the only one who was a bit “negligent” in my work. I also work alongside a graduate student researcher at UCLA named Robin. She is currently on her way to gaining a Ph.D. in biomedical physics and works in the lab as part of a 5-year lab commitment. While I am testing the sensitivity of medulloblastoma cells and possible ways to increase the effectiveness of radiotherapy while radiating the cerebrospinal fluid, Robin is working on a Seimans-funded research project regarding CT scans and cells’ sensitivity to radiation emitted from these scans. Our building didn’t have a CT scanner, so Robin, with her 12 microtubes of cells, had to walk across the street (took about 5 minutes) to the Ronald Reagan Medical Center at the Radiation Oncology sector, and use their CT scanner to perform her experiments. So, now that I’ve described my lovely friend Robin, any guesses on what went… well, wrong?

Well, essentially, nothing went wrong. But, it was her “negligence” that caused her to discover a new facet to cell sensitivity to CT-emitted radiation. When Robin walked across the street with her 12 microtubes of cells, she had forgotten one thing: sunblock for the poor little cells, or any type of shield that would protect the cells from exposure – a bucket, tin-foil wrap, anything. The next day after my professor and Robin realized her perfunctory habit of simply holding her microtubes in her two palms unshielded when she went for her daily walk across the street, they arranged a little side-step to the experiment. What if we completely shielded certain microtubes of cells from the sun but also gave complete exposure to the sun and its kink-inducing UV rays to other microtubes of cells while Robin crossed the street? (Of course, there were controls to each of these tests for effective comparison.) Would cells that had exposure to UV rays have a greater sensitivity to the CT scan than those who were not exposed? Would there be a substantial difference in results?

Turns out, there was a difference. Quite notable actually.
There was a slight increase in sensitivity and double-strand breaks in cells that were completely exposed to the sun for the short walk across the street after examination and comparison of exposed cells vs. shielded cells with the flourescence-activated cell sorter (FACS) machine. Robin is now currently combining UV Rays into her experiment.

The reaction to the results?
Quoting my professor, Dr. Kei Iwamoto, “It’s all about dang serendipity.”

(Now, this isn’t to say that negligence is equivalent to the onset of serendipity nor is it suggestive that serendipity will just be springing all over the place in your laboratory. For fellow scientists, the lab environment is anything but serendipity it seems at times. But, hey, unexpected occurrences can be fate sometimes.)

And it’s true. Serendipity has played a key role in science in regards to some of the most amazing discoveries. There is Albert Hofmann who discovered the psychadelic effects of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) by accidentally consuming it. Consuming it. Serendipity of its discovery, yet also serendipity that poor Hofmann only suffered well temporary repercussions.

Penicillin (credits: Reader's Digest)

And of course, the also negligent, forgetful Alexander Fleming leaves a petri dish of staphylococcus bacteria exposed to air, causing mold to form around the bacteria. Ah luck strikes again! Turns out that the notorious old mold is indeed the modern day Penicillin. Mold became a watershed antibiotic that is now imperative in today’s society. In a way we teenagers like to rhyme things: the mold was gold. If such accident didn’t occur, would such discoveries have been discovered? Most likely in eventual time, but not in the context that it would support this first blog of mine.

So from my friend Robin to long-gone Alexander Fleming, Serendipity has been existent in laboratories everywhere. Faceless and stealthy, good ol’ Serendipity’s sneakiness has spurred the discoveries of the otherwise undiscoverable at the time. Serendipity has played a key role in the history of science and there is no sign of its contribution ceasing in the future. Geez, scientists ought to give it some credit in scientific papers once in a while, don’t you think?

And as for my friend Robin and her reaction to the results?
“Maybe I can FINALLY contribute to the scientific community!!!”
Oh Ph.D. students.

Ah, well, what can you say?
Robin couldn’t have done it without the workings of sneaky old scientist, Serendipity.