Category Archives: Culture

How to win a Nobel Prize. And how I am following the rules.

I started this blog with the aim to share my first steps in Science, and I have always mentioned that these pages are written by an early-stage, not-so-important, bioinformatics-hybrid PhD student. Thus, I have never claimed a particular expertise, or to be important enough to be an influencer in theoretical biology.

Of course, reading this post will take you to the conclusion that I have swelled quite hard, as I start to share suggestions on how to win a Nobel prize. Actually, I have no clue on how to increase your probabilities to win the most important academic prize, but someone at PLoS has some ideas to discuss on how to make your way to Stockholm.

Written by Richard J. Roberts New from England Biolabs, Ipswich, Massachusetts, this further “ten simple rules article” on PLoS Computational Biology is about how to grab the legendary golden medal of science. And as you can find the article here for a better insight, I will limit to analyse any rule by discussing it and reporting how I am attending them.

1. Never Start Your Career by Aiming for a Nobel Prize

Well, this is fairly easy. Having been raised with Roman Catholic education, I was taught to enjoy the simplicity of life, because the poor in spirit will reach the Kingdom of Heaven. Despite my current atheist belief, I am still very devoted to enjoy the simple things in life, and in Science. So, I don’t need to think to the final prize to enjoy the walk to win it, and as I appreciate the walk, the final destination is not that important.

2. Hope That Your Experiments Fail Occasionally

Whoha, this is way too easy. Beginners level. If my probabilities to get a Nobel prize are proportional to my capability to fuck my work up, I will most likely be awarded in a couple of years. More seriously, the author points out that a bad result could be more informative than a good one, because a bad result may be the way in which nature warns us that we need to change something in our experimental design. It’s all about being open-minded as you critically analyse your data, and to be up for radical changes in the way you approach your work.

3. Collaborate with Other Scientists, but Never with More Than Two Other People

As i proceed with my PhD experience, I understand that my natural misanthropy comes out really useful in many occasions. Many work productivity gurus make their best to stress out that communication and collaboration are essential to succeed in any work ambit. And they are very right, actually. Anyways, the openness in collaboration has to be balanced with some reasonability, in order to build fruitful and feasible collaborations. I will work on opening my “clam character”, but a bit of selection is not to disregard.

4. To Increase Your Odds of Winning, Be Sure to Pick Your Family Carefully

The level of insanity my private life is taking makes this the most difficult point to me. I am not really keen to bore the readers with personal details on this blog, but let’s say that I cannot really figure out who will be the person with which I will build a family. Nice point, anyways. A career in science is a life-long activity, and being surrounded by people supporting your interests is very important.

5. Work in the Laboratory of a Previous Nobel Prize Winner

Well, this turns out quite hard for me to do, and I don’t really agree with this point anyways. Of course, working in a high-level centre, along with genial people, will increase your probability to do good science. But the most important thing is to find a place where you can fruitfully produce results and get linked with your colleagues. Especially at a pre-doc level. I will eventually try to find some Nobel prize to work with in my post-doc, but I must confess that this is not really my point (as it is not my point to win a Nobel, actually).

6. Even Better Than Rule 5, Try to Work in the Laboratory of a Future Nobel Prize Winner

I have a lot of trust in Josep’s work actually, let’s wait and see :).

7. Always Design and Execute Your Best Experiments at a Time When Your Luck Is Running High

I dare to argue out that this is quite misleading. Of course, any discover of particular interest involves a lot of luck. But luck is not really the point. An analysis can take you to different conclusions, and the rest it’s all about your ability to get the most important ones and focus on them. In other words, luck is important, but you have to be able to see it and take advantage of it.

I believe that research activity depends on a good state of mind. As we are persons, all the sides of our life are interconnected, and a good balance will allow us to get better results even in research activity. This is the case in which “your luck is running high”, that basically means that you reached a life balance and a mood that increase your productivity.

8. Never Plan Your Life around Winning a Nobel Prize

The really surprising thing is that the author substantiate this point by mentioning a lot of examples of people who actually do such an insane thing.

9. Always Be Nice to Swedish Scientists

I lived for a couple of months in Finland and I have understood one thing about people coming from Scandinavia. Those populations have established in a very cold place, and built their communities fighting the worst environmental conditions. As environment is that harsh, you can just fight it with solidarity and collaboration between humans. Despite the place where they have born is dramatically cold, those guys up there are all but cold themselves. They are kind, welcoming and surprisingly warm. The author claims that they are good drinking mates. Well, more or less. They are great drinkers, and you have to be a good drinker too, or you will most likely end up on the ground in a state of unconsciousness.

10. Study Biology

We are gonna like this, isn’t it? There is no Nobel prize for Biology, but biologists are the ones that win the most of the prizes, as they can contribute to both Medicine and Chemistry. On my side, it seems that I did the right choice.

As usual, I have to mention that all my opinions reflect my poor experience in research, and I hope to discuss them with someone that is up to provide me useful criticism. Anyways, even if I am not really caring about my chances to take the jackpot, I think that many of these suggestions are useful to improve your science, and I really appreciated this reading.

30 years of Art meeting Science. A lecture by William Latham.

Leopard jacket, a plastic red shirt. A kitsch style that only Brits can wear with unquestionable style. William Latham gains the attention at the first sight. Born in 1961, he pioneered the field of computer art, and got known for his organic artworks based on the processes of evolution. After having founded the Computer Artworks Ltd, game studio that produced the horror videogame “THE THING“, he joined the Goldsmith University of London for a Computer Art professorship. Being involved in a research project where he applies his evolutionary rule-based approach to the domain of protein folding, there is definetly no one better than him to explain the encounter of art and science in the last 30 years.

If you have an hour and half free, you can consider chilling with this amazing lecture, where prof.Latham will go explain the merge of art and science in several fields, such as architecture, dance, rave culture, genetics, creative development in video game and neurosciences.

Hey scientists, chill down and "watch" some music.

Find awesomeness and let it trill you. Art, music and any good fuel for your brain is very needed in Science, because we constantly need to bring our mind higher, and very often far away from pur books, papers, pwerpoints, experiments and scripts. Otherwise, terrible things may happen. So, if you are bored, tired, pissed with your boss, or just fed up with this fucking Horizon2020 application round, you may consider unfasting your belt, put headphones on and chill down with classical music. The Musanim project is aimed to develop a visualization system for music. Any sound channel, any instrument, is visualized as an unique stream of images. The composition is an amazing flow of images and graphs that will let you actually see the music you listen.

Here, I post one of my favorite movements, the Pachelbel’s Canon in D- second movement, but the official Musanim youtube channel will display tens of notable classical tracks.

Chill out, funding will come 🙂

#ERN14, the "Italian Breaking Bad" screened at Sapienza University of #Rome.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the European Researchers Night 2014. I am hanging at the Department of Chemistry of Sapienza University, getting ready to take pics to share with you on twitter and to report the roman side of this European event. In the meanwhile, I really want to share with you this amazing italian movie you may not know and that will be screened at the Department of Literature in less than one hour.

“Smetto quando voglio” (I quit as I want to), in theatres from early 2014 and directed by Sidney Sibilia, is a fresh and brainy black comedy that depicts with relentless irony the dramatic situation that italian researchers are living nowadays. Pietro, the main character, is a 37 years old researcher at the Sapienza University of Rome. Although he developed a very advanced drug design algorithm, his supervisor doesn’t understand the importance of his work and decides to fire Pietro. Overwhelmed and unable to confess his awkward situation to his partner Giulia, Pietro decides to use this algorithm to design a new smart drug. In a few time, Pietro walks the same path his inspiring character, Breaking Bad’s Walter White did, ending up involved in mafia business. Openly inspired to Breaking Bad, the movie never loses his comic vein, and it is a cruelly realistic, but still very funny portrait of the life for scientists in Italy.

I didn’t checked this actually, but you could find a subtitled version around. For more details, you can have a look here.

I just want to remember that, in 2013, Italian government decided to cut off the two main funds for research. The fund for applied research project (PRIN) was cut of the 40%, while the fund for base research projects suffered from a disconcerting cutoff of the 70%. Luckily, this seems to not have harmed our irony.

I really wish you a good European Researchers Night 2014. Enjoy this night as a celebration of the passion you put in your work every day. To us, it will be nth time to regret about our wasted potential.

Was America discovered by the Romans? DNA sequencing provides evidence to substantiate this hypothesis.

Since my childhood, I was taught that the first european to set foot on the American continent was Cristoforo Colombo. Or better, the Vikings, but Italian education system never gave too much importance to those northern horned freaks. Then, when I moved to Barcelona, people argued me that Cristoforo Colombo’s name was actually Cristobal Colon, and he was Catalan. I must fairly admit that this theory makes a lot of sense, since one of the very first islands he discovered took the name of a mountain just a shot away from Barcelona, the Monserrat. Anyways, national prides and few historical proofs make the history of America’s discover quite cryptic.

Recently, another fact has come to light, and this story got more complicated and much more amazing. The italian science writer Elio Cadelo reported somenthing really striking on the italian newspaper La Stampa.

In a roman Shipwreck, dating back to Repubblican Age and found off the coast of Tuscany, the remains of a Roman doctor have been found in a very good condition. Archaeologists have unearthed phials, bandages, surgical instruments and closed boxes containing tablets very well-preserved. A DNA genomic analysis revealed that the tablets were made with Ibycus and Sunflower seeds. This is the point. Ibycus only grows in Southeastern Africa and India, and Sunflower is an american plant. Official history says that the very first one to describe a Sunflower to the Europeans was the Spanish conqueror Pizarro, who mentioned how Incas used to worship it as a sun- related divinity.

How did Romans got Sunflower seeds? We can make two hypothesis. On one side, one could argue that sunflower could have existed on this part of the Ocean at the age, and then be extinguished. On the other side, we can say that Romans actually discovered America and started to exploit his resources, or maybe started to commerce with indigenous populations. Both quite weak, honestly. We don’t have any proof indicating that Helianthus annuus, the Sunflower, existed outside America, and think that it existed and then extinguished it makes even less sense, given the economical importance of this flower, which surely would have attracted the interest of European farmers. But we also have to wonder why Romans, proud and fierce conquerors, and great historians, never tried to conquer the american territories and never reported in historical chronicles.

Anyways, that sunflowers tablets are talking for themselves. Furthermore, in his book (unfortunately in italian only), Elio Cadelo supports his fascinating theory with more evidences. A small roman literature talks about “brand new lands in the west”, and there are artifacts proving that an exchange between the two coasts of the Ocean really occurred.

So, was America discovered by the Romans? Well, I have to be honest. As I told before, everyone tries to claim this discover for his own country. I think I am just doing this, but this fact is fascinating enough to be reported. Where’s biology? Come on, they used DNA sequencing and I guess that Barcoding PCR is involved.

A couple of links to understand the Biology of Zombies. Happy Halloween guys!

I must confess that I am wasting a good part of my precious time to graduate on an illegal streaming website where I do feast of Walking Dead episodes. As a biologist, I cannot help to be fascinated by the prespective of a parasite able to kill its host and restore the basal life function in order to spread itself. To be honest, we are not really info fiction, since the life- cicle of Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, a parasite mushroom that infects ants’ brain causing them to respond to the mushroom’s will, it is a well- known fact. But the very human and very very orrific version of this, it is (luckily) a sublime fiction product.

The question I always happen to ask myself, while watching The Walking Dead, is what kind of host functions the parasite should restore in orther to make a dead body live again?

I cannot respond since I am a terrible neuroscientist, but I have found a couple of guys out there who did.

On this first article, Dr. Steven C. Schlozman, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, gives a very consistant overview of the possible mechanisms underlying a Zombie’s neurophysiology.

On Forbes, Alex Knapp cites the reflections of Bradley Voytek, that gives another interesting point of view on this issue.

But, if you want to be quick, you can still read this really pertinent fact- list on Zombies from an expert like Max Brooks.

Happy Halloween to everyone!

Painting Darwin. Evolutionary street art in the Isle of Wight.

Just a small post to share this video. Sometimes human arts meet science and, when they do, the carachters that traced the shape of modern science become popular icons. And when street art is involved, these icons will be on the walls. And walls can talk more than one could expect. In this video we see the street artist Tony Trowbridge painting a Charles Darwin’s portrait on a wall in the Isle of Wight. The artist used an airbrush- stencil technique and realized a colorful, darwinful and amazing wall in the legendary island of Great Britain.

Meet artist’s work

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