~Microbial Lab doctoral student, Ben, surrounded by copies of his dissertation~
I don't often post images here of members of my lab group, and when I do I generally try to remember to ask them first. Earlier in the week I asked Ben, the Microbial Lab's senior doctoral student, if he would take a photograph of himself with copies of his dissertation before he distributed them to his committee - and he kindly humored me and sent me this image. It was taken in the middle of the night, after a few days with little or no sleep -- after months of writing and analyzing and re-analyzing and editing and reading and re-reading and pulling one's hair out. These are silly requests of mine, photographs such as these - but to me they're wonderful documentation of the real work, the behind the scenes reality of the dedication and perserverance required to see such a thing as a dissertation through to the end. Ben, in the middle of the night, surrounded by three hundred plus pages of blood, sweat and tears. Corny I know - but true.
It's a funny thing, this whole dissertation process. Today Ben said that he almost wished he could start over again, knowing what he knows now - because he would design better experiments - experiments more focused and directed and, well, just better. Ultimately, the process of learning is (hopefully) almost always a humbling process, and reminds one of how much there is yet to learn. The hope is that we can contribute, even a baby's step worth of data, and expand what is known. That is what we try to do.
When I think of Ben and his time in the lab, I'm sure that he will be remembered as the 'hypothesis generator'. It's a gift, truly. Lorenz would definitely approve.
It is a good morning exercise for a research scientist to discard a pet hypothesis every day before breakfast. It keeps him young.
Ben has spent much of his time in the lab studying very small things. Yes, a microorganism is small - but he has been studying nanoparticles and nano-sized bacterial structures, or vesicles, that 'bleb' off of his favorite microorganism, a strain of Burkholderia. Take a look at the image below. Fascinating, isn't it? The larger (oblong) structures are the bacteria - and the narrow 'tubes' (connecting different bacteria) are pili (which facilitate exchange of genetic material between bacteria). The clump of small (very small) spheres are membrane vesicles. They do all sorts of interesting things. Ben has taught us much about the membrane vesicle...and he's shared hypotheses galore.
The microbe is so very small
You cannot make him out at all.
But many sanguine people hope
To see him down a microscope.
His jointed tongue that lies beneath
A hundred curious rows of teeth;
His seven tufted tail with lots
Of lovely pink and purple spots
On each of which a pattern stands,
Composed of forty seperate bands;
His eyebrows of a tender green;
All these have never yet been seen -
But Scientists, who ought to know,
Assure us they must be so ...
Oh! let us never, never doubt
What nobody is sure about!
-- Hilaire Belloc in More Beasts for Worse Children (1897)