On most mornings, I’m lulled into a new day at lab by the hum of a Krueger machine spouting out warm, ripe coffee. As decisions run through my head and I reach for the hazelnut creamer cups, a flurry of brief philosophical conversations with my mentor flutters into my head: Does free will really exist? Are decisions really ours to make? Maybe in what I thought was a free will decision in choosing to put creamer in my coffee was merely the manifestation of an innate evolutionary urge for creamy food, a predetermined course of action I am just biologically hard-wired to. Like this, I feel like I am learning more than just techniques but different modes of thought everyday in the lab.
However, before any intellectual discourse with my mentor, I must tend to start any experiments that run on a rather rigid schedule. To set up the experiments for the day, I gear up with a full outfit of personal protective equipment and head into the animal room to retrieve mice. I then transfer them to a private suite, where I randomly place mice of all cages into separate enclosures on top of a perforated stand. For an hour or so, they are left to roam freely in their enclosures as they habituate to new scents and sights of the room. When it is my turn to test the sensitivity of these mice, I frantically evade their droppings and track their most subtle movements as they scurry around in their enclosure. Towards the end of the day, I will usually analyze and display the data I’ve collected on an Excel spreadsheet and run multiple statistical tests. Science is about robust data and multiple lines of evidence. And so, on select days I would complete immunohistochemistry to visually verify the behavior of certain cells of interest. To do so, the first step is to section different tissue using a cryostat, almost like a deli slicer. In the next step, I would stain for different types of cells by marking different cells with colorful tags using antibodies. When it comes time for these tissue to be imaged, I would get to operate a powerful imaging scope to take multi-layered photos of the samples.
It is in between these experiments when my mentor would test my understanding of the fundamental science and then proceed to thoroughly explain the purpose and thought process behind each experiment. Currently, I am working on an experiment that involves siRNA, which knocks down IFN receptors in mice temporarily to eliminate any developmental issues as confounding factors that could accompany knockout models of mice. To help aid my understanding, my mentor doodles precisely illustrative diagrams to accompany each explanation. It is also during this time when I get to ask any questions on my mind or discuss any philosophical inquiries that somehow relate to our project. Day after day, lab feels like an intellectual playground, and I am grateful for the freedom my mentor allows for me to wonder. From the elaborate and clarifying explanations my mentor consistently provides, I am more than ever opened up to the intricate beauty and cleverness of scientific research.