Posted by: unlikelygrad | January 14, 2011

one man’s trash…

I’m sure you’ve all heard the saying that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. This is usually applied to physical belongings, but lately I’ve started to see that it applies to science as well–a field of study that some scientists find totally useless or, at the very least, uninteresting is the bread and butter of other scientists’ work.

I figured this out early in my time here at MyU. Prior to coming here, I’d done research for SL, a theoretical biochemist who worked on modeling the thermodynamics of protein active sites. When I first started working for him he explained to me that my project would involve simulations of a particular enzyme and asked me to look up papers by A and B, two scientists who seemed to be co-authors on 30% of the papers for that enzyme. I spent a week doing this and reported to him:

“What I find really cool is how the neurotransmitter squeezes into the active site, because it really shouldn’t fit–”

“That’s kinetics, we don’t care about that.”

“It’s a really fast reaction–”

“Kinetics!”

And so on, and so on. Every point I brought up was “kinetics” to him. I didn’t see what was wrong with that. Finally he walked to the bookshelf, hauled down his (3″-thick) dissertation, and slammed it on my desk. “I spent 7 years of my life on this baby,” he said, flipping it open. “See? It’s all kinetics. By the time I was done with this, I realized that kinetics were useless. In the end, all that matters is delta G–will the reaction go or not? That’s all we’re going to worry about.”

After I arrived at MyU I spent many hours talking with Dr. Hand-Waver, who was (at the time) my temporary advisor. When she heard I’d worked for a thermodynamicist doing modeling, her face lit up. “Ooooh, great!” she exclaimed. “I’ve been looking for someone to do kinetics modeling!”

It was all I could do not to do a facepalm right then and there.

And so my life now is kinetics, kinetics, kinetics. I analyze production and decay rates. I’m still curious to know about the delta G of the system (and I’d love to look at enzyme structures, since most of the decay is enzymatic), but these things don’t really matter to Dr. HW; she just wants to know how much is being produced and how much is being broken down.

Needless to say, I find this rather ironic.

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