Course


WEB-SMALL-Uri-Manor-croppedThe Physiology Files is a series of occasional posts by MBL Physiology course student Uri Manor. Uri is a Ph.D. candidate at Johns Hopkins University and is conducting his thesis research in Bechara Kachar’s lab at the National Institutes of Health. He will be blogging about his Woods Hole experience as time and inspiration allow!

It isn’t often that so much has happened in seven days that I fear I won’t be able to recap even 10 percent of it. I arrived in Woods Hole on June 12th to take the Physiology course, and it’s been action-packed ever since. The best part is that I’m pretty sure the pace only picks up from here on out.

On my first day, I had the honor of talking to MBL director and CEO Gary Borisy at a barbecue at Physiology course co-director Dyche Mullins’s house. It was difficult for me to suppress my excitement and not get distracted from our conversation, as I kept reminding myself that I was talking to one of my personal heroes. That is the magic of Woods Hole—mere students get to surround themselves with the brilliance of the world’s top scientists in a totally casual environment. Gary had a blast giving me a brief overview of the MBL’s history, making sure to impress upon me how lasting and influential so many aspects of the MBL and Woods Hole are today, even though they were set in motion many years ago. For example, the Children’s School of Science is still thriving today, 97 years after it was founded.

The first lecturer for the Physiology course was Carlos Bustamante of UC Berkeley, whose work I won’t even try to summarize at such a late hour (it is 2:15 AM. Don’t hold it against me that this is the only time I’ve managed to scrounge for blogging so far!) Instead, I will quote two things Carlos said that really resonated with me:

  1. “That which is not forbidden is obligatory.” In other words, if it is possible, it is inevitable—a very nice meditation on the inventiveness and boundlessness of nature that keeps us scientists so engaged.
  2. “I never read science fiction, because I can always read about the real world and find something way more creative and interesting than anything someone could possibly come up with on their own.” I think this quote fits quite nicely with quote #1.

The next day’s speaker was Klaus Hahn of UNC School of Medicine, who was amazingly friendly and modest when interacting with the students, and even asked them for advice. After him was Vlad Denic of Harvard Medical School, who was awesome for many reasons, but the best part was that he gave his lecture in street-skater style clothing. The fact that he’s a professor straight out of grad school only makes him awesome-er. The next day I hung out with him, Dyche, Jack Taunton (HHMI/UC San Francisco and Physiology course lecturer), and Jack’s brother, and we all jammed on my git-tar for a bit. As you can see, the boundaries between students and teachers in this course are practically nonexistent.

On Saturday, I had the amazing opportunity to talk to Mike Davidson of Florida State University, who literally taught me nearly everything I know about microscopy via his website, which I’m pretty sure every biology student on the planet who’s learning about microscopy has visited at one point (it gets >100,000 hits per DAY!) Mike offered to send me (and others in the course) probes we might be able to use for our experiments. It was such a wonderful opportunity for me to be able to thank a master educator in person for everything he’s done for me and thousands of other students.

One other great highlight was getting a demonstration of how to dissect muscle from clams and scallops from Andrew Szent-Gyorgyi, a cousin of Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, the Nobel Prize winner who established the Center For Muscle Research at the MBL in the1940s .

The close interaction students get with such brilliant scientists here at the MBL has had an interesting effect on me which I cannot claim to have felt anywhere else. It has given me a perfect balance between confidence and motivation. Usually when one gets more confident, they get proportionally lazy and complacent, but that is impossible here. Learning about the awe-inspiring work of the top scientists in our field (from the horses’ mouths!) generates an excitement that can only be relieved by resolving to become the best scientist one can be. Interacting with these people face-to-face and feeling their support and respect provides the confidence necessary to pursue those ambitions. It is truly a magical balance that I believe we are all very lucky to be part of.

Andrew Szent-Gyorgyi (center) talking to Physiology course student Namita Bisaria and course instructor Bob Fischer. Bob is imitating clams swimming with his hands (imagine a backwards Pac-Man motion) as they discuss the physiology of clam muscles. The course participants are purifying myosins from clams for imaging myosin/actin motility using TIRF microscopy. Credit: Bill Shin

Andrew Szent-Gyorgyi (center) talking to Physiology course student Namita Bisaria and course instructor Bob Fischer. Bob is imitating clams swimming with his hands (imagine a backwards Pac-Man motion) as they discuss the physiology of clam muscles. The course participants are purifying myosins from clams for imaging myosin/actin motility using TIRF microscopy. Credit: Bill Shin

Not only did Microbial Diversity students isolate glowing bacteria from Buzzards Bay, they streaked it inside a petri dish to make this bioluminescent logo. Watch for a new crop of creative students — and the return of our blog, @MBL — in June 2010!

One of the coolest machines in an MBL course this summer—and the courses are famous for having absolutely the best laboratory instrumentation you can get—is a high-pressure freezer, on loan from Leica, in the Physiology course. With an impressive burst of steam, it instantly turns a tissue sample into a flash-frozen slab. Then, the sample can be sliced and observed in an electron microscope, its biological activity freeze-framed at that instant of time.

But what’s really cool is this machine is an offshoot of the “freeze slammer” that MBL Neurobiology course faculty Tom Reese and John Heuser built in the late 1970s. “We pioneered a different kind of freezing, called slam freezing, with the idea of stopping tissue action. We used a copper plate cooled with liquid helium, and we slammed a piece of tissue against it,” says Reese, a researcher at the National Institutes of Health who is now in his 35th year of teaching in the MBL Neurobiology course. Reese and Heuser were able to release synaptic vesicles from frog neurons and capture the event using the slam freezer. “No one had ever observed structure on a millisecond time scale before (this),” Reese says.

“It was a classic experiment,” says Erik Jorgensen of HHMI/University of Utah, a neurobiologist who is “frequently found at the MBL in the summer trying to pull off experiments that cannot be done anywhere else,” he says. Jorgensen has modified the Leica freezer to perform like the freeze slammer, so he can observe instantaneous synaptic events, as Reese and Heuser did. Jorgensen remembers seeing the old Reese-Heuser freeze slammer in the basement of Loeb Laboratory. “These old machines, you had to be an engineer to run them,” Reese remembers. “The new ones are so easy to use, you find it sitting there in the Physiology course for the students to try out!”

MBL visiting investigator Erik Jorgensen demonstrates the high-pressure freezer on loan to the Physiology course this year, which takes a cue from the freeze slammer invented by Neurobiology faculty Tom Reese and

Visiting investigator Erik Jorgensen demonstrates the high-pressure freezer in the Physiology course, which takes a cue from the freeze slammer invented by Neurobiology faculty Tom Reese and John Heuser in the late 1970s. Photo by Tom Kleindinst

The Neurobiology course took its annual boat trip to Devil’s Foot Island on July 8, with “Captain” Joe DiGiorgis of Providence College and “First Mate” Tom Reese of the National Institutes of Health charting the course. This day of relaxation, swimming, music-making, barbeque and games has become a much-appreciated course tradition. Two years ago, before returning to the MBL, the course left its mark on the island: a lovely squid in the sand. Thanks to Neurobiology faculty member JoAnn Buchanan of Stanford University School of Medicine, who took the photos!

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A day in the life of the Physiology course at the MBL. A great video by course director Dyche Mullins.

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