PAPER - John Xu 10/30/07 Option 1 "Fifth floor",...

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John Xu 10/30/07 Option 1 “Fifth floor”, articulates a monotone female voice as the elevator comes to a sudden stop. The steel doors open and a long hallway appears to the right, its walls covered by bulletin boards displaying charts and graphs, sometimes accompanied by the photograph of a smiling researcher. The left side of the hallway is the home of the principle investigators, the top dogs that spend their eight hour workday scouring through scientific papers for any insightful results to share with “their lab” in hopes of inspiring a new experiment. In their offices the P.I.s sit comfortably at their computers browsing through this scientific literature. Occasionally, these kings (and queens) of the scientific kingdom can be seen wandering in the library adjacent to their offices just in time for tea at three in the afternoon everyday. Down towards the right side of the hallway is a large metal door with a small glass window, which can only be opened with the swipe of an employee badge. Behind this giant metallic slab the hallway continues, now lined with refrigerators and freezers housing hundreds of chemicals and samples. Between these colossal humming blocks are doorways leading into the realm of the post-docs, technicians and graduate students, the backbone of the research effort. Here, there are no offices, only seats on the lab bench. Here, the term nine to five doesn’t exist, and a workday can actually mean a work day . Here, I approach a post-doc slowly pipeting a sample of DNA into a microcentrifuge tube containing a PCR “cocktail” of enzymes and buffers. “So what can I help you with today?” I ask him. One of the most important aspects of the working in a lab is the plethora of resources that are available. During my three summers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School I realized that the knowledge I could obtain was invaluable, and the source of this learning came
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not from reading scientific articles and attending meetings, but from the hands on experimentation made possible by the laboratory environment. Here, the issue of the often overlooked importance of tacit knowledge comes into play. For example, while it is true that there were numerous written protocols for preparing gel electrophoresis, the quality of the experiments often lay in the unmentioned subtleties of the preparation. The gel is created by dissolving a powder called agarose in water through heat, then pouring it into a rectangular mold allowing it to cool, creating the gel-like consistency. While it is cooling, a comb is placed in the liquid agarose, and then removed when the agarose becomes solid, creating wells in the gel in which DNA samples can be loaded. During one highly sensitive experiment, I decided to use a comb with fewer teeth due to the small number of samples I needed to load. However, I did not realize that the comb with fewer teeth also had larger teeth, which translated into much larger wells in the gel. When I loaded my DNA samples, I noticed that they spread out and thinly
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PAPER - John Xu 10/30/07 Option 1 "Fifth floor",...

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