Feb. 4th, 2012

terriko: I am a serious academic (Twlight Sparkle looking confused) (Serious Academic)
When I was an undergraduate, I found that university really wasn't living up to my expectations of stimulating, interesting people and ideas.

But today, I was totally living the academic dream.

We had a visit from a leading expert on ant behaviour. This wasn't about computer ant algorithms; she studies real live ants. We started off the day with her talk on the Turtle Ants she's been studying in Mexico, a talk filled with pictures of ants and paths and grad students on ladders pointing at the trees. A talk filled with speculation about behaviour and patterns and analogies to search in computer networks and bifurcation of biological trees. Over the course of the day, the group talked ants, bees, simulations on the computer and using robots, immunology, flu and t-cells in the lung, patterns and theories. It was the kind of conjunction of ideas from multiple disciplines where things were just clicking and questions and potential experiments started getting debated.

Biochemistry from my scientist parents, ecology and field work from Macoun Club, immunology from the above plus my own master's research, algorithms from math and CS... I was pretty proud of myself for knowing the jargon pretty much across the board and being able to keep up. I love that I'm with a group where seemingly disjoint backgrounds are consistently recognized as a huge advantage, and my own particular background fits right in.

I learned a bunch about ants and flu today. My notebook is filled with doodles of ants and cells doing stuff. Apparently turtle ants, since they have paths in the trees, sometimes get the paths broken when the wind blows, and the ants just back up and wait for the wind to blow the branches back so they can keep going. I learned that swine flu's replication rates in cells are a hundred times higher than avian flu (and ~20 times more than regular flu) but avian flu does other things to suppress immune response. I learned some about how T-cells get into the lungs and find infection despite the fact that they don't seem to move fast enough to explain how well we handle infection. And I got to watch people putting ideas together in ways that might result in using experiments in ants to try to explain things that would be much harder to test in the lungs, and so many ideas that probably just couldn't happen anywhere else.

So if you've been wondering why the heck I moved here despite the many downsides about the US/desert/altitude/regional poverty/city, etc.... this is why: Cutting edge research at the conjunction of biology, computing, and maybe a few fields besides. Even if I decide to do something else once my contract is played out, this has already been amazingly worthwhile, and with my own project starting to take shape, I'm pretty sure it's just going to get better!


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