Posted in sqt

{sqt} – honoring God as a lab tech in academia

My church emphasizes the idea that “all of life is all for Jesus” – by which they mean that, as the Apostle Paul wrote, whatever we do can and should be done in and for God, no matter how mundane or humble or uncomfortable the task might be on its own merits. Every profession has purpose or nobility when done to serve other people, for the good of the community of humankind, and we can be encouraged to work with excellence when we see that purpose in our own life. So I’ve been thinking about my paid work as a molecular biology and bioinformatics research specialist, and how that job (and I through it) can bring glory to God.


  1. What I Do: For the last 9.5 years I’ve worked as a technician in a genetic sequencing core facility in academia – meaning, we handle DNA and RNA samples from researchers and get them the sequence data that they need to determine the results of their experiments. We don’t come up with our own experiments, or have our own research; instead, we support the research of a lot of other labs at the university, around the state, and even around the world. The specifics of the job are pretty technical, and there’s a wide variety of sequencing applications we provide, but that’s the gist of it.
  2. Learning About Creation: Some of the research we support is what is often called basic science: people who love the natural world delving deeper into its complexities, for the sheer joy of accumulating knowledge. Because all of God’s creation reflects His image and gives Him praise, learning more about that creation can help us see that image and attune our ears to that praise. How intricate and involved every aspect of life is, down to the unknown archaea in acid lakes or the countless insect species hidden in the rainforest! How varied and multicolored is the fabric of life, all woven for the beauty and wonder of itself and its Creator, in patterns we are only beginning to understand! How unfathomable must be the scientific mind and artistic eye that made all this!
  3. The History Of Creation: I know certain Christians really struggle with the theory of evolution, but to me it is so beautiful that God would have given His creation a built-in mechanism to change and adapt to a mutable world, and to equip them to fulfill His desire in Genesis for His creation to spread throughout the whole world, with all of its different ecological niches. If biological information were not stored in the sequences of DNA and RNA the way it is, with its propensity for the propagation of small yet biologically significant errors, evolution may not have been possible, and mass extinction would have been the result instead. A lot of the research we support examines ancient DNA, or patterns of related DNA sequence from different species, letting us see the graceful flexibility of life responding to adversity as its Creator equipped it to do.
  4. Harnessing Creation: Finally, a significant amount of the research we are involved in touches on issues that directly affect people – experiments examining how exposure to different chemicals and medicines influence our bodies’ microbiomes, or which genes spur the growth of tumors, or which genes are signals that a particular drug may be effective against a particular cancer or disease. Here we can honor God by supporting research that serves people, that is striving to make a better world and work for the flourishing of humanity.
  5. Accuracy and Attention To Detail: The researchers who use our facility trust us to handle their samples and their data with accuracy, honesty, and thoroughness. If I cut corners I can jeopardize an entire experiment. If I use analytic software to skew the data when I’m processing it to return to the researcher, I can derail or delay scientific understanding just to get a good-looking short-term result. So if I’m going to honor God with my work, I need to do my best whenever I’m handling samples: I need to ensure that everything is documented and tracked accurately, I need to pay attention to the details of a protocol or the results of a QC test, and I need to be upfront about admitting mistakes so that they aren’t perpetuated.
  6. Efficiency: Science, in academia at any rate, is carried out on the taxpayers’ dime. We survive on government grants! If I am wasteful with the resources we have, that affects the funding available for other projects (not to mention it is definitely not sustainable. The plastic and biohazard waste we generate normally is already depressing, without adding more due to inefficiency!) So here I can honor God by being a good steward of the resources we have and honoring the trust our community gives us by awarding us the funding (or that researchers give us by choosing our facility for their sequencing work).
  7. Expertise: Most of the researchers who use our core are not experts in sequencing. It is just a part of their scientific journey. So they rely on us to help them decide on the parameters that will give them the statistic power they need to get meaningful data, and they often rely on us to help them prepare their samples and understand their data. I can honor God as I work with them by being helpful, patient, and informative; by communicating respectfully with them; and by not taking advantage of their ignorance. It can be frustrating when a researcher asks for details about an experiment we completed five years ago or changes their mind about their experiment just as we’re about to get started on it after weeks of planning, but it’s also a chance to show them love and become a servant, to follow in Jesus’ footsteps.

I’m linking up with This Ain’t the Lyceum today and Kelly has some beautiful thoughts on disability and the passing of a member of her parish in addition to her regular humor, so I encourage you to visit! I’d also love to hear any thoughts you have about your own vocations and how they can be lived out in and for God.

Posted in book review

{book review} lithium: a doctor, a drug, and a breakthrough

book cover for Lithium; pastel rainbow letters over a black-and-white image of a scientist at a microscope
Title: Lithium: A Drug, A Doctor, and A Breakthrough
Author: Walter A. Brown
Date of Publication: August 2019
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Lithium, as its subtitle suggests, tells three interwoven stories: that of the life of John Cade, the doctor who discovered lithium’s most important medical use; that of lithium itself from its first discovery as an element to its recognition as both a drug and a toxin; and that of lithium’s bumpy road to acceptance through research trials, scientists’ feuds, and governmental wariness.

Continue reading “{book review} lithium: a doctor, a drug, and a breakthrough”
Posted in family life

lift off!

Our biomes curriculum started off by introducing our planet’s location in the Solar System – it’s kind of important, after all, since the sun plays such a crucial role in shaping climate, determining the seasons, and maintaining life. It’s intended to be just a brief overview, before diving down more deeply into Earth itself, but both Rondel and Limerick have become completely, utterly captivated by outer space.

Limerick in particular has attacked it with his rather academic and obsessive bent, spending hours poring through images of the sun and the planets (always in order, from Mercury outward, including the dwarf planets), asking me to read and reread the books we have in the house, getting out the play dough day after day to model the solar system and using the kitchen scale to make his planets as close to an accurate scale as he can. (Since it’s finicky in its old age and won’t switch from standard to metric units, he’s gotten some practice working with pounds and ounces as well. It is rather irritating when something needs to be 1000 times larger than something else and you have to divide by 16 to get the correct number of pounds.)

 

(I may be to blame for his obsession with accurate scaling… for our first solar system activity, we made a scaled model of the solar system with play dough, based on NASA’s mass estimations for each planet, and measured out the appropriate distances between the planets so we could set them up down the hallway. Jupiter was so much larger that we ended up making a new double batch of play dough, using it all for Jupiter, and scaling everything else in relation to that.)

From top left, clockwise: all eight planets before placing them relative to the “sun” (the bookshelf); the whiteboard with calculations (and on the bottom a comparison of Jupiter’s mass in kg to various family members in kg); Jupiter looking out toward the other gas giants; Neptune looking in toward the “sun”; Jupiter looking in toward the inner planets.

Over the weekend, both boys decided to make paper models of the solar system as well, not to scale, but showing all the planets and the sun. They even wrote labels for each planet, which is the most handwriting they’ve ever done at one time! (Rondel’s picture is on the left and Limerick’s is on the right – Rondel included Ceres, a dwarf planet in the asteroid belt, and Limerick gave his sun quite a few solar flares.)

They’ve also been asking to read from our (admittedly small but at least quality) space book collection at bedtime and throughout the day. We’ve been cycling through Our Solar System by Seymour Simon (published in 1992, and lacking a lot of newer information), The Magic School Bus: Lost in the Solar System (published in 1990, so the same problem), and Astronomica by Fred Watson (published in 2011, absolutely massive, with amazing images and detailed information which I have to skim through to read at a level the boys can understand).

I’m planning on finding some supplementary books from the library about different space missions and picture book biographies of people involved in space exploration, so we can incorporate some history into our space study as well. We’ve already made a timeline with the lives of family members and individuals from books we’ve read, so it would be natural to include important dates in space exploration. Since ASU has a large space exploration exhibit and 3D show open to the public, I’ll probably try to incorporate that as well. And while Limerick has already used math with all the scaling he’s done, I’d like to find a way to show the boys how much math was used in designing spacecraft, planning missions, and charting the orbits of planets – Rondel enjoys math far more when it involves a topic he’s interested in. It might not have been my original plan for the beginning of the school year, but what’s the point in homeschooling, after all, if you can’t be flexible and use your children’s interests to motivate their learning?

Posted in sqt

{sqt} – july quick takes: getting ready for school

  1. School starts early here in the valley, and while we’re not tied to any specific school schedule, I’m feeling ready to settle into more routine and structure than we’ve had in our (very fun and very busy) summer so far. Actually, for the first time in my life I’m creating tentative weekly and monthly schedules and will be trying to keep track of things in my own custom planner! I have never been able to maintain a planner for more than a week, so we’ll see how this goes.
  2. The most exciting part of preparing for school has been making a list of all the books I want to buy 🙂 My husband will probably arch his eyebrows at me and comment about our lack of shelf space, but I currently have forty-five books on my list and I’m sure I’ll come up with more!
  3. I’m also thinking of purchasing a science curriculum – I found one that is about climate and biomes from a Montessori background, and while I definitely can’t buy all the physical props to go with it, the curriculum itself still looks like a solid introduction to those topics (very beautifully and thoughtfully laid out). Rondel moved up to a full-day scholarship amount through our state’s ESA program, so we have funds to cover more than speech therapy this year and I may be a bit over-excited about it…
  4. Rondel turned six this month! I haven’t uploaded any of the pictures from my camera yet, but he had a great party with both sides of the family present. He has so much energy now, and so much creativity, and such a love of nature. He’s also starting to decode words and is willing to spend more time practicing writing, so I think we have a pretty solid foundation going into the school year.IMG_3056
  5. One of my other major areas of focus this year is going to be on the saints. Probably more than half of my picture book list is about the lives of various saints, working out to about 1-2 every month (I have several from the library as well – I work at the university, so I can get year-long loans on most of the children’ books, for school purposes). Each saint portrays a slightly different way of loving and following God, and inspires us to love and follow Him in our own way. The community of saints is such a powerful and beautiful reality – and the stories of the saints help us see how the truths of the faith that we hear at church and read in the Bible can be lived out in different cultural and personal circumstances.
  6. Music and art is another thing I want to be more intentional about this upcoming year. Rondel especially loves to make crafts, but he needs a lot of help and things can get messy and I know the creativity won’t be able to shine as much as it could unless I schedule it in and make myself deal with the mess 🙂 And since we do have some auditory sensitivities in the family, I may gently ease into music by making some simple instruments during our craft times, and then using them while singing together. Actually, if you have a list of high quality folk/traditional children’s music I would absolutely love it…
  7. Most importantly, our schedule is full of wide open times to play, explore, and go on adventures and trips. Routine provides stability, but flexibility and (some, minor) spontaneity provides a spark of excitement and energy.

How are you preparing for the new school year? Anything especially exciting or new? Also, don’t forget to visit This Ain’t the Lyceum for the quick takes linkup today!

Posted in family life

wildlife in the backyard

As I haven’t had the chance yet to pick up some brown paper lunch bags to cover the sunflower heads, the local birds are enjoying quite the feast in our yard. Rondel was absolutely thrilled, a few mornings back, to come across a rosy-faced lovebird breakfasting on the ripening seeds – and I’ve seen more of them every day since then!

The lovebird isn’t a native species – the Arizona Field Ornithologists website has a lot of information here. However, it is still really neat to see them hopping through the yard and on the sunflowers! Growing all these plants has turned our backyard into a living science lesson, with so many different insects and birds coming for food or to make a home. Rondel especially has been taking full advantage of that fact, prowling the yard for hours every day looking for bugs and other animals: he’s caught or observed so many different varieties of butterfly and moth (including one that looked so much like a leaf I almost missed it), countless crickets, soldier beetles, ladybugs, green lacewings, stinkbugs, crab spiders, orb spiders, and more that we weren’t able to identify.

Of course, when the yard looks like this, I would be more surprised if there weren’t butterflies and moths:

IMG_2871

My experimental lawn alternative was rather a failure due to my impulsive decision to add some wildflower seeds to the mix… but while the end result is most definitely not a lawn, it is certainly beautiful right now with everything in bloom. We’ll just try again in the fall to get something more walkable 🙂 and for now let our budding naturalist enjoy his private field for exploration.

Posted in book lists, sqt

{sqt} – reading highlights of 2018

I’m joining up with the seven quick takes linkup again this week, for the first time in a while, with a fitting theme for the last Friday of the year: 2018 favorites! My focus is going to be on the books I’ve read this year; with my end-of-the-year detour into fan fiction my booklist is shorter than it was in 2017, but it is still full of books I loved and want to share.

Parenting: Differently Wired, by Deborah Reber

differentlywired

If you were following my blog this summer, this favorite should come as no surprise! This is one of the best books I have found for parents of neurodivergent children – one that honors their differences and supports parents in helping their children to remain authentically themselves while also learning to live in a world that is often critical of who they are. For a more in-depth review, see this post leading up to its release this summer. (You may notice I tried to run a giveaway for the book; well, no one entered, so if you feel this book would be relevant or helpful for you, let me know… I still have the extra copy 🙂 )

Science: The Emperor of All Maladies: a Biography of Cancer, by Siddhartha Mukherjee

emperorofallmaladies

This book offers an interesting take on cancer, as it examines the history of human interaction with cancer in all its ethical and political context rather than focusing solely the medical manifestations of the illness (though it delves quite deeply into the biology of cancer as well). I learned a lot and was deeply fascinated through the entire book (but as it was a library book, I can’t go back to pull up any awesome quotes for this post, unfortunately!). While it is very long, I think it is definitely worth the time and effort to read it, especially for anyone interested in biology, pathology, bioethics, or science policy.

Other Non-Fiction: Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, by Bryan Stevenson

justmercy

When you grow up in a privileged environment, it can be challenging to learn about corruption and brokenness in systems skewed in your favor. This book was difficult to read primarily because of the nature of its topic, and the injustices it exposed – whose depths I had no idea existed beforehand (even though I was aware of the biases in our judicial system, I was not aware of the extent of those biases, particularly in certain areas of the country). I picked up this book last Christmas on the recommendation of Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, for both myself and my grandma, and both of us agree that it was a powerful and moving book, containing invaluable context for understanding (and hopefully healing) some of the racial and cultural divides in our nation. (For more of my thoughts, and some quotes, see this post from April.)

General Fiction: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, by Helen Simonson

majorpettigrew

In this novel, an old British major slowly falls in love with a Pakistani shopkeeper (both widowed), to the general consternation of her extended family and their entire village. The interactions between them on both individual and sociocultural levels are simultaneously awkward, amusing, and enlightening (in other words, fairly realistic for two very different people from very different backgrounds thrown into contact with one another); and the twists and turns of the plot are both somewhat unexpected and very satisfying. Major Pettigrew especially, as a slightly cynical and cantankerous old British man finding himself in ludicrously unprecedented circumstances, is quite a wonderful character 🙂

Dystopia: American War, by Omar El Akkad

americanwar

I’m surprised I didn’t post about this book back in July! Dystopia is one of my favorite genres, and this one hit particularly close to home. It is set in the southern United States, in a future in which climate change catalyzes a second Civil War; with Northern forces applying external pressure and international agents internally taking advantage of hatred and discontent, the book follows one individual from poverty, through a refugee camp, to indoctrination and grooming in a shadowy terrorist cell. The methods and circumstances are drawn from the actual history of civil war and terrorism in the Middle East, but the culture and setting are undeniably American, and the juxtaposition reinforces both the humanity of people our culture often labels as “other” and the very real possibility that our nation too could be ravaged by the dark side of that shared humanity. I highly recommend it, but it is not a comfortable read.

Science Fiction: Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin

lefthandofdarkness

LeGuin is an exceptional world-builder, and I have enjoyed all of her works, but this is in my opinion one of her best, exploring aspects of nationalism, humanity, and gender. How arbitrary are the categories with which we identify ourselves? When one of those categories is rendered meaningless, how do we cope with our own self-understanding, or refashion the image we present to others? How far can one stray from the center of a category and still be considered part of it, by either themselves or by others? And of course all of these questions are not so much discussed as illustrated and implied as the two main characters seek (in both the context of two different nations, as well as in almost total isolation) to accomplish a mission with global and even universal consequences.

Fantasy: Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss

nameofthewind

The story here, as wonderfully epic and convoluted and fascinating as it is, in a world with magic and music and legend coming to life, isn’t even the main reason I have to choose this book (and its sequel) as my top fantasy book of the year. Rarely have I encountered an author who can make their prose sing as beautifully as Rothfuss manages to do here. My only disappointment is that the third book in the trilogy has not yet been published, so while each book so far has a definite story arc and is still satisfying to read, the overall story is incomplete.

What are some of your favorite books from this year? Please share in the comments – I always love to hear about good books to read!

Posted in wwlw

what we’re learning wednesday episode 6

Just a short one today, since I haven’t taken pictures of some of our bigger things: we are learning that books hold the answers to our questions! This is such an important concept for a pre-reader! Especially for my pre-reader who asks me questions constantly all day long, this is going to be a significant source of motivation for learning how to read 🙂

Here’s how it went down.

I asked Rondel to shut the back door this evening because he was letting the bugs in. He did so, then asked me why the bugs wanted to come in. I told him that a lot of bugs are attracted to the light. Being his infinitely curious self, he then asked me why the bugs were attracted to the light – and I had to tell him that I didn’t know, that it wasn’t something I ever researched or learned about. He paused for a moment, and then said, “Would a book say why bugs like the light? Do we have a book about bugs?” I wasn’t sure if we did or not, so he went to look through our science crate to find out (and got distracted and came back with a book about elephants, but still).

We never did find out why bugs are attracted to light… a quick Google search in lieu of finding a book only reveals that scientists have conflicting and unproven theories but no answers, so I suppose it’s fortunate that he did get distracted! But the larger concept is something I was so happy to hear from him 🙂