The day I lay face down for science

Science is an amazing challenge in the day-to-day life. And you would be surprised what researchers are ready to do for the sake of discovery.

One would offer his arm to a flock of thirsty mosquitos to develop a new drug test. Another would embark on a hot-air balloon module to land on the top of the Amazonian canopy. At the South Pole, others would spend 1 year, cut off from the rest of the world, with the sole goal of spending some privileged time with the emperor penguins… Truly, science is an adventure!

I am not that kind of brave and “ready-for-anything” scientist, chasing after wild species or analyzing bacterial communities in a high altitude acidic lake…

I am a simple biologist, working in a safe lab, wearing a clean white lab coat.

However, during my Ph.D., I discovered that I may have a little sparkle of this craziness. I discovered a passion for science that pushes me to do silly and non-ordinary things for the sake of science.

I used to study how brain tumours form, and the fruit fly was my animal model. Using genetic tools, I could make shiny fluorescent tumours grow in the brain of fly larvae. Then, with an advanced microscope, I could easily spy on the cancerous animal brains.

Yes! Fly larvae have a brain that is as tiny as a small breadcrumb. This organ is very delicate to get out of its owner’s body. For this task, you need a microscope, small needles and plenty of patience. But with time and practice you would eventually become a fly brain dissection master.

That was my Ph.D. daily life: raising innocent fly larvae, sacrificing them, extracting their brain out of their carcasses and photograph them. My aim was to better understand how a benign tumour becomes a deadly cancerous tumour.

Up to now, I did nothing brave or silly for the sake of science, right? But that day came when I had to prove to science all my devotion to her.

It was the end of another exciting day in the lab. I had finally managed to get those rare larvae that were carrying special tumours in their brain. And I desperately wanted these brains …

The dissection went well and ended up with 5 invaluable brains bathing quietly in a drop on a piece of glass. That day was really having a happy ending! All I needed to complete the experiment was to store the samples comfortably in a fridge box. I took the glass slide and walked towards the fridge when suddenly my elbow hit a chair. And then, the terrible thing happened…

I let my precious brains fall!

I can still see the glass slide floating in the air, performing a double backflip finally breaking on the colorful dotted tiled floor. In the blink of an eye, my brains were lost, my day was lost, my hope was lost…

That is exactly when my “ready-for-anything” scientific side awoke from the deep within me. I would get my brains back, no matter how!

Full of despair and determination, I grasped my tweezers and lay down on the ground. I put my face as close as possible to the crime scene, bowing down before the fridge as a devotion act to science.

There I was, at the entrance of the lab, spread out on the floor, my labcoat on, looking like a white carpet that anyone could have walked on. I was doing that ridiculous thing for the sake of science (and for the sake of my Ph.D.).

I eye-scanned the fancy tiled floor, raising my lab mate’s curiosity. Ten minutes later, I found a drop on the floor. There they were. My brains! I had found the lost material! Out of joy, I immediately put the neural remainings back on a new slide and locked them safely in their fridge box.

What a relief! Science was saved that day!  But that was also the day when I became a ridiculous lab legend: “the girl who can bring back lost brains to the bench”.

No doubt, I still have a long path towards offering my arm to thirsty mosquitos…

By Caroline Dillard
Published Sep. 12, 2018 3:04 PM - Last modified Sep. 12, 2018 3:17 PM

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