Thursday, June 30, 2011

DMC Developmental Biology Teaching Workshop

I'm in the gorgeous woods of Maine right now, hanging out with my good friend Rhian at the Darling Marine Center.  I'm here for a workshop in teaching Developmental Biology.  Its a 12 hour a day workshop... and we've done some crazy things during our time already - two headed planaria, mini sea urchin larvae, a chick embryo with two hearts, and hopefully by tomorrow a twinned frog.  We've still got a day and a half and flies and worms to go!  I'm a bit 'knackered' so I'll fill you in on all of the details with day by day highlights and pictures when I get back.  In the meantime, here's a picture of the rocky shores of Maine.

Sunday, June 19, 2011


In all things in life, you should have a plan B (and if you're a super anal-retentive control freak, a plan C and D).  I'm in the midst of writing an application for a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Queensland, Australia.  I'm admittedly not super excited about another post-doc... but if I've got to do one, Australia and this lab in particular is looking pretty good! I could do worse. The lab fully integrates molecular biology, genomics and larval ecology... the closest thing I've ever seen to my own research interests.

Interestingly, joining this lab was my plan A coming out of graduate school, but I didn't get the NSF International Postdoctoral Fellowship that I applied for.  So no money = no Australia.  I have no complaints though.  I've enjoyed my time and been productive at NIH.  Its interesting that this opportunity came up again.  I got an email out of the blue congratulating me on the Science paper and asking me if I was still interested.  Well here I am editing the fellowship application and pointing to Australia on the world map for my daughter.  I could still magically get a faculty position... or I could be bouncing with kangaroos on the beach... you never know whats next.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Earlier this month marine scientists, real estate agents, neuroscientists, meditation practitioners, physicologists, surf shop owners and many others convened for the first BlueMind Summit.  These people may seem like an odd grouping but they all share the common lure of the ocean's sounds and sights.  BlueMind was a first step to understanding why people are drawn to and comforted by the ocean.  Instead of asking questions about how the ocean works, the summit pondered questions like:  Why do people pay a high premium for ocean views?  Why is the sound of the ocean so soothing - the most common sound in calming machines and sleep aids?  Why do we flock to the ocean for vacations?

Not surprisingly, I have always been inexplicably drawn to the ocean. Throughout my teens and twenties, the first place I would go when I was stressed or sought to be alone was the ocean.  The sound of the waves calmed me, the blue ripples soothed me, the vast horizon reminded me how small I and my troubles really were.  Interestingly though, the Pacific Ocean has a far more powerful pull on me than any other ocean.  But why?

Interesting theories came out of the summit from the chemical composition of the brain (saltwater) to evolution to perceived societal value.  Since all living things evolved from life in the ocean, it makes sense that we would have a connection.  But this doesn't explain the nature of the connection.  Others suggest that the ocean represents a safe place where vision is not obstructed - a perfect horizon from which any threats could be easily seen.  Thus our connection to the ocean would boil down to a behavioral choice to reduce predation risk.  This was probably my least favorite explanation having seen the threats, risks, and unknown lurking in the ocean.  I would instead argue that the ocean hides and conceals rather than provides uncluttered sight.

My favorite hypothesis from the summit that I've read about thus far came from a real estate agent.  The expanse of the ocean represents limitless opportunity.  Maybe I prefer this because my chosen profession is studying the process of the ocean but either way, I like it.  Because the ocean conceals its mysteries, one is open to imagine the adventures and treasures below.  Because the ocean is nearly 3/4 of the planet, it has control over the Earth - power- and we can't even comprehend the expanse - limitless, though we know there are limits. The power, mystery, and adventure of the smooth horizon can invoke fear, imagination, creativity, calm... pretty much any emotion... but it always invokes some feeling...

Though I hope we can come to understand humanity's draw to the ocean, I am currently satisfied with knowing that I always will be drawn to the ocean.