Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Grad Student Experience

I've been out on the left coast for a while, indulging my desire to use a Pipetman, run pretty gels, and generate boatloads of mass spec. data.

While I've been here, I've started thinking about the differences in the graduate student experience at a university and at a research institute or a medical school. I applied to all three when I was an undergrad, although that probably doesn't happen often unless you have a biological bent in your research interests.

I'm floored by the facilities out here. They're really conducive to getting things done quickly. I've been to three or four other labs here to use some random instrument, and everyone's been very helpful. This equipment-sharing must just vary widely from department to department depending on how collegial a place is or how many levels of bureaucracy you need to get past to accomplish anything.

A couple years back, our department was actively recruiting a faculty member from a university that had a medical school campus. I can understand the challenges that would come with relocating to a university like Princeton with no professional schools at all. (The fictitious hospital where House works doesn't count). Even little things like access to the right set of journal articles can become a real hassle.

So why'd I go to a university? At the time I picked Princeton because it had the most PI's I'd want to work for. (Funny that none of them are there now.) I think that the shared experience my incoming class had (living in the grad dorm, working out at the gym on-campus, problem sets in the coffeehouse) gave us a real sense of community, which as a grad student is nice.

It's also important to me to socialize with nonscientists. I didn't know (or perhaps I should say didn't respect) very many humanities people in college, but the people I meet here are almost uniformly brilliant.

Maybe being a grad student outside of a university feels more like a real job, which is exactly what I was trying to put off?


Monday, January 08, 2007

Triangle Club**

I wish I had the opportunity to learn more about concepts that are important to understand in developing a functioning drug. Derek's blog will have to suffice for now.
Today I'm posting about Naloxone and Naltrexone. They came up in a conversation about drug addiction (more on that later). These two molecules are opioid receptor antagonists that are strikingly similar in structure, but they're used in the clinic in different ways. An antagonist in the drug sense is something that binds to a receptor and stops the events/actions set in motion by another drug called an agonist. By itself, an antagonist doesn't do anything to the receptor.
(If you're lost and haven't read the links, suffice to say that the word "opioid" sounds like the word "opium" for a reason.)
See here for Molecule of the day's entry on Naloxone.
Naloxone clears your system more rapidly. It's given to patients who have overdosed on things like heroin or morphine. (I think the wikipedia entries I cited above may be confused here..) Naloxone essentially kicks the heroin/morphine off of the opioid receptor, and what you get is a rapid detox, complete with all the very painful symptoms of withdrawal. The detox process is almost instantaneous; the patient goes from completely passed out to completely awake in seconds. The process can also be done under anesthesia.
After detox, patients in rehab may take a once-daily pill of Naltrexone, which is much longer-acting. It'll keep any other opiates they may try to sneak from working.
The difference between the structures is actually really subtle. Note the cyclopropane Naltrexone substitutes for the Naloxone olefin. One extra carbon. Hmmm.
It's known in the literature that cyclopropanes can possess alkene-like reactivity.
What I'm not sure of (and don't have the time to look into in depth) are the differences in how they're metabolized. But here's something about metabolism of cyclopropanes that you can dig out of the literature pretty quickly:
The ref: Chem. Rev. 2003, 103, 1625-1647.

** and if you're into musical comedy and Ivy League tradition, see the Princeton Triangle Club's website.


Saturday, January 06, 2007

More a hackneyed grad student joke than a science thing...

The inventor of Instant Ramen and Cup Noodles has passed away. I actually haven't eaten the stuff in ages, because I have a kitchen now. When I was a first-year grad student, I had a case of ramen in my dorm room. I could never handle the whole "flavor packet", though, too salty. Usually I would add about half the packet. Oh, and Chicken Ramen was by far the best-tasting.


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Acros starts 2007 off right (in my book, anyway)

Today, we received an order from Acros that a former postdoc in the group originally placed in 2004 or so. It was one of the lab's occasional multi-bottle orders of 2.5 M n-butyllithium (n-BuLi) in hexanes.
(We order multiple 100 mL bottles, though some of our postdocs come from labs where one of the group jobs was to dole out the new n-BuLi into special sealed bottles from its big container. When I first joined the group, we had some shared 800 mL bottles, but that started to get unwieldy as we got more people.)
Anyway, soon after we placed that 2004 Acros order, we received a backorder notice, and the notices kept coming for a good while. We talked to our university's Fisher customer service rep to get to the bottom of the problem, and I believe we were told that because 2.5 M n-BuLi was manufactured in Europe, there was some new regulation on the books that made it very difficult to ship overseas. We had no problem getting 1.6 M Acros n-BuLi (anybody recall whether the suppliers are different for the two different concentrations?) and those that wanted it ordered 2.5 M n-BuLi from Aldrich (who I believe uses FMC Lithium) as a supplier, so I guess that order was relegated to the back of our heads until now. I have no idea what changed. Maybe some new law took effect Jan 1st (or 3rd, because of Gerald Ford). (**updated that link**) Our Fisher rep is usually around on Thursdays, so maybe I'll run into him tomorrow and find out.
For a trip down memory lane, see this post at Tenderbutton for a high-yield primer on the many ways to use an Aldrich or Acros Sure-Seal. You all remember the password, don't you?

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