Back to the grind

Didn’t get a chance to post on the last day of the BPS. We had to check-out at noon while many of the posters I wanted to see were scheduled that morning, which made the morning quite hectic.

My poster session on Tuesday went well. Met with fellow blogger Christopher Lockhart who had his poster at the same time. I received a lot of very good suggestions from people who spoke to me, and I am extremely grateful to everyone who did. This is what I look forward to the most at BPS meetings: the opportunity to present my work and getting feedback from the top scientists. Presenting the work in an organized manner is an extremely important component of what we do, and the feedbacks are invaluable for improving current research and planning future work.

Had dinner at the Acme Oyster House on Tuesday. I love to try out new food, and this time it was oyster. I wish I had had oyster before, because it was really good! Another nice discovery for me in this trip was Po-boy. This Louisiana sandwich had been my steady meal for a major part of the trip.

Back in the snow and chilling weather of West Virginia, and already missing the New Orleans weather. Like everyone else, I am eagerly waiting for San Francisco 2018. Hope to see everyone there.

From Cellular Footprints to Atomic Force Fields: Reflecting on BPS 2017

After BPS every year I take at least a day to review my notes from the meeting, lest I let the new and exciting biophysics slip out of my mind. After reviewing my notes I realized something extraordinary. Every single talk that I went to used or discussed an array of techniques; from experimental to computational, from long timescale dynamics to crystal structures, from cellular footprinting to atomic force fields. This variety of techniques is quite the tribute to the diversity and “do what it takes” attitude that astounds and inspires me about biophysical researchers.

Two of the most influential talks for me came at the beginning and the end of the meeting.

At the beginning of the BPS 2017 meeting, I was fortunate enough to attend Isaac Li’s talk “Mapping Cell Surface Adhesion by Rotation Tracking and Adhesion Footprinting,” … the very first talk on Saturday. The methods and results amazed me. Li was able to demonstrate the role of colocalization of proteins at the cell surface in conferring variability to cell adhesion footprints. Before this talk, I was unaware that such methods were even possible, and now I’m fascinated with how these methods could reveal molecular level details that vary from cell to cell. Additionally, I could not help but imagine how this sort of technology could be applied to understanding the surface chemistry of aerosol particles, as I have just jumped ship from a biophysics to atmospheric chemistry for my postdoc. To learn more about techniques from this laboratory, click here.

One of the last talks I went to at the BPS 2017 meeting, was Maxwell Zimmerman’s talk “Fast Forward Protein Folding.” Unlike the first talk, I was familiar with this work and have applied the described FAST algorithm to sampling conformational space in molecular dynamic simulations in my own research. Yet, in spite of the fact that I was already familiar with this work, again, I was amazed. Not because of the methods or the results, but because of how this work was communicated. Zimmerman did a remarkable job of creating visualization tools and choosing his words carefully to reach all members of his audience; a clear reminder that how scientists communicate matters. To learn more about the FAST algorithm, click here.

As with all BPS meetings, I came away inspired as well as regretful. Reading through the program this morning, I found so many talks that I wish I could travel back in time to attend. This got me thinking: What if the BPS recorded these meetings in the future? These recordings would allow those who attended to revisit the lectures and talks that inspired them and catch the sessions that they had conflicts with and unfortunately missed. Perhaps 2017 is not the time, the place, nor the political climate for such measures.  But I hope one day this will be possible!


Biophysics, by its nature is interdisciplinary

Having always worked in an interdisciplinary field, even taking courses from various departments, I have perpetually felt I do not fit into a certain category. With my computer science friends I do not seem to belong, as I do biology, and among the science ones, I am the computer science geek.

However, here at my first BPS meeting, I was at ease, attending talks and symposiums one after the other variedly different from each other. I realize it is indeed only a matter of doing good science, and adding to the knowledge of the working of things around us. I was glad to see the optimism and so many motivated individuals around me.

This was very appropriately summed up when I heard on the Biophysical Society TV outside Great Hall A while charging my phone, ‘Biophysics, by its nature is interdisciplinary’.

Louisiana Kitchen

BPS17 is already over, and I had a lot of fun!

I met new people, had time to catch up with my friends and learned a lot from the posters and platform sessions. I also enjoyed the reception on Monday. The band at the quiet room was very nice! They even played a Brazilian song (Girl from Ipanema). I just wish there were more free drinks.

I thought I would not enjoy the food in New Orleans and planned to not write about it. But I am happy to say that I was wrong. I really enjoyed the red beans and rice. It reminds me of Brazilian food, with a different seasoning. I also had gumbo, a sort of stew made of meat or chicken and served over rice, for lunch during most of the conference. And I am planning to try catfish soon.

Now that BPS is over, I will spend some days sightseeing in New Orleans. Today I had time to follow some tips of a previous post, walk along the Mississippi River and listen to some jazz. If you like jazz, I recommend you a bar I went today, BMC. It is on Decatur Street at Esplanade. The band playing today (Wednesday) was very nice and there is no cover charge there. Walking along Decatur Street was also awesome! There are many old buildings with balconies, which reminds me of Paris. The name French Quarter for this neighborhood really makes sense.

Pilsners, Posters, and Presentations

The past few days were a fantastic mix of talks, posters, and socializing. It was interesting to reflect on these aspects of the BPS conference and how they exposed me to a fresh mix of new ideas. The differences became evident when contrasting talks in the protein folding symposium to student posters from the same labs. The talks gave a flavor of higher level thinking behind the projects as well an overview of their findings, while discussions at the student’s poster provided a more nuanced description of the research with detailed insights. Fast forward to the evening, where socializing with other attendees provided a different flavor of conversation. It makes one wonder: which part of this conference was the best place to learn science?

Presentations. The presentation is the backbone of the scientific conference. BPS seminars are inherently more personal than other conferences (e.g. ACS). They offer an opportunity to learn how several projects within a lab fit into the PI’s larger vision. This vision within a good scientific story is hard to beat. However, as with all presentations, it’s restricted to a linear presentation of the data, so it can be difficult to parse out details if someone’s message isn’t straightforward. Beyond a limited range of questions, it can also be tough to ask more specific questions about someone’s work, especially if they challenge underlying assumptions. And any extended, personal conversations are out of the question.

Posters. Posters are where the action happens, providing the most diversity of scientific information. An immediate advantage over the seminar is the prolonged opportunity to discuss the details behind the experiments. This discussion ranges from experimental design to the roadblocks to publishing. Interactions are often one-on-one (or in small groups), making for a more personal experience. You can also digress into tangents tailored to your specific interests with questions that might be too detailed for the Q&A of a seminar. While the stories are still inherently linear, tangents arise at your leisure. This format offers a great balance between information content and interpersonal interactions.

Pilsners. On the interpersonal side, drinks with colleagues offer a great chance to catch up with old friends, and make new ones. They are a direct contribution to the low attendance at morning sessions. It’s where new collaborations are made and new frontiers are forged, with candid discussions of the human side of science. With experimental details and data lacking, it might not be your first place to learn new science, but it can provide a perspective you are unlikely to get elsewhere. Unclear scientific messages can still surface when socializing, but at least you’re having a drink.

Reflecting on these aspects of the BPS conference, I realized the magic mix of all three are what make it a fantastic experience. This combination is what will keep me coming back year after year, and hopefully through this blog as well. See you in 2018!

City Sippin’

I love coffee. I require coffee in order to function properly.  I like to drink it black, a good dark roast is appreciated, and I do not like when I am charged an arm and a leg for this very simple beverage. Also it has come to my attention that the Starbucks in the Convention Centre has the world’s longest, slowest line (and frankly their coffee is not the tastiest). So in the interest of taking some of the pressure off of this Starbucks location, I have taken it upon myself as a coffee enthusiast to list and rate all of the coffee I have sipped while in New Orleans. If you disagree with my assessment of any listed coffee establishments, please comment below and we can hash it out.

  1. CC’s Coffee House, 901 Convention Centre Blvd. (3.5/5) So their coffee is fine. Thats really all I have to say about that. It is run of the mill. The taste reminds me of coffee you would find in a meeting room– you are so excited that it is there and that someone made coffee, but it is probably Folger’s, so not really a taste sensation. But nevertheless, CC’s gets a pretty good mark from me because their staff is extremely friendly and chatty!! Bonus points for hiring kind people. Also, CC’s has a real high convenience factor, being that it is right across the street from the conference centre.
  2. Pulp and Grind, 644 Camp St. (4/5) This place is a hipster paradise. Everyone inside of this coffee shop looks like they just finished up a morning collection from their herb garden, and they are on route to work at an art gallery. The staff is very friendly, and the coffee is very tasty. I also had some of their fancy cold pressed juice, which was equal parts colourful and delicious. The beet/apple/carrot/lemon juice combo I had was a welcome shock to the system after almost a week of eating gumbo and oysters and fried everything. The one draw back to this place is that it is pricey, and the line here grew quickly as I sat and drank my coffee and fancy juice.
  3. Revelator Coffee Company, 637 Tchoupitoulas St. (3/5) Here I got a normal brewed coffee- dark roast. It was 3 dollars. If a cup of regular black coffee is going to cost me 3 dollars, it should have magical healing properties. Its only been a couple days since I had this cup of joe, so I can’t say for sure yet whether this coffee is or isn’t magical, but for now I will venture to say the Revelator coffee was overpriced. The vibes inside this establishment were similarly hip to the Pulp and Grind, but was not as warm, so negative points for that as well.
  4. Stumptown Coffee Roasters, 610 Carondelet St. (4/5) I would give this place full marks, if not for the fact that it is kind of a hike to get to. The coffee here was very smooth, not too acidic, and smelled absolutely delightful! Apparently this place is actually one of several locations, and this chain actually started in the Pacific Northwest. I would never have known, because when I went in I was greeted by the staff with the warmth I associate with southern hospitality. Also, I tried the strawberry kombucha at Stumptown and I was a huge fan. For those of you who don’t know, kombucha is a type of fermented tea that is naturally carbonated and often sweetened for flavour. The first time I had kombucha, I thought it tasted like a dirty sock dipped in vinegar, but this stuff really grows on you. If you are looking to try some kombucha (there is some sketchy science that suggests potential health benefits), definitely try it at Stumptown.
  5. PJ’s Coffee, 1420 Annunciation St. (3.5/5) This place seems to be a New Orlean’s favourite, based on the fact that there are tons of locations all around the city. I would equate this place to its Canadian counterpart, Tim Hortons. We Canadians do not go to Timmie’s under any illusion that it is good coffee– we go because it is cheap, fast, and it makes us feel like we are sticking it to the man (I’m looking at you, Starbucks). So go on and have your PJ’s coffee in the name of supporting a local establishment, but you have been warned that this coffee did not make my heart sing.
  6. Bittersweet Confection’s, 725 Magazine St. (4.5/5) This place is my favourite, by far. The coffee was really delicious, and the vibes inside this establishment were fantastic. I sat in this shop for a bit to do some work, and as I drank my coffee, several “regulars” came in and the staff knew them by name and coffee order. Also, this place gets 1 million bonus marks for having so many delicious treats! It is a chocoholic’s dream land. I had a chocolate croissant because I went in the morning and could not quite stomach a cupcake at that hour, but all of their sweets looked incredible. This place also sells a cake that is apparently part of a New Orlean’s Mardi Gras tradition, called a King Cake. The cake just looks like a big circular brioche with colourful sparkly icing spread over top, which to me sounds not very nice, but I can’t say for sure because I did not taste it. Nonetheless, I would highly recommend anyone who is still in town to go check out this lovely shop.

Anyway, that concludes my coffee review. Now I will leave you to think on this, while I go find myself a little afternoon cup of java.


Ellen Avery

Don’t fret over not getting that “One Quick Question”

One last thought as we come to the close of this year’s Biophysical society meeting.  Not to be too negative but how many of us have been a bit bummed by not being the person asking the presenters that crucial “quick question” in the few minutes after a talk?  It’s difficult, when there’s so much good science to balance speaker’s time with time for responses from the audience.  I’d also say we should give a round of applause to all of the symposium organizers for doing an excellent job putting together the programs for this year.  I wonder though if there’s a benefit to changing the culture of the talk schedule a bit.

Often times the Subgroups will organize dinners in order to allow people to get to know the presents and the people in that field a little bit better.  I’m thinking it might be interesting to have a short 15-30 minute meeting after each symposium in order to allow people time to speak to the presenters one-on-one and to exchange contact information.  If you aren’t reaching out to people already I encourage you to do so but attending Subgroup dinners and by trying to catch people after their talks.  It might just lower the energy barrier a little bit, however, to be able to have a quick refreshment session to encourage a cultural change from everyone rushing out of the session after all of the talks are finished.  Though I will say, the poster sessions are a great time for this as well!

Overall I hope you had a good time at Biophys!  I hope we all consider how to spread the news about Biophysics and try to answer as many “quick questions” as we get throughout the next year!