Debbie Knight

A Day in the Life: March 1, 2012 (part 2)

In research log on March 1, 2012 at 2:27 pm

From time to time, I will give a glimpse into the “glamorous” life of a research associate and talk about what I’m doing in the lab on a particular day. These entries I will call “A Day in the Life…”

Our lab meeting today included a lecture from our chemistry collaborator on electrical impedance measurements. And, yes, it sounds as boring in writing as it did in our meeting – at least to me.

Our group will be growing cultured cells in a special slide which has eight small compartments on it. Each compartment is rigged with thin wires to measure whether there is a small electrical current passing through it. As cultured cells grow, they cover more and more of the surface of that compartment and as they do so, the cells impede the current – something that can be measured – because their cellular membranes act as insulators.

A cell culture slide that takes electrical measurements. For more information about these slides and how they work:

As the chemistry professor went through his explanation, writing all sorts of mathematical equations on the white board, a familiar feeling of dread came over me. Normally I love math (or so I thought) so I couldn’t quite figure out why I had a sudden aversion to it.

About half way through his spiel, I realized it wasn’t the math but the physics that made me mentally cringe.

Back in college (you know, when dinosaurs roamed the earth), I was fine with concepts like gravity and friction in my physics class. But once we started more esoteric topics like electricity, I found the concepts too “theoretical” for my biology-bound brain to comprehend.

And here I was in a lab meeting, floating in a sea of physics equations with eyes rapidly glazing over while my brain frantically searched for a life raft.


I have often said that if my parents had given me linking logs or an erector set when I was a kid that I could have been an engineer. But the truth is, when I really think honestly about it, I could never be an engineer – the applied math would have killed me.

 Being a research biologist was my destiny. Either that or an artist.

And as a biologist, I haven’t really needed what I learned in college physics.


I have used some of the college chemistry (quite a bit of it the stochiometry, balancing equations, calculating molarity and such) especially now that we collaborate with a chemist.

College math, like calculus, I haven’t really used much either although the need for it does pop up from time to time. Like the time the gas chromatograph stopped calculating the area under the curve and I had to figure it out on my own from the graph paper read out. That was “fun.”

So, while my undergraduate education gave me a pretty well-rounded science education, much of it collects dust on a shelf in my cerebral cortex. Or maybe I’ve repurposed those neurons.

Whatever has happened to what I learned while at Purdue University, I do know it helped shape me into the researcher I am today: a grateful biologist.

Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school”   – Albert Einstein


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