“We scientists know very little of what can be known—I find that invigorating,” says Dylan Burnette, Ph.D., an associate professor of cell and developmental biology at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee. “Most people find it exhausting, but I’m comfortable with not knowing all of biology’s secrets.” In an interview, Dr. Burnette shared his lab’s work on muscle cells, the knowledge he hopes readers take away from his research, and some advice to future scientists about being comfortable being wrong.
Q: How did you first become interested in science?
A: Unlike with other subjects (it took me a long time to learn how to read), I excelled at science. In third-grade science class, I knew every answer on the tests. It didn’t occur to me at the time, but I did well because I found it interesting. I decided I wanted to become a medical doctor that year. Back then, doctors were the only type of person who I thought did any type of science.
“It’s so fun to try to make meaning from a confusing experimental result and talk to other scientists who are excited by the same questions you are,” says Elizabeth Wayne, Ph.D., an assistant professor of biomedical engineering and chemical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We talked to Dr. Wayne about her career trajectory, research on immune cells, and belief that scientists can change the world.
Q: How did you first become interested in science?
To make naturally colorless biological structures easier to study, scientists often use fluorescent tags and other tools to color them. Here, we feature images with purple hues and pair them with questions to test your knowledge of basic science concepts.
Visit our image and video gallery for more scientific photos, illustrations, and videos in all the colors of the rainbow.
When she started college, Anne Carpenter, Ph.D., never guessed she’d one day create software for analyzing images of cells that would help identify potential medicines and that thousands of researchers would use. She wasn’t planning to become a computational biologist, or even to focus on science at all, but she’s now an institute scientist and the senior director of the Imaging Platform at the Broad Institute of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard in Cambridge.
Starting Out in Science
Before beginning her undergraduate studies at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, Dr. Carpenter’s strongest interests were reading and writing. Then, her subjects expanded. “In college, I liked science as much as anything else, and I realized that was unusual, as a lot of other people really struggled with it. I decided to pursue science because I enjoyed it and the field had good job prospects,” she says. Dr. Carpenter majored in biology because she felt it had the “juiciest questions” as well as a direct impact on human health.
Every year on March 14, many people eat pie in honor of Pi Day. Mathematically speaking, pi (π) is the ratio of a circle’s circumference (the distance around the outside) to its diameter (the length from one side of the circle to the other, straight through the center). That means if you divide the circumference of any circle by its diameter, the solution will always be pi, which is roughly 3.14—hence March 14, or 3/14. But pi is an irrational number, which means that the numbers after the decimal point never end. With the help of computers, mathematicians have determined trillions of digits of pi.
To celebrate Pi Day, check out this slideshow of circular microbes, research organisms, and laboratory tools (while you enjoy your pie, of course!). To explore more scientific photos, videos, and illustrations, visit our image and video gallery.
Throughout 2022, we shared the stories of dozens of NIGMS-supported researchers, trainees, and programs. We also highlighted new STEM education resources, tested your knowledge with quizzes, showcased extraordinary scientific images, and more. To celebrate the upcoming new year, we’re highlighting five of our most popular posts from 2022. Check out the list below, and let us know in the comments section which of this year’s posts you liked best!
The intricate process of
mitosis—a cell splitting into two identical daughter cells—plays a pivotal role in sustaining life. Many scientists study this process to understand what’s needed for it to progress normally and why it sometimes goes awry, such as in cancer. During their research, the scientists often create eye-catching images and videos, and we showcase some of those visuals here.
“It would be a dream come true if I could look at a cell within a tissue and have a Google Maps view to zoom in until I saw individual molecules,” says Melike Lakadamyali, Ph.D., an associate professor of physiology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine in Philadelphia. Her lab is helping make part of that dream a reality by developing super-resolution microscopy tools that visualize cells at a near-molecular level.
Blending Physics and Biology
Science and math fascinated Dr. Lakadamyali since childhood, and she felt especially drawn to physics because she enjoyed using logic to solve problems. After graduating high school in her native country of Cyprus, she chose to study physics at the University of Texas, Austin. She never gave much thought to applying physics methods to biological questions—a field known as biophysics—until her third year as an undergraduate, when she gained her first research experience in the lab of Josef Käs, Ph.D.
Most cells are naturally colorless, which is why scientists often use fluorescent tags and other tools to color cell structures and make them easier to study. (Check out the Pathways imaging issue for more on scientific imaging techniques). Here, we’re showcasing cell images that feature shades of blue. Visit our Image and Video Gallery for additional images of cells in all the colors of the rainbow, as well as other scientific photos, illustrations, and videos.
This image shows lysosomes (purple) within nerve cells that surround amyloid plaques (blue) in a research model of Alzheimer’s disease. Lysosomes help the body dispose of proteins and other molecules that have become damaged or worn out. Scientists have linked the accumulation of lysosomes around amyloid plaques to impaired waste disposal in nerve cells. This impairment ultimately causes nerve cell death, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.
Mitochondria appear in yellow and cell nuclei in blue in this photo of cow cells. The gray webs are the cells’ cytoskeletons. Mitochondria generate energy, nuclei store DNA, and the cytoskeleton gives cells shape and support.
Here, stem cells (light blue) are growing on fibroblasts (dark blue). Stem cells are of great interest to researchers because they can develop into many different cell types. Fibroblasts are the most common cell type in connective tissue. They secrete collagen proteins that help build structural frameworks, and they play an important role in wound healing.
These smooth muscle cells were grown from stem cells. Smooth muscle cells are found in the walls of certain organs, such as the stomach, and can’t be controlled voluntarily. Red indicates smooth muscle proteins, and blue indicates nuclei.
What looks like a bubbling lava lamp is actually part of an egg cell’s maturation process. In many animals, the egg cell develops alongside sister cells. These sister cells are called nurse cells in the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster), and their job is to “nurse” an immature egg cell, or oocyte. Toward the end of oocyte development, the nurse cells transfer all their contents into the oocyte in a process called nurse cell dumping. This video captures this transfer, showing significant shape changes on the part of the nurse cells (blue), which are powered by wavelike activity of the protein myosin (red).