the shoulders of giants

today in lab i took this immunofluorescent picture of rat intestinal smooth muscle cells.

Rat Intestinal Smooth Muscle/Glial Cells (FITC stain for Smooth Muscle Actin, RITC stain for S-100, DAPI stain for Nuclei)

Rat Intestinal Smooth Muscle/Glial Cells (FITC stain for Smooth Muscle Actin, RITC stain for S-100, DAPI stain for Nuclei)

to any cell biologist, this picture is nothing.  literally hundreds of thousands of them exist and it tells us nothing new about anything worthwhile about smooth muscle cells.  but this was an exciting moment for me.  i got laughed at by everyone else in my lab, but how cool is this picture!  how many hours, careers, were put into the elements of this picture?  first of all, living cells were removed from a rat and lived for days outside the body, not only that but they flourished!  a few hundred years ago we had no idea that cells existed!!  beyond that, each one of those flourescent dyes is attached to an antibody of a mouse or rabbit.  each one represents years of research from biologists, chemists, physicists together.  the process of fluorescence is not easy physics either, but many people spent their careers learning how electrons are emitted, mimicked chemical structures so that scientists could use these fluorescent probes, then built cameras to read the images!  today i used the camera to take three different pictures and digitally overlap them to show cell structures, nuclei etc.  then i enhanced these pictures with some software, saved them and put them on a little flash stick i bought for $25 and can hold literally hundreds of thousands of these pictures.  hundreds of thousands of pictures on old fashioned film would take years to develop, would take up shelves upon shelves of space and would be a pain in the ass to index.  instead, today i put as many pictures as i wanted on to a tiny little silicon wafer along with a few gigs of other crap, put that in my pocket and now i take it with me wherever i want.  if i need to see the pictures, they are indexed by picture type, antibody type, cell type, date etc.   i can send these pictures to all of you who are reading this from thousands of miles away instantly, even though it used to take weeks to send things across the country.

i guess the reason im all worked up about this is that these pictures represent the constructions of men.  all my predecessors sat at their desk thinking about problems, things they wanted to know and understand but couldnt.  these thoughts took decades of learning to form, both their individual education but also the collective learning and sharing of knowledge through their peers.  probably these folks tried and failed many times to learn some technique, perform some chemistry, discover some physics but always failed.  finally by some stroke of genius they made a breakthrough – it was their masterpiece, their magnus opus.  their life, and all the lives of previous thinkers led up to that pinnacle, and for that moment noone stood taller in their field than that person.  these pictures i took represent MANY of these eureka moments, dozens of little masterpieces smooshed together into a little frame.  today i climbed to these individual pinnacles but instead of toiling for years, i took a little kid hop and crushed the mountain under my feet.  it was childs play.  my labmates laughed at my excitement.  but their ascent has softened the climb for the rest of us.  today i literally looked at some shit cut out of an animal that should have died a week ago but instead it grew like crazy, so i mixed some very small chemicals taken out of some other animals and bound to some other shit that spits electrons out in a certain wavelength that corresponds to a color when you shine some other light on it, allowing me to view tiny ass strings and levers that make cells work with my own eye even though they are way way smaller than anything my eye can actually see, then i used a device which captures these electrons by shining them on some metal which makes other electrons do some stuff in a certain pattern, which i can then recognize and reconstruct the color pattern of the cells anywhere and anytime i want, all by storing this conglomeration of technology in a tiny little flash drive in my pocket.  how crazy does that sound when you think about it!    it brings to mind a quote by Isaac Newton

If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants


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