The answer is podcasts. Also music, but mainly podcasts.
Experiments in the realm of slice electrophysiology involve a lot of time spent making solutions, troubleshooting your experimental setup, and getting ready for the experiment itself. This last bit includes aligning the blade in the Vibratome (a fancy word for a machine that moves a blade very quickly side to side – i.e. it vibrates – and advances it very slowly in order to make slices out of a brain), laying the tools out, getting ice, making slush from a solution that resembles the cerebrospinal fluid (and it is thereby called artificial cerebrospinal fluid – ACSF for friends), and the delicate process of obtaining brain slices without killing all the cells in the tissue so I can actually place an electrode on them and record their electrical activity.
[…] Sorry, what? Did you just ask me about the slush? […] Seriously? I tell you about a machine called Vibratome, I tell you that we can obtain slices from a brain and keep them alive to record the activity of the cells in them, and all you ask me is how I make a slush? […] Alright, fine. We use an Ice-Cream Maker, it’s much faster than leaving the solution for an hour in the freezer. […] Yes, I know, it’s very clever. […] No, I did not come up with this very clever idea. Can I please proceed now? […] Thank you. Where were we? […] Ah, yes…
And this is only the preparation phase. Then there’s the experiment itself, which if you are lucky enough to have a good day will consist of several hours of recordings. Not to forget the cleaning up of all glassware and tubing once you are done. So what can you do when your hands are busy but you’ve done the process enough times that you don’t really need to think about it anymore? A while ago I read this post by @SaraHaenzi on “what I listen to when my hands are busy“, in which she shared that what worked for her in precisely that situation was to listen to podcasts, with “the nice side effect that I don’t lose patience so quickly when something is not working”. Why, this is exactly what I need when patch-clamping! So I came back to her post to find some ideas, and was very happy to find a bonus link to this list of science podcasts by @AnneEUrai.
It has now been a few weeks since I started making use of podcasts to entertain my ears while doing the mechanical bit of my experiments, and I totally recommend the experience. Some have fun facts and are hilarious, some are random and crazy, some contain interviews with great scientists from different fields, most of them are great lessons of storytelling. As with books, it takes a bit of digging to find your genre, but it is totally worth it. Here are some of my favourites so far.
Why Aren’t You A Doctor Yet? (@whynotadoc) – Hilarious discussions on recent science and tech news. Keeps getting better with every episode. However, do not listen if doing delicate work, you might burst into laughter without previous notice and fuck up your experiment. Check them all out!
Unsupervised Thinking (@USTpodcast) – Recommended by @HarshaGurnani, this is a podcast where a group of PhD students/holders studying computational neuroscience have engaging and easy to follow discussions on neuroscience, artificial intelligence, and science more broadly. As an experimentalist, I find it a nice way to get into computational topics and put them into perspective, while learning something new every time. My favourite episode so far is the one on “The Neuron Doctrine“.
Neurotransmissions (@neuropodcast) – This one I found in @AnneEUrai‘s list, and it is quickly becoming one of my favourites. Really interesting conversations with brilliant scientists visiting the Max Planck Florida Institute. You have to listen the one with Nobel Laureate Eric Betzig, it is one of the best conversations on science and the turns life and careers take I have heard in a long time.
Welcome to Night Vale (@NightValeRadio) – Recommended by @RubenDVale (no, he has nothing to do with it despite of his surname, although this guy did record an album while doing a PhD), this is a fantastic storytelling podcast that takes you to some sort of alternative universe through the seemingly normal local news radio station reporting on, well, not a so normal reality.
The Story Collider (@story_collider) – I discovered this one via @edyong209‘s weekly newsletter The Ed’s Up, and it is a gem of storytelling. Each episode contains two beautiful, powerful, and personal stories about science that will not leave you untouched.
On my radar
Fun facts and science for everyone: No Such Thing as a Fish (@nosuchthing), The Infinite Monkey Cage (@themonkeycage), The Naked Scientists (@NakedScientists), and The Curious Cases of Rutherford and Fry.
I would love to hear about your recommendations, so please comment below or drop me a tweet (@oriolpavon) with your favourite podcasts! What did I miss?