About Me

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I'm a budding biologist and aspiring entrepreneur. I've wanted to cure aging since I was eight. Now, with support from Peter Thiel's 20 Under 20 program, I'll be in Silicon Valley for the next two years developing ways to commercialize anti-aging research and extend the human healthspan. We'll see where this adventure takes me, but I'll try to chronicle the journey on this blog, What a Wonderful World. It'll be a mix of real-life updates and vignettes about the wonders of science. Shoot me an email at ldeming[dot]www[at]gmail.com

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Maxwell's Laws and Gratitude

Time to wax poetic about a new scientific beauty:

Maxwell’s laws.

You’ve heard of them. They are a set of four fundamental principles. They link up electricity and magnetism. And they are a few of my favorite equations. Feynman explains them far better than I can. But I’ll try to explain why I think they’re incredibly cool.

It’s best to learn them after you learn how to ‘see’ math equations. Which takes a bit of multivariable calculus. But after that, you can turn equations into mental artwork.

The equations are math ‘workers’. Feed them a picture of an electric field, and they’ll craft a magnetic counterpart. Feed them the right electric field, and light pops out.

They illustrate a symmetry. A wonderful, fundamental symmetry between two fundamental forces. (Well, almost. It would be perfect if we could find elusive physical phenomena termed ‘magnetic monopoles’. But more on that another time.)

Maxwell’s equations are elemental. They’re powerful. They underlie every bit of tech we’ve created. But they’re short, simple and beautiful, in a funny physics way. I think they’re our equivalent of ‘magic’. Learn to manipulate them, and you’ve mastered a fundamental force.

Maxwell’s equations sum up an entire field of physics. Imagine the intellect it took to condense them. I’d love to spend a day with Maxwell, Faraday, and Tesla. What would the world be like if we’d known how to extend the human healthspan while they were alive?

While we’re on the topic of formidable intellects, this is a great chance to say thanks. Thank you to the mentors who’ve done so much to help me get where I am now.

Thank you Cynthia Kenyon and Jasper Rine for introducing me to biology. Every time I get excited about glowing cells, or Mendel’s tragic tale, I think of you.

Thank you Wes Beach, and MIT, for a wonderful two years in college. And thank you Adrian Slusarczyk, for an incredible lab mentorship.

Thank you family, for the loving support. And thank you Peter Thiel and the 20under20 foundation.

Science is too cool. Maybe I should be a physicist.  


Saturday, May 21, 2011

Biology: magic of life

What makes biology beautiful?

Let me count the ways.

1. It can be a mystery. A detective story on steroids. A search for a macromolecular culprit, buried in the midst of a pile of data. Working in a lab can mean months spent hunting down a rogue protein. If you’re working to cure a disease, the protein might leave telltale tracks. So biologists get to explore the cell for clues.

 We investigate the polypeptide suspects, making changes to the genome to narrow down the possibilities. We interrogate potential partners in crime, other cellular citizens shown to interact with the protein in different contexts. And when we solve the molecular mystery and find a protein that gets mutated to cause a disease, or a protein that can cure an ailment, we’ve saved more lives than Sherlock Holmes could ever hope to save. We’ve caught the criminal before it commits the crime.

2. It’s ‘real’ magic. It’s exhilarating to be at the bench, eyes glued to the microscope, and watch a tiny worm grow, and glow green, because of the the genetic changes you’ve engineered. We get to manipulate invisible strands of information.

Biologists inscribe things in the book of life, a book so tiny we’d have to shrink to 10^9 times to glimpse it. We get to craft glowing mice, grow organs from scratch, code computer programs into DNA, and get the double helix to play origami. Life is magical – and we can make it more so.

3. It’s beautiful. Ever seen a 3D model of DNA? It’s a twirling chaos of color, a structural alphabet captured in the interplay of two strands. Try pondering that heavenly helix without lapsing into a moment of unabashed awe at the chaotic order underlying all of us. I was eight when I saw DNA for the first time.

It was a magical moment; I remember being feeling a bit reverent towards the towering molecular visage. Imagine what it would be like to stroll around a cell. We wouldn’t be able to see – but if we could, if there was some analogy for sight? It’d be a bag of chaotic happenings, molecules whirling around, dancing with the random grace that hallmarks Brownian motion.

Textbooks teach us to believe that the cell is a simple, ordered, geometrical progression of chemical events, a series of colored puzzle pieces fitting into matching holes to affect a chemical reaction. But the wonderful chaos we see, the crowded, cramped, bulging bag of molecular happenings, is a far cry from ordered. It is beautiful in its complexity.

4. It is powerful. I’ve yet to learn what it means to spend 10 years working on a drug, hunting down a protein target and taking a targeting molecule from the cell to the marketplace. But I can’t imagine a higher calling. Careers that involve saving a human life command an automatic respect. Saving one life is an incredible feat; a biologist can save 10 million.

We use the word ‘life’ so often that it is easy to forget how incredible our existence is. We’re a bag of chemicals, a conglomerations of atoms that walks, talks, breathes, and thinks. We are a population of self-aware, segregated bits of information. And we’re figuring out how to reprogram our basic genetic bylaws.

How cool is that?

What a Wonderful World: Intro

Welcome to a WWW (What a Wonderful World),

My name is Laura. I’m a budding biologist; I grew up working in a biology lab, and can’t imagine a better place to be.   

I’ll be in the California for the next two years, working, blogging, and learning in Silcon Valley. I’ll post more about my projects later, but for now all you need to know is that I’m interested in the financial side of science. I’d like to find better ways to fund the science projects that save lives.

This blog will be part science, part journal, and part experimental writing. It will evolve with time – but I’ll keep it entertaining. Thanks for visiting WWW. Hope you leave, just a bit more in love with the wonderful, infinite, jumble of rules and models we call ‘science’.

- Laura