Lessons From the Lab - Angela Huynh

"Science: it’s an undertaking undoubtedly riddled with mistakes and uncertainty, but nonetheless gives us an immense return."

The Engineered Biosystems Building of Georgia Tech sat prominently along 10th street amid the bustle of Atlanta as researchers inside worked diligently away. For the following six weeks, I, too, would toil among centrifuges, microscopes, and other oddities to investigate some of the most compelling topics within molecular biology. Elementary science fair experiments using cellophane to manipulate plant growth and endless questions during biology classes had morphed into investigations of the cell cycle and genetic repair: what affects genomic stability? How does sodium play a role in that?

Over my childhood and adolescence, interests in science exponentially grew, and as they did, passions for the unknown matured into a strong inquisition for the molecular— for the scale invisible to our naked eye. A single microscope is all it takes to unlock a seemingly invisible, but immensely intricate world beyond our imagination; with science, we can dissect diseases on a smaller scale and even learn how intertwined damaged DNA is to cellular stress, leading to illnesses like cancer. My work at the Storici Lab last summer involved inoculating yeast cells into media containing varying concentrations of sodium chloride to ultimately see how salt inhibits the yeasts’ mechanism of DNA repair; we used a lab assay developed by the lab. Although the project abruptly ended due to time constraints, my peers and I witnessed the negative implications of salt on the yeast development during the cell cycle and survival rate.

The very protocols I’ve been using to isolate cells with specific DNA sequences mirrored the methodology geneticists implement to understand the complications that arise from specific DNA-RNA segments. From designing experiments to conducting cell counts, laboratory research has indisputably allowed me to directly apply my learning from lecture halls, textbook readings, and scientific literature at the lab bench.

An image of inoculating yeast cells into liquid media

An image of yeast cells under a microscope after incubation

A manual cell counter used to record the number of cells undergoing a certain phase in the cell cycle

Due to the various experiences in university labs, I learned that when it comes to science, failure remains an intrinsic part of its advancement. With what looked like muddied and indiscernible gel electrophoresis results were also opportunities to evaluate specific RNA primers that were probably the culprits.

When cell counts implied a narrative opposing a formulated hypothesis, we waded through confusion. By doing so and persisting after experimental failures, scientists understand the notion.

An image of yeast cells under a microscope after an incubation period

that every closed door leads to a new one. Executing the experiments we designed, my peers and I grew disheartened with every setback, accidental contamination, and baffling result. What we had imagined being riveting and worthwhile, also proved a challenge: researchers are bound to fail, miscalculate, or implement a protocol incorrectly: those failures permeate their research. However, with every small success that came our way, having the means to answer the questions surfacing within proved more empowering and stronger than any hurdle science had imposed.

Science: it’s an undertaking undoubtedly riddled with mistakes and uncertainty, but nonetheless gives us an immense return. It challenges our lifelong passions to learn and enables us the resilience to persevere amid all the mini-challenges research imposes. As we continue our own tumultuous endeavors into science, realize that it won’t be easy, but with every twist and turn, being on such a frontier of uncertainty is all the more rewarding.

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