Team building? Piece of cake … and a dancing Sir Bruce Ponder

The highlight of every Institute Retreat is the team building challenge. And my lab is pretty good at it; we’ve won it several times.

See for example the marble run we built in 2014.

We are so good at it, actually, that for the last two years the official announcement of the team building challenge included the statement: “The goal of this exercise is to make sure the Markowetz lab doesn’t win again.”

Last year, we had succumbed to the mounting pressure: When asked to build a life-like animal from paper and cardboard we produced what even optimistically can only be called a ‘roadkill turtle‘. No wonder we came last in the competition. No photographic evidence survives (we made sure of that).

This year was comeback time!

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Books, Creativity

Who else likes a Goblin? The daughter and I do.

As the offspring of two bona fide bibliomaniacs, my toddler daughter continuously demands to have books read to her.

Some of the books she likes I find boring (but as a dutiful father soldier on reading them to her) and some of them I quite enjoy (like everything Donaldson and Scheffler cook up).

But now for the first time we seem to have found an age-appropriate book that Daddy might even be more enthusiastic about than the daughter: Nobody Likes a Goblin by Ben Hatke.

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Creativity, Science

A 4D Atlas of Cancer

Welcome to the future of cancer research!

I collaborate in a CRUK Grand Challenge application:

Professor Ehud Shapiro from the Weizmann Institute, Israel with collaborators from Israel, the UK and USA will find a way of mapping tumour at the molecular and cellular level. [ Read more ]
And here is how the result will look like:


Now we just hope that the nice people of CRUK are kind enough to give us the 20 million quid we need …




Lit with a ghoulish inner light — Three Oncologists for Halloween

The scariest picture I have seen this Halloween (or maybe even ever) is Ken Currie’s eerie portrait Three Oncologists:

The Three Oncologists are Professor RJ Steele, Professor Sir Alfred Cuschieri and Professor Sir David P Lane of the Department of Surgery and Molecular Oncology, Ninewells Hospital, Dundee. *

In the Guardian Kathleen Jamie writes:

It’s a portrait, but far from flattering. (…) The three men are lit with a ghoulish inner light; they seem to be haunting the threshold between life and death. (…)

Furthermore, they hold their tools or means: Steele raises his gloved and bloodstained hands, Cuschieri holds a surgeon’s implement, Lane carries a paper. Whose sentence is written there?

As we grow more able to say the word “cancer” out loud and more of us survive it, thanks in no small part to our surgeons and physicians, this painting will become a historical record of an emotional state, as well as honouring three esteemed medics.

But it will still send a shiver down the spine.

It sure will.


Creativity, Science

Healing Art of Pathology

Over at Connecting the dots … Jakob Scott describes an art (and book) project involving histology slides:

A project he began, called My Sarcoma, during which Ray painted over the top of his OWN histology images, transformed Ray from a sick and dying patient back into a living and vibrant artist.


An example of collaborative art:

Each of the paintings that Ray has made during this journey has had more than just Ray’s hands involved. Indeed, to make the paintings as you see them, a surgeon had to cut out his tumor, a pathologist had to stain and mount the tissue and a screen printer had to prepare the canvas.



Creativity, Science

The Art of Science

Work by Daniel Kohn
Work by Daniel Kohn

I am not necessarily very impressed by attempts to sell me an ugly chimera of Art and Science, just look at what I thought of David Edward’s badly edited The Lab.

But I liked the cover of Hallam Stevens’ Life Out Of Sequence, the book I wrote about last week. The bookcover sports a painting by the Broad Institute’s artist-in-residence Daniel Kohn. The green one on top of this post is also by him.

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Creativity, Science

Mix Tape #8: thirteen point seven billion light-years from the edge

Tim Minchin’s Storm the Animated Movie (????)

Comedian Tim Minchin argues with a hippy named Storm. Not really a song about science, but … great british accents, great animation, great word-plays!

“Knowledge is merely opinion! The human body is a mystery, science just falls in a hole when it tries to explain the nature of the soul”

Another science that has trouble explaining the soul is physics. But they are good at banging things together. Small things:

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Creativity, Science

Mix Tape #5: Your mama took the ugly ones

Tom Lehrer — There is a delta for every epsilon (19??)

For me, one of the best discoveries I made while collecting science-themed songs is singer-songwriter, satirist, pianist, and mathematician Tom Lehrer. You may have encountered his song The Elements in an earlier mixtape. And this one obviously reminds me of the shortest mathematician joke: “Let epsilon be negative.”

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Creativity, Science

A synchronized glissando in parallel octaves — Vijay Iyer’s jazz experiments

“It is very hard to tease out the cognitive universals of music from a sample of white, suburban teenagers listening to Mozart,”

says jazz experimentalist Vijay Iyer in an interview in the current issue of Nature. Iyer started as a physicist but ‘hit a wall in research’ and switched fields to study body rhythmns and music, before becoming a professional jazz pianist and composer. He still carries science with him in his music – much more than other musicians:

“Some composers might write a string quartet ‘about’ string theory, but that is just inspiration, it is not really discovery. I’m more of an experimentalist.” *

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Creativity, Science

Mix Tape #3: It’s the animal spirits!

Once I got started, I couldn’t stop: Collecting songs with a science theme is quite addictive. Maybe from now on I just hand them out in packages of five or so.

Thousand Days — Abscence (2008?)

Pardis Sabeti, working at Harvard and the Broad Institute and lead scientist on a recent, discussion-stirring paper on detecting interactions, is also the lead singer in the band Thousand Days. And the person who put together this video must be a huge fan of her and her music – or it’s just a Broad-thing to promote everything and everybody with a video:

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Books, Creativity, Science

Revitalizing labs with “artscience” — David Edwards: The Lab

In science, meticulousness and diligence trump creativity and imagination. At least that is how it’s often perceived: Scientific logic and order lead to Truth; imaginative creative chaos leads to something looking nice at best.

This dichomtomy is all wrong and obstructs innovation, argues The Lab by David Edwards, a Harvard professor with a vision of disciplinary cross-over:

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