Welcome to Equilibria! Who the heck are we?

We’re three Ph.D. students who have given over our twenties to biology research, and we’re starting this project to share our love of science with you! Ph.D. students (alongside postdocs) do the grunt work of science. Each day we try to learn something new about the world. Science research is rarely as glamorous as it appears in popular media, but it’s also rarely endless, dull toiling. Instead, it’s a bit of both! We love the job, and want to share what it looks like.

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Small Intros to Big Questions: How many types of cells make up a human?

The average human body is made up of 37 trillion cells — that’s roughly 4.3 million times the population of New York City. This cellular world is vastly diverse, and biologists are constantly discovering new types of cells with novel functions. But what exactly makes one cell type different from another? How many different kinds of cells comprise a person? Is it possible to change one type of cell into another?

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Small Intros to Big Questions: Did evolution have to happen this way?

Equilibria will occasionally post lightning introductions to our favorite big questions in biology. This is our first, and is in collaboration with Josh Cofsky, a PhD student in Jennifer Doudna and John Kuriyan’s labs at UC Berkeley. 

The world teems with an incredibly diverse array of lifeforms, each shaped by millions of years of evolution. Biologists and philosophers have long pondered: was the evolution of the particular varieties of life that we observe on Earth today a predetermined process, or a product of chance? Or, perhaps a bit of both?

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The cancer cell next door

We know a lot about what can go wrong inside cells during disease. But what about the healthy bystanders?

Your body is a mosaic of cells, all squished together to form the tissues and organs that allow you to digest, think and breathe. The proper function of these organs depends entirely on the health and behavior of the individual cells that make them up, and disease occurs when cells don’t behave normally. For example, cancer is caused by cells that divide over and over again when they should not. But what happens to the innocent bystanders, the well-behaved cells next door to the troublemakers, during disease?

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A day in the life of a dark matter scientist

This is a guest post by Eric Copenhaver, a Physics PhD student in Prof. Holger Müller’s lab at UC Berkeley. Follow him on Twitter @ecopenhaver.

If you walked into my atomic physics lab at the University of California Berkeley two weeks ago, you would have found me in a pensive pose. Left hand nestled inside my right elbow, right hand clasping my chin, with an intensely furrowed brow, I was staring off into space while leaning up against the counter. I spend a lot of time like this these days. I spend a lot of time in the dark. I mean that proverbially, but the lab I was standing in was also rather dimly lit to avoid disturbing my light-sensitive sample. I was standing in the shadow of my experiment, an SUV-sized mess of cables and lasers and mysterious boxes. There was a problem somewhere in there. The machine wasn’t working as it should — something in that morass of cables and sensors was different than it was the day before. And I had to find it.

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How the change in grad student taxation will impact everyone in America

We really wish we could be writing about science right now. But this week, we can’t.

By now, you’ve probably heard of — and formed an opinion on — the tax bill that was just passed by House Republicans. Maybe you’ve read about how it scraps the medical expense deduction, lowers corporate tax rates, or eliminates state and local tax deductions. But buried in this bill is a change that is keeping us awake at night, and should alarm anyone who cares the tiniest bit about science. Continue reading “How the change in grad student taxation will impact everyone in America”

A cutting-edge tool reveals the secrets of a salamander with superpowers

Scientists at Yale use gene-editing technology  to understand the remarkable regenerative abilities of an adorable amphibian.

In 1864, a small shipment arrived in Paris from French colonialists in Mexico. It consisted of six fairly unremarkable animals — three female deer and three small dogs — and thirty-four monumentally strange animals that were like nothing to have set foot in France before. These aquatic organisms had buggy eyes and bizarre, lacy gills, and carried with them a strange name from the New World: axolotl.  

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10 time management tips from 3 tired grad students

Grad school is hard. There are classes to teach, endless experiments to troubleshoot, apartments to clean, grants to write, groceries to buy, friends to see, reading to stay up to date on. Luckily, through trial and error, we’ve come up with some great time-saving tips for new scientists out there! Enjoy.

1. Start an extracurricular blog. This will likely take up more time than you could have ever expected, but it will be fun. The fun will make it hard to stop spending time on the blog, but the time will make it hard to have fun in general.   Continue reading “10 time management tips from 3 tired grad students”

Splitting up is hard to do. Physics helps.

Biophysicist Sophie Dumont injects her quantitative training into cell biology to solve foundational mysteries.

In 1999, Sophie Dumont couldn’t stop reading about cells. It was problematic; she was a PhD candidate in theoretical physics at the University of Oxford, and had plenty of dense material to parse through for her thesis. But cell biology posed a series of tantalizing mysteries to Dumont, which she believed, as a trained physicist, she was in a unique position to solve. A year later, unable to shake her obsession with biology, she packed up her belongings, flew across the Atlantic Ocean, and began a PhD in biophysics at UC Berkeley.

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The Frenemy Inside You: tales of bacterial cooperation and collusion

You are roughly half bacteria. In terms of cell number, that is. It’s a disorienting reality to swallow, but the body that allows you to dance and digest is utterly dependent on the work of millions of bacterial collaborators. They colonize your gut, pulling off complicated chemical reactions to produce nutrients necessary for your survival (biotin and vitamin K, to name a few). They patrol your skin, forming complex communities that ward off dangerous disease-causing interlopers. And, research published last week shows that they may also affect brain development and the efficacy of cancer drugs. Continue reading “The Frenemy Inside You: tales of bacterial cooperation and collusion”