In all my six years of full-time education in the physical sciences, I did not take a single biology class. In fact, my last biology class was in high school, which was … well, let’s not quantify how long ago that was. My lab partner in tenth-grade biology made me do all the slicing and dicing of specimens; she ended up going to law school. Still, several of my classmates went on to various biological/medical careers, so the education I received couldn’t have been too awful.
Now, this fact about my educational background might be good for a laugh line when I go to see my physician or when I get together with fellow science writers. “I know more about what goes on in the interiors of stars than about what happens inside me!” “Hey, the math would be so much easier if people were all spherically symmetric!” (One of my undergrad physics professors used to invoke “spherical cows” on a regular basis.)
Still, the intersection of biology and physics is a hot area of research, and I was happy to spend a day at the most recent annual meeting of the Biophysical Society up the road from me in Baltimore, Maryland. Mostly, what attracted me to the conference was a session on imaging and optical microscopy. I reported on some of the findings for the latest edition of the OPN Newsroom. (Once again, read my story while it is still available on an open-access basis.)
I went straight from the imaging session to a fascinating discussion of “The Future of Science Education in America,” on which I shall report separately. Then I checked out the exhibit hall. There I found a lot of the same exhibitors I’ve seen at OSA meetings — Agilent, Chroma, Thermo Scientific, Thorlabs, Stanford Photonics, Newport, Hamamatsu, Fianium, CVI Melles Griot, etc. That detail was fascinating in itself.
Sometimes I wish I knew more about the “bio” side of biophysics — to that end, I have a used college Biology 101 textbook sitting on my bookshelf, although I have yet to get past the first chapter. But with every article I write like this week’s OPN Newsroom brief, I get a little farther past my first taste of biophysics, when I shared an apartment with a graduate student in the subject (and another grad student in biochemistry). My interaction with the budding biophysicist was the occasional shared watching of a Star Trek rerun, followed by my coming home after working 40 hours in three days to find a note on the kitchen table: “Gone to Soviet Union to launch my crystal growing experiments to Mir. Please take care of Pyewacket [his cat].”