Even on a long day like this, when I’m trying to get an experiment to work for the third day in a row, I love what I do. But it’s hard. And with the constant barrage of social media opinions about how vaccinations are hurting our children, or how climate change is a hoax, I often feel that my passion doesn’t fit into this world—a place where science has a tendency to be unappreciated, mistrusted, or even hated.
Even though he’s only been in Colorado for a few months, Karim has already begun to adopt the Boulder lifestyle by summiting Bear Peak when it was still covered in snow and ice. There’s nothing like jumping in with both feet, right? After spending some time with him, I would say that phrase describes Karim well— he’s the kind of guy that doesn’t do things halfway.
If you’ve been paying attention to the news of late, you’re probably aware of the recent measles outbreak spreading across the country. Everyone’s talking about it—even the president. Most children have been vaccinated against measles and other deadly diseases, but those who haven’t are at risk of contracting the disease. It has been well established that vaccination is the best way to prevent illnesses, and even to eradicate diseases (think polio in the US and smallpox world-wide.) In fact, President Obama said in a recent speech that the science behind vaccination is “pretty indisputable.” But what is the science behind vaccines, and why do they work?
For over half a century, biologists have been culturing cells in vitro, or in a dish, separate from the organisms they come from. Many of the natural features of a cell can be recapitulated in culture; however, our inability to specifically recreate their native environment is a significant hurdle in understanding countless cellular processes and associated diseases. Within an organism, cells take cues from surrounding tissues and cells, and from the kind of surface on which they exist. Such signals instruct the cells when they should divide, or differentiate into a new cell type, when they should move, and even when they should die. Creating a setting that is as close as possible to the natural environment of a cell is essential for truly understanding how cells work.