Sunday, May 23, 2010

You Ball

Friday, May 21

Friday was a long day. We left from our hotel at 7:30 and returned at 19:00. The two sites we visited were the Nanoscience Centre and Sanger Institute...
Friday, May 21

Friday was a long day. We left from our hotel at 7:30 and returned at 19:00. The two sites we visited were the Nanoscience Centre and Sanger Institute. The bus ride to the Nanoscience Centre at the northeast corner of the University of Cambridge lasted two hours.

Professor Sobelman at the entrance of the Nanoscience Centre in Cambridge.

We were given short lectures from a number of PhD students about their research. One speaker, Tomas Oppenheim, came from San Diego to study in Cambridge. He gave an overview of the fabrication and characterization of protein nanofibre composites, materials produced by a technique called electrospinning. These materials may prove useful because they can be made very stiff. When asked about the possible commercial applications of protein nanofibre composites, however, he explained that the research he was performing had no short-term practical applications. This was true for most of the research we learned about at the Nanoscience Centre. The science behind their research is very young and will probably not be used for several decades.

A lecture in a conference room at the Nanoscience Centre

After the lectures, they took us on a tour of their facilities.

Tomas Oppenheim demonstrates a tensile stress-testing instrument

Students leaving the Nanoscience Centre laboratories

On the same day, we drove nine miles south of Cambridge to a research campus in Hinxton which included the Sanger Institute and the European Bioinformatics Institutes (EBI). Although the two institutes are closely tied, we only visited the Sanger Institute. The Sanger Institute is completely funded by Wellcome Trust, a private charity for research to improve human and animal health.

Seminar group at the Sanger Institute

The two areas of research we learned about were genomics and bioinformatics. Sanger was the largest single contributor to the Human Genome Project and continues to be a world leader in sequencing and analyzing genomes.

Researcher Kerstin Howe lectured about bioinformatics, and Harold Swerdlow lectured about DNA sequencing. We were then given tours of the DNA sequencing lab and the data center as well as the beautiful premises.

Students visit the DNA sequencing laboratory at Sanger Institute

Outside of the restricted datacenter which is capable of holding 4 petabytes of data

The grounds of the Sanger Institute were embellished with sculptures such as the spiral tree and the reflective ball shown below. The spiral tree originated from a tree at the Sanger Institute that was struck by lightning. The tree was carved into a spiral. The Latin names of species sequenced at Sanger were carved into the wood. The ball was nicknamed "the You Ball." The You Ball was built to be a tribute to You, the generous supporters of genomic research, Sanger, and all that it stands for. The You Ball was brought to you by You, the good Samaritans who donated to private health-research charities.

Spiral Tree carved with names of species sequenced at Sanger

The You Ball