A Chemist Doing Biology

My postdoctoral research has just begun (started 1.5 months ago) and it will heavily rely on using mice. Thus far I have imaged, dissected, injected, xenografted, castrated, you name it and I’ve already done it or will be doing it to mice. As chemists we are sheltered from the bloody side of science. Sure some chemists on the biological side may have done cell culture or a gel here and there, but most chemists don’t handle things that bite you while your injecting the nanoparticles you made to monitor the progress of the cancer you gave them weeks earlier. Because of this I will be making a series of posts tagged a Chemist Doing Biology chronicling my adventures into Biology.

Brief background: I am a Chemist not a Biologist, my PhD was equal measures of nuclear/radio-chemistry, materials chemistry, organic synthesis, and electronic circuit design (sigh). My new research group is all chemists even though we are in the Pharmacology department. My first task in the group, take the graduate student’s Gd-encapsulated nanoparticles and inject them into mice. Then extract the lymph nodes and get ICP-AES data. A daunting task for a chemist to accomplish, especially with no biologists in the group or anyone having in vivo experience.

Fortunately, I found a happy biology graduate student willing to take her research time to teach me how to do the injection/dissection of the poor mice. When the day arrives, the chemistry graduate student and I whisk the biologist down to the animal cages. We gown up, bring our nanoparticles and chemical reagents in a box, we show the biologist the mice and proceed to the procedure room. We give the mice anesthesia, hand the biologist our nanoparticles and hope for the best. It is at this moment where the disconnect between hardcore Biologists and hardcore Chemists becomes evident.

Biologist, “Can you hand me the syringe?”

Chemists, “They don’t keep the syringes in the procedural room?”

Biologist, “No. Where are your surgical tools, I thought you wanted to extract the lymph nodes?”

Chemists, “I thought you would bring the surgical equipment since you were going to show us how to dissect?”

Biologist, “That’s not how it works. All my mice are immune compromised, so I don’t want to risk using my equipment with wild type mice.”

Mitch to the chemistry grad student in my best postdoc voice, “Well, you better go find some equipment if you want to get your experiment done today.”

Grad student flies out in search of a miracle. I do my best to laugh off the situation with the biologist. The biologist is taking it well, but I was definitely embarrassed. After 10 minutes the chemistry graduate student returns with syringes, needles, scissors, and cutting blades.

Biologist picks up scissors, “These are not surgical scissors, these are to cut paper I can’t use these.” Looks at our cutting blades, “Is that a box cutter? That definitely won’t work on something as small as a mouse. You’re going to have to order real surgical equipment.”

Although that day went horribly wrong at least we learned what would be needed for the next attempt. Last month we used our new surgical tools and performed the dissection of the mice as we originally planned with the biologist. The data from that experiment is amazing and compliments the graduate student’s in vitro work beautifully. The paper is already done and waiting for the PI to submit to Angew.

Next Time: My first tail vein injection and the story of the fainting biologist.



  1. Asad M Khan says:

    Anything new, when starts, same thing happens. Because no one know every thing thats going to happen next. This post is Text book example for starters. So for every one who enter a new domain, probably it would be nice to know what are the requirements. Thanks for sharing..

  2. Where’s the like button?

  3. What’s the ICP data?

  4. Nice one, looking forward to the next story.

  5. what you’re doing is completely wrong and morally inacceptable. And can be prosecuted penally.

    • True.

      Experimenting on innocent rats when you obviously have a surplus of graduate students around.

  6. calixarene says:

    Nice story. I think what you are doing is perfect. Without these volunteered mice, how can we market the drugs and used them in the clinics.

  7. Nice one Mitch. Something I can relate to. I constantly hear myself saying “I’m a chemist not a biologist and not stupid”

  8. Don’t forget to name that mice in the acknowledgment section.

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