Honors Summer Adventures: Licking Dinosaur Bones, Bonsai Trees, and Bioreactors

Hi all! I’m a long time reader, first time poster and I happen to go by the name Justin. Justin Miller. I’m a junior from Saint Paul, Minnesota double majoring in chemical engineering and biochemistry. Unlike most of the other Honors students that have written blog posts, it feels like I’ve been making this entire summer up as I go.

I started out the summer as an independent yard work and lawn care contractor. Now, that’s a pretty fancy way of saying I’m getting paid to mow grass and pull weeds, but I knew it wasn’t going to cut it for the summer. That’s not to say I didn’t keep busy; I spent my free time learning the art of bonsai, touring the science museum, and licking dinosaur bones (yes, there is science behind it: dinosaur bones are dryer than rock, therefore you can test the authenticity of a fossil by licking it. If your tongue sticks, you’ve got a real live fossil!).

Miller pic 1My bonsai

Fossils and mini trees aside, I knew I wanted to make something more out of my summer. Now, by mid-June it’s pretty late to start any project, but I am and always will be the optimist, the hoper of far-flung hopes and the dreamer of improbable dreams[1]. After fifteen or so emails fired off to various research professors, I found a grad student willing to let me head up a project. I snapped up the offer quicker than you could blink (don’t blink, don’t even blink).

It was only after I realized what the project I was to be working on involved, that I realized just how excited I was. We would, he explained, be growing bacteria that produce a therapeutic compound. As someone who is extremely enthusiastic about pharmaceutical research I was beside myself. Vectoring genes into E.Coli bacteria, in order to study either an anti-malaria or a chemo drug? Fascinating. Despite our first batch of bacteria growing poorly, we are still hoping to isolate the compound by the end of the summer!

Miller pic 2Bioreactor for bacteria-growing purposes

Perhaps the biggest lesson I’ve learned from this summer is that you should never be afraid to ask. Whether it’s asking for a favor, help, or an opportunity, it seems most people are willing to work with you. My science teacher was ecstatic to share his hobby (bonsai) with me. The museum collections manager was the perfect tour guide for the museum’s collection, and more than willing to let me have my own dinosaur bone.

So as this crazy summer begins to wind down and we all make our way back to Ames, remember, all you want could just be a question away! Have a great summer and always remember bowties are cool.

[1] Doctor Who “The Almost People”


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