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University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia

Page history last edited by Madame Curious 10 years, 9 months ago


The University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA


Today I learned all about the experiments that Trisha does in lab. She has made special flies that help scientists understand neurotransmission better. She told me that the cells in your brain are called neurons and you have about 100 billion of them. Can you believe how many cells you have in your brain? Neurons can communicate with each other by releasing chemicals called neurotransmitters. When there is something wrong with this communication process, people have diseases like Parkinson's disease. In order for doctors to help people with diseases, how neurotransmission works should be studied more. To study neurotransmission, Trisha's lab changed the genetic make-up (remember we learned about genes from the scientists at Colorado State University) of her fruit flies so that they release neurotransmitters whenever blue light is shined on them. She can dissect out the brain of a larval fruit fly, put an electrode into it, shine blue light on it and measure neurotransmitter release. Larvae are the fruit flies before they actually become flies just like a butterfly is a caterpillar before it is a butterfly. Trisha keeps her flies in jars. Did you know that the scientific name for fruit flies is Drosophila melanogaster? Here is a picture of me with a jar of her special flies and one of Trisha explaining everything to me:



Trisha told me that you can tell the difference between male and female fruit flies by looking at them under a microscope. Sometimes she has to breed the flies and needs to know if they are males or females. Male fruit flies have a black spot on the end of their body. We looked at some under the microscope. Here is what I saw.



There is one female and one male fly. Can you tell the difference?


The next thing that Trisha told me about was dissecting out the tiny fly brain from the larvae. First, we looked at the larvae under ANOTHER microscope. Here is what they look like:



I thought that they looked kind of gross. I let Trisha dissect out the brain because she told me that it takes months of practice to be to be really good at it. Using another microscope we put one of electrodes that we made last week into the brain. Remember that the electrode tip is really small, like a strand of hair.



We waited several minutes to let the tissue get adjusted to the electrode. We then turned on a blue light, which caused neurotransmitters to be released. When the neurotransmitters touch the electrode, we can detect and measure it. Making these measurements will help scientists understand what is going on better.


On my last day here, I went to a meeting with Trisha. Every week all of the people in the Venton lab have a meeting where they talk about the research that are doing. This is me listening to another member of the lab, Taylor, telling us about his research looking at how neurotransmission changes if drugs of abuse are present.



I really enjoyed my time here and I will miss the fruit flies!





The University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA


Yesterday I arrived at the University of Virginia (UVA). UVA is a really old university. It was founded in 1819 by Thomas Jefferson. Here in Charlottesville people refer to Thomas Jefferson as "TJ". TJ's home is called Monticello and I hope to visit it while I am here. Today I will be working with chemistry Ph.D. candidate Trisha Vickrey. She is a member of the Venton Lab. They have their own website: http://faculty.virginia.edu/ventongroup/



Trisha does a type of chemistry called electrochemistry. She has told me that in order to understand electrochemistry, we have to first start with the concept of atoms and molecules. Everything around us, including me, is made out of matter, which is composed of different molecules. These molecules are then composed of atoms. Atoms are made up of particles called protons, neutrons and electrons. Electrochemists pay special attention to electrons. When chemical reactions happen, electrons can be exchanged between molecules. Electrochemists like to measure the exchange of electrons. Trisha uses a tool called an electrode to make her measurements. The electrodes she uses are really, really small and she has to make them herself. First, she uses a vacuum pump to suck a carbon fiber into a small glass tube. The carbon fiber is really thin and looks like a piece of hair. Trisha told me that these same fibers can be used to make things like tennis rackets and helicopters. Here is a picture of me using the vacuum pump:



Next, Trisha uses a machine to make the glass tube that has the carbon fiber in it really sharp. Think about what a sharpened pencil looks like. That is what this looks like, but way smaller. Finally, she cuts the carbon fiber under the microscope. I got to help her do this.



Using a microscope is so much fun!


The last thing that we did today was look at a device called a pH meter. It can measure whether something is an acid or base. An acid is something that is sour like a lemon and a base is something soapy like, well, a bar of soap. There is a scale that chemists use to measure pH. It is called the pH scale and when something is below pH 7 it is an acid and when something is above pH 7 it is a base. Here I am measuring the pH of an unknown liquid. Can you see the scale in the picture? It says 9.19. Is this an acidic or basic liquid?



Well, that is all we had time for today, but next week Trisha is going to tell me all about fruit flies and how electrochemistry and fruit flies go together.




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