Leigh Van Valen, the Evolutionary Biologist behind “Red Queen Hypothesis” is no more

Very sad to hear this. A NY Times article written as an obituary explains the significance of his work.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What can a child resisting a candy tell you about success in life?

Walter Mischel is a professor of psychology at Columbia University in New York. In 1960’s, he conducted a now-famous experiment about will power and self-control in children. The experimental set-up was this: a child was invited into a small room by an adult, and was given a tray full of sweet treats to choose from. The child chose a treat, like a cookie or a marshmallow.The adult person would then give a choice to the kid: have 1 marshmallow right away, OR, wait for a few minutes, while the adult is gone outside for a while, and get 2 marshmallows.

Most of the children ate the marshmallow right away. A third of kids, however, were able to hold their ground and wait a little so they could get two candies later. The kids were then checked for academic success and personal life balance several years later, and it was found that children who could delay gratification and wait longer had higher academic scores and were more socially well-adjusted than low-delayers. This ability to delay gratification, and exert will power, has been cited as a fundamental difference between people who are generally more successful in life and are socially well-adjusted and have balanced, healthy relationships, and people, who have less-than-average success in life and have problems in relationships and career and other facets of their lives.

The bottom-line, or take-home message from this experiment is that the crucial skill needed for self-control is “strategic allocation of attention”. Instead of focusing the attention on “X” (put your temptation here), try focusing elsewhere and getting it out of working memory.

Jonah Lehrer, a writer for the New Yorker, wrote a wonderful article regarding the marshmallow experiment and its implications for will power. You can check it out here.

Posted in Psychology | Leave a comment

And the Lasker goes to…

It’s that time of the year again. No, this is not about the beginning of Fall season of mind-numbing TV series. Instead, I am talking about the Laskers and Nobels, the fewest of few diligent scientists being awarded for their stellar contributions to Science.

The Lasker Awards are one of the most prestigious awards for excellence in  biomedical research. These awards are given annually by Lasker Foundation, named after Albert Lasker. Albert Lasker was an American Businessman who is sometimes called the founder of advertising.

Lasker foundation awards are considered as sort of a prelude to Nobel Prize, as a number of Lasker awardees have gone on to win Nobel prize subsequently.  Recent examples of this ‘predictive association’ are Elizabeth Blackburn, Jack Szostak and Aaron Ciechanover.

The main awards and their winners for 2010 are:

1. Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award –

The award goes to Douglas Coleman at Jackson Lab. and Jeffery Friedman at Rockefeller University, for their work on the discovery of the hormone leptin. Leptin is a hormone which controls appetite and body weight. It was discovered by studies on obese (ob/ob) mice which arose spontaneously in Jackson Laboratory in Maine in the 60’s.

2. Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award –

To Napoleone Ferrera, at Genentech, for the discovery of VEGF as one of the major factors required for angiogenesis, and development of an effective anti-VEGF therapy for wet macular degeneration

3. Lasker-Koshland Special Achievement Award in Medical Science –

To David Weatherall at University of Oxford, for 50 years of extraordinary statesmanship in science. Sir David Weatherall has contributed fundamental insights on the genetics of inherited blood-related diseases, especially thalassemias.

A very good summary of their work is presented on Lasker Foundation’s website, alongwith a commentary on Coleman and Friedman’s work in the latest issue of Cell. On the Lasker Foundation website, there are short videos about the scientists’ work, which I found pretty informative and interesting.

Congratulations to all the researchers who did all the outstanding work.

Posted in Awards | Tagged | Leave a comment

“How to give a good talk” – Uri Alon

Uri Alon is a professor in Department of Molecular Cell Biology at Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. His work is focused on biological networks and protein circuits. He is one of the pioneers in the emergent field of systems biology with many important insights on regulation of gene expression and network analysis.

Uri is also a very prolific writer. Apart from stellar original research carried out in his lab., he writes articles about doing good science and topics like how to create a motivated research group. Some of these articles have appeared in recent issues of Molecular Cell. Here is a video of him talking about how to give a good talk, i.e., a scientific talk.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6



A Quick Summary for those who don’t have the time to watch the videos:

1. Every slide should have a “premise” – the main idea, which should be expressed as a full sentence. If it’s not a grammatically correct, full sentence, it’s not a premise.

2. Memorize the first 5 words of your talk to overcome stage fright.

3. Finish the talk ahead of time. It makes the audience feel good.

4. Spend good time on introduction, as it always feels good to listen to things you already know.

5. Don’t look at your slides while ignoring the audience; instead, look towards the audience and into their eyes.

6. Use long pauses, startling gestures (like a clap) to get back audience’s attention (for advanced stage speakers only).

7. When taking questions from audience, listen completely to the question, and then repeat the question back in the questioner’s own words. Then, after a pause, reply to the question.

8. Defuse the aggressive questions by changing the dramatic action of the question. Dramatic action refers to the underlying tonality of the question.

Posted in Science Philosophy | 1 Comment