Peddie School EXP Summer 2012 - Embryo State of Mind

This week, a number of EXP (Science Research Program) students started their laboratory work.  What follows is Claudia De Lavalle's blog entry:

Call me crazy, but moving into this apartment and coming to work at Columbia Med Center everyday feels oddly normal. I expected to walk into this whole process feeling awkward and confused, but I feel the exact opposite.

On the first day at the lab, I admit I felt a little bit out of place, as it was pretty unusual to see a high school student around the Sussel Lab. However, within a matter of hours, things began to fall into place. For one thing, I definitely lucked out with the grad student I am working with. Elena is awesome-- she goes head over heels to guide me though every process of the lab, but at the same time she randomly quizzes me on random bits of information such as....How many mL of this do we need? or, What's the next step we need to take? or, Do you remember what this solution is called? This way, I am constantly on my toes. Which is what I need, since I have the attention span of a squirrel sometimes.

Another thing that made me feel oddly at home in the lab-- everything seems to be labeled in an interesting manner. The dissecting tools are labeled: "The Secret Weapons." The lunchroom has a sign that says Nkx chew.chew (a play on an important lab term called nkx2.2). A folder is labeled "Elena's Magical Embryos." Pipet guns are labeled "Keep yo hands off me!" Who knew that pipets could have sass?

Yesterday, on my first real day of work, I dissected a pregnant mouse and proceeded to dissect her embryos. After dissecting a formaldehyde-soaked cat in physiology, this was a far less daunting task, although it required much more precision. However, since I was being watched by my hovering grad student,  I felt under pressure and as a result executed the task without making any drastic errors. Now, dissecting the embryos was much more difficult. It required intense concentration, and I learned that the hard way. On my first go at an embryo, I actually ripped it apart so that all that was left was a pile of shredded tissues. The goal was to remove the mammary tissue and be left with purely the embryo body. It took me about 40 minutes, but eventually I successfully isolated my first embryonic 11.5 day old baby. After this triumph, I got a weird rush of adrenaline and powered through my next 8 embryos with surprisingly good results. awyeah.

On day 2, my main project of the day was to conduct a PCR experiment (whew! I don't have to dissect embryos everyday!). I had somewhat of an understanding of how to do this since we did our own PCR lab in AP Bio back in winter term, but this time I had to make every part of the procedure from scratch whereas in Peddie I had everything pretty much laid out for me. It was a pretty cool experience though. I made everything from agarose gel (which was used for gel electrophoresis) to isolated mouse tail DNA. The most important thing I learned though was the importance of preventing contamination. After running my gel, I noticed that, where the control band was supposed to NOT show up (since it was jut water), there was a band clearly visible. This meant that I had contamination somewhere along the way, and that my entire PCR was messed up. This mistake was an invaluable experience, however. I learned the importance of having a control, and the importance of being extra careful to dispose of potentially contaminated pipet tips when mixing different solutions. I re-did my entire PCR, and after taking extra pre-cautionary measures I was able to obtain a successful gel. Moral of the story: Making mistakes is sometimes a GREAT thing!
I have done a lot of pipetting during the past couple of days, and no lie, my arm muscles have definitely grown a bit!

Posted By Claudia de Lavalle to Peddie School EXP Summer 2012 at 6/08/2012 07:00:00 AM


  1. Madeleine CozineJune 9, 2012 at 11:09 AM

    Can't wait to visit and see you in action. I know you will learn a ton and this will surely stoke your passion for science. I wonder if the labeling system would work in AP Chem ;-)


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