Adventures at Janelia!

Laura Wysocki took several of her research students to the HHMI Janelia Farm Research Center to do some trouble shooting on their project.  The students, Weston Kitley and Peter Santa Maria, worked with Dr. Wysocki during the school year, and this trip allowed them to use some advanced instrumentation to analyze their project.  Here is their experience:

Day 1

            We arrived at Janelia Farm Research Campus today. The facilities here are extremely impressive and advanced. It is clear that this is a serious research institution with a lot of money to spare. Whereas Wabash College has great facilities for undergraduate research, Janelia Farm Research Campus has high tech instrumentation, and spares no expense.  The conversations that occur in passing between employees are generally scientific in nature and interdisciplinary.  Before our Wabash education they would sound like gibberish, but they now makes some sense to us. It is rewarding to be capable of understanding the current research and discoveries that occur here.  We also took a tour of the building today, which was interesting because of the expensive and innovative instrumentation for biological and chemical research. We were able to view Cornelius and Jane, robots designed to empty fly vials and place the flies into another clean prepared vial. The robots are named after the kids that grew up on the property and Janelia is a hybrid of their two names.  The Lavis lab, where we will be working, is very innovative and productive. Their lab is very organized and the instrumentation that is provided is state of the art, it includes an automated chromatography system and an LCMS. These are the two instruments that we plan to take full advantage of while here. We set up a reaction that has been giving us trouble, to monitor it with the LCMS to determine if the correct product was being formed. By doing this we determined that the THF we were using had too many impurities and by using the higher grade, anhydrous THF the reaction seems to be proceeding quite well.  To finish the day we went to eat at the restaurant in the lobby of Janelia. We participated in a trivia game, in which the majority of the questions were about politics and musicals. The rooms here have huge windows, overlooking a lake, and instead of watching television we watched fish and spiders in their natural environment.


Day 2            A nerve-racking day, today we had to present our research from our entire year of research with Wysocki. At Janelia different group leaders meet with their entire group and everyone recaps what they have accomplished so far and any problems they may have encountered. Dr. Lavis suggested that we discuss our research with at his group meeting today during lunch. This was quite intimidating because our research on fluorescent dyes is a subject that everyone in the meeting knew a lot about. Of course we knew our research very well and thanks to help from Dr. Wysocki we were able to answer any questions they had. After the presentation we were able to listen to everyone else in Dr. Lavis’ group talk about their research, some of which was way over our heads.  After some work on the big toys (LC-MS) at the Janelia labs and the presentation we decided we earned a break. The Janelia campus is located along the Potomac River and there are several trails available to hike along. We hiked out to the Potomac and spent some time along the river. Unfortunately on the way back we trusted Dr. Wysocki to get us home. Consequently we got lost along the trails for a short amount of time. Luckily we were able to find are way back to campus. After the hike we went to dinner with other employees at Janelia and learned about life working at a research institute and then called it a night.


Day 3            Our second full day at the Janelia campus started with Brunch at the restaurant in the building. The building has almost anything you can imagine, including a restaurant, ping-pong, pool table, movie theater, day care. It is designed so people will enjoy coming to work and therefore spend more time there. Weston and I enjoyed the amenities and the free meals provided by Dr. Lavis and Janelia. After Brunch we continued with our research. We worked up a reaction we had started on Friday morning, purified it with the automated column chromatography (an extremely expensive but useful instrument). We then set up our next reaction and let it run overnight. Dr. Wysocki had gotten us tickets to a Nationals v. Orioles game that evening so the three of us rode the Metro for about 40 minutes to the Nationals Ballpark. The two teams are currently doing very well and they rarely play each other. Because Baltimore and D.C. are so close the game was sold out and the metro system was packed with Nationals and Orioles jerseys. When we arrived at the game we found the tickets were right alone the first base foul line, great seats! We enjoyed some ballpark dogs and pretzels. It was the first Major League game I had ever attended and it didn’t disappoint when it ended in a nail biter in the ninth.


Day 4            This morning we awoke after sleeping in until 9, ate breakfast for free (thanks Uncle Howard), and then hit the lab hard. It was our last day to get everything done that we needed to, so we worked up another reaction, purified it, and prepared all samples to be sent back. We also collected valuable data using the LCMS to help determine how our reactions had proceeded. Once we were done in the lab we prepared to say goodbye to Janelia. This trip was extremely valuable, in that we learned much about primary research facilities, and we were granted the chance to use instrumentation that we otherwise could not. This trip also helped us further our research and troubleshoot our reactions. Janelia has roughly 150 full time scientists, and another 200 visiting scientists, including Dr. Wysocki, and does important and innovative research. This was a great opportunity to come visit and witness the progress made here first hand. Peter and I just want to thank all those who granted this opportunity and gave us the chance to come out here.

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