Carol Lynn – Q&A

Carol Lynn – Q&A

Editor’s Note: We asked each of the QSTORM investigators to respond to a set of questions we thought could help web visitors understand a little bit more about the personal side of working in science.
These are Carol Lynn’s responses.

Q. In what ways do you feel that you don’t fit the stereotype of a scientist?
Well, I’m not a scientist. I pursued a career in science, but got side-tracked into studying the history of science and the fascinating interplay between science and society. I suppose I’m a “lapsed scientist.”

Q. Was there a particular person or life experience that caused your interest
 in your area of expertise? Who and what?
I was always a nature person, and I had a wonderful high school biology teacher (Ron Smetanick, Wootton High, Rockville, MD), who took us out to do real watershed field studies and to help develop a new hands-on biology curriculum. It inspired me to do an NSF summer research program in oceanography at URI after my junior year, and then I interned for Nobel Prize winner Carleton Gajdusek at NIH after my senior year. Nevertheless, in bio class I was the student who wrote and choreographed the play on mitosis, and in Dr. Gajdusek’s kuru neurological disease lab, I migrated to editing his ethnographic films on New Guinea brain-eating rituals. So, it’s not surprising that after concentrating on biology and then history of science in college, I slid out of the lab and into the television documentary world…and then into a science museum.

Q. How would your friends describe you?
Hard-working and caring.

Q. What quirks do you have or are you known for?
Commas. I tend to be a stickler for those.

Q. What are your main interests or hobbies outside of your work?
Learning about the world from the point of view of my teen-age son; gardening; art, history and design, current affairs.

Q. What about your family?
My son Kyle is a thriving junior at Cambridge Rindge Latin High School and my S.O. is a terrific filmmaker with lots of mileage credits. My parents live in Maryland. My dad led the team that put the first geosynchronous satellite into orbit; my mom kicked off my love for biology. I have one sister who’s an artist and another who is a lapsed-lawyer-turned-writer. All three girls in my family gave birth exclusively to sons. What gives?

Q. How you would describe your work to an 8 yr old?
“I help people understand cool things that are happening in the world of science and engineering. For example, did you know…”

Q. What led you to this particular collaboration?
I was one of a handful of artists/educators invited to participate in NSF’s Innovations in Biological Imaging and Visualization Ideas Lab retreat in the spring of 2010. Once there, I collaborated with four different teams developing research proposals, three of which were funded. NSF asked me to focus on Team QSTORM, and Jessica, Ge, Beth and Peter have been terrific colleagues. They embody so much that I value about the scientific spirit and creative collaboration. (… and, they have also been open to participating in some fairly unusual activities – like this website. )

Q. Do you remember a particular moment when the pieces of the puzzle clicked together? If so, please describe.
We were at the IBIV retreat for five days and nights. The QSTORM team had already formed, when Beth found me and invited me to come talk with them. I was already familiar with quantum dot applications in biology and medicine and had been working in nanoscale informal science education for almost ten years. What leaped out at me with this group was the intense longing of the two biologists – Beth and Ge- to see and understand the very essence of life processes in action – the conveyance of neural impulses, the activation of muscle on the nanoscale – whereas, what they had had to work with up to now was either high-res electron microscope images of dead cell structures or low-res moving images of living cells. Here at the Ideas Lab they were partnered with a chemist (Jessica) and a physicist (Peter) who were psyched to pitch in to engineer a dramatic solution to their dilemma, using quantum dots for illumination, and adaptive optics for super resolution. The four began to design a plan to coordinate the bridge building from their distinct peaks of expertise, aimed at achieving a potentially grand vista of the landscape below. It was going to be a bold and risky venture; and, I thought, a human saga worthy of chronicling, even as its outcome is as yet indeterminable.

Q. How would you describe the goal of this collaboration in one sentence in non-technical terms. OK, maybe two sentences.
We want to be able to gain a vista of life at the spatial and temporal scale of its most basic processes. We want to see fundamental biology in action.

Q. How do you hope this collaboration will advance the field? (non-technical terms, 1-2 sentences).
I hope this collaboration will bring extraordinary insight into the processes of life, as well as extraordinary insight into the processes of collaborative research.

Q. Why should a non-scientist care about what the QSTORM team is trying to do?
Well, (1) if they’re in the U.S., their tax dollars are helping to fund this research. (2) No matter where they are, they may get to enjoy extraordinary images of fundamental life processes in action at resolutions never before experienced. (3) These images may lead not only to new biological knowledge, but also to new medical and veterinary capabilities. (4) Finally, the story of the process by which four researchers and their students (with specialties ranging from biology to chemical engineering to physics and optics) come together to try to achieve a significant scientific and technical breakthrough – is inspiring, for all of us who value humanity’s quest for insight into some of the deepest mysteries of life.

Q. What do you think will be the most challenging aspect of the QSTORM project?
Trying to achieve the ultimate quest within such a short amount of time. Even if that becomes elusive, though, this research collaboration is going to greatly accelerate the knowledge, skill, and capacity of the participants, their students, and others in their fields.

Q. How do you cope with obstacles and failures along the way?
I try to learn from them. (How fascinating!)

Q. Where do you find inspiration when challenged with a difficult problem?
I go for a brisk walk or a swim or some such.