What Fume Hoods Are For

The last time I was in California, I bought two pairs of leather shoes. Given the wide range of weather I experience in my current locale, I always treat my shoes with some weather-protector spray stuff.

If you’ve ever used this stuff, you will know that it has a nasty, organic chemical smell. Now, the smartest thing to do would have been do would have been so spray the shoes out on the apt. balcony in California and let them dry out there. But, I didn’t have the spray stuff there, and I knew I did have some in Grad School City and I didn’t want to buy another can of the stuff. So, I brought the shoes back to Grad School City unsprayed.

If I had really thought it all through, though, I would have just bought a can of weather-protector in California and called it a day. Because my apt. in Grad School City is small. So the smell of the stuff would be very powerful in the apt. and would probably give me a headache. And it’s pretty cold in Grad School City right now, so I don’t want to leave a window open.

This morning, I was getting ready for lab when I had an epiphany (if this had been a cartoon, a light bulb would have appeared over my head). I’ll bring the shoes to lab and spray them in the fume hood! Which is exactly what I just did. And I left the shoes in there because they always smell a bit for awhile after you spray them.

The funny thing is, a labmate just went into the room with a fume hood and came back out and said nothing.

Me: Are you using the fume hood today?

Her: I just went in there to get some beta-mercaptoethanol [which we keep in the hood].

[Pause while I wait for her to comment on the pair of shoes in there. She continues what she’s doing.]

Me: So, I suppose you’re wondering why there’s a pair of shoes in there?

Her:  Well, one time I had a lot of perfume on my scarf, so I left it in the fume hood for awhile so I guess I thought it was something like that.

Apparently, nothing surprises my labmates anymore.  Not even shoes in the fume hood.

You Light Up My Life: Seasonal Affective Disorder Part II, Light Therapy

Disclaimer:  I feel a bit silly for saying this, but I want to make it clear that I am not now, nor will I ever be, a medical doctor.  Therefore, I am not qualified to give professional medical advice.  The following is information about how SAD is treated, but it is not meant to be taken as professional medical opinion. 

SAD is treated in several ways:  light therapy, medication, and environmental change.  There’s a lot to say about light therapy so I’m going talk exclusively about light therapy in this post and address medication and environmental change in another post.

Bright Light Therapy

Since SAD is caused by a decrease in sunlight, it seems like a no-brainer to treat people with SAD with light (although insurance companies don’t necessarily agree).  A very simple solution is to try to spend more time outdoors.  This can certainly help if a person is stricken with SAD because she has started an office job after years of working outside as a park ranger.  However, since SAD seems to be triggered by the days getting shorter, simply going outside more (while still a good idea) is not going to be enough to cause remission.  So, what’s a SADgirl to do?  Use artificial light, of course!

Probably the main form of light therapy is sitting in front of a bright light source (ie a light box).  I am not talking about a lamp without a lampshade here.  I am talking about a BRIGHT light.  According to Winter Blues [1],  regular household bulb emits about 500 lux (lux is a unit of intensity).  A therapeutic light source, on the other hand, emits 2,500 to 10,000 lux (just a little bit brighter than a regular bulb!).  The amount of light from the sun in a summer sky is 100,000 lux.  Fortunately, a person does not need to be exposed to 100,000 lux in order to get relief from SAD!

What color of light should you use?  According to the literature, green light is better than red light [2], white light is somewhat better than green light [3], and blue light is better than red light [4].  I have not seen a study comparing white light and blue light (or blue light and green light).  You can find both white light and blue light boxes on the market and I have heard good things about both.  Most of the light boxes I have seen contain full-spectrum bulbs and therefore give off white light.  Some of these also give off UV light, so if you get one of these, it is important that it has a UV filter to avoid damage to your eyes and skin.

The amount of time a person needs to sit in front of the light box to get a therapeutic dose varies from person to person and according to what time of year it is.  For instance, I use my light box for ten minutes a day in the early fall and max out at an hour a day sometime in February and then taper back down to 10 minutes a day during the spring and nothing at all during the summer.  Your mileage may vary.  Therefore, a person will need to experiment to see how long they need to sit in front of the light box.  In Winter Blues, Dr. Rosenthal suggests starting out at 20 minutes a day for a week and if you do not feel that is benefiting you, move up to about 45 minutes a day [1].

It is generally recommended that you use the light box in the morning.  Using it too late in the day can lead to insomnia (unless you have something called phase-advanced SAD in which using the light box late in the day is more therapeutic than in the morning).  You can also split the amount of time you sit in front of the light box to both morning and afternoon.  This can help with the afternoon sleepiness that many people with SAD feel (I admit that even people without SAD often feel a little sleepy in the afternoon–and they can probably benefit from a little bright light in the afternoon too!).

One important aspect of bright light therapy is that you must use it every day or every other day.  Going two days in a row without light therapy can mean a return of SAD symptoms.

Dawn Simulators
Another type of light therapy can be found in dawn simulators.  Dawn simulators do exactly what it sounds like they do—simulate dawn.  A dawn simulator is a device that causes a light to turn on and gradually brighten over a period of time.  That light may be part of the device, or the device may be a sort of timer that controls a nearby lamp.

Dawn simulators can be invaluable to people with SAD—particularly in helping them wake up in the morning.  One study actually concluded that dawn simulation was better than bright light therapy in relieving symptoms of SAD [5].  Personally, while my dawn simulator absolutely necessary for me to wake up in the mornings, the light box is what relieves my depression.

Yes, you read right—vacation.  While most people can probably benefit from taking a break from work, the vacation I’m talking about here is a break from the darkness.  Going to a sunny location  for a week (or more!) in January or February can make a huge difference to SAD sufferers—more so than a vacation spent in a non-sunny locale.

Fortunately, the side effects of bright light therapy are pretty mild which means that the vast majority of SAD sufferers can reap the benefits of light therapy.  The side effects include headache, eye strain, irritability, and insomnia.  These can mostly be countered by decreasing the amount of time you sit in front of the light box, or using a less powerful light box.  Just because the side effects are mild doesn’t mean you shouldn’t discuss light therapy with your doctor, however!

Next:  Other forms of treatment.

[1] Rosenthal, NE. Winter Blues. New York: Guilford Press, 1993; second edition 1998.

[2] Oren DA, Brainard GC, Johnston SH, Joseph-Vanderpool JR, Sorek E, Rosenthal NE.  Treatment of seasonal affective disorder with green light and red light.  Am J Psychiatry. 1991 Apr;148(4):509-11.

[3] Stewart KT, Gaddy JR, Byrne B, Miller S, Brainard GC.  Effects of green or white light for treatment of seasonal depression.  Psychiatry Res. 1991 Sep;38(3):261-70.

[4] Glickman G, Byrne B, Pineda C, Hauck WW, Brainard GC.  Light therapy for seasonal affective disorder with blue narrow-band light-emitting diodes (LEDs).  Biol Psychiatry. 2006 Mar 15;59(6):502-7. Epub 2005 Sep 13.

[5] Avery DH, Eder DN, Bolte MA, Hellekson CJ, Dunner DL, Vitiello MV, Prinz PN. Dawn simulation and bright light in the treatment of SAD: a controlled study. Biol Psychiatry. 2001 Aug 1;50(3):205-16.

SADness: Seasonal Affective Disorder Part I—What is SAD?

I’ve been meaning do write about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)—what it is and my experience with it. Since we are approaching the Winter Solstice–the shortest day of the year–it seemed the perfect time to start a series of posts about SAD.

SAD was first described by Dr. Norman E. Rosenthal and colleagues in a 1984 article in Archives of General Psychiatry [1]. Simply stated, SAD is extreme winter blues. This is different from the cabin fever people often experience after being shut inside for too long during the winter. People suffering from SAD experience actual clinical major depression during the winter months, then remission from depression (sometimes even hypomania) during the summer. The severity can vary from person to person and from winter to winter. Some people are mildly affected while others experience significant impairment. While anyone can suffer from SAD, women in their 20s to 40s are the most susceptible.

The symptoms of SAD are very similar to the symptoms of standard clinical depression—depressed mood, sleep difficulties (usually increased daytime sleepiness and prolonged nighttime sleep for people with SAD), changes in eating patterns (generally overeating and carbohydrate craving for SAD sufferers), and low energy—but, significantly, these symptoms of depression routinely show up in the winter and abate in the summer. People with SAD may also have difficulty thinking clearly and concentrating during the winter months. In the summer, people with SAD often feel happier, more energized, sleep better and can think more clearly.

Classically, SAD is triggered by the decreasing amounts of sunlight experienced as the seasons progress from summer to winter. As the days get shorter, the symptoms worsen. However, SAD can also show up when a person changes latitudes—going from a lower latitude to a higher latitude can cause the onset of SAD while going from a higher latitude to a lower latitude can alleviate the symptoms of SAD. In his book, Winter Blues [2], Dr Rosenthal describes a case in which a person developed SAD after he quit smoking and therefore no longer went outside in the afternoons for a smoke break!

The onset of SAD symptoms occurs at different times for different people. Some people may feel fine until November, others start to become depressed in August. Remission can also occur at different times in the spring. Interestingly, the worst months for SAD are usually January and February (in the Northern latitudes), after the days have started getting longer. This is because these are often the months with highest frequency of cloudy days (and so, the least amount of sunlight). Therefore, although the Solstice should mark the beginning of the road to happiness for SAD sufferers, in reality the worst may be yet to come.

Coming up: Light Therapy for SAD


1. Rosenthal NE, Sack DA, Gillin JC, Lewy AJ, Goodwin FK, Davenport Y, Mueller PS, Newsome DA, Wehr TA. Seasonal affective disorder. A description of the syndrome and preliminary findings with light therapy. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1984 Jan;41(1):72-80.

2. Rosenthal, NE. Winter Blues. New York: Guilford Press, 1993; second edition 1998

The next one up is….

 The Eight Things Meme

I’ve only got one more to go after this one.  It’s the Pharyngula Mutating Genre Meme and (as in real life) I’m waiting a bit before having progeny.

8 passions

  1. My husband
  2. Education (science education in particular)
  3. Science
  4. Reading
  5. Knitting
  6. Family
  7. Friends
  8. Chocolate

8 things to do before I die

  1. Live abroad
  2. Visit all of the continents
  3. Read Anna Karenina (I hear it’s a really good book, but the size of the book is daunting)
  4. Have children
  5. Get my PhD
  6. Knit a Fair Isle sweater
  7. Learn how to ride a horse
  8. Learn how to play the piano

8 things I often say

  1. “I have no idea.”
  2. “Let me just finish this row.” (While knitting.)
  3. “Quite frankly, ….”
  4. “[X] is sucking my will to live.”
  5. “Dumbass.” (Often to myself when I have made a very stupid mistake.)
  6. “I’m trying to make you famous!” (To the yeast when they refuse to transform the DNA I need them to transform.)
  7. “I’m going to the scope.”
  8. “Wanna go get tea?” (I hate coffee.)

8 books I recently read

This sort of coincides with my post about the books I read this year, but I’ll list the ones I read most recently.

  1. Making Money, Terry Pratchett
  2. The Truth, Terry Pratchett
  3. The Demon Under the Microscope, Thomas Hager
  4. She’s Such a Geek! ed. Annalee Newitz and Charlie Anders
  5. Stephanie Pearl-McPhee Casts Off: The Yarn Harlot’s Guide to the Land of Knitting, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee
  6. Stardust, Neil Gaiman
  7. Crazy Aunt Purl’s Drunk, Divorced and Covered in Cat Hair, Laurie Perry
  8. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling

8 songs that mean something to me

I had started this post about songs titles that typified my graduate school experience, so I’ll list those.

  1. He Had it Comin’ (from the musical Chicago only insert advisor for husband)
  2. Another Brick in the Wall (of course)
  3. We’re Not Gonna Take It
  4. Janey’s Got a Gun
  5. Closer to Fine
  6. I Go to Extremes
  7. Under Pressure
  8. Take This Job and Shove It

8 qualities I look for in a friend

  1. Compassion
  2. Intelligence
  3. Honesty
  4. Loyalty
  5. A sense of humor
  6. Tolerance
  7. Shared interests
  8. Good listener

8 people who’s blogs I enjoy and who may consider themselves tagged if they wish

I don’t want to get on people’s nerves about the meme-thing, so I will just list some blogs that I read which were not on the “tagged” list of the blogs from the other meme.

  1. Thus Spake Zuska, Zuska
  2.  Second Sight, Rob Knop
  3. Living the Scientific Life, (Scientist, Interupted), GrrlScientist
  4. On Being a Scientist and a Woman, ScienceWoman
  5. A Blog Around the Clock, Coturnix
  6. The Happy Scientist, ecogeofemme
  7. A K8, a Cat, a Mission, Kate
  8. The Daily Transcript, Alex Palazzo

Possibly, I could have saved myself some time and just put ScienceBlogs.


Over at ScienceBlogs, Laelaps has asked what people have read this year. I started thinking about this and realized my list was too long to put in the comments, so I’m going to post them here, in no particular order.

First-time reads:

  1. Making Money, Terry Pratchett (audio)
  2. The Demon Under the Microscope, Thomas Hagan (audio)
  3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling
  4. A Game of Thrones, George RR Martin (audio)
  5. A Clash of Kings, George RR Martin (audio)
  6. A Storm of Swords, George RR Martin (audio)
  7. A Feast for Crows, George RR Martin (audio)
  8. Stardust, Neil Gaiman
  9. Opening Skinner’s Box: Great Psychological Experiments of the Twentieth Century, Lauren Slater
  10. Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters, Jessica Valenti
  11. The Cup of the World, John Dickenson (audio)
  12. The Widow and the King, John Dickinson (audio)
  13. Master of Dragons, Margaret Weiss (audio)
  14. The Dragon’s Son, Margaret Weiss (audio)
  15. Crazy Aunt Purl’s Drunk, Divorced and Covered in Cat Hair, Laurie Perry
  16. Stephanie Pearl-McPhee Casts Off: The Yarn Harlot’s Guide to the Land of Knitting, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee
  17. Misquoting Jesus:  The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, Bart D. Ehrman
  18. She’s Such a Geek! ed. Annalee Newitz and Charlie Anders
  19. I Had Brain Surgery.  What’s Your Excuse? Suzy Becker
  20. The Great Snape Debate : The Case for Snapes Guilt/Innocence, Amy Berner and Orson Scott Card


  1. Thud, Terry Pratchett (audio)
  2. The Truth, Terry Pratchett (audio)
  3. Monsterous Regiment, Terry Pratchett (audio)
  4. The Fifth Elephant, Terry Pratchett (audio)
  5. An Assembly Such as This: A Novel of Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman, Pamela Aidan
  6. Duty and Desire: A Novel of Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman, Pamela Aidan
  7. These Three Remain: A Novel of Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman, Pamela Aidan
  8. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
  9. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, J.K. Rowling


  1. The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God, Carl Sagan
  2. The Golden Compass, Philip Pullman (audio)

I think it’s pretty obvious I’m a fan of:  fantasy fiction, Jane Austen, Terry Pratchett, and Harry Potter.  The non-fiction is sort of all over the map.  I also like to listen to audio books while I knit.  Or on the plane to California.  Or while doing the dishes.

Looking at this list, I realize that I read a lot more than I thought I did.  I am always bemoaning the fact that I have no time to read, but I still have managed to read approximately one book every two weeks.  This is much, much less that the amount I used to read before grad. school.  So much less that I honestly feel deprived.  I’m looking forward to catching up on my reading  when I take a break after I graduate.

What have you read this year?

I was never really good at tag

Except for TV tag*, because I watched a lot of TV.

I have been tagged for three memes and therefore have some catching up to do. I’m going to try to spread them out a bit so as not to bore you all.

First up: Seven Random Things Meme from ScienceMama

1- Link to the person that tagged you and post the rules on your blog.
2- Share 7 random and or weird things about yourself.
3- Tag 7 random people at the end of your post and include links to their blogs.
4- Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

Here goes:

1. I like to knit socks. This is my favorite past-time during seminars and meetings. I’ve been doing it for so long, people don’t even look twice anymore. Knitting helps me pay attention. I know that seems counter-intuitive but it’s true. It’s like it keeps the fidgety part of my brain occupied so that the rest of my brain can focus on what’s going on. Also, if the talk is boring, I don’t fall asleep because I have something to occupy me. I knit socks because they are small and easy to carry around.

2. I asked for a microscope for Christmas every year when I was a kid and never got one. My family was not big into the educational gifts. I also asked for ice skates and the Barbie mansion and never got those either.

3. My worst grade in college was in cell biology. I got a C-. It was one of those dreadful classes where all of the points are from tests and the tests are multiple choice and each question has five blanks in it and you have to get all five right to get one point. I kicked ass in my molecular biology class the next year where all of the questions on the tests were essay questions. Still I think it’s ironic that my worst grade was in cell biology and here I am, a cell biologist. Life can be funny.

4. My favorite color is blue. Most of my clothes are blue, my furniture is mostly blue, my bed linens are blue. I have this fear that one day I’ll wake up and decide I hate blue and then be stuck with an entire blue lifestyle.

5. I got my first email account when I was a sophomore in college. Prior to that, I had only heard of the internet, I had never actually come in contact with it. This was back in the olden days, before Google even existed.

6. I collect Christmas ornaments. They are my favorite souvenir. They’re small and don’t sit around collecting dust. Pretty soon, though, I’m going to have to start putting up two Christmas trees in order to have a place to hang each of them.

7. I was a cheerleader in high school. I even went to cheerleading camp.** We were not terribly athletic cheerleaders–no gravity-defying acrobatics–but we did wear short skirts and had pom-poms and used “spirit fingers” and got up in front of people and tried to get them to shout where they were from and what they wanted (“WHERE’ ‘RE YA’ FROM???” “[HOMETOWN]!” “WHAT D’ YA’ WANT???” “A VICTORY!“) and other bubbly, insane things.

And now, the difficult part. I have to tag others. I hate this part. Okay, here goes:


*TV tag was like regular tag except that if the person who was “it” got close to you, you could call out the name of a TV show and sit down for a short period of time and be “safe.” It had to be a show that no one else had named yet.

**Cheerleading camp consisted of 4 days of excruciating cheerfulness while being taught cheers, jumps, stunts, pyramids, and dances by the official NCA cheerleaders. The cheerfulness was necessary because we all wanted to earn The Spirit Stick and you can’t win The Spirit Stick if you don’t have spirit, right?! Everything we did, and I do mean everything, got turned into a cheer. If the instructors told us to move back, then the crowd as one would start shouting “Move-back, Move-back” *clap, clap* “Move-back, Move-back.” It was not for the faint of heart or the “spirit”-ually weak. I think it would likely drive most people to justifiable homicide. It was also the most physically demanding thing I have ever done in my life and I do not say that lightly. My entire body hurt when I went to bed at night and I thought I would die when I got out of bed each morning. And still, we would smile and be perky so as to win The Spirit Stick. I think we may have been sick in the head.

Sprained dignity

And possibly bruised knees.

I had one of those fun moments while walking in to lab this morning where I slipped on the ice in front of an entire bus stop full of people and fell, landing on my knees and my hands.  Nothing was permanently damaged, but it did quench my desire to go ice skating later on today!