Monday, 12 May 2008

SXR376: Molecular basis of Human Disease

Uh oh - this years residential material has arrived. I've opted for one of the 3rd level biology residentials which will take place at Nottingham. The pack arrived with:
  • An introductory letter
  • A course calender
  • A course guide
  • A ring binder and insert
  • A stack of reading (well 180 pages worth)
  • A CD-ROM with more stuff on and a virtual lab.
As the title says, its an investigation to the molecular basis of Human Disease. Now I'm not entirely sure what we're going to be doing in the weeks work, but I have a fair idea it will involve some PCR machines, and some immunoblotting, also known as western blotting.

The 3rd level residentials take a step up in pace, as you have to pass a computer marked assignment (CMA in the OU jargon), which is a 20 question multi-choice paper before you even get to the place. This, the lady assured me last year when I was scoping the place out, is to ensure you have fully read all the material beforehand. SXR103 I suspect you can wiggle your way through provided you have a bit of background and some luck without reading the materials, especially if you are doing S103/4. SXR270 it certainly helped to read the materials beforehand, but here they want to make sure!

The first few chapters of the material are great, as they are almost revision for the S320 course I'm doing at the moment. A whole batch of immunology, and the theory of PCR and blotting techniques. Then there is a whole load of stuff on the mechanisms of the HIV virus and how it attacks cells, and the mutations that can help or fight it. There is also a paper to read on the discovery of CCR5-delta32 mutation which renders some people almost immune to HIV.

The CD-ROM gets you to work through a simulated lab procedure for running PCR DNA amplification and the western blotting for proteins. This is quite useful, as most of my first experiments in this I messed up by using the wrong concentrations, picking the wrong temperature or the wrong primers. One click and you can try again. An inexpensive way to make mistakes!

There is also a mini-lecture on HIV infection and some PDFs on the disc, but most of the material, including the CMA has to be loaded from the course web site. There is the usual first class forum, and I've noticed a few people I've met on previous residential course. I think there are only a small number of people that can fit in the lab, so its typically only 20-30 people per week - which is somewhat smaller than either of the other two residentials. It's also the reason I signed up for this course at 7:30am on the day registration opened to ensure a place!

So - onwards trhough the reading, the CD and then the CMA (which you can submit online - yay!).

Friday, 9 May 2008

S282: TMA-2

Its time to do the second TMA on this course and this one is relatively involved.

The first question is to write up an experiment you have performed, either on calculating the luminosity of the Sun, or on the sidereal day. I chose the former. For this we had to compare on a sunny day the output of a 150W lightbulb with the sun using a piece of paper with an oil spot on it. You move the paper in between the sun and the bulb until the oil spot is not visible anymore - then you have similar luminosity values. Unfortunately 150W lightbulbs are pretty much phased out especially the clear ones that are required and 100W clear are hard to find but I did managed to find a 100W clear eventually. I ended up with about 1/3 of the accepted value for the luminosity of the Sun, which considering there was some very hazy high level cloud around, and it was early in the year (and I was using 100W bulb) I didn't think was too bad. I've learnt not to expect too much from physics experiments without doing a fearsome amount of work.

This question is worth 40% of the marks. It means of course you have to do the experiment first, and then write it up using the appropriate section headings, titles, abstracts and stuff like that. It requires analysis of data, error calculations and how the experiment could be improved and so on.

Question 2 is another relentless one. Its split into 3 sub-questions on parallax measurement, doppler measurements and some planisphere work to work out rising and setting times. Each sub question is made up of 3 to 5 parts, so that's 11 questions you have to answer, for 24% of the marks.

Question 3 is similarly made up of 3 subsections on spectral classification, spectral measurement and magnitudes. Its again 11 questions in all and is again 24%.

Question 4 is about dust clouds and collapse to form suns. Three sub parts again looking at collapse conditions, Hertzsprung-Russell diagrams for forming clouds, and finally a wild card on detection of planets orbiting other suns. Only 7 questions in total to answer here for your 12%.