Saturday, December 28, 2013

Gift Books!

Received some very cool books this year for Christmas from my lovely partner.

I have not yet reached the part of the first book where it describes how to cure the plague, but I have read some very interesting cures for toothaches, warts, and genital diseases. Not surprisingly, many of the "cures" include bloodletting, poisonous substances (like mercury!), and/or opium. Don't worry, this book is for purely entertainment purposes! 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Anatomical planes of orientation

Right so I meant to write this post earlier but then packing and organizing and cooking dinner got in the way. So here we are, it's almost midnight on Christmas Eve.

It's important to mention the anatomical planes so that when I describe how I make the "Slice" series of linocuts everyone understands the vocabulary I use.

Almost every creature is divided by scientists into directional planes. This is so that everyone can communicate about the anatomy of various creatures. Some of the words used are the same or similar for many different organisms, which can help scientists, anatomists, dr's, whoever, to find analogous structures in different creatures (this is especially useful in evolutionary biology where you compare the structure and function of various body parts to understand how life has formed over eons). For the most part, the planes of the bodies of mammals are the same words. This is makes anatomy and research using non-human animals easier to compare to humans. Ok, on to the planes themselves.

The easiest way to understand planes is to imagine that a giant guillotine is making a slice (this is in essence what anatomical dissections do, and why we need these words). So the coronal plane, which divides the body into ventral and dorsal (belly and back) sections would be a blade slicing through the skull parallel to the eyes. (It may help to look at the awesome wikipedia for illustrations). The sagittal plane is perpendicular to the coronal plane. It separates the body into right and left sections. Imagine a blade slicing through your nose, perpendicular to your eyes. These are the two most important planes for now.

To recap: coronal sections would slice with the blade parallel to the eyes, so in essence would slice the tip of the nose first (on a human), then the nose off, then the forehead and lips, etc. These kinds of sections would give details on the structures from front to back in a skull (where they are, where they are in relation to other structures, size, and what they look like etc). Sagittal sections would first slice off an ear, then one side of the whole head perpendicular to the eyes. These kinds of sections would give information on the different halves of a skull, and what particular features look like going from right to left or from outside to inside.

Hmm, I hope this makes sense. May edit in the future with some illustrations.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Nearing Christmas

Frank Sinatra Christmas is on Spotify, the cat is exhausted and sleeping under some packing paper, I packed Some boxes (ok, 2), and I'm sipping some mulled cider (the non-alcoholic kind). If only I wasn't in Utrecht with the cat and the boyfriend in England with his family. But anyway, is there anything better than Frankie's rendition of "Let It Snow"?? No. There is not. My mom would argue that Bing Crosby is way better, but this isnt her blog. (:

T-minus 1 day until the Etsy shop goes in vacay mode for our move. I'm actually more nervous about this than I was for opening the shop. What if someone wants to buy something and cannot? Well, I hope they check the blog and can wait until January!

For those of you traveling, stay safe and good luck!

Next post will be more science, and maybe, finally, some art!

Friday, December 20, 2013


Right, so I promised a post on histology and then a migraine happened. And migraines don't give a sh*t about what you have planned to do. Things are increasingly hectic here as we get down to the 2 weeks left to move mark, and still no idea of how the actual move is going to happen (long story short the guy we hired to move us has health issues and my driver's license could not be renewed).

So, histology. What is it? How is it done? Why am I talking about it?

What is it???  Histology is the study of anatomy under the microscope. It's micro-anatomy! For reference, gross anatomy refers to the study of large structures that you can see by eye, not disgusting anatomy. The sister of histology is histopathology, the study of disease anatomy under the microscope. Scientists who study histopathology also study histology, because you need to understand what the structure looked like before the disease occurred. Histology can encompass anatomy of anything that can be seen under a microscope, human specimens, animal, plant, fungi, you get the idea. Usually specimens are sliced very, very thin, then stained with special dyes to aid the viewer.

How is it done???  First, you need to decide what you want to study. Often you choose an area or an organ or a tissue specimen. The specimen then needs to be removed and extraneous material removed (sort of like cleaning). An easy thing to study would be the structure of an organ like the spleen or liver, as these are easy to identify, remove, and prepare (they are soft). A difficult thing to study would be bone, and a really difficult thing to study is an entire area like the arm or the upper respiratory tract (where you breathe - from your nose to the sinuses). If the thing you want to study is soft, like an organ, you only have to put it in fixitive and wait. Fixatives like formalin (a derivative of formaldehyde) preserve the specimen. If you want to study something that is not soft, then (usually) you must make it soft after you fix it. If you are working with bones or cartilage, you can soak it in EDTA which is a chelating agent and decalcifies the bone. Next the specimen gets filled, or embedded with a stable compound like paraffin that will keep the structure. Formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded (FFPE) tissues have the added bonus of being stable at room temperature for decades. Possibly even centuries.
          ** Side note - the stability of FFPE specimens allows scientists to do some pretty awesome things like go to biobanks, look up specimens from say, the 1918 influenza pandemic, and make fresh samples to study with modern methods, greatly increasing our knowledge of the past. -- This in turn can inform our future. Big universities or government science facilities that store banked specimens are a huge treasure trove of new possible discoveries, or re-discovories.

Once the specimens are embedded, they are sliced until a proper depth is reached. A 'proper depth' can mean just about anything, depending on what the scientist wants to see. Once at the right area/depth, very thin slices (2-5 um) will be taken and mounted onto glass slides. This is why the tissue needs to be "soft." In order to get a thin slice that does not damage the structure, the blade must move through like butter. The blades are very sharp, but things like hard bone would still destroy the blade and the specimen.

After it is mounted onto a glass slide, the paraffin is removed, leaving just the tissue or specimen. Then a variety of stains can be used that highlight various structures. One of the most common stains in the study of anatomy is called H&E (hematoxylin and eosin). H&E are a stain and a counterstain, and depending on the structure you will see a variety of pink, deep pink, or purple colors. The nucleus of cells stains a rich purple, whereas the cytoplasm generally stains pink.

Here are some examples of H&E stained samples (pictures I took myself!). Click on the picture to enlarge it.

This is a section of a mouse lung that had a bacterial infection.
 This is a mouse lymph node, similar to the tonsils

This is a mouse sinus cavity, complete with phagocytic macrophages **EDIT I'm pretty sure it's a blood vessel inside the sinus area. (I'm not an expert)

A lot can be learned from histology, not just anatomy. This is why scientists still today use histology and histopathology, which are basically techniques first introduced over 100 years ago. Now we have some new and cool stains that can tell us more about the function of certain things, but the basics are roughly the same.

And finally - why am I talking about histology??? I am talking about it because it forms the basis of the "images" I use in my art. In my life as a scientist as I use histology and microscopes quite a bit. Because I think that what I see under the microscope is wondrous and beautiful, I decided to create art prints based off of this. Linocut printmaking is an analogous process in which you must make fine, deliberate cuts, and then add ink to reveal the final piece. This is part of the reason I chose the technique. I think it gives the same feeling as a histological picture.

So, I hope everyone has enjoyed my crash course in histology.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Just kidding

So earlier today when I said there would be no more updates to the Etsy shop I was kidding. In the hustle and bustle of getting a visa, booking a flight, flying to UK, and finding a house in Birmingham all within the span of 3 days i completely forgot to list a print. The next in the series of anatomy slices.

But at least it reminded me that I need to do a series of posts to explain those prints. So tomorrow we will begin by discussing the basics of histology.

hooray for histology!

Shop news

Our Etsy shop: all art is currently made by me (the Scientist) and the running of the shop is helped by my partner. He also gives creative input into some of my designs. I will mainly be running the blog, while he mainly runs Twitter and Facebook. But since we live together and are often on our computers in the same room we both have input into all social media.

If anyone has made their way to this blog via Twitter you have probably already seen that we are having a shop moving sale. Moving already?! But the shop just opened! We're clearly off our rocker. Well, maybe. The preparation for the shop has been going on in the background for about a year. I wasn't even sure at first that I would open a shop, everything started with the intention of being art for my thesis book and relaxation. I thought I should build my skills in linocutting and printmaking before I started selling things. As the quality increased, i decided to make a go at selling, but was too busy finishing up my thesis, defending my thesis, graduating, etc. The PhD has always been my priority.

After graduating and a little holiday with my parents and partner, we decided the best use for my "free time" (unemployment) would be to open the shop. At the same time, I was looking at and applying for post-doctoral positions. I found one that I felt really suited me, and with a group I really liked, and luckily for me the feeling was mutual. It was a bit of a mess after that, but now we are moving from Utrecht, The Netherlands to Birmingham, England. We found a great rental house and all that is left is to pack up and move (which is no small task). So from now until January I will not be making any prints. Since there will be no more new listings in the shop, we thought it best to keep up a social media presence so that when we do get back to updating the shop we won't have lost so much momentum.

The shop will stay open until Christmas, and then we will close it completely until we finish moving and unpacking (hopefully second week of Jan). We'll post updates on this blog and probably Twitter too. From now until the shop closes, enjoy a 20% discount on all items over 5euros. Use code 'MOVE2UK' in the Etsy checkout.

Monday, December 16, 2013

First sale!

Last night we had our first sale in the Etsy shop! Hooray!

It was a recycled paper sketchbook with a lincout print on the cover. The print was of a bacterial infection in the upper respiratory tract.

Here's a little picture to commemorate our first sale:

Sunday, December 15, 2013


Bear with us as we get this space up and running and looking the way we want to.

We will discuss our love for bacteria, bacteria in general, immunology, and the art I make for our Etsy shop.