Thursday, November 20, 2008


Well, I will tell you what. What? Every time I try to submit a grant for the Gates Foundation Grand Challenges Exploration, something happens to get in the way. This time my adapter cord broke and could not send power to the laptop. On it are some important pieces of writing (one very large) including this grant application.

Thankfully Melissa gave me a USB case in which you place your hard drive and you can plug it into another computer to read. Unfortunately it would take just as long to get the hard drive out with the knife I was using as it would to rewrite it (it's 2 pages max). Plus I had to go to church in a few minutes since my life group was ushering (greeting at the door, you also normally do tithe but it was a walk-up-and-put-in-your-own-tithes/offering-in-the-basket-lazy! day). Then Anna called a house meeting which might have been mostly to tell me stuff since she dates Radesh.

I can't explain it but I rewrote it from memory and scratch and sent it in. I don't think it was as good as the original, but oh well. We will see. The interesting part about Round 2 for new grant seekers and those who were rejected from Round 1 like me, they actually told us the format to put it in and how they wanted to see (perhaps they did for Round 1 and I missed it that time). Either way it helped me GREATLY because now I could give them what they wanted. One of the things was a budget which led to my absolute best and favorite academic moment/conversation in my entire time here in South Africa.

In order to create a budget I needed to know how much it would cost to create a 3D model of an HIV virion (virus particle) for my project. To do this I needed SEM (Scanning Electron Microscope/Microscopy) or TEM (Transmission Electron Microscope/Microscopy) images—we call them electron micrographs. This microscopes use electrons to create images of things that are really small like cells, for instance, or in my case a virus particle. The problem is that I have no idea how to obtain samples of HIV, the price to obtain it, and the price to use SEM's and TEM's to create the images. So I asked people.

Now, remember I never wanted to venture in this area by myself. The problem is everyone is too busy and self-focused or not interested in helping or in the educational side to help someone like me. They either say no, don't respond, or push me off to someone else. After 4 months (September through December 2007), I just decided to go it alone and do what I wanted.

Here I am ready to move to an experimental stage, looking for funding to do so, and I need to get a budget. So again, I have to reach out to people. I found that the best EM (electron micrograph) unit in SA is on the UCT campus. I e-mailed three members of the staff, one of them being the director. He was livid—well, agitated. He called my research lab wanting to speak to my supervisor but luckily the receptionist said he was busy (He is, he is a temporary deputy vice chancellor [vice president] of some portfolio for the university) and was in a meeting. She suggested that he talk to me. I was out.

I returned and she gave the message. I called him and got his lab. They gave me his cell and I called him; he suggested I came in to “set your mind straight.” Perhaps he was agitated. What proceeded was pure joy.

The grant I'm applying for is ONLY for unorthodox, untried, “off-the-beaten-path” ideas. If you are doing incremental research no mainstream thought, forget about it. And I love Gates's mind of the mind of his foundation's administrative people. They are attempted to fund creativity because they know where the most creativity is, there you will find breakthroughs. And I love creativity. It's what I do and know. That's why research CAN be amazing.

So when someone won't give you information without you first telling what you want it for, it can be hard. I wasn't sure I should tell him because some people think what I'm trying is silly. But he asked me why do I want to take micrographs; he kept saying “so what” or “why”. He said it 3 times. After the third time I finally explained in a nice way at which point he began to ponder this romantically. I mean he actually engaged in brainstorming conversation about how to do what I wanted to do which he thought was impossible but nice. So it started at agitation and proceeding into the most wonderful fun conversation where he gave me information on protein databases and authors to read though it's impossible. THIS is what I had been trying to do all along-just have a conversation (that eventually leads to some work) with someone who can help me. And here I was with a structural biologist talking about structural biology, molecular biochemistry and nano-biophysics. It was nice. Unfortunately the fire alarm rang and made us end it early (it would probably have ended soon anyway). Give me MORE of these moments (that hopefully lead to breakthroughs that help people)!!!

No comments: