Tag Archives: Hot Science

Radiation resistant bacteria at UT Austin’s Hot Science – Cool Talks

Dr. Lydia Contreras and Ben Shrader before her Hot Science - Cool Talks presentation

Dr. Lydia Contreras and Ben Shrader before her Hot Science – Cool Talks presentation

I’m so happy that my high school sophomore year is over, and I did great on my finals!

In my English class, our final was mostly over the last two books that we read: All Quiet on the Western Front and Great Expectations. In my world history class, I enjoyed writing a “changes in continuity over time” essay about Europe. I talked about the Roman empire through the Medieval era to the modern day.

UT Environmental Science Institute

In my last blog post, I shared my pictures from the UT Austin Environmental Science Institute Education and Outreach Dinner at the Google Fiber Space on April 29, 2015.

I’m a big fan of the UT Environmental Science Institute (ESI) because they have an awesome program called Hot Science – Cool Talks, where they bring scientists and researchers to talk about hot (of course) science topics each fall and spring semester. The presentations are geared to kids from kindergarten (which I was in at one time) to high school students, but even adults will find the talks and activities before the presentation both fun and interesting.

Better Living Through Microbes

A candid photo of Deinococcus radiodurans (aka Conan the Bacterium) (Photo credit: Michael Daly, Uniformed Services University)

A candid photo of Deinococcus radiodurans (aka Conan the Bacterium) (Photo credit: Michael Daly, Uniformed Services University)

The last Hot Science Cool talks of the Spring 2015 semester on May 1, 2015, was Better Living Through Microbes by Dr. Lydia Contreras, UT Austin Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering. I previewed her talk in my previous blog post.

Dr. Contreras talked about microbes that could live in toxic environments, and I was fascinated to learn about Deinococcus radiodurans, a bacteria that could survive high doses of radiation.

Scientists discovered this unique bacteria after they irradiated meat for sterilization. The radiation should have killed all the bacteria in the meat, but they discovered that the irradiated meat spoiled after a few days.

Scientists were baffled, and after they investigated, they discovered this new bacteria. In addition to radiation, it can also withstand most cold, dehydration, vacuum, and acid! Because of its hardiness, it also has the nickname, Conan the Bacterium.

How does the bacteria resist radiation?

Dr. Contreras’ is researching the DNA of the bacteria along with its cell composition to understand how it is able to withstand lethal doses of radiation that would kill all other bacteria. These radiation levels are also fatal to humans.

Somehow the bacteria can repair the damage that radiation causes to its DNA. Note however that Deinococcus radiodurans is not immune to radiation. There is a high enough level of radiation that can kill the bacteria.

From her research, we may be able to understand how to protect or repair cells from the harmful effects of radiation. (I learned more about radiation and half-lives in one of the last chapters that we covered in my sophomore high school chemistry class.)

Pictures from the Hot Science – Cool Talks event

One of the many hands activities for kids before the Hot Science event.

One of the many hands activities for kids before the Hot Science event.

One of the benefits of arriving early before the event is that you get to participate in the community science fair. In this activity, kids got a chance to create a DNA model of their own.

Ben Shrader and Mr. Trevor Hance with the science activities before the event

Ben Shrader and Mr. Trevor Hance with the science activities before the event

I was happy to see Mr. Trevor Hance at the event. He is a wonderful science teacher at Laurel Mountain Elementary.

I’m so grateful to Mr. Hance for inviting me to present my experiences with invasive species at the Children and Nature Network Conference. Dr. Jay Banner, UT ESI director, also highlighted how Mr. Hance inspires his students at the UT ESI Education and Outreach Dinner.

Ben Shrader and Mr. Eric Hersh in Welch Hall before the Hot Science event

Ben Shrader and Mr. Eric Hersh in Welch Hall before the Hot Science event

Mr. Eric Hersh is both the UT ESI Research Coordinator and a Geological Sciences lecturer.

Ms. Melinda Chow and Ben Shrader in the audio and film room at the top of the Welch Hall auditorium

Ms. Melinda Chow and Ben Shrader in the audio and film room at the top of the Welch Hall auditorium

This was a treat. Ms. Melinda Chow, UT ESI Outreach Coordinator, gave me a tour of where UT ESI films and streams the Hot Science presentations in a room at the top of the Welch Hall auditorium. Joining the live webcast on your laptop is a great way to be part of the event if you are not able to join in person.

Dr. Jay Banner talks about Hot Science - Cool Talks

Dr. Jay Banner talks about Hot Science – Cool Talks

Dr. Banner welcomed the audience and the different schools in attendance.

Dr. Lydia Contreras during her Hot Science - Cool Talks presentation

Dr. Lydia Contreras during her Hot Science – Cool Talks presentation

Dr. Contreras starts her presentation, Better Living Through Microbes.

Watch Hot Science - Cool Talks live or as a webcast replay

Watch Hot Science – Cool Talks live or as a webcast replay

If you missed the event, you can watch the webcast and learn more about Dr. Contreras’ talk and about the fascinating Deinococcus radiodurans bacteria.

Fall 2015 Hot Science – Cool Talks

The UT ESI team was still confirming the speakers for the Fall 2015 semester during the microbes event, but now they’ve announced their upcoming talks on their website:

  • Two Guys on Your Head on Why We Behave Unsustainably with Dr. Art Markman, Dr. Bob Duke, and Rebecca McInroy – August 28, 2015
  • The Future of 3D Printing: The Democratization of Design with Dr. Carolyn Seepersad – October 16, 2015
  • Humanoids of Our Future with Dr. Luis Sentis – December 4, 2015

Hope to see you there!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Eric Hersh, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Jay Banner, Lydia Contreras, Melinda Chow, Uncategorized

Better living through microbes at Hot Science – Cool Talks

Bacterial morphology diagram (Image credit: Mariana Ruiz with Wikipedia)

Bacterial morphology diagram (Image credit: Mariana Ruiz with Wikipedia)

Microbes have been in the news a lot lately, usually as part of a video or story about the problems they cause, as with the case of Listeria in ice cream.

Listeria is a terrible bacteria that lives in soil and water and can spread to and thrive in food processing plants. Getting rid of Listeria requires cooking and pasteurization, which helps before food is cooked, but not afterwards when it’s packaged. Listeria is hard to eliminate because it grows in cold temperatures.

But not all microbes are bad. Many, in fact most, are actually good.

As part of his TED talk, microbiologist Dr. Jonathan Eisen talks about how microbes play a role in our defense, boost our immune system, protect our auto-immune system, fight off stress, and more. In addition to Dr. Eisen’s video, here are more sites to help you learn about the benefits of microbes:

Better living through microbes

Better living through microbes (Image credit: UT Austin Environmental Science Institute)

Better living through microbes (Image credit: UT Austin Environmental Science Institute)

Microbes are all around us, and researchers are studying how microbes live and evolve to see how they can benefit us, such as to improve our health or create new products.

Dr. Lydia Contreras and her research group are studying how microbes live in toxic environments. (Dr. Contreras is an Assistant Professor, Chemical Engineering, at the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin).) What they discover could help build new molecules to act as early warning systems for preventing disease.

Learn about the benefits of microbes with Dr. Contreras at the next Hot Science – Cool Talk presentation, Better living through microbes, on Friday, May 1, 2015. The lecture starts at 7:00 pm in the Welch Hall Auditorium on the UT Austin campus. Be sure to get there early because the community science fair with lots of fun activities starts at 5:45 pm.

Chemistry in high school is fun, but I really liked studying biology in high school, and I’m excited about learning more about microbes at this Hot Science – Cool Talks presentation on Friday.

ESI Third Annual Education and Outreach Dinner

 Dr. Jay Banner, Commander Ben, Dr. Chris Kirk, and Dr. Rebecca Lewis at the 2014 UT ESI Education and Outreach Dinner

Dr. Jay Banner, Commander Ben, Dr. Chris Kirk, and Dr. Rebecca Lewis at the 2014 UT ESI Education and Outreach Dinner

UT Austin Environmental Science Institute (ESI) puts together these awesome Hot Science – Cool Talks presentations that combine science, learning, and fun.

If you’re looking for an opportunity to support ESI, their outreach mission, and their program to educate future researchers in environmental science, you can get tickets to ESI’s third annual education outreach dinner, which will be on April 29, 2015, in the Google Fiber Space in downtown Austin.

Spring 2015 – Hot Science – Cool Talks

Here are some of my blog posts covering events for this spring semester. You can also catch up on Hot Science – Cool Talks past events.

The microbes presentation in May is the last one until this fall, so don’t miss it!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Environmental Science Institute, Hot Science - Cool Talks

Superstition in Science – UT Austin Hot Science Cool Talk

Contrary to popular belief, Zeus did not carry lighting bolts in his right hand. (Image credits: Zeus from Project Gutenberg and Lighting from Smial wikipedia)

Contrary to popular belief, Zeus did not carry lighting bolts in his right hand. (Image credits: Zeus from Project Gutenberg and Lighting from Smial wikipedia)

We really have to thank the ancient Greeks for giving us a lot, including democracy, philosophy, art, and architecture. Science? Well, yes and no. Some of their science was born out of superstition.

They believed in a plethora of gods that had magical powers over them and the environment. Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon were the big three Greek gods who the ancients thought held sway over the land, and indeed their very lives.

But we now know (hopefully) that many of the powers they would have attributed to Zeus were just electricity from thunderstorms.

Since the days of old, our knowledge of science has expanded past superstition. Instead of rolling dice, we use the scientific method to provide an objective and standardized approach to conducting experiments and learning.

Update: A fan of the Greek mythology book series with Percy Jackson? Check out Rick Riordan Talks About Mark of Athena and His New Norse Demigod Series.

Why Do We Believe in the Unbelievable?

Why Do We Believe in the Unbelievable? (Image credit: UT Austin Environmental Science Institute)

Why Do We Believe in the Unbelievable? (Image credit: UT Austin Environmental Science Institute)

This Friday’s Hot Science – Cool Talk presentation, Why Do We Believe in the Unbelievable?: The Science of Supernatural Belief, by Dr. Bruce Hood, Professor, Experimental Psychology at the University of Bristol, United Kingdom, explores why many people believe in supernatural phenomena.

This intriguing lecture starts on Friday, April 10, 2015, at 5:45 pm with a community science fair. Those are lots of fun. The main program begins at 7:00 pm in the Welch Hall Auditorium on the UT Austin campus.

Spring 2015 – Hot Science – Cool Talks

UT Austin Environmental Science Institute (ESI) puts together these awesome presentations that combine science, learning, and fun. Here’s a list of the events for this spring semester. You can also catch up on Hot Science – Cool Talks past events.

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Environmental Science Institute, Hot Science - Cool Talks

Periodic Table of Hot Science Selfies

Dr. David Laude's Chemistry Cool Talk at UT Austin

Dr. David Laude’s Chemistry Cool Talk at UT Austin

My friends and I enjoy taking selfies. I enjoy science, and I thought what better way to bring the two together (like an exothermic chemical reaction!) at last month’s Hot Science event about chemistry at UT Austin.

The first Hot Science – Cool Talk of the Fall 2014 semester, How I Learned to Love Chemistry, by Dr. David Laude was packed! There was a huge rainstorm before the event, but that didn’t discourage young and old chemistry enthusiasts from attending in force (F=ma).

I think this is the most people that have ever been to a Hot Science event. If anything, the rain made people more determined to learn, especially with the pre-lecture activities. Everyone came out, including friends that I haven’t seen in years. The entire Welch Hall main auditorium was full with standing room only. What density (D=m/v)!

Many people, including myself, a friend from school, and our chemistry teacher watched the event from the overflow auditorium. (I even arrived early!) Even with the time delay in the video simulcast, Dr. Laude’s talk was enlightening (c=2.9×10^8 m/s).

And now for the chemistry selfies!

Dr. Jay Banner, Director, UT Environmental Science Institute (ESI), is the best!

Dr. Jay Banner, Director, UT Environmental Science Institute (ESI), is the best!

Dr. David Laude, UT Chemistry professor, gave a lively and interactive talk about chemistry. Loves to blow things up!

Dr. David Laude, UT Chemistry professor, gave a lively and interactive talk about chemistry. Loves to blow things up!

Ms. Melinda Chow, coordinates fun events and activities for the UT Environmental Science Institute.

Ms. Melinda Chow, coordinates fun events and activities for the UT Environmental Science Institute.


Mr. Patrick Goertz, my great chemistry teacher!

Mr. Patrick Goertz, my great chemistry teacher!

More chemistry selfies

I am in an electron shell of knowledge with Theodore Gray's The Elements book

I am in an electron shell of knowledge with Theodore Gray’s The Elements book

Theodore Gray’s The Elements book in print and on the iPad is an excellent and fun way to learn about the elements in the periodic table. I’ve used his book to learn more about the elements in my high school chemistry class.

While I’ve enjoyed looking through the printed book, the app is more interactive and offers animations. To help dyslexic readers, I hope that the creators of the app, TouchPress, will publish an update that allows you to highlight portions of the text and use the iOS text-to-speech accessibility feature to have my iPad read the content out loud.

Bismuth, a cicada, and a live oak tree join me for a chemistry and biology mashup selfie

Bismuth, a cicada, and a live oak tree join me for a chemistry and biology mashup selfie

Bismuth (one of the most beautiful element structures), a cicada (at least its exoskeleton), and a live oak tree (Yea, biology!) wanted in on the selfies too.

Extreme weather at SXSW Eco

The next Hot Science presentation whirls in next Monday, October 6, 2014, with a special event at SXSW Eco.  Dr. Kevin Klosel will talk about Extreme Weather and Uncertainty in Forecasting.

During this year’s SXSW Eco event, you’ll learn about the science behind extreme weather, like tornadoes and superstorms, and how meteorologists factor in uncertainty.

Sounds like another super Hot Science is on it’s way, and the forecast for selfies with Dr. Klosel are favorable!

Update: Remember that this special event is free and is at the Austin Convention Center (and not at UT Austin.) The National Weather Service is bringing a tornado machine, and you’ll also be able to create lighting with a Van de Graaff machine and erupt snow to create an avalanche. Sounds like lots of fun!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Chemistry, David Laude, Dr. Kerry Emanuel, Environmental Science Institute, ESI, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Jay Banner, Melinda Chow, SXSW Eco, The Elements, Theodore Gray

Hot Science and Modern Chemistry in High School

Hooray for Modern Chemistry (and yes, I have a Periodic Table shower curtain)

Hooray for Modern Chemistry (and yes, I have a Periodic Table shower curtain)

I recently started my sophomore year in high school, and my classes have been a lot of fun. As many of you know, I have a great love of biology (and in learning about and battling invasive plant species!), but recently, I found a similar love for chemistry. (I’ll just admit right now that I love science.)

In the first few weeks of my chemistry class, it’s been fascinating learning about the basics of chemistry, including measurements and states of matter.

Volcanoes in Austin, Texas

For our first lab, we mixed acetic acid and sodium bicarbonate and measured the temperature of the mixture. We found that it created an endothermic reaction, which means that the temperature drops as the reaction progresses.

I’ll let you in on a secret. Acetic acid is vinegar, and sodium bicarbonate is baking soda, and this is a common mixture for volcano science fair projects. You just need to add detergent so you can make soap bubbles from the escaping gasses. With a little red food coloring, it looks like lava bubbling!

We’re using a very interesting piece of equipment, the Vernier LabQuest 2. This device is amazing since you can hook up different probes to measure temperature, light, sound, pressure, and even radiation! You can get information on almost everything. It’s a great tool, and one I wish I had at home too.

Modern Chemistry textbook, audiobook, and iBook

Modern Chemistry iBook available from iTunes

Modern Chemistry iBook available from iTunes

We’re using the Modern Chemistry book from Holt, Rinehart and Winston in my class. With my dyslexia, it’s not easy for me to learn from just the printed word. Finding the audio book and iBook for my biology textbook helped me out during my high school freshman year.

I was also able to find the audio version of my current Modern Chemistry book from Learning Ally and a newer version of the Modern Chemistry iBook from iTunes. With Learning Ally, a human reader reads the entire page, including figures. With my iBook version, I can select portions of the text for my Apple MacBook’s or iPad’s electronic voice to read. The iBook version also contains videos, quizzes, and other nice interactive features.

Hot science – Cool Talks – Chemistry

 Dr. Jay Banner, Commander Ben, Dr. Chris Kirk, and Dr. Rebecca Lewis at the 2014 UT ESI Education and Outreach Dinner

Dr. Jay Banner, Commander Ben, Dr. Chris Kirk, and Dr. Rebecca Lewis at the 2014 UT ESI Education and Outreach Dinner

I’ve always loved Hot Science – Cool Talks from the UT Austin Environmental Science Institute (ESI).

Hot Science – Cool Talks are a series of presentations where you can enjoy fun prelecture activities and learn a lot about science during presentations given by distinguished scientists. They’ve become very popular over the years, and I’ve been going to them since I’ve been a little scientist guy.

Thanks to Dr. Jay Banner, UT ESI director, I’ve had the great fortune to interview many of the previous presenting scientists. (Here are some of my video interviews with Dr. Chris Kirk for his Hot Science – Cool Talks presentation, “Your Eye, My Eye, and the Eye of the Aye-Aye”.)

With myself and many other Austin-area sophomores learning about chemistry in science this year, what great fortune that the first Hot Science presentation is on chemistry!

Dr. David Laude will give a presentation on How I Learned to Love Chemistry on Friday, September 12, 2014. The fun prelecture activities start at 5:45 p.m., and Dr. Laude’s presentation starts at 7:00 p.m.

I’m counting on his promise that Dr. Laude will blow stuff up! He’ll make liquid nitrogen ice cream for everyone at the end. See! Science can be fascinating and delicious at the same time.

Fall 2014: Hot Science – Cool Talks presentations

Now you know why it's called Hot Science! (Photo credit: UT ESI)

Now you know why it’s called Hot Science! (Photo credit: UT ESI)

I look forward to seeing you at Hot Science this Friday!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Chemistry, David Laude, Dr. Chris Kirk, Environmental Science Institute, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Modern Chemistry

Dr. John Grotzinger Explores Mars Curiosity Rover’s Discoveries

Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

With Hot Science – Cool Talks in full swing this fall, there is a great presentation scheduled for this Friday, October 18 at 7pm. Dr. John Grotizinger, lead scientist for the Mars Curiosity Rover, is coming back to UT Austin to talk all about what the Mars Rover has discovered since landing on the Red Planet. This is going to be a fascinating talk.

And don’t forget there will be lots of great pre-lecture activities starting at 5:45 pm. There will be all sorts of interactive displays and engaging activities. They’re especially geared to kids ages K-12, but the whole family will enjoy them.

In addition to Dr. Grotzinger’s Mars lecture, don’t miss November’s Hot Science – Cool Talks presentation too:

Hot Science – Cool Talks events take place at UT Austin in Welch Hall (Room 2.224). You can get discounted parking in the San Jacinto Garage.

For more information about Hot Science – Cool Talks check out the UT Austin Environmental Science Institute website and watch the many video interviews I had with past presenters, including this one with Dr. Andrew Howell:

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Curiosity Rover, Dr. John Grotzinger, Environmental Science Institute, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Mars, Mars Rover, NASA, University of Texas, UT Austin

Learn about Cellular Engineering and Low Cost Medical Devices with Dr Andrew Ellington

Commander Ben and Dr. Andrew Ellington talk about cellular biology and more fun stuff at UT Austin.

Commander Ben and Dr. Andrew Ellington talk about cellular biology and more fun stuff at Dr. Ellington’s UT Austin lab office.

I had the honor of interviewing Dr. Andrew Ellington to talk about his Diagnosing Ourselves: Take Two Assays and Don’t Call me in the Morning lecture. His presentation is part of the great Hot Science – Cool Talks lecture series that’s hosted by the Environmental Science Institute at the University of Texas at Austin.

Dr. Ellington is a Professor of Biochemistry with the Institute for Cellular and Molecular Biology at UT Austin, and his talk focused on his work in developing low-cost, personalized diagnostics and the creation of virtual clinical trials through social networks to improve healthcare on a global scale. His presentation completed the great series of lectures for the Spring 2013 semester, and it was a great one!

Video interview series

I interviewed Dr. Ellington in his office at his laboratory on the UT Austin campus.  His lab was amazing.  It was huge with lots of activity.  When Dr. Ellington and I sat down to talk, he turned the tables on me!  😉 He started asking me the questions!!  I was so nervous, but I did my best to recall my science facts.

It was actually a lot of fun talking with him and Dr. Ellington is an amazing teacher!  But Dr. Ellington likes to think of himself as more of a mentor than a teacher, since he believes that it is the students who, in a way, teach themselves to absorb the information that they are exposed to by a mentor–which is so true.

I hope you’ll enjoy my series of video interviews with Dr. Ellington.  He shares lots of great information about evolutionary techniques to engineer biopolymers and cells.  It is quite an education…like having the privilege of being in one of his classes at UT!

(1) Evolutionary techniques in cellular engineering

Is it as simple as DNA makes RNA makes protein? Dr. Ellington describes cellular and molecular biology, including how the process of evolution helps make beneficial mutations more dominant.

Unfortunately, mistakes can and do occur during cellular replication. Dr. Ellington addresses other bad mutations that can also occur through environmental concerns, such as ionizing radiation, and mutagens, such as cigarettes.

Dr. Ellington also discusses sequenced versus non-sequenced polymers and the possibility of life originating from matrixes, a theory advanced by the Seven Clues to the Origin of Life book.

(2) Letting cellular mutations duke it out

Ever wonder how to use evolutionary techniques to engineer biopolymers? Is it okay to let cellular mutations duke it out? Are 99% of all mutations bad?

Dr. Andrew Ellington talks about how there are more bad mutations than good, but many mutations are neutral, allowing bacteria to drift along until they find a good place, which may help them over time get to be the most awesomeness bacteria ever.

(3) Future of low cost medical diagnostic tests

Dr. Andrew Ellington talks about the types of low cost diagnostic tests that are available now and those that might be available in the future, including new blood sugar monitors with needles so small that users can’t even feel them.

His goal is to make more tests available at lower cost to help them become more widely used and to create fun tests that can help people learn more about themselves.

(4) Is it possible to create a Star Trek Tricorder?

Dr. McCoy had a lot of cool diagnostic devices. Dr. Andrew Ellington explains some of the obstacles to creating a Star Trek-like medical Tricoder with our current technology, and he gives a glimpse of how sensors the size of molecules could be used in the future. You’ll also learn about Dr. Ellington’s favorite computer games.

Event day highlights

How invasive species can spread disease poster session

How invasive species can spread disease poster session

For the prelecture fair, I prepared a poster board explaining how invasive species can spread disease.

Mr. Geoffrey Hensgen, Dr. Jay Banner, Commander Ben, and Dr. Andrew Ellington at Hot Science - Cool Talks

Mr. Geoffrey Hensgen, Dr. Jay Banner, Commander Ben, and Dr. Andrew Ellington at Hot Science – Cool Talks

Thanks Dr. Jay Banner, Director, and Mr. Geoffrey Hensgen, Outreach Coordinator, for the Environmental Science Institute at the University of Texas for the great lectures and chance to talk with great and leading scientists.

Dr. Ellington’s lecture was the last one for the Hot Science – Cool Talks Spring 2013 lecture series, but I know they’ll be back this fall for another great set of science talks and presentations that you’ll won’t want to miss! 🙂

Additional resources

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Andrew Ellington, Biochemistry, Cellular biology, cellular engineering, Cellular evolution, Diagnosing Ourselves, DNA, Environmental Science Institute, Healthcare, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Institute for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Molecular biology, Mutagen, Mutation, Proteins, RNA, Take Two Assays and Don't Call me in the Morning, University of Texas, UT Austin