• Question: what was your most confussing project

    Asked by jejones to Meeks, Pete, Stephen, Steve, Tom on 15 Jun 2010 in Categories: .
    • Photo: Stephen Curry

      Stephen Curry answered on 14 Jun 2010:


      Hi JeJones,

      They are all a bit confusing to a greater or lesser extent. That’s one of the main differences between doing real science and learning about it in school or university. When you tackle a problem, there is no teacher to tell you that the answer you come up with is right or wrong*. It is up to you to think up good experiments that will produce evidence to convince not only you but other scientists who are experts in the same area.

      On problem that sticks in my mind is work that we did to try to find out how the hormone thyroxine sticks to human serum albumin (a blood protein that helps to carry thyroxine around the body). For a long time we had an answer that didn’t make sense when we compared it to the results of other scientists. I tried to make the two stories fit but my explanation always felt like a bit of a stretch.

      Then we found a different way to prepare our samples of thyroxine stuck to albumin and got a different answer that *was* consistent with the work of other scientists. This agreement gave us the confidence that we were finally on the right track, so we were able to publish our results.

      You can see the paper here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC164465/?tool=pubmed
      (though you may only want to glance at the summary and some of the pictures!). Don’t be surprised if it looks like gobbledegook!

      I hope that’s not too confusing an answer – please leave a comment if you think it is!

      *Or am I completely out of touch?

    • Photo: Tom Hartley

      Tom Hartley answered on 14 Jun 2010:


      Great question. I can’t tell you the answer to this, as I am still trying to publish a paper about it; when you write a paper for a scientific journal, two or three other scientists will read it and decide whether it makes sense or whether there are problems with it (this is called “peer review”). I am afraid that if they got wind of the fact that even I thought it was confusing, it would be too easy for them to reject it. Brilliant science of course, just a little confusing. 😉

    • Photo: Steve Roser

      Steve Roser answered on 15 Jun 2010:


      most confusing – Hmm…that’ll be the or maybe the one that or could it be that one that…
      Actually I think my state is to be permanently confused. Its a good state to be in. I think we are taught that science works like this….
      (i) I have an idea
      (ii) I try an experiment to test that idea
      (iii) the experiment proves that idea
      (iv) Thats it.

      Actually it never seems to work like that – you do experiments its true, but I would say almost always you get more questions coming out – if I tried that would I get the same results? If I just waited a little longer? If I added that to it what would happen.
      So in conclusion, I think it is much more interesting and better science too to be confused ALL THE TIME!

    • Photo: Marieke Navin

      Marieke Navin answered on 15 Jun 2010:


      My most confusing project was a software project. That just means a computer based project. I am not a natural at writing computer code, i find it really difficult. I’m much happier running experiments in the lab. Unfortunately for me particle physicists use a lot of computer software to plan experiments or test hypotheses. We also build simulated detectors and fire simulated beams of particles through them and see how they behave. i had to write a big simulation like this for me thesis. I found it SO HARD. I has to ask for help loads from my supervisor and others in the group. It was horrible and I felt really rubbish as I was really slow at it.

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