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Stephanie Pulford
Run and Tumble
About Stephanie As engineering grad student at UCDavis, I am interested in the common ground between biology and machinery. Incidentally, my column's title refers to the way bacteria navigate-- first they "run" full-steam in one direction, then they re-evaluate, and if their situation hasn't improved they "tumble" to set off in a new direction. And hooray! Even though they can't sense the whole of their environment, they blindly meander in the right direction. It makes a pretty good metaphor for the way we learned about the world around us, especially as kids. I don't know about you, but my childhood was filled with a lot of spurious theories (we see our breath in winter because it freezes into a million tiny icicles? Wheels work because the tiny road contact area reduces friction?? We can eat food with our nose provided we don't have to chew it?? That last one landed me in the hospital.) As a member of the scientific community, my greatest and most maudlin hope is for a lifetime of continuous learning. Someday, I want to look back with fond embarrassment at even my current trials and errors. For your viewing pleasure, I've attached a stereoplot of the path of an E. coli bacteria, running and tumbling for 3.6 seconds (Berg, Physics Today, 2000). Look at the left image with your left eye, and the right image with your right eye, and just chill out and defocus a bit until the images merge. You'll see the trajectory in 3-D.
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