• Question: Is it exciting to make a new discovery?

    Asked by vanpersie to Gioia, Iain, Jo, Leo, Mariam on 19 Jun 2010 in Categories: .
    • Photo: Leo Garcia

      Leo Garcia answered on 13 Jun 2010:

      Great question! Yes, it is an amazing feeling to discover something new. Although, in science, it is not enough for something to be new – it has to teach the world something useful!

      I remember the first time I ever produced a result that could be published in a scientific journal. I was in my first year of my PhD (in 2007!) and it was a computer simulated 3D picture of how a tumour changes shape when you squash it. This is, if you’ve read my ‘what do you do’ section, very important in my field!

      What I found out was this:

      In elastography, the field that I work in, we make pictures of strain, which essentially describes how much tissue changes shape when you squash it. Strain is related to stiffness:

      Low strain = small changes in shape = object is probably stiff. Imagine trying to squash a big rock compared to squashing some jelly.

      And stiffness is related to disease. Cancer tends to make tissue stiff, and tumours are often much stiffer than healthy tissue, which is why people check for hard lumps in their body.

      Now, I did my computer simulation of what the strain would look like from a tumour getting squashed in 3D, which only a couple of other people in the world had ever done. A computer simulation makes doing experiments very easy, because you can control almost everything happening in the experiment, but it does simplify reality a great deal. Still, it’s an important scientific tool. What generally happens is that you do an experiment in computer simulation and then reinforce those results with real experimental data to prove that your simulated results can be trusted.

      Most people up till then had simulated things in 2D – which, again, is very useful, and quicker to simulate, but physically unrealistic. So, I did mine in 3D and I found out that the strain from a tumour can actually reach out beyond the edges of the tumour. In other words, you could be doing elastography (which, remember, makes 2D pictures of strain) and think you were seeing a stiff region in a particular part of the body – but it would actually be strain from a stiff tumour elsewhere! Add to this that you could also end up overestimating the size of a tumour, and you’ve got yourself a useful, new, scientific, publishable result!

      I remember my supervisor getting me to really appreciate what I’d done. He said that I was the first person in the world to see these results, and I had knowledge that could teach the world and help the field. It was a great feeling and I’ve never forgotten it. I think that those moments are one of the perks of being scientist!

    • Photo: Iain Moal

      Iain Moal answered on 14 Jun 2010:

      Of course, as long as its something worth while.

    • Photo: Gioia Cherubini

      Gioia Cherubini answered on 14 Jun 2010:

      Hi vanpersie,
      you know, despite how much we work, there aren’t many moments where we make a new discovery. Most of the times, it’s a lot of work to get to just one important result. But trust me, when you get it, it’s an amazing feeling that makes you think that all that work was worth it!

    • Photo: Joanna Watson

      Joanna Watson answered on 14 Jun 2010:

      Hi vanpersie.
      Yes, it can be exciting to make a new discovery. When we make new discoveries about things that cause cancer and could potentially be changed so that fewer people get cancer it’s really great!

      Like Gioia said though, those kind of discoveries don’t happen very often so we have to be happy with making tiny little bits of progress that might add up to a new discovery in the future.

    • Photo: Mariam Orme

      Mariam Orme answered on 19 Jun 2010:

      Yes, it’s very exciting. I’ve never made a really mind-blowing discovery, but even finding out something little that no one else in the world knew before is a fantastic feeling.