Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Science as a Foreign Language

I went to a Liberal Arts university for undergrad, which means that I was required to take a lot of fun courses-- two courses in musical theatre, ancient Greek literature, philosophy-- when youre a science major, these classes are a pleasant break from 12 hours of lab work a week.

But when those science courses got tough, it was hard not to resent the extra coursework. I remember during one infuriating study session for a Bio Major Weed-Out Course (we got a crash course on every species on the planet), memorizing words like parenchyma, sclerenchyma, and chlorenchyma and declaring we should get foreign language credit for Bio-II.

Learning biology, learning any science, IS like learning a foreign language!! And even though Ive been in science-world for years, I STILL screw words up all the time! So dont feel bad if you bumble a lot!

Some common ones:

Transcription - Turning DNA into RNA
Translation - Turning mRNA into proteins

Splice - Cutting RNA
Cleave - Cutting Proteins

Transform
- Putting plasmids into bacteria
Transfect - Putting plasmids into eukaryotic cells
Infect - Putting, in my case, viruses on cells

Those are some a little more specific for my field-- what are the major word mix-ups in your alls fields?

2 comments:

Jeremy Bruno said...

Amen to that. As a writer of science I have to ponder those difficulties every day I sit down to compose something.

Confusion:

How about "ecology" and "environmentalism"? Or Batesian and Mullerian mimicry? Or physiological vs. morphological?

ERV said...

How about "ecology" and "environmentalism"?
Ooh that made me think of another one-- not in my field, but a mix up I hear a lot: climate and weather.