by Wong Kah Keng
Mixture of the pop song from the radio and the ventilation noise from the tissue culture hood fills the air of a small, rectangular-shaped room. The most precious tool within the laboratory, the pipette, was firmly-held in his left hand while various other flasks, tubes, containers were shifted intensively. Hands gloved and labcoated, Justin had been manipulating the cancerous cells since the crepuscular hours. The cells had to be grown in a sterile environment – confined within plastics or glasses – the living conditions tantamount to those endured by the Bubble Boy1. His nose inadvertently came in contact with the window glass of the hood, leaving a spot of sebum that partially blurred the vision, forcing him to abandon whatever he held within the hood to clear up the spot with 70% ethanol.
As the cells were spun down by a centrifuge, he finally had a small moment of break. Looking through the only window in the room, he spotted beige-coloured leaves falling from the tree as the wind blew.
Autumn. He thought. The third autumn.
He was in his final year of PhD studies at the Whiteforest Institute of Cancer Research (WICR). For the past 2 years, the serendipity of research that he so hoped for, the eureka moment when he would run across the corridor like how he would run his heart out for the 100 metres rally representing his state, reaching Professor Stephen’s room and exclaimed “I got it”, had never occurred. He imagined this to happen within the first five seasons upon his arrival at Whiteforest. This was the third time he repeated the exact same experiment to prove a model he proposed, and if the results showed a consistent pattern, it would mean an incorrect model. They call it the ‘negative’ result. A false alarm.
The model is theoretically sensible. There must be a loophole I have missed out. Justin thought, his lips moved without voice.
“Don’t be too bored and talk to yourself- I am joining you,” Han-Wook the Korean Master’s student appeared without his notice.
“Annyung haseyo,” Justin said instantly.
“Yup. I was also dressed in a Hanbok.”
“Did you like it?”
“Yes, definitely more comfortable than a labcoat!”
Both laughed, almost superficially.
“So, prepared for the practice talk?” Wook, referring to the practice talk for an inaugural Divisional seminar catered to all postgraduate students at Whiteforest.
“You bet I did. I got them prepared long before yesterday’s ‘Soul of Seoul’ event.”
“Ah, that’s cool,” sensing some pomposity, Wook decided to end the conversation and retreat to the cell culture hood next to Justin’s.
The room escalated into a prolonged awkward silence contrasting the earlier ‘laughter’.
“Hey Justin, busy in the hood?” Arnold, famed as the Terminator in the Institute, appeared at the door of the cell culture room.
“Yes Arnie, obviously.”
“Stephen just circulated an e-mail that your practice talk has to be brought forward to 11 a.m., which is within 2 hours from now. Is that okay with you?” asked Arnie, knowing that Justin had the hood booked until noon.
“Okay, I will inform everybody else then.”
Alright, time to revise the prepared 46 Power Point slides for the real “show”. This is the fun part.
To be continued…
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