Guidelines for techniques writeups

Your writeup should be a reasonably concise (less than about 500 words) summary of your chosen biophysical technique.  For concreteness, you should start working from the article in the E-reserves, but do not consider yourself limited to that one source.  Other review articles or books may help you put the technique in a broader context, so feel free to search around or ask us for pointers to supplemental and/or alternative material.

The writeup should be a short, readable introduction to the technique for your fellow classmates.  We will try to touch on these subjects in lecture, but your explanation should not rely on anyone's remembering what was said before.  (This is a useful guiding principle in a lot of scientific exposition).  You should address the following topics:

  1. Physical mechanism of detection
    • What does your technique actually observe?  The color of light from the sample?  An X-ray scattering intensity?  The position of a dot of light on a microscope slide?
  2. Sensitivity
    • What does your technique measure?  The root-mean-square size of the electrons distribution within a sample?  The orientation of a chromophore attached to a protein?  The length of a particular bond in a protein?
  3. Strengths and limitations
    • For what purposes is your technique particularly good and bad?  Maybe it gives good position resolution but no time resolution; maybe it gives great structural information but requires enormous computational resources.  This may be connected to question (2): high sensitivity to one thing usually means low sensitivity to others.  Can the technique be used in vitro or in vivo?
  4. Everyday practice.
    • Give a sense of how a typical experiment using the technique proceeds.  Is this a tabletop measurement?  What specialized equipment is necessary?  How much biological material is required (nanograms?  grams?) and how long does it take to acquire data (milliseconds?  days?).  This may be hard to glean from a review article, but a glance through the methods sections of a couple of the references article should give you some idea.
  5. Interesting examples
    • Hopefully you will run across one or two specific experiments using your technique that you find particularly interesting or illuminating.  Most of the review articles point to papers that the reviewers consider noteworthy.  Tag your writeup with references (or, better yet, links) to a couple of accessible papers that show the technique in action.  You probably won't have room to explain anything about the papers you reference, but this can be a jumping-off point for your compatriots who want to peruse a 'real-life' paper that uses your technique.
We would like this to a readable, jargon-free introduction that communicates the essence of the technique without overwhelming the time-stressed reader.  Anyone (and, in particular, you) is welcome to add links that provide more in-depth information about a particular aspect of the technique, beyond the 500-word limit we've set for the initial writeup.  Ideally, these pages would become collaborative projects, with the original author responsible for gentle oversight. 

Taking Notes