A young woman wears a blue sweater with UNC written on it and smiles at the camera.
Elissavet Chartampila, a neuroscience graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, studies the roles of sleep in development and neurodevelopmental disorders like autism and schizophrenia using animal and in vitro models.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

I joined the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2021 as a neuroscience graduate student. That fall, I rotated in Graham Diering’s lab, focusing on the role of sleep on normal development and the effects of its disruption on neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism. 

One of the first techniques I learned was western blot, which I planned to use to test if a viral method could knock down a scaffolding protein in cell cultures. One day, towards the end of my rotation, I took my western blot membrane to the imaging equipment to analyze the results of a key experiment. When I glanced at the instrument screen, I was confused to see the words “gel transfer” imprinted vertically in the middle of the membrane. 

I investigated the potential cause for the message over the next few days, but my efforts ended up being unsuccessful. I decided to move on and redo the experiment since I fortunately had enough samples to try again. 

As I prepared to repeat the gel transfer step, I noticed an intriguing detail: The conical tube I used to roll the gel onto the membrane had the words “gel transfer” written on it. I had created this label to identify this tube as my dedicated western blotting tool. Then it dawned on me: The handwriting that mysteriously appeared on my earlier experiment was mine, and it probably appeared there because I inadvertently touched the membrane to the label on the tube. The realization of this was an amusing "aha" moment that put the origin of the mysterious message to rest.

Western blotting is a technique where many things can go wrong. Paradoxically, my mistake boosted my confidence for using this technique in my following research experiments. The handwritten label on my conical tube is gone. Now, I just place my unlabeled western blot tube with the other western blot tools in my drawer. 

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