The Wilson Story

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Laboratory Technician (Summer)

    Jack of many trades

    As I was finishing my junior year in college it became obvious that I was going to end up short one class for graduation.  Dr. Spikes offered to hire me as a laboratory assistant for the summer. Dr. Spikes had gotten a big equipment grant and was going to have me working on a vibrating reed machine to study photosynthesis, my dream job. I wanted to study photosynthesis more than anything.  Could it be possible that I would be able to do research and go to school.  I needed a course in humanities and chose to take intro to art and architecture.  I also took the first course in the engineering math sequence.  I had just finished calculus with and A and thought that engineering math would be a good course.  I did quite well in both courses earning Bs.  

    In my job, one of the first assignments was to design and build a hose adapter for the shop vacuum in the lab and clean all of the pipes in the labs. Dr. Spikes didn't want an dust falling into an experiment and giving erroneous results. He was probably over sensitive because his laboratory complex was in the basement of the head house part of the green house on campus. Dr. Spikes, chairman of the Experimental Biology Department, was known for his underground research of photosynthesis i.e. In the basement.  Some really neat research came out of the greenhouse.  Dr. McNulty, Chairman of the Botany Department, had a lab in the upper part of the head house where he studied salt tolerance. All of our classes were taught in the one class room in this small building.  My adapter worked but not quite as well as I had planned.  The second experiment was to take care of a rat colony. Can you imagine me and my hatred for rats taking care of them.  My phobia went back to the day I reached in a chicken nest to gather eggs and felt this furry thing.  Oh how I disliked rats.  They killed some of my pigeons and were really a problem around our yard.  Our dog Queenie was the one to rid the yard of rats.  She would grab them and toss them twenty feet in the air and they would fall dead.

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    Much to my surprise Dr. John D. Spikes had decided to quit working on photosynthesis and study the cationic induced shorting of tendons dissected from a rats tail.  He assumed that this would help understand muscle movements.  It was an interesting phenomena but had little to do with muscles. In this experiment we added a series of chemicals that interfered with normal protein synthesis to their ground food.  This was horrible treatment of the rats as the chemicals made them sick.  As a result they didn't like their food nor the bearer of food.  My rats would meet you halfway across the cage rather than allow you to pick them up.  I guess I was a failure at raising rats, except on the farm. 

    A third project was one that shaped much of my academic career.  I was ask to do a thorough literatures search for a paper that John Spikes and Henry Eyring would publish in the book on Light and Life by George Wald.  John taught me how to use Chem. Abstracts and then ask me to check out every reference to a d-amino acid.  They were convinced that all normal amino acids were l (levo) forms.  I carefully found every reference to a d-amino acid and then convinced myself and Dr. Spikes that the d form was not part of a normal functioning protein.  Most were small polypeptides that were toxic.  Many bacteria made these as bio-warfare molecules to kill their host or enemies.  At the end of the term I returned to Payson and worked in the cannery as a canning supervisor.  Finishing that job I had my appendix out and was in rough shape when school started in October. All-in-all this was a very interesting  summer.

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