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Copyright 2016 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

The middle of summer is when the surprises in publishing turn up. I'm talking about those quietly commanding books that publishers tend to put out now, because fall and winter are focused on big books by established authors. Which brings us to The Dream Life of Astronauts, by Patrick Ryan, a very funny and touching collection of nine short stories that take place in the 1960s and '70s around Cape Canaveral, Fla.

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My Yeast Let Me Down: A Love Song

Jan 28, 2013
Originally published on January 28, 2013 11:33 am

In a moment, there's going to be singing. It will be a love song, sung by Nathaniel, a sad-eyed, blue-gloved scientist who gave his heart to an organism, but then did her wrong. (Or maybe she did him wrong. These things get complicated.)

Like every lost love, this one has a back story. I don't know Berkeley biologist Nathaniel Krefman, but I can guess what happened. It happens all the time.

Imagining The Young Nathaniel ...

You fall in love with science, there's a professor who takes you on, leads you to a good graduate program, you study hard, spend your 20s earning embarrassingly little money working crazy hours, not minding that much, you get your Ph.D., you're trained, you're primed and suddenly you're in a job market where there's one academic opening for every five new Ph.D.s — and you're scared, your colleagues start to bail, slip off to med school, business school, and that dream you had — being a post-doc in a good lab, with a bench, and a little freedom? That's next to impossible — but, but, but, you hang on, and hooray! You get a starter job, get an idea, write it down, send it off to some National Institute in Washington, or to a Foundation, and double-hooray! They fund you, and now, finally, you've got a little money, a little time ... and then this happens ...

Your experiment fails.

Bad, Bad Yeast

The thing you thought would happen doesn't. Maybe it's something stupid, like your yeast won't grow, and you need them to run your trials. You want to try again, with a different critter, but that means another National Institutes of Health grant and Washington says, ... well ... if you were working on cancer, or STDs, or flu, a disease everybody's heard of, then maybe we'd give you more money ... but you're not.

You're just chasing a cool, fascinating idea. And it seems you chose the wrong yeast to do it with. That's when you walk into your lab, pack up your test tubes, your flasks, your dishes, your notes, and you sing this sad, sad song ...


Thanks to Nathaniel Krefman, Lydia The, Haomiao Huang at Berkeley for the video. This is our second homage to musicians Gotye and Kimbra; a few months ago we blogged about the cool camouflage designs they included in their video. And thanks to physics grad student and blogger Aatish Bhatia at Rutgers who notices first what I then notice later.

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