My walk to work from the new apartment takes me past the Broad Institute. A few days ago, something caught my eye and so I stopped to take a look. The ground floor of the Broad is a large lobby only separated from the street by a wall of glass. I realized that the lobby is now filled with large, flat-screen computer displays that I didn’t recall having seen before. Sure enough, these display are part of what the Institute is calling The Broad Institute Museum. Admittedly, I stood on the sidewalk for a while and stared at the displays facing the street because I think they are pretty cool. One in particular stood out to me: In one corner of the display is a depiction of a DNA microarray. Taking up most of the middle of the display is a depiction of the human karyotype. Nucleotide sequences fly off of the microarray into the part of the karyotype that corresponds to the appropriate location in the genome.
During the past year, I’ve spent some time working with DNA microarray data. While the concept of being able to measure some quantity, such as gene expression, at tens of thousands of genomic locations simultaneously is pretty awesome. My actual work consisted of manipulating poorly annotated, awkwardly large files full of numbers and cryptic symbols. In other words, it wasn’t very glamorous work. But, while watching the display at the Broad Institute, I was reminded of how cool I think computational genomics is and my resolve to finish the research project that I have been working on was boosted. Its amazing what a difference some fancy computer graphics can make.
The really awesome thing about the Broad display is that it is supposedly depicting actual real-time analysis of SNP array experiments that are part of a cancer research project. While doing a bit of reading for this article, I came across this page about the Broad’s Outreach Program. Imagine doing a semester long research project at the Broad as a high school student!