If only I were FAMEous

I’m not referring to having everyone know my name. I have no aspirations for this. I’m a high school teacher after all, and I love my job. The FAME I’m talking about today is Fatty Acid Methyl Ester, and it is the procedure that made me giddy with data on my final two days in the lab. I will attempt to share why this is so cool, and how it works.

Samples ready to go into the GC MS.

Before I go into details about FAME, I want to acknowledge an amazing, diverse, hardworking lab that opened its doors to a high school teacher from Michigan for six weeks.

Thanks K. for teaching me the ins and outs of algal culturing, lab technique, and loaning me the finest in great barrier reef snorkel gear.

Thanks S. for taking time to teach proper pipette technique, and increase my carpentry skills (so many benefits of NQAIF).

Thanks V. for a great haircut.

Thanks L. for some fine lessons in micro-photography, and TLC. (thin layer chromatography) Oh and the koala shaped cookies were delicious!

Thanks T. for showing me the ropes with nutrient monitoring. You have impeccable taste in pizza as well.

Thanks M. You truly are FAMEous, and a great teacher, thanks for integrating the fatty acids in my algae, it looked like a sporadic EKG to me.

H. Thank you for teaching me total lipids. You are a thorough teacher, and I appreciate the time you spent with me.

Thanks N. for trouble shooting the beast with me and helping me spin down my 6 liters of micro algal culture to a depressing tiny green pellet.

And thanks T. for the green tea cheese cake. I wish the recipe were not in Japanese, because I would make it all the time.

Most of all thanks K. for giving me a great project, opening your lab to me, and making time to meet and talk with me along the way. I have learned a lot and I am enthusiastic to share my amazing experience.

Now to FAME. The FAME procedure uses the gas chromatograph mass spectrometer (GC MS) to separate a sample (GC) with a long coil of very narrow tubing, then give a print out of peaks that that correspond to behavior in certain wavelengths. (MS)

Once you have the peaks, you can integrate the sample and find out what fatty acids are present in your sample. If my explanation is a little insufficient, it’s because I thought saying, “It’s magic,” wouldn’t be a good response from a science teacher. But that is how science seems when we only partially understand how something works.

I was traveling in northern Georgia a few years ago and talking to a folk artist. He asked what I did, and I told him I was a science teacher. His response confirmed the perception that science doesn’t do a good job with explanation when he said, “Science, well that’s kinda like magic.” (read in a slow Georgian drawl) When I asked him where he was from he said, “I’m from my mother.” So maybe my sample size of one is not a good example.

While watching the Olympics this past week trying to get over jet lag, I saw a back to school commercial that brought up the notion that science is like magic.

What do you think? Are there things about science/technology that your glad work, but don’t completely understand how?

2 Responses to “If only I were FAMEous”
  1. I was wondering why the title was spelled wrong…I lol’d at the commercial.

    Also, what lab was this? Or did I really miss the name?

    • Mr. Chopp says:

      The experiment was FAME, which stands for (Fatty Acid Methyl Ester) I’m glad you liked the commercial. I used the GC-MS to analyze the fatty acid content in my algae.

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