Meet the Professors: Manus Patten

Meet the ProfsFor the first installment of “Meet the Professors” I got to interview Biology Professor Manus Patten. He currently teaches Foundations of Biology II (Bio 104), but in past semesters he has taught Genetic Conflicts, Genetics and Evolution.

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What is your focus within the field of Biology?
Evolutionary theory and genetics.

What is your favorite thing about teaching?
When I’m teaching I feel like I’m actually doing something useful, you know, like I’m contributing something. I actually feel useful for a change.

What attracted you to Georgetown?
I was looking for a job in D.C. and Georgetown was advertising one. I’m lucky to have a job at a good university.

What’s your favorite thing about Georgetown?
The students. That’s easy. That’s not bullsh*t either – I feel like we have job candidates coming through who ask what it’s like to teach here and I just say the students are great. You’re actually teaching when you’re teaching here. I have complaints about teaching, but I can’t air those to my friends at other universities because it’s really not fair. The students are really good.

What are your thoughts on Georgetown Day?
I used to sometimes call my mother when I had too many drinks in college, and the next day I would call to apologize. And my mom would just say, “It’s okay, it’s just nice to be thought of.” So if people still come to class on Georgetown Day, it’s a nice thing because they could be doing a bunch of other things. I’m quite warmed by their presence, however inebriated they are. Then a part of me – I get really nostalgic because it’s a nice spring day and everyone’s having fun and I’m in my professor clothes and I just want to join them.

Does any particular day in lecture stand out to you – something a student said or did?
Honestly when I’m lecturing I have no idea what anyone’s going through. Sometimes after class someone will complain that the back of the room was really hot but I didn’t notice. A student could say, “I can’t believe that person got up and left with a bloody finger!” and I honestly would have no idea that happened. One time a couple years back I gave a lecture on my research, which is on genomic researching, and it had been advertised in the catalog handout. I gave the example of a tigon and a liger and it was one slide for an hour just to make the point. And one woman was really pressing me after the lecture about a liger. “Are the ligers real?” Sure enough, I got a real weirdo.

What do you do outside of Georgetown?
I go home, and I have a one-year-old. Every day is basically the same. I usually get home in time for dinner and bath, and then put her to bed. Then I hang out with my wife.

Favorite memory of college?
I really enjoyed the senior week right before we graduated.

If you could have any celebrity do a guest lecture, who would it be?
David Foster Wallace, the writer, and I would make him talk to the science students about writing and then about life.

If you could be any organism what would you be?
Maybe a ginkgo – they’re tall, they’re really good-looking and they’ve been around forever so they’re tested. Every year they produce these fruit-like seedpods and they stink. So if someone has it coming, you get to even the score once a year. But only females have the seedpods, so I guess I’d be a female ginkgo.

Any advice to students on how to make the most of their time in college?
I got lucky – I was coddled in college by a few professors because I took an interest in what they were doing. I think that’s rare. Mark Edmundson in his book “Why Teach?” said that if you just spend time with people who reflect your own interests back to you, it’s impossible to grow. So I guess seek out “uncool” professors – find out how it’s possible for someone to be so interested in something that you’re not. I think in college there were a lot of subjects that I wrote off because I thought they were silly and boring, but I realize now that someone thinks they’re interesting. So the key would be to find out from them what it is. That’s the point of a university – on campus you get a chance to talk to somebody about what it’s like to be him or her. It’s just not about a transfer of content, which is what online classes are doing. Part of me is sickened by the idea of moving content online and having that be “college.” But college is not the content – it’s the other stuff.

As you can see, Dr. Patten is a really great professor. He cares about his students and his research and is obviously very interested in learning. Look out for him as you wander through Regents or when you’re picking your future courses!

Want to enter your favorite teacher?

Photos: http://faculty.georgetown.edu/

The Evolution of Your Coffee Addiction

Coffee addiction

Here we are in the last week of finals, and whether you’re camped out on Lau 2 with our awesome study playlist or hiding in a breakout room in Hariri, you’ve likely got a cup of coffee with you. You may think to yourself, at what point did I become so dependent on caffeine? Well, 4E is here to take you down memory lane. Here it is, the evolution of your coffee addiction.

Phase One: Rejection Remember those days when you didn’t like the taste of coffee? You had probably tried a few sips of your parent’s morning cup of joe and immediately cringed at the not-yet-acquired taste. You were likely in middle school or high school and didn’t quite yet have the need for the caffeine. You “loved the smell but hated the taste”. How soon that will change…

Phase Two: Compromise This phase involved you trying out drinks such as the “Skinny Vanilla Latte” or “Caramel Double Chocolate Foamy Candy Delight with a little coffee in it”. This was kind of a compromise for you to get a little caffeine while avoiding the coffee taste. Plus you were in high school so it made you feel cool to get these complicated sounding drinks at Starbucks after class.

Phase Three: Testing the Waters After being a few months deep into the compromise phase, you start feeling a slight need for that buzz that has kept you going through the day. You slowly shift into coffee as opposed to lattes, adding a couple of sugars and a good amount of cream. The taste doesn’t seem to bother you anymore and you even invest in a travel mug so that you can get a refill discount.

Phase Four: Wading Into the Deep End You have now come to associate mornings with that warm cup of coffee between your hands, and you feel naked if you’re walking to class without a full mug. You now use minimal amounts of cream and sugar and drink more than two cups a day. The taste has grown on you and you have come to enjoy it.

Phase FiveNeed You need coffee. You just do. Don’t deny it. You get headaches when you go too long without it and you can’t seem to focus correctly in your morning class without a medium coffee in you. And hey, that’s okay, you’re not the only one. You’ve graduated from coffee to Red Eyes (coffee with a shot of espresso) and your tolerance for caffeine has increased.

Phase Six: Addiction Welcome to the dark (roast) side.

Photo: Alexander Brown/The Hoya

Simply Science: 10 Million Years of Drinking

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There comes a time in every young Hoya’s life when, after a series of stunning beer pong victories or Macho Man dominance, one begins to question whom to thank for prodigious drinking abilities. Should you praise the benevolent gods after a flawless shotgun? Perhaps you should pour one out as a gift for Irish ancestors watching from the Great Pub in the Sky? Maybe you have no one to thank but your own sweat and tears, blood and pain, puke and rallies (Editor’s Note: I call it a ‘Boot and Re-boot’) that have made you the champion you are today. These, friend, are the questions that haunt our walks to Rhino.

Luckily for us, the brave men and women of science have resolved to take this mystery back to the tap, er … I mean, source. In a study presented last week to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (oh yeah, nod and smile like you’re on their email list), Stephen Benner traced the ability to process alcohol back to a common ancestor between humans, chimps and gorillas; an ancient relative that got tipsy 10 million years ago.

Burnett’s never goes down smoothly

Here’s the story: When some primates decided to get off their high horses (trees) and start spending time with the terrestrial folk, fruit that had been fermenting on the ground became a viable snack option. Fermentation turns sugar into ethanol, and ethanol is then digested by a special enzyme in your esophagus, stomach and intestines. As ethanol is the type of alcohol found in beer, wine and spirits (a generous term for the crap you buy at Wagner’s), having an enzyme that can metabolize it is crucial to the success of your Mason Inn adventure. So how did these tricky scientists figure it out? They started by comparing ADH4, the enzyme humans have for ethanol breakdown, with the versions of this enzyme found in other primates. By mapping the genes corresponding with the enzyme onto the primate family tree, they were able to see that a functional version of ADH4 (aka the ability to handle ethanol) appears on the branch that leads to chimps, gorillas and even that drunk girl throwing up in John Carroll’s lap.

So next time you emerge from a pregame standing tall and walking (almost) straight, take heart in the fact that a 10 million year old ape with a taste for rotten fruit is smiling down on you; after all, you and your enzymes are living out his legacy.

Photo: HelloFelix.com