Lab Girl

A CACTUS DOESN’T LIVE in the desert because it likes the desert; it lives there because the desert hasn’t killed it yet.

After scientists broke open the coat of a lotus seed (Nelumbo nucifera) and coddled the embryo into growth, they kept the empty husk. When they radiocarbon-dated this discarded outer shell, they discovered that their seedling had been waiting for them within a peat bog in China for no less than two thousand years. This tiny seed had stubbornly kept up the hope of its own future while entire human civilizations rose and fell. And then one day this little plant's yearning finally burst forth within a laboratory. I wonder where it is right now.

Along the way, we also managed to become adults without ceasing to be children.

America says it loves science, but it sure as hell doesn't want to pay for it.

A seed is alive while it waits. Every acorn on the ground is just as alive as the three-hundred-year-old oak tree that towers over it. Neither the seed nor the old oak is growing; they are both just waiting. Their waiting differs, however, in that the seed is waiting to flourish while the tree is only waiting to die.

being able to derive happiness from discovery is a recipe for a beautiful life.

Being paid to wonder seems like a heavy responsibility at times.

Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of use is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.

Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.

Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to
be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that
waited.

He taught me that there is no shame in breaking something, only in not being able to fix it.

I have accepted that I don't know all the things that I ought to know, but I do know the things that I need to know. I don't know how to say, "I love you," but I do know how to show it. The people who love me know the same.

I have learned that raising a child is essentially one long, slow agony of letting go.

I’m good at science because I’m not good at listening. I have been told that I am intelligent, and I have been told that I am simple-minded. I have been told that I am trying to do too much, and I have been told that what I have done amounts to very little. I have been told that I can’t do what I want to do because I am a woman, and I have been told that I have only been allowed to do what I have done because I am a woman. I have been told that I can have eternal life, and I have been told that I will burn myself out into an early death. I have been admonished for being too feminine and I have been distrusted for being too masculine. I have been warned that I am far too sensitive and I have been accused of being heartlessly callous. But I was told all of these things by people who can’t understand the present or see the future any better than I can. Such recurrent pronouncements have forced me to accept that because I am a female scientist, nobody knows what the hell I am, and it has given me the delicious freedom to make it up as I go along. I don’t take advice from my colleagues, and I try not to give it. When I am pressed, I resort to these two sentences: You shouldn’t take this job too seriously. Except for when you should. I

It was a new idea, my first real leaf. Just like every other audacious seedling in the world, I would make it up as I went along.

I wonder who else in the world was having such an exquisite dawn.

Love and learning are similar in that they can never be wasted.

My mother taught me that reading is a kind of work, and that every paragraph merits exertion, and in this way, I learned how to absorb difficult books. Soon after I went to kindergarten, however, I learned that reading difficult books also brings trouble. I was punished for reading ahead of the class, for being unwilling to speak and act "nicely." I didn't know why I simultaneously feared and adored my female teachers, but I did know that I needed their attention

No risk is more terrifying than that taken by the first root. A lucky root will eventually find water, but its first job is to anchor -- to anchor an embryo and forever end its mobile phase, however passive that mobility was. Once the first root is extended, the plant will never again enjoy any hope (however feeble) of relocating to a place less cold, less dry, less dangerous. Indeed, it will face frost, drought, and greedy jaws without any possibility of flight. The tiny rootlet has only once chance to guess what the future years, decades -- even centuries -- will bring to the patch of soil where it sits. It assesses the light and humidity of the moment, refers to its programming, and quite literally takes the plunge.

People don't know to make a leaf, but they know how to destroy one.

Plants are not like us. They are different in critical and fundamental ways. As I catalog the differences between plants and animals, the horizon stretches out before me faster than I can travel and forces me to acknowledge that perhaps I was destined to study plants for decades only in order to more fully appreciate that they are beings we can never truly understand. Only when we begin to grasp this deep otherness can we be sure we are no longer projecting ourselves onto plants. Finally we can begin to recognize what is actually happening.

Our world is falling apart quietly. Human civilization has reduced the plant, a four-million-year-old life form, into three things: food, medicine, and wood...

Public and private organizations all over the world have studied the mechanics of sexism within science and have concluded that they are complex and multifactorial. In my own small experience, sexism has been something very simple: the cumulative weight of constantly being told that you can’t possibly be what you are.

Science has taught me that everything is more complicated than we first assume, and that being able to derive happiness from discovery is a recipe for a beautiful life.

Science has taught me that everything is more complicated than we first assume, and that being able to derive happiness from discovery is a recipe for a beautiful life. It has also convinced me that carefully writing everything down is the only real defense we have against forgetting something important that once was and is no more, including the spruce tree that should have outlived me but did not.

Something so hard can be so easy if you just have a little help. In the right place, under the right conditions, you can finally stretch out into what you’re supposed to be.

Then I catch myself and listlessly wonder again for which of my sins I am being punished. I am sick to death of this wound that will not close; of how my babyish heart mistakes any simple kindness from a woman for a breadcrumb trail leading to the soft love of a mother or the fond approval of a grandmother. I am tired of carrying this dull orphan-pain, for though it has lost its power to surprise, every season it still reaps its harvest of hurt.

These plants know that when your world is changing rapidly, it is important to have identified the one thing that you can always count upon.

We love each other because we can't help it. We don't work at it and we don't sacrifice for it. It is easy and all the sweeter to me because it is so undeserved. I discover within a second context that when something just won't work, moving heaven and earth often won't make it work -- and similarly, there are some things that you just can't screw up. I know that I could live without him: I have my own work, my own mission, and my own money. But I don't want to. I really don't want to. We make plans: he will share his strength with me and I will share my imagination with him...

Working in the hospital teaches you that there are only two kinds of people in the world: the sick and the not sick. If you are not sick, shut up and help.

Working in the hospital teaches you that there are only two kinds of people in the world: the sick and the not sick. If you are not sick, shut up and help. Twenty-five years later, I still cannot reject this as an inaccurate worldview.