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Opinion: What using animals for scientific research taught me about myself

When I looked for the deeper meaning of existence, I found that I was too skeptical for heaven and hell, for deities and spirits. Sometimes, I thought about astrophysics — roiling energy, dark matter, the multiple dimensions of an expanding universe — but it was all too vast and distant. The closest I ever got to a mystical experience was working with animals as a molecular biologist.

As a biologist, I performed experiments on flatworms, sea urchins, zebrafish, frogs, opossums, and mice. These studies required the careful administration of life and death: I merged sperm with eggs and observed early embryos when they were just three layers of tissues flattened together. At certain times, I preserved animals in formaldehyde and bathed them in chemicals that turned their bodies transparent.

In the lab, life and death were demythologized. Instead of some immense, cosmic force, they shrank into something tangible that could be contained in a Petri dish or studied under a microscope.

Read more: Coming to terms with six years in science: obsession, isolation, and moments of wonder

Watching generations of animals flash in and out of existence, I also felt time compressing. I cared for zebrafish embryos that, in a

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