On the off chance that any of my miniscule readership does not already follow Ambivalent Academic's blog, you have to go over and check out yesterday's post over there. In it AA discusses the positive aspects of being a basic academic scientist, and I'd hazard a guess that many of us can strongly relate to those feelings. It serves as a welcome counterpoint to all the crappy and ugly aspects of the practice of science, and all the bitching and complaining that goes on in the blogosphere (and in lunchrooms, coffeebreaks, and post seminar chats between scientists in real life). Now, don't get me wrong, discussing all those negative parts are very useful and necessary. But it's also nice to sit back and reflect on the things we love about science. I find it helps stoke my passion for science, which too often nears extinguishment. And I really do love being a scientist.
Physioprof added a great comment as well, about his excitement at an old breakthrough achieved in grad school. You can feel his enthusiasm, even for an event that must be years old by now. And as he says, we're all chasing that feeling. I remember one of my own as well, which I will share. For my first project in grad school I was recording sodium and calcium currents during action potentials in nociceptors. As there's no good blocker for TTX-resistant sodium currents, I settled on using ionic substitution, replacing external sodium with NMDG. That worked well for the subtraction, but I did notice that the resulting sodium current kept increasing even as the voltage approached ENa, which obviously shouldn't happen. I kept that stuck in the craw of my brain, which chewed over it as I proceeded to look at calcium currents in other cells. (Which is how I normally let it happen; given time the craw digests whatever problem is given to it).
I can still remember sitting at my desk, looking over some other experiments, when it hit me. It was obvious that intracellular Na+ and K+ were making outward currents through unblocked TTX-R channels, and these became sizeable at depolarized potentials near the peak of the AP. In retrospect it isn't so surprising. But it wasn't so obvious to me that the outward currents would really be large enough to make a big difference, relative to the large inward currents when external sodium was high. Turns out they were. Very soon after that I figured out a way to correct my previous results, which became a figure on its own in the final paper. All in all a great feeling.
I think we all just hope that our science doles out sufficient number of these moments to keep us from totally giving up in the face of so many difficulties.