Office Artifacts: Joshua B. Plotkin

Discover the stories behind the Professor of Biology's favorite office items.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Photos by Brooke Sietinsons


Repairing American pocket watches and adapting them for modern use is a hobby of mine. It takes some patience. This set of watchmaking tools is vintage and the pocket watch was produced by the Illinois Watch Company in 1921.


These are some petri dishes and microwell plates containing experimental populations of yeast. My research group has focused on experimental studies of microbes, where scientists can observe evolution happening in real time, as a simple setting for understanding general principles of evolution at the molecular scale.


The people in my research group span a range of intellectual backgrounds, including physics, biology, and computer science, but we’re united by the use of mathematics to study evolutionary processes. The group has acquired geometry toys over the years and we play with them daily.


I first started collecting Gundam figures when I visited Japan for the Society of Mathematical Biology annual meeting. The Gundam anime series is a fun combination of high-tech sci-fi and high-drama storytelling. Some of these figures came from capsule vending machines, and others required careful assembly and detailed painting.


These are fossilized Orthoceras — predatory squids that lived 450 million years ago, related to the modern-day Nautilus. I found this collection at the Academy of Natural Sciences when I first moved to Philadelphia. My own research in evolution has little to do with fossils or dinosaurs, but fossils are still tons of fun to have around.