Biologists hardly ever use LaTeX. And I wonder why. With such excellent typesetting, everything you write in LaTeX looks beautiful. And it is absolutely free! Most biologists I know are so used to WYSIWYG (“what you see is what you get”) word processors like Microsoft Word and the ecosystem of everything that connects to them, that there is just too much inertia to try to learn and incorporate LaTeX in their workflow. Additionally, I find myself stuck with using MS Word often because my coworkers or collaborators do not use LaTeX. So I decided to write this primer as an introduction to LaTeX. I myself am no expert at it, was introduced to LaTeX only towards the end of my PhD (but was instantly convinced by its beauty to write my dissertation using it), and have only really used an online editor. Hence, my primer is in no way exhaustive or complete, but it is a start.


LaTeX is a document preparation and typesetting system. It was initially developed by Leslie Lamport. LaTeX uses standardized tagging conventions to define the structure and style of the document and combines it with the typesetting system of TeX to generate an output file (usually a pdf). TeX itself was the masterwork of Don Knuth. In plain terms, you do not have to worry about formatting as you write the text- LaTeX provides you the ability to generate a document that looks really professional with minimal effort.

Getting started

To start using LaTeX, you can download and install a LaTeX editor and compiler, or you can use an online LaTeX editor like Overleaf (there are many such online editors out there) to get started right away. The latter also gives you the option of sharing and collaborating with others, which can be very useful! Let’s say you have a document in mind you want to compose in LaTeX. The first and easiest thing to do is to look for a template for that document type. There are so many resources out there, and people are often generous with openly sharing their templates. The online editors also provide many templates that you could use. But be prepared, you will come across issues that aren’t straightforward (say wraping text around a figure or using biology specific symbols for genotypes or an easy way to write labnotes which involve inserting tables and text and figures all on the same page), but like with all things open source, you may go down a rabbit-hole, but if you put enough time into it, you’ll figure out a way past the issue (or just ask someone who uses it all the time!). Understanding the basic structure of LaTeX documents is useful at this point.

The accessories and resources

Manuscript templates: Most biology journals now do accept LaTeX formats and provide their own templates for writing the manuscripts. See the PLoS Biology template, for example. You can find many templates on Overleaf as well.

Bibliography manager: BibTeX. I use BibDesk and Skim to store, cross-reference and annotate my pdfs of journal articles as well as manage my citations.

Lab notebook templates: I find this notebook template by Jeremiah Faith particularly useful to meet the challenges of the nomenclature I need to incorporate in my own notes.

WHO guidelines for local production of hand sanitizer spray

Cannot find hand sanitizer in the grocery stores because people are hoarding it? Don’t panic. World Health Organization recommends a simple recipe to make your own with three ingredients that you can find in any pharmacy: Ethanol or Isopropyl Alcohol (either works fine), Glycerin, Hydrogen Peroxide.

See the detailed WHO guidelines here. This recipe is for a spray sanitizer which can be used to sanitize hands, as well as surfaces.

Needed side tables. Don’t have any carpentary experience but really wanted to build something. After wasting a lot of time online, here is what I came up with - hair pin leg tables with solid wood cutting boards as table tops!


Any solid wood cutting board of the size of your choosing. I used a 13” x 18” x 3/4” wood board.

Hair pin legs of the height of your choosing. I used 28” (Black) 3/8” Thick Metal Steel Leg Set for 4.

Wood screws of a depth less than the thickness of the wood. I used #8 x 5/8” Antique Brass Truss Interior Wood Screws.

Drill machine, drill bits and screw driver.

Top coat of your choosing (to protect the table surface).

The process

Select the face that will be the underside of the table top. Measure out and mark the spots where you want to afix the legs. Using the smallest size drill bit, pre-drill 1/2” holes. Then using a screw driver, attach the legs. Turn the table upside down, apply three coats of the top coat (allow it to dry between each coat, and sand it finely if you so choose). Side table ready for use!

06 Jan 2019 by Richa

Check out the Ithaca murals website if you haven’t visited it already. Caleb et al. have done a wonderful job putting together a murals map that you could refer to. Great idea for organizing a group mural walk/ bike ride! Ithaca murals website link

25 Dec 2018 by Richa

Recipes on the internet are easy to find but harder to keep track of and remember. Sometimes Sid and I find one we like and then tweak to fit our liking. We figured why not create a website that logs them in a easy to use and interactive fashion. We came up with this static website using Gochowdown theme for Hugo. Gochowdown was itself built on Chowdown for Jekyll. The hope is to experiment more with not just cooking but also with Jekyll and Hugo. Here is the link: Richa and Sid’s Recipe Blog.

My first public art project -it was an amazing experience and so much fun!

Going into this project my intent was to combine something Indian with the spirit of Ithaca. I decided to incorporate symbols of Warli art (see below for some background on Warli art), and have tried to interact with the viewer who will be able to identify some of Ithaca features while trying to appreciate a different art form.

The electrical box is at the intersection of N. Cayuga & Court St in Ithaca. Stop by to look if you are in the area!


The Warli people are an indigenous tribe living in the state of Maharashtra in western India; many still live on the northern outskirts of the city of Mumbai. The brick red and white paintings of the Warli tribe decorate the walls of their houses. The paintings are simple and distinct, and are considered an ancient prevailing art. Basic shapes – triangles, squares, circles, and crooked lines – are used to depict complex scenes, such as wedding, field harvest, celebration, dance, musicians, nature, landscapes, farming, animals, rituals. The art is really a depiction of how the community lives, celebrates, hopes, and supports. There is nothing abstract in the depiction, and still it leaves room for you to recreate the atmosphere of happiness and music in your mind.

Ithaca is home to people from diverse backgrounds and a lot of flux. The beauty and hospitality of the town, and its natural beauty win the hearts of anyone who cross their paths here. At the same time, the town is enriched by the uniqueness of all the people who come and go, and the many who continue to stay on. When I saw the request for proposals for the utility boxes, I felt using Warli art would be a perfect medium for me to blend the symbolic features of the tribal art while capturing and celebrating the welcoming spirit of Ithaca and the commons. To me, there is an unbroken line from early tribal art forms such as Warli to today’s street art.

The Process and pictures

This electrical box is a new installation, so I did not need to worry about removing existing old paint which probably saved some initial surface prepping time. The first step was to prime the boxes with an appropriate metal primer (Thanks to Caleb and the other artists for this!). This is how the boxes looked after priming, ready to get some real color on them!

Next we rolled on the base coat color. This was also my first time using a foam roller for paint application. And thanks to Sid’s skill at getting the most even base coat, it ended up saving a lot of brushing time. I sketched out a basic outline of what I wanted to make. There was quite a bit of improvisation at this step which continued all along till I was done with the mural. I had not anticipated how or how much I would modify ideas as I went along- but it certainly made the process more challenging and fun.

Some more thoughts on the experience and some pictures capturing the evolution of the work.

Also check out the work of other artists on the Ithaca mural website.

A bit of color and art in our backyard has made it a happier place. Did this back in 2017, and it is holding up quite well. The mural decorates the door of our garden closet. It took several weeks (mostly because of the weather, time constraints etc.) to finish, and has opened endless possibilities for what all we want to cover in murals in and around the house! Can’t find a pic of how it looked before (or maybe we forgot to click one, but it was a plain wooden cabinet), but here is one of the final product.

Garima Lal who writes this great blog on heathy eating and cooking practices, featured me on one of her ‘Cooking Motivation’ series! Check out the post here.