Sitting on Champ du Mars by the Eiffel tower after dinner, before having to catch my train home. I had to leave before it got dark enough to light up :(
Saturday, August 14, 2010
Sitting on Champ du Mars by the Eiffel tower after dinner, before having to catch my train home. I had to leave before it got dark enough to light up :(
Friday, August 13, 2010
I wasn't as nervous as I usually am when I have to speak in public. Part of that is the fact that I have been studying and discussing and presenting the same general topic for the last year or so, but I think the other part of that is due to the Oral Presentations class I took at Hopkins last year. It was actually a bit more time consuming than I expected my random elective to be, but it was definitely worth it because I really feel like I got a lot out of that class and improved my presentation skills tremendously (yes, I used to be one of those people who tried to hide behind the podium and literally read straight from the 12pt font "bullet point" paragraphs that I jam packed onto each slide, so it didn't even matter that you couldn't understand anything I said anyway). It isn't a difficult class, but it just made me step outside of my comfort zone until I was comfortable and more confident - saved me a lot of stress this past year!
Anyway, I only have Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday left next week, so I'm just trying to finish up some stuff, like writing up a protocol for my desorption experiments, cleaning up things I left in the lab, and possibly trying to repeat one last experiment.
This is the first weekend that I haven't done any traveling, so its nice to relax! I did go to Brussels for a bit this morning to do some last minute souvenir shopping though. There is another free music festival here in Leuven, Markt Rock, with a bunch of Belgian bands/djs, so I'm going to that too.
On Thursday, I will go back to Finland to visit my friend Erica again. She lives in Helsinki, which I didn't see much of last time, and we will also take a cruise to Sweeden, so I'll get to see a bit of Stockholm too! Then I will go back home to beautiful Colorado for only a week, and then moving to Evanston, Il to start a PhD program in Materials Science and Engineering at Northwestern! Its going to be a busy few weeks...
Sunday, August 8, 2010
I just got back from a short trip to London with the other American interns here. I'm not going to go into details of the trip yet, or any of the other weekend trips I've taken over the past few weeks - I got behind in writing about them so I'm just going to jump to the present now and catch up with pictures/stories later when I have more time. So here is another short IMEC update.
I FINALLY got my desorption experiments to start working consistently, but of course I only have about a week and a half left now. I feel like with research its very easy to have a plan or goal to reach in a certain amount of time, but then some "simple" part of the process is unexpectedly time consuming. So now that I've past that slow part and the end of summer is near, time seems to pass much quicker! Someone from Hopkins is coming to IMEC on Wednesday-Friday, and we have to give a presentation on Thursday, so I'm working on that this week. But in addition to the experiments I've done all summer with fluorescent antibodies, I would like to include desorption of fluorescent DNA. I'm hoping that will work on the first try... since thats all I'll have time to do! It's going to be a busy week.
Since its summer and people get a lot of vacation time in Belgium, various people that I work with, or who make samples for me in the clean room (I'm not trained for the clean room) keep going on holiday for a few weeks at a time. It hasn't made anything impossible, but I keep having to track down a new person, so it might have actually saved time if I had been trained to make my own. A couple people in the group are actually traveling around the United States after a conference right now, which is funny since I'm sort of doing the same thing, but in Europe.
Last week, I also started using CorelDRAW, which I'm pretty excited about because my schematics will look more professional. In the past, I briefly struggled with Adobe Illustrator, but for some reason that software and I did not get along. I never took the time to figure it out and just resorted to basic PowerPoint figures. I am finding CorelDRAW to be much more user friendly for me, without any extra effort. I also downloaded a trial version of IgorPro onto my work PC to plot my data. I'm not doing any fancy analysis with it, but the graphs look much more professional than an Excel plot.
Thats all for now... I need to work on my presentation and/or get some sleep.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Orange maddness at the train station when I was trying to leave. All these people had just arrived and got off that train. I don't know how they all fit in there. Everyone was cheering and singing and dancing too. These pictures don't really do it justice.
Other than watching the city get ready for the World Cup, I went on a free walking tour through Sandemans New Europe (New Amsterdam). The tour was actually really fun and interesting and covered most of the city. The guides were great because they only work for tips. I WOULD HIGHLY RECOMMEND THESE TOURS if you are visiting a new city, whether you are on a budget or not. They do tours in several cities around Europe, like Paris, Amsterdam, London, Dublin, Prague etc (I would put a link to the website here, but honestly, I don't know how to put links in this blog, but just google "free walking tour new europe"). It is a nice way to get to know the city a bit before exploring on your own. I learned and saw a lot of interesting facts and history about the city that I wouldn't have known by just wandering around with a map or guide book. The tour guides are also much more interesting than the pre-recorded facts you listen to on bus or canal tour (even though I do enjoy those too, if they are a decent price).
After that, I met up with a friend that I swam with at Hopkins who was studying abroad there. We explored the city some more and went to the Van Gogh museum.
From a bridge over a canal in Amsterdam. The canal system is pretty cool in this city. I thought there were a lot of bikes in Leuven, but it is NOTHING compared the amount of bikes in Amsterdam. And Dutch people on bikes don't take too kindly to pedestrians getting in their way, especially tourists. So you have to watch out for that. One girl on the tour had some pretty sweet battle wounds from being hit by a bike. Bike theft is also very common here, or they fall into the canals.These sort of bricks used to be used to indicate a persons occupation - this was one cool thing I learned from the tour guide that I would not have even noticed otherwise!
It’s been a while since I talked about what I’ve been up to at IMEC, so here is a quick update. As I mentioned before, I am studying reductive desorption of alkanethiol SAMs on gold. The group I’m working with at IMEC does a lot of surface chemistry and studies SAMs for biosensing applications but desorption is a relatively new topic here. Trying to start a new-ish project in only 10 weeks is a bit ambitious because there are always unexpected (and time consuming) problems that need to be worked out. So after being trained to use all the new equipment and software, I spent most my time trying to get the set up (combining electrochemistry with fluorescence microscopy) to work properly. I finally have an electrochemical cell that fits with the microscope objective, doesn’t leak and can be used with small 1x1cm Au samples (as well as larger ones). Now I’m working to get some results and establish a protocol for running these desorption experiments in the short amount of time I have left!
Friday, July 16, 2010
View of the Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp, taken from near the river. It took 200 years to build and was supposed to have a second tower.
Oh, and I finally had a delicious Belgian waffle from a street vendor! I had ordered a waffle (rectangular) in little restaurants before that didn't live up to the hype I was expecting - they were like 5 or 6€ on a fancy plate and not much more special than a waffle from FFC (Hopkins dining hall). But now I know that you have to get a sugar waffel (round-ish) from a street vendor for like 1 or 2€ in a napkin or paper. They offer toppings like chocolate and fruit, but plain is delicious by itself.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Thursday, June 24, 2010
Since it was my first time in the city, we took a guided boat tour through the canals, so we go to see a lot of it. I think the boat tour was around 6.50 € for 30 min. It was worth it, but I don't think I'd do it more than once. We saw a lot of swans and historic houses and buildings. I also saw several horse-drawn carriages/ tours, which might have been fun, but I'm sure they would be more expensive... and horses scare the crap out of me.
This is one pretty picture from the boat tourI also enjoyed touring the Half Moon Brewery, which has been operating since 1856 and is the only family brewery still operating in Bruges. The 45min tour was only 5.50€ with a free sample of their award winning Brugse Zot Blond at the end. We learned about the history of the brewery and all the different steps in making beer. The tour took us all the way to the roof, where we had a great view of the city! I'm glad I went up there because I did not go up the Belfry. I would like to visit Bruges again and will try to go to the top of the Belfry and get an even better view of the city.
View from the top of the Half Moon Brewery
In case I don't finish catching up tonight, I plan to also write about my trip to Finland for the midsummer celebration, a trip to Antwerp for shopping and the beach in Knokke, the free Friday night concerts in Leuven, Amsterdam during the world cup, travel plans for the next few weeks, and of course what I've been up to at IMEC.
Also, here is a picture of the bike parking garage. There are thousands of bikes all over the city, and this huge garage by the station is packed with bikes!
Sunday, June 13, 2010
- Everyone that I work with at IMEC is very friendly and helpful, especially when I got lost trying to find my way between labs or couldn't find the supplies I needed.
- The computer at my desk has a Euorpean keyboard, so it is throwing me off a bit. I get used to this one then switch to an American one and have to readjust my typing again. I might try to see if I can exchange it.
- Almost everything important (signs, labels, directions, etc) is in English and Dutch, though occasionally someone has to translate for me (like some of the paperwork and the menu in the cafeteria).
- My "commute" is very nice - all down hill on the way to work and through a nice little bike path by a stream with ducks. The grocery store is right on the way home too.
- Everyone must swipe their ID card when entering/exiting a building or lab. This is done to make sure you have access to that area and also in the case of an emergency, your location is known.
- One thing I found quite shocking was that you can dump strong acids and bases down the sink, but have to put even small quantities of PBS or ethanol (things I consider generally harmless, like salt water or vodka) in special waste. I guess phosphates are more difficult to dispose of, so PBS must go into the "contaminated acid waste." Most sinks are for acid waste, but there are some separate sinks or waste containers for the contaminated acid waste (bio contaminated solutions, phosphates) and solvent waste (organics).
- People eat fries (which originated in Belgium, btw, not France) with forks...weird.
I just sort of wandered around the city with a map all day. I went to the Grote Markt (the city center), and saw Manneken Pis (the little statue of the boy peeing into a fountain) nearby. He was wearing a kilt yesterday. I went to The Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium and saw the Rene Margritte exhibit. He was a surrealist, which is the sort of art that I like, so I enjoyed it even though I don't know anything about art. Before I left, I decided to hop on the metro and go see the Atomium. Unfortunately, I didn't know that it closed at 6, so I didn't get to go inside. Apparently, you can get a tour of all the "atoms," with exhibits in each one and a restraunt in the top. So I just took some pictures from up close. Being a materials scientist, all I could think about at the time was what crystal lattice it was (bcc - 8 nearest neighbors). I read more about it later: it was built in 1958 and represents the unit cell of an iron crystal magnefied 165 billion times. I'll have to go back sometime so I can actually take the tour, I'm sure there is a great view from the top!
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
As I mentioned before, visiting scholars at KU Leuven can only make temporary housing arrangements before arriving in Leuven. This means that it is a bit hectic once you arrive while looking for a more permanent residence. I guess the students are still in town for their final exams, so there weren't a lot of short-term options available right now. Lucky for me, Mike (the other Hopkins student here this summer, went through this last year and knew where to look. On Monday morning we looked at an apartment building that had 2 small flats available right next to each other, signed the contract, and Monday evening after work we moved in! We are in Budget Flats Leuven, which is only about a 15 min bike ride from IMEC and less than 5 min from the train station. It is fully furnished and there is a Carrefour (like a small Belgian Super Wal-Mart) only about 2km away that I can bike to for cheap bed sheets, soap, etc. Now that I have a place to live for the next 3 months I can relax and focus on more important things, like work and where to find the best Belgian waffles...
I arrived in Leuven on Friday morning (June 4th)! The flight to Brussels didn’t seem as long as I expected and it was extremely easy to take the train from Brussels to Leuven. Once I was there, however, it took me a while to find the youth hostel I stayed at for a few days. While I work at IMEC this summer, I’m considered a “visiting scholar” at KU Leuven (the university in Leuven). You can’t reserve permanent housing from abroad, so you must stay in guest housing for a few days. The guesthouse at KU Leuven was booked this week, which is why I’m in the Youth Hostel Leuven, “De Blauwput.” It is actually right outside of the train station, but there was no big flashing sign that I expected, so I wandered around asking directions before finally coming back to it. The hostel is very nice, again not really something I expected… I suppose my prior “knowledge” of hostels came from American horror or comedy movies… I was in a room with 4 beds, a bathroom, sink, and shower. There is a kitchen (where breakfast is free and you can buy other meals or coffee), a lounge area, bar, foosball table, etc. They let me check in early so I could drop off my stuff and then go explore and find a bike!
It seems like everyone rides a bike around here, and I will need it to get around to work and to look for apartments, so the first and only thing I did on Friday was rent one from Velo, a bike rental place and repair shop. It was 67 euros for 3 months, but I will get the 50 euro deposit back when I return the bike. It was nice to wander around the city a bit with a goal – I got to see a bunch of the city but it helped me orient myself and stopped me from doing too much shopping! The ride back was much easier than the long walk there. I noticed that the bikes sort of go wherever they want and cars just go around them. On the main roads, there are designated bike lanes and even bike stop lights, but in the center of the city it is more or less a free for all of bikes, pedestrians, and cars.