Saturday, August 14, 2010


I'm still trying to catch up writing about all my trips! So here we go... I went to Paris on July 17-18. If you know me, then you won't be suprised that I missed my 6:30 am train on Saturday morning. Even though the next train at the same price didn't leave until 4 pm, I decided it was still worth it to go, and it was. I'm glad I got a glimpse of Paris, but wish I could have spent MUCH more time there to really get to see it. I met up with my friend from high school, Olivia and got to stay in her fancy schmancy hotel room for free (the room was a graduation gift from her brother-in-law). It was nice to catch up with my friend since I haven't really seen her in the last 4 years!

I mostly stuck around the area by the Louvre and the Tuleries Gardens, since it was close to our hotel and there was plenty to see in that area! On Sunday morning, we took another free walking tour through the same company that did the tour I took in Amsterdam. This time our guide was a funny Brittish guy (who kept subtly making fun of the French lol). The tour was really nice because I got to hear a lot of history and details that I never would have known or appreciated. It was also nice since I was there for such a short time, it was the best way to see all that I could in a short amount of time.
I don't speak any French, but another girl we were with does, so she could translate if we needed. I also found that simple phrases like bonjour, s'il vous plait, merci, pardon, and parlez-vous anglais? were very useful. In Belgium, pretty much EVERYONE speaks English, so I got used to everyone automatically speaking English with me and I stopped even bothering to ask. But some of my friends who have studied in France before told me it would be rude to jump right into English without saying something like "bonjour, parlez-vous anglais?" first. So I made sure to do that, and didn't have much of a problem, but at first I was a bit shocked that not as many people in Paris spoke as much English as they do in Belgium.

Olivia and I outside of the Louvre during the free walking tour, while the tour guide pointed out the orange stickers on some of the windows of the Louvre. Those windows are the ones that the firemen are allowed to break in case of a fire...

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

Presentations, last week

As I mentioned before, Tom from Hopkins came to Leuven this week to check up on this program and discuss collaboration/IP stuff with some people at IMEC. So on Thursday Mike, Laura, and I each gave a presentation on the work we've done here and back at Hopkins, including ideas about how collaboration can continue with the projects. About half the data I ended up presenting were just collected on Tuesday... soooo it's been a long week. At first, I was a bit worried about everything coming together in time, but I think the presentation actually went very well and we all got a lot of compliments!

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

Time flies like an arrow... but fruit flies like a banana

HAHAHA sorry about the corny title, but after writing "time flies" I was reminded of that joke that my little sister, Heidi, told me :)

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


I went to Amsterdam on July 10-11. The final game of the World Cup between Spain and Netherlands was on the 11th, so on Sunday the whole city was MADDNESS! I thought people got into the Super Bowl, but that is nothing compared to this. Unfortunately, the last train I could have taken was 9pm (game started at 8:30), and I didn't have anywhere to stay that night, so I wasn't able to stay to watch the actual game. I imagine it would have been quite the experience (even being there before the game was unforgettable).

Approximately 11am. Fans already gathering on Museumplein to watch the World Cup on a giant TV set up in the the square.

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!

IMEC update

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

Antwerp and Knokke

On Saturday, July 3, I went to Antwerp to see the city... and shop. It was a great time to go because EVERYTHING was on sale! Someone at work told me that there are sales twice a year and in the summer they start at the beginning of July and last almost all month. I was confused when she told me this because in America stores generally have their own sales whenever they want, and massive sales only happen on days like Black Friday. But she assured me that everything in Antwerp, and Leuven, and everywhere else in Belgium would be on sale. I took my time and did a lot of window shopping in stores that were out of my price range (even on sale), but I found great deals on several nice shirts and a skirt and dress! It rained a lot in the early afternoon, so good thing I was mostly inside during that time. I didn't end up seeing a whole lot of the city other than the Meir (the main shopping street), but in the evening I did wander around for a while to take pictures of several squares and the river Schelde.

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.

On that Sunday, the weather was fabulous, so the other interns and I went to the beach in Knokke. It was a 2 hour train ride for about 20€ round trip. It was nice and relaxing, we just sat on the beach all day and tossed a frisbee for a while, even though it was pretty windy for frisbee. But there were a bunch of people flying pretty intense kites and wind surfing with kites that were really cool to watch because I've never seen anything like that before. I actually didn't realize it was the 4th of July until we were about to leave! That is one of my favorite holidays so I was a bit sad that I missed celebrating it, but I still had fun without BBQs and fireworks.

Beach in Knokke with a bunch of windmills in the background. I didn't get any good pictures of the people wind surfing with big parachute-like kites instead of on windsurf boards, but they were over near the windmills.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Midsummer in Finland

One of my best friends that I swam with at Hopkins moved to Finland 2 years ago after she graduated, so I went to visit her during a very Finnish celebration, Juhannus (Midsummer)! This will probably be the only trip that I will go on without doing a single touristy thing. We went camping at her friends cabin in a little town called Huittinen, about 3 hours North of Helsinki. I don't even know how to begin to describe how beautiful it was or how much fun I had.... I guess from the beginning.
I flew on AirBaltic through Riga, Latvia Thursday night. There, I accidentally spent 4.50 euros on a small bottle of water because I didn't realize they use a different currency and vending machines apparently don't have a very good exchange rate. No water fountains - one of the things I miss most about America is free water. Anyway, I got to take one of those really small air planes that you have to take a bus to out on the run way and there are only 6 steps to get into it. The propeller was actually on the outside of the wing, so it was really loud during take off, but I thought it was really cool to watch it. When I left Riga around midnight, it was already dark, but when I landed in Helsinki at 1 am, it was still light out!

We took a bus to Huittinen on Friday morning (June 25) and picked up some food at the grocery store for grilling! There were several other people at the cabin. Almost everyone could speak English, but they spoke Finnish unless they were talking directly to me.

The weather was nice, it rained a few times but not for long and the thunder storms were really cool to watch. We went swimming in the river (cold! but refreshing), then went in the sauna, rode in a speed boat, played beach volley ball, sat around the fire, and relaxed. I'm just going to post a bunch of pictures because words won't do it justice.

Daytime view of the river, with the boat we rode in. All the colors were very vivid.
Campfire we cooked over and sat around all weekend. I love camping and campfire food!
Me swimming in the River with the dock, boat, campsite in the background! It was COLD but totally worth it. Went to the sauna right after to warm up.
11:20pm: beach volley ball net and the sun beginning to set
11:30: most beautiful sunset I've ever seen. The sky was actually purple.
12:12 am: Same view of the river but at "night." It never got darker than this. Dusk skipped right over night straight to dawn. It was amazing.
The Kokko! A very traditional part of the Junannus celebration is building a huge bon fire at midnight.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Its been a while since I posed any updates. I've been busy with work and traveling so I have a lot to say but got lazy! Anyway, here goes:

A few weekends ago (June 12), Mike and I went to Bruges. It is a beautiful city and I took a lot of pictures. It was a bit rainy and chilly, but that didn't spoil the trip.

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 tour

I 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

First week at IMEC

My first week of work at IMEC went really well! I was mostly just getting paper work out of the way and being trained to use different facilities and equipment. That really depended on the schedules of the people training me, so at times I was busy, but at others I had nothing to do. This week I should be able to run some experiments on my own and hopefully be more productive. I expected a lot of the paper work and administrative stuff to take longer than it did, but we got that out of the way pretty fast. I got safety and general training in the bio labs that I will be working in and was also trained to use their fluorescent microscope, potentiostat and electrochemistry equipment, and surface plasmon resonance (SPR) machine. I've never used SPR before, so I had to learn about how it works and why we use it. Basically, this technique uses changes in refractive index at a sensor surface to detect material adsorbed onto or desorbed from the surface. This is how it is used for biosensing applications. Electrochemistry and fluorescence are other methods I used in the Searson group at Hopkins, and will use this summer to characterize and study SAMs.

Here are some other observations/notes that I've found interesting so far:
  • 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 went to Brussels yesterday! I saw/did a lot of the stereotypical touristy things to do Belgium. Throughout the day, I of course got belgian chocolate, fries (with spicy samurai and pili pili sauce), a waffel, and a beer - all delicious.

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

Getting settled

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...

More of First Day

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.

Friday, June 4, 2010

First Day

I just arrived in Leuven this morning. This is sort of a test blog, as I only have a few minutes of internet time left and I am new at blogging... expect a more detailed post about my travels tomorrow!