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!