Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Seee yay TAS

I have just left Tas and it has been amazing. I really did enjoy myself and would really be happy to go back if given the opportunity. I just arrived home and was like why did I leave TAS's stress free environment. But anyway I will be at Emory tomorrow taking care of a few things for Singapore. See you guys soon.

Wow time flies

So, I didn't realize how long it had been since my last blog post until I checked LL to see some threatening emails from Leah.  I've just been so into Barcelona the past few weeks I forgot all about it.  Things have been wonderful.  My girlfriend, Natalie, has been in town for since the 9th  and will be here until I leave.  I've saved most of the cultural stuff for her visit and we've made a whirlwind of it.  The first thing we did was to travel to Pamplona to run with the bulls.  Well, I ran with the bulls.  It was probably the single most terrifying thing I've done and one of the poorer decisions I've made, but also the biggest adrenaline rush EVER!  Those things are big and can run really fast.  I looked over my shoulder and they were several hundred feet behind me, about 10 seconds later I checked again and they were about 50 feet back.  I ducked into a store front and watched them go by.  
We've also done most of what Barcelona has to offer.  We've done bus tours, the Picasso Museum, Sagrada Familia, the Aquarium (the biggest in the Med and still nothing compared to Chatt or ATL), toured the FCB stadium and museum, and strolled along La Rambla in the evenings.  My personal favorite has to be Montjuic.  Its a mountain at the south end of the city that has a fort on the top with amazing views of the city.  In addition to the fort, there's the Olympic Stadium and Olympic Museum, along with gardens and art museums.  Last weekend we went to L'Estartit, a city about 2 hours north of Barcelona on the ocean for some diving.  Its a nice beach town that hasn't been overdeveloped like the entirety of the US coastline and there is a protected marine sanctuary called Illes Medes.  The diving was wonderful and there was plenty to see, though I am still waiting on my turn on the Great Barrier Reef.  There were a ton of grouper, some eels, and an octopus, which my buddy tried to pet.
One very Barcelonian thing I did experience which I would have rather not is the plethora of pickpockets.  I had already thwarted one attempt, but the thieves were more successful the second time.  As I was getting on the Metro, someone tried to cut in front of me to use my swipe to get on.  As I was arguing with him, his buddy took my wallet.  I realized it about 1o seconds later, but they were already gone.  They got my driver's license, insurance card, debit and credit cards, and 30 euros, but I'm most pissed about the wallet.  I really liked it.  Thankfully, I brought a second debit card that I wasn't carrying so I can still get money out, but it's still inconvenient, especially because now I have to carry my passport since it's my only form of ID if I try to use my card.  Another lucky note is I had considered going to the ATM just before I was robbed, thankfully I didn't.
While I am in love with this city, I am ready to come home.  I've been craving Chickfila for a couple weeks and won't be satisfied until I stuff myself with chicken biscuits.  I've never really thought of myself as a homebody but then again I've never been so far away for so long.  Great.  Now I'm starving with all this talk of food right before lunch.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Making the Most of It

The Truth: Canada isn’t full of action-packed, culturally astounding, life-changing experiences. Much of my blogs were about everyday, simple occurrences & observations. But sometimes, it’s these smallest occurrences that can have the greatest impact on one’s life. For example, the Howard Hughes lab that employed me was linked to the general hospital. The 2 buildings shared a main floor. That was what bothered me the most about my Howard Hughes job. I could run to lab early, stay late, create Western blot perfection, be happy, and call it the most productive of days. But when I left work at the end of each day, I passed people who were terribly sick & suffering. All I could do for them was walk right by, maybe hold a door at the most. I felt like I could be doing more with the moment. So I took the next step in the path to making a difference in their lives, and began studying for the MCAT with some old flash cards I borrowed from a friend in lab. This summer, I learned that the wonders of modern science can be put to use in places beyond a 3x7 ft, raised black lab bench. I am excited that I will be spending the rest of the summer job shadowing an infectious disease clinic. Biomedical research of the future needs clinical practice now as a guide for the future inquiries, which will be used to improve clinical practice. I now think of clinical practice and biomedical research like the right and left hand of modern medicine. Progress can be made with one only, but the two together, working in unison, should be a standard in today’s world. This summer, I may not have had the privilege of learning a new language or seeing beautiful, exotic lands, but I used an open mind and open eyes and found a new motivation in my path to becoming a successful scientist.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

See ya Sydney

By now, my stay here in Australia is quickly coming to a bittersweet end. It is sad leaving me new mates and Sydney behind, but at the same time I’m really excited to be going to New Zealand. I’ll be leaving tomorrow and will be spending the next 4 weeks there doing volunteer work and site seeing. The past few days in lab have been pretty low key, so I’ve been taking the opportunity to relax a bit. Recently, I’ve been barrowing the surf board at my place and spending some time at the beaches. Also, the other day I went to go see Harry Potter at the Imax in 3D (it was amazing!).
In other news, I’ve got results!!! Considering that this is my 3rd lab job, but first time getting real concrete results, it feels really good to have completed something from start to finish. Our predictions came out close to what we expected, and I have successfully optimized a pertussis toxin treatment protocol for preventing the entry of T-cells into the lymph nodes. I gave a presentation on my findings to my lab last Friday, and now I’m just going through and organizing my data.
I’m not sure when I will have internet access again, but I wish everyone the best of luck with the remainder of their projects. See ya back in America! :)
-Ryan Mak

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A flowery new home

So I have been here for 10 weeks now and am starting to reach the end of my stay, however, things here have only been getting more and more interesting. After Nick left, I needed a new place to stay for the remainder of my stay due to a lack of room at my current location. Fortunately, I was able to find a free place to stay online in return for a few hours of work each week. What I didn’t anticipate was that I was moving in with what you might call modern day Australian hippies. I’ve been living with them for a week and a half now, and I would have to say that they are a very different, but also loving group of people. I am not sure where to start with describing this bunch, but perhaps what happened last Friday night might be a good start. So I was coming home from work like any other day and was looking forward to getting some rest except when I reached my house something was a little odd. All of the lights were turned off, the doors locked and nobody was home. I had no idea where everyone was at, but I let myself in, cooked some dinner and went to bed. The next day I woke up and still no one was home. Now I was really starting to think things were getting a bit strange, but I went ahead and started doing my chores for the day. This consisted of preparing and making organic tea for them to sale at market. Finally, at about noon my friend Robert, who lives at the house with us, showed up and told me that Paul, the person who runs and organizes the place, got arrested the previous for driving without a license and for not having our van registered and insured, which is a criminal offence in Australia. Later that evening, however, Paul was back at home on bail and with some interesting jail stories. When I asked him why he doesn’t have a driver’s license, he just replied, “now why would I want one of those for?” The three guys I’m living with are very distrustful of the government and prefer not to live according to the norms of society. They have some different ideas about how the world works, although I may not always agree with them, I find the alternative viewpoints interesting. For example, I had a lecture the other day about how the government uses vaccines to get rid of the non-productive members of society. I just smile and say “isn’t that interesting.” I’m not going to try to tell people what to believe. As far as drugs, I am sure that none of them has ever touched a cigarette, much less anything more dangerous. They are very into healthy and natural living and they are all vegetarians or vegans. I really enjoy living with them, and I look forward to more evening chats with the guys when I get home from work. It most certainly keeps life interesting.


I just got back from camping with some friends from lab & their friends. SIX of us were to leave the city around the same time Friday-- 3 of us from one end and 3 from the other end. In my car were 2 other people who had never been camping before. We were relying on the other car, full of experienced campers with tents, sleeping bags, & other essential camping gear. It was nearing sunset as the 3 of us had reached the last mountain town before the campsite, when we get a frightening text message from the experienced car: “Engine trouble- will try to make it there before morning.” So there we were, at sunset, in our little 4-door sedan, dashboard reading 8˚C, with nothing but a cooler of drinks and the clothes on our backs! I thanked divine intervention when my friend found matches in her purse. With some firewood from the nearby town, and some careful strategizing, we were able to start a fire and last until the other car finally made it around 1:30am.

But the night doesn’t end there…. My tentmate & I (both new to camping), grabbed our tent & air mattress and fell immediately asleep, only to awaken about an hour later, lying on a completely flat, cold piece of rubber. Apparently, our brand-new mattress had acquired a brand-new hole and deflated within an hour of camping! I spent the rest of the night tossing and turning on nothing but the cold, hard, mountain rock & deflated rubber mattress.

This left my body in perfect shape for the morning hike, down to the falls. I would look down at some points and see nothing but a vertical drop. I was terrified, plastered to the side of the slope, and walking with my hands & feet to avoid falling. There was no guide, no safety waver, only me and the experienced climbers. When we finally reached the bottom of the falls (& took gorgeous pics.), I thought crossing the river would be a breeze. It was more like a hurricane! This water was even colder than the lake last week! The current was fast & the rocks were ideal for stepping—sharp, wet & slippery. I was half way through when the water had reached my upper thigh. After letting out a scream, I used all my runner’s strength to make it to the hands waiting for me on the other side.

The climb back up to camp was much easier, and I decided to take it easy from here on out. We patched up the mattress with chewed gum, needles, and tin foil. As my body slowly recovers, I leave you with some advice: no matter how far research takes you, NEVER underestimate to power of Mother Nature.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Double the trouble

Hey everyone! For the past week Nick and I have been hitting up the sites here in Sydney. Wednesday was my 21st birthday, but I think we’ve been successfully celebrating it for almost a full week now. Wednesday, my lab took me out to eat, and then I went city site seeing with Nick. Thursday, we went on a day long surf trip and spent the evening at Kings Cross. Friday-whale watching, China town, and Darling harbor. Saturday- Bondi junction/beach. Sunday-a tour of the opera house and Olympic park. It’s Monday now, but I don’t think we’ll have any problems finding stuff to do before Nick has to leave on Thursday. Sydney tends to always be an eventful place, even during the weekdays. I have to run for now…
Take care

Saturday, July 11, 2009

"Just from Georgia"

Hi Guys,
When I started this job, I was given a peroxisomal membrane protein and 3 cell-signaling kinases that might be involved in it's phosphorylation (or event that turns a protein "on" or "off.") After a tiresome, 8-week battle with gene expression control and unpredictable cell metabolic rates, I think I have in my hands the preliminary evidence for the correct kinase, out of the 3 I was assigned to investigate. After repeating the experiment from start to finish this week, my boss agrees with me! I will spend my last week viewing the knock-out, organelle-fluorescing strain under the confocal microscope to see what else I find.
I celebrated with cocktails, then clubbing, and a trip to a serene, crystal blue lake with some friends from lab. It was excellent, until they threw me into the lake just to see my reaction. That water was the coldest I've ever felt in my life! Nobody else seemed to be bothered by it, though. Little kids were playing in it with no problem. I was kicking and screaming and causing a scene. People around us were asking if I was ok. "It's nothing, she's just from Georgia." my friends would reply. Keep up the great times and the great work, everyone! And try not to fall asleep within throwing distance from a glacial lake.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Famous In Tasmania

Hello guys, I am here in lab typing up this blog so if there are words that are spelled incorrectly blame it on the English way of spelling… I am using an apple and I don’t know how to work these things and therefore don’t know how to change the language to US English. LOL. But any way… Back to my Jamaican Vietnamese (not Korean, my mistake) friend. So this his how it all began. I came into work and it was just another regular day. My supervisor told me that we would be having students and administrators visiting the lab to take a look at it and so forth. Not quiet sure why they came but I guess that is not important. Anyway, while they were here, I have never seen people take so many pictures and videotape random things in my life. It is quiet funny. My supervisor would say oh this is a mixture of … I don’t know lets say a cell infected by malaria; all of a sudden you would see flashes everywhere (Now mind you there is nothing special about a cell infected with malaria unless you knew what to look for). What is even more hilarious is when my supervisor introduced me to them. I felt like I was being attacked by the poperotsy. I am not sure what it was but it became a frenzy in here no exaggeration... especially when I started to smile. (My white teeth just had them going crazy LOL). While most would be shy, I took the opportunity to embrace the photo shoot and my moment the limelight so to speak. (It was great… never had so many people taking pictures of me simultaneously. God knows where those picture will end up).
So back tot the Jamaican thing… All that was stated previously has a point. So the only black guy in the group amongst all the Asians came up to me after the frenzy was over and said that he would like me to pose so that he can get some proper pictures of me looking like I was working on lab stuff. Felt kind of awkward but I said ok. After the (photo shoot was over LOL) he asked me for my details so that he can send me a copy of the pictures and so forth… He then asked where I was from and I said America but I was born in Jamaica. Now have u ever had that feeling where you have been all alone in a place and you finally meet someone that has something in common with you… Well that is the feeling I had. He said he was from Jamaica too but here is what gets even more weird. He lives in Vietnam but he has a southern (Augusta accent). I didn’t even bother to ask. I just laughed to my self… So that was the story of my long lost Jamaican brother and my moment of fame with the poperotsy.
This Wednesday, I will finally be going to Sydney to hang out with Ryan and hopefully go to the Great Barrier Reef if I can afford it. Any way got to go tend to me parasites they are hungry and need to be fed.

All’s wells down under

For the last few weeks, I have been spending a lot of time in lab. I am almost a completely independent worker by now which has many advantages to it. I don’t have to rely on anyone else to help out on any lab techniques and can come in when I like, which is nice because my lab is a very laid back place with people coming and going in no predictable manner. I am also getting results as well :). From what I can tell from right now, the findings are close to what we expected, but I still have a lot of experiments to run through and data to analyze before the end.
Outside of lab, I have been spending my weekends going to national parks and beaches around Sydney. Last weekend, I went to the Blue Mountains which is basically the Australian equivalent to our Grand Cannon. The mountains were breathtaking, and I had a great day hiking through the bush with my new friend, Remy who is from Switzerland. The weekend before that, we went to Ku-ring-gia Chase National park and had a great time even though we ended up getting lost after the sun went down (we made it through alive however :). This weekend, I am planning on going to the Royal National park where I hear you can see whales from the shore line this time of year. I have other things to look forward to next week as well. On Wednesday (July 8th) is my 21st birthday :) and Nick is coming up from Tasmania to see Sydney; should be tons of fun :)
-Ryan Mak