Thursday, July 29, 2010


So after the hustle and bustle that is air travel, I finally got home at around 2 in the morning. Ah America, how I've missed thee. Yeah, I was just across the border; but I am very glad to be back.

One small rant: airports need free WiFi. Paying for it is like paying for radio waves. It's ridiculous. If I become a frequent traveler, I will definitely invest in an iPhone or a Blackberry.

One small story: So I took a cab to the airport, and halfway through the trip I realize I didn't have any cash on me. ensure that the driver didn't kick me out and leave me stranded, I waited till we got to the airport to tell him, "Oh by the way, I don't have cash; so if I leave my baggage here, can I go to an ATM and cash for you?" Pretty sure, he contemplated leaving with my luggage, but I tipped him well for his troubles.

Anyway, this is the end of my IRES travels. *tear* I had loads of fun and learned lots of things, and I will never forget this experience.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Hasta luego, mi Buenos Aires querido

I finished up everything in lab, my bags are packed, and now I'm waiting to hand over my keys and take a cab to the airport. I'm passing the time by organizing my rambling thoughts into a blog entry.

I've been reflecting a lot on my time here, and I've realized that in a lot of ways, I arranged my experience this summer as a sort of test for myself. There were two questions in particular that I wanted to answer. Firstly, am I capable of traveling to a foreign country that speaks a language in which I am only somewhat proficient, having an apartment and living on my own for the first time, and adapting to a completely new culture almost entirely independently? And secondly, when I eliminate many other distractions from my life and focus on research as a (more than) full-time job, even taking myself out of my research "comfort zone" and into a new environment with new people and new techniques, do I still love it, and do I still know that this is what I want to do with my life? The answers to these questions are, respectively: absolutely, and an overwhelming YES! Not only have I survived on my own here, but I've truly thrived. As Austin mentioned in one of his last posts, this experience has given me a tremendous amount of personal growth and made me much more confident in myself. I settled in immediately, and I've felt perfectly at home in Buenos Aires since my second day. I've definitely learned that I can be very adaptable, adventurous, assertive, and self-sufficient in new situations. As for the second question, I've fallen even more in love with research throughout my stay here, and although I felt sure that research was the path for me even before I came, I now know absolutely, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that this is where I want my life to go. In fact, it's going to be hard for me to cut back to being a part-time researcher in order to be a full-time student in the fall. My desire to complete MD/PhD training has been reaffirmed as well, as I've spent a lot of time talking with my peers and superiors here about the need for a constant push towards medical applications in our research. All in all, I learned a lot of fascinating information and research skills that will be very useful as I progress through my training. I also strengthened my ability to think like a real scientist, and I got some really awesome results, of which I am quite proud. I can't wait to share them with all of the IRES people and everybody in my Emory lab!

Apart from my time spent in the laboratory, I've become very fond of the city in general. Here is a list, in no particular order, of the things I will miss most when I leave:
1. Not wearing a watch and not having any portable time-telling device, and not caring, because deadlines are never set in stone and nothing starts on time anyway.
2. Going to fancy restaurants for delicious meals, and paying no more than $6US.
3. Seeing all of the locals out diligently mopping the sidewalk with soap and water in the morning on my way to work. It never fails to puzzle me and make me smile.
4. The very friendly head security guard at the lab institute who greeted me every day, in spite of the creepy way that he winked at me as I was leaving each night.
5. Introducing myself as Raquel because I receive blank stares when I say Rachel, and nobody can pronounce it anyway.
6. Yerba Mate (traditional herbal drink).
7. Living in a place where almost every single sentence begins with the word "Che" (as in Che Guevara, famous Argentine revolutionary). After trying to pinpoint an exact meaning of the word for several months, I've determined that it can take on practically any meaning. Most commonly, it seems to be used as "hey you" or just "listen to me because I'm about to say something."
8. Entering or exiting a room and customarily greeting every person with a single kiss on the right cheek, whether I know them or not.
9. Constant subway entertainment in the way of skilled (or painfully unskilled) performers and people selling useless items, and astonishment at the number of locals who eagerly purchase such useless items.
10. Alfajores. No US cookie will ever be the same.
11. Learning new Spanish expressions from my lab mates every day (often colloquialisms or vulgar expressions that my Spanish courses failed to teach me), and then being teased relentlessly for saying "¡ay ay ay!" when my experiments go wrong, because cursing in Spanish just doesn't come naturally to me.
12. Tango.
13. Medialunas (like miniature croissants, but sweeter, eaten for the third meal of the day with café or mate).
14. Oocytes. They drive me crazy, but I love them all the same.
15. Feeling like I could run laps around groups of people as they dawdle down the street, because nobody is ever in a hurry.
16. Using decimal points in place of commas and commas in place of decimal points when writing numbers. Also, writing the date as day-month-year instead of month-day-year. Those habits are going to be tough to break.
17. All of the wonderful people I worked with in lab.
18. Laughing to myself at locals who dress in multiple heavy coats, mittens, scarves, and hats, completely bundled up with only their eyes showing, when it's really not that cold.

The list could go on and on...

This has been the experience of a lifetime. Thanks so much IRES for making it possible!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

since the experiment i have been doing the last two weeks hasn't been all that successful I've started doing more electrophysiology with my P.I. which is exciting because i know what i am doing mostly.. it gives me the chance to apply what i know from my lab back at home... we have been varying the time between episodes of swimming to see if it changes the lengths of the episodes of swimming and then we've been applying ouabain which blocks Na+/K+ pumps and then washing the ouabain off to see how the lengths of the episodes change... by varying the time between episodes we can also see how stimulating the animal during afterhyperpolarization affects how much the animal swims amplitude of swimming etc... this experiment also coincides with the new experiments the same grad student is doing in my was the first time i attempted doing this experiment all by myself.. was almost successful today! ... since i know how to do all the necessary measurements to analyze the data I've been analyzing the data by myself for each experiment though :)

the golf open last weekend was so surreal! i don't watch golf often, but just to be on the actual course with all the famous golfers was great! also this past week/ weekend the group of friends I've been getting closer with here has had several bbqs at their flats and one at the beach... such yummy food! i miss bbqs! two of my friends from Emory are here visiting as well which is exciting!! and my family is coming this weekend and staying for awhile in Edinburgh for the big arts festival and to see all the sites in Scotland and ill be traveling with them to London and Greece during the next two weekends! soo excited to stay in a nice hotel and be able to go out to really nice restaurants!

reading all the last few posts has made me want to come home! i've been kind of homesick even though i've been out and about a lot and having a lot of fun! but i think it'll be better when i see my family this weekend! and it'll definitely be bitter sweet when i have to go back to the states!

till next time! cheers!


... How I miss thee.

I cannot believe that so many of us are already finishing up! I still have three weeks left at my lab. Reading the other posts, I have mixed reactions. On one hand, I cannot wait to get back to the best country in the world (as this trip has clearly shown me!) and on the other I don't want to return to the "real" world. Either way, when my time comes to return, it will be bittersweet.

A few weeks ago when Silvana (my supervisor) found me a freezer box, I completely ignored the scribbles of the box's previous owners. That is until the other day when my PCR wasn't quite ready to start to set up that I looked closer at the box. Written on the side of the box was "Tamara." Rewind. Back at Emory, Tamara is my P.I., and she also happened to have spent some time as a post-doc in this particular British lab, and it was she who helped me get in touch with my P.I. here. By pure coincidence I am using the same box my US P.I. used at least ten+ years ago! Who would've thought?!?

Monday, July 26, 2010

It's almost over?!

Hello world, I'm back; and I can't believe it's almost over :( I depart for the States in two days! My experience in Montreal truly has been fun, exciting, and...well...educational. Perhaps that sounds like a PBS ad. Oh well. Anyway, the reason for my delay in an update is that ever since I got back from my trip to Nova Scotia (around 3 weeks ago), I have been working nonstop in the lab more or less.

My experiment is time sensitive, and it just so happens that during the my last few weeks in Montreal is when the mice have completed consuming their food that contains rapamycin, which means most of the behavioral tests must be completed within this short window of opportunity. Shortly after I arrived in Montreal from my trip, I completed two pilot experiments to tweak a protocol intended for object recognition but would be used as a spatial memory task. After receiving promising results with the improved protocol, I decided to use it for the first batch of mice that completed eating the rapamycin food. Unfortunately, the results I received with this batch were disappointing. From the data, it doesn't appear that the consumption of rapamycin in aged mice has an effect on spatial memory as measured by my test. There are more grounded spatial memory tasks, like Morris Water Maze, that will be performed by the post doc for which I work after I leave Montreal. I am also doing contextual fear conditioning tests with these mice; but due to time constraints and blinding, I will not be the one scoring those videos. I hope the data from that test is more promising!

Tomorrow will officially be my last day in lab, and I will be finishing up one object recognition task, scoring some videos, and tying up some loose ends with my PI. I shall miss the lab and Montreal!

Anyway, aside from research, my trip to Nova Scotia was amazing! It's been over a decade since I had seen my cousins, aunt and uncle, who live in Halifax; and it was really good to catch up with them and see their new house in the countryside. I won't go into the nitty gritty, but I can tell you that going to somewhere as peaceful as Nova Scotia is a nice break from the city life in Montreal. I definitely have missed riding in the car and just seeing the beautiful scenery. Below are a few pictures from my trip!

Here's a shot from Acadia University, my Dad's alma mater. The university is in this really petite town that has like two pubs and a lot of inns/bed and breakfasts. It seems like a great place lol Kidding aside, it really is a cute little town; and it felt great to physically experience

This is a picture from Halifax, which is probably Nova Scotia's largest city. The restaurant pictured is called the Wooden Monkey and is apparently serves good vegetarian food. Allegedly, it's also Ellen Page's (Juno) favorite restaurant in town.

I was in Halifax for Canada Day, and it really is amazing to see people wearing red and white everywhere. The picture above show some volunteers who learned classic/old British military stances.

Nova Scotia i also home to the International Tattoo, which is a rather long military-acrobat show. But at the same time, it really showed how much respect people show Canadian soldiers and armed forces.

My flight back to Montreal was at 6 am, which meant I had to leave my Aunt's house by 4 am. Here's the resulting sunrise :)

Science and travels

Ireland most certainly has to be one of the best countries in the world, not to mention one of the shortest international flights I have ever took (45 minutes!). Of course this is coming from a traveling college student, which in this case can make all the difference. Almost every tourist in Dublin can be described as young backpackers looking for a good time. Of course there was that old adorable couple, the annoying family with an infant in a stroller screaming its lungs out and of course there are those families with the parents and older siblings passing their Guinness to the thirteen –year-old-wannabe-badass-little-brother. I could not have thought of a better city in all of Europe for the IRES UK crowd to meet up in.
Ireland, is a cold, rainy, cloudy city, but the people more than made up for these shortcomings. The vibrant city and always happy people made up for the miserable weather. Dublin was almost like a dream. Met up with awesome people (IRES, wooO!), met awesome people (Austrians, Australians etc. etc.), the Guinness was the best I’ve ever had and even the rain made me wanna’ sing. Even the Irish seals love life!
Returning to London from this fantastic weekend was a rather depressing experience. Britain is so dark and gloomy with none of the pluses of the Irish people. Too bad.
Returning to the lab after a weekend of absolute amazing-ness was an absolute letdown. None of my electroporation experiments are working; my shRNA (short hairpin RNA – specific type of siRNA) transfection experiments are not working; my RT-PCRs of our GDF8 construct are not working… This is rather depressing. The one good thing is that we have an absolute awesome and hilarious Irish(wo)man in the lab who constantly amuses me with her expert command of obscure swear words. The one thing keeping me going (besides for the bleak possibility of getting results) was my next weekend… To Madrid!
One of my Spanish colleagues just got married last weekend, so half of the lab flew to Spain for the wedding, including my PI and my supervisor. At the insistence of my lab, I decided to take a long weekend trip to Madrid. Backpacking/hostelling is one of the best and most fun ways to travel. I have met so many amazing and interesting people, expanding my horizons and learning more about myself. There is no other time that there are so many young people willing to meet other people as there is in the traveling ‘scene.’ Madrid was no exception, and I think that the quality of the hostel itself is directly correlated to the fun travelers have (the worse the hostels’ facilities, the better the time- gives everyone something to bond about!).

And so it goes. After Madrid, I returned to lab with pretty much the same results at written earlier; disappointment, heartbreak and failure. I know I will eventually get awesome results! Hopefully…..

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Final Days

The last couple of weeks have been very eventful! Last Monday the whole lab went out to lunch for my going away party, even though I'm not leaving until the middle of this week. Since the laboratories in the institute are all mixed together, and members of my lab are split between five rooms on three floors, it's pretty rare to get everybody together at once, so it was great to have the whole group together that day for lunch. Then on Wednesday morning I gave lab seminar to my PI, the senior scientist, and all of the post-docs and graduate students. I was incredibly nervous, but luckily I got to give the seminar in English, so that helped a little bit. I gave an introduction and then showed them all of the work that I've done in the past ten weeks and the conclusions I've drawn from my results. I think the presentation went really well, and I got a lot of positive feedback. In fact, shortly after my presentation my PI actually suggested that I make a poster for the Sociedad Argentina de Investigación en Neurociencias (Argentina Society for Neuroscience) international conference, which will take place in Córdoba, Argentina in October. I had to run this idea by the Chilean collaborator who synthesized the compounds I've been using to make sure that he's willing to let me release the structures of the compounds, and he agreed. So in the next few weeks I will be working on an abstract and making a poster for the conference! I think my results show some really neat and important information, so I'm extremely excited to have the opportunity to share them with the scientific world. The entire lab goes to this conference in Córdoba every year, so my PI assured me that if I am not able to attend, somebody will be able to present on my behalf. However, it just so happens that the conference is scheduled to take place during the weekend of Emory's fall break, so I think the universe is giving me signs that I have to find a way to get back here and go to the conference. It looks like I can get a little more Howard Hughes money through Emory, and since living expenses here are cheaper than I had anticipated, I've saved a small portion of my summer stipend as well. So, assuming that my abstract and poster are accepted and all of the other details work themselves out, there's a good chance I'll be coming back in October!

My Emory music theory professor of the last two years studies Tango in Buenos Aires every summer, and I finally got to meet up with her on Friday night. Dr. Wendland, a few of her friends and I went to Teatro Colón to see Mozart's Don Giovanni. The theater is supposedly one of the best in the world, as well as one of the oldest in South America, and it just re-opened in May after being closed for refurbishment since 2006. The venue, atmosphere, and performance were all absolutely exquisite. My photos from the outside didn't turn out very well, so this one is taken from Google:
There are seven levels on the inside, all decorated ornately with golden ornaments and chandeliers.
Here's a picture of Dr. Wendland and me in the front lobby after the show:

I'm leaving on Wednesday evening, so I'm planning to finish up everything in the lab in the next two days. Unfortunately, my oocytes haven't been cooperating for the past four weeks, and although my results are fine as they are, I would really, really like to increase my repetitions for two of my experimental conditions. This means that I'm literally putting all of my eggs in tomorrow's basket (terrible pun intended). I got to do the operation last week (which was awesome, by the way), and we selected one of our best frogs, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed and hoping the oocytes will work. As a testament to my nerdishness, I've openly admitted that seeing as tomorrow is my birthday, the only gift I want is for my oocytes to cooperate.

I'll try to update one last time before I leave!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Goodbye Aberdeen HELLO EUROPE

Well Ires, my time in Aberdeen has ended. It was really an unbelievable experience. After first arriving, I was so afraid of everything, even venturing out to simply find the University. Now, I feel like an incredibly new person. Not only have I learned loads of information about a subject I was always afraid of, but I gained an unimaginable amount of confidence in myself. No longer will I fear venturing into a new city, in a new country, with no friends! And the things I've learned! Just because I am a young undergrad doesn't mean I can't tackle scientific questions that puzzle even some of the most experienced scientists! Of all the things to be excited about when returning to Emory, I can honestly say that research is what I am looking forward to most, which is something I never imagined would happen even at the beginning of the summer. I met a ton of great scientists and learned so so so much! It was truly a life changing experience.

My family came to visit for my final week in Scotland. First we went to Edinburgh and toured the city. Although it's a nice city, it was very touristy and my family is really into the outdoors. Here are some pictures of my twin and I in the streets of Edinburgh:

And here is a picture of us with the fabled pierced lady!

After Edinburgh, my family and I traveled to Aberdeen so I could finish work. I had my final night out in Aberdeen and eventually we left to take on the Scottish Highlands. Here are a few pictured of some castles, the Isle of Skye and the Caringorms:

It was an amazing experience. Next, I'm going to London, Lisbon and then Paris. I'll be in touch! I hope everyone else is doing well!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A walk to remember

Heidelberg is by far the prettiest German town I've been to. We had our RISE-DAAD trip there a week ago, and I had a lot of fun getting to know more nerdy scientists like us. We sat through a lot of talks about getting a masters or phd in Germany, went on a city tour and a few yummy banquets. The talks were not fun... but meeting everyone was a lot of fun. Ogy, I met your friends too! The town was beautiful, the food was delicious and the weather was ridiculously hot (around 36 degrees Celsius) and it made for quite the adventurous retreat.

Here are some of the friends I made in Heidelberg. This was us at the second "best" castle in Germany... (sorry about another castle, Cathy... it'll be my last one, promise!)

This is us at the castle again.... but we decided to climb up to the top at night. It was epic I tell you. But the castle was absolutely gorgeous.

Here's the view from the top. Too bad I don't have an awesome camera like Austin, but it was really impressive. A bit like a mini- Prague.
A gorgeous Jesuit Church in the old city center.

The Neckar River, which eventually flows into the Rhine.

And this past weekend, I returned to Berlin one more time. What can I say, I love the city too much. I met up with my middle school friends and it was amazing. And Berliners really do know how to party! This is us at the "Tube" on Friedrich Strasse, East Berlin.

I don't plan on traveling anywhere this upcoming weekend, so I'll write a more detailed post about what's going on. But life is busy... and I'm in lab til 7ish everyday now (out of my own free will of course), which is why I haven't been an active blogger. I think this project is really awesome and it's a shame that I'm really short on time. :(

Fingers crossed I can get a lot of stuff done! :) Peace out and hope you guys are well. xoxo

Friday, July 16, 2010

Luck o' the not-Irish

Dublin was fun. Shapiro and I met some Austrians and some Australians. Austrians were cooler. Fed some seals, hung out at a castle, poured pints, witnessed a couple of irishmen fighting. Just your typical weekend in Dublin. Check out Dani's pics below. I'm going up to Edinburgh this weekend, Austin and his fam will be there as well. Amsterdam on the 31st and Prague on the 6th. Finding a job to pay for all this in Atlanta on the 16th. When's the next time I'll be in such close proximity to these famed cities though? That thought eases the tension in my wallet.

I've had a couple unlucky weeks in the lab. Every Monday I harvest a new batch of oocytes from a Xenopus frog, and the quality of my recordings depends on the quality of the oocytes which depends on the quality of the frog. Last week, the frog must not have been feeling too well because all the oocytes were discolored and half of them died by thursday. As Rachel knows, there's nothing you can really do (besides singing them sweet lullabies) about oocyte quality and you gotta go with the flow. This week, the oocytes looked healthy from day one, no discoloration, resilient membranes, and I was expecting excellent recordings. Turns out, something went wrong in the cRNA injection procedure and they weren't able to convert the molecular info into sodium channels. No currents this week either. It's disheartening, but part of what happens in lab science. One of my colleagues has gone a couple months without any good data, so I don't feel so bad. Sometimes it's the littlest things that need to be changed, like making up new saline or cleaning the electrode holder. Four more weeks to make up for lost time though.

Austin asked me who my favorite director was a couple weeks ago and it's a question I've given much thought. Christopher 'Dark Knight' Nolan or Charlie ' Spotless Mind' Kaufman. Nolan started small with Memento, Insomnia, and Following, and each was spectacularly constructed. Now he's moved onto big-budget blockbusters Batman Begins, Dark Knight, and Inception, but hasn't lost any of the originality in storytelling ability or visual style. Kaufman has always had key actors pulling off sensational characters in Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind (Malkovich himself, Nic Cage, and Jim Carrey). All of which can be considered 'best movies I've ever experienced'. They've had greater emotional and psychological effects than anything Nolan has done. However, he only wrote the screenplay for these films, and Spike Jonze did the directing. Kaufman made his directorial debut with Synecdoche, New York starring Philip Seymour Hofman. An enigmatic film that I know means something, but I'm not quite sure what. First, every movie listed above is excellent and they're both artists of the highest class. And to answer your question Austin, CNolan is my number one director and CKaufman my number one screenplay writer.

Watch this one first.

Vampire series...

in lab this week I've been doing the same stuff as i did last week... i haven't stained my animals successfully yet and have been having some trouble with the dissection so I've been experimenting with changing a few variables... this week was also a pretty short week for me because the university was closed yesterday and today because of the golf open.. because there are loads more people here than usual, they're claiming that there aren't enough parking spaces or "car parks" as people here would call them... although I'm not particularly interested in golf I'm excited to go to the open this weekend!! hopefully the weather will be nice when i go.. its been raining ridiculously here! i think i might have brought the bad weather after we went to Dublin!...Monday night i went to see Eclipse!! Ahh!! i was so excited to see it.. i went with two of my friends here.. i even got one of my guy friends to come along..Wednesday night my friend here had a party at his place where i just hung out with a big group of his friends and other people I've met while I'm here... i also started watching the TV series True Blood on my free time to see what all the fuss is about.. i was also interested because it was another vampire series.. and I'm hooked! i watched all day yesterday!... I've also been working on all my secondary apps for medical school which are pretty overwhelming...I think Austin covered Dublin pretty well so I just posted some pictures above... the first two pictures are of a beautiful sunset i saw when i got back to St. Andrews after and awesome but tiring trip in Dublin!!!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Last week (sort of) and I'm incredibly SICK

Wow, Dublin was a blast. Nothing like getting all of us IRES kids together for some good bonding time. After I got my data last week, I sort of had to start a mini project to keep me occupied for my last two weeks. I decided to run through my partition scheme with two of my initial sea cucumber samples. If I have time I will run LC-MS on them to decide if I have any more saponins. While I am waiting for those to dry, running NMRs or trying to get time at the LC-MS, I am coming up with ideas on how to start my experiments back home. I would never guess at the beginning of this summer that one of the most exciting things for me to start when i go back to Emory would be my lab work! It's going to be so incredible, I really can't wait.

Dublin was quite fun. After I arrived I found Alex and our friend Mike who decided to tag along. Later we found Dani and that night Ogy arrived. The first day, after i caught up with Alex and Mike, Alex and I decided to go on a run before going out that night. Although the weather was a bit miserable, Alex and I got to see a lot of the city which was very cool. That night we went on a pubcrawl through Dublin. All of IRES attended and it was a lot of fun. The organizers of the crawl even prepared some beer pong at one of the bars (and of course the Americans dominated).

Then next day, we went on a tour to see some seals and a castle. The seals were AMAZING: We even got to feed them some fish!:

After we went to a castle. Although this castle was filled with plenty of old and interesting artifacts, while walking to the castle we got DOWNPOURED on and everyone was legitimately dripping wet.
Also, the castle was kind of a complete tourist trap. They didn't allow photography and the whole thing was guided by this voice that came from a loud speaker in each room. The gardens that surrounded the castle, however, were quite nice.

After the castle, we went home, dried our clothes and prepared for another pubcrawl. This one met outside of Trinity college and took us to more of Dublin's "greatest" pubs. However after the first two or three pubs, I was kinda getting sick of the whole pub crawl. The drinks were expensive and I really wasn't feeling the crowd. So, Dani and I made the excellent decision to ditch the pub crawl and head out into the streets of Dublin by ourselves, and what a great decision it was! I was so surprised that in Dublin, you are allowed to simply drink anywhere in the street! Dani and I would order our Guinness and drink it wherever! When we were done, we just left our glasses on the side of the road! What an experience!

The next day we got up early and went to the Guinness factory. Although another tourist trap, I thought it was interesting to see how long Guinness has been around for. Not to mention, for some reason I feel like if you go to Dublin, as an American, you have to see the factory as some sort of right of passage. The best part I thought, was when I got to pour my own pint of beer.

Once we had finished our pints, I literally had to RUSH to the airport to catch my plane. I was so nervous, but I made it on time. Landing in Aberdeen was nothing less than terrifying. It took us two attempts to actually touch down and once we did, wind almost pushed our plane onto its side. Won't lie, said a few Our Father's in that cabin...

This week I have been a wreck. After all that rain in Dublin, I think I caught a miserable cold. Luckily we had some sort of Aberdonian holiday on Monday so I stayed in bed all day. The next day I went to work but was told countless times that I should be home so that everyone else would remain healthy. Yesterday I went in all day, but was exhausted by the end of the day. Today I woke up, and I feel horrible, so I think I will try to go in after 1. My family is coming to visit tomorrow so I am really trying to get healthy.

I can't believe my last day of work is next Wednesday. How did the summer go by so fast?

Here are a few pictures from Liverpool with Ogy:

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Oocytes and Fútbol Withdrawal

I haven't posted in a while, mainly because I was sick for over a week and didn't have much news to report. A lot of people at work were sick, too, which isn't surprising considering the way they share a cup of yerba mate with an entire room full of people multiple times per day. Actually, I've heard a few people suggest that maybe we all got sick because Argentina lost so terribly to Germany in the World Cup last weekend. I'm not sure how scientifically grounded that hypothesis is, but what do I know?

My research has been going very well in general. I'm done with three compounds, and I spent a lot of time last week making figures with my data, which I then showed to my PI and e-mailed to the collaborator who made the compounds, since he's really the main person in charge of this project. Both my PI and the collaborator agreed with me that some of my results are very exciting! I have two compounds left, and although I've tried to start working with both of them, I haven't made very much progress because my oocytes were especially uncooperative last week. The new batch that I injected on Friday seemed better, though, so hopefully I'll be able to get more exciting data this week.

At times I feel like in addition to doing electrophysiology, I'm also doing oocyte psychology research. They can be so moody and manipulative! I think they know that for the type of experiments I'm doing, I usually have to get around 20 recordings out of a single oocyte, and that since all of my recordings will eventually be normalized to the final one, my data will be completely useless unless I finish all 20 recordings in the same cell. I've discovered that one of their favorite things to do is to behave perfectly until recording #19, then go ballistic and/or die so that all of my work up until that point and my use of precious reagents will be meaningless. Honestly though, when I try to look at the situation from an oocyte's point of view, I can't really blame them for being so hostile. I mean, if somebody removed me from my natural environment, treated me with all kinds of harsh chemicals, injected me with foreign RNA, impaled me with electrodes, clamped me at an unnatural voltage, forced me to take large quantities of drugs, and ran massive electrical currents through my body, I'd probably be pretty angry as well. I feel like I've tried just about everything to appease the oocytes and will a single cell to make it all the way through an experiment. Maybe it will stay alive if I stare at it? Maybe I should look the other way? Would it help if I talked to it? Perhaps I should pretend like I don't care? Maybe it will behave if I sit perfectly still in one place? Or maybe I should get up and move around between recordings? Well, all I can say is that it's a good thing I'm interested in basic science research, because I have absolutely no future in behavioral psychology. But despite all of the turmoil the oocytes put me through, I really do love the little buggers. Also, after talking with some of the more experienced graduate students and learning that a while back the oocytes stopped working altogether for a year and a half, I've learned to be very thankful for how often they do work.

Friday was 9 de Julio, Argentina's Independence Day (similar to the 4th of July, only the 9th of July instead). There weren't any extravagant celebrations like there were on 25 de Mayo (in part because a country can't afford to go all out like that too often, and I think in part because there is still an aura of World Cup despair hanging over the country), but it was a beautiful day and there was an outdoor holiday market in a park near my lab.

I had fun talking with all of the vendors and buying a few little things. I'm proud to say that I don't think any of them even knew I was American!

As my remaining time in Buenos Aires dwindles, I'm realizing how attached I am to this place. There so many things that I'm going to miss - one that comes to mind is the constant subway entertainment. I'm never bored during my 20-minute subway ride to and from the lab because there are always plenty of people selling completely random items (tissues, hairpins, sticker books, flashlights, cookies, screw drivers), as well as comedy actors and musical performers. The performers and actors usually pass around a hat for money, but sometimes they just ask for applause instead.

This guy was one of my favorites. He played the harmonica, guitar and tambourine simultaneously, and then sang a couple of songs as well. I was so impressed that I gave him a peso AND applause.

I'm a little jealous of all of the IRES students in Europe who got to meet up this weekend. I hope everybody had a great time!

Thursday, July 8, 2010


My advisor got back this week from vacation/ a conference in Brussels so.. I finally started doing my own work (instead of just learning and watching procedures)! I really like having something to do all the time and being more independent! I've been doing more immunohistochemistry stuff and haven't been doing any electrophysiology yet (the work i do at Emory)... I've been staining and actually dissecting out the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) of the Xenopus tadpoles so you can observe the neuron cell bodies and dendrites (different staining technique than my previous post)...I've been doing this at 2 different stages in development in order to see if there are more cell bodies or just more dendrites at the later stage of development... this work is supposed to complement one of the grad students in my labs work who is doing more of the electrophysiology side of things.. seeing how neurons differentiate at different stages in development...

this past weekend i traveled down to London by train and then with my friends in London to Paris! We got to see most of the famous sites and definitely got a feel for Paris! I thought it was a beautiful city and the food was sooo yummy... my friends and i had some great finds in terms of food.. we found a cute little crepe place - i loved the food crepes better than the sweet crepes! i got a crepe with tomato and goat cheese and a crepe with nutella banana and strawberry ice cream!, a cute little place that had amazing baguettes and pastries! (we went to a supermarket to buy some cheap wine to go with them and ate in front of the Eiffel tower), a more upscale bakery where my friend got a few macaroons for free from the cute french guy that was helping us!, and a giant outside food/clothes etc market haha!... but the city was dirty (at least when i was there) ... even the monuments were unkept and there was garbage everywhere! On the subways and near the monuments, there were also tons of people asking for money and selling souvenirs... although i did enjoy when the homeless played music in the subways.. there was a group of people who got together and played their instruments which i thought was nice...and this one man got onto the subway car and set up a curtain so he could do a puppet show for us!...Also, the people in Paris weren't very friendly... you had to make sure you tried to speak in french first and even then they didn't treat you well :/ .... and it was HOT! compared to Scotland at least... 95 and no air conditioning anywhere!...the hostel/hotel we stayed in wasn't horrible.. it was definitely very dirty and not in the greatest area of Paris (i would definitely say where you stay makes a difference in Paris!), but the sheets were clean and the staff were friendly enough.. although the people in Paris are slightly on the creepy side... and everything was sooo expensive there!!...the Louvre was definitely my favorite site! it was so beautiful inside and out and it was tremendous! i got in free because of my St. Andrews card too :) it made me wish i took art history classes so i could appreciate the art more! the only bad thing about the Louvre is that all of the descriptions are only in french! you have to pay for a headset to get audio.. i really wanted to but we were in a rush to get to see everything... i also liked the notre dame church a lot - it was gorgeous inside! and the building we went to which had a park (in my pics).. there was a band on tour playing there from the states which i really enjoyed!..the catacombs were definitely not what i expected.. we had to wait on a fairly large line to get in because there was a limited amount of people aloud in at a time.. after getting in we had to go down a huge flight of windy stairs to get to the bottom.. there under the subway systems and everything! way underground!... it was a little creepy we had to go through long hallways which were only dimly lit and it was freezing under there! i though we were going to see bodies but there were just stone caskets and other memorial stuff and there were bones everywhere piled up! it was kind of weird.. and when we finally got out they had to check our bags to see if we stole any bones! i don't know why anyone would ever steal bones!....anyway my computer is running out of battery and i forgot to bring my charger with me to work (had some down time to write this post), but as you probably already know im going to Dublin this weekend with Alex, Austin, and Ogy and will write next week all about it and another week in the lab!


Yes. The last week and a half have been a scientific emotional roller coaster. It all started late last week when Andrea (the LC-MS technician) finally finished measuring my samples. For all of you that don't know, the LC-MS separates your sample into its different components and measures its UV reactivity. It also generates masses for those compounds which may be in your sample. From the masses, usually you can derive some sort of chemical formula which will give you a clue about what your molecule actually is. So I finally got all of my LC-MS data back. I submitted six samples, 4 from my Sea Cucumber body walls and 2 from my more interesting super 1 fungal isolation.

I asked my PI to have a look at the data. First, we checked out the Sea Cucumber data. Initially my project was to redo an experiment done with some sea cucumbers in 2008 to determine if any additional secondary metabolites called saponins could be found. Unfortunately, I only found three of the ten identified saponins in my sample and no new compounds. This was both a victory and a defeat for me. I was excited to have finally found something I was looking for but was somewhat disappointed that I could only find 3 and couldn't find anything new. However, I wasn't too concerned with this data as I had sort of placed this project on the back burner since I started my fungal project.

I looked at my fungal LC-MS data with my PhD helper and suddenly things got very exciting! We had four new peaks (or potential compounds)! My PI had never seen these peaks and when I searched for the peak's masses in the Marine Molecular database I found no matches, which meant I had most likely found some new stuff! I was so excited! I kept thinking, I have made discoveries! I am going to publish this! I am SO HAPPY!

So the next step was so separate and purify these compounds using HPLC. This machine separates whatever is in your sample based on its polarity and allows you to isolate pure fractions of your sample. However, in order to do this you need tall and tight UV peaks to know when to collect whatever you want collected. I was so excited! If I had four peaks on the LC-MS I should have 4 on the HPLC as well. I started the HPLC and waited about 45 minutes before seeing any peaks. Finally they showed up. BUT.... DUN DUN DUNNNNNNNN they were all VERY minor peaks. All four were there, but the peaks were too short and shallow for me to collect any pure compounds out of them. I was sad, but I still had hope. If I made the solvent I was running through the HPLC more acidic, then I perhaps the peaks would perk up. So I got some formic acid, threw it into my solvent and tried again on a longer column. However, after running my sample through these conditions, I failed to see ANY peaks! Things were looking grim. I was scared. Here I was thinking I had just made some discovery, getting all pumped up, feeling like I had caught some weird 21st century gold rush fever through my natural products. And the you-know-what seemed to be hitting the fan. I decided to try my sample one more time with the acid in the first column I used. Again, although my peaks were back, they were too short and shallow to do anything with.

DEFEAT I tell you. DEFEAT! Sadness. Mustafa the PhD I work with thinks my sample is not concentrated enough. His solution, grow 3 or 4 more fungal samples and isolate compounds from those. THING IS, the fungus takes about 3 weeks to grow and due to weird Aberdonian "July Holidays" I only have 9 more days left of work. AHHHH SO SAD! I FELT LIKE A FAILURE!

Alas, today I decided to take a step back and look at situation from a new more broad perspective. My little feverous stint with discovering some new natural products infused me with a new genuine motivation to get back home and start working on the fungus I know and love. It also gave me some ideas concerning extractions and isolations with our aphids. AND THAT GOT ME THINKING! Although my projects here turned out to be somewhat disappointing, I have learned SO MUCH. I honestly can't wait to go home and start work with my new organisms. Not only that, but because I have essentially taught myself how to prepare, extract and isolate natural products from different organisms, I am totally confident that I will be able to get some great work done back home. EXCITEMENT! JOY HAS RETURNED!

Last weekend, I went to a "fourth of July" cookout at a beach in my friend's hometown of Montrose. Now, let me tell you.... this beach is not easy to get to. First you drive to a golf course, then after crossing the golf course, you have to jump down this huge sand dune only to arrive at PERHAPS ONE OF THE PRETTIEST AND MOST PRIVATE BEACHS IN THE COUNTRY. It was awesome. Again, I have lots of pictures but no way to upload them so stay tuned. When July 4th officially started we set off Japanese Lanterns as if they were some sort of firework alternative. It was nice, booze, vegan burgers, and vegan yet haggis flavored chips. YUM. After the BBQ we had to traverse the big dune and golf course at about 2:30 AM in the dark (and with a little booze in our systems...) and that was a JOY! We literally had to climb up this dune like Indiana Jones style. It was hilarious. Good times in the ol' 'Trose.

This week, after my disappointments, I have decided I will return to my sea cucumber project and try to quickly isolate some more saponins before I leave.

And as Ogy said, EVERYONE is invited to the semi-IRES reunion this weekend. It will be help in Dublin. Whiskey will be present.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

'So anything new with your fruit bats today?'

Poor Argentina and their poor defense. Maradona has still been my favorite part of this World Cup and that's not going to change. Germany's constantly been a surprise, ever since their first game when they routed the other team 4-0 or 4-1. And now the semifinals! With a faltering Spain! This is fun. I've heard Germany and Holland have a historical rivalry, my European history is not that good, so can someone enlighten me on this subject? Looks like Shapiro, Austin, Dani and I will be in Dublin for the finals. Maybe a picture of us can replace those 'holy fluorescing flavins'. On the topic of sports, I played a couple matches of street cricket the other day and that was a blast. We've got players casually smoking out on the field and you had to have a drink while you're waiting to bat. The wicket was a chair with a plastic ribbon wrapped a couple times around the legs. So you knew the bowler got an out when the ball ruffled the ribbon or hit the back of the chair. I managed to bat a four and get around eight runs for my team! Must be in my genes.

The post title is what my flatmate asks every night. My experiments are going well and I've collected enough data to start analysis. This is harder than I previously thought. Just looking at it all is daunting. I'm giving a lab meeting presentation next thursday on my results thus far. It's like in the cartoons when the boss piles a meter-high stack of papers on your desk and there's no way you'll ever get it all finished in time. I've got to say I'm pretty happy that I chose medicine over research. Hospitals > Microsoft Excel.

I'v been reading a couple good books lately. Ishmael is a fictional story of a man and a gorilla that takes you from the anthropology of pre-historic man, to the beginning of human history, and the spread of man across the continents. Speaks about our current environmental crisis and its historic origins. Italo Calvino's Mr. Palomer is the beautifully written and detailed account of a man's thoughts and perspectives on the country(waves on a beach, leaves of grass) and the city (degenerate pigeons, a cheese shop). It's really great writing on the most accessible subject matters. Then there's this 1965 Lancet article on the 'Purposes of Medicine'. Does a doctor serve science, the human race, life, or nature? I also encourage you to pick up a copy of a new book called The Shallows on the Internet's effects on our brains, it's the first book of its kind containing scientific evidence backing its claims. Not released in the UK yet, but its available in the States.

IRES gathering at Dublin this weekend! Everyone's invited!