Friday, August 17, 2012

Safely Home


I was going to wait to post once I had the pictures from my trip to London/Paris, but it is taking much longer than I expected to organize them. I will post them as soon as I can, but just wanted to say that I am safely home.


Monday, August 13, 2012

The last two weeks...what??

Heyyy everyone!

So I meant to submit this one like last week but realized I only saved it as a draft...sooo oops here it is:

Its crazy to see that you are all leaving...i still have two whole weeks left! Last weekend (Sat- Monday) I was in London! It was probably my favorite trip so far...mainly because I got to see GIANT OVER 6 FEET TALL athletes at every street corner. They were required to wear an Olympic tag so I could easily identify them! I was able to book an incredibly cheap flight. On Saturday, I visited Hyde Park and went to high tea..soooo british of me, I know. I met four other people from Emory and we ate fish and chips together. I also got to watch the marathon and triathalon for free. I did the super touristy things on Sunday...the palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, the London Eye, etc...I even saw the hospital where I was born. I came home absolutely exhausted though since I tried to cram in so much tourism in such a short period of time....definitely worth it though! My camera ran out of batteries pretty early, so I was only able to take a few photos:

In lab this week my mentor and I are working to finish our N-Heterocyclic carbene catalyst paper, and we hope to submit soon. I have spent the majority of the week perfecting my analytics for all of my catalysts (for exampel, H NMR, C NMR, HR-mass spec, IR-spectrum) so it is "publishable quality." I am now converting the data to text form in the supplemental materials section. Honestly, it has been rather stressful week and I've had to put in long hours to repeat a few experiments.

This weekend I will be going to Basel (in die Schweiz) on Saturday for a day trip with two of my lab mates. On Sunday I will go to Europapark, which is the largest amusement park in Germany and located quite conveniently to Heidelberg.

On a sad note I've had to say goodbye to some close friends this week. Its strange to think that I might never see them again :/ We will definitely try to keep in touch though...and who knows, maybe I'll be back in Germany sometime soon..wishful thinking perhaps??

Until next time,


Saturday, August 11, 2012

Chao Bolivia!

It's finally here....the end of my time in Bolivia. I'm sitting in a cafe waiting for my flight to Colombia, where I will spend a week with my family in Bogota! This past week we finished developing our curriculum and educational materials. The curriculum is designed to teach women of reproductive age in Bolivia about vitamin supplementation--the importance of vitamins, which ones are needed by women and children under 5, and how to take each one. Our curriculum is intended to be used by NGOs, community members, and hospital staff and is divided into sections with learning activities and handouts for the mothers. We're hoping this curriculum will help break down some of the barriers to adherence including lack of knowledge and adequate health counseling.

This past weekend we visited the Uyuni Salt Flats--the world's largest salt flat and Bolivia's number one tourist attraction. It was...BEAUTIFUL. But also freezing... living in Hotlanta all my life did not prepare me for such weather. We took a three-day jeep tour and saw lagoons of all different colors, beautiful mountains, flamingoes, the Salvador Dali desert, and rocks in the shapes of trees. I've never seen so many beautiful landscapes! And driving across an all-white terrain was surreal. We also took several silly perspective pictures as it is the tourist custom. One of the highlights from our weekend was the 2nd evening when we got a brief break from the cold and swam in the hot springs. It wasn't easy getting back out and trying to put our 13 layers of clothing back on as quickly as possible, but it was worth it.

Perspective fun: hanging out in a shoe
Giant Lauren

Fish Island: featuring lots of cacti
Lunch on the salt flats
Our hostel for night 1...everything was made of salt!


La Montana de las Siete Colores (Mountain of 7 Colors)

Arbol de Piedra (Tree of Stone)

Red Lagoon

Green Lagoon

A beautiful  vicuña
I'm so grateful for my summer here...I've had so many great experiences learning and working with our Bolivian collaborators, shadowing in a pediatric hospital, and exploring the diverse and beautiful country of Bolivia. Mil gracias to Dr. Roesch, Dr. Quinones, and the IRES program for making it all possible! Can't wait to see everyone back in the ATL...and can't wait for some warm weather, either :)


Tuesday, August 7, 2012


it's my last day in Madagascar, in fact, we're down to the final hours and I'm pretty sad about the whole thing.  I've been traveling around the city today and I realize how much more rich (both culturally and monetarily) it is than I had thought it to be previously.

My time here has been completely invaluable and I don't think I would trade it for the world.

I have experienced more cultural exchange, more generosity, more carefreeness, more genuineness, more happiness than I have ever experienced in my life

I can only describe the people here as amazing.  The people who I have worked with have been an indelible impression on me that I will remember for the rest of my life certainly

Zaka - he's been the funniest, happiest, friendliest person to work with

Dina - he's never managed to not bring a crowd of people to hysterics, whether in English, Malagasy, or Engagasy

Justin - has always managed to keep things calm and relaxed and never failed to keep a smile on people's faces no matter how many days we had gone without showering

These guys have worked beyond hard to help us and the communities we've been working with

Chris, Rachel, Sarah - Despite how many times we almost killed each other, whether it was because I put a duck in your tent or because someone was singing a made up song at 5 in the morning, I still love you guys and would not let down and opportunity to do it again

Tom- Thank you for providing me with this awesome project to work on and be apart of

Cathy, Leah - Thank you guys for awarding me with the IRES Grant.  You've been beyond helpful with every piece of advice you had given me for this trip, no matter how many times I made fun of the fanny packs (or money belts), I didn't get pick-pocketed or robbed or mugged or hurt and so thank you guys for that.

Money People (funders) - Thank you so much for giving our school the money to make IRES happen

Be back soon and see you guys all at Emory


Friday, August 3, 2012

last post :(

This summer has been absolutely amazing.  It was so much harder than expected to say bye to everyone in the lab--they took me out to lunch, got me a gelato recipe book (so I can still have it in the US!...they know me too well), and then I went to happy hour with the people that are our age from the lab. 

After Milan, I met Eurico in Portugal! Lisbon is awesome and the beaches of South Portugal are the best. Then I took the overnight train to Madrid and am meeting Maite in Toledo tomorrow.

While looking through photos, I realized that IRES has given me the opportunity to visit 5 countries (6 if you count the Vatican), 14 cities (see below), and make friends from all over the world.  This summer was unforgettable, and I can't wait to read the blog posts for the IRES Class of 2013.

The ultimate Eurotrip:

Colosseum and Roman Forum

Piazza San Marco

Mole Antonelliana

Roomies! -- Although George Clooney was here the same
weekend that we were, we never ended up seeing him 

Feeding the swans

Colonne di San Lorenzo

Cinque Terre
Most amazing views of the whole trip!



IRES meets the wilderness
(in front of Mount Pilatus from the base of Mount Rigi)


Praça do Comércio

Famous pastries from Pasteis de Belem

Mosteiro dos Jerónimos

View from the house

Best seafood I've ever tasted
Traditional beach houses


Museo Reina Sofía -- imitating Dali's legendary mustache .  This museum was my favorite of the trip with many Dali and Picasso pieces.  The famous Guernica is also housed there! 

With Maite in Toledo!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Better late than never!

Heyy all! I am sorry for my lack of recent updates...I have been incredibly busy. Last week a few close family friends came to visit me for the week. We spent the week in Heidelberg and then on the weekend traveled to first steps in France! 

Crepes...even better than the American pancake!!!

View of the entire city...its quite the looker :)

Really interesting cathedral...we climbed up stairs for like an hour to get to the top but well worth it!

In the lab I have been experimenting with various imines and isonitriles and different methods of isonitrile formation for optimization. I have also continued with my platinum catalysis tests and reporting the analytics for these reactions. It was frustrating because one of the starting materials necessary for my reactions was somehow contaminated by another source...of course I did not find this out until all of my long days work was finished. But I guess that is just chemistry have to expect some mistakes every now and then..maybe the third time will be the charm?? I have distilled the starting material for impurities and will try again tomorrow. On a positive note, I have become quite familiar with Gas Chromotagraphy and Mass specs for analyzing catalysis. Sadly though all of the bachelor (aka German undergraduate students) have finished and are now on there vacations so the lab seems somewhat empty. It is also vacation time for several of the PhD students. Also, it is incredibly hot here...but unlike in the states there is NO AC in the lab! In fact, a few of the PhD students took the afternoon off of work to just go for a swim because the heat was becoming intolerable. We also made ice cream with liquid nitrogen to combat the heat...typical chemistry nerds :)

As for traveling I'm leaving for London at 6 am this Saturday! I found a 35 Euro round trip Ryanair flight! I will come back monday morning. I'm so excited to see such a bustling city because of the OLYPMICS! I have been watching the olympics like crazy (our lab streams it while we work) but now I'm going to be there...literally in the heart of the 2012 London olympics. (I'll believe it when I see it).  I'm staying with some friends from Emory who are studying abroad at the London School of Economics. Unfortunately I lost my camera charger but hopefully I can find a new one in the next few days so I can post London pictures. 

Until next time...which will not be that long again!


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Games of the XXX Olympiad

Hello all, 

I can hardly believe that I have only two more days left in the lab. Tomorrow, our lab will be going out to lunch to celebrate my time here. It's been a great 10 weeks and I've had so many really memorable experiences. One of those will definitely be our punting trip last Thursday. We took the entire day off to punt along the River Cam. I made my first attempt at punting and after some initial struggle, I successfully maneuvered my way through the river. We stopped at Granchester, a nearby town, and had lunch at a local pub. Then we headed back home and reached the dock around 6. After a long, hot day in the sun, I enjoyed a swim in Clare Hall. 

River Cam to Granchester

Punting is hard!

On Friday night, I went back to Clare Hall with my roommates to watch the Olympics Opening Ceremony. They were showing it on a big screen and a lot of people showed up to watch. I really enjoyed the ceremony and thought that it captured Britain well (including the people's wonderful sense of humor). 

On Saturday, I decided to go to London to take in the atmosphere of the olympics. Although I did not have a ticket for any event, I went to one of the live sites in Hyde Park to watch the events on big screens. Not only did they have big screen TVs to watch the events, but also games, giveaways, live music, and food. It was a nice day out and I also had a chance to go see Tower Bridge with the iconic five rings. 

Tower Bridge with olympic rings

BT London Live @ Hyde Park 

"The Mall" to Buckingham Palace lined with olympic flags

Wenlock olympic mascot 

On Sunday, I began to get things in order for my last week in the lab and the trip I will be making with my parents. They are coming on Friday and we are planning to visit London, Windsor (England), Stonehenge (England), Bath (England), Paris, Versailles, and of course I will be showing them around Cambridge. I can't wait to see all of these places and in preparation for our stay in France, I bought a cute French phrasebook. I am failing for the most part in my initial tries at French, but hopefully I may get a bit better by the time we leave. It is comforting to know, however, that most people in Paris speak English because of the large number of tourists. 

I will try to post next week about the beginning of my travels, but if I am not able to, I will post as soon as I return to the States on August 15th. 

Au Revoir,

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Eurotrip begins!

My last day in lab was Wednesday and I was able to finish sequencing all of my positives. My PI will send me the results when he gets them from the sequencing lab. Fingers crossed that my PCR actually amplified the correct bands...
The lab pitched in and bought some cake and ice cream to celebrate my last day (plus it was the first hot/nice day in a month, so we all were craving some ice cream) and after work we ventured to the nearest lake to cool off and enjoy some beers. It was a really nice evening and a great send-off for my impending travels.

My mom arrived in Berlin on Thursday and on Tuesday my friend from the US is coming and we will travel together to Prague, Vienna, Salzburg and Munich, then back to Berlin to say final farewells and fly back to the US on the 14th of August. I have really enjoyed Berlin and now I am excited to see more of Europe! I will take lots of pictures and I look forward to catching up with all of you when we are back in the States!

liebe Grüße,

Thursday, July 26, 2012


So I am officially entering Siena withdrawals. With my last two weeks in Siena rapidly approaching, I'm starting to experience separation anxiety from the most beautiful country in the world. I'm also really bad at posting but a LOT has happened since my past post. I can't believe the summer is already almost over and I am definitely not ready to 1) start school or 2) leave Italy. But more on that later...

Cathy et al, IM SO SORRY I HAVENT POSTED! I have been running around crazy with lab trying to get some reactions to work so I wouldn't just be presenting my pretty pictures of Italy at the symposium, struggling with parents visiting, a labmate's crazy exboyfriend and their disasterous breakup and a week and half without internet in the dorm... But it's all under the Tuscan sun so how much can I really complain.

So since my last post forever and a half ago I have been able to fully explore almost every large city in Italy, meet some strangers and pretend to be a tour guide, AND get my reactions to start working. So first, the traveling.

I was fortunate enough to have my parents come and visit me in Italy for our annual family vacation. They flew into Zurich and drove down and I met them in Milan on the 26th of June (don't worry I took a week off as approved by my boss). So we spent a night in Milan and saw the 4th largest duomo in the world (Megan you would know, haha). I also went to Galleria Vittorio (I think that's the name) and spun on the bull for good luck!!) It was really hot but Milan was interesting and expensive, not as picturesque and medieval style as the other Italian cities though.
Milano Duomo

did i mention i elevatored up to the roof?

Spin for some good luck!

After Milan we drove to Venice and enjoyed a beautiful boat ride along the Grand Canal, which served to be gorgeous. Venice was everything I expected it to be, and more. All my romantic dreams of gondolas and masquerades and operas were fulfilled the instant I sat down on the vaporetto (the boat taxi system) and cruised along the grand canal watching as tourists and locals alike bustled around the city. I guess I never imagined what it would be like to actually live in Venice but I soon came to the realization that everything and anything needs to be transported a boat to get anywhere, which must be frustrating and expensive for them but was extremely cool for me!! I did, however suffer a mild heart attack when I found out that a gondola ride is 100 euros per half hour and 150 after 7:30pm... My childhood dream of romantically meandering the Venetian alleys while a gondolier romantically belted out "that's amore" were crushed on the spot... I guess I'll just have to wait until I develop my multimillion dollar peptidomimetic and return for that long waited ride! Also, gondoliers aren't so friendly either... I did all the kitschy things, bought murano glass and a beautiful mask and left in the morning to Florence.

these are the streets, WHAT?!

beautiful... right next to the big duomo

gondolas next to the Rialto bridge


In Florence it was sweltering hot with millions of mosquitoes but the Arno River was positively fantastic. The apartment my family and I stayed that night was miserably hot because they didnt give us the remote for the AC but other than that it was fantastic to walk the Renaissance streets and imagine my buddies Michaelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci strolling through the cobblestoned streets. The city is much more modernish than Siena as the Medici family hoped hundreds of years ago when they took over and ransacked all the money from Siena before the Renaissance hit. I saw the famous David, finally. You know, for a statue that is very simplistic and present on a multitude of postcards and aprons sold in Italy it was definitely spectacular to gaze upon the brilliant work of Michaelangelo in person. One word: breathtaking. Walking around the museum I saw art students, tourists, and angry photo police guards alike gaze upon the masterpiece as it stood on a pedastal overlooking us without a care. If you guys can keep secrets I even took an illegal photo of it on my iPhone... so ask to see it if you're interested!! Other sights in Florence? My mother and I bravely climbed up and down 900+ stairs to the top of the Florentine duomo's dome and stared at the beautiful artistry that inspired the Sistine chapel. As Michaelangelo said many a year ago, It's sister chapel will be bigger but not nearly as beautiful as the original (in reference to the Sistine and the Florentine respectively).

the dome we climbed the red one. the very tip was where i stood staring at Florence romantically

the inspiration for the Sistine

the modern art version of david... not as great but very pink~

piazza della republica at night.
after Florence we went to Siena, after Siena we made our way to Roma. Rome was...much larger than I expected. There was lots to do and I visited so many historical places in two days it is still a big jumble in my mind. We hit all the great places, the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Forum, the Palatine Hill, Capitol Hill, Vittorio Emanuale Monument, Trevi fountain, the Spanish steps... and the list goes on and on. The city was extremely fantastic and in a stir as Italy made it to the Euro Cup finals. With people waving both Italian and Spanish flags I could no longer rely on the noise of cafes and drunken crowds to tell me what was going on in game... Unfortunately, and let's really not talk about, the Italians fought so hard 4-nothing (haha get the joke? they lost to Spain 4-0...). Regardless of that Roma was fantastic. The aquaducts were able to always supply us with chilly water in the heat and I am not an expert of traveling on public transit no matter where in Italy I am... 

The second day my family ventured on the only tour I would let my father book. With our headsets and umbrella laden tour guide we wandered through the Vatican museum and viewed the gorgeous Sistine Chapel along with St. Peter's Cathedral. We paid a visit to good ol' Pope John Paul II and gazed on him as he lay patiently waiting to become a Saint (I don't know the stages...). The church was gorgeous and I couldn't take enough photos. I swear by the end of this trip I'm going to turn into a catholic... Until then I am sad I couldn't hang out with the Pope but at least I know I was within one kilometer of him (I think/hope...). Also, I found out that besides the Pope mobile, the Pope has a blue mercedes and a Jaguar I think (or something equally expensive). It must be nice to be his Holiness.

Also I can read maps now, who knew! As we left, I was sad to see my family go, to see my vacation end, but was happy to get back to work.

colosseum! didn't find gladiator husband though...
definitely no shortage of beautiful fountains.

last functioning roman structure. this church is more than 2000 years old... woah.
monument of vittorio emanuale, a general pivotal in the unification of italy
i dont even remember what this is from, maybe a church, but it's pretty!

st peter, the keeper of the key's to heaven is buried here. that's intense!

i made my wish!!

fountain in front of the spanish steps

St. peter's cathedral!

Finally back home and back to work. So for my project, as I have mentioned before I have been working with three different catalysts to try to develop benzamidizole formation from combined hydrazines and a range of primary, secondary, and tertiary amines. For the majority of the summer my reactions have been proving to be unproductive, forming random intermediates, unideal side products and giving me minimal yields sometimes too little to even analyze... which of course is extremely frustrating. The reaction I'm trying to develop is based on the borrowing hydrogen methodology and the fischer 3,3 sigmatropic rearrangement. In English? I'm making rings that could be used in pharmaceutical development using the MW to make it faster. So in the last two weeks, my reactions finally started working, with the pivotal point being the fact that through my development I have been able to reduce the stirring time for one of the reactions from 24 hours (overnight) to just 2 hours using MW activation. I feel so accomplished.

As I watch the number of my lab mates slowly dwindle down to nothing as everyone goes on August vacation I'm forced to deal with the fact that I will be returning from this beautiful country to an empty home and MCAT studying very soon... it's extremely bittersweet as I'm excited to be around my family again and be able to enjoy the comforts of my home and the company of my roommate I have missed once again. But alas, today as we were cleaning up the lab I found myself crying as I hugged some of my lab mates, unsure of if I will ever see them again. Outside of fb promises and skype exchanges I will deeply miss the people that I have grown to love here in Italy... They kept saying to me that this isn't goodbye forever, but just a goodbye see you tomorrow, or rather in the future. I hope that I can find myself back in this beautiful sipping coffee and daydreaming about the romanticism of a country with over two thousand years of history and culture. Until then I will spend my last few days enjoying the weather, working on my poster, and living in an ongoing sense of crisis as my time dwindles. At least I got something accomplished and met some great people. Oh, and got an espresso maker, can't forget that one.

My last few days here will be spent in lab with the departing weekend in Cinque Terre hiking the five towns and making my last stop in Pisa for a day of sightseeing and sad goodbyes.

Until the departing day message of tears and sadness,

much love and olive oil!
~ciao, V