Saturday, June 30, 2012

Even losing is still fun in Deutschland!

Hey everyone!
Sorry its been a week since my last post but things have been sooo busy here! Ill start with last weekend....I went to the town on Mannheim, which is more of a cultural center than heidelberg. I went with a friend to a movie theater that shows original English versions of films (I really needed to watch something where I could actually understand every word and not just laugh when the group laughs!) They also have a nice theater house, so we saw Beauty in the german. It was awesome! Then we explored this "chocolate museum", where basically they make everything out of chocolate but actually looks real!  These are some of my favorites:

 How risque!

Chocolate and shoes together...what more could you ask for...and I think they're my shoe size!

Of course you cannot enter a store in Germany without seeing Beer

One of my favorites...the ipad. Had I actually had money on me I would have bought this :)

Nothing like a chocolate filled BigMac!

In lab I have been working long hours and, fortunately, getting a lot done! I was able to finish synthesizing my Platinum catalysts this week so I can begin catalysis tests. Again, I am sorry I cannot go into more detail on this public blog. I will begin experimentation with gold when I get back. Next week my mentor is going to Berlin until Wednesday so I have a long weekend. So why not explore Italy? I am arriving in Munich later today to meet up with some other RISE students and will leave on a night train at Midnight to Venice where im meeting Megan!!!!! Ill stay there until Monday night and then come back and finish exploring Munich because apparently its a "must see city" with a GREAT shopping distriction...hopefully I do not completely empty my bank account. 

By the way, yesterday I saw a shop called "Build a Beer" where you could actually distill your own beer..I thought that was a clever title. Also if you are ever in Germany you must try doner actually becoming addicted to it since its at every corner, extremely cheap,and just delicious!

On a sad note, we lost in the Eurocup on Thursday..but Im being the ultimate traitor by going to Italy this weekend where I can watch the finals there!

Until next time when ill update you on my Italian adventures!!! 


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Positive Psychology, Belly Dancers, and Chocolate!!!

Hey again!

Things here continue to be fantastic. In lab I am still performing transcriptions (they've been taking me a while since the interviewees have very heavy Aussie accents - but I am getting better at understanding them!). I'm also helping to research coding schemes for the Still Face Procedure (SFP) for our NICU study, in which I will be trained to perform tomorrow. Not sure how much psych background everyone has, but the SFP is a way of analyzing the baby's attachment style and coping mechanisms: The mother plays with the child for two minutes, then stares at the child with a blank face for two minutes, then returns to playing. The reaction the infant has to the mother's flat gaze and the child's recovery when the mom returns to playing are indications of the infant's attachment security. Right now we are establishing the best behaviors to code from these videos by performing a short literature review. It's all very fun stuff!

On Friday I attended a lecture on the use of positive psychology with adolescents. It was an incredibly interesting talk as I haven't had much exposure to positive psychology per say (basically a proactive approach to psychology and resilience). The lecturer broke us into small groups to show us a miniature version of the 10 week program she performs with adolescents to help develop resilience and critical thinking skills. One of the activities asked us to look at some magazine covers and advertisements to establish the message they are sending (e.g. I will be happy if I...). It was very interesting to hear some of the other researchers' thoughts on these pop magazines, as they could not believe than anyone would be influenced by these media images and articles. As a 21 year old female, it was truly fascinating hearing people debate the influence of magazine covers and articles on adolescents; it just wasn't that long ago that I was the adolescent surrounded by all those images. The goal of the program is to develop teenagers' critical thinking skills so that they can take all those messages with a grain of salt, something that I think happens naturally over time, but the idea is to help them develop these skills earlier. So far the program has been incredibly successful with dramatically lower rates of depression in the intervention group as compared to a control group.

On Saturday I busied myself with a farmer's market trip, a ride on the Brisbane Wheel and a long walk through the South Bank Parklands. While walking around South Bank, I stumbled upon the Queensland Maritime Museum, which was so much fun! Who knew you could have such a great time walking through old ships? They had a giant WWII vessel that you were allowed to walk through and climb all over (I'm a big fan of places where you're allowed to play like a kid again). I then wandered over to the Botanical Gardens, which were really cool. They had a great walking path with beautiful plants and river views (and were free and open to the public - really nice!). That evening I went out with my roommate and her friends for dinner at a really cool Turkish restaurant that had a belly dancer going table to table. It was a really fun (and delicious) place!
Brisbane Wheel
(A teeny version of the Eye)

Botanical Gardens' River Walk

Streets Beach at South Bank
Sunday morning I spent being passed around via Skype at my family reunion. It was great being able to see all my aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. etc. in their natural state (e.g. partying at Daytona Beach). After a long Skype session I headed up to the Mount Coot-tha summit. Since it was pretty rainy and dreary, I wasn't able to hike the mountain as I would have liked, so I cheated and took a bus to the top. The views from the mountain were great! When I first got to the top there was a huge rainbow across the sky, which certainly brightened up the rainy day. To reward myself for the strenuous bus ride up the mountain, I tried my first iced chocolate at the summit restaurant. It was essentially extreme chocolate milk - think chocolate and chocolate milk and ice cream and whipped cream all in one lovely glass. Heavenly!
View from Mount Coot-tha

Iced Chocolate, mmm
I recently realized that I only have two more weekends in Brisbane on account of my upcoming trips. Since I have heaps more to do in this city before I leave, expect many, many more photos in the near future.

Things that aren't really noteworthy but consistently amuse me: - My shower is midget sized, but the designers made room for a bidet in the bathroom - Neither milk nor eggs are refrigerated in the grocery store. - Anything plastered with Abercrombie and Fitch is like gold.  I could have doubled my IRES stipend if I would have grabbed some t-shirts off the clearance rack and sold them on the street here.  Levi's are the same way. - Bocce is not a recreational sport here. - Italian men blow-dry their hair. - If I tell people that I'm from Atlanta, they think I say Ireland 100% of the time.  Ireland in Italian is Irlanda so I guess the accent problems in combination with my freckles lead most people to assume that I'm from Ireland.  
My roommate and I went to Lake Como, on the border of Switzerland, to escape the heat yesterday, and I went to Torino today.  It's the Sagra di San Giovanni (Feast of St. John) this weekend so there were huge celebrations in both cities with live music and outdoor markets.
I didn't have to go to lab on Friday! The trains were striking and it was going to be a huge hassle for everyone to get to work so Silvia decided that we could all just have the day off!  Thursday I watched a series of surgeries on mice that our lab will be performing on rats.  It was interesting but very different from the procedures you would see in the USA. 
Have a good week, Megan

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Oxbridge Life


Sorry, it has been a while since my last update. I have been so busy and I finally had the chance to upload all of my pictures.

Things have been going really well in the lab. Earlier this week I got crystals of the protein I was working with and was able to do preliminary screening under the x-ray beam generator here in the Biochemistry Department. Although the crystals did not diffract well, we are fairly convinced that it is because the crystals are too small for our generator. In July, the lab has time at the synchrotron (a more powerful x-ray beam generator) at a place about 2 hours from here. I'll probably get to travel with them and collect data there. I'm really excited and praying that we get some good data!

In addition to being quite busy in the lab, I have also been partaking in a lot of Cambridge and Oxford (Oxbridge) traditions. Last Saturday, I watched the May Bumps here in Cambridge. The May Bumps is a rowing competition between colleges at the University of Cambridge. The River Cam that flows through town is narrow so all of the boats cannot fit across the width of the river. Instead, the boats are lined up along the river one after another with a certain amount of space between each of them. The goal of the race is to "bump" the boat in front of you to advance one rank ahead. The Bumps take place across 4 days, so colleges have the opportunity to advance up a few ranks and the starting position of the first race is determined by the standings from the previous year. There were hundreds of people watching the races on Saturday, the final day, along the River Cam. Each of the colleges had their own tents serving refreshments to the many current students and alumni from their college.

On Sunday, I made a day trip to Oxford, also known more affectionately as "the other place" to Cambridge students. The trip is about a 3 hour bus ride so it was not as easy as I imagined to travel between the two places. Oxford was beautiful though and definitely worth the trip. I took a hop-on/hop-off bus tour around the city. I saw the Bodleian Library, which is one of the oldest and largest libraries. It houses something like 11 million books that are stored in about 100 miles of shelving underground and off-site. I was able to take an inside tour, but they didn't allow us to take any pictures. I also saw Christ Church, which many of the famous Harry Potter scenes are based on, such as the dining hall and the staircase. Additionally, I paid a quick visit to the Ashmolean museum and the Covered Market. Oxford has many similarities to Cambridge; they share many of the same college names and traditions, but I did see a distinct difference in their focuses. Oxford prides itself on its famous literary figures such as J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Lewis Carroll, Oscar Wilde, etc. Cambridge, however, prides itself on its number of nobel laureates and famous science figures such as Newton, Darwin, Watson & Crick, etc. It was definitely an interesting contrast for such similar universities.

Radcliffe Camera


Sheldonian Theatre

Divinity School

Bridge of Sighs

Christ Church Tom Quad

Christ Church Dining Hall (Harry Potter!)

Christ Church Stairwell (Harry Potter!)

On Thursday of this week, I attended another famous Cambridge tradition, the May Balls. They are formal black or white tie events held by certain colleges at the end of the school year. They were traditionally held in May, hence their name, but have kept their name despite the fact that all of them are now held in June. I attended the Clare Hall May Ball since I am staying in Clare Hall accommodation. The PhD student in my lab was able to get me the ticket and I went with my roommate. I bought a long, black evening gown and the event reminded me very much of prom. They served dinner and drinks throughout the night. The theme was "the colors of India" so they had entertainment and various activities. It lasted from 8:00 pm until 4:00 am, but I left at 2:30. It was really fun and I am glad that I had the experience of going to such an important Cambridge tradition. On Monday and Tuesday, I got to see the fireworks by Trinity College and St. John's College (the 2 richest colleges at Cambridge). Their May Balls are the most grand with tickets sold at 150 pounds.

St. John's College decorated for May Ball

Clare Hall May Ball

A real snake!

This weekend I am not doing much. I came in to the lab today to set something up and I am probably going to curl up with a good book later. It is raining all weekend (big surprise) so I'll probably be inside for the most part.


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

I'm MAD about this country (lame pun)

The new Centre Valbio building (to be finished on 07/03/2012)

 Life in Ranomafana
 Ecotourism in Ranomafana National Park (people taking pictures of lemurs)
 A giant comet moth
View of the river from the cafeteria here

So everything here is going really well!  Every day is just packed full of adventure here.  Today we went to Ambatolahy, a nearby village and did structured observations of domestic animals.  We basically just followed around livestock all day and watched and recorded how they interacted with humans. I saw a child throw a kitten on top of a goose!  It was pretty funny but I also felt pretty bad for the cat.

I recently went on an hike to a waterfall near here, claimed to be the "Niagara Falls" of Madagascar, it was really beautiful.  On my way home, I saw a double rainbow (for the first time in my life).

There was a group of study abroad kids staying at the place where I do, but they all left recently so now the centre is pretty empty.  Apparently there are new researchers coming tomorrow, which should bring some excitement.
Hopefully I will be going to Fianaratsoa (often just called Fi-uh-nar), where rumor has it that they have really good pizza and also icecream!  I have not seen icecream in 3 weeks now.  

Food here is fairly repetitive, but fortunately good quality.  We eat rice anywhere from 1-3 times per day, whether it's rice-cereal or rice and beef or rice and beans or rice and peas.  So far, all the people that we have interviewed in the villages report that they eat rice 3 meals per day!

Although I have been learning a lot about Malagasy culture (from locals, researchers, tour guides, etc), I have found that I have learned suprisingly little Malagasy.  I have been told that the grammar is not too difficult to master but have found that the vocabulary is especially hard to remember.

Fortunately I am still getting along really well with my research partners (although I did give them the link to the I won't say anything mean)

Okay, I'm off to bed, tomorrow is going to be another 6am day (yesterday was 4:30...) so I 've been going to bed at around 9:30 or ten.

So a lot has happened since my last update! About a week and a half ago, our nutritionist arrived to train our Bolivian collaborators and get her aim started for the summer. Her objective is to assess the nutritional status of Bolivian women in El Alto by quantifying the macro- and micronutrient intake in their diets. In order to do this, she has designed a food frequency questionnaire (FFQ) and 24-hour recall form that will be used to survey women in two clinics in El Alto. Since she speaks no Spanish, we have been busy translating documents for her, and interpreting for her as she trains our Bolivian nutritionists in how to use the FFQ/24-hour recall forms and take anthropometric measurements. The best part about nutrition research is that it involves eating! Last week we all headed to the market to buy various food items and weigh them for the FFQ, and afterwards our collaborators cooked us traditional Bolivian dishes!

"Market Research"
Cooking typical Bolivian dishes to include on the FFQ

This past weekend we traveled to Sucre (Bolivia's constitutional capital) to escape the cold weather and play tourist for a couple of days. Aside from the 12-14 hour overnight bus rides to and from, it was great! Sucre is very tranquila compared to the busy city of La Paz, and there are many tourists that visit to study Spanish or volunteer. We strolled around in the sunny 70 degree weather, checked out a few museums and also visited Parque Cretácico, the world's largest deposit of dinosaur tracks in the world (it was like a real-life Jurassic Park!)

Sucre, Bolivia
standing in front of 5000 prints of more than 330 dino species!

This week we have started conducting the FFQ in two of the clinics. The mothers are recruited from the waiting rooms and asked about their typical food consumption. This morning we also met with the director of the third clinic (Senkata) to plan our focus group discussions. We are planning to pilot our discussions with Caia, an NGO that works on health issues with women in La Paz before conducting the discussions in the clinic.

Tomorrow is a holiday since it is the winter solstice and the Aymara New Year. We are traveling to Tiwanaku for the day to check out the Andean solstice celebration and the ruins.  Luckily, this bus ride will only be a couple of hours to come!

Hasta luego!


Reasons why I love Germany

1. People don't stop. Ever. I can go outside at anytime of the day and find tons of young people hanging out in the streets or on the Spree, drinking beer and being merry. I'm never lonely here.
Church in Berlin
2. Beer. It's magical, I swear. Not only does it taste good, but people here drink so much yet are ridiculously thin and fit. The beer must have negative calories or something.

3. Breakfast. Breakfast. Breakfast. With fresh bread, cheese, marmalade, nutella, fruit, coffee, tea and fruit juice. My word. Cereal is never going to suffice again.

4. The Robert Koch Institute. They do such great work there, the people are so fun and there are so many interesting projects going on! My project still hasn't turned out any positive results for pathogens, but that in itself is interesting because gorillas in neighboring populations have these pathogens. The idea that it somehow hasn't reached this area yet is intriguing indeed..
to be continued in my thesis paper.
Lab buddies in Berlin, Mitte

5. Mario Gómez. And the German football team in general. They're ballin' hard right now and I love the energy here during the Eurocup.You can't help but be a fan when you're in the midst of all of these people dressed in the German colors and screaming at the top of their lungs.
Where the wall used to be... crazy, no?
7. The architecture. I love walking through modern, industrial Berlin and then stumbling across a beautiful, 400 year old church. The history here is fascinating. A friend from lab took me on a tour through Berlin and I got an overview of all the cool places, like Checkpoint Charlie, where you could cross from West to East Berlin (but not the reverse) and the Musueminsel, which is filled with some of the most spectacular museums I have ever seen
German government building
8. The mentality. People in Germany are so sustainable and active! They really care about recycling and composting and eating bio (organic) foods. I'm so at home here :)
Quarkkuchen..a saxon specialty
9. The cultural exchange. People here are always so interested to hear about my life in America and I love hearing about the life here as well. Today I am bringing a key lime to a picnik to show them a bit of my favorite American sweet. In turn, they have introduced me to quark, which is like yogurt but way more tasty and healthy. We don't have it in the States sadly, so I am eating as much as I can while I am here!

10. The music. Almost every week I have been here, there is some kind of music festival or open air market. I went shopping for vinyls with a friend from lab this past Saturday at this awesome flea market only 10 minutes from my flat. This city is never boring.

The weekend before last, I went to Dresden to visit an old family friend and she took me on an awesome tour of the Alt-Stadt (old city). It was so beautiful. Really.

Altstadt, Dresden

Then we picked fresh strawberries from a field for breakfast the next morning. There are fruit trees everywhere in Dresden and you can just stop and grab some cherries on your ride back from town.
The weather here is nice at the moment (it's usually a bit cold), so I'm headed out to a picnic with some lab friends!
Fresh-picked strawberries
My friend made a delicious dinner for us when I arrived :)


bis Später!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Reasons why I love Germany

Kristen--there was something messed up with the format of your post and in trying to fix it, I made it worse.... so I reposted everything, see above!!!

Hi again,
I actually wrote this blog in the airport on Sunday but forgot to posts it until now.  This past week was my 21st birthday!  To celebrate, I hiked between the 5 coastal cities of Cinque Terre with the friends that I've made in Milan.  We were dying from the heat around the 11th kilometer and found an old man selling lemonade from a hut in his lemon field/orchard/not sure what the correct term is.   If the whole graduate school thing doesn't work out, there's a 99% chance that you'll find me living in one of these little cities.  

Rome!! Because my friends here either left Thursday or have exams this week, I decided to go to Rome on my own this weekend.  Friday evening, I arrived, spent a few hours doing touristy stuff then checked into a hostel.  As it turned out, there were 4 other people in the hostel traveling on their own so we all went to a late dinner together and went to see the Trevi Fountain, Colosseum, and city at night.  I was initially nervous to stay in a hostel on my own, but I ended up LOVING it.  Although I was hanging out with strangers, I had great conversations comparing life/family/education/travels with people I will probably never see again and I enjoyed wandering the city at my own pace during the day.  Saturday, I went to St. Peter's, the Vatican and a few other places along the way, and Sunday, I went to the Spanish Steps and Piazza Navone.  
Lab work is progressing as usual.  We had some problems with antibodies getting lost in the mail, but other than that all is well at work.  We are still looking at NMDA receptors and hopefully I will be learning some surgical stuff that I need for my thesis on Thursday. Megan
By the way -- my lab at Emory made the NYTimes yesterday!! ProTECT III, the stage 3 clinical trial of progesterone for traumatic brain injury, is currently enrolling patients and making national headlines. If it succeeds, it will be the first new treatment for TBI in over 40 years.

Monday, June 18, 2012

let's party on a monday!


two things:

one: i never realized how crazy european people, especially italians, are about soccer until right now. i'm sitting in my dorm room reading and studying up for tomorrow's day of experiments and i find myself in the hysteria of italian pride for their soccer team's performance in the eurocup. as i sit here reading, i was following the game play by play not because i was watching the game but rather from the sounds and chants of the neighboring families all watching the game. every time they scored, i would be the first to know! most of the stores are closed tonight and all of the streets were deserted as the game was proceeding. i was really hoping italy would win because last week, after the italy v. croatia game (1-1) the entire city was depressed as if the world ended, and THAT was when they tied... so i'm extremely excited for italy to win because i'm looking forward to more games to come (i'm a new super obsessed soccer fanatic, didn't you know?). what's better is that now that the game is over, and spain won over croatia earlier, italy and spain are advancing from their bracket onto the eurocup, which is cause for celebration: monday night loud music in the streets everyone get drunk kind of celebration! I'm not kidding... music is blaring down the streets and people are practically running to the campo so they can start drinking and celebrating italy's victory (side note: my name in italian means victory so that should be fun to play off tomorrow) immediately. dear american football, you are officially kicked out of my heart for REAL football! that is all.

two: one thing that i can never get used to here is the kissing on the cheek thing that people do to greet good friends. don't get me wrong, i think it's great and i would love to be able to do it! i, for some unknown reason, am so bad at coordinating my face that i always seem to go in the wrong direction (i think each person is supposed to go to their right first...) so it's super awkward. my friends always nervously laugh at me but i know they are really concerned with almost actually kissing me xD culture shock to the max! but in reverse, haha.

long-promised photos

the entire city of montalcino

labmates cooking dinner together~!

and i thought street art in america was intense...

the center that hosts all guests of Siena and was the location of the Fourth European Workshop on Drug Synthesis

a courtyard of the same center

not as big as i would like... but my first panorama i made of the montalcino countryside 

vineyards in siena...nbd

the duomo! as seen from san domenico

a contrada parading to prepare for the palio

a delicious lunch i had; antipasto toscano

slkghlakjfdla truffle ravioli is so good. dinner in montalcino course 2a

homemade pasta with brunello sauce. dinner in montalcino course 2b

rare whitebelt boar with grilled potatoes and lemon. dinner in montalcino course 3

me at the fortress in montalcino

italian nascar! a racecar preparing for a street rally race

an old hospital/new city hall director's office. jwag has nothing on this office...

the study abroad group and i in montalcino

we convinced Dr. Norton to do the sorority squat... lol

the study abroad group on our 10k hike in montalcino

grape squeezers

cute little church

the view from the vineyard we toured!

yes... that's full of aging wine

wine cellar!

charlemagne built this church in the 1100s following the plague. sant'antimo