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

Malagasy Culture for the win

Malagasy Bull-Riding

view from our tent

Jump roping with kids

one of my good friends

grasshopper that was huuuugee

Hey all,
Stuff in madagascar is going really well.  We just got back from a 9 day trip to our third (of three) villages.  9 days I realized is a really long time to spend without 1) electricity 2) running water 3) toilets 4) heating (it's cold here now).
It was a really amazing experience though and after being there for 3 or 4 days, we basically were no longer outsiders to this village.  The village (by Malagasy standards) was really rich and many people owned radios, 3 storied houses, and one person owned a satellite TV and a generator!

Our tents were set up right next to 3 houses in the village and we had a view of this beautiful hill and then a really big valley.

Research is going well, we collected all the data that we wanted and we will basically be spending the rest of the time here doing data entry (because we couldn't use our computers to do data entry while there).

We were invited to a "new-house party" while at the village where we watched Malagasy bull-riding.  At the end of the bull riding, the owner of the new house got a cup of water, walked over to the Zebu (type of cow) that he wanted to slaughter and poured the cup of water on it.  They then commenced the slaughtering, which was fascinating to watch.

Overall, working in the villages was a really amazing cultural experience that I would never get as a tourist or otherwise


It's my last week in Milan! Last weekend, I met my friend Kerri in Bucharest, Romania.  The trip was completely random, but I had a great time.  Our hostel was a huge old mansion in the nicest part of town.  I was kind of surprised that stray dogs really are everywhere (which I had read prior to my trip but didnt realize the extent), but the pups are friendly and just trot alongside visitors without bothering anyone.  
For the rest of this week, I will be working with Silvia on a primary cell culture project.  We are studying microglia and astrocytes with different hormone treatments with groups separated by time and gender.  Silvia was generous enough to teach me and two other students how to harvest the cells for this type of experiment.  I went to happy hour with a bunch of the younger lab workers on our floor last night, and our whole lab went to a nice Sicilian restaurant today to celebrate the two other students passing their exams and the end of IRES. 
After that, I'll be off to Portugal to visit Eurico at his house in Lisbon!  Then I am meeting Maite in Madrid before I head back to the US!  I am so glad I lived in an international dorm because I have made so many friends that I can visit all over Europe. 
Forgetting my camera cord on this trip has been a nuisance, so as soon as Kerri uploads her photos, Ill be able to get you some pictures of Bucharest.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Prize-Winning Weekend

Hello all,
Sorry it has been a while since my last post. I was battling a bad cold last week and spent most of my time in the lab or in bed. My lab work has been going great, however, and I have been scrambling to get as much done as possible before I have to leave. It's so hard to believe that it has already been 8 weeks. Just the rest of this week and next before my time in the lab comes to a close. I know it will be really difficult for me to leave. I have become quite attached and invested in my project. Also, I know it will be hard to leave behind such a a great city. Cambridge has definitely treated me well. 

Despite a rough start to the week, battling a cold, I had an excellent weekend. On Friday night, I went with the other summer student in my lab and her program mates to see The Dark Knight Rises. We went to a showing at 9:50 pm because all of the earlier shows were sold out and we didn't get out of the theater until 1:00! But the movie was amazing and a great start to the weekend. 
On Saturday I did some shopping at Cambridge city center. I bought a Cambridge sweatshirt and coffee mug. I had a delicious crepe and read a magazine under a tree in the park--the weather was beautiful (finally!). Then that night I joined the PhD student I work with, the other summer student in the lab, and a collaborator from Germany at my professor's house for dinner. And as an amazingly special surprise, Sir Venkatraman Ramakrishnan joined us for dinner. He's only the 2009 Nobel Prize winner in chemistry, no big deal! I cannot even describe how incredibly great it was to sit around the dinner table with such great scientists, including a Nobel Prize winner. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and will definitely be one of the most memorable moments of my entire summer. "Venki", as he liked to be called, was so down to earth and had a great sense of humor. He took an interest in each of our backgrounds and I realized that I had so much to connect with him about. My PI at Emory worked in his lab as a postdoc and he even came to Emory to give a talk before I joined the lab. He is also from the same place in India as my family and lived in Ohio, where I am from, for quite a while. I enjoyed chatting with him and the rest of the dinner guests
On Sunday, I traveled to Brighton with the other summer student in my lab and her program mates. The weather was beautiful and sunny and a perfect day to go to the beach. Brighton is a coastal city along the English Channel, featuring a pebble beach, which is quite unique. We walked along the beach and enjoyed the sights. It was too cold to go swimming, but perfect to dip our feet in and enjoy the sun. We also explored the pier and had some seafood. Later, we ventured to the Royal Pavilion, which is a huge palace that used to be a "pleasure home" for the royals. It was built by King George IV and was basically the royals' version of a summer home. It was extravagantly decorated and breathtakingly beautiful. After our visit to the Pavilion, our day was almost over. But before heading back to Cambridge for the night, we enjoyed a "gaufre", a.k.a. the most delicious dessert ever. It was a crispy waffle topped with strawberry syrup, strawberries and vanilla ice cream. It was the perfect end to such a beautiful day. Seeing the sun after such a long time was so refreshing. 

Pebble Beach

Large Donut?

The Royal Pavilion

Gaufre, yummmm
This week, I am back in the lab trying hard to make some more progress on my project before I must leave. The weather is too gorgeous to be indoors all the time, however, so we have planned a lab punting trip on Thursday. We will be spending the day out on the River Cam with some champagne and strawberries. It should be really fun and I'm excited.  Nisha

Sunday, July 22, 2012

10 weeks already??

Hey all!

It's already time for me to wrap up everything in my lab down under! Last week I went on a home visit for the NICU study and was able to observe a 6-month-old infant and mother pair perform the still face procedure, a free play session, and an interview to measure maternal reflective functioning. It was really great to observe the procedures and finally meet all the people whose voices I've heard on every recording. They only have two or three more participants to run before the study is complete, so I'm busily trying to get through as many still face procedures as possible before Friday (my last day!). Tomorrow morning the lab is having a goodbye tea for me - while I can't believe I have fewer than five days left, I am truthfully very excited about the array of Aussie delicacies that will be served (e.g. Tim Tams and Lamingtons, delicious).

I spent my last weekend in Brisvegas entirely completing my sight-seeing to do list! I spent all day Saturday at the Australia Zoo - a must see sight if you're anywhere near Brisbane or the Sunshine Coast. Even more so than seeing heaps of crocodile shows and hearing more "crickey"s than I'd ever dreamed, my favorite part of the zoo was the elephant feeding - how often do you get to opportunity to hand a kiwi or carrot over to an elephant's trunk? Enough said.
My new lunch pal

Not sure I'd want to see this in the wild.
Sunday morning I ran a race benefitting research at the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital and spent the rest of the gorgeous day wandering markets, restaurants, and the Brisbane Powerhouse. The day culminated in an entertaining (and free!) comedy show at the Powerhouse and a very early bedtime (sightseeing's a lot of work!).
Another Australian race to add to the list :)
In all it was a fantastic way to spend my final weekend in this great city. My parents arrive in Brisbane tomorrow and on Saturday we head up to Cairns and eventually down to Sydney before making our way back to the States. I'm so glad I've saved these exciting trips for the end of my Aussie adventure - otherwise it would have been impossible to get me away from Brisbane. And of course, once I'm with my parents I don't think any citizenship alterations will be in my future, so I suppose I'll be back at Emory before I know it!

Hello hello! Things have been super busy the past couple of weeks. Our PI came down for a week so we had several meetings and presentations with clinics, doctors, NGOs, etc. We have developed an advisory board for the longitudinal study and it is comprised of 3 pediatricians from Bolivia who are responsible for reviewing our study and protecting the rights of study participants. When I told her about my interest in pediatrics, one of the pediatricians informed me of a program comprised of American medical students completing rotations at a nearby pediatric hospital and gave me the contact information to get in touch with them. Turns out they're not medical students, but pre-med students from all over the US gaining shadowing experience in pediatric hospitals all around La Paz! So I joined them for a lecture on tuberculosis last Tuesday night and then shadowed for a few hours on Wednesday morning. It was an awesome experience and the doctors at Hospital del Nino are really passionate about teaching, so I'm hoping to return whenever I have down time!
Hospital Corea, one of the health centers we have been working with
Entrance to another health center, Centro de Salud Los Andes
Project wise, we are working on our educational materials for the clinics. Last week we visited the clinics and spoke with the nurses, doctors, nutritionists, and mothers about what could be improved as far as nutrition and vitamin counseling. Lack of time and educational materials are huge barriers to getting mothers to understand the importance of proper nutrition and micronutrient supplementation. We are taking all of this information and using it to develop a culturally appropriate curriculum to be used by clinics, hospitals, NGOs, etc. I can't believe we only have 3 weeks left of our work here, but I'm also excited for all that we have left to do.


This weekend we escaped to Coroico for warm weather and I got to wear shorts for the first time this summer. (That alone was worth the 3 hour bus ride) We visited the Afro-Bolivian village of Tocana, walked through coca fields, and ate mandarins off of trees as mosquitoes and gnats fed on us. The bus ride there was pretty scary as the road was one lane, unpaved, and I had to close my eyes whenever we passed a car coming from the opposite direction. 

Best soccer field ever

Our tour guide walking us through coca fields
It's crazy to think now I only have two weekends left in Bolivia- but I have to admit, visiting Coroico reminded me how much I miss warm weather/Atlanta...I'm even thankful for the bug bites.