Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

Category Archives: Lab and work

Life at the MiMe research lab

I’ve been part of the Microenvironments for Medicine Research Group (MiMe for short) for 20 months, so it’s really about time I write a post about my awesome lab, the place I spend a majority of my time nowadays. Research, science, experiments, papers, seminars – these comprise my professional life, but work can be fun too, especially when you’re around a group of people who know how to enjoy the fun bits of everyday life 😉

To begin, here’s a pictorial description of what we do in the lab. Obviously cells also need to exercise, party (drink a martini or two), eat their veggies, and dwell in a comfortable environment in order to become strong, healthy tissue! (By the way, that is a bone cell, not a snowman 🙂 )

Sometimes the lab could be a dangerous place to work, and that is why everyone needs to put on their thinking caps (90% common sense and 10% consideration for others) before entering. Let’s all be safe and happy when we do science!

Living and working in Glasgow means that we endure lots of rain, as you probably know. Someone very considerate came up with a remedy that would be helpful in cases of emergency…if only you use a bit of your imagination!

Here at MiMe, not only do we investigate some of life’s most profound questions, but we also hide Scotland’s national treasure…Nessie. Shh…don’t tell anyone that Nessie prefers hanging out with us. Maybe that’s why no one’s been able to find her at Loch Ness all these years, because she’s with us! (Whoever drew this spelt “Nessie” incorrectly…but it was a nice attempt 😉 )

Someone wanted to say hi…and gently remind everyone in the lab to work hard 🙂

I think the most amusing and amazing thing that I’ve found around the lab so far was the home/hand-made Christmas “tree” that was standing at the corner of the lab entrance. How creative! I had no idea who was involved in the construction of the tree and when the tree was constructed, but all I could say was, GOOD JOB GUYS. I was thoroughly impressed by the amount of talent in the group!

But of course the tree had to die after a few weeks and we were forced to say goodbye to it 😦 This also signified the end of the holiday season – back to work we go!

Spin-coating could be a monotonous procedure, especially when you have to go through hundreds of samples. That’s why the spin-coating hood has truly become a creativity outlet for many people. One of my favourite creations is this crossword puzzle of the names of the members of MiMe (though some new people have joined since this was made). Of course the author of this remains a mystery…unless someone bravely accepts credit?!

And here is a group photo of a lab event, finally! We love science but we love food even more, so we had our very own potluck a couple of months ago. Most of the group was here but unfortunately the boss wasn’t – I promise I didn’t pick this photo on purpose because he wasn’t in it! What a bunch of lovely people 😀

Around last Easter, we were visited by the mysterious lab Easter Bunny who showered us each with a Kinder Surprise! I actually got a roll of mini measuring tape, which should be quite practical, but I never found a good use for it. Still many thanks, Easter Bunny!

We also have some very thought-provoking discussions in the lab during downtime, including a very informative session on the discovery of gravitational waves. I didn’t understand it very well…so a colleague drew a diagram, albeit a VERY simplified one. I’m not sure if I could explain gravitational waves now by looking at this drawing, but at some point several months ago, this made perfect sense, believe me!

There is an appropriately labelled container in one of the labs – approach this area carefully! I would not trust anything that comes out of this container…

And finally, if anyone wants to support MiMe Research financially, here is our order list. On it are several items that we currently don’t have…such as a lab technician 😦 We will be more than grateful! Oh, more whisky is also very welcome anytime…

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Art in scientific research, part 2

The fact that I use AFM a lot at work is obvious. Some colleagues joke around (or maybe it wasn’t a joke) and say that whenever I’m in the lab, I’m ALWAYS on the AFM, and that was quite true for a period of time. AFM is such a useful scientific technique for my field of research, yet it can get SO DAMN FRUSTRATING sometimes. You might spend half a day calibrating the apparatus and get a weak signal without any useful data on any given day, but when the AFM is in a good mood, you turn it on and BOOM – sweet, sweet data. And data is like food and water in academia – publish or perish, and without data, be ready to perish.

I’m not going to explain the nitty-gritty details about how an AFM (which by the way stands for atomic force microscopy) works and how you can get funky information about the composition, elasticity, roughness, force, etc. of a surface. It is a pretty neat technique that basically allows you to visualize a surface at the nano-scale…i.e. very, very, very small…

…but the point is you get pretty pictures. Maybe not exactly what you expected to see or wanted to get, but it’s art, doubtlessly. Sometimes images containing useful data are actually those that look quite plain and boring, but in the process of acquiring those images, you end up with some unexpected “noise” that is rather…interesting, shall we say. I’ve already shown you some of them in part 1, and since then I’ve gotten many more scans that are worthy of being in my “scientific art” collection. Let’s see whether your interpretation of the following images agrees with mine 😉

 
This is really one of my favourites – a nano-turtle (left)! Well, zoom out a bit and you can actually see a family of turtles (right) – the father, the mother, and the son 🙂 Indeed I have some friends who are crazy about turtles and they would be happy to know that turtles are taking over the world…even the microscopic world of nanotechnology!

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Art in scientific research

Sometimes I rather wonder whether I am doing scientific research or creating abstract art. When AFM (atomic force microscopy) or fluorescence imaging doesn’t turn out the way you expect it to, then the results may very well be suitable as a display of art, I kid you not. Just take a look…

While some friends have mistaken these as images of cells, they are actually AFM images of protein structures on a surface. One friend has commented that they looked like leopard print, while another (who was probably hungry) thought that they reminded her of a spicy hot pot soup. Seems like the images were at least successful in provoking vast imagination 😀

You could say this is a simple wild flower, or maybe a gorgeous supernova. But how about a bursting dragon fruit (or pitaya) or a bunch of coriander, as suggested by my creative friends? Kudos to the food-oriented minds 😉

These images are actually from experiments that were semi-successfully, but they will nonetheless never be published. My dad jokingly said that we could enlarge one of them, print it out and hang it in our living room. Or well, I THINK he was joking… 😛

A tour of my office

I was poking around my office and noticed some strange and amusing things scattered around. Apparently the previous occupants of my shared office had an interesting sense of humour. As we are located in the “basement” of a building (our window is situated at ground level…relative to the campus, not the office), and the Glaswegian skies are almost always some shade of gray (no references intended what-so-ever), I guess my colleagues decided to brighten up the place a little. Here are some of the funny/weird/absurd/WTF things that I found around my workspace.

Meet Mr. Lego Rabbit, or 3D pixelated rabbit, or whatever you wish to call him. Not sure if he actually belongs to anyone, but he was just sitting on a shelf, probably observing us as we work…or pretending to work in our office. He isn’t Bunnicula…right?

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Wait, what do you mean…I finished my PhD?

Uh, so I finished my PhD.

…yeah.

How in the world did that happen? You mean, my three years in Europe are over? I am…a Dr. now? Somehow it all feels…surreal.

The part about spending three years in Europe, that is. The Dr. part feels way too normal, in the sense that nothing at all has changed and life continues as before. Just because I have a special “title” now, doesn’t mean anything is different. At least that’s what it feels like. Maybe the moments of epiphany haven’t arrived yet. Maybe it’s still too fresh and the reality hasn’t sunk in. Maybe…

But yes, just a little update, I defended my PhD thesis on Tuesday, December 10, 2013 in Bordeaux, France. Special mention goes to my dad who arrived in Bordeaux from Toronto, three days earlier! I’ve been waiting for this day pretty much since day one of my arrival in Europe, and it has happened. Way too fast. Let’s try to rewind and see how the day went down. There are way too many pictures and I only chose the super representative ones (and that already makes 25 in this post!) Thanks to my dear friend and sister in Christ, Peiguang Wei, for being my dedicated photographer (and make-up artist as well as hairdresser) for the entire day! Click here for the full album.

Now, let’s roll. (Follow my “Wait, what do you mean I’m doing a PhD?” journey by reading part 1, part 2, and part 3.)

The defense began with a 45-minute presentation of the work I’ve done within the past three years, on the thesis topic of “Biological Multi-Functionalization and Surface Nanopatterning of Biomaterials”. Don’t worry if it sounds like jibberish to you. Sometimes after three years I still don’t understand it and think it IS jibberish. The presentation is followed by a questioning period by a jury comittee that lasts typically an hour an a half. Oh boy. It was gonna be a tough battle, but a glorious one.

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