Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

Tag Archives: lab

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…

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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Wait, what do you mean I’m doing a PhD…Part 2

So, I should probably start this entry with the situation that I’m in right now…or rather, a PhD student’s daily 5-minute meditation in the morning.

Good ol’ Phd Comics…the story of my life!

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Wait, what do you mean I’m doing a PhD…

Sometimes I forget the reason why I’m in Europe in the first place. In the midst of hopping every few months between France and Belgium for work, I have been mesmerized by the discovery of the backyard which is Europe. Somewhere along the road, I think I am slowly starting to forget that my purpose here is to get my PhD.

Wait, what? PhD, that can’t be right…

But indeed, something struck me like an epiphany last week, as I was working in the lab. PhD…that’s serious business. I have to write a thesis and defend it in about a year and 8 months…um, whaaaaaaaat?

Usually I get shocked by sudden realizations when things don’t work out at the lab, leading to frustration. And indeed, work hasn’t been proceeding as planned lately. I also noticed that I’m almost halfway into my supposed 3-year PhD, and it’s a little scary to admit that I don’t have nearly as much done as I THINK I should.

Of course, all my friends see is me travelling here and there every weekend, enjoying the freedom of the “European lifestyle” and experiencing what the world has to offer. No one really sees between the weekends, where hours are spent on trying to get one process to work, where frustration and disappointment turn into silent curses, where time is too precious to lose.

Just some thoughts…let’s reflect on them with a walk through a weekday in the “real” life of Annie.

Annie’s desk at work in Belgium…messy or not?

When there is nothing to worry about, it’s so easy to say, “Do not worry about tomorrow.” (Matthews 6:34). However when it does strike, worrying can be so nerve-wrecking. When I have to delay an experiment because a chemical is out of stock or an equipment is booked, I can’t help but worry about the progress of my work.

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Foggy Bordeaux

Winter didn’t happen in Bordeaux this year. No snow, although snow is rare in Bordeaux in any case, but last year, we had at least two days where snow paralyzed the transit system. I guess even I’m tempted to say, “Spring is coming soon?”

Well, to be fair, there were two days last week where the temperature was slightly lower than the rest of the week, dropping to a low of approximately -3 degrees Celsius. During these two days, fog and mist wrapped Bordeaux in a sheet of translucent white. The air was particularly fresh, even though everywhere you went, fog followed you around and visibility was almost non-existent.

It was beautiful, as if I was seeing everything through a thin screen, a little blurry, a little eerie, a little intricate.

Enshrouded by the delicate mist as I was walking to work one morning, the exterior atmosphere was unusually yet pleasantly refreshing, even mildly invigorating.

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