Artistic sisters

Helllooooo everyone! I hope you are having wonderful Tuesdays! Today’s post is about art and science! Last week when my sister was here, we spent a lot of time driving. We went to Fort Collins, CO to speak to some summer research undergraduate students about grad school. On Wednesday, we participated on an alumni panel and on Thursday, we returned to check out the students’ research posters and hear the keynote address. It was awesome getting to know these students and hearing about the successes and frustrations with their projects this summer. When we were not hanging out with the summer students, we hung out with the other grad/med school students on the panel and the keynote speaker and it was really nice to make new friends (all the alumni had the summer program in common but none of us actually participated in the same year). Everyone was so cool and inspiring! However, by the time we got back to Boulder on Thursday afternoon, we were exhausted/tired of driving. So first we ran around like crazy in a big rain storm and then we settled down in Cobalt’s and my living room to do some art before we had to take my sis back to the airport. This was my creation from our art afternoon. I have to say that I’m pretty proud of it! :D What do you think it should be called? All I can think of is “Whales in the sky keep on turning…” hahahaha…

What were you guys up to this past weekend? Cobalt and I celebrated our anniversary by staying at a lovely bed and breakfast (also in Fort Collins… he drove that time) on Friday night and then spent the rest of the weekend at IKEA/putting various pieces of furniture together. Also we had our neat anniversary party on Sunday! Stay tuned for pictures (but don’t be dismayed if they don’t show up in a timely manner this week; my summer students have their poster session/end of the summer banquet coming up)!

In my Defense…

Remember back in first year we didn’t know each other yet and we bonded over dinosaurs (and languages apparently…) during the TA training?

Welp, I am about to enter my 6th year of grad school which means that some of my lucky friends in my class are starting to defend their theses and then graduate! Since I’m probably going be talking more and more about defenses as we get more into the season, I thought I would take a minute to give you a run down about how grad school works in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry here at CU. So during our first year, we have this crazy schedule that involves classes, TAing (usually general chemistry or biochemistry), and trying to find a research group to join. We also have a written test about our knowledge of chemistry or biochemistry that we either took every first Saturday of each month until we passed a certain number of them (the Chemists did this) or that we took one epic day the August after our first year (We biochemists did this). Then our second year was full of finishing up our classes, doing research in our labs, and preparing for a scary oral exam where three professors spend two hours asking us about anything in chemistry and biochemistry to make sure we understand enough science to do our projects (the point is to see how you handle not knowing the answer so it’s a pretty awful two hours…). After that, the remaining years of grad school are full of science, going to conferences, (hopefully) writing papers about our findings, fighting with instruments not working/cells not growing/something breaking/procedures not going right after they worked perfectly every other time, making mistakes/figuring them out, etc until finally one day, it is time to write up everything we’ve done in a nice neat little package called a thesis, present our work to our faculty committee, our peers, and our families and then (after the presentation when everyone except our committee members leaves) defend our theses to gain the title of PhD. Whew… It’s a ride. And I’m not even done yet… but someone is…

This picture was taken when we were walking back from lunch one day and there was this crazy prop sale by the theater department…

The first of my friends in my class, P, defended his thesis today! Yayyyyy! P I am so proud of you! I remember back in our first year P and I used to do homework together and talk about graduating like it would happen at some point in the distant future. I also distinctly remember getting confused when I was teaching a lab and I ran downstairs to the lab P was teaching in so I could ask for his help. After our first year, we stayed friends and caught up over lunch almost every week. It was especially fun last year because we were both planning our respective weddings and so we could compare wedding planning notes in addition to catching up with why science infuriated/excited us that week. There was also much soccer and kite flying and other adventures. We even tried to take a kendo class together one semester at the school rec center but found that we both liked trying to stab each other/sword fighting with the shinais (kendo sticks) better. You made grad school more bearable and fun for me, friend and I’m really really going to miss you when you and P make your big move this fall but I am super excited for what happens next for you guys! Congrats friend! :D

Back on the dinosaur theme… this is us not paying attention in one of those TA meetings we had to attend after classes on Fridays during our first year…
Also one time we went cross country skiing at night on the hill behind P’s house even though it was freakishly cold (3 degrees F?) outside…
Even our stuffed animals (Scrarmpl and Munchers) were friends and got to go on adventures!

What are you guys up to this weekend? I think I am going to be sleeping. I know I say that a lot but seriously… this week was REALLY intense…

Epic Summer Plans!

I might be busy this summer but not too busy to tag my labmates’ benches with an ethanol version of my signature shark…

So my summers are usually crazy because I have to split my time between getting my research done and helping out with the SMART program but then there is always something extra that makes my already crazy summer even more epic (ex: last year I wrote that epic grant AND got married). So it’s no surprise that I am already feeling pretty overwhelmed by my summer because I am, yet again, involved in many other activities this summer. Because I think they are all kind of cool I thought I would write about them here for you guys.

    • I Have a Dream
      So the first thing on my list is working for the I Have a Dream foundation. This program has been near and dear to my heart ever since I found out about it upon entering grad school all those years ago. Basically, this national foundation adopts classes of 2nd and 3rd grade students where the majority of the students in the class come from low income families. Every student in that class is promised that if they stay in the IHAD program (and in school) until they graduate from high school, the IHAD foundation will give them a full ride to the college of their choice! Sounds like a sweet deal to me! In the past, I have helped out with workshops (genetics, how your eye works like a pinhole camera, forensics, etc) for the IHAD students within Boulder county but this summer, CU is hosting a conference for middle and high school IHAD students from across the country. They get to come to CU and take workshops and check out a college campus! My friend C and I decided we would run a genetics workshop for them. A few weeks ago, I got an email asking for a brief summary of our workshop. Although C and I had decided that we wanted to do a genetics workshop, we hadn’t actually discussed the details of this workshop. So a few short emails back and forth later, C and I had come up with this:

      In this workshop, we will be discussing genetics and how genetics research affects our daily lives. After an initial discussion of general genetics terminology and how it relates to living organisms, we will be isolating DNA from strawberries using every day materials. To finish the workshop, we’ll discuss implications of and current events related to the field of genetics research. Possible topics of discussion include: genetic testing, genetically modified organisms, gene therapy, personalized medicine, and evolution. Participants are invited to bring all genetics questions and a sense of curiosity and excitement about biology!

      I am pretty excited about this workshop now! It should be a blast! I hope our students are as excited as we are…

    • Go Women in Science!
      A while ago, I headed up to main campus to take a survey our library was putting on for how people in our new building were using the library resources in our day to day research. One of the women conducting the survey was impressed with my ability to talk about my project to nonscientists and she asked me if I’d be willing to speak at a conference for science librarians she was putting on this summer. On Thursday, I will be on a panel with two other women discussing our research and what it’s like being a woman in science. I have to come up with a 5 minute little talk about my personal experiences and my research and then we will be answering questions from the audience. As such, I have spent this past weekend thinking back about my own and my friends’ experiences as scientists… I am nervous but also really excited!
    • REUnion
      So for you nonscientists out there, all of us science majors have to do some form of independent research project, especially if we are planning on going to grad school after undergrad. Some schools even require you to perform independent research as one of the requirements for obtaining your degree (I had to perform at least a semester of independent research and write a thesis in order to receive a BS degree – I spent a year studying yeast (the kind that makes your bread and beer delicious) proteins. It was a huge fail in that I got NO results but that’s how it goes sometimes…). Anyway, if you are planning to go to graduate school, the more research experience you have on your resume, the better. So at the end of my sophomore year of college, while most of my friends were excited about going home for the summer, I packed up all my stuff, went home for a few days, and then went to Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO for my first taste of independent summer research (this was called a “Research Education for Undergraduates or REU program – it’s similar to the SMART program though it is smaller and specific for every department). Although I came down with mono the first week I was there (sad days…), I still managed to have a lot of fun and totally fall in love with doing science independently from the lab classes I had to take at school. A few years later, my sister followed suit and headed to CSU for her own research experience. Now we have both been invited to be on the panel of current graduate students who give advice and wisdom to this year’s summer class of undergraduates. So come late July, my sister and I will have a mini family reunion and also get to hang out with the undergrads in the same program that inspired both of us to continue on to graduate school. How cool is that?! Btw wee, I am loving how our science is helping us see each other every year. :)

Whew! Epicness! At least I am learning super multitasking skills during my PhD… What are you up to this summer? Anything epic going on? Vacations, etc? Also how was your weekend? Talk to me!!

We will now pause our discussion of the Paris trip for a celebration

because the epic government grant I applied for last year has been selected for funding!!!

We’ve named this picture “Cobalt catches a wild Potassium…” Also, I have no idea why I am wearing glasses in this picture. I do not normally wear them.

I am so excited! Receiving this grant means that the government will pay for the majority of my tuition, fees, stipend, health care, etc and that I will receive research funds which will allow me to supplement my research and attend research conferences (such as one this fall in Heidelberg, Germany that I already submitted an abstract for… eeee exciting!). Not only that, but with scientific funding being such a problem right now (seriously… it’s like super crisis panic mode around campus) me being able to have my own funding really helps out our whole lab’s funding situation.

Funny story. Gmail apparently thought that my grant funding announcement was spam so I didn’t find out that I received the grant until my boss emailed me from France at 2 am congratulating me. I was very confused upon seeing her response the next morning. “Why did she find out about my grant and I didn’t?! How did I not get that email when it clearly says “Dear Potassium” and not “Dear Potassium’s boss”?!?!?! Hrm…. Then when I finally found my version of the email in my spam folder and told Gmail to put it into my Inbox, it threw a fit telling me that this email was clearly a scam even though the sender was the woman who I have been in contact with about the status of my grant since February… Thank you Gmail for being so concerned but I think this one’s okay…

Since we’re on the topic of exciting/cool things, something else exciting for me was that I got to listen to my blog friend Jenn give her epic talk at a conference yesterday via It was really cool to hear firsthand about the research project she’s mentioned on and off on her blog! Technology is awesome… Anyway, what’s going on with you guys? Any neat weekend plans? Let’s talk because I’m too excited about my grant to actually get work done right now… :-/

We’re back!!!!

Potassium and Cobalt visiting the palace of Versailles! (Travelers note: we went on a Wednesday and it was not crowded at all but I’ve heard the weekends are horrible…)

We are back from our trip to Paris! Yay regular posts again! But wow… where do I even begin? The trip was amazing and life changing! I met a bunch of wonderful scientists during the work part of my trip. We drank a lot of espresso together; explored Paris together; and talked about life, America vs. other countries, food, science, data analysis, etc. Being able to meet so many scientists from all of the world was definitely a great experience for me and my career and it gave me even more possible options for what to do with this PhD of mine whenever I finish. Also, the class I took about a new data analysis program seems promising too. I sat down with one of the developers after the class and we went through various examples of all the data I have to analyze and worked out some plans of attack. That was a really incredible experience for me because I have never had that opportunity before. Usually it’s just me staring at my computer getting frustrated because I don’t know how to make it do what I want it to do. I am actually excited to analyze some of my data now, which is a very rare feeling for me.

A week into my stay in Paris, Cobalt arrived and we frolicked all over the place. Our feet hurt so badly at the end of every day because of how much walking and exploring we did. Sometimes we loved Paris (it’s a very neat city bustling with life. We loved the random musicians who would jump onto the metro at some random stop, play music a for a few stops, and then get off. Can you imagine playing a song flawlessly while you’re being jostled around a moving subway car that is starting, stopping, turning, etc?) and sometimes we hated Paris (it rained… a lot. Also, The Louvre… don’t go… unless you go at some weird time when no one else is there). However, by the end of the trip, Cobalt and I were feeling very sad that it was over because there’s so much we didn’t get to see/do. I think we’re going to be figuring out how to get back to Paris (and probably more of France/Europe) soon!

So my question for you guys (and this is important because it kind of determines the fate of my blog for the next few weeks so please answer!) is what do you want to hear about? I can post about travel advice (where we stayed, how we paid for stuff, what we did about our cell phones, what we saw, dealing with jetlag, eating at restaurants and speaking French, etc) or I can just do general posts about every day/experiences. Let me know if there’s something specific you want to hear about too!

We’re super excited because

We’re going to France!! In less than a month! Crazy how everything comes together at the last minute sometimes…

So how did this happen? Well my boss is in France on sabbatical and pretty much as soon as she got there, she sent me an email saying we should figure out how to get me out there for a bit because she really wants me to interact with the huge bacteria community (my project involves bacteria) at the institute where she works. Then it turned out that they have this computer program that is designed to help with analysis of microscopy images. If any of you have heard me talk about my project, you will know that the biggest issue with my whole project is that I don’t know how to analyze my data… at all (What does it meaaaaaaan?!?!?!?). Every month, there is a class that teaches people how to use the program so my boss and I are both signed up to take the class next month… together… in PARIS. Yay! Exciting! It’s been kind of a whirlwind of an experience for me because we had to figure out how to fund my trip because funding has been a bit awkward here and because I still don’t know if I got that giant grant I applied for last July… Ugh…

Anyway, so the first few days of my 12 day stay will be spent learning that computer program and interacting with the other scientists there and then Cobalt is going to fly out so that we can explore Paris together! How awesome is that?! I call this mini honeymoon part 2. These past few weeks have been spent in a whirlwind getting Cobalt a passport and figuring out the necessary supplies for our trip… how exciting!!! Looks like my French for travelers class and my obsession with listening to French rap music at work will pay off after all! :):) I have to admit though that I am kind of nervous too. I’ve been to Canada before and allllll over the US but I’ve never been anywhere else. Crazy nerves and excitement simultaneously!

I think Finn wants to go to France with us…

Now it’s your turn. Have you been to Paris? What is something that Cobalt and I have to check out? Have you traveled abroad? Any words of wisdom for two people who have never left this continent? And finally, tell me something you are SUPER excited about right now. :)

pH and Dallas Day 2

Some Dallas “wildlife”

I totally meant to write my second Dallas post for you guys this week but life went crazy in grad school. One of my labmates defended his thesis yesterday. This means he has his PhD now! And that I am now the senior grad student (not counting our MD/PhD student) in the lab… craziness… Because the defense is probably the most important part of actually getting a PhD (even more so than walking at graduation), my boss came all the way back from her sabbatical in France for his defense. This whole week reminded me of the two skills I think are the most important to learn in grad school: 1) that it is good to learn how to be independent, in control of your project, and manage your time well because after all, the whole point of getting your PhD is to learn how to answer a complex question that no one has ever asked before and 2) while skill 1) is important, it is also necessary to learn how to be flexible with your time because sometimes your cells don’t want to grow, the microscope is on the fritz, or your boss shows up from France after not seeing you for 3 months and wants to meet with you… at some point…

I had all these experiments or ideas of experiments planned this week and they mostly still happened except not exactly in the planned order. In addition, this was an epic week for defenses (my lab mate and one of my other friends here are now PhDs!) so after crazy days of trying to fit everything experimenty in and having exciting conversations with my boss, there was a lot of celebrating going on… I also had a random soccer game on Wednesday (they are usually on Sundays)… Whew… I am so excited for the weekend…

Anyway, as promised:

Dallas Day 2

After all the epic driving going on on Day 1, there was much sleeping in the morning of Day 2. Poor Jem still had to go to work so A, Cobalt, and I slept in and then got up to explore our surroundings a little. We took a leisurely stroll to this restaurant called the Dream Café and had amazing breakfast (it was lunch time though). I got these super fluffy amazing ricotta pancakes. I am not normally a huge pancake fan but I was really craving them and these hit the spot perfectly. Mmmmm… I want more! After our tasty breakfast, we wandered around downtown Dallas taking in the sights. It was pleasantly warm and there was so much neat stuff to see! I longed for my fatty DSLR camera instead of my little iPhone camera… Regardless, here are some pictures of our outing…

A and a dog she found…
A bird pretending not to watch us eat our delicious breakfast
Cobalt “walking on water”
Potassium and A being normal (that means weird)


In the evening, Cobalt and I drove to see some of his family members that live nearby. I pretty much instantly bonded with all of them and it turned out to be a really nice evening. We celebrated their youngest daughter’s birthday with pizza, wings, and deliciousssssss homemade cupcakes and I felt so special to be included. :)

Next week – Fun times at the Fort Worth Zoo and Fort Worth in general. For now it’s your turn. Tell me about your work – are there skills that you have had to develop to do your job better? Tell me about food – do you enjoy eating breakfast? What is your absolute favorite breakfast food (I love eggs, hash browns and some variety of meat but I don’t often order it because I eat it too fast to enjoy it… :p)? Any fun plans for the weekend? Any requests for animals next week?

In other news, I saw something cute yesterday: pH (which is a measure of how many hydrogen ions are in something)=2/3 PhD… so I guess I’m pH right now…

Chasing Ice

Awwww yeah… I got a signed poster for this movie! :D

On Tuesday night, I went to go see the documentary Chasing Ice. It’s about a photographer who uses time lapse photography to show several glaciers across the world dwindle over a 6 month period of time – a visual representation of climate change in action. It was simultaneously very beautiful (from a photographer’s point of view) and depressing (from a member of earth’s point of view). I really enjoyed the film for several reasons – first because of the cool photography in it. Think about how much work goes into putting fancy DSLR cameras in a really harsh environment and then telling them to take a picture every hour only during the day. You need engineers and computer people and someone to design a home for the camera and photographers, etc etc etc. What a project!

Another reason I enjoyed the film was because they experienced some of the very same challenges I do on a day to day basis with my own research in the lab. At one point, the main photographer is infuriated and frustrated because he spent all that time and energy planning this whole project and when he came back 6 months later, the cameras weren’t working! His reaction was pretty much spot on to my own reaction when I come into lab after letting the microscope image my cells all night only to find that the microscope computer actually froze within minutes of me leaving the lab the night before. I’ll let you imagine what this reaction looks like but I assure you it is full of rage.

Finally, my favorite thing about the movie was how much it inspired me. These are two things I am very passionate about: photography (with DSLRs or microscope cameras) and making science accesible to nonscientists. What an awesome way to use both creativity and science hand in hand! I haven’t talked much about grad school and my plans if when I graduate on here but I can tell you that this movie definitely has gotten my brain whirring about how I can use my own creativity to bring science to nonscientists. I am so excited about what my future career will be like (because right now it is still a mystery…)!

In other news, please see this film. It’s definitely worth seeing 1) as a member of the planet earth, 2) if you are curious about climate change and you hate boring statistics, 3) if you really like photography, 4) if you have never seen glaciers before/would like to see a lot of Greenland and Iceland, 5) STOP READING THIS AND GO SEE THIS MOVIE ALREADY!

Oh wait… before you stop reading this, tell me what you think about climate change. And if you think that’s a boring topic then tell me about a movie that inspired you recently and why. And then go see this movie (and come back and tell me what you think).

It’s crazy out there!

My apologies for not posting more recently. I’ve been ridiculously busy both with work (exciting things happening, though not on the graduation front sadly – turns out that science is hard ;) – but I might have some exciting trips later this year!) and with life. Cobalt and I have a new years resolution called “Operation Go For It!” which has definitely taken some planning to put into effect (and we’re still not done yet) but it’s going to be epic. A hint – I just signed up for a French class through a community continuing education program here in Boulder… I am excited. My French is ridiculously rusty (and it’s more like ‘Franish’ because I can’t say a sentence in Spanish or French without putting a word from the other language in there… actually some people might say that my English is like that too, littered with random French and Spanish words… I’m weird). Maybe I will write a full post about Operation Go For It later. Unfortunately, this is just a post to tell you that I’m not dead and now I have to get back to work… :p

Picture: This picture is from my first year of grad school. On a randomly warm day in the middle of a pretty cold winter, my friend P and I went to the park near my apartment to try to fly a kite. I brought my camera because I was documenting everything then (more so than now… I know… it’s hard to believe) and somehow the settings got messed up for this picture P took of me and the kite. I actually like it this way… it totally sums up how I’m feeling right now (excited but also so busy that I am all blurry).

What are you up to? Any crazy schemes for new years resolutions? How are those going by the way? Did you make some earlier this month and stick to them or are they already falling apart? It’s hard

Sisters in Seattle!

This weekend, I got to fly to Seattle for SACNAS, a conference for minority students in science/math/engineering/etc. I know I have many friends in Seattle so before you get mad at me for not telling you I would be up there, know that I spent the majority of my time in Seattle recruiting students to come to grad school at CU and talking to potential future employers. I did get to spend a lot of time with my sister who was also at the conference with her grad school. It was a ton of fun to wander around the conference with her. We got stuffed stem cells from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center booth, caught up on our lives (the last time we saw each other was for my wedding), and kind of freaked people out. “Uh… Are you guys… related?” Ahahahaha… My first day in Seattle, we headed to the aquarium before going to the conference. I loved the Seattle Aquarium when I was in Washington for undergrad so it was nice going back. We learned a lot of neat facts about fish and marine mammals.
Here are some pictures from our day at the aquarium (taken with my iPhone because I didn’t feel like flying with my DSLR):

The octopus was lurking in the corner of its tank…

We really liked this fish!

There’s a cuddlefish hiding in this picture…

Sisters in Seattle! Look at the sweet skull hat she found for me! :)

Picture at the top – Mt. Rainier, which is the 14’er that looms over Seattle, and the mountains to the south of it. I took that picture from the plane.

It was so nice being back in Washington after so long. I love that state. Seattle is probably one of my favorite cities in the US. Plus I got to see my sister, which was awesome. Booo… I hate that we live so far apart… :(

What did you guys do this weekend? What is your favorite city in the US? Have you been to Seattle (next time I go, I promise I will go for a longer time and I will actually let people know so we can hang out!)? Do you live far away from your family? How do you handle that? It makes me sad. :(