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!!

Science is cool (and relevant)!

Potassium and Cobalt playing with mirrors in the “Light Games” exhibit. This exhibit was pretty much all in French so we had to guess how to do all the demos…

Ooo a Thursday post! It’s been a while…. Anyway, if you recall, Cobalt and I got the Paris Museum Pass* for the four days that Cobalt was with me in Paris. One of the (60) museums that was free with the pass was the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie (or the Science and Industry museum). Of course we had to go there – one of my favorite things is bringing science to non scientists so I thought it would be interesting to see how the French did it. We were blown away. First of all, this is apparently the biggest science museum in all of Europe. It was HUGE. We didn’t even get to see all of the exhibits! Second of all, I was impressed because the science was explained very well (judging by the exhibits in English…) – probably better than the majority of our science museums do here in the US. Really I mean that the explanations went into slightly more detail than ours do but they still seemed like they could be easily understood by a nonscientist (though Cobalt will tell you that their movies were too long…).

Infrared Potassium (with Cobalt behind her)

In addition, and this is my favorite part about this museum, all of the exhibits included a “so what are you going to do about it?” section. There was a whole exhibit on human biology that taught people all these terms that I use pretty much on a day to day basis. At the end, and there was a huge panel that presented important bioethical questions (cloning, genetic manipulation, etc) that inspired the museum attendants to really think about these important issues we are facing today in our world.

Then there was a huge energy exhibit which discussed where we get our energy from (fossil fuels, wind turbines, coal, etc) and how our current use of fossil fuels has contributed to global warming. At the end, there was a section about new strategies to obtain energy, tips on how the average consumer can conserve energy, and why it is important to conserve energy (there is even a game where you follow an guy throughout his day and tap on all the ways he could conserve energy at his house, on his way to work, at work, etc etc etc). I thought it was very informative (again) about the real types of problems we (as humans, not as scientists) are facing in the world today.

Then there was this really neat exhibit about new textiles that people have developed. There was a bioluminescent jacket that glows at night so people will be able to see you, a dress that cleans the air as you wear it, a blanket that glows blue for babies with jaundice so that they can be swaddled and cuddled while they are healing, and more! I thought this exhibit was cool because it kind of combined creativity with science – showing people how science can be creative (Note: I think all scientists need to be creative, not just the ones who develop new textiles, but I thought this was a good example).

This is the crazy dress that filters out the air as you wear it!!!!

I could go on and on but my point here is that this museum did a really good job making science applicable to its audience. Many museums will tell you that science is cool (and it is) and present the audience with a series of facts about each exhibit but I feel that most museums fall short of making it relevant to its audience. It’s like instead of just saying yay! Look at this crazy physics experiment! Science is cool! That’s all…, this museum really challenged its audience by reminding them that this cool science is relevant to everyone (i.e. “how can you conserve energy?” “what do you think about cloning?” “how do these things affect your life?”). Anyway, I’ll get off my soapbox now but seriously… I am feeling very sad about how science is explained to nonscientists here in the US now… Maybe I will have to change that. :)

Thoughts about today’s post? What do you think about science? Do you feel that what we scientists do in our labs/offices/giant computer rooms/etc is relevant to your day to day life? Why or why not? How could it be more relevant? Write me an essay no shorter than 100 words on this topic (just kidding but seriously, tell me what you think!).

*I’ll post more on all the other things Cobalt and I did with our Paris Museum Passes soon!

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 readytalk.com. 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… :-/

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. :(

Microscope Modeling

Lately we have been establishing a core microscopy facility in our new science building where anyone in the building can be trained on and use the fancy (and sometimes grumpy) fluorescence microscopes. Yesterday, a professional photographer came in to take pictures of all the microscopes so they can go on the University’s website. He started with our newest and most fancy (and most popular right now…) microscope and he needed some scientists to be photographed with the scope. Naturally, my friend A and I volunteered.

It turned out to be pretty cool. We got to put on gloves and play with the fancy microscope while he told us how to pose (probably the closest I’ll ever get to actual modeling). I think he was as excited as we were because as he shot, he would explain some of his equipment to us (super fancy photography equipment that I can only dream of owning one day), tell us about the types of shots he was taking, and tell us about how he came to be a professional photographer. Yay fancy microscopes while simultaneously nerding out over photography… Definitely a great way to start the day.

Afterwards A and I got K (who is “lucky” enough to share our section of the lab with us) to take this nice commemorative picture. Thanks K!

PS, nerd alert. So sometimes when I put on my gloves to do lab work, I think “Two by two, hands of blue…” which never ceases to freak me out a little… :-/

Some questions to think about: Is there anything you do as part of your job that causes some of your inner nerd to come out? Have you ever modeled (with or without a microscope)? Are you interested in cool photography gadgets like I am? If not, are there are other cool gadgets you are excited about? Tell me more… Have a good Friday/weekend!

Grad school and why it’s freaking me out

So… as some of you know, right now I am in the middle of applying for this HUGE government grant for my research in grad school. This grant would be awesome to receive. Not only would it make me look prestigious, but would pay my stipend/health care/tuition/fees/etc (things my boss and/or I currently pay), give me money to get a new computer (which I desperately need….), and give me money to accompany my boss on her trip to the Pasteur institute (huuuuge bacteria research facility!!!) in Paris, France. She’s going on sabbatical but I could go for a little bit… Not only have I been dreaming of going to Paris my whole life but how cool would it be to have done some of my PhD in France?! Anyway, there are probably other reasons why this grant is good but the big point of this post is that it is also eating my soul alive and I don’t want to get married without a soul… That sounds bad.

Anyway, so this is a government grant – meaning there is a LOT of paperwork to fill out and a lot of things for me to write. I have so much writing to do on top of wedding planning that it is totally stressing me out. Plus my boss is on vacation so she is limited with the amount of feedback she can give me. The grant itself is due on August 8th, which is 4 days after our wedding… The grants office at the school requires you submit the grant at least 4 days before the deadline so they can make sure you filled it out correctly. Since I will be getting married 4 days before the deadline, my boss has vetoed me taking the grant to CA to finish it. She said that you (hopefully) only get married once so she wants me to enjoy it. It’s really nice of her to give me 2 weeks off… but also really scary because of everything I have left to do before next week! I want to submit it a full 4 days before I leave so that I will at least be in the same state if there are any problems but we’ll see if that actually happens…… :(

It’s just such bad timing… but I don’t want to wait for the next round of grants because I would really like a new computer and because I want to go to France… Ugh… back to the grindstone for me! How about you? Was there ever a time when stuff just got piled on top of you during an already stressful time?!

Picture: The poor dining room table has been converted to a desk because our upstairs is too hot during the day. Anyway, here is a picture of Potassium working on her grant surrounded by grant stuff and wedding stuff. At least she has some sharks (Gustav and Alfred) and Cobalt’s record collection to keep her company…

On an unrelated note, it’s Friday the 13th! Woooooooo…. any scary ghost stories?

Challenge Course!

One of my favorite parts about grad school is that I get to be part of the SMART program every summer. The SMART program hosts 20-30 undergraduate interns in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) areas to come work on our campus for 10 weeks. Basically, each student gets to have an individual project in a lab in order to get a taste of what a life in science/grad school is like. They also have a ton of fun weekend/evening activities to get a taste of what life in Colorado is like too. So it’s kind of awesome.

It’s kind of awesome for us grad mentors too because our job includes: mentoring the students in different scientific techniques as well as science writing (they have to write a proposal, a paper, give a presentation and a poster), being a resource about what grad school/a science career is like, being the people students come to (generally I think we are more approachable then the heads of the program) when there is a problem in the lab or with their roommates/etc so that we can help them/find someone else to help them, and… hanging out with them. Yeah… our job “requires” us to go eat some lunches and dinners with them and then take them around Colorado! It’s kind of awesome. I love my job in the summer. And I love the SMART students. They are always super fun and excited and really smart (I guess that’s why it’s called the SMART program… ;))

This picture is from a challenge course I did with the SMART students last weekend. It was a lot of fun and we got to spend some time getting to know each other and doing crazy activities together. In this picture, another one of the grad mentors, M, and I climbed up this huge ladder (called the giant’s ladder). It was the scariest of everything we did that day for me so I can’t believe we actually made it to the top. I was so proud of myself.

Anyway, this is by far one of the coolest parts about being a grad student for me (yeah sure, being able to set your own hours, looking at coolness under fancy microscopes, and being at the forefront of research in your field are pretty cool too but I absolutely love helping these students get excited about their science/passions). It reminds me that there is a bigger picture out there and makes me feel whole.

What is your favorite part about your job? Or, if you hate your job, what is your least favorite part about your job? What is something you are passionate about? Let’s discuss!

Seeing Stephen Hawking

Seeing Stephen Hawking on last week’s Big Bang Theory episode reminded me that it’s been five years since I had the privilege of seeing Stephen Hawking speak in person. Craziness how much time flies… Here’s my picture documenting the incident. I was pretty much in awe the whole time; Stephen Hawking is kind of like a rock star to me… Sadly, unlike Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory, I didn’t get to talk to Stephen Hawking about my theories on the Higgs Boson particle… ;)

I hope you all had awesome weekends. Did anyone do anything awesome for Easter? Who is one of your personal ‘rock stars’ (or real rock stars)? Have you met him/her?

Taking our whales for a walk

Wow… it’s been a while since I’ve written. So much has been going on in lab recently that I have really only had time to eat, sleep, and think about science. Whew…. sometimes things get crazy with grad school.
Anyway, some of the craziness ended on Friday when we had a huge lab cleanup to prepare for the big lab move next month. It was ridiculously epic. I was sooooo busy taking care of all the old expired chemicals we found in the weirdest places (thanks to the student I inherited my workspace from… NOT happy with him right now). After all of that, A and I took our giant stuffed sharks on a walk. While we were out playing with my camera and the sharks, one lady walked past us and asked us if we were taking our whales for a walk. A and I just looked at each other for a second and nodded as we passed. Then we burst out laughing… they’re sharks, not whales! Geez! Anyway, we (and the sharks) had so much fun this past weekend so I thought I would share some pictures – up there they are both sitting in a pine tree (obviously). Down there, there’s Fernando trying to eat an out of focus Prius and Gustav and me doing a silly dance…

Did you guys do anything fun this weekend? Have you seen any fun sharks? (Thanks Natalie for the picture last week. Totally made my day!)

I am what a scientist looks like

You should check out this Tumblr blog called This is what a Scientist Looks Like because it is my new favorite blog. The goal of the blog is to show that anyone can be a scientist, regardless of gender, race, etc. It shows that scientists can have a variety of hobbies (like photography for example) and obsessions (like my love of sharks :-/) even though they also love science. Yay! I find this so empowering… Let’s get away from the stereotype that all scientists are white men with frizzy hair in lab coats and glasses, people! :)

Shark girl says: Have a good weekend!