Horses, plant homes, and more!

This poor plant still isn’t doing so well but I really like this one flower…

Hey everyone! Looks like I’m sticking to this once a week on Wednesdays post schedule for a little bit. Life is crazy with trying to graduate and all…

A lot of stuff has been happening though so I’ll give you a mini update!

So first of all, two weeks ago, Cobalt and I made a plant home in our office! Look at those happy plantys!

Plants enjoying the last of a sunny day. Also pictured: a buffalo and Jörg the German sheep

Second of all, it’s been snowing a lot…. Not a fan. But at least this picture is pretty.

I’ll admit it. When the snowflakes look like this, I am still a little mesmerized by them. Even when I am grumpy about having to clean off my car to go to work…

Finally, last weekend, we made dumplings with some of our friends for the Chinese New Year! :D This year I got to learn how to make the wrappers too. It was fun rolling them out into perfect circles. I also love folding the dumplings into these cool shapes. This year we put almonds into a few for good luck. Because four of us making/eating the dumplings are hoping to graduate from grad school this year, we decided that eating a dumpling with an almond in it meant that we would definitely graduate this year. We all got almond-filled dumplings so hopefully we will all graduate! :D

Happy year of the horse!

Anyway, in science news, yesterday I finished the last of my repeats for the first part of my project! So minus a few tweaks or running the assays I designed for other people’s experiments, that means I am done with the first part. Now I finally get to focus on the more nebulous and less thought out second part of my project! Things are coming along (even though they are slow)!

Your turn. Tell me about life. It’s February! Is the weather looking any better there because it’s cold and snowy here… Did you watch the Superbowl last weekend? Got any Valentine’s Day plans for next week? Let’s discuss! :D

The eye of the storm

Success! The cannolis, pizelles, and other Italian desserts made it safely back from Boston (despite getting teased by TSA about the fact that there is more than 3 oz of cream in the cannolis… :/). Yummmmmmmmm…

Hey all! I’m back from the first two of my three conferences, enjoying this little break before I head out to Heidelberg, Germany tomorrow for the third conference! Epic…

How have you guys been? I am all right, despite having a pretty major breakdown about science/life/careers/etc right before I left for the first conference (more on that when I get back from Germany). Both conferences turned out to be really fun.

First I was in San Antonio for SACNAS where I was one of three graduate students from the University of Colorado recruiting future grad students and students for our summer research program (SMART). SACNAS is awesome because it’s both a science conference (with talks and poster presentations etc) but also a huge celebration of all of the cultures that make up this country. It is just such a fun and supportive place to be (just what I needed after feeling so down the day before)! Plus I had a great time bonding with my fellow graduate students. They helped me finish the poster I presented in Boston (and will present in Heidelberg). It turned out really nicely so I am super grateful for their help!

This was from the Pow wow at SACNAS. So many beautiful outfits and dances. We got to dance too and it was awesome!
We got serenaded by a mariachi band while out at dinner in San Antonio!

After recruiting at SACNAS, I took off for Boston for the Salmonella conference! I ended up flying with a bunch of retired Texans who were heading to the east coast to watch the leaves turn. We bonded right away in line for the airplane and it made for a pretty funny experience. Upon arriving in Boston, I met up with my lab mate Titanium and my boss and we headed to the conference together. The conference was kind of intense… who knew there could be 5 days worth of talks (and posters) about Salmonella?! For the most part it was very interesting and exciting to learn about all the different ways people can go about studying such a vicious pathogen. I now feel inspired to build my own super team of scientists from all scientific backgrounds to try to answer some really hard question (let me know if you want to join… I’m going to make us matching T-shirts!). It was also fun because 1) there were people from all over the world attending the conference (new friends!!!!) and 2) Boston turned out to be a really fun city to explore! I can’t wait to share some of my adventures with you but for now I will leave you with these pictures.

My favorite of the random pianos around Boston. I played Heart and Soul on it. :)
Titanium with two of our new friends the last day in Boston! :)

And now I am off to Heidelberg for my final conference. I have been learning some German words/phrases (turns out German is a SUPER fun language to learn) while traveling to my other two conferences. How exciting! Also, I just got an e-mail from some friends over there who are going to pick me up as soon as I get to my hotel and take me exploring! I feel so lucky and excited for this opportunity but also nervous about traveling so far away (even though I just went to Paris) and terrified that I am going to get sick… Maybe I should go buy some Emergen-C….

Now it’s your turn: tell me anything! If you are unsure where to start, you can tell me about a time where you did a lot of traveling in your life. How did you keep from getting sick? How did you go about exploring where ever you were (eating at various restaurants, going on tours, walking around, etc)? What is your favorite activity to keep from getting bored on the airplane? :)

The great defenders!

Some of the awesome girls in my class back in the first week of our first year of grad school… awwww we were so young!

Helllloooo everyone! I finished my committee meeting yesterday so I am back! I think it went pretty well. I analyzed a lot of data and didn’t sleep pretty much for the past two weeks so that I could put all of what I know about my protein in my presentation for my committee members. They were helpful in telling me what they think I should focus on that will tell the best story (i.e. so that I can write a paper/my thesis) so that I can graduate within the year. Yeesh… It’s going to be an epic year. That’s all I can say about that…

Anyway, for now I am happy to be back in a world where I don’t have to analyze data and think about my project every waking (and sometimes sleeping) moment. I have a lot of stuff to catch you up on but first, I want to talk about my two friends E and L who are both defending their PhD theses today! Congratulations you guys! You worked so hard and by the end of today you will be doctors!

And now a little back story. First, L is my first friend here in the state of CO. I met a lot of the people in my class all at the same time (recruitment weekend) but I actually met L at the University of Washington’s recruitment weekend two weeks earlier. The next weekend, she went to go check out a school in Canada while I checked out UC Davis and then we reconvened after that here at CU chemistry program’s recruitment weekend. I am so glad we both decided to come here. It has been an honor getting to know you L and I hope we keep in touch about what’s next for you!

Potassium and L (second from the right) with two other girls they met at the University of Washington recruitment weekend. I wonder where those two other girls ended up going to graduate school…

Now E! E is an organic chemist in my year but we decided early on that she is an honorary biochemist because we pretty much were inseparable our first year. E, I will never forget our horrible decision to go to Wendy’s and get milkshakes right before an indoor soccer game. It was worth it because we had to get caught up on everything but man… that was an interesting soccer game. Also E was my first photo buddy here in town because we got our DSLRs right about the same time. It was so much fun running around Boulder county learning how to take pictures with you. Also, I think we all had a blast at your wedding! I know you are about to head to Portland soon to join your hubby and I wish you the best of luck! Keep in touch friend, I will really miss being neighbors! :)

Potassium and E, photo buddies…

That’s all for today everyone but stay tuned because I have engagement pictures for you (hopefully) next week! :D So what has been going on in your worlds lately?

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!!

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… :-/

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. :)

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).