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!

May showers bring…

The Mona Lisa is concerned about seeing Cobalt and me in person in the coming weeks… I would be too… We’re kind of a crazy pair..

You guys… I can count the number of days until I go to Paris on one hand! I am simultaneously jumping for joy and freaking out (it’s kind of awkward to explain). I have been constantly obsessing over one detail or another all while trying to get through my normal life here in Boulder. It’s been an intense week – both with the planning for the trip and just with everything going on with life. I thought today I’d basically give a little photo summary of some of the things that have happened this week.

First of all, the trip. Cobalt and I picked up some euros for me to take with me next week and set up a travel bank account through our bank here for easy access to more cash at any ATM anywhere. I learned something about euros too. Did you know that they get bigger in size in proportion to their amount? Seriously, the guy at the bank showed us the 5 euro note and it is so tiny compared to the bigger bills (and our dollar bills). They’re all so shiny too.

In addition to doing some money things this week, Cobalt and I bought Paris Museum Passes. I’ll give a full review when I get back but I think these guys are going to be awesome. They grant us admission to over 60 museums and landmarks in Paris (including the Louvre and Notre Dame, etc) so we won’t have to wait in line for tickets (apparently this is a thing…). Also, they’re good for four days so that means we can go in and out of places like the Louvre as many times as we want during those four days. I am really excited! The passes arrived yesterday so they’re featured on the top of my blog post today! Next up – we need to plan out what museums/attractions we want to go to and then figure out which attractions should go on the same day…

And now a lab thing. You may recall me mentioning about a month ago that my labmate K did his PhD defense and now has his PhD. Normally after you defend, you get to walk during commencement and be hooded (you get this crazy hood attached to your robes – seriously, google PhD graduation) by your advisor. Well our advisor came all the way back from France for K’s defense but she couldn’t get back for commencement this week. My friend/labmate G and I took matters into our own hands and we held a “commencement” for K yesterday. We asked Cobalt to announce him (Cobalt has this amazing radio announcer voice), we got him a king’s crown and a feather boa to act as his graduation cap and hood, we asked our boss to record a little video so that she could be there in spirit, we got him a stuffed neuron with a graduation cap as a present/”diploma,” we invited all our labmates, and then we all threw confetti and had a little party at the end. I think K appreciated our crazy efforts to make him feel special for commencement. Yay! Congrats again, K! :)

The confetti turned out to be quite a hit. Every time we cleaned it off the floor, someone else would throw it at K…

In the midst of all of this, Colorado has decided that the phrase is actually “May showers bring June flowers…” At least it’s not snowing anymore, right? :-/

Sometimes I just get caught by how beautiful the Flatirons are… They’ve been especially amazing with all the rain/fog we’ve been having lately.

How are you guys doing? Anything fun planned for the weekend? I’m going to France next week and I’m probably going to be super busy/jetlagged so the post schedule is going to get a little crazy. Is there anything you’re dying to hear about (Paris trip planning or otherwise… I know I haven’t talked a lot about our plans for the trip so please feel free to ask away!) before I go?

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).

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!

Reflections on a busy week

WOW! It’s been a while since I wrote. Thanks grad school for making my life insane for a bit there. It’s funny. I am done with all my qualifying exams and my classes so all I have left to graduate is “just” research. That’s right. Do enough research to be able to publish two scientific papers on new findings and then I can graduate! If only it were that easy… Sometimes the “just research” part of grad school is awesome. You go in, get your work done, you go home, no sweat. Life is great. Sometimes the “just research” part is insane… so insane it makes you wish you still had classes left because at least classes have a finite length and obvious expectations (write this paper? DONE. Study for and take this test? DONE… vs… I looked at bacteria under a microscope for HOURS and I took HUNDREDS OF PICTURES and I still have NO idea what anything means… Whyyyyyyyyyyyy?). Anyway, you get it. Plus we packed up our whole lab and moved it a mile away into a new building. There was some moving drama in there last week too.

ANYWAY – I have been really sad that I haven’t been able to write recently. So much stuff has been going on AND I got tagged by Karyl to write a post on marriage and I am worried that she thinks I forgot about it. Don’t worry Karyl, I’ve been thinking about it all week and I hopefully will be able to finally publish my thoughts tomorrow or Thursday this week! Yay! So, I talked about grad school being dumb and moving being time consuming… What have else I been up to, you ask?

Well, besides apparently freaking out small children at church on Sunday, here are a few things I did since the last time I wrote.

1) Had really good barbecue in Longmont, CO. Seriously. Amazing. Best BBQ I’ve had so far in the state. Go check them out. Obviously skip this recommendation if you are a vegetarian.

2) Moved the lab – already talked about this but here are some pictures:

Old Lab – see that big thing of pink bubble wrap? It was probably 3 times as big when we got it and then we used it and another whole roll up moving all our fragile stuff… intense… There is nothing worse than trying to get lab tape off of bubble wrap for your information…

New Lab – my new bench bubble wrap free! In other new lab news, I learned today that it is about a 2 mile bike ride to the new building and it is almost alllll downhill on the way there. Fun times coming home this summer… :-/

3) Saw President Obama speak at my school. Regardless of your politics, how cool is it to get to see a president speak in person? Obama pictures in a minute. I just want to emphasize on here that part of the awesomeness of all of this was actually all the waiting in line to get into the events center.

We had to wait for the bus…

In the line, we had a race across a random patch of grass/compared our weird feet/did other silly things. If you look closely in the top left hand corner, you can see the line behind us…

We were all distracted by this helicopter that we thought Obama was in but then he drove right past us…

Obama on the jumbo screen of the events center. I’d say that’s a typical Obama face…

Live Obama and jumbo screen Obama in the same shot! Because our lab move day was the same day as Obama’s speech and because that was the same day my boss decided to tell me how much data analysis she needed me to do in the next few days, we didn’t get to get in line until later in the afternoon so we didn’t get the most amazing of seats. But you can still see Obama!

4) Took a road trip with Cobalt to see his family

On the road again… Cobalt and I enjoyed rocking out to crazy mashups (courtesy of Milkman) as we drove along…

Anything exciting going on in your lives? Do you obsessively photograph everything like I do? Discuss!

On the docket for tomorrow (hopefully… or Thursday… sorrrrrrrry) – What do I look forward to in my marriage? Stay tuned. It should be exciting… I have been thinking about what to say for a week now…

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!)

Cheez-its in my lab drawer!

So since I have had at least one lab drawer to call my own, it has contained food in it. I tend to get a bit hangry (hungry/angry…) if I go too long without food and I also love eating so I have provided myself with tasty snacks for years now. Last year, my food drawer became very popular with my lab mates and people actually started bringing in food to repopulate all the food I (and they) ate! It was delicious. The food drawer tends to become a little candy heavy so last time we went out on a late night lab drawer food run (they totally happen… and they are totally cool… we went to Target at 9:30 on Saturday night… and it was awesome… moving on…), I grabbed a box of Cheez-its to go with our delicious candy choices. The Cheez-its were the best idea ever. They didn’t even last the week. I had to run to the store by our house and get more… and here they are… ready to make me happy whenever I go searching through my lab drawer for a snack (which is often)… We are moving our lab next month and I haven’t been able to check out the new desk areas for a suitable replacement lab food drawer… I hope it will work out…

What about you? Do you get hangry? Do you have a drawer of food by your desk at work? How about at home? For fellow CU readers, are you going to come by my desk to get a snack? Should I stock up? ;)

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!