… Raleigh. Summary of Week 5

Life in the Lab

With Mrs. C still gone and no one having any idea what I may do wrong (and I would swear I have done everything right!), there were no more PCR attempts until Wednesday. This is probably the reason why the very beginning of the week seemed to be rather slow. I took advantage of my low workload provided either by D or J and isolated some DNA from another plant species. This time, I had to use a kit from another company and the whole procedure was so fast. Suspiciously fast. Once done, I had to leave the building, walk across the Plaza and climb two stories in another building – all that just to check my two samples. That is when I realized how spoiled I am after only one year at the institute where everything is in a single building and moreover on a single floor. However, knowing it is only a temporary obstacle, I did not mind the walk at all. In fact, I welcomed the opportunity to walk down the campus I like so much.

Walking my samples

Walking my samples

On Tuesday, D kept my occupied pretty much all day long which was very welcomed. I appreciated the diversity of tasks (having a chance to work both with plants and bacteria), though I did not produce any scientific breakthrough at this point. I continued being D’s “slave” even on Wednesday. This was also another day for a PCR after I had had a break from it for four days. Well, it did not help at all. I did substantially better with another kindergarten-level task. In other words, some more paper-modelling.

However, I did not reach the perfection stage yet, so I tried once more on Thursday. And I liked the outcome so much! Mrs. C did as well! In fact, Thursday was a very long day for me. I was the first one to come to the lab and the last one to leave. The lab meeting in the morning took quite a portion of the day. Once it was over, Mrs. C was super busy catching up with what happened during the time she was gone. Pretty much everyone wanted to talk to her to discuss any problem(s) that occurred over that time. Nevertheless, she found time for me and gave me a new primer pair as well as cDNA sample to try my PCR with. Believe it or not, it worked this time! I also visualized the gDNA from my previous extraction attempts and there was some DNA in all three semi-randomly analyzed samples. In fact, in two of them it looked better than any gDNA I have extracted so far. Encouraged by the intermediate success (and afraid I might run out of good luck overnight), I performed new reaction right on Thursday afternoon – this explains why I stayed so long. For a long time, I did not feel as happy as when I was walking back home in the evening: it was not too hot, the sky was perfectly blue with some nice clouds up there, the campus was as beautiful as usual, and I felt a strong hope that I may actually “produce something” over the three weeks ahead.

Running the Gel - It Worked!

Running the Gel – It Worked!

Discovering New Views of the Campus

Discovering New Views of the Campus

Running the gel on Friday morning, however, made me sober again. The PCR did not work again (Why!?) but Mrs. C helped with re-designing one of the primers. Let’s hope for an improvement the next week. Due to the PCR failure I had no Molecular Biology to perform, so it turned out to be another day of intensive plant encounter – i.e. transferring them from plate to plate or from plate to soil. We will see how many of them I killed during the process (this was not the aim of course).

Happened out of the Lab

I was eager for some more skating but I had to wait for it until Wednesday morning. I cannot remember why I could not make it happen as early as Monday but I know that my Tuesday roller blading plans were ruined due to storm (we did not get any for maybe as long as a week). But this does not mean, nothing happened in the meantime. On Monday I discovered some Czech language right on the campus (!) and Tuesday was a lecture day for me.

Wolfpack in About a Dozen Languages. Czech Is There Too!

Wolfpack in About a Dozen Languages. Czech Is There Too!

After almost ten years of traveling through the endless cosmos, New Horizons was about to (finally) make its fly-by past Pluto and the Museum of Natural Sciences held a special It’s Pluto Time! event to “celebrate” it. When the Romanian intern was inviting me to it on Sunday, I did not consider coming at all. However, once I learned only the flight part took almost a decade, I realized that a similar trip may not happen again during my lifetime and I therefore put another visit (a third one in only six days) to the museum on my schedule. It was a smart decision.

I met the intern again, so I started my time at museum with some chat. Finally, we also know each other’s name. At 5.30 the series of three lectures and NASA’s “phone home” by the probe (as late as 9 pm) began. Due to my dependence on buses, I decided to stay only for the first two lectures. It was still worth it. I was not aware of it at all, but it turned out that it would be people from NASA talking! How cool – this is probably a once-in-a-life-time opportunity and I was so glad to make it a part of my life! In all honesty, I did not understand the first talk too well, not only my limited space-related knowledge but also English being problems. The message I took was that the heart of the speaker, a JPL Solar System Ambassador, was broken because of Pluto not being considered a planet any more. Once the question time started, I got lost completely and was thinking what (and when) I should cook for my tomorrow lunch.

It's Pluto Time! Lecture No. 1

It’s Pluto Time! Lecture No. 1

The second talk, by another JPL Solar System Ambassador, was substantially better. He apparently spoke slower because I could understand almost everything, he was funny and most importantly, his talk was truly tailored to the general public. When talking about huge numbers, such as the distance of three billion miles between the Earth and Pluto, he gave more real-life likening. In this case, he talked about a pea (Earth), a quinoa seed (Pluto) and 3/4 of the soccer field (distance between the two). Well, still challenging to imagine but at least, I worked with familiar objects here.

The second speaker was a rocket guy and he had that kind of attitude of being aware of skills not every (OK, very few people) has but still talked about rocket construction as about something very casual, like making your laundry. In strong contrast to the first guy, he did not seem to care about Pluto at all (the rocket was what mattered to him) and maybe was even happy about the fact that it was not officially a planet any more. From his very interesting and engaging talk, I remembered some cool facts which I would like to share:

  • from the Earth to the Moon, the probe made it in 9 hours – about the time it took me to get from London to Raleigh
  • the rocket to launch the probe had a Russian motor and it was the fastest launch ever
  • they do not have any more rockets like that (which probably means no more super fast missions for a while)
  • considering the distance the probe had to reach, it was super small and super light – this was also achieved by carrying only very little fuel with it (This probably explains why such a fast launch was necessary.)
  • the source of electricity was the nuclear power. I did not think about that but it is supposedly too dark there to make any use of solar energy.
  • to get the picture form the probe or send a command to it, it takes “only” 4.5 hours; the distance is great but they also use very slow connection to eliminate as much noise as possible
  • the fly-by is not the end of the New Horizons‘ mission, it will keep exploring far far away from the Earth until 2020 (or until it collides with something – hopefully, this will not happen)
  • to get all the data (pictures and probably some measurements) from the probe, it is going to take a decent amount of time. I think they were talking something like a year and a half.

I did not have enough to listen to the third NASA guy but it also was too early to head for the bus station. Thankfully, they had an activity for kids (and for me!) there. From very simple ingredients (glue, corn starch, fluorescent dye and Borax) I could make my own glowing Pluto! The mixture apparently had properties of something called non-Newtonian fluid but it did not much of a difference to me. More important was, that I could decide about the color of my very own planet. I went for orange but my mixture got contaminated by the remaining of all the previously done pink ones. But my personal “planet” indeed glows! I also received a paper model of the probe – once I am done with the lab modeling, I may try something more challenging. I killed some more time looking at an exposition I missed the other time, including an electronic Chevrolet car and then walked to the bus station – my timing was nearly perfect.

Eva's Glowing Pluto

Eva’s Glowing Pluto

Chevy Volt...

Chevy Volt…

... And Some of Its Intestines

… And Some of Its Intestines

LED Art 1

LED Art 1

LED Art 2

LED Art 2

Wednesday morning was great. Prior to starting another day in the lab, I went skating. It involved getting up rather early but I never regretted it (except for when the alarm started beeping). It was a great ride, I received some nice views of both lakes in my neighborhood, an appreciation for being a roller blader from a jogging guy (He said that roller bladers are rare here. And I could not agree with that more – have not seen a single one in a month.) and I did my NC personal best of 27 km a day. To reward myself, I stopped at the Bruegger’s Bagels on the way to the lab. This time, I chose a blueberry one. The bagel lady there asked me what I wanted it with. My response: “Just the bagel, please.” Her reaction: “All right, that’s simple enough.” And I laughed about that until I ate the bagel at about 3 PM.

Lake Raleigh in the Morning

Lake Raleigh in the Morning

Enjoying My Bagel At the Campus' Only Communistic-Looking Building

Enjoying My Bagel At the Campus’ Only Communistic-Looking Building

I tried to schedule my Friday tasks in such a way that I make it to the English Conversation Club. This happened and while I was glad I could be there, I think I had enjoyed the previous two meetings more. This time, I was in the group of the two older ladies, H and P. I hoped I would get a chance to meet them and I realized they were very nice people. The size of the conversation group and me being slightly tired, probably made it somewhat less enjoyable than what I had expected. I took advantage of returning home unusually early and went skating again. This time, there was no searching for a new trail, instead I stayed on my favorite Walnut Creek Trail the entire time. Though I wanted to take it easy (so I do not run out of energy before my already planned Saturday trip is over), I still added 22 km to my US mileage.

This week was rich in dead animal bodies – one snake (It scared me so much! I almost skated over it and was so worried it could have bitten me. On the way back I focused on searching for it and realized it was not able of any biting any more.), one frog and two samples of a huge insect species. It must be one of those noisy guys living in the forests along the trails.

The Insect's Back

The Insect’s Back

The Insect's Belly

The Insect’s Belly


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