I glance at myself in the mirror, and anxiously scrutinize my outfit. Long khaki pants and a plain, loose-fitting black shirt. It’s my first day of school, and the dress code is quite strict. No jeans. Nothing too revealing, nothing too form-fitting. No dresses, no skirts. Long pants. Sleeved shirts. No blue tops. The possible ways I could violate the code seem endless.
I glance down. My shoes may be a problem. Only closed toed shoes are allowed, and all I brought with me are sandals and running shoes. I wear the running shoes as they are the pair with the only chance of passing inspection, but they may prove to be too informal.
I grab my bag. It contains my wallet and cell phone, though I know already these items will be staying in the car. I will bring only my photo ID into the school building.
Mezes & Dakos
Happy Fourth! I hope you get to eat some good grilled food, dance among fireflies, and have your fair share of fireworks that aren’t your neighbors annoying second-rate cacophony of explosions tonight. Despite the first new curve analysis, which is promising (R2 = 0.998 for the lymphocyte protein curve, that is, what we think is in the samples, is in the samples), the THC project is currently on hold. There are high hopes of the new sample sets working with the ELISA enzyme assay kit, however due to unfortunate circumstances not all the necessary materials have arrived for round two (after all not every company can do -20°C overnight shipping like Sigma-Aldrich – it’s rather sketchy how that kind of transport it legal).
Another day another dollar, a new week a new protocol. I got to explore a revised protocol for harvesting lymphocytes from blood, which was as much fun as it was frustrating. I also got to learn a little about Rapamycin and its antibiotic properties – it happens to change the color of muscle from the typical fleshy red to a still very natural goldfish orange when applied to open wounds. I recently found a good centrifuge companion to fill the time when I actually have 30 minutes to spare during my busy day; Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch has been a good read so far.
If you have been watching the World Cup, or keep tabs on any other sport, it should come as no surprise that sports play a very meaningful roles in our lives in the 21st century. Here is a PSF project about a sport you may have never thought seriously about, but which is ubiquitous across Asia and especially in China.
"Everybody is crazy about badminton here," my new friend says as we sit along side East China Normal University's badminton courts. His name is Varun and he is an Indian graduate student who started playing badminton when he matriculated to ECNU two years ago. Varun plays with the Chinese regulars at the gym almost every day, and knows most everyone here. "I never played in India, although it's quite popular there," he tells me. "But now," he says with a smile on his face, "I'm addicted."
What Varun said about ECNU's badminton craze is not hard to see when we look out in front of us. It is Wednesday late afternoon and most of the gym's eight courts are full. And this isn't counting the five courts in the adjacent gym, or the school’s small indoor stadium, which features eight courts. The stadium isn't always open, and the gym isn’t always as full as it is now, but I can put it this way: I have never come here and not seen at least a handful of people playing. At peak times it can be hard to find an open court at all—players need to pay for their court time and join a queue.
This week started out great, with the Spurs winning on Sunday beating the Heat. Just when I thought my coworkers couldn’t be any happier or nicer, I am pleasantly surprised. The lab looks cleaner, the glassware is shining, and the hallways smell like victory in place of the familiar urine, iron, and formaldehyde-blended scents. This week I’ve been back and forth between two lab benches on opposite sides of the building, working on the preliminary data that measures the activity of cannabinoid receptors, specifically CB1 and CB2, in the collected lymphocytes.
“Do you like it?” I asked, as little Elaine eagerly took the sea lettuce from my outstretched hand and popped it in her mouth. She chewed thoughtfully, opening her mouth so I could see her teeth every time she bit down, fully exploring the odd new texture. Then she swallowed and a serene expression came over her sea-sprayed face: “Miss Leila,” she said, as salt water dripped from her eyelashes, “I just want to stay on this beach forever and eat seaweed.” Elaine hugged herself within her purple rain jacket and turned to look out at the wind-whipped ocean. It was a picture of wildness and beauty, and it made me feel really alive—kind of like the feeling you get in the moment you decide to embrace the rain and just get soaked. I couldn’t have wiped the grin off my face if I wanted to as I turned to look at the other children playing along the beach and picked up a new handful of sea lettuce. I swirled it in the surf to rinse it of sand and walked down towards the little rain-dancing rain-boots with my handful of salt-soaked offerings.
Officially my job title at the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge is “Park Ranger,” which is both a really poor sum-up of my actual position and kind of a misnomer anyways when you work for the Fish and Wildlife Service, with is quite different from state or National Parks. When I describe my job to other people I tell them I am the Youth Conservation Corps crew leader at the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge (KNWR), and that I lead a team of four high school students in projects both in town and out in the field that benefit the Refuge and the Kodiak community and educate the high schoolers about the National Wildlife Refuge system and the many things that KNWR does to fulfill its mission to conserve and protect the Kodiak Brown Bears and their beautiful archipelago habitat. Which is all grand and well, but when I really think about what this summer experience is meaning to me, three words come to mind with which I would describe myself: teacher, learner, explorer.
My experience studying wind energy at St. Anthony Falls Laboratory began in early June. In between the end of school and the start of the laboratory experience, I spent two weeks on a WWOOF farm in Gresham, Oregon. Here, I shoveled, weeded, and relocated a variety of farm supplies. This manual labor felt refreshing and productive after spending a year completing mental labor. The intimacy that I had with nature on the farm was very meaningful. The best part, however, was the interesting philosophy of the farm. Everyone shares work as well as resources, and no money is exchanged. The farmers also advocate working slowly in order to thoroughly live and learn. They even practice a five-hour workday as opposed to the standard eight hours. This was a fascinating demonstration of how to elude stress and promote cooperation and love. This farm was both idealistic and idyllic.
After the farm, I visited the beautiful Oregon desert, and then I flew to Minneapolis, Minnesota. I settled into my summer residence - a house inhabited by Macalester College students. I found this inexpensive room through a classmate at Reed, for there is a sizable large crossover between the Reed and the Macalester communities.
I then visited the laboratory – and it is amazing. It is located where the Mississippi River runs through downtown Minneapolis. While the urban skyline is beautiful, it pales in comparison to the natural scenery. The lab is located below a magnificent 50-foot waterfall and next to roaring rapids. This setting dramatically demonstrates the power of fluids. The lab was built below a waterfall so that gravity could be harnessed in bringing the water from above the falls to the experimental facilities below the falls. As a fluid mechanics laboratory, it uses a lot of water.
The last time I had been in this chemistry lab was 2 years ago. Back then, I was just getting my feet wet in the field of organic chemistry with the aid and guidance of my professor, Julia Robinson-Surry (’06). Now, I’m working with Julia and the lab teaching assistant, Cindy Liu, to dive deep into the field of green chemistry. With their help, I plan on revamping the current organic chemistry lab curriculum at Bard High School Early College Queens, my old high-school, in an attempt to make it more environmentally-friendly. In addition, I hope to learn about the role and synthesis of green catalysts in organic chemistry, specifically Julia’s work with Fe-TAMLs, a group of oxidation catalysts that has proven useful in environmental cleanup efforts.
Bard Queens is a small school. With 600 students on two floors, it didn’t always feel that way, but the average class size is 20 students. It is also a new school, at only 6 years of age. This comes with some inherent difficulties. For example, the chemistry lab at Bard is not as well endowed as Reed’s. For one thing, there are only two fume hoods, one of which is not working. The only way these chemistry students can characterize their product is through infrared spectroscopy (IR) or physical analysis (i.e. matter state, melting point, boiling point, chemical assays, etc.). In most organic chemistry labs, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR) and gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC-MS) are standard analytical methods. Our project must keep these limitations in mind, and design labs that can be preformed mostly on the bench-tops, while avoiding volatile/strong-smelling chemicals and synthesizing products that can be differentiated readily from any reagents used.
Bard Queens also employs a relatively unique curriculum, where the first two years of school are dedicated to fulfilling high-school requirements and the last two years dedicated to taking college courses with the goal of graduating with an associate’s degree. The students taking organic chemistry here are generally 2 years younger than those at other colleges. The lab periods are also shorter (2 hours, 40 mins vs. 4 hours at Reed). One of our goals will be to make these labs accessible yet rigorous, worthwhile yet not time-consuming, and above all, interesting.
The protein curve, calibration curve, and initial lymphocyte concentration results from last week came back and were excellent, or “acceptable” in research terms. A little more explanation (sans math, I won’t bore you): The protein curve is a plot that measures the concentration of protein loaded into a well of the plate vs. the optical density associated with it. This is determined by incubating the loaded well plates using a dye reagent, which will produce a distinct pigmentation for each protein concentration in the individual wells. Using colorimetry, protein concentration can be quantified by detecting differences in tint and give results based on a specific wavelength. The same goes for the calibration curve, however the purpose for this is to make sure the ELISA Assay kit works, and to make sure the person operating it knows how to properly use it. The initial lymphocyte concentration results are done to get an estimate of the typical concentration of lymphocytes in the blood samples, this is run in tandem – so to say – with the protein curve. This determines the lymphocyte concentrations relative to the known quantities, and depending on the dilution factors (10x and 100x in this case), also gives suggestions about whether or not to dilute samples. That was quite filling; I hope you’re still a little peckish after all that.
Paella y Sangria
My summer so far has been pretty all-American: I’ve mostly been driving. I will be spending the summer in and around Asheville, NC, looking at the relationship between bluegrass music and community building. I’ll be playing my mandolin, going to bluegrass festivals, and talking to as many people as I can about their experience in the bluegrass community. To do all of that, I decided I would need access to my car. So I left Portland a few days after commencement and drove east, past Mt. Hood and out into the Oregon desert. I went through Boise and then through the sagebrush and fuzzy country radio of Eastern Utah and Northwestern Colorado, stopping for a week to spend time in the mountains with my family. After that, I was on the road again, down from the mountains and across Kansas. Kansas is as flat and featureless as advertised, but they make up for it with high-quality billboards: paintings of Jesus peaking out from a wheat field and advertisements for the world’s largest prairie dog (50 feet tall!), along with the typical “click it or ticket” reminders.
I stopped for a night on the banks of the Mississippi River in Alton, IL, the town where my dad grew up, and went on to camp in Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. After Kentucky, I had to make a stop in Nashville, Tennessee. Nashville is the epicenter of country music in a lot of ways, but I went there for only one reason: I wanted to see the Ryman Auditorium. The Ryman is the mother church of country music and the place where the Grand Ole Opry radio show was originally broadcast. Almost every major star in country and bluegrass music has performed on the Grand Ole Opry, and it’s where the father of bluegrass music, Bill Monroe, really became famous. Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys played “Mule Skinner Blues” the first time he played there. Apparently it was so good that the audience demanded an encore – the first time they had done so at the Opry. I had to navigate through Nashville’s CMA Music Fest to get there, but I saw the Ryman, resisted buying a t-shirt, and made my way on to Asheville.
Hello from the Northern California wilderness! This past week and a half has gone by so quickly. The first thing that struck me was the natural beauty of this area. Every morning I get to run on the trails behind my cabin in Russian Gulch State Park, then I visit the beaches each afternoon. I can hear sea lions from my campfire spot, and see great blue herons on my way to work.
I spent most of last week settling into the office and meeting all the wonderful people who work here. I also got to tag along for a few bird surveys, which the Mendocino Land Trust is conducting with the help of some volunteers. I did manage to pick up a couple calls, and at the least can now distinguish between the chips of a squirrel versus those of a bird (harder than you may imagine). I also went out with a group from the Bay Area who were using their vacation time to do community service (part of a movement called “voluntourism”). They were a really friendly and lively group, and were incredibly helpful in removing the invasive species from the beaches (see photo).
June 6, 2014
That is how this first entry is going to end. At this point in time, that is one of only two things I’m sure of right now. The second is that I don’t want this blog to be mine. I want it to be yours to read, scroll through, be critical of, or figure out what to write to me about in your next letter to me, if I happen to be so fortunate. I’ll try to help you out as much as possible.
Work carried out in that lab I am working in at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA) predominantly studies addiction and drug abuse in youth and adults. I will be examining the active component of Cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and any of its effects in cell signaling. I will try to suss out the implications this may have on locomotor and cognitive impairment from that point onward, referring to the data collected after running blood and lymphocyte samples. Explicitly, my aim in all of this is to provide information that is reliable in instructing those regulating, prescribing, and using marijuana, so that they may dispense and use it safely.
The Financial Fellowship Trip was a great experience and introduction to the different opportunities in the financial services industry. We met with a series of different firms in New York and were able to get a better understanding of what it would be like to work in finance and what the work culture is like at smaller vs. larger firms.
We were fortunate enough to meet and connect with other Reedies in New York and see what would life beyond reed look like and what might the transition be like from Reed to finance. The experience was overwhelming and exhilarating and I would strongly recommend others students to apply next year.
The streets of Old Thimi hum with the sounds of spinning wheels and the shuffling of terracotta, and there is a distinct scent of ash and mud. The just-thrown planter pots, whose silver bodies mingle with sleeping dogs in the sun, dry in alleys seemingly indifferent to the motorcyclists who carefully dodge by. There is always a bustle of activity in these streets and courtyards, and more often than not it surrounds some process related to pottery. Stacks of pots, dry, wet, or fired, line the streets. Piles of hay and ash wait in courtyards to be sacrificed for the transformation of wet clay into terracotta. Massive chipped water jars sit in dusty corners, bearing witness to their own extinction. In the past 50 years the ceramics industry in Kathmandu Valley has undergone significant change. What was once a booming market demanding a diversity of clay products has since significantly dwindled. Today, one finds few potters making anything besides planter pots, rice beer distillers, and popcorn bowls, which betray Thimi’s reputation as home to the craftsmen who throw the largest pots in all of Nepal.
Sewage treatment isn’t exactly what we would call a ‘sexy science’, but it is a job for a true environmentalist. I learned this when I spent about a week shadowing chemist Liz Falejczyk at the Sewerage Agency of Southern Marin (SASM) in the north San Francisco Bay area.
I arrived on Sunday and drove with Liz to her home in Sonoma County, which is way north of Marin – as we drove, we passed the SASM building (which is just north of the Golden Gate Bridge) and a lot of gorgeous farmland. I took the opportunity of arriving on a non-working day to visit the Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve and take a look at all of the gorgeous trees. I had never seen redwoods before, so it was a huge treat.
Monday morning we woke up early and arrived at the plant just in time to see the sun rise. I got a tour of the entire grounds, beginning where the sewage enters the plant in a room that is referred to as the headworks. Just as the sewage plant was built in the lowest area in the valley so that most of the pipes can flow with gravity, the headworks are underground in the lowest point of the plant. Sewage is then screened to remove plastic and other non-processable items and pumped through another room up to ground level.
Despite having only a couple days to explore, this externship was productive and enjoyable. Sharon made sure to set up plenty of good things to make the best use of our time, so we bounced between people pretty quickly. We got to see a technique called transcranial direct current stimulation in action, with Ben as a participant. tDCS (see image) involves electrodes that pass a current intended to stimulate or impede neural firing through a certain section of a brain, therefore manipulating the behavioral outcome on an activity.
We also had the opportunity to talk individually with a number of Sharon’s graduate students and post-docs, hearing about their particular research projects in her lab as well as their career trajectories. This was incredibly useful, since we don't have access to people in those positions at Reed. Many of them encouraged us to take time off and see more of the world before entering grad school, because once on that path it will be a long time before we get another chance to do so. But having done their wandering they all seem quite happy to be where they are now, and I think their diversity of perspectives is one thing that makes her lab a good one.
Over my winter break, I went to visit the Saturday Academy administrative office located on the University of Portland's campus, and it was quite fun! I met some outstanding individuals who work not just for a living, but in order to provide quality academic programs for kids all across Portland and the greater Oregon area. That's the benefit of being a non-profit: you do work that is relevant to your interests, but also participating in a group that makes quite a meaningful impact on the community. During my weeklong visit, I helped staff revise internship descriptions provided by several dozen major companies across Portland, a part of Saturday Academy's Apprenticeships in Science and Engineering (ASE) program. Thinking about how to best incorporate a diversity of high school students regardless of their gender or socioeconomic status is something I have never considered, and was a thoughtful challenge for me. With an interest in Technology and Education, I learned about all the hard work that goes into organizing the hundreds of educational opportunities Saturday Academy provides, and was proud to assist with tasks in the background in order to provide a great experience for the families signed up with Saturday Academy this year.
I enjoyed learning about the workings of a sewage treatment plant. When I arrived, I was given a tour of the facility. First I saw the wet wells, where the raw sewage initially enters the plant. From there, the water travels through deep tanks where the solid waste can settle out. The water then trickles through giant towers where bacteria, grown on honeycomb-shaped sheets of plastic, break down dissolved towers. Not all sewage plants operate with the exact same format; during my time with SASM, I toured four treatment plant facilities. The plant in San Francisco was partially under the zoo. It also had facilities to treat its own odor. Another treatment plant was stacked on top of itself so that it took up as little space as possible. I watched the lab technician sample the effluent and observed the different tests run on the effluent to make sure it was fit to release into the bay. I also learned about the problem of leaking pipes and how the administration decides whose job it is to fix the various sewer lines. Finally, I shadowed an inspector as she looked at the grease traps of restaurants and commercial kitchens.
For my externship I worked with Michael McPherson '69, the creative director and co-founder of Corey McPherson Nash, a design and branding firm in Boston. Michael studied philosophy at Reed, but then received his MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. He described this transformation romantically, musing that he stepped out of the Reed library one evening after completing his Yale PhD application, and saw before him a gleaming sunset envelop the campus. The sun set and he saw the light. Something struck him that day, and he immediately withdrew his application to Yale. He moved to a cooperative farm in Washington to ponder his next move. Here he refined his skills in calligraphy and increased his knowledge of typography. His zeal for design eventually led him to RISD, where he was a member of the first graduating class.
Since then, Michael has inscribed a culture of unwavering commitment to creativity and quality design at his firm, Corey McPherson Nash. The firm produces meticulously-crafted branding material and emphasizes a cooperative relationship with clients to determine their brand position. During my externship I was able to step into Michael's shoes for a few days, and gain exposure to video and graphic designers who were passionate about making great products. I saw their intensive creative process unfold first-hand and began to understand the necessity of making countless renderings and revisions; I appreciated their cooperative work environment; I laughed with them when they struggled to explain the difference between a vermillion and amber orange to clients. Overall, it was a fantastic experience.
In addition to the work experience, Michael's story and character left a very meaningful impression on me. He facilitated my interests, engaged me in his work, and inspired me to keep a diverse array of interests.
I participated in a weeklong externship with Saturday Academy, an educational non-profit established in 1983 and based in Portland. Saturday Academy’s mission is to provide supplemental learning opportunities to kids from second grade through high school. Saturday Academy organizes over five hundred classes a year, all taught by experts from the community. Saturday Academy states that their emphasis is on science, technology, engineering and math—but a quick peek at their website shows a vast array of classes in all fields, from writing to engineering to acting. This was information I knew as I headed to my externship on the first day. What I didn’t know was that the entire organization is run by just a handful of people. Just thirteen, to be exact. Over my week at Saturday Academy I observed an efficient, enthusiastic, and creative team working hard to providing learning opportunities to bright young students.
My first task as an extern involved Saturday Academy’s Apprenticeships in Science and Engineering (ASE) program. The ASE program matches up promising high school students with industry mentors. The students spend the summer in labs or in the field, working with their mentors. In January, the industry mentors had just submitted blurbs describing the work their high school-aged interns will be doing this coming summer. In addition to proof-reading these blurbs, I vetted their wording to make sure subtle gender bias wasn’t implicit in the language chosen by the writers. As it turns out, gender bias in job descriptions is a persisting issue and data indicate this wording-bias contributes to women being underrepresented in STEM fields. Saturday Academy is deeply dedicated to providing opportunity to all children, including those historically underrepresented in STEM.
Jeri Janowsky, Saturday Academy’s director, told me that a goal of Saturday Academy is to frame education as something that doesn’t have to end when the school day ends, but rather, to frame education as a dynamic, continuing experience throughout life. I strongly embrace this perspective, and Saturday Academy is embodying the idea that education can take place even after the last school bell rings. My time at Saturday Academy was encouraging and motivational—seeing an organization with such an important message flourishing gives me (otherwise absent) high hopes for the future of education in the U.S.