This summer has wrested from my grasp all familiarity I previously had with the word comfort. Since my arrival in Uganda, I have broken my nose (don’t tell my mother), been left in the middle of nowhere by a bus driver gone rogue, woken in the middle of the night to what seemed like a whole family of lizards throwing a party on my bed, and briefly battled a monkey who attempted to make off with my clipboard. My time as an HIV/AIDS policy intern with the World Health Organization has had little semblance to any internship I have had before. Life and work here is a bit of a free-for-all, dictated in part by constantly changing health crises (the recent Ebola outbreak and refugees from South Sudan, to name a couple), but also by a particular, somewhat enviable, easy-going-in-the-midst-of-chaos, East African way of living. Whenever I ask my colleagues how long it will take me to walk somewhere, they ask if I mean in African time or in Muzungu (a Swahili word for someone of European descent) time.
This summer has dictated that I do a lot of things that I would not normally be “comfortable with”. The very top of this list includes keeping my views and thoughts to myself during discussions of Uganda’s recently passed Anti-Homosexuality Act, which has been difficult, but also taught me a lot about how to listen to and try to grasp what is happening around me even when I stand (or sit quietly) in profound disagreement. The recent turmoil caused by the law has shifted the balance of many things in Uganda, especially the roles of NGOs and the UN. It has been eye opening to observe those agencies scrambling to reconcile their duty to comply with the decrees of local governments with their commitment to disseminate unbiased and discrimination free care and health information. Unfortunately, since the ratification of the law, entire research operations have been shuttered because of the threat that the law may pose to some researchers. It is grim to watch such acute intolerance hinder the progress of decades of work in the health sector.
Tehina and Pita
There it is, no mouth pipetting… Sorry Makotes. After a good lab evaluation and fresh samples coming in, the few let downs stemming from the cannabinoid project are hardly felt. At the moment there are some technical difficulties being sorted out since I have been getting a signal of cAMP production when I don’t think I should be. Now I’m investigating a cAMP baseline for the lymphocytes I’m testing for comparison. The good news is that this is somewhat expected since I’ve moved on from the forskolin curve to also running the full agonist drug simultaneously with the forskolin and ATP, a new element to the complicated mix. One step forward, three or five back.
This week has been super busy, the consequences of the power outage are slowly surfacing as I go about trying to use machines that have switched back to their manufacture default settings. They still work, there’s just a touch more tinkering around that adds up as the day passes along. This week more mouse brain samples arrived for tissue collecting and homogenizing. I finally got a clear picture of them to show you all, the worker making the extractions was excellent.
Figure 1. Mouse brains – 4 count. Don’t they look like candy? They’re also hard as rocks from bathing in liquid nitrogen. My thumb for scale, which is already small.
The first two festivals I attend this summer are a study in contrasts. The first, the Bill Monroe Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival, is a hyper-traditional “Mecca of Bluegrass.” The countryside surrounding Bean Blossom, in Brown County, Indiana, is filled with rolling hills, big forests, and small towns. A permanent wooden stage sits in the middle of the music park, and an American flag hangs behind bands playing on the stage. People set their lawn chairs in the field in front of the stage at the start of the ten-day festival and leave them there for the entire festival; since people wouldn’t watch every act, you could take a seat in somebody else’s lawn chair until the owners came back.
Around the stage, dirt roads with names like “Ralph Stanley Road” and “Jimmy Martin Drive” circle through the campground, which is mostly dominated by trailers and RVs. Tent camping is mostly in a back corner of the campground, in a part of the park that Bill Monroe once christened “hippy hill.” There’s a pond on the property, and mules and goats are kept back behind the pond.
Washington Monument, summer 2014
It’s been an amazing last few weeks. I’ve learned and grown more than I would have thought possible in the short time I’ve been here. I’ve come to learn what a tenuous position this college program is in, and to so admire all the people behind the scenes who fight tooth and nail to keep it funded and alive to serve. I have learned that the philosophy I see embodied in the Campus Within Walls administration is one that must be practiced in whatever course my own life takes: To fight for the underserved, and to give without requiring any initial proof to pass a judgment of “worthiness.” There is a need, and they are ensuring it is met. It’s that simple.
Undertaking this project has been scary at times. Not for the reasons one might expect from a project conducted in a prison, but from the experience of being personally challenged. I love going to the prison class, but I will admit, there have certainly been times when I’ve wished I was at home, spending a carefree summer exploring the great Northwest with family and friends. I am very aware of my own expectations for this project. I want it to be great. I want it to do justice to the inmates’ experiences, humanity, and strength. It’s terrifying to think that I might not be successful. Were I not even trying, I wouldn’t have the discomfort I do, because I would not be creating the opportunity to fail. My limits are being tested. This grant has allowed me the chance to translate my lofty words and big dreams into actions. There’s no stopping now. Not only do I have myself to answer to, and those who placed confidence in my abilities by funding me, but I now also feel obligated to all the students and administration at the Campus Within Walls program. These students have lodged themselves irremovably in my heart and in my life. Although their lives and their college experiences are restricted behind fences and razor wire, there is no way that their impact on me will remain contained. Their needs don’t disappear when I do. My experience this summer has placed in me a sense of obligation to continue to work with prison justice and inmate rehabilitation programs. In my original thinking, I believed the PSF award was granting me the opportunity to “complete” my summer project. I am now realizing how limited that perspective was. Rather, what my PSF summer has done is awaken a passion and deep sense of loyalty and lasting obligation to this small, scrappy community college prison program. There is no way I will be able to close the door on this experience, and walk away from the dedicated students and administration. My work with Campus Within Walls is light years away from “complete.”
While parts of the country battle wild summer fires and far lands such as the Darfur region and Southwestern China make headlines in the news for want of water, one city is doing everything it can to rid itself of this important element of classical thought. This summer I am in New Orleans. And I must admit I was in part lured to this Southern princess by five star reviews of its rich culture and cuisine by Dana Lawson. After exploring as much of the city as I could during my arrival weekend, I turned my back on bustling Bourbon street, buckled my work boots, rolled up my sleeves, and began toiling under the sweltering sun with a team of other volunteers to fight water in this city. I am interning with Groundwork New Orleans, an environmental non-profit organization, this summer to lead a group of volunteers to construct rain gardens in the lower ninth ward of the city to minimize the risk of future flooding.
The start of the project had been delayed by a week pending paper work from the New Orleans’ Redevelopment Authority and the city’s Water and Sewage Board. So I spent my first week helping working with Global Green USA, a sister organization of Groundwork with a similar project on Andry Street. This gave me the first idea of the construction challenges I would be facing in the proceeding weeks. After two weeks of teasing grey clouds masking the resilient furnace of the sun, the clouds finally showed some potency by spewing down the long overdue rains. There were sighs of relief on the sweating faces digging the rain garden with shovels.
I am researching how wind flows behind wind turbines by analyzing experimental and numerical data. The experimental data has been collected around the turbine that is pictured at right, and the numerical model is based on this turbine.
I’m specifically analyzing the structure and evolution of the vortices that are created at the blade tips. The vortices are caused by areas of low pressure around the turbine. Turbines’ blades rotate because the aerodynamic shape of the blades guides incoming wind into creating a pressure difference that, in turn, drives the blades. Another difference in pressure is due to the fact that the blades block wind, so behind the blade there are fewer air molecules and thus, there is a lower pressure. Objects feel forced to move to lower pressures. Both the blades and the wind are forced into the lower pressure. Some wind wraps around the blades in order to get to the low pressure area.
A vortex forms where the wind curls because the low pressure applies a centripetal force — like how a hurricane is a vortex where wind wraps around the hurricane’s low-pressure eye. Vorticity quantifies how much the fluid rotates around a region. In math terms, the vorticity is the curl of the wind velocity. Strong vortices are created at the blade tips because here the wind can radially bypass the blade, which provides the path of least resistance in the pursuit of lower pressure. This vortex is then pushed downstream by the wind, away from the blades’ low pressure region; the wind continues to curl due to a law of angular momentum conservation. The tip vortices are major sources of turbulence that damage downstream turbines. Consequentially, tip vortex research can lead to improvements in the longevity of turbines in wind farms.
The picture to the right is a PSA to remind people to always use protection and filter. Gross, am I right? This week has been filled with me fiddling and peddling around the lab, sometimes in the dark due to the power outage that plagued the research labs and hospital facilities. There is a lab evaluation next week so I won’t have as much time to work on my project and write out as many quick notes and passages to you. It seems that when you need everything to work perfectly it breaks down and throws a tantrum. The HPLC and GC-MS, gas chromatography mass spec, machines are having quite a fit. It’s like the power outage woke up a bunch of cranky toddlers, and believe me, dear reader, they are not crib happy.
Summer snuck up behind me. Before I knew it, high school graduation was here, school was out, and with it, most of the students and teachers who normally populate the Bard Queens hallways I’ve roamed and reacquainted myself with.
One of the first things I was told to expect about the PSF project was to be ready for surprises, and to be ready to take things in stride. Even so, when the end of June approached, I panicked. I knew I couldn’t work in the lab without a supervisor, and knew that Julia would be leaving for China come the last week of school. I hadn’t begun working in the lab until the start of June, since working here required permission from the NYC DOE (bureaucracy has a funny way of stifling creativity). School duties (proctoring, chaperoning, etc.) kept Julia and Cindy busy for a few days, and migraine attacks kept me from the lab once they were back and ready to go. After working in the lab for two weeks, and a cumulative one-week absence, I found myself with a notebook full of ideas but no time left to act them out. I performed what I could and got ready to say goodbye, disappointed that June had come and gone with the wind.
Right before she left, Julia mentioned that Cindy, the lab teaching assistant, was willing to work with me over the summer. Still, she admitted that this rested on its acceptance by the powers that be. I gave her a gift, hugged her, said goodbye, and thanked her for all she had done for me. I waited. Then, ecstasy! Cindy said she would be in the lab, and that I was welcome to pass by anytime.
The unthinking college student might believe—having spent so much time in high school—that there is nothing more to learn there. Your intrepid author was not so quick to dismiss and got an inside look at the other side of the story.
It is early afternoon, and the overcast sky hangs heavily outside of the classroom window. A lone freshman stands with the whiteboard behind him, his slouching silhouette accentuated by the blinding glare of the projector. With an air of teenage detachment but the heart of a true citizen, he presents his research on Chris Christie’s scandal.
His classmates gravely weigh in on the controversy, their young minds heavy with the consequences of this political retaliation. The discussion is expertly guided by a figure that stands with a notepad at the back of the room.
This is Laura Paxson, bold and charismatic high school teacher. Her demeanor is stoic in the face of the tragedy that befell New Jersey bridge-crossers as their commutes were indefinitely delayed, but this is nothing compared to the questions that she will face when the bell tolls.
The students file out of the classroom jovially, excited to see their friends and family. Paxson’s work, however, is far from over. The transition is swift: one minute a history teacher, the next the president of the Lake Oswego teacher’s union.
There is no time to waste. Equipped with a heavy binder Paxson jumps in a sporty red car to hit the open road. Soothing but energetic tunes accompany her for the eight-minute journey to Oregon Education Association Headquarters. The Executive Board is gathering.
The Board is assembled in a conference room, munching pita chips as the anticipation builds. The small talk is engaging; these are not only colleagues but friends. Then, with authority and efficiency, Paxson calls the meeting to order. They look over the minutes from the last meeting and move to approve them. They quickly determine the state of the union’s budget, and then get down to business.
A teacher’s union has many projects, varying broadly in size and scope. Much of the meeting is spent discussing political action and how to mobilize the teachers to participate in lobbying activities that could improve the state of the education system. A ballot measure to decrease class sizes will need their support, for instance. They also plan to attend a convention for the improvement of education, where they will have conversations with politicians to gauge the candidates' dedication to the school system and influence their policy choices.
Suddenly the scope narrows: a single teacher was placed in an uncomfortable and difficult situation because the principal of the school did not prevent it. The tone in the room becomes grave as the executive board weighs their options for giving support to the teacher and making sure that the principal knows that such behavior is not acceptable. The teacher’s contract is referenced frequently, where their right to protection is stated clearly.
Another issue they faced was the possibility of a strike in Medford, because the local teachers’ contract is being violated. The Medford union asked for gestures of support, in the form of small quantities of money. This question will be brought up later in a larger meeting with representatives from all of the schools. There they will decide to send $100 to the Medford union as a symbol of solidarity.
The meeting draws to a close, but the President’s day is not yet done. Returning to the high school in her spicy red car, she presents the school board with a thank you card signed by the executive board of the union. It expresses their appreciation for the school board.
The differences between the school board meeting and the executive board meeting are stark. The school board discusses questions brought by community members, including the sheriff who wants a law that will allow him greater power in instances of underage drinking. The board discusses this seriously, but always with the winding tone of a philosophical question. The executive board, on the other hand, dealt with their many questions energetically, with one eye on the bureaucracy and the other on the people involved. The school board wondered at what they could do to abstractly “help the children” but the union’s executive board worked on actions that they could take to improve the individual well being of teachers, as well as the fate of the entire school system, with intense personal dedication.
Madeline Wagar ’16, Assistant Editor with Works & Days, interviewed John Hopson ’97, User Research Lead at Bungie Studios, a video game company based in Washington state.
Describe a typical day in your work.
There aren’t really typical days. Game development is a very cyclic industry. The early stages of coming up with ideas are very different from the final run up to ship a game. There is a whole cycle to development. Right now, we’re in the final crunch to ship Destiny (an intricate, interactive first-person shooter). We have people coming in to play the game in lab multiple times a week, and we are running data analysis on the statistics we gather every day. We just finished public alpha testing, so we had 500,000 people plugged in playing the game from home. We have lots of data from that. We surveyed several thousand participants to get their subjective opinions, and we will be analyzing that.
Figure 1. In-stream measurements at Russell Brook. Although picturesque, the stream is not very hospitable for rearing and migrating salmon.
The large woody debris project forges ahead here at the Mendocino Land Trust. Two weeks ago, I went into the stream at Russell Brook along with Doug (Big River Program manager) and Nicolet (Trails & Stewardship Coordinator). We walked the length of the project area (about a half mile) and took some basic stream measurements (Figure 1) that quantitatively describe the area and determine the baseline level of viable salmon habitat. Spoiler alert: it’s pretty low. Pools are infrequent and shallow, meaning that salmon don’t have good rearing habitat, and cannot rest during upstream migration. Water temperature is high, which poses a problem for these cold-water inhabitants. However, only a couple hundred feet up the stream, where large woody debris has already been installed, deep pools swell over the tops of waders (a bittersweet discovery).
The California Conservation Corps (CCC) has now begun the arduous process of hauling and anchoring huge logs in the stream according to detailed plans (Figure 2). I’ll get to see the crews in action in a couple weeks while conducting an inventory of the large woody debris that is in place.
Figure 2: Large woody debris plans developed by the California Conservation Corps.
Handkäse mit Musik
Pictured here is La Pequeña Flora, The Little Flower. It’s a church tucked away in a residential area that I happened upon. There are tons of old religious structures in San Antonio, I thought I would share my favorite one with you guys. Touring this was better than seeing the Alamo in my opinion. This week was quite eventful, with a human brain dissection and the chemicals for the ELISA kit I’m working on coming in. I also want to give a huge thank you to all of you sending me letters, the mailman here now knows me by my name due to the abnormal volume of mail I receive that isn’t just bills. As I finish off the final steps in the newest protocol (fingers-crossed) I wish the rest of you much luck with the projects and endeavors you’re tackling this summer. Let’s go Deutschland.
John Young '15, environmental sciences/history, was awarded a President's Summer Fellowship to "travel to and collect consular records from the British National Archives, the Royal Geographical Society, and the Natural History Museum in London, and then return to Reed in order to analyze and further chart the collecting habits and practice of natural history of the ornithologist Robert Swinhoe (1836-1877)."
Professor Douglas Fix tells me that one should have an excellent idea of what collections an archive holds long before one arrives at the archive’s reading room. A visit to collect documents, a perhaps seemingly pedestrian task, requires a large measure of pre-visit prep work.
More than I anticipated.
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.