Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The past and present collide in Leuven

During the summer of 2012, I was lucky enough to make a quick visit to IMEC to start a project with Evelien Mathieu, a Ph.D. student at IMEC. Last April, Evelien visited JHU and the lab of my adviser, Dr. Konstantinos Konstantopoulos, to learn techniques to study cell migration.

Now, the collaboration continues, and I am back in Leuven. We are working on combining a microfluidic device that we use to study cell migration with exciting imaging technologies being developed at IMEC.

IMEC is located adjacent to the Arenberg campus of KU Leuven, the largest university in Belgium. This photo is of Castle Arenberg, which amazingly was built in the sixteenth century and now houses the KU Leuven Faculty of Engineering.

In the photo, you can see IMEC's newest addition, a modern glass tower, which is still under construction, rising in the distance. I think the photo is a good symbol for my research project for the summer. Scientists have been studying cell migration for many years, but there is still a lot to learn. With our work at IMEC and JHU, we will build on the work of the past to make the study of cell migration more efficient and more productive. I'll keep you updated on how we're doing.

Blog post by Colin Paul, a doctoral student in the chemical and biomolecular engineering laboratory of Konstantinos Konstantopoulos

Photo by Colin Paul.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Not so different after all

Having never been to Europe, I didn’t really know what to expect. I find that although there are a few cultural differences between Americans and Europeans from different countries, there are also many things we have in common. One of the major differences is in the foods found here. For instance, peanut butter only began showing up in European supermarkets around 10 years ago and is still not very popular.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Summer life in Leuven, Belgium

Before I came to Leuven, I only knew a very old and famous school, KU Leuven and IMEC, where I am working for the summer. What was my first thought about Leuven? Some might say it is a historic city; some might say it is just a college town; and some might say it has the largest brewer group on the world. In fact, all of these statements are correct. I didn’t realize how beautiful the city was until I arrived.

Interuniversity Microelectronic Centre (IMEC), is located in Heverlee, which is the neighborhood of Leuven. It takes about 10 minutes to bike from IMEC to the city center of Leuven. So, you know you are not going to work at a place that is in the middle of nowhere.

My work at IMEC is trying to do single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) detection with digital droplet PCR. With advanced microfluidic techniques, hundreds of droplets can be generated within a minute. And each of the droplets can play as a single reactor. By doing droplet PCR, you can simply improve the conventional PCR and use it as a potential diagnostic tool.

Besides work, there are a bunch of activities you can do here. If you are academic, KU Leuven is probably the place you cannot miss. It is the largest and oldest Catholic university in Belgium.

If you like music, you would definitely like to go to the event called “Beleuvenissen” in July. There are many different bands from different regions performing their style of music from Friday to Sunday throughout the month of July.

If you enjoy historical architecture, the town hall and Grand Beguinage are the most popular sites in Leuven. They are both several hundred of years old and are still preserved very well. Grand Beguinage is one of the World Heritage Sites.

Working here this summer is a very special experience in my life.

Blog post by Wei-Chiang Chen, a doctoral student in the chemical and biomolecular engineering laboratory of Denis Wirtz.

Here are a few photos taken so far. All photos by Wei-Chiang Chen:

Beleuvenissen music fest

Castle Arengerg, KU Leuven

Library at KU Leuven

Monday, June 17, 2013

IMEC: Take Two (Peter Nelson)

Welcome to IMEC!
This is the second summer I've spent at IMEC working to further the research I do at Hopkins, so I've got a pretty good grasp at how life in Leuven runs. It has been very refreshing to return to Belgium and see all the old sights again. I don't feel pressured to run around Belgium and Europe, taking tons of pictures because, well, I've already done that. My focus this summer (culture-wise at least) is to relax and experience Belgian culture, instead of just observing it (which happens when you are in a rush all the time).

Getting back into the gist of things at IMEC has been quite easy. I didn't have to do nearly as much training as I did last year, so I got quick access to the labs I need to use. Unfortunately, I have to wait a while to make the hydropolymers that are essential to my project (missing synthesis component), however, I've been completing some nanoparticle characterization tests and figuring out the best way to test the gels when I can finally make them. Basically I get to sit in a room using a laser for large parts of my day, which is awesome, because, you know, lasers...

I'm still working on my Dutch, but I'm pretty sure this says "No Admittance, Laser Sharks," but I could be wrong.
Other than that, things have been quiet at work. I'm mainly waiting to receive one last component so I can start synthesizing composite gels, but I have lots of smaller tests that I can (and have been) doing in the mean time.

One thing that I've been trying to do (note the emphasis) is learn some Dutch this time around. I don't think I'll really use it much in conversation because I have yet to meet someone (in Flanders) who doesn't speak English better than I will probably ever speak Dutch. Even so, it's nice to actually know what people are saying, what warnings the signs have, and most importantly, what I am actually buying at the grocery store. So far, I haven't learned anything that is very practical, but I've got some basics down (like asking what someone is doing, where something is, and how many keys there are), so if you ever need me to ask a Dutch/Flemish speaker (who doesn't speak English) how many keys there are, I'm your man (as long as their answer is less than 12...I haven't officially learned any numbers higher than that). As you can probably tell, I'll be fluent in no time at all.
I'll update again when I get my research rolling and when I can count higher than twaalf. 

Until next time!
Blog post by Peter Nelson

Friday, September 7, 2012

Exciting research plus travel adventures

Nicolas Barbera at Bruges Monastery
While the research I undertook at IMEC gave me valuable experience with imaging techniques and cellular science, the most rewarding part of my time abroad was the travel opportunity. Before my time at IMEC, I had never been to Europe. As you can guess, I tried to make the most of my ten weekends, visiting a different city each time, including Paris, Berlin, Barcelona, Bruges, and Antwerp.

For me, each city was an adventure. The fun was not only in seeing all the different and amazing sights (of which there were a ton), but in learning to navigate and explore cities where the language spoken isn’t English. This was especially true for the food. Some of my fondest memories include finding an out-of-the-way burrito shop in Barcelona, a doner kebap shop on the streets of Berlin, and my first time ordering in a Belgian restaurant.

One thing that really struck me about Europe was the architecture. So many of the cities I visited had markets and streets with buildings dating back hundreds of years, something you don’t get to see in America. (The closest thing for me would be some of the older sections of New York City, but even those are relatively young by European standards.) Needless to say, a large portion of my photo album consists of the various facades and buildings I came across in my travels. This includes churches: I explored and photograph dozens of them all over, each one a work of art.

While the travel opportunities I had were my favorite part my time at IMEC, I can’t discount the research experience. Being able to work in a lab like IMEC was great for both building my lab skill set and acquainting me with a working culture different from the ones found in Hopkins labs, things that will come in handy after graduating.

All in all, I’d say my time abroad was a worthwhile experience for my personal life as well as my professional one.

Blog post by Nicolas Barbera

More photos follow!
Checkpoint Charlie

First steps in the Mediterranean

Entrance to la Sagrada Familia

Hopping the Berlin Wall

Monday, August 27, 2012

Touring Belgium

Town Hall.
Of course, I had to see some sights while in Europe. It was a lot of fun walking around the historic city center in Leuven. Their city hall is beautiful, with detailed sculptures all the way up the walls.

I also made it to Brussels for a long weekend before flying home. I took a tour of the city by bike and stopped in the park for some freshly cooked escargot. I might not add it to my regular menu, but I couldn't pass up giving it a try.

Working in an international environment was an experience that I believe will be helpful as my career develops. Seeing how people work in different labs, usually with varying goals and environments, was interesting.

Bike tour.
It was encouraging to have the group coalesce around innovative ideas. Hopefully, we will soon start a project looking at why some cancer cells migrate away from a primary tumor while others are more or less stationary. Contributing to our understanding about how metastasis occurs could help prevent cancer deaths in the future.

Blog post by Colin Paul

What is IMEC?

The Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology (INBT) International Research Experience for Students (IRES) program began in 2009. INBT’s IRES program, funded by the National Science Foundation, allows students to collaborate with researchers from Hopkins and The Inter-University MircroElectronics Centre (IMEC) in Leuven, Belgium.

Students work at IMEC’s world-class microfabrication facility and learn to design, fabricate and test chip-based platforms and integrated microelectronic systems for biomedical applications. The goal of the program is to help students gain a broader, global perspective of science and technology.

But what is IMEC? Here is a video explaining many of IMEC's capabilities and research projects.

Blog post by Mary Spiro