Friday, July 13, 2018

Buckling Down - Rayyan Gorashi

On paper, 10 weeks seems like a lengthy amount of time. When you’re physically placed in that time setting, days seem to go by in a matter of minutes. Last Monday, July 3rd, marked one month until our final presentations on our work throughout the summer. For me, that meant putting my timeline into perspective in that I may only have 3 or 4 experiments left to conduct. Luckily, from this week onward, I’ll be able to employ Thomas’s (my supervisor) “lens-free imaging” technique. In the photo you can see the set up in the incubator: it consists of a coherent light source (in this case, a laser light), a sample (the well plate), and a sensor. When the coherent light is shone through the sample, the sensor detects and documents the diffraction. For our experiments, this imaging technique is used to monitor the beating frequency of the cardiomyocytes at incubator temperature. We took some preliminary measurements yesterday so that I could get accustomed with the software before taking more next week.

The incubator setup for lens-free imaging.   
Outside of imec, the other interns and I spent the past two weekends in Paris and Amsterdam. Paris was everything my high school self could have imagined. I even remember my French teacher, Monsieur T., telling us about the stores in Paris having the word “SOLDES” on the windows and how that meant “sale” and not “sold.” Aside from the nostalgia, the famous sites in Paris were all too much to take in in just 48 hours. It’s one thing to look at pictures of historical places and structures, but it feels like a completely different realm when those historical places and structures are right before your eyes. I remember walking down the street towards the Eiffel Tower, when it peeked out from the tops of the trees. I could discern such detail in the metal curvature despite my distance. I don’t think I will ever forget that moment. Spending nearly half a day (and still not being able to finish the exhibits) at the Louvre was also quite memorable. Not only were the exhibits incredible, but the architecture of the building’s interior was beautiful. I happened to run into a friend from JHU in the Ancient Egyptian exhibit - he’s in Paris for a research fellowship. 

The following weekend was spent in Amsterdam: the city of canals and bikes. The canals added a maze-like feel to the city because no matter how far we had walked or where our destination was, everything looked identical - from the positioning of the parked bikes to the boats leisurely floating in the water. Amsterdam was filled with more museums, sightseeing, and unexpectedly delicious Dutch pancakes.

 Enjoying a tasty ginger and apple Dutch pancake!

A bridge view of one of the many canals in Amsterdam.

Despite how exhilarating the thrill of being in a new city is, the next few weekends will be spent in Belgium. On Saturday, Belgium will have a chance to redeem itself against England for a 3rd place title in the World Cup. The following weekend, my research group CTT (Cell and Tissue Technologies) will be having its CTT Weekend retreat in the Ardennes!

Bacterial Adventures - Jaynie Criscione

I can’t believe that I’ve been in Belgium for six weeks now. It’s easy to forget how much you do in a week. I have come to appreciate the quick transition between urban landscape to rural landscape, the A4+ paper (slightly longer than A4 paper in the US), ordering Amazon packages from Amazon Germany, and using Blablacar, a carpool sharing app (like a long distance Uber) with super-cheap travel prices.

For my research, I am working with E. coli bacteria and studying the extracellular matrixes they form, called biofilms. Biofilms are known to be especially antibiotic resistant. Though you might think biofilms are a homogeneous layer like slime, that is, they are composed of one material, they are actually heterogeneous, which means they are composed of many kinds of materials. The heterogeneity gives different parts of the biofilm different functions, similar to organs.
Part of my research is performing impedance assays on biofilms to detect the changes in electrical impedance due to the heterogeneity of the biofilm. I began to explore another concept these past few weeks using two separate strains of E. coli. One strain of E. coli is the wild type, or one that is found in nature. The other strain of E. coli is a mutant of E. coli that does not form biofilms.

I am investigating the behaviors of these E. coli two strains when they are cultured or grown together. Due to the strength of biofilms, you might assume that the wild type (biofilm forming) strain would outcompete or overtake the mutant (non-biofilm forming) strain. In fact, literature suggests the opposite. Under starvation conditions, the mutant strain has been shown to outcompete the wild type strain. Why? Possibly because the wild type strain depletes its resources and nutrients to create a biofilm, while the mutant strain is able to take advantage of the pre-existing biofilm without expending the energy to build it.
Outside of the lab, I traveled to Paris and Amsterdam in consecutive weekends. Both are cities with heavy tourism, which was definitely a downside. I had trouble discerning the cultural atmosphere in each country because of the tourism, but I still saw fantastic historic architecture and extensive museums.

In Paris, I tried pate for the first time and it was surprisingly delicious! We arrived late on Friday evening, but ended up going to an outdoor techno concert in the park. Though I’m not necessarily a techno fan, the strobe lights actually made the atmosphere really cool. The next day, I met my friend from Hopkins and had pate for lunch. We ended up attending the European MD-PhD conference at the Imagine Institute and listened to a talk about cancer. That evening, I went to fondue with Dante and Arik in a restaurant that served beverages out of baby bottles!

In Amsterdam, all of the interns went and a few friends from Hopkins. We went to the Van Gogh museum and the Rijksmuseum. Everything in Amsterdam was open late, unlike the other cities we’ve visited. Rayyan and I ate huge pancakes and sampled gouda at all of the cheese shops. Amsterdam is crisscrossed with canals and gorgeous bridges.

View of one of the canals in Amsterdam

Unfortunately, Belgium did not make the finals of the world cup and fell to France 0-1. The third place game will be on Saturday, and hopefully Belgium can take down England again! The next two weekends I will be spending in Belgium--possibly Ghent and Antwerp, and then Les Ardennes with CTT (my lab group). Thanks for reading!

Celebrating Belgium's win over Japan in round 16 in the Oude Markt in Leuven.

Dante and Arik take a break after lunch everyday to play foosball in the Java Cafe at imec.

Sipping coffee in the Java Cafe at imec