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.

Antwerp Central Railway Station
Also, there was an instance when I was describing my work to some friends from IMEC. They were curious about the growth media I use to culture hippocampal neurons. My response was more or less, “It’s kind of like Kool-Aid, only probably not quite as tasty.” Seeing their blank expressions, I immediately realized they had no idea what Kool-Aid is. Aside from the differences, we all seem to share a common interest in much of the types of music and TV series we enjoy.

One of the things I enjoy the most about Belgium is the sheer beauty of the country, from its historic architecture to the numerous parks, pastures, and forests scattered through and around the city. So far, I’ve had the chance to visit Brussels, Ghent, and Antwerp. Each city, while similar in many respects, has something that makes it special. I especially liked Gent because it contains beautiful relaxing scenery yet retains the bustling lively big city feel.

While I have been afforded many opportunities to travel, the primary reason for my visit to Leuven is for work. Working at IMEC has been a very pleasant and fruitful experience so far. I recently finished designing a photolithography mask that will allow us to generate nanotopographically patterned substrates on which we will grow cardiac muscle cells.

Lys River seen from St. Michaels Bridge at Ghent

The Ghentse neus, which translates into English as the Ghent nose, a traditional candy.
These patterned surfaces control how heart cells organize into a collective tissue. The idea is that we can organize the tissue in different ways and study how this effects propagation of an electric signal through the tissue. Aberrations in the propagation of an electric signal are the source of cardiac disrhythmias. Having these tools at our disposal will surely enhance our understanding of different heart conditions and lead to more effective therapies.



















Blog post by Tyler Tomita, PhD Student, Levchenko Lab; Department of Biomedical Engineering
The Johns Hopkins University

All photos by Tyler Tomita.

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