|Rachel Bang & Gwen Hoffmann|
The past week and a half has been a whirlwind of exploring, trying new things, training and learning. I’ve enjoyed being in Leuven and working at imec so far. This is my first time coming to Europe, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.
Last weekend I focused on exploring Leuven and the surrounding area. By now, I feel like I have a better idea of how the city is laid out, so I can spend less time staring at maps and more time enjoying the pretty architecture and the laid back atmosphere of Leuven. On Saturday, there was a farmers market in the city center, where I enjoyed a speculoos tart. Speculoos is a spiced shortbread cookie (similar to gingerbread) popular in Belgium and the surrounding area. Other than the farmers market, we went to see the botanical gardens and explored the interior of Universiteitsbibliotheek, which is the central library of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KU Leuven). Inside the library we found spiral staircases, a magnificent reading room, and a small archeological exhibit called “Beyond the Grave”.
On Sunday, I decided to explore the area surrounding Leuven by biking to Park Abbey and Horst Castle. Both were beautiful buildings surrounded by serene lakes and woods. The bike ride to get to these places was enjoyable. The countryside outside of Leuven is mostly rolling hills and farmland. Horst Castle is a medieval castle that was pretty from the outside, but unfortunately fairly empty inside the building.
At imec, I began to learn the procedures I will be using over the next two months after completing all the necessary safety trainings. I will be working on droplet digital polymerase chain reaction (ddPCR). In ddPCR, the PCR reaction mixture is split into many tiny droplets in oil, each containing one or zero strands of DNA to be amplified. Using this method, we can detect DNA fragments at much lower concentrations than is possible with standard qPCR. I learned about PCR in the class Molecules and Cells at Hopkins, but now I am looking forward to gaining a deeper understanding of ddPCR and helping to improve the method!