Friday, June 19, 2015

Settling in

It's been around 10 days since I had arrived in Belgium and I'm really getting the hang of things now. I was lucky in that I arrived here with Gwen (Hoffmann) so we were able to figure out the logistics and administrative details within the first few days together. Wisteria, the dorm I'm staying at, is super nice; since I'm in the studio, I have my own bathroom and kitchen in it (a big upgrade from my freshman dorm). But, even with my own stove and oven, I find myself going to the common kitchen occasionally to meet with the other people - students from other countries like the Netherlands, India, and Germany - who are also working at IMEC.

There are two things that are noticeably different here in Belgium. First, people bike everywhere! I went into the City Centre in Leuven, which is incredibly gorgeous, and it was the first time I've ever seen that many bikes at once. Luckily, everything is close together (all the necessary stores and shops are easily within 10 km) so riding a bike is actually a really nice change in pace from driving. The other thing I've noticed is the sun sets at 10:30 p.m. and rises way before 6 a.m. Because of this, the first day I wasn't able to sleep in as the sun came and woke me up bright and early at 5:30 in the morning.

At IMEC, I'm working on microfluidic, digital droplet PCR (ddPCR). Like qPCR, it amplifies the DNA to exponentially greater volumes in a relatively short amount of time. Unlike qPCR, amplification is done in tiny droplets which makes the entire process a lot faster. The project itself is very different from what I'm learning at Hopkins, so I had to spend some time reading articles and figuring out the general process, but I've learned a lot over the past 10 days! My mentor, Rodrigo, is wonderful and super helpful and the topic itself is really interesting, so I'm expecting many fun days during my stay here.

---Rachel Bang

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