Sunday, November 28, 2010

Check it out!

SURSCA Gala 2010!
The SURSCA blog just updated with details of the SURSCA Gala that I presented at a couple weeks ago.

One such detail is a picture of me in the most dire need of a haircut since I considered being vegetarian last year.

There are also things that are actually interesting to look at as well, particularly the quote of a quote (I'll just let you read it instead of quoting it yet again) of a CUR review team member that made me both surprised and proud. It's strange, I've been working almost a year as a researcher and I still had no idea of how impressive UWRF was regarding our research output. I wish I had known sooner.

So, do all your young college-bound lab-rats a favor and let them know that River Falls may not look like much, but underneath all the cinder block walls, leaky ceilings, and jack-hammer intensive rebuilds of the library entrances is a beastly capacity for research and learning.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What I'll be doing while my friends are freezing in the Midwest.

Did I mention that the average temperature in Taiwan is going to 70-80 degrees? It'll be like going to Florida, but with a purpose besides theme parks and binge-drinking.

I come bearing excuses! With the new departure and arrival dates, our old itinerary is no longer. Dr. Huang is now in the process of shifting things around, but we'll still be doing the same experiments and adventures we had planned on doing. My fiancĂ©e has been insisting that I write all these things down in some coherent manner, partly so that she can explain to her friends that I'm doing something besides "herbal stuff" and so that she can slap it on our Christmas card (our first one as a couple - I'm torn between pride and self-disgust) and make our relatives match their Christmas trees with envy. Or something else that's really humble.

So here is the general list of things that we will be doing in Taiwan, sans any details that don't really matter to anyone but my research group/team/squad/gaggle. Some of it was mentioned in earlier posts and some of it I'm forgetting and will just have to surprise you with.

Imagine this, only shorter, more demanding, and
less articulate.
We are leaving in the middle of Christmas Day. I just need to wrap my plane tickets in Charlie Brown comics and I'll have one of the best gifts ever. The plane should take us directly to Taiwan, right after a 3 hour layover in Japan. While it will be cool to be in Japan, being stuck in an airport for longer than an hour can be unpleasant. The last time this happened to me, I befriended a young man whose three years of age made him quite the adversary in a game of 


I'm not sure that game will work as well in a country where the toddlers don't speak English.

Chung Shan Medical University
Once we are in Taiwan, we have a couple of main projects. Foremost is the work that will be done in Taichung City with Dr. Yu at Chung Shan University and anti-aristolochic acid (AA) antibodies. We're hoping to take their ELIZA assay originally designed to detect AA in TCM products and adapt it so it can help us with our zebrafish/heart failure/Coolstuff projects.

With any luck, we'll gain a better understanding of what is happening in our heart failure model as well as in the drug (Coolstuff) I worked with over this past summer. Fun side note: I recently finished my research with Dr. Karl Peterson, and from what we can tell, C6 (the official arbitrary label for Coolstuff, but it doesn't sound sounds as nice) does not appear to bind with AA. This is great news, as that means that Coolstuff may eventually move out its parents' basement and become a successful drug for heart failure.

Project number two is a good one as well. We'll be working with a colleague of Dr. Huang's, Dr. Liu at Tunghai University, who is also in Taichung. She's lending us the use of her zebrafish lab so that we can test some TCM products on the zebrafish for effect on AA-induced heart failure. In addition, we'll be visiting some traditional medicine shops, learning traditional remedies from a colleague of Dr. Huang, and touring the School of Chinese Pharmaceutical Sciences and Chinese Medical Resources in Taichung. Being the CAM-nerd that I am, this part of the trip is super cool. I'm even working on a sort of field guide to help us figure out which plants are which and their uses at the latter school's garden. We'll be visiting other gardens and reserves as well, so it'll be nice to have some grasp of the mountain of information that is traditional Chinese herbalism.

Thar be Whales (NMMBA)
Project number three is in Kanting on the south end of Taiwan. It'll probably look like we're hanging out at the beach a lot, mostly because we will be. But, there is a reason besides my never having swam in the ocean before: I've also never collected algae samples form the ocean. Working with Dr. Sung at the National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium, we'll be collecting even more compounds from various aquatic sources to test on the zebrafish for effectiveness on heart failure. We'll get to learn how to use chromatography and how to fractionate mixed samples in the process, as well as how to snorkel and not drown. Should be fun.

Project number four is not really a project, but a general goal for myself and Dr. Huang. Dr. Huang wants to share as much of his country as possible, and I want to absorb as much of it as possible. This includes the language (which I have some training in already), the celebrations (we'll get to see the build-up to the Chinese New Year and then leave right before it happens - one of the few aspects of this trip I'm not happy with), bullet trains, architecture and especially the food. It's funny, but despite all the research and work, I'm pretty sure that Dr. Huang is most excited about seeing what kinds of crazy food he can get me and the others to eat. What's even moreso is that his wife felt the need to sit me down and warn me.

Dr. Huang, if you're reading this, I'm unto you and your dastardly plan. I also fully support it.

Basically, the only things lacking from the trip are that we'll miss the Chinese New Year and Dr. Huang and the others won't get very much time to prep for spring semester. Our return flight is scheduled to have us home on the 23rd of January. School starts the following day in all of its jet-lagged fury. I lucked out, as I'll be done with undergrad once I get back. I just get to try and find a job instead.

Friday, November 19, 2010

SURSCA Gala pt. 2

As promised, here is the low-down on the SURSCA Gala that I presented at last night.

For starters, it was fantastic. I can tell because my voice was shot from explaining my poster so many times. This is a very good thing. It means, in addition to me having my first chance to explain my work to other students, that there were people actually interested in the event. Actually, I think I'm just excited by the fact that there were people there at all. I probably would have been happy if a bus-full of catatonics showed up; I was just happy to actually present for once. Obviously, I've got a bigger picture in mind as well. Even if the students' interest was largely fueled by extra credit assignments that are assigned by every teacher on my campus who is involved in research, I'm not too upset. My school is very much a suitcase school, and it's a small miracle to get a large portion of the student body involved in anything that isn't graded or accompanied with some form of food. Honestly, that's a large part of the reason I get so excited when students do show interest in things like research or clubs. Underneath my socially-awkward and spaztic facade hides someone that actually gives a damn about these things. And a pocket protector.

Tim (Morris) 1
Speaking of giving a damn, did you know that the University of Wisconsin - River Falls (Hah! My school has a name now!) is known as a "power" of undergraduate research and scholarly activities? Neither did I until last night. For a school sometimes nicknamed, "Moo-U" this is a surprising turn of events. I didn't know this when I first came to UWRF, but apparently SURSCA (which is a student group led by the good-looking guy to the left) and the school administration have been really encouraging research and other scholarly activities on campus since 2003. 

This work appears to have paid off. Last year's NCUR, held in Missoula, Montana, saw a majority of students from UWRF. Technically, we were the third largest group there, but we also teamed up with other Minnesotan and Wisconsin schools to charter our own jet to get there.

Dr. Lyden
Don't quote me, but the jet may have been the idea of the guy beneath guy #1. Ironically, both are named Tim, although one has a Ph.D and would probably skin me alive if I ever forgot it. Considering all he's done for the college and for me possibly, I'd have to let him get away with it. On a more serious note, the work Dr. Lyden is doing with cell and tissue culture is mind-blowing. I've been blessed to work in the lab attached to his for almost a year now. While it kind of looks like a cross between a bomb-shelter and an attic, our labs tend to grow on you. Sometimes literally. For example, I get to borrow his equipment and contend with the severe weather alarm that he locks up at really inconvenient times (although these times are usually when most people are sleeping - late night research is fun).

I've also gotten to see all sorts of amazing projects.

Unfortunately, if I was responsible for IP theft in his lab, there 
would be no probabilities regarding how skinned I became, so I'll let you look it up on your own with the promise of awesome.

[As a small note, my fear for IP security is a large part of the reason I was so paranoid about using the actual name of the school/my proffessors/etc. earlier. I've got the rules worked out now, which is a relief.]

C. Hunter
Also, check out this guy's work. I spent the summer  working/befriending him, and it was time well spent. At least I think it worked out well, as we both seem to have inherited the "Really Big Dork" gene and were able to geek-out about far too many things together.
I'm also just really impressed by him. A few days before the SURSCA Gala, he returned from a research conference in Charlotte, NC with my P.I. Dr. Huang. I believe he has even gotten around to writing up a manuscript of his research, which can be a real bear of a task. Basically, you should keep an eye on him, for he is going places.

All tangents aside, the Gala was a great experience. If you didn't go, shame on you. Go next year. Please.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


I know that I said that I would post more about the trip tonight, but once again I must demonstrate how awesome I am when it comes to non-critical deadlines. Sorry folks, you're not quite a priority in comparison to my genetics exam.

I mean....I presented at the SURSCA Gala event tonight. With the exception of explaining my poster to the point where I'm going hoarse, it was great to share my work with people. Surprisingly, I think that I managed to keep a few people actually interested in what I had to say. I did not expect this, as I tend to go into a form of nerd-hypnosis when I talk about my research. Between making exaggerated hand gestures, commenting on how ridiculous said hand gestures are, and projecting my voice while talking to someone who is literally two feet away, I like to think that I'm probably really entertaining to watch from afar. Thankfully I was wrong tonight, or at least I think that's what smiles mean in a conversation.

Again, I apologize for the essentially "fluff" nature of this post. I'll put some meaty pictures/words of/about the Gala and Taiwan up when I get time this weekend. Scout's honor.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Something about my trip for once.

With less than a month to go, it looks like we have finally hammered out what all we will be doing in Taiwan. To be fair, the general itinerary has been well established for a couple of months, but we ran into some scheduling issues. Upon ordering the tickets, my PI found that we wouldn't be able to take the same flight that we had earlier thought. Instead, we had the choice of leaving a few days earlier (for a few hundred dollars more) or leaving in the middle of Christmas Day. Strangely, the two women who are joining us wanted to leave earlier, as doing so would give them more time to prep for the next semester upon returning home. I can see where they might have been concerned, but the first few days of semester are probably the best days to miss if you're going to miss any. Personally, I'm a cheap skate and don't have to worry about taking classes when I get back so I'm perfectly happy with my PI's decision to leave on Christmas day. My fiance' is also happy about it - she was Not a happy camper when I told her the original date we were leaving. I still think it's a pretty silly excuse to stimulate the economy and the size of our landfills, although I'm not about to complain about having more time to spend with loved ones.

Unfortunately, it's late. I had hoped to post some of the details of the trip itinerary, but it's late and I am deficient in coffee and professional writing skills. I wrote something along the lines of five different cover letters today while looking for work where ever I can beg for it, and for some reason the prospect of attempting to write much more coherent and proper word-age is making me a little nauseated. I'll get over it. I'm probably just sick of finding the balance between "boring" and "going to get me sued for slander".

 Stay tuned, for tomorrow holds the promise of caffeine and charisma.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Living life as a entropy-driven reaction.

My life is on the brink of defying the rules of thermodynamics. Somehow things keep getting more and more chaotic and exciting, but I don't see any signs of it slowing down. Eventually, everything should finally dissociate into complete disorder, but I'm apparently operating on cold-fusion now. It's both terrifying and amazing. The things people are capable of really astound me sometimes, even when I'm the one doing them.

What I'm trying get at is that I'm now applying to present at two new research conferences. One is this next Wednesday and is being held by SURSCA on my campus. I'm excited about it, having attended a few in the past, I now get to present my own work. The one thing that is unfortunate about it is that it's limited to the students on my campus. Granted, it will still be my first time presenting first undergraduate-oriented research convention, so I'm not complaining. I'll just make a million dollars one day and donate it to my school so it can become gigantic and awesome and such.
Until I win the lottery, I'm looking forward to the second conference a little more as it is much larger.And by large, I mean on the national scale. Assuming I'm acccepted, it looks like I am one of the lucky thousands of undergraduate researcher who gets to attend the annual National Conferences on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) meeting. It's being held at Ithaca University in New York this year. Normally this would be a bit of a hurdle, considering the currently taxed state of my finances. Being a college student and going  on a research trip to somewhere like Taiwan have a habit of shrinking whatever funds are available to me, apparently. This may be where the laws of thermodynamics plan to bring my life back into equilibrium, but the joke's on them. It I get accepted to NCUR, it's highly likely that I can get a scholarship covering travel costs and registration fees. Then I'll only have to pay for food, and while I admit that I enjoy eating a great deal, that won't nearly be expensive enough to prevent me from coming.

I have presented at a conference before, but it was very different from a normal conference. This past June, I presented my work from the summer at the annual WiSys Technology Foundation conference, which for the most part was great. They provided travel funds for almost every student who attended, however I'm not entirely sure why. By and large, the conference was geared towards connecting PhD's with entrepreneurs and really didn't address the undergraduate researchers in attendance. That is not to say that I didn't gain anything from going, on the contrary, I learned a great deal of things about intellectual property, biotech entrepreneurship, and more. While I didn't expect any of it, the most surprising and important thing that I learned was the value many people place in appearances and networking.

Beforehand, I had the opinion that a lot of the "professionalism" at conferences and in non-academic circles is mostly useless fluff. It took watching my more extroverted peers to show me the benefits of dressing up, small talk, and generally being able to talk about something besides the inflammation pathway in zebrafish. I'm still much more interested in what a researcher has to present, but I'm also keenly aware of the difficulty they'll have in convincing politicians, business people, and the general public that they have something worth saying. Unfortunately, most people like the smoke and mirrors of a presentation as much (if not more) than the actual content. Live, learn, and let lie, I guess.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Visit to Bastyr. Part 2

Just a heads up, I gave the last entry a nice face-lift. Some of what I'm writing about in this post was in the old post and some of what's in the old post wasn't there initially.

Back to Bastyr:
The herbalism lab was not the only thing that had me hooked on the school though, but it was the easiest to describe. It's much harder to explain the mentality of the staff and students there, but that was probably what influenced me the most. What really interested me was how much importance was given to balance and respect, both for people and their work, but also on a large scale. One example I already mentioned is the award-winning vegetarian cafeteria, although I was unable to sample the food from there and can't say much about it. An example that was more poignant to me was hearing about how the campus recognizes the contributions of everyone on campus. Even those who don't have a pulse. Bastyr actually hosts a day of activities to give thanks to the cadavers that they learn so much from. Year-round, there are multiple paintings made in the honor of the cadavers hanging on the walls. Those that are more musically inclined can offer up original songs or other projects. All in all, I thought it was a really good idea. You can say what you want about the deceased, but you can't deny that people would probably feel a lot better donating their bodies to a place that does stuff like this. I honestly would like to see this sort of thing all over, if only to serve as another reminder that patients are people and not just a biological box of problems and enzymatic reactions.

I probably should have prefaced the above by mentioning that I once planned on going into the funeral home business. That ended once I realized that the last thing I wanted to spend my life doing was managing the family of the recently deceased. Research is a lot more constructive and interesting.

Speaking of, Bastyr is one of the leaders in CAM research according to my guide on the campus visit. She was corroborated by the research posters that plastered the walls of the upstairs office level of the building. Not only was it encouraging to see so many projects, but also the diversity. I saw work involving everything from leukocyte cytokine expression to dietary survey data. No matter where your interests are, there is probably a research project at Bastyr you can get involved in. If not, you can apply for funding to start your own. That last bit actually had me skipping a little bit when I heard it. Luckily, looking at medical schools isn't like buying a used car and I didn't get 20% added onto my tuition right then and there.

Actually, they might have gotten away with it. When I geek out, I geek out HARD.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Visit to Bastyr. Part 1

My visit to Bastyr University was all kinds of interesting.

Getting to and from there was just as eventful as the actual campus. My fiance' and I rode the bus together to the school she was looking into, or what we thought was the right bus. The plan was then, after dropping her off, I would make my way to Bastyr. Simple enough, right? We thought so too, until we found that the first bus we boarded was travelling opposite the direction we wanted. By the time we had realized our mistake, it was no longer as simple a fix as waiting for the bus going the other way. Instead, we had to finagle our way back on track using our wits, charm, and sheer stupid determination. Luckily, my fiance' was in charge of the first two. I tend to monopolize the last one. There was also a great deal of running, rapid map reading, and confused locals. Between racing buses to their stops so as to not be completely late for our appointments, the rain, and the general feeling that the ground was falling out beneath us, I'm amazed that we even made it to our respective campus visits at all. All things considered, someone could have justifiably called the nice gentlemen with white coats to take us away.

Bastyr to the Birds.
As you might guess, I was a little too frazzled by the journey before to have a really good first impression of Bastyr. It's a pretty campus, to be sure, but there is something about spending three hours embattled with buses and an ever-increasing amount of time after when an appointment was originally supposed to occur that ruins one's appreciation for those sorts of things. Fortunately, I did not remain bitter for much longer. Bastyr was far too sweet.

The campus is tucked away in Kenmore, between Lake Washington to the St. Edward State Park - it apparently stays green year-round due to its location.

It's also fairly new. The grounds were originally built in 1959 as the home of a catholic seminary, however Bastyr moved in during 1996 and finally bought the place in 2005. Interestingly, the school was first established in 1978 in response to political problems that arose when the National College of Natural Medicine moving to Portland. It was also one of the first schools to be accredited by the Council of Naturopathic Education. There's more history to the place, but I've probably got a healthy dose of nerd-bias going on and will spare you. Unless you like it, for then I will embrace my nerdery and spew forth knowledge like a geysers of science and obsessiveness.

The Chapel.
I was surprised to find that everything except the new student dorms (which are mind-numbingly awesome and environmentally friendly) are contained in only one building. It kind of reminds me of the white city from The Lord of the Rings. The front archway is the main thing that does it, but the portions of hallways that are open to the air and walking inside of the acoustically perfect chapel also makes me feel like a hobbit. I would demonstrate this using photos, but I realized upon trying that you have to be there to understand. That, or my brain makes some really strange correlations. (Peanut Butter and Motor Oil anyone?)

Fun fact, the chapel often gets used by professional musicians from all over for recording purposes due to it's great acoustics. There is also a group on campus that routinely meets up to make music in there, which is all kinds of awesome in my book.

The Front Archways.
That aside, the parts of the campus that really mattered were also fantastic. From an educational perspective, you pretty much have to watch your step to keep from accidentally learning something. The walls are covered with various research projects and other informative posters, but ground has something to share as well. Bastyr has many great gardens, both decorative and medicinal, all over the grounds. From what I saw, most of it was labeled with not only the plant name, but what it was used to treat as well. The gardens are also organised by various systems, one had the plants grouped according to targeted organs while another used a Ayurvedic layout. One garden even has a reflexology pathway built into it. If it weren't raining, I would have given it a shot. It's essentially a bunch of pebbles set into a concrete pathway in a pattern, and from what my student guide was saying, people have a varied reactions to it. She wasn't a big fan of it, as it hurt her feet, but I still  look forward to my next dry-ish Seattle day to try it out.

Inside the main campus building, there are multiple rooms for all sorts of class work. I only saw one large lecture hall, the rest of the building seems to be devoted to either labs, professor offices, or the vegetarian cafeteria. All three blew my mind for various reasons. For starters, the labs were gorgeous. I can't even begin to express how much I would enjoy it if the majority of my classwork was outside the lecture hall and in labs like those. Everything looked well-taken care of, shiny, and respectable. I wish I had some pictures to show them off better. The one that stands out in my mind is the food medicine lab, which is basically a very modern home ec room with science oozing out of it's pores, but no one yelling, "BAM" every once in a while. It's also painted red, if that helps any.

I also got to see the herb sciences lab where they were making tinctures with St. John's Wart to use at the clinic that Bastyr runs. Not only was it fun to chat with the herbalism students, who I must say I'm extremely jealous of (they're learning the stuff as undergrads!), but it was like walking into a room that I have wanted to make in my house for the past five years. There were all sorts of plants and tubers drying from the ceiling, as well as every plant part you could think of lining the walls in jars. The best part was the smell though. Imagine a cross between silage and honey, only better (because it's real) and you have the herb lab.

To be continued!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Subscription Madness.

After figuring out that following a blog on blogspot doesn't actually mean you get notified if there is a new post, I've fixed it. At least, I think I have. There is a sparkling new "Subscribe" button that will let you set up your favorite feed aggregator. If this doesn't work, I'll probably break down and just harass people's email accounts when ever I update. If anyone has any tech-savvy suggestions, I'm all ears.

Once I finish my sizable to do list, I promise to post more details about the itinerary for Taiwan. I might even be able to sneak some stories about visiting schools on the west coast as well, but that will depend on how much awake I have left in me.