Sunday, January 16, 2011

Taiwan - Southern Taiwan and Kenting (Pt.2)

Good news. The Gilman scholarship finally got transfered to me today, so the UWRF financial aid office isn't about to have my thumbs broken. Hooray for non-cement shoes!

This trip has been an exercise in, if nothing else, flexibility. Almost none of the specifics details have gone exactly according to plan. Either we've had to do some things later than others and bump ahead a few things, or we've had to skip some plans altogether. It's unfortunate, but what can we do but make the best of it? Besides, being able to bend has given us a few happy surprises as well. One man's flat tire is another's sudden excuse to hike a mountain trail.
The guy showing us around, Tony, handled it pretty well.
We're back in Taizhong for a few days, but there's still a lot to be said about the past week. Looking at it now, I realize that we spent the entire week in or around the NMMBA in Kenting. There was never a moment when the sea wasn't within earshot or visible through a window. I miss it now. Unfortunately, the weather wasn't good for us to go swimming or snorkeling. If you look at the last post, you'll see that I did manage to scare Tony and Dr. Huang by flipping off the ocean.
The gymnastics actually started with cartwheels. It ended with my first b-twist.
Our tourism was very welcome after the time we spent in the NMMBA labs. Tony (for the record, one of the kindest men in Taiwan and I wish him and his soon-wife all the best) took the week off from his normal experiments to babysit Kenna, Kathryn, and I while we learned some of the basics of column chromatography and NMR spectroscopy. With the exception of the NMR, everything was pretty straightforward once we got over Tony's accent and my tendency to either project my voice or slur my words and speak to quickly. Things would have been even easier if he'd used a picture book to explain the process: chopping up a frozen sample of soft coral, extracting anything that might be interesting with methanol, and then loading the crude extract into a silica-powder column isn't that hard. Setting up the column was mostly just annoying after we'd gotten the TLC pre-runs done to identify the proper solvent mixture. (For the confused: a column is like a big series of filters for mixtures of chemicals. TLC is like a very small column that is often used to figure out how the column should be set up) Working with Silica powder, along with having the family-friendly trait of never leaving your lungs if you're unlucky enough to inhale it, is very similar to taking a toddler to the grocery store. It likes to go everywhere except where you want it. 
Science and fashion aren't friends, but my lungs aren't perforated with glass now either.
The NMR made packing the column look like a piece of cake. It's like reading Lewis Carrol's EKG. Luckily, we were assisted by another Dr. named Siu who was also extremely kind, if somewhat difficult to talk to. I tried my hardest to remember what I already knew and to interpret Dr. Siu's hand gestures and sparse English, but organic chemistry is pretty traumatic to begin with. Hopefully Kenna and Kathryn got something out of Dr. Siu's and my teamwork.
They were like biological lawnmowers.

I call him "Lefty".
Another person at the NMMBA that I should mention is Jo. Our first day, she showed us the tanks where she and her coworkers culture the coral and fish specimens the NMMBA collects. Imagine a cross between a farm and an aquarium all inside of a building the size of baseball field. There were tanks with jellyfish, non-jelly fish, coral, algae, sea snakes and so much more. For whatever reason, they provided a home for injured or damaged animals until they could be set free or cremated.  This included a couple of horses that used to be used to make antibodies to snake venom and now spend their time wandering all over the campus. There were also sea turtles, which are about entirely larger than you would expect them to be. 
Jo pointing out the coral farming to Dr. Huang.
Anyways, back to Jo. She was supposed to take us snorkeling, but with the weather instead showed us how coral can be fluorescent and how coral reproduces. (PIC) When we went out for dinner and drinks with Dr. Siu and his researchers, she also demonstrated her superior dog-wrangling skills. Along with three other people in the back seat of the car, they fought valiantly to keep their poodle Yummy from scrabbling into the front seat. It was some good fun, and a nice addition to my conversation on traveling with another one of the researchers named James.
Blacklights: Not just for raves anymore.
Next update: More of the NMMBA aquarium, more exploring beaches, more awesome people and jellyfish stings.

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