The Museum of Art

Santa Barbara is not Los Angeles or New York, but we've got our own Museum of Art! Some of the works are 1500 years old or even older. The pieces are a mixture of roman sculptures, oil paintings (mainly realism and upcoming impressionism) and modern art, e.g. some weird "images" of geometric circuits which are supposed to represent our modern electronic age. They're really colorful and parts of it are made of small latex beads.

The Museum of Art in Santa Barbara.

I got free admission and a free, short and highly interesting tour where we learned that the transition from wood to canvas for painting was a revolution - it was a lot cheaper and easier to handle. Also, a US-American invented the oil paint tubes, another milestone. Otherwise, the paints always had to be freshly mixed before painting!


DNA origami

I get about five e-mails per day which announce a talk supported by the Physics Department, the Department of Mechanical Engineering, the Department of Biomechanical Science and Engineering and so on. So there's a lot going on and the talks are usually highly interdisciplinary which makes them super interesting. We've got an institute for theoretical physics next door which is a great input for all kinds of modeling ideas (e.g. I attended a talk yesterday about theory of mechanical properties for thin elastic sheets).

DNA origami (wikipedia).

Today Prof. Tim Liedl from the LMU in Germany presented his research about "DNA origami" which is indeed about looking at DNA parts as LEGO blocks and connecting them in a way that you can build a lot of different structures. It was especially exciting to see that it's possible to program shapes (e.g. a smiley) and the DNA assembles into exactly this shape and not into some random configuration. To achieve this, short DNA strings are coded so that the only have one partner for a certain sight.

That's one of the points why DNA is so cool and often used in labs. It's not only easy to handle and to buy, it can be programmed which can become to the structure shown in the image above. Here, the biological function is not interesting at all, but still it's the stuff we are made of and it's got a huge amount of interesting properties.


How to SUP

SUP = stand-up paddling - or as I did it last Saturday when I learned it: SUBP: super uncoordinated board pushing. It's quite a challenge to get a board as the size of a surfboard into the water when the waves push you back all the time. Once you're out there it's fantastic! The idea is to stand on a board with a long paddle and just bob up and down.

SUPs at the "excursion park" (the Excursion Club teaches SUP/kayaking/surfing/... and has all kind of equipments to rent for members - it's all free after 60$/year membership fee).

Standing up for the first time is hard, but getting on your knees is way easier. The paddling is non-trivial as well since you should not move your arms a lot, but your body to transfer force from you to the board. Every time I made a stroke, my board turned a bit into the other direction; but I think I'll just practice. Especially the sunset and sun rise seem to be made for SUPping!


How to store proteins

Proteins prefer a really cool place to be store: That's -80°C in our lab. So we've got a "fridge" which make this temperature, anther one at only -40°C and an actual fridge-like looking fridge at about 4°C. Today, we got fresh tubulin (a protein which makes up microtubules, which I am working with) from a lab on campus and we had to transport it from there on dry ice to our lab into the super cold freezer. (It felt really exciting to walk with a large styrofoam box around campus carrying the tubulin ;))

When I arrived in our lab, I couldn't simply put the tubulin into a small container and then into the fridge. I froze the container first (paper box below) and had to freeze smaller Eppendorf tubes (small tubes in the picture below) to make sure the tubulin does not thaw when I transfer it. Any thawing makes the tubulin less good at polymerization so we try to avoid it.

Some tubulin arrived in tiny spheres and I had to shift these -80°C cold spheres into new containers which are also super cold. I had to take a break during the procedure to feel my finger tips again ;)


Art in science

We try to make microtubules in vitro and under certain conditions it works and sometimes it doesn't depending on... well, probably the age of the protein we use, but a lot of other factors we don't know.
However, with the right color scale we can get colorful images - unfortunately non of them is what we're looking for ;)


Country dancing ball

On Saturday, I attended my first country dancing ball which is a lot different to the ballroom dancing balls I am used to. The dancing hall itself was a ballroom hall (yay!) and had a great wooden floor which was really elastic. Country dancing happens in two long lines: Women start on one side, men on the other - that's called "proper", anything else is "improper" ;)) and you have a partner who's standing directly in front of you and a neighbor, so in total you're four and the figures are usually for four people and involve a lot of symmetry (that's good for physicists!).

Ballroom hall with stage and live band for the ball.

Most of the music comes from the 16th or 17th century and the dances are written exactly for a particular piece of music (so if you dance "Trip to Amsterdam", then this is the name of the dance which is directly connected to a song with this title). Since the figures you dance are periodic, but consist of up to ten smaller figures, there's a caller who calls what you're going to do next. But after about three repetitions everybody could memorize the steps at the ball and the caller stopped shouting, so we could listen to the music.



So far, I was doing research with other people's data by analyzing it (image processing, finding some equations, ...). But now I work on my own project and take data myself which is a totally different experience!

I am supposed to make a microtubuli on my own under certain conditions and there are quite a few papers about it, so I read them and wrote a protocol for the experiment (a protocol is similar to a cooking recipe; it tells you which amounts to take for which time under such and such conditions).

However, I tried the protocol twice and I didn't really see what I wanted when I looked at my "microtubuli" under the microscope (some of the ingredients were nicely separated etc...). Unfortunately, there are so many factors which could have caused the polymerization of the tubulin (the protein, microtubuli are made of) to fail. One of them might be the high sensitivity of proteins to freezing and re-freezing again. We'll just have to try it with "fresh" tubulin. I mean, it's great do my own experiments, but it's also a bit frustrating because nearly nothing works the first time you do it...

But we're lucky: Tubulin itself is hard to extract from cells and usually really expensive - but we've got a group on campus who're producing tubulin and we just can ask them for some ;)



It's getting close to 25°C every day and more and more people get to campus with their bike. I always thought this phenomenon is typical for Göttingen because it's a town full of students, but it's the same here (though we're in the US and you don't exist if you don't possess a car!).

However, the normal bike does not have mud protectors so it's easy to see if somebody rode their bike on a rainy day. And bikes usually don't have lights because there's no reason to go when it's dark... mmh...

There's still a 8$ fee per day if you want to park your car (if you don't have a monthly/yearly pass). So biking becomes saving money in this case as well :)


Peanut butter culture

When I was in Germany, I didn't understand, why people would be crazy about peanut butter. I was convinced it's unhealthy, sticky, tasting weird and simply unnecessary. But since I thought I should adjust to the culture and give peanut butter a fair chance to compete with strawberry jam, I tried one and it wasn't too bad. I figured out, that crunchy peanut butter is really cool and that some of them are over-sugared and some just oil. (A year ago, I was confused how you could think of different kinds of peanut butter; I thought there is just one or maybe two.)

As it had to happen I bought a peanut butter I didn't like and could barely eat (too much sugar...). So I made peanut butter cookies - I didn't have to add sugar because peanut basically contains everything ;)

And indeed, the healthiness of peanut butter is a controversial topic. It has a really high calory-density (600kcal/100g; butter: 700kcal/100g) and even these calories are mostly fat (and sugar). But since there are nuts in there, it contains some proteins - that's how I justify it to myself.


Lab books

It's common to write notes about experiments, your steps in data analysis, results etc. into some kind of notebook, also called lab book. Some people keep a book for notes separately (which becomes something like a scratch book, so you just sketch ideas and if it works out it gets promoted and appears in the lab book).

One of my lab book pages.

Right now, I've got three lab books because one is the beginning of the sea urchin project, another one continues it and there's a third for the microtubuli project. For the sea urchins I mainly processed images, but for the microtubuli I do experiments myself which is really exciting because I can actually see science and hopefully control it ;)