Life in the Lab: Hot air balloons, photo shoots, and ‘Wan’s Wings’

Life in the Lab: Hot air balloons, photo shoots, and ‘Wan’s Wings’

Posted by: on August 3, 2015   |Comments (0)|Walsh Fellows

air 1Hi everyone,

So, we didn’t end up going to The Capital Grille. Something much, much better came along. A group of us spontaneously went to a hot air balloon festival. The South County Hot Air Balloon Festival is an annual event in Kingston, Rhode Island, complete with hot air balloons, carnival rides, shopping, and a BBQ contest. I was determined to get in a balloon for the sake of marking it off my bucket list, but by the time the balloons were in the air, we were distracted by the carnival games. Also, the clown balloon was actually kind of terrifying.

The carnival, however, was a major success. My friend Nicole (from Dr. William’s lab) and I went on the pirate ship and another ride that made us want to throw up, while the others played carnival games. One of the researchers who works for Dr. Richardson, John, managed to win four prizes. Four. Without his glasses. One of those prizes included a giant banana. We’re not entirely sure how he managed to do that. We think it was witchcraft despite the fact that our inner scientists know that witchcraft isn’t real. Our outer scientists aren’t convinced.

Back in the lab, the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry decided to have a photoshoot to get pictures for the PC website.  I put on a lab coat for the first time the entire summer and did research in front of the camera. I also pretended like I was doing research in front of the camera when Max was doing the work. Don’t worry, Max got his 15 minutes of fame, too. He wasn’t happy about it, but he definitely got in a few shots. Dr. Breen also made an appearance; he appeared to mentor me while I did the fake science. So much for candid. I’m convinced, however, that this shoot is the final step in pushing my acting career. Stay posted for that, and look for my face, my sloppy bun, and Max on the PC website. The experience was actually pretty fun.

claireNow, I’m going to switch gears a little bit and highlight another lab. To really switch gears, I’m going to tell you about a lab in the Engineering-Physics-Systems Department. On the first floor of Al Mag, I found Pre-Engineering major Claire from the Class of 2017 painting. A lover of spicy food and the Minnesota Twins, Claire grew up in Duluth, Minnesota, and has been working in Dr. Mecca’s lab since we were freshmen.

And she’s certainly done a lot since then. Dr. Mecca has been working with the Ghana Sustainable Aid Project, and his lab has designed a toilet that is already in use in several countries. Claire is currently working on modifications to make it more efficient.

When I walked into the lab, Claire was actually painting a miniature model of one of these toilets that she had drawn, made on the computer, and then printed out on the 3D printer in her lab. How cool is that?! The 3D printer in her lab is essentially like Max in mine, but I’m not sure if her printer has a name. Apparently he can sing, though, or at least that’s what it sounds like when something is printing. The toilet model is made with detachable pieces and will be used to teach different countries around the world how to manufacture the toilet. This particular model toilet is headed for Bolivia. Good work, Claire!

toiletIt may seem that the labs are pretty separated and don’t have a lot of contact during the week, but even then we manage to stay pretty connected. The other morning we all had to evacuate the building because the fire alarm went off, so that was a bonding experience. Some labs are even in joint rooms; everyone has their own space, but a shared room makes for more company, more exposure to different types of experiments, more experience, and ultimately a more enjoyable time in lab.

Last Friday Dr. Wan, a biology professor who is a specialist in UV Radiation and skin aging, invited all of the research students to his house for a cookout. He made his famous “Wan’s Wings,” which were incredibly delicious, and people brought side dishes and desserts. There was Kan Jam and comradery as far as the eye could see. Biology, chemistry, physics, and psychology were all in attendance, proving that scientists in different fields can, in fact, get along, especially when chicken wings are involved.

Next week is also the last week of research for most (sad!), so everyone is busy preparing their presentations for the 8th Annual RI SURF Conference to be held at URI on Friday, July 31st.  Most students, myself included, spent time this week writing abstracts and deciding what font we want to use in order to seem more intelligent. Writing abstracts and presentations is certainly a pain but it’s good practice for future researchers and professors. Our school and undergraduate program is small enough to give the students a crack at preparing the presentation rather than the professor or a graduate student writing it.  Therefore, it’s an honor, despite the fact that most research students feel more comfortable weighing out materials than writing.

Stay tuned for the SURF Conference and my (and Max’s) final farewell!

The Dr. Breen Team

Hi everyone, So, we didn’t end up going to The Capital Grille. Something much, much better came along. A group... MORE

Summer research: DIY chalk at the farmer’s market

Posted by: on July 6, 2015   |Comments (0)|Undergraduate Research

Hi Friends!

chalkWe’re at the half-way point of our summer here at Kid Think and we have had an eventful past few weeks. On Saturday, June 20th we set up a tent at the Hope Street Farmer’s Market as a way to give back to the community. We brainstormed for weeks leading up to the market trying to decide what would be a good craft for the kids. We ultimately decided on do-it-yourself chalk. We experimented the whole week leading up to that day trying to figure out what was the best recipe and what was the easiest way for children to help. We were so excited to make chalk with the kids!

The weather ended up being great that Saturday morning and we eagerly set up camp waiting for the kids to roll in. The DIY chalk ended up being a great success. We helped more than 50 kids make chalk of all different colors and gave them Kid Think goodie bags to take home. It was nice to get some recruiting done at the same time! Lots of parents were curious about what we do here at Kid Think and were happy to register their children. Overall, it was a great way to get our name out there in the Providence community.

jvr childAs for here in the lab, we continue to set up appointments and have children come in to play with us. So far, we have tested more than 30 children this summer. With most of the kids out of school for the summer, we have become a fun spot for parents to bring their children as a summer activity. In addition to children coming in for appointments, we have been helping our faculty advisor, Dr. Jennifer Van Reet, brainstorm ideas for possible new studies and grants we would like apply for. Some possibilities include making modifications to a previous study looking at children learning through “Fantasy versus Reality” and creating a study to learn more about guided play versus free play for children. We are excited about the future and we are already excited for the fall!

Next up on the calendar we have another community event at Fargnoli Park where we plan on making chalk again and hanging out with children at the summer concert series there!  It’s been an exciting time here at Kid Think and we cannot wait for this last half of the summer!

Until Next Time!

The Kid Think Team

Hi Friends! We’re at the half-way point of our summer here at Kid Think and we have had an eventful... MORE

Summer Research Leads to Boston

Posted by: on July 1, 2015   |Comments (0)|Walsh Fellows

satyamHi – I’m Satyam Khanal from Kathmandu, Nepal, and I am a senior biochemistry major doing research this summer as a Walsh Summer Research Fellow in the lab of Dr. Seann Mulcahy. I will be blogging this summer about my experiences in (and out of) lab.

On Thursday, June 18th this past week, as I was getting ready to continue my research in Hickey Hall, Dr. Mulcahy, our PI, announced that we had the opportunity to go and see the 15th Annual BU- Center for Molecular Discovery (BU-CMD) Symposium on the next day. We were immediately interested at the opportunity of going up to Boston to attend the event. From my own past experience, symposiums, seminars, poster sessions, etc. are excellent ways to gain more knowledge on the current research conducted by other groups and to learn more about application of chemistry in other, overlapping fields–especially medicine. So, I was naturally excited when I met my research team at the train station on Friday morning. We took the commuter rail up to Boston and got off at Back Bay Station. It was a 20-minute walk from the train station to the Life Science and Engineering Building of Boston University. While we walked, Seann showed us around, and we passed by the Public Library, which was also close to the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Seann also showed us the direction of the close-by Fenway Park, home turf of the Boston Red Sox. To amuse myself, I counted all the Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks coffee shops that I could see (by the end of the day, DD won 5-3).

After we reached our destination, we grabbed a quick breakfast provided by BU-CMD and then the symposium started off with opening remarks by the Director of BU-CMD Professor John A. Porco. He explained that BU-CMD focused mainly on discovering novel, small molecule chemicals designed to be used as medicinal probes. The seminar presentations that followed Dr. Porco’s introduction were on the same track. The first seminar given by Dr. Paul Hergenrother from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was titled “Traversing the Valley of Death to Anticancer Drug Discovery.” During the presentation, he explained how difficult it is for organic molecules made in the synthesis lab to actually make it through to the drug industry. It was captivating for our group, especially because we also synthesize organic molecules in lab for research–it was good to see the application of research similar to ours in the real world. Dr. Alanna Schepartz from Yale University gave the second talk–“How EFGR encodes and decodes chemical information”. She explained how an extracellular messenger molecule communicates with complex proteins that are embedded in the cell membrane and how this process affects signal transmission inside the cell. I was glad that I had already taken biochemistry in the past year. I understood most of what was going on and I found the talk especially fascinating. After the seminar ended, we had a very good lunch break (the coconut macaroons were delicious) and then we decided to leave since it would take us a good amount of time to get back to PC. Thus we headed back, discussing all we had seen, taking in the beauty of Boston in the middle of summer and looking forward to doing something noteworthy in lab ourselves.


Hi – I’m Satyam Khanal from Kathmandu, Nepal, and I am a senior biochemistry major doing research this summer as... MORE

Frozen Proteins & Fun in Friartown

Posted by: on July 1, 2015   |Comments (0)|Undergraduate Research

Hello everyone!

jurassic worldIs summer treating everyone well? I hope so! Max and I are having a good time, and I’m learning a lot in the lab. Did you know that you can’t freeze proteins?  It denatures them, and then they’re essentially useless. I learned that one the hard way. Always store your proteins in the fridge, NOT the freezer.

Something else I’ve learned from my summer in Friartown is how much you can do in the city! After the research day, the nerds come out and play because it’s a lot better than sitting around on campus. Don’t get me wrong, I love campus, but your options for fun in the sun are limited when there’s no one around. There isn’t even a line at the Dunkin Donuts in the Slavin Center. That’s when you know it’s empty.

The city certainly isn’t empty. There are a plethora of activities in Providence to keep anyone occupied. My friends and I went to the premiere of Jurassic World in IMAX at the Providence Place Mall. It was awesome. Who wouldn’t want to see Chris Pratt riding a motorcycle alongside velociraptors coming at you? The mall is about a 5-10 minute bus ride from campus on the good ol’ RIPTA 55, and public transportation is free to all PC students as long as you show a student ID! Not only is there a movie theater, but there are three floors worth of great stores and restaurants. There’s even a Dave n’ Busters if you want to get your game on.

A little further away (but still within RIPTA distance) is Thayer Street, which is practically on the Brown University campus. It has a lot of cute shops and unique restaurants along with some crowd pleasers. I mean, there’s a Froyo World and a Chipotle. Chipotle has become at least a once-a-week event for me. The only reason that I haven’t ballooned is that the PC gym is open during the summer.

andreasOne Saturday, we went to Thayer Street for brunch and ended up at Andreas, a cute Greek place that actually serves really good breakfast food. Who knew? I couldn’t decide between a classic Greek meal and chocolate chip pancakes, so I had a gyro with home fries. Both were delicious.

You might be wondering who I’m talking about when I say that “we” did something. When I’m talking about things I’m doing in the lab, I’m usually talking about Max. However, Max can’t come on adventures with me no matter how much he enjoys Greek food–being a machine and all. When I say “we,” I’m talking about the other students here for research in different labs. I’ve decided to introduce you to them and their research to give you a taste of everything going on in our science building, Albertus Magnus (Al Mag), this summer. Also I kind of want to prove to you that I have friends other than a scientific instrument. Let’s get started!

Today, I’m going to introduce you to Dr. Brett Pellock’s lab and some of the research students who work there. Most of his research students are funded by the Research in Undergraduate Institutions (RUI) grant that Dr. Pellock received from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS). Their job is to research the metal-reducing bacterium Shewanella oneidensis.

bio groupBiologists. They always have the strangest names for things. Anyway, what I mean by ‘metal-reducing bacterium’ is that S. oneidensis can take certain metal elements outside of the cytoplasm and change the charge, or oxidation sate, of those metals. Changing or reducing oxidation states in certain elements is actually how batteries are powered (any begrudging AP chemistry student will tell you), so the hope is that one day metal-reducing bacterium could be used as an alternate power source! How cool is that?!

The Pellock lab is also working with Hfq, a protein that interacts with the bacterium. After years of research, the lab created a mutant strain of the bacterium without Hfq. As it turns out, the removal of Hfq leads to a gene that they have nicknamed ‘catastrophic death’ that results in slower growth, slower reduction, and – you guessed it – catastrophic death of the bacterium. Whoops.

After that, the lab focused on the death phenotype. Why does that happen? How can it be fixed? The lab discovered that plating the bacterium on blood agar reverses the catastrophic death and that the mutant death lacked a biomolecule known as HEME a. The lab is hard at work with this information, also looking at how stress may affect the mutant S. oneidensis and trying to figure out what exactly causes the bacterial doom so that it can be prevented.

Now we can meet the team! First up is Matt Cupelo ’17, or “Coops” a biology major with a talent for cooking and a passion for everything super. Then there’s Dan McGrath ’17, another biology major who researches during the weeks and saves lives on the weekends lifeguarding in Worchester, MA. Emma Hodges ’17 is a biology major thinking about going into nursing. She loves the team’s “Friday Lunch Adventures” and has a sever nap addiction. Ally Luongo ’18 is a rising sophomore in the biology department that can often be found at the gym jamming to Luke Bryan. Another member of the Class of 2018, Ryan Silva is another biology major (surprise there) training to get his EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) certification this summer.

And that’s the team! Dr. Pellock is one lucky scientist. They’re all hard workers, and there’s certainly no lack of fun, either. There’s always music blasting in the lab, and I may or may not have seen a few of them take part in a light saber duel the other day.

Earlier in the week, the group took a two day trip to Harvard University to take part in the 21st Annual Boston Bacterial Meeting (BBM) 2015. The BBM brings together researchers working with bacteria in academic or industrial settings from the Boston area. The PC students submitted their poster presentation to the contest that BBM hosts every year. With over 500 scientists present, competition was fierce, and the results are still pending on their final score. Either way, it’s always fun to go on adventures under the pretense of science. Good job, guys! You all looked great!

That’s all I have to say for now. I hope you’re getting plenty of pool time! I can’t say that I’ve spent enough time near the water. I’m too busy drowning in lipids. I think I’ll leave you with that train wreck of a joke, and you’ll hear from me, Max, and everyone else in Al Mag again soon!

Peace and Blessings,

– Bri and Max

Hello everyone! Is summer treating everyone well? I hope so! Max and I are having a good time, and I’m... MORE

Wordsworth Day One: Discovering ‘the loveliest spot that man hath ever found’

Posted by: on May 26, 2015   |Comments (0)|Undergraduate Research

tarnalMaymester in England
A group of English majors is currently abroad in England as part of the Maymester course, Wordsworth in the Lake District. After a week of study at PC, the students traveled to Grasmere, Wordsworth’s home in the picturesque English Lake District. They are working at the Jerwood Centre and the Wordsworth Museum, where most of the poet’s books and manuscripts are stored. This three-credit course offers a unique opportunity to study a writer’s works in the place where he lived, and to visit the exact places he described. Throughout the week, students in the course will be recounting their experiences as part of this blog. We invite you to “go on the journey” with them.

Today, our first full day in Grasmere, we walked to Dove Cottage to meet Jeff Cowton, curator of the Wordsworth Trust. We started with a tour of Dove Cottage to set the mood; it is lovely. We saw many objects that belonged to William, and were able to walk through the garden. It certainly is “the loveliest spot that man hath ever found.” We also walked through the museum, where we saw not only more objects, but also the work that the trust does with those who suffer memory loss. After this, we went into the library and began our work with manuscripts!

We learned how to handle manuscripts and other museum objects in ways that protect and preserve them. Jeff showed us the oldest surviving letter from Dorothy, as well as many of William’s letters. The amount of manuscripts held at the Trust is incredible. What is even more amazing is that we will be working with these manuscripts and finishing a project that will impact the future visitors of Dove Cottage.

-Patricia Krupinski ’16

Hiking TrailAfter lunch we hiked the hills behind Dove Cottage, often pausing our trek to view Grasmere, glimmering green with sheep spotted pastures and surrounded by steep hills and crags. The sights were breathtaking; and with each breath we took we filled our lungs with sweet fresh air and our minds with inspiration. We saw similar sights that the Wordsworths viewed over 200 years ago, and we felt the same clear-headedness and elevation of spirit that William captured in his poetry. It is no wonder he considered Grasmere a place “Of majesty, and beauty, and repose, a blended holiness of earth and sky.”

We ate dinner in Dove Cottage, in a room where Dorothy could have sat writing her journals and where William would have worked countless times. We even tried seed cake made from a recipe the Wordsworths used. We discussed Dove Cottage’s effects on visitors, learning the dynamics of a museum. All the while, however, we felt the same strong pulls of history and inspiration stirring within us with each bite of seed cake and with each crackle of the coals in the fireplace. It was truly an amazing day.

-Nick Tavares ’16

Maymester in England A group of English majors is currently abroad in England as part of the Maymester course, Wordsworth in... MORE