Tuesday, September 30, 2014

In flames

At about 1:30 pm today I received two emails from friends who saw a great pillar of smoke rising up from Fremont, asking if I knew about the fire and if it was close to my place. One of them sent a photo taken from the 4th floor of the Hutch. An ominous view, to say the least.

After a quick check with the local news I realized that yes, the blazing mayhem was in fact taking place in a factory building very close to my place. I called my landlord who hadn't heard about the matter but promised to check things out and get back to me with info. As the Seattle Times updated their reports I realized that the fire wasn't just very close, it was very very close. Close as in half a block away from my house. Yikes!

Luckily, the 100-ish firefighters who battled the flames managed to gain control of the situation a couple of hours later, and as far as I know no one was hurt. When I got home from work the street outside my building was closed in all directions and Seattle City Light had cut the power to the entire block as a precautionary measure.

I went out for a run and when I came back the power outage was still ongoing, so I lit the few candles I had and prepared myself for an evening in the dark. Imagine my relief when the fridge suddenly started buzzing as I was halfway through my stretching routine. No cold water-showering in a pitch black bathroom! Whew.

All's well that ends well, and thank God, it wasn't the chocolate factory... Now that would've been a real tragedy.

Friday, September 26, 2014

I'm ready!

A Swedish friend sent me this link and asked if it was true. There is but one answer to that question: YES.

I have no idea who Lee LeFever is, but he manages to pin down my feelings about the Seattle weather exactly, to the point where it's almost scary.

The rain has returned, and I couldn't be happier about it.

Ready for Rain: Why Seattleites Crave the End of Summer

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Stars in her eyes

Sometimes the smallest things blow my mind. Last week one of my colleagues brought a toy to work; a little gadget called a spinthariscope. It's a device that contains a radioactive source* (thorium ore, in this case) which enables observation of nuclear disintegrations with the naked eye. The charged particles that are emitted during the decay process interact with a scintillating material within the device, which in turn emits visible light. An optical lens is added and the light flashes can be seen; simple as that.

That same day I was doing late-night imaging studies and borrowed the spinthariscope to play with in between acquisitions. The Hutch was more or less empty as I sat down on the darkroom floor, next to my dearly beloved alpha camera that builds on the very same principle as the little toy in my hand. After letting my eyes adjust to the lack of light for a few minutes, I held up the device to my eye, almost holding my breath from anticipation of what I would experience.

Imagine my disappointment when it turned out I couldn't see a thing; just pitch black nothingness. What a bust!

Then, small flashes started to protrude from the darkness. At first, I wasn't sure if I was imagining or if the tiny sensations of light were real, but after a couple of minutes I was certain: I could see them. It was like watching stars reflect on the bottom of a well. As my eyes continued to adjust, the flashes became more and more intense until they filled my entire field of vision, pulsating with light.

If you can imagine liquid diamonds, that's what it looked like, or boiling water filled with glittering stardust.

I don't know for how long I sat there, staring into hand-held space, but my ongoing imaging study eventually pulled me back to reality. But what a fantastic excursion it was! If you ever get a hold of one of these things, try it.

A tiny container, filled to the brim with galaxies.

*No, there's no need to worry about radiation exposure. The source is extremely weak and the emitted alpha particles are efficiently stopped by the casing; nothing slips out.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Seriously, Sweden

A short comment regarding the greatly disheartening Swedish election yesterday. To the infamous 13% (you know who you are): next time, take a few minutes to reconsider. Do these people you are about to vote for really represent how you feel about society, kindness and normal human decency? Do they really? Just think it over. Thanks.

As for the Feminist Initiative, I've already left my brief disappointment behind and look forward to 2018. We may not have reached the 4% threshold this time, but we'll get there. It's no longer a joke; F! is a force to be reckoned with.

These dudes ain't seen nothin' yet.

Screenshot from Gilda, which I happened to watch during my immediate post-election depression.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

A couple of announcements

Apparently, I started feeling a little lazy this summer so I added a few extra commitments to my agenda. Commencing this month, I will be one of five writers/editors for the Fred Hutch newsletter Science Spotlight. In addition to that, I will share the position as chairperson for our Student/Postdoc Advisory Committee (SPAC) with a colleague from another lab.

This will be an interesting year.

(As a bonus, I signed up for this again.)

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Cotton wedding

Seattle, baby.

It's been two years now and I'm more in love with you than I've ever been. I know we kind of rushed into things in the beginning, but it was the chance of a lifetime and I've not regretted my commitment to you a single time.

Every day we get to spend together I find new things I like about you. The food you cook and the wine you make. Your morning freshness and evening glow. The wet kisses (although, admittedly, they are not as plentiful as rumor has it). Your warm heart.

Here's to another joyful year; here's to us!

Cheers, my dear Emerald City.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Impressed! Inspired!

I've told you this before, but I feel like rubbing it in your faces one more time: working at Fred Hutch is oftentimes exceptionally awesome and curiously stimulating. The opportunitites for learning about science and scientific perserverance are plentiful, and my latest surge of inspiration hit me with full force last Wednesday at a seminar with Nobel laureate Dr. Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, during the first Conference on Cell and Gene Therapy for HIV Cure held at the Center.

This woman is nothing but remarkable; besides ignoring the men who advised her not to choose a research career and later co-discovering the HIV virus in 1983, she took on Pope Benedict XVI in 2009 by writing him an open letter protesting his tremendously ignorant and dangerous statement made in Cameroon, that condoms ”aggravate the problems” with AIDS.


Dr. Barré-Sinoussi struck me as purely brilliant, brave, and empathetic; a scientist with stories and experiences I will carry with me for a long time.

”I don't have conviction, I have evidence. I'm a scientist.”
”If you're a scientist and you don't have hope, you should quit.”

My new idol.

You can read more about Dr. Barré-Sinoussi's Fred Hutch visit here.