Notes from Sweden

I traveled to Lund University with some canary plasma samples in tow to see a different part of the world--and hopefully collect some data, with the help of Dr. Dennis Hasselquist!

**DAYS 3-5 and BACK HOME!**

Posting slowed as I spent longer and longer in the lab--then continued my travels, back to ATL and then off to Flagstaff, AZ (another story) and SFO (for Christmas with the family). However, I can absolutely spend a few minutes this December putting together the final pieces!

The bottom lines:

1. I have data--maybe?!

Below you'll see a gloriously turquoise rendition of my first four ELISA plates. Diphtheria results are on the left, and tetanus on the right. The blue dashed boxes show controls (appropriately gradated!), the purple boxes blanks (appropriately clear!!), and the red boxes sample duplicates from an individual (appropriately similar within a plate).

We were amazed to find that not only did I not mess up the plates--the standards "worked"--but we appeared to have diluted the canary plasma to within a range covered by that of the standards (from a great tit). This was a complete ballpark estimate, but Dennis is apparently good at ballpark estimates, and wins big money for this one (not really).

Boldened by our apparent success in the first round, we embarked on ELISA Round 2 from days 3-5. But alas, the results were entirely confounding. Our standards still showed nice gradation along their dilution patterns, but reacted completely differently among plates, even wtihin tetanus or diphtheria. And we have no idea why. Moreover, this second round of assays comprised many samples taken from BEFORE vaccination, which ultimately appeared more reactive to antigens than the sames taken AFTER vaccination. This makes absolutely zero sense, and has us questioning the quirks of canaries as well as whether or not we need to redo all 8 plates in one day (*gasp*).

TL;DR: Data? Maybe. I need to crunch some numbers. More money to spend on re-trying? Probably. To be determined... in the next chapter of the canary saga (debacle?)!

2. Water treatment plants are glorious bird habitats. (2.5. Lund is the definition of bike friendly.)

On my last full day, I borrowed the lab manager's bike and pedaled across town to a series of open ponds coated in ducks (European ducks!!), gulls (European gulls!!), and other assorted feathered friends. Almost every species was a lifer, with the exception of the trans-Altantic Rough-legged Hawk and Common Goldeneye--which were lovely nonetheless.

Though the bike wasn't more than a cruiser and the seat was 3-4 inches too high, biking south through the main parts of Lund was impressively simple. Bike traffic lights and dedicated paths line most streets, even in the outskirts. Bonus: I used a paper map, and only got myself lost once!

TL;DR: Wetland birds? Oh yes. Future trip to Sweden during migration necessary? OH, YES.

3. Sweden does everything better.

They sing Christmas songs--in Swedish and English--and play quiz games to celebrate the holidays as a department. Their education is free, and their collaboratively run labs are large, gorgeous, and streamlined. Grad students have reptiles in their offices and get paid for any and all work. I repeat, they get paid for any and all work. Teaching is an added bonus, and maternity/vacation leave is a must. What is this glorious wonderland of science education, and why don't I live there?!

TL;DR: I need to move to Sweden.

4. Trans-Atlantic flights are... totally weird.

Never before have I watched so many movies back-to-back. I feel like I was in a state of stasis, without any chemical induction. By the time I emerged from the plane, feeling gross and frizzy, I hardly knew when or where I was. Did I even travel at all, or had I really chosen to sit and stare at a tiny screen for 10 hours?! Who knows, but I somehow ended up in ATL nonetheless.

Bonus point: The airport in Paris is disgusting, and the Amsterdam airport is glorious. The End.

**DAYS 1-2**

Some boring thoughts regarding lab:

--Turns out that ELISAs are a three-day process when you have to 1) coat the plate, 2) block and then add samples to the plate, then 3) add primary, then secondary antibodies, substrate, and read plate. Long story short, tomorrow I find out if I have my first real canary data. Or not.

--An automated plate washer (that removes each well's solution, adds wash solution, shakes, then removes wash) IS THE GREATEST GIFT TO ELISAs EVERYWHERE. This is critical information, worthy of caps lock.

Some mildly amusing thoughts regarding lab in Sweden:

--Here in Lund, there is breakfast, lunch, dinner, and two coffee breaks. This is A Thing, and it is a glorious Thing indeed! Around 10-ish and 3-ish EVERY DAY, all available graduate students and professors converge on the break room to enjoy giant pots of strong coffee (or tea), snacks, and chats. My first day, my host prof made me a double espresso and gave me a piece of Toblerone chocolate for Morning Coffee. Us Americans need to implement this system, ASAP.

--I've learned that the following sign does not mean that the lab contains pirate gift(s):

Some completely silly thoughts from Becca's Brain:

--This is Carmensita the geriatic chameleon. She's pretty cool and sits on the desk I'm borrowing for the week (which belongs to an out-of-town herpetologist). At five years, she is already at the end of her lifespan (!) and can no longer climb without danger of falling on her back and not being able to get up. But, I hear she's quite delighted with her mealworms and lives a generally happy lizard life crawling about under her heat lamp.

--It completely blows my mind how there can be such similar--but different--birds here in Europe as home in America. The tits here (ha, ha) look and sound almost identical to the chickadees back home, except they're blue and yellow. The goldfinches too, except for the red faces. Evolution is a crazy thing.


--Did you know that the Swedish word for "banana" is "banan," and the word for "pineapple" is "ananas"? How cool is that?!

--I accidentally got a piece of Denmark money, but I'm not too disappointed.

--The Copenhagen airport has this crazy forest section where they literally have fake trees everywhere and play bird sounds. I realized how distracting it is to sit next to a speaker that plays duck quacks continuously. I also tried charging my laptop using a stationary bicycle, but alas, the machine wasn't exactly a quality cycling apparatus.

--Hey look, a life bird!

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