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Lately the the lab October 2014This month I have:

  • Recruited new members to the University of Surrey's Garden Society at Freshers' Fayre
  • Helped build a polytunnel in the garden
  • Planned a very successful pumpkin carving event for GardenSoc
  • Attended the Postgrad pub Quizzes at Wates
  • Worked an open day for the chemistry department
  • Organised and run Surrey Roller Girls' new Autumn skater intake 'Freshmeat Fridays'
  • Fouled out of my first roller derby game (SRG vs Coventry)
  • Danced at a wedding
  • Fulfilled a lifelong dream to visit Paris
  • Neglected my blog (sorry)

In the lab I've been photographing bark samples that have been sent to me from all over Europe. I have 34 so far. It's my job now to work out which ones have the highest concentration of a certain compound in them.

Out of the lab I've been getting very cosy with TopSpin (chemistry pun for those chemists out there) and writing, writing, writing. I have a big report to write for my project partners, as well as my confirmation report to write! A lot of coffee has been consumed and the secret stash of biscuits in my drawer needs re-stocking.
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25 before 26 food processor and carrot cakeThis post completes two of the 25 goals I have set myself to achieve before my 26th birthday.

I have broken two food processors in the last month.

Charles bought me the first one as an anniversary present. He was really excited for me to start using it so set it up for me while I looked through the instruction booklet. A heartbreaking cracking noise filled the room - as he turned the processor on, the bowl had shattered in various places. Quick to rectify the problem, we boxed the several broken pieces up and took it back to the shop to exchange it for another.

I managed to bake a batch of vegan scones, some cakes to sell for one of the Surrey Roller Girls' home games and use some of the chopping attachments to make a Thai curry paste before the replacement broke. I left it on the drying rack after washing up the remains of the curry paste when a mysterious force (aka, gravity) caused it to fall off and crack, again. Surely the mixing bowl should have been sturdier than this, it didn't even fall that far!

I need a food processor that can cope with me throwing it around. Something big and strong, with a good motor and thick mixing bowl. I used to own a true vintage 80's Magimix, handed down to me by my Nan. It lasted 30 years before it broke! A new Magimix will become part of my kitchen toolbox very soon (once I've saved up my pennies). Until then, I'll continue to make things by hand - including the carrot cake I made this month for Charles and his new house mates (no picture sorry, it was eaten too quickly)!

One piece of advice to add - take a picture before you take something with many parts out of a box! It will help when trying to get said items back into the box, in the correct configuration to be able to actually close the box. It took us maybe half an hour to work out which way we had to put the items back in when we forgot to take a picture the first time (not a great advertisement for PhD students).

Lately in the lab September
This month I have:

  • Become a mentor
  • Celebrated Charles' birthday at a roller disco
  • Moved by belongings across campus to my new room
  • Spent a long weekend in Amsterdam
  • Seen Jason Mraz at the Royal Albert Hall
  • Bought lots of vegan goodies at VegFest UK
  • Laughed a lot at Jon Richardson at G Live
  • Attended the Agriscience postgrad symposium
  • Had my annual review
  • Relived my youth at the ChemSoc pubcrawl (read: felt really old)
  • I haven't spent much time in the lab as I've been busy writing up some reports for my industrial partners. I have put my lab coat on occasionally though to make some minor adjustments to my extraction method.

    My lab coatHPLC inside viewRound bottom flask with my extract

    Canal boating

    It's becoming a bit of an annual tradition that Charles takes a group of friends on his parent's canal boat for a Summer holiday every year. I've been fortunate enough to be part of the crew for the last two years.

    I joined the boat a little later than everyone else as I was playing in a roller derby game in Swindon on the Sunday. My parents very kindly offered to drop me off at the boat in Market Drayton on their way home after my game.

    From Market Drayton we boated through Nantwich, Wrenbury, Whitchurch, Ellesmere and Chirk before our final stop in Llangollen. Charles was very organised and planned our stops to coincide with bathroom facilities, pubs and train stations (so we could pick up and drop off crew members). We even had time to visit a 'secret' nuclear bunker.

    canal map journey Secret nuclear bunker

    I steered the boat for some of the trip and managed to avoid hitting anything, although we did get beached at one point in shallow water. The weather was a bit interchangeable, but nothing could dampen my spirit - drinking lots of tea helped!

    Steering the boat in the rainreading on the boat

    Being on the boat is a really lovely experience. Everyone chips in and helps out with the jobs so the trip is never stressful. There is time to relax, sleep, eat, drink and catch up with friends and read. My weaving (one of my 25 before 26) benefited from some dedicated time I spent sitting at the front of the boat with a glass of wine.

    drinking wine on the boatopening the lockOpening the bridge

    We crossed Pontcysyllte aquaduct on our last day of the trip. I think I managed the 126ft high crossing very well for someone that doesn't like heights (despite what the photo may show). My heart did skip a beat though when I saw Charles trying to take a photo over the unguarded edge of the water! I later discovered that this wasn't my first time across the aquaduct - I had been over it with my grandparents and sister some time ago. I think I'm around 11 in the photo below.

    Crossing the aquaduct crossing the aquaduct
    Everyone on board becomes a lot closer during the trip. After all, when you must ask where the next pub en route is not because you fancy a midday pint, but because you must use the conveniences, nothing becomes difficult to discuss. The number of crew on board fluctuated through the week - four of us made it the whole way to Llangollen.

    We arrived at Llangollen!

    It was sad to say goodbye to the boat, but Charles has promised me a weekend away on it sometime early next year - so we hopefully won't be parted for long.

    Meetings with Joss Whedon (Avengers Assemble), Joseph Kosinski (TRON: Legacy) and Ron Howard (Angels & Demons) are something Sean Carroll calls a ‘cool hobby’. Since moving to Los Angeles, his knowledge of theoretical and astrophysics has contributed to keeping the science we see on our screens factually accurate. I had the opportunity to hear him talk on my first day at the Cheltenham Science Festival.

    Carroll's passion for the physically possible has extended from keeping the release of antimatter from creating an unlikely explosion from occurring in Angels & Demons, to preventing a movie from pushing characters off the edge of a flat planet to kill them off during a fight scene.

    Even Gravity, a film he commends for being scientifically accurate, cannot escape his eye for improvement. If consulted, he would re-make one particular iconic moment - where George Clooney is pulled away from the space station by a mysterious force. In his more dramatically accurate scene, he would have both Clooney and Sandra Bullock float away together and let Clooney push Bullock back towards safety.

    I thoroughly enjoyed his interview, where he also talked about his experiences in Hollywood and stories relating science to the real world. A favourite of mine was when a friend of his took a team from The Big Bang Theory around a real Caltech lab, to see lasers blocked by index cards and orders of untidiness recognised by practicing scientists around the world -  creating possibly the most accurate representation of a physics laboratory on television to date!

    Carroll offered a final great piece of advice to aspiring Hollywood science advisors - move to Los Angeles. But don’t be under any impression the job pays well, his flirtation with the film and television industry has only earned him a 'rather comfy sweatshirt and a bottle of wine’. Job aside, it’s not bad for a helpful hobby in Hollywood.