22 February 2010

Busy Week Ahead

This week has been busy and it is only Monday. Yesterday was the gardens at Schonbrunn - they have winter gardens inside big glass houses.

There is a tropical palm-house and a desert-house. And the palm-house has a New Zealand section! Some of it I didn't recognize but they had big tree-ferns, the smaller ferns, all the normal trees, and kowhai.

And then I saw a squirrel! Which of course was not supposed to be in the palm house, and everybody thinks I'm really funny always trying to take photos of them.

There were also turtles and fish, and some birds in a cage that did not look too happy. An Australian section too, and they had a pineapple plant! I have never seen pineapples growing. Here they call them Ananas, and they do in all the other languages too. It is just in English that they have such a funny name as pineapple.

The desert house was even hotter than the tropical house, and it had some interesting plants. None of it was as good as the zoo.

Then it was overpriced italian food and home to work on my presentation which I have to give on Thursday. Again work is really getting in the way of having fun. But tonight I did get to go to the Opera again, yay. It was called Falstaff, a comedy based on Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor. It was really very good. I have to make sure to see a few more because once back in Galway there will be no more steady supply of theatre.

And it has stopped snowing, it is now above zero degrees! Spring is definately coming. I have started walking to work, because without all the cold and snow things really are far closer than they seem. Living in a big city is not the nicest for walking to work, but once you get to the Donau canal it is not so bad. And if you can see in this photo, in the distance, a big chimney/tower sort of thing - that is where I work. Or at least right beside that. The building itself is the place where they take the rubbish and burn in, instead of having a tip. I will go take photos of it sometime, it is designed by this architect and is all colourful with odd shapes. The chimney has a big ball on the top and is all metallic and shiny. I could see it well when taking this photo but distances are always large through the camera.

17 February 2010

My Work In Vienna

So my work here in Vienna is very different to what it was in Galway, but I keep forgetting to explain what I am actually doing here. Not to mention that while here I am making the most of my time, or at least have been so far, with seeing all there is to see, so every day there is so much that I want to write about that is not work related. But work is very interesting. There is just so much of it. I have been here nearly two months now though, and next week is the big meeting of all the collaborators on the project. So my supervisor will come over, and we each have to present our results. I am to go first, which I don't mind. But I haven't really got the presentation very organised yet.

So anyway, from Galway I brought barnacles that I had previously fixed (preserved). The first thing that I had to do here was section those samples. So that meant embedding them in paraffin wax and slicing them up into very thin sections with a machine called a microtome. I took photos of my work for this very purpose, to explain what I do, but they managed to get lost somewhere. That's ok though perhaps it isn't so interesting. It is after the cutting that things are more interesting.

So I put my sections onto glass microscope slides and stain them, which involves a lot of different chemicals and can take anywhere from and hour to about 4 hours. But as soon as it is done, suddenly you have a result. So in a way it is time consuming because I have boxes of slides (nearly 1000 slides I reckon) to stain and analyse (each has about 5 sections, that's 5000 sections to look at). But really I don't have to do every single one.

The thing is, I am not sure if I should be putting these images on here, or explaining what is in them. My supervisor is all worried about intellectual property and other people publishing the same ideas before we get there. But what the hell, I really don't think random marine scientists will find this site and steal my work. It is only preliminary anyway.

So first I have stained sections with all sorts of different things and look at them under a normal light microscope, and take photos of them. They have very nice colours. This is a piece cut from the stalk of the barncale, which is why it is round. The blue around the edge is like the barnacle's equivalent of skin, and some of it might be cement. Actually I'm not entirely sure about a lot of this section, it is a bit strange looking. The pale purple circles around the edges are muscles. It is sections like these that I have thousands of, going all the way up the stalk. This is a boring one, showing nothing, because I don't think I can put actual results on here, that would be pushing it I think. But I have plenty of slides stained with all sorts of different things that are showing all the structures that I was looking for. It's hard to believe how easy it was. There is still a lot to do of course.

Last week I had a go at something new, called Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM). It was only partially successful, my samples are not very good. You treat them with chemicals and dry them out completely, then coat them with a thin layer of gold (sounds fancy ay). My samples need to be recoated and then I will have another go. But you can see, similar to above, a section of the stalk of a barnacle, with lots of muscle around the edge. In the middle is just connective tissue. And there is a big hole at the top, which is the main vessel of the circulatory system.

And the last few days yet another new microscope. This one is a confocal microscope which uses lasers and fluorescence. You stain with antibodies which attach themselves to specific things, like muscle or carbohydrate or fats, and then glow under fluorescent light. I am not sure if I am taking good images yet, or seeing anything important.

Doesn't it look cool though? Now that I am getting used to this new microscope I am quite enjoying having a play with it. But I think I have a lot to learn before I have images good enough to publish. I am hoping that the red image about is exactly what I am looking for, but it is far from definate yet.

And hopefully my supervisor will never see these pictures so I will not get into trouble for putting stuff on the internet. Plus out of context it really could be anything at all. I kept meaning to write about what I am doing here but work is quite full-on and even just the thought of trying to explain things very shortly was so exhausting. I could write pages on all of this. And it may not seem so but it is quite exciting.

Of course while I am working hard, I am not working too hard. It is nice to work in an office full of girls instead of just with guys, there is plenty of opportunity to sit around and talk. The lab that I am a part of here is very sociable. They don't worry about stuff too much which is nice because if you stop to really think about it things are a bit worrying, there is still so so much to learn and timing is running out.

Now I must go have a very early night because once again the lifestyle here has caught up with me and I am so tired. I have new housemates so I must find time to get to know them. They all seem pretty good though. And today I sent some stuff to NZ and it wasn't so expensive as I thought it would be so I guess I will send more before too long. Before I leave at least. Perhaps not right away, seeing as this month I came pretty close to running out of money. My own fault of course, I keep buying stuff and we eat out so often. I still made it to Prague though, and now more money has come in so I am not worried. It is hard though, because I really do like to buy stuff. Maybe I have a shopping problem? But is it really a problem to make the most of having money? If I like to shop then I don't see why I shouldn't. But this month I will not blow my money on clothing (much). I will blow my money on a new cell-phone instead. Here they call a cell phone a handy, and because it is an English word are surprised when we don't follow what they are saying. But then, it is only right that I should not follow what people say, because so many people do not follow what I say. When people smile and nod all the time, they probably have no idea what I am saying.

14 February 2010

Weekend in Prague

Here are too many photos of Prague. It was just too hard to choose a few. This is not all of them of course. But I am getting worried that google will soon tell me that I have used up all of my space and can put no more photos on. In which case I guess I will have to get a second blog site and link it to the first. And eventually I will have a string of them, linking to each other, because I just don't want to have to pay money for more storage space.

Anyway here is Prague. I was only there two days. I saw all the important sites and really after two hours of looking you are so cold that you are happy to go home and be warm. It was only as cold as it is here, but the piles of snow where much bigger. And in a way it looked like Vienna because of course it is all very close together, but it still looked different. A lot of it is older, that is why everyone wants to go to Prague, because it wasn't destroyed in WWII. There are churches, bridges, castles, synagogues. A lot of decoration on everything, and a lot of gold in the decorations as well. The views were nice, despite the cold there was blue sky. It seemed bigger than Vienna, perhaps because up on a hill you can see more. I have not really seen Vienna like this yet.

This cathedral is part of the largest castle-complex in Europe, or the world, or something like that. The cathedral was huge. Perhaps not as large as the one here, but really does it matter? It seemed huge to me. Had to line up to see inside. The gargoyles are all very impressive.

Then you walk around to the back and even the back is so impressive. I think I like it better than the front, the arches are very impressive. Perhaps the proper name for them is not arches though.

Now I am on the Charles Bridge, looking back up at the castle and cathedral. You see some really nice pictures of this bridge, and it looked alright in the snow. And being cold, there are less tourists around to get in the way. But still, it would be nice to see it all in summer.

The bridge is lined with statues. This one you touch and make a wish and apparently it comes true. And apparently unlike all the other stories you hear, in this case it is actually true.

Now I am mostly taking photos of every building and statue that catches my eye. There are many of them.

Now this is called the Astronomical Clock. It was ordered to be built by one of the emperors who I was told was so pleased with it that he did not want anybody else to have one, so he blinded the clock-maker.

This one has a name, it is called the Powder Tower, because that is where they stored the gunpowder.

And this is the Municipal building, the town hall I guess. I love how everything is so colourful. There is mosaic and painting and gold-leaf everywhere.

This one below is a synagogue. The synagogues are also a big attraction in Prague because they are the only ones left in the world from before WWII, all the rest were destroyed. This one was very nice and colourful.

Lastly we went to Vysehrad, the oldest part of Prague, where the city first came into being. It is located on top of a hill, the old walls encircling the entire top of the hill are still there. It is a castle, but the actual castle part is not really there anymore. It has a very nice cathedral though, the inside was all painted, all the walls and ceilings and full of little chapels.

08 February 2010

06 February 2010

Where I live in Vienna

I keep seeming to forget to mention this, but here in Vienna I actually live in the red-light district. I didn't realise this before arriving, and you would think that seeing as I live right next to the Prater, Vienna's amusement park, that this area would be more family-oriented and less seedy.

So walking home in the evenings I walk past a lot of bars that look like this:

And right next to the building I live in is this:

Around here there are at least a couple of such bars on every block. It is very strange. Funny though.

01 February 2010

Wandering around the Innere Stadt

On Sunday the afternoon was spent in the city being a tourist. First were the catacombs of Stephansdom, which you have to pay to go into and you of course cannot just wander around but must be on a tour. It is quite short too. First you see the chapel and the newer part of the catacombs were the priests and cardinals are. Also the imperial family are in this part, which is what you see below (and of course you are not allowed to take photographs down there, out of respect for the dead and all that).

In the coffins are the more important members of the imperial family, but because there were so many of them the majority were embalmed in pieces and sort of spread about amongst cathedrals, like they do with the remains of saints. Lining the walls of the photo above were large copper vessels which apparently are filled with the innards of members of the royal family, preserved in some sort of alcohol.

There were a couple of rooms filled with old pieces of stonework from the church, that have had to be replaced over the years. They keep all the originals down here.

Below you can see down a grate into a pit filled with bones. You see Stephansdom is a real old cathedral and Stephensplatz, the square around the church, used to be a graveyard. Eventually one of the emperors insisted on closing all the graveyards in the city due to disease and of course the smell. So the moved a lot of it underground. If you were important you got a coffin, if not you were just put in one of the pits or rooms as you were. So only a very small part of the catacombs is open for the tour, but you see plenty of bones, just all piled on top of each other.

As the catacombs got full, they took the older bodies and bones and stacked them so as to provide more room. These rooms are called bone-rooms or orsaries (I can't remember the German word, it is close to orsary though, which is a latin word). The picture is very poor quality so you can't very well see that the bumpiness of the walls are the ends of all the bones sticking out.

The tour did not take long at all though, and next thing you know you are climbing up steps and through a big gate and you are back above ground in Stephansplatz.

After a coffee break to warm up because it is really cold here the next stop was the Hofburg, the imperial palace. For the time being I stuck to taking photos of the outside of it though. Inside there are musuems, eventually I will go in.

Next stop (across the road, everything in the inner city is very close together) was the Natural History museum, and I really must begin to find time to visit museums because before you know it my stay here will be over.

Then a walk to Karlsplatz, because usually when one is at Karlsplatz they are underground in the large U-bahn station. At it is actually much nicer above ground - it is a large square with a park (right now full of snow of course) and a very nice church, but you have to pay to get into this one so I will save that for another day.

To end the night was dinner at what is apparently the best schnitzel house in town. And it was very good. The schnitzel had been pounded so thin that it was bigger than a dinner plate.