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.

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