Thriftshops = Decorating For Cheap!

As the focus of my posts have drastically shifted, you can tell that I’ve got bitten by that home decor bug. I’v always liked decorating my dorms and rooms I have lived in before, but for the first time I have an entire place to populate with items by myself! I’ve found it to be a lot of fun, but kind of frustrating. It’s sort of like a creative puzzle. You want things to look like they belong together, but I personally don’t like the matchy matchy look. Also, even though I’m working doesn’t mean I want to break the bank!

My biggest tip? Visit your local thrift shop.

I found the following goodies at the Goodwill by my apartment.

1. A Malma Ikea mirror for $1.99! It was a little banged up, so I primed it and repainted it to fit my bathroom’s design.

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Figure.  Before! A normal Malma mirror, square and a bit beaten up.

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Figure. Primed and ready for a face lift!

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Figure. Tadaaa! Pretty in pink and shining bright like a diamond.

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Next up, this framed quote! Apparently it was a custom frame and very well done.

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Figure. I resonate with the quote very much.

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Figure. Just in case you can’t read the framed version 🙂

Finally, this nifty candle holder that caught my eye before leaving.

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Figure. It reminds me of a tree!

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Figure. Here it is with an old candle I had.

It can be sometimes hard to see the potential of old or use items versus brand new and shiny items lined up in department stores, but I personally think it adds a story to the recycled piece.

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Figure. Action shot of my two thrifted items flanking the ends of my living room feature wall.

Curious what else is there? Here’s a list:

  • Lovely photographs my brother in law took and framed for me as a 23rd birthday present.
  • A set of 3 floating shelves from Ross, though I have seen similar one’s at Khols, Amazon, and Bed Bath and Beyond
  • My own DIY canvas art pieces. Learn more about them [here]
  • 3 frames I got from Pier One. What’s framed? Blood cells! I got these images from my old college textbooks. Why? Because that’s just how biologists roll and science is quite beautiful.

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Figure. Close up of my biologist blood cell decor frames. Left: Red blood cells with sickle cell anemia formation, Center: White blood cell attacking an E. coli cell, Right: Healthy human Red blood cells.

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DPI Research Coop Internship

Wow, this entry is long overdue, but  as they say, save the best for last! I guess I put off writing about my last coop internship because this marks the very last time I will have a coop/internship blog entry! I guess I’m a grown up now 😛

The Drexel Plasma Institute (DPI) is a biotechnology research facility where I was able to live the life of a research student full-time for about 6 months.  I retained part-time status for another 6 months, however, I wrote a small blurb about the differences between being a coop and a work study student here. Despite its name, DPI is affilited with Drexel, but NOT owned by Drexel.

Some logistics: I started at the end of April 2012 for this unpaid opportunity. Originally, I was assigned to help out in the Bacteria Lab, though by the end of the internship I was about to dabble in many things. This includes:

  1. The Plant Lab where plasma treated water was tested as an effective alternative to fertilizer and pesticide in various species of agriculture. And yes, I did write down on my resume I was the garden whisperer for 200 plants.
  2. The Cell Lab where plasma treated medium was being used in experiments that had to do with cell differentiation and regeneration in little worms.
  3. The Applied Physics Lab where I (if I remember correctly) physical properties of plasma was being studied.

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

My motivation:

When I first started, and I was asked why I wanted to work here. I had always seen grad students running about like crazy, going on and on about their experiments progressing or not progressing. Sometimes they would think outloud, which always sounded like jargon to me even studying Biology as an undergrad. I think that once you start to pursue a Masters and/or eventually a PhD, you get so specialized in a specific part of your field that you realize how large and broad an undergrad degree is in comparison. Suffice to say, my response was that I wanted to know if research life was like and if it suited my personality. Devoting an additional 3-7 years to studies is a huge commitment, and I needed to know if I should even entertain the idea.

Not what I was expecting (but it’s all good!):

My manager was quick to tell me that this was not a traditional research lab and therefore it would not be a typical research experience as compared to working with a biology professor at school. DPI identifies more with the engineering departments.The experiments were much more application based than a science lab. It’s an amazing feeling when you get positive results for something that has a potential use already in mind. In some science labs, you learn about a relationship, but don’t know how to translate it to help patients.

What I wanted – Learning about life as a researcher.

If there is one thing I realized, it is that you need to LOVE what you are studying to get that wondrous PhD. I think that desire to study and persevere is driven by want to know WHY. Asking questions and seeking answers fro the sake of knowledge. It sounds a little romantic, but I think there is a little bit of romance in every scientist who is passionate about what the do.

You need to do a lot of experiments and sometimes you need to repeat it a ton of times with only minute changes to see if what you expected to happen is actually true. Just because things theoretically should work doesn’t mean they will do it in real life. Did I mention the importance of statistically sound data? Your results have to also be reproducible and not be a product of chance.

Not so awesome stuff.

As with every job, there are some drawbacks. One (potential) negative is that your PI (primary investigator) can make or break your experience. They can guide you or control how you run your experiments, what you do your experiments on, and how successful your project will be. Also, there is a hard push to pump out as many publications as you can because its a way to gather attention for more funding, however, this can be difficult to do on time constraints while maintaining good and sound data. No funding = no more experiments 😦 Finally, I listed above that reproducibility is important, and it can drive a person crazy repeating experiments indefinitely until getting the results they need or abandoning all that hard work when you realize that your hypothesis is most likely wrong. Also, if you need/want an immediately high paying job, academic research may not be the means.

Other random stuff I wanted to mention.

  • The research focus of this lab, plasma, is pretty neat and cutting edge, stuff. My boss called this particular lab “a big whale in a little pond.” In other words, the plasma field is still small and very new, however, DPI publications have a big impact on the field. I’m so lucky to have gotten both a poster and name on a publication on two different projects!
  • The lab is located in Camden NJ. It is a way scarier place than Philly, believe it or not. I used to be yelled at by prisoners every time I would walk to the train stations.  Yet another tough city down that I can say I survived being in.
  • God, how many times can I mention I love the people who work there? Such a chill place to work. And for the most part everyone is pretty receptive to any creative experiments you want to try out. You just got to prove it’s worth trying. I miss my managers and fellow students so much and felt like I belonged there.

What I owe the most:

Most importantly, this lab showed me how much I love engineers and engineering. I think there is a slight animosity towards the Sciences and Engineering, at least at our school. Engineering students are put on a pedestal and worshiped, which I sort of understand because their studies are hard, but hey other students work hard, too! And arrogant engineering students are the absolute worse! But the engineers I got to work with were SO awesome. I love the way they look at experiments differently than I do. I was more concerned with good technique, the theoretical background of experiments, and what the data meant. However, it’s important to get the damn experiment done first before worry about other stuff, and they knew how to think outside the box to use practical means to get things done.

There is a very “CAN DO” attitude carried by engineers (as my Micro prof once said), which enables them to make a bridge between the theoretical to application in the real world. Working in this lab gave me the balls to try and apply to an engineering job, despite the high chance of rejection. During the interview for said job, I remember saying without thinking (or meaning to sound arrogant) that “I am not intimidated by engineering work. I can do it.” despite my background in the sciences. Thanks DPI for being a key player in developing my confidence and skills I needed to get my current full time pharma job 🙂

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Figure. One of my former DPI coworkers fittingly sent this to me today on Facebook.

Breaking Bad Cupcakes

A quick baking project in honor of the premiere of the final 7 episodes of Breaking Bad on AMC! I just thought of doing this last minute, but it only took me about 30 minutes to make. I really wanted to make cupcakes with shards of blue on it, resembling the infamous Blue Sky crystal meth that Walt and Jessie cook in the show.

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Figure. Image source of awesome poster: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/25/breaking-bad-poster-walter-white_n_3497339.html

Step 1: GATHER THE SUPPLIES!

The the things I used: Red Velvet cake mix, some cake liners, a normal pan with foil, a cake pan, some blue Jolly Ranchers, and cream cheese frosting.

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Figure. My lab equipment for the night.

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Figure. I cannot believe this is all the blue I found in this family pack of Jolly Ranchers.

After separating all the blueberry blue ones, I smashed up those candies and placed them on that foil covered baking pan. They were in the oven at 350 degrees F for about 5 minutes since I didn’t have much to work with.

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Figure.Science at work: the phase change from solid to liquid. Not as complicated as drug making, but at least it’s pretty

The easy part! Mix and bake some lovely red cupcakes. Box, eggs, oil, and water is all you need.

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Figure. Godbless cake mix.

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Figure. YUM. Pre-decor. 

Why red cupcakes? Let me answer with a Breaking Bad’s premiere episode tonight: “BLOOD MONEY.”

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Figure. My final “product” haha, get it?

I’m not entirely sure how I will eat these, but I will say this quote is appropriate: “TREAD LIGHTLY.”

Hope you guys enjoyed my little creation. And even more importantly, hopefully you are all up to date on Breaking Bad! I am so excited to see what is in store for the season finale.

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P.S. Here is a cool name generator from the show: https://www.facebook.com/BreakingBad/app_541868445869371

The Science of Brain Freeze

With summer being whisked away so quickly, and school starting soon for colleges, this seemed to be an appropriate post. I don’t know about all of you, but I absolutely love frozen sweets. Ice cream, frozen yogurt, popsicles, slurpees, you name it!

However, if one consumes their delicious frozen delights at rapid speeds, one will experience the phenomenon known as “brain freeze.”

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Figure. I love puns. Image source: http://www.neatoshop.com/product/Brain-Freeze-Ice-Tray

Also known as Sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia, brain freeze can be characterized by sharp pains at the temples or front side of your head. A common remedy is to place your tongue against  your palate the top of your mouth.

So why precisely would this be a solution?

“The scientists believe the increased blood flow could be part of a temperature-regulation mechanism. When it detects intense cold, the body pumps more blood to the brain to keep it functioning in a warm environment. But that activity may also be raising pressure inside the skull, producing the headaches we call brain freeze. Recovery happens when the artery returns to its normal size.”

— Direct quote about a Harvard medical study from: http://www.thekitchn.com/the-science-of-brain-freeze-the-atlantic-171476

So it seems that your tongue can act as a heat source so that the neurons in your palate that sense temperature and cause this increase in blood can flow stop adding pressure to your skull.

As pointed out by this blog, there could be a possible correlation of this temperature sensing mechanism between what causes migraines and triggers brain freeze: http://thebrainbank.scienceblog.com/2012/09/23/the-science-of-brain-freeze/.

Be sure to check out those blog links and hope you have an ice cream filled day!

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Figure. Holy mother of YES. Capogiro’s delicious gelato selection. Image source: http://www.uwishunu.com/tag/capogiro/page/2/

Dragon Ball Z Creme Brulee Cakeballs

Introduction:

It’s been such a long time since I have baked anything! To get back into my baker’s groove, I decided to try out the Dragon Ball Z creme brulee cakeballs recipe by Ro Pansino from the awesome YouTube show NERDY NUMMIES! It’s a rather long process, but I needed a fun project to keep me awake as I try to adjust my sleep schedule for my graveyard shifts. Plus, it’s always been my dream to gather the DRAGON BALLS to save Earth!

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Figure. Wish-granting dragon time!

I followed the video pretty much step by step without any deviations, but Ro makes everything look so easy! Maybe I’m rusty from my pro-baking days, but I had a few problems, which I will be sure to highlight just in case anyone else needs a bit of help.

Working Notes:

Part I – Making the Creme Brulee

I thought making the creme brulee would be the hardest and most stressful part! People would think otherwise, with such simple ingredients, including cream, vanilla, sugar, and egg yolks, and a name literally translating to “burnt cream,” you would think it would be so easy and effortless to make!

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Figure. My almost curdled creme brulee in the bain marie. This type of set-up according to Wiki is also used for science experiments!

Ro teaches you set up a “bain marie.” You just put your liquid creme brulee in it’s cooking bowl. Then, lay a towel down in a baking pan and fill halfway with hot water that had previously been boiling. Finally, you put the entire thing in the oven to bake.

The key to good creme brulee is making sure that it doesn’t curdle, which  can be difficult.

curdle: (verb) to form a coagulated layer

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/curdle

A curdled creme brulee can be denoted by bubbles forming on the top while baking in the oven, and sometimes some brown spots. It can be caused by a couple of things.

  1. Adding the hot cream mixture to the egg yolks and sugar too quickly
    Not allowing the temperatures to adjust or “temper” ends up cooking the eggs and creating a non-homogenous mixture. So you may have a firm layer on top, but liquid past that top layer when you are done cooking.
  2. Cooking it too quickly in the oven.
    This almost happened to me. This is the first time I am baking in my new apartment, and I did not realize that my electric oven heats up much more quickly and aggressively than previous gas ovens that I have had in the past. Luckily, I was able to get away with just a few bubbles on the top of my creme brulee. Cooking too quickly can be caused by too high baking heat or the water being too hot for the bain marie (believe it or not).

Part II – Making cakepop mix!

I haven’t used a cake mix in a box in YEARS. I had been exploring from scratch recipes since for the past few years that I almost forgot how awesome and convenient these cake mixes are, especially when you want to save some time so that you can experiment on non-traditional things, like this one!

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Figure. My slightly browned and lop-sided insta-cake!

After the cake is made, all you have to do is crumble it up with your creme brulee.  Ro had said to not worry about making perfect circles because after freezing you can reshape them. I sorta agree with this, but I found that removing wrinkles is pretty hard when they are frozen.

Part III – Sugar Dip!

Making caramel is pretty easy, but it took me three tries to do it right!  I almost gave up and was going to buy chocolate melts to eat the rest of the cake balls before they went bad, but I was determined to succeed!

First attempt: overboiled/burnt caramel and almost set a fire alarm off at 3am when it started to smoke

Second attempt: made caramel fine, but it was too viscous! Also, I was dumb and put them on a plate to dry, and of course they got stuck. Then when trying to remove caramel covered cakeballs, I smashed the coating and cut multiple fingers with the sharp caramel shards. My right thumb is still upset with the gash I got. Plus my kitchen floor was sticky for days.

Third attempt: FINAL ATTEMPT.

Things I have learned about caramel making:

  • Make sure sugar is dissolved before allowing mixture to go to a boil.
  • A pain to clean later, but try to ocassionally mix the caramel as it cooks so you can evenly see the brown color (your indicator to stop cooking it and throw it into an ice bath).
  • Be patient and keep your eye on it! It too me way longer than 10 minutes of boiling, which the video instructed.
  • If I were to make this entire recipe of cakeballs in one sitting, I would probably need to multiple the recipe by 1.5 to get good dipping stuff.

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Figures. Making caramel!

Just in case you care curious about this awesome color change of sugar as it’s heated, here is a bit of science:

Like all things, sugar is made up of elements: Carbon, Hydrogen, and Oxygen to be exact. When heat is applied, a reaction occurs where the sugar grabs and combines with oxygen in the air. This is is an exothermic reaction where heat is released, and the result is a color change from white to black.

A great link for this science experiment in action: http://www.education.com/science-fair/article/heating-sugar/

Back to the recipe!

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Figure. My cake balls ready to be frozen!

Things I have learned about dipping:

  • Try to have the balls frozen when you dip! I had a lot of casualties fall of their sticks. Unfortunately, frozen cake balls will probably form little bubbles in the caramel coat. Also, as the cake balls thaw, they will pull away from their pretty caramel coat.
  • I didn’t have styrofoam when I did my final try of this recipe (when I did have styrofoam, it fell over form the weight of the cake balls). I was able to get away with using some tall mugs and empty pasta jars!
  • Also, I decided to get extra long sticks. I was going to originally cut them in half, but then after almost burning myself with caramel during the unsuccessful attempts, I decided to take advantage of the length!

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Figure. My creative solution for allowing my caramel to harden, undisturbed.

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Figure. Lol you could tell that was the last one. I was getting impatient and my caramel was hardening 😦 If this happens to you but you still have to cover some cake balls, remember you can always throw the dip on low heat to get it all liquid-y again!

Part IV – Decoration!

I found this groovy multi-sprinkle dispensing device at Walmart for $5.

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Figure. All I wanted was the red stars, but I guess I had to get them all!

And the final product!

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Figure. TA-DAAAAAAAA!

And, if you are not a fan of Dragon Ball Z, this type of baking project could probably be applied to other things. Like if you were to have a Jurassic Park themed party, why not use this to make the fossilized amber? Just a thought!

Conclusion:

Overall, this was a fun experiment, but I don’t know if I will do this again unless someone willingly asks me too haha. To be honest, I don’t even like caramel that much. And if I am going to eat creme brulee, I’d rather have it as a potent custard 🙂

Still, Ro is awesome for coming up with this video, and I had a lot of fun. She must also have an amazing dentist and some hard teeth because she was able to chomp right into those caramel covered cake balls. I have to flip them to the underside where the stick used to be  (the most vulnerable spot!) and smack it with a spoon so it can explode into bite sized pieces (as if dismantling a hard shelled beetle. EW).

Anyways, go and start your YouTube Geek Week right and try some Nerdy Nummies recipes!

References & Troubleshooting:

Baking idea: 

http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCjwmbv6NE4mOh8Z8VhPUx1Q

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZrKjIvuDEOM

Creme Brulee:

http://indirectheat.blogspot.com/2009/11/creme-brulee.html

http://www.cheftalk.com/t/38412/creme-brulee-help

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bain-marie

Caramel Dip:

http://www.wikihow.com/Caramelize-Sugar

http://www.dominosugar.com/bakers-circle/newsletter-archive/sugar-heat-caramel

What Makes Being A Nerd Awesome? By Wil Wheaton

This is so amazing. And what I love most about it is that it was on the spot, impromptu, and genuine.

What makes being a nerd awesome? The way you find other people who love [something] the way you do.

https://www.upworthy.com/this-is-what-it-looks-like-when-the-king-of-the-nerds-gives-your-infant-daughter-a-pep-talk-7?g=2

Words of wisdom by Wil Wheaton. A mouth full of alliteration, and it’s totally worth it.

Thanks to my friend, Naomi for sending this to me.

How Different Types of Happiness Affect Human Health

Sorry for the drop in posts this week. I had a few night shifts, so I have been trying to rest the past couple of days.

I wanted to share this interesting article I read about how human cells respond to types of happiness. While happiness in general is associated with better health, Science Daily explains the difference between hedonic and eudaimonic happiness.

Terms sound familiar? Probably because you have heard of them in your Philosophy 101 class. Hedonic happiness is defined as a simple happiness derived from a pleasurable experience. Eudaimonic happiness is a “deeper”  type of happiness that is driven by a noble cause, or as my Ethics prof taught me, a sense of duty.

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Figure. This picture has really nothing to do with the article, but they look like smiling, happy cells! It is actually grass cells seen under a microscope. Image source was provided by my friend, Christine: http://haha.nu/arts/photography/grass-cells-under-microscope/

Researchers have found  that people with eudaimonic well-being had a positive affect on their gene expression, showing decreased levels of CTRA in immune cells, whose expression is associated with stress. In contrast, hedonic happiness showed higher levels of CTRA expression, possibly because this happiness  is associated with consumption of “empty calories.” I’m not entirely sure what they mean by “empty calories” but I would assume that  hedonic happiness can be derived from drinking alcohol or eating food in larger quantities or lower quality (IE- fatty foods and sweets, yum!). These things may trigger the reward circuit in the brain, but also eventually lead to a negative impact in health if done excessively.

These findings may indicate  how important it is for humans, on both a mental and physiological level, to have a sense of purpose in their life. In discussions I have had in literature and philosophy classes, we have always talked about how this drive for greater meaning in life is what makes us humans so uniquely human, setting us a part from other species. It’s really cool to see how this can been reflected both on a biological level and not just a  “spiritual” one.

Got to love connections made between humanities and science. Deep stuff, man.

Source: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/07/130729161952.htm