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Last week Chris and I went house hunting in Santa Cruz. As with any quick trip with definite goals, it was quite a whirlwind, but I’m happy to say that we managed to explore the area, find an apartment and go to local bike shops with time leftover for walks on the beach and hikes in the redwoods. Success!

We went expecting to find an apartment in the city of Santa Cruz, but the places that were in our price range were a decent commute to school and downtown. So we went north, into the redwood forest. Our apartment is 10 miles from the city and the commute over twisty, turny roads through the redwoods is gorgeous. It’s definitely smaller than we’re used to, so that will take some adjustment for both of us, but we’re excited to have a cottage in the woods.

One morning, we got coffee from a local coffee roaster (looks like it will be a good substitute for Kaldi’s coffee here) and walked along the beach. We saw dolphins and 3 groups of seals catching their breakfast in the ocean. It was a great way to start the day.

There seem to be good things for both of us there. For Chris, there’s a great bike culture, amazing trails, and a respect for locally produced goods. For me, there’s no shortage of interesting stories due to the science activities locally and nearby (Stanford and San Francisco) as well as wonderful hiking for inspiration. Here’s to a one year experiment of living in California!

My time in Lindau reminded me that there are plenty of adventures to be found close to home. Returning to St. Louis, I was inspired to find new experiences in the St. Louis area. After a quick internet search, I found the Wabash Frisco and Pacific steam train in Eureka,MO (20 miles southwest of St. Louis). I’d never been on a train ride through the woods, so I thought that it might be great fun. And I was right.

My fellow riders were families with young kids. It was fun watching the little ones get excited as the train pulled up to the “station.” One little girl sitting in front of me wasn’t that excited about the train ride, but she was a good sport. When our train stopped in the middle of the woods to let another train pass, she asked, “Mommy, are we going to have to walk all the way back?” Mom reassured her that the train would take us back.

The scenery wasn’t too special (typical Missouri cliffs, a view of the muddy Meramec River, and the usual trees). What I did find fun was the sound of the train in the woods. I’m used to the rustle of a squirrel bounding over leaves or the crunch of sticks underfoot as I’m hiking. The chugga-chugga of the engine and the whoo of the whistle was both foreign and familiar…and just plain fun. Here’s a photo of the volunteer operators reversing the engine after our trip.

We’ve had a string of 100+degree weather here lately, so I’ve been trapped inside near the AC. When the temps have dropped some, I’ve been exploring different hiking trails around the St. Louis area. When Chris and I leave Missouri next month, I’ll put my book of area hiking trails in the Moeller lab library for other grad students to use. I should include an appendix with information about the steam train too!

My impression of the 60th Lindau Meeting of Nobel Laureates, as told in my last post, doesn’t really give you a feel for the meeting in general. As I was busy working on the newspaper this year, I didn’t really get to experience the meeting as much as I had hoped. So, I’ve been learning about the meeting from the press coverage. I thought I’d share my favorite articles with you too.

This year, we had a website sponsored by Nature and Spektrum der Wissenschaft (Scientific American‘s German language edition) that served as our blog and social media aggregator. Here are some of my favorite posts:

  • An interview with Ada Yonath, 2009 Nobel Laureate in chemistry. I enjoyed her perspective on being a mother and a scientist. When asked to comment on the conflict between being a mother and a scientist, she replied “Society thinks there’s a problem.”
  • A summary of the panel discussion titled On Being a Scientist. (Watch the discussion here until July 31, 2010. Sometime during the next year, this video will be moved to the mediatheque on the Lindau Meeting website.) Four Laureates shared their experiences at the bench on their path to the Nobel Prize.
  • A summary of Oliver Smithies’s talk. He clearly loves playing around in lab…and I’m impressed that he is still doing research at 85 years old!
  • One of the highlights of the Lindau experience is the honest discussions between Laureates and students that unfold in the relaxed atmosphere of the meeting. Akshat Rathi attended an small invited dinner and did a great job describing the experience.
  • For typical advice that Laureates give to the young researchers during their lectures, read Lou Woodley’s post.
  • I met Jamie Hall, a graduate student in parasitology in Glasgow, Scotland, during a dinner. Together with a friend, he produced a comic about parasites, which they handed out during a parade in Scotland. I loved his approach to science communication! He wrote about the comic here.
  • Ashutosh Jogalekar, a graduate student and blogger from the 59th meeting, did a wonderful job explaining the magic of Lindau, both the meeting and the island.

We gave handheld video cameras to 7 young researchers so they could document their experiences during the meeting. View their video diaries on our YouTube channel.

  • Lila Warszawski and Duncan Mortimer, both from Australia, showed us the fun side of the meeting.
  • Diana Martínez Llinàs, from Spain, talked to young researchers and Nobel Laureates to find out how they got into science.
  • Emmanuel Unuabonah, from Africa, talked to anyone he could find. I was impressed that he even got Dr. Shimomura, who is normally quite reclusive, to talk to the camera!

Here’s a collection of articles about the meeting from other blogs on the web. My favorite articles are from John Timmer who writes for Ars Technica.

  • Many young researchers clearly idolize the Nobel Laureates. Timmer’s comparison of two Laureates reminds us to carefully evaluate information for ourselves, even if it comes from a Nobel Laureate.
  • Robert Laughlin, 1998 Laureate in physics, spoke about his latest book (soon to be released), When Coal is Gone. Timmer and Mariette DiChristina, editor of Scientific American, wrote summaries of his talk.

Videos of lectures and panel discussions will be available here until the end of July. Over the next year, these videos will be moved to the mediatheque on the Lindau Meeting website.

Working as part of the executive secretariat (the organizational team) for the Lindau meetings, now I really appreciate just how few people make such a large meeting happen. As I’ve said before (or I’ve just written it so much for the Lindau meetings, I feel like I’ve said it before), this year’s meeting was the largest thus far–59 Laureates and over 650 young researchers from over 70 countries in attendance. That doesn’t include VIP guests [HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand and Prof. Dr. Annette Schavan (Federal Minster of Education and Research for Germany), among others]. So I’d guess there were over 1000 people who came to the little island of Lindau for this meeting.

The executive secretariat has about 7 people who are employed year-round. As the meeting approaches, interns and temporary employees are hired to help with the extra work load; more people come just for the meeting.  I’d guess we had about 20 people on staff during the week of the meeting.

My project as an intern with the communications team was to produce a conference newspaper that reflected the events of the meeting. My boss, Christian, and I decided that we wanted the newspaper to reflect the spirit of the meeting, including articles about science, profiles of young researchers, and themes that usually come up in discussions betweeen Laureates and students (outreach work, responsibilities of scientists, life experiences).

I spent the two months leading up to the meeting researching, writing articles, and finding young researchers with neat stories to tell. I profiled a young professor in Nigeria, Dr. Emmanuel Unuabonah,who is working to use locally-obtained clay as an adsorbant to remove heavy metal ions such as lead from water. He hopes to be able to create a water purification system that can be used by people in the rural areas of Nigeria.

Here’s a photo of Dr. Unuabonah as I handed him the finished paper on Friday afternoon.

For another story, I wrote about young researchers who are balancing research with having a family. I also found a couple of graduate students who share the science they love with younger students through volunteering.

When the meeting started, I had prepared as much text as possible and given everything I had to the graphic designer, Andreas. I kept my schedule as free as possible so that I would have time to react to things that popped up. I didn’t quite realize that I would spend the whole week reacting, running around gathering photos, writing articles, and finishing interviews. Thankfully, Andreas is the calmest person ever and knows how to work under pressure. While I was running around like a mad woman trying to collect content so that he could do his part of the project, he took photos, brought me water, and reminded/forced me to take breaks.

Since Andreas felt that I was not getting paid enough for my work (as I was officially employed as an intern), he came up with his own way to reward me–writing “Praise Melissae” at the top of his to-do list. [UPDATE: I don’t want to seem that I’m quibbling about pay….I was ecstatic to have a paid internship and was compensated fairly.] Whenever I got frustrated by the situation, he gave me a healthy dose of praise. It sounds silly, but it really helped. I returned the praise, but he shrugged it off saying, “Well, I’m getting paid.” But I hope it helped him too. After the meeting was over, both Andreas and I could not stop telling people what a great job the other did. It was a fun collaboration.

Here’s a photo of us at the BBQ on Tuesday night. Andreas is in front of me in line.

Andreas and I getting some dinner. Photo by Christian Flemming.

It was hard work, but in the end, we were both proud of the newspaper. It is 32 pages long, filled with photos and text. The pdf of the paper is supposed to be placed on the meeting’s website and I’ll post a link here when it’s online.

Andreas and I were swarmed by students eager to get a copy as we handed out paper (literally hot off the presses) on Friday afternoon. It did its job. When I left the meeting in 2009, I wanted to share the experience of the meeting with the rest of the world. With this newspaper, I feel that I was able to do that this year.

My favorite thing about the newspaper was talking to scientists in a variety of fields, from parasitology to theoretical physics, from around the world and learning about their stories. There were more stories than I could write, and I hope some of the journalists who came to the meeting write about them.

Here’s an example:  I met a student from Australia who has done field work in Antarctica, studying the trapped gases in ice cores to learn about the past composition of the atmosphere. He lived on the ice with 5 other people for 5 months. After the airplane dropped them off on the ice, they had to dig out their equipment and tents out of the snow. How cool is that!?!

I got some good on-the-job science writing experience in interviewing, writing, public relations, editing, and production of a news magazine. Holding the newspaper , I feel more comfortable calling myself a science writer. Before, I just had ideas about how best to communicate science. Now, I have a finished product that reflects some of those ideas. I’m super excited to start the science writing program at Santa Cruz, knowing a little more about what types of stories I like to write and skills that I need to improve.

Well, I’m now back in St. Louis. I’ve recovered from my jet lag (which wasn’t too bad this year!), unpacked, and started cleaning out the house in preparation for the move to California. Time to fill all of you in on my last few weeks in Lindau….and keep my writing muscle in shape. First story—playing dress up.

Bavaria is to Germany what Texas is to the United States. Both are large areas of the country, both believe they should be their own country (or did at one time), and both have their own traditions. In Bavarian, this regional pride is manifested in several ways, from eating weisswurst, pretzels and beer for breakfast to wearing traditional clothes (trachten in German) any time you want. In Lindau, I saw tourists exploring the city in dirndls. Riding the trains throughout Bavaria, I saw guys traveling to watch soccer games while wearing lederhosen.

Every year during the meeting, there is a Bavarian evening on Thursday night, complete with pretzels, beer, an oompa band and traditional dancing. A week before the meeting began, someone in the office thought it would be fun if all the ladies in the office dressed up in dirndls for this party.  The majority of us had never worn a dirndl so we all thought it would be a fun excuse to put on a fancy costume, kind of like a German Halloween. Soon, the guys in the office wanted to join the party too,  and almost everyone had agreed to dress up.

I went with some of my co-workers to a shop called the Dirndl Königin (The Dirndl Queen) where we could rent the clothes. It wasn’t really a store…it was a small apartment filled with dirndls and lederhosen in all sizes and all the accompanying accessories (knee high wool socks, hats for the guys, necklaces for the girls). The Dirndl Queen (the owner) was really sweet. She looked each one of us up and down, rifled through the racks of dresses, and pulled one out, saying “This is it. Go try it on.” And she was right! Then, she fussed over all of us, adjusting the aprons on our dirndls and the straps on the lederhosen and trying different necklaces. It was a lot of fun.

My dirndl was black with red embroidery and a red apron. It was the only one I tried on. We all went to the same place, but we all ended up with clothes that fit our personalities. Here’s a photo of us (the office) taken during the Bavarian evening. It was as fun as it looks!

The office in trachten. Photo by Christian Flemming

Now we look like we actually like each other! Photo by Christian Flemming

As a going away present, the office gave me this dirndl. Anybody know of a German festival? I’ve got the dress! The Council also purchased everyone else’s clothes and they will be the new official uniform for office during the Bavarian evening. That news was met with cheers and applause.

Surprise upon receiving my dirndl

On the way the Dirndl Königin, we drove through luscious, green farmland and rolling hills…one up-side to all the rain we had during June and July. After we left the shop, we went to a brewery in Simmerberg, a nearby town. The atmosphere was perfect and the food was great. We all ate like kings. It beats the Schlafly Tap Room in St. Louis!

Tonight, I’m cooking some traditional German food for Chris and Mike–potato pancakes with applesauce (kartoffelpuffer mit apfelmus). Gina made these for me when I visited her in Würzburg. They’re really simple, but they’re delicious. It’s the quintessential post-war food in Germany as the main ingredients are shredded potatoes, onion, egg, and flour. Some people in Germany won’t eat kartoffelpuffer due to their associations with that time in the country’s history. To me, it’s the perfect student food….cheap and filling!

For me, the meeting begins on Saturday the 26th. I have several events to attend that day so that I can write about them for my newspaper and the blog.

For the most part, my newspaper is right on track. The graphic designer is designing and I’m almost done with my list of articles to prepare before the meeting. It’s busy, but so far I have managed to not get too caught up in the craziness. Now, I spend most of my day at work just reacting to things that pop up–design issues, translations to proofread, corrections to drafts of articles I’ve written. I’m glad that I worked my to-do list so that I do not have to spend time being creative. Reacting and creating do not mix.

Tomorrow, I’ll take the day off to sleep in and relax. I’m reading the Grapes of Wrath and I downloaded a Hitchcock movie to watch in the afternoon. There’s no sense in getting worn out before the meeting even starts!

Last Saturday, my officemate, Elisa, and I traveled to Munich for the day to go to the Deutsches Museum. It’s 6 floors devoted to science and technology, from airplanes to industrial metal working machines. There are rooms filled with engines that have been cutaway so you can see inside. It’s a great place to get a feel for how a certain machine or scientific idea has developed over time.

They have a new exhibit called the Center for New Technologies, where they introduce the public to nanotechnology. I’ve never seen an exhibit quite like this. They do more than explain that nanotechnology is really small. They show the public how researchers study nanotechnology. They have actual lab instruments (or just pieces of them) on display, empty bottles of chemicals, and bottles for cell culture. They also talk about ethical issues associated with the latest research. In the genetic engineering section, they address common misconceptions about cloning.

I thought it was really well done. Usually science exhibits just present clusters of information, but this exhibit teaches the public how researchers learn that information. The director said that he wanted to teach the public about the “fragility of science,” that science is always changing as researchers uncover new information. I think this exhibition at least is a start to showing the public that science is a constantly evolving process.

Elisa and I wandered around the museum for four hours. Then we stopped for dinner and caught the train home. That’s the last thing on my list of things I wanted to do and I’m really glad we went.

We had a string of good weather for a few days after the rund um started. One day, there was a warm, dry wind. My officemates said that it is called a Sahara wind because it comes from that desert. I even felt some sand on the tables. I can’t believe that the wind can travel across the Mediterranean without picking up moisture, but I have to trust the data. It definitely felt like it came from the desert.

Sorry for the delay in telling this story. It’s getting quite busy around here and I haven’t had any brain cells left to write at the end of the day.

Two weeks ago, there was a sailing race around Lake Constance. I was told that there were 500 boats on the lake, all different types of sailboats. It starts outside the Lindau harbor and they have 24 hours to sail around the lake, visit checkpoints and return to the harbor. The boats are not allowed to have motors onboard, so they are completely dependent on the wind. If there is no wind, the race can’t start. Also, I was told that this weekend is guaranteed to have the worst weather of the year.

Thankfully, the weather was absolutely gorgeous that day. It was sunny with a warm breeze. The sky was clear and we could see the mountains in Austria and Switzerland more clearly than ever before.

the boats lined up for the start

And then it was time to start. There was a great breeze in the middle of the lake, and they all went quickly away.

And they're off!

After all the boats were out of view (which actually took some time because there were so many), my officemates and I had sparkling wine and enjoyed the festival. It was a fun evening.

A few days later, I got the details of the race from my officemate. His landlady’s husband was on a boat in the race. He said that the wind stopped just around the corner from the island in a town called Wasserberg (5 km west of Lindau). Only 33 boats made it back to Lindau in 24 hours. The rest were stuck on the lake for 2-3 days.

The race started on Friday night. The next morning, this officemate flew from Friedrichshafen to Cologne. He said it was the most beautiful flight he had ever taken. The sky was clear and he could see for miles…..and all the sailboats were stuck in one spot on the lake.

Even if the sailors didn’t have much fun, we certainly had fun in Lindau!

The meeting officially starts on June 27th, but my work will start on Saturday the 26th. I have several events to attend and write about for the paper. I’m working on getting the graphic designer as much content as possible for the paper so that he does not have to design 32 pages in 5 days. It’s getting busy, but it’s manageable. Another science writer is coming from New York to help me write articles during the meeting. She’s helped edit some of the articles I’ve written so far and she’ll help write during these last days. I’m really glad to have her help and I’m excited to meet her. Another bonus: our graphic designer is the calmest person I have ever met. I do not think it is possible to get him stressed. I’m looking forward to working with somebody who has calm energy  during the stress of the meeting.

So…I do have stories and pictures to post. I will get to it, I promise. But first I must cross a few more things off my to-do list so that my brain has enough room to be creative. Till later.

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