Monday, October 8, 2007

Traveling...

Do you ever have weeks (or months) where nothing seems to get done? Unfortunately, as much as I am trying, it feels like for the last few weeks my research has been on pause and nothing seems to move forward. Not a good thing for a student starting their 5th year. At the beginning of my grad school career I loved "slow" weeks, when I had the time to read/write/think. Now it makes me nervous not to have an experiment running, and I miss the fluttery feeling I get in my stomach when I am waiting for the results of an important NMR or biological assay to appear on the computer screen. Lately I've been chained to my desk, working on various presentations (3 different ones in all), writing, and reading. (Don't get me wrong, I also enjoy the quality time spent at my desk, but I do want to graduate in about a year, so I like to stay busy).

This past weekend I was at the East Coast PARP Conference in Quebec City. Not only attending, but holding a 40 minute seminar on my research. As sick as it sounds, I actually enjoy public speaking, but in this case it was particularly nerve-wracking. Imagine--I was the only non-professor presenting (except for the guy from NIH, but he doesn't count since he has a Ph.D. already) to an audience of experts on my particular subject. Also, I was the only female presenter. After my talk was finished (luckily I was the second speaker of the day), I was able to enjoy the meeting, learn about some awesome research, and meet all the "famous" people in my field. It's a good thing that I remembered a pen and paper despite my nervousness; I took over 20 pages of notes. While I was at the conference on Saturday, my husband got out and explored the old part of the city, so that he could serve as my tour guide on Sunday. Early October is the perfect time to visit Quebec--the leaves are at their peak and the weather is still relatively warm.

On Thursday I'm off to Michigan to visit my alma mater and once again give a little presentation, only this time my main audience is undergraduates--a huge difference from the conference this last weekend. The last of my seminars will be in the middle of November, and I keep telling myself if I can last until then everything will be smooth sailing.

I hadn't been to an airport in a few months, and was pretty surprised at some of the new security measures. Basically I had to enter a walk-through "portal," stop inside for about 20 seconds while puffs of air shot at me from all directions. It is pretty funny to watch people going through these machines for the first time--almost everyone that I watched go through jumped when the first puff hit them, and then gave a little shiver as they walked through the exit. After a little internet searching, I confirmed my suspicion that this little machine is just a glorified mass spectrometer. According to the Smiths website, the Ionscan Sentinel II (the machine at both airports that I went through this weekend) can detect almost any explosive (RDX, PETN, and TNT to name a few) as well as narcotics (Cocaine, Heroin, THC, and Ecstasy). For the few seconds that I was standing under the puffing air, I was thankful that I hadn't done any real chemistry in lab the last week. What would have happened if the "Sentinel" would have found traces of a NO2-bearing compound on my shoes, hair or clothes?

Do chemists need special notes when we go through airports now?

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