Making the Most out of Nitrile Gloves: Micro-Pirate and PCR-Man

March 30, 2010 § 1 Comment

In molecular biology student labs, waiting for a gel to run can make Science kids antsy.

But not Christine and David.  Instead of sitting around and waiting like the rest of us boring folks, these two immediately put their creativity to work constructing nitrile balloon-people.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Micro-Pirate (pictured with Micro-Pipette):

And PCR-Man:

A pair of nitrile gloves, a Sharpie, and an air inlet have never before been so entertaining.


Science Girl talks about being poor on the radio: OSAP to the Rescue

March 29, 2010 § Leave a comment

A news release came out today on the Government of Ontario website stating Premier Dalton McGuinty‘s government’s official commitment to providing greater financial assistance to post-secondary students.  Some of the modifications to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) include:

  • Allowing students to keep more of the money they earn from part-time jobs
  • Providing a no-interest period on student loans for six months after graduation
  • Introducing 1,000 new graduate scholarships

Neil Adams from 570 News was on-campus this afternoon, speaking with students at the University of Waterloo about these recent changes to OSAP.

Listen to me and FEDS president Justin Williams talk to Neil: version 1 and version 2.

Now, what would I do with more money?

Eat more salad, of course.

UW Faculty of Engineering Event: Inaugural Nanotechnology Fourth Year Design Symposium

March 27, 2010 § Leave a comment

WHO: 65 fourth year UW Nanotech students (the inaugural class! – from 2005! woot!)

WHAT: Design symposium with 16 interactive projects, posters, and student presentations.  According to the nanotech site, this engineering program teaches students “how to exploit the special properties that arise when materials are fabricated on the nano-size scale.”

WHEN: Friday March 26 2010 from 9:30 AM to 8 PM.

WHERE: William G. Davis Centre


Figure 1: Jamie Durham explaining her shoe-warming project.

Figure 2: Rajesh Kumar talking it up with Michelle Chan (I think) over her bench-scale electrospinner.

Figure 3: Not sure who this fellow is, but I talked to him, and he was extremely nice. I think his name tag reads "Goran Vlacic". His project - Electrochromic Eyewear.

Figure 4: This picture was totally taken by Graeme Williams. He has not idea who I am and I have no idea who he is, but facebook albums are accessible and this is a good photo. Aerial view of Nanotech Symposium.


The projects were divided into 3 categories: (i) Nanophotonics and Electronics, (ii) Nanofluidics and Nano Bio Applications, and (iii) Nanomaterials. I had one hour between classes to check out the Nanotech Symposium. I got around to seeing at least one from each category, 5 tables in total, without being late for my next class.  (I was pretty smug about it myself.)  Here are the projects I learned about, annotated with a few words on what stuck out to me the most after speaking with the presenters:

(i) Nanophotonics and Electronics

  • Electrochromic Eyewear

    Transition lenses with batteries that enable glasses-wearers to manually control level of tint almost instantaneously.  Compare with slow lag time of 5-10 minutes of traditional Transitions lenses.  Can be operated using a simple watch battery.  The nanoparticles in question that makes the glasses tinted purple? A network of monomers that looks like dog bones, with Iron atoms in between.  Cobalt and rubidium atoms also work, but Iron being the least expensive, was the preferred element of choice for this project.  In addition, Goran assured me that Cobalt and Rubidium conferred no significant advantage over Iron in terms of UV-protection.

(ii) Nanofluidics and Nano Bio Applications

  • Anti-microbial Coatings with Titanium Dioxide Nanoparticles

    Painting synthetic leather car seats with Titanium Dioxide solution to act as an antibacterial and antifungal agent for use in taxis and other public transportation vehicles.  Requires UV rays from natural sunlight (probably at least 15 minutes) to activate nanoparticles and destroy surface microorganisms.  Tested on Escherichia coli and Bacillus cereus as well as with fungi controls.

(iii) Nanomaterials

  • Bench-scale Electrospinner for Quick Prototyping

    Can make quality nanofibres (about 1/100th the width of a strand of hair) using the economic and versatile electrospinning method.  Fibres can be used for medical or electronic applications: bandages, filters, growing artificial tissues, or electronic devices.
  • Night Vision Stealth Coating

    Based on black body radiation principles and crazy wavelength stuff, carbon nanotubes (CNT) are applied to fabric to facilitate “invisibility” when the temperature of the fabric is akin to that of the external environment.  “Infrared camouflage”.  Military applications – “stealth operations”.

  • High Resistance Carbon Nanotube Film for Rapid Shoe Insole Heating

    A battery-powered heat-supply that fits in the insole of your shoe to keep your feet warm and cozy during cold winter days.  The heat supply comes in the form of a black filter-looking like membrane, coated with carbon nanotubes and gold sputtering for good conductivity of heat generated from the battery supply.

(I really wanted to check out Xyloclear, a project that develops a method to make alternative windows out of plant cellulose! Holy crap!)

Overall, though, I had an awesome time.  For me, the inaugural nanotechnology symposium represented the apex of Waterloo geeks at their finest.  I walked away realizing three things:

  1. My other alias could very well be, “the Biology Girl who really, really, really likes Engineering.”
  2. I’m a total techie groupie.
  3. So this is where all the cool kids went.

(OK so maybe those 3 things mean exactly the same thing: the geeky world of fancy technology-that-I-can-barely-comprehend-the-underlying-principles-of-but-can-still-appreciate-the-significance-of still rules my biology-wired brain.)

Regardless, afterwards, I almost regretted not skipping my next class just to have the time to get around to seeing all the projects!  Instead, I contented myself with reading about all 16 projects in class and dreaming about other ways to become the coolest tech groupie yet.

What’s Next – Microbesoft?

March 25, 2010 § Leave a comment

Drew Endy (top) is the Bill Gates (bottom) of synthetic biology.


Just sayin’.

UW Faculty of Science Event: Speed Networking!

March 23, 2010 § Leave a comment

Networking is my middle name.  That being said, I rarely attend school events – not for lack of interest, but in most cases, for lack of time!  After all, how can a Science Girl think about enjoying life when there are 70-page lab reports waiting to be written, DNS Assays waiting to be discussed, and Biolog MicroPlates results in want of interpretation?

But after spending 2 and a half hours this afternoon just writing linker text for ONE part of my MULTI-PART, MULTI-MODULE  lab report #2 for BIOL 348L (Laboratory Methods in Microbiology), I started to foresee a lot of headbanging in the near future, and was ready for my break.

Tonight’s break? A Speed Networking Event, hosted by the University of Waterloo’s very own Faculty of Science.

The following blurb is taken from their website:

On Tuesday, March 23rd at 5:25 pm, the Faculty of Science will host its first Speed Networking event. Undergraduate and graduate students will meet 27 Waterloo Science alumni during a fast-paced, career-focused, interactive hour.

These alumni, representing traditional and non-traditional science careers, will share their personal work-related experiences, such as how career decision-making, networking, and even serendipity led them to do what they are doing now.

What is Speed Networking and how does it work?
After a brief introduction to the event, students will move from EIT 1015 to the building’s second level where 20 tables will be located around the stairwell.  At 5-7 minute intervals, students will switch stations. This will provide an opportunity for students to meet with a wide range of professionals.

After the formal speed networking period, an informal time for mingling and refreshments will offer students an opportunity to continue talking to those in professions of their particular interest.

Doesn’t it sound nerdily networky?

As for the event itself, it was conducted bell-ringer style, which made me kind of antsy, but served its purpose to keep the atmosphere engaging, dynamic, and quite frankly, pretty exciting.

In terms of the 27 speakers – or perhaps more accurately, 24 – I definitely would have liked to see more, or, at the very least, more diversity within the group.  Although most of the alumni who came to speak held admittedly very different jobs, they all nonetheless fell into the categories of applied science, education, business, or law.  Many were involved in fisheries or aquatic systems or watershed management.  There was one Physics/Math teacher.  I noted several private practice physicians (doctor, pharmacist, naturopath, optometrist, and a dentist).

Personally, I think it would have been incredibly interesting to meet some Science alumni who decided to take a more non-conventional route: perhaps going into the arts, or becoming an entrepreneur.  In a feedback email to Bonnie Fretz, UW’s Science Alumni Services Co-ordinator and one of the principal organizers of the event, I wrote: “Wouldn’t it be cool to find someone who went into medical illustration? Or went on to run and operate a health food store?  A food microbiologist? Science communication (TV, Radio, journalism, etc.)? Broadcast media?”  (Fine – so maybe I am one heck of an outlier of a Science student, but hey, who could dispute that meeting a UW-alumni-Bob-McDonald-to-be wouldn’t be super-exciting?)

Overall, I have to hand it to the folks over at the Dean of Science’s office who organized the event: it was an admitted success, especially for a first-time event.  I can definitely foresee the Speed Networking Event becoming a huge hit over the next few years, provided that the committee organizers continue to take feedback seriously (especially feedback from me, obviously – ha!) and implement it to improve the event for future terms to come.

I know, I’m a dork.

March 22, 2010 § Leave a comment

Last Friday, I made this card for my TA.  The one who didn’t show up due to UV-baking last week:

Science Girl likes making art for a cause.

The Edible Hypothesis #1: Avocado “Green” Granola

March 22, 2010 § Leave a comment


I like to eat avocados.  My Mom also likes to eat avocados.  Unfortunately, she can’t eat as many of these babies as I can and when she buys the 5-pack from the store, she inevitably ends up with the last one or two close to rotting.  Curiously, these blackening pear-shaped victims of time often make their way to me in Waterloo (my parents live in Toronto), where I am somehow expected to do away with them.

The most recent avocado that Mom left behind was, unfortunately, quite distasteful.  As I sought to finish him off plain with a spoon, I soon realized that the texture was incredibly off-putting compared to what I normally seek in an avocado.  I did, however, note that its consistency resembled something like margarine, and I couldn’t help but speculate whether or not a decent baked good could be made out of him.

Thus, in a desperate attempt to get rid of the rotting culprit, the idea of “Greenola” was born: crunchy, nutty, granola clusters made with avocado.



  • 1/2 of a large, mushy avocado
  • 1 snack-container of applesauce
  • generous dashes of cinnamon and nutmeg
  • a mixture of grains (amaranth, buckwheat, quick-cook oatmeal)
  • a mixture of flare (dried coconut shreds, goji berries, raisins


  • One large mixing bowl
  • Spatula/large spoon
  • Toaster oven and tray
  • Baking sheet or foil
  1. In a large bowl, hand-mix the avocado and the apple sauce until any and all remaining bits of the avocado are well incorporated into the apple sauce.  Depending on the rotting state of the avocado, this may take anywhere from 3-6 minutes.  (Alternatively, you may wish to use a food processor or blender for this step.)
  2. Pre-heat toaster oven to 350 degrees F.
  3. Throw in your grains into the wet avocado-apple mixture, adding more grains until the consistency of the entire mixture reaches a thick batter.  At this point you should add your spices and mix well again.
  4. Now pour the batter onto the oven tray (which is lined with some sort of baking paper or foil), flatten to spread evenly, and return tray to oven. (Alternatively, you may also want to bake them in clusters.)
  5. Bake at 350 degrees F for approximately 20-25 minutes (or until golden), fluffing every 5-7 minutes.
  6. Remove from oven, add flare, toss, and let cool.


The resultant unbaked granola batter appeared greenish in hue.  Figure 1.a shows the batter spread out on a baking tray before placing in toaster oven.  Figure 1.b presents a close-up of the batter before baking.

Figure 1.a: "Before" green granola on baking tray.

Figure 1.b: "Before" green granola, close-up.

After baking in the oven for 50 minutes (accident!), the granola no longer appeared green.  Figure 2.a presents a close-up of the “after” granola.  Figures 2.b and 2.c show the “after” granola with a fork, and in a bowl with a fork, respectively.  The goji berries and dried coconut shreds were added to the bowl after the granola had been removed from the oven.

Figure 2.a: "After" green granola, close-up.

Figure 2.b: "After" green granola, with fork.

Figure 2.c: "After" green granola, in bowl with fork.


In terms of taste, it was a risky decision not to add any nuts to the raw granola batter.  The reason I chose not to do so was because I did not want to create a granola that was heavy on the fats, regardless of how healthy those fats may be.  I was pleasantly surprised when the “after” granola offered a naturally delicate nutty taste – I had forgotten that that was a native characteristic of the avocado!

With regards to the texture, I had been afraid that the granola would not have any “crunch” and/or form any clusters post-baking.  While the resultant granola was predominantly crumbly, there were nonetheless some clusters formed.  These were formed mainly around the perimeter of the baking tray.

Another concern was sweetness.  I banked on the applesauce creating a natural sweetness and figured that honey could always be added post-baking if the granola was not sweet enough for my taste.  While the resultant granola is not sweet by any means, I am not compelled to add any honey to it.  The goji berries and raisins seem to contribute an inherent sweetness to the granola overall.

In conclusion, with an inherently delicately nutty and sweet taste, “greenola” is a delicious way to do away with rotting avocado gifts from mothers in Toronto.  Since the granola in this experiment was left in the oven much longer than required, cluster formation and overall taste may have been affected.  Further experiments should focus on altering baking temperature and corresponding time to produce higher cluster-yields.

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