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Scholar Highlights for Week Ending July 6, 2012

July 9, 2012


  • This trip is winding down slowly and I find myself saying, where did the time go. Just yesterday we were getting off the plane and heading to Praia de Forte, now classes are over and over half of our group will be going home next Monday. It is a bittersweet experience, sad to leave but happy to get back to my home in the states. I feel like everyone on this has grown in their own individual way. I have learned to appreciate the small things that people here do for us. Also just because we do not speak the same language does not mean we cannot communicate with each other. The place that there is the most issue with the language barrier is on the bus and while shopping.
  • A note to the wise, always have small bills and exact change whenever buying any item while in Salvador. I do not know if it is just city but they do not like to break big bills or give change if it is more than a couple of cents off of the price. We have had several instances where we have tried to buy something and we did not have exact change and they have refused to give us change and we were not able to buy the item. That is a difference between the states and Salvador. In the states when paying for an item they will bend over backwards to accommodate the customer to get the money. Here it is different in the sense that they hustle like no other place I have been. They try and sell you everything and anything you can, sometimes they follow you until you buy something from them. They are trying to make money however they can.
  • Before I came to the city I had little to no expectations on what I was going to experience. As a group we were told some basic facts such as we would blend in with the population until we began to speak. Other than some simple details we were able to make preconceived notions on our own. I basically came into this trip with a blank canvas. I did think that there was not going to be a high level of racism since there is such a large percentage of African descendants in this country. I was completely wrong. While writing a paper for our culture class, I was reading an article about intermarriage and that also shed light on the racism in this country. Instead of considering people black and white, the people here consider people to be black, white, and brown. I was shocked at the revelation of the facts presented to me by my professor. I feel that through this trip I have been able to keep a very open mind on the situations present. This has led to me not being too overwhelmed but a lot of information I have been given.
  • With this last trip there were a lot of successes in our acquiring the data. The only issue was that the level of oxygen in our readings was too low. The procedure was basically to pick five different points in each lagoon and use the equipment to read each individual spot. Most of the time the results were very similar to each other, which is a good sign. Also we had to write down the observations of what exactly we saw while taking the readings. Givaldo was able to show us plants that were good bio indicators of what a good water environment is versus a bad water environment.
  • As the weeks keep going by and the trips to the dunes become more frequent I think that all of the G-STEM students are finding themselves becoming more adjusted to how things work and the interactions that go one between the faculty at the site. Since this is my first time doing research abroad, I am appreciative to be surrounded by people that can help me with my project when needed, without hindering my progress. With only six days left to visit the site, I am looking forward to how the research project will come together.


  • My scientific experience this week was very productive. I was excited about my cultures growing successfully on schedule as desired this week and being able to make further progress on isolating the bacteria I and working with. My lab partners are, as always, extremely helpful, insightful, and encouraging during this experience. I must say that I do not believe I could have hand-picked such great people to work with and be around on a daily basis. I am starting to develop a steady routine to my schedule and learning how to manage my time around my project a lot better than in the previous weeks. Thus, I know that I am growing in every way as a researcher. I believe that conducting research abroad differs greatly from conducting research in a lab at home because of the lack of crutches that are on demand in the familiar atmosphere of home. I am forced to look beyond the surface and focus on the bigger picture in every aspect of a situation instead of just honing in on the minute details that are as significant to the desired progression.
  • The meeting with my mentor here this week was also very encouraging and progressive. I greatly appreciate the patient and supportive environment that can be stimulated by just a few words from her. In addition, I am encouraged to continue in my pursuit of my vision to become a successful scientist. Graduate school is starting to actually feel more real every day I am here because I am spending a great portion of my day here in the lab beyond the typical work hours. Although I did not initially realize it, the hours seem to speed ahead when busy working on a task for my project. The discussion and interaction about every stitch in the fabric of the overall lab goal is very interesting.
  • I am starting to view science through multiple lenses. Initially, I viewed my project only through the eyes of a future biochemist. Now, however, I am starting to look at my project through the lens of a microbiologist, geologist, and biochemist. Thus, I am beginning to form the well-rounded mentality that shapes a great scientist. The free-thinking ability that I am starting to discover as a part of myself that I did not initially recognize is becoming a significant part of my nature that I will look back in the future and appreciate this research abroad experience for. In essence, the interesting factor of my scientific experience this week was well-defined by the self-discovery that is taking place as I begin the journey towards true scientific thought.
  • I would describe my cultural experience this week in one word as being “defining.” The beliefs, concepts, and theories that mold youth under the wings of parents, guardians, and supervisors become paramount when that youth has to learn to stand alone and face challenges. I am beginning to understand the importance of individual thought. I am being defined every day I am here. I am being constructed and molded every hour I am awake, every decision that I make, and every step that I take on this journey.
  • I had the opportunity to actually sit and listen to the discussions outside the lab done by the other scientists here. I noticed that, even outside the lab, data, reports, standard operating procedures, and lectures are the hot topic of conversation. Upon later reflection, I realized that my future will most likely look very similar to those conversations, dialogues, and discussions. A part of me is actually thrilled at that thought.
  • I want begin to understand the passion behind the words of the work being done by the PhD candidates and fellow graduate students here. There seems to be an overall understanding in this environment that the true world-changing nature of science starts in the everyday frustrations and overall successes. In essence, my cultural experience this week has been defining because I am continuing to expand the geography of my mind.


  • This week has been very interesting, to say the least. The experiences I have had during the past 7 days have really allowed me to see how I have grown over the past 5 weeks. I didn´t [think] this was possible in such a short time.
  • This week has been very interesting, to say the least. The experiences I have had during the past 7 days have really allowed me to see how I have grown over the past 5 weeks. I didn´t [think] this was possible in such a short time.
  • The school year is officially finished here in Spain, which means for a lot of students, heading back home or traveling. I am very happy to say though, not for my roommate. After finishing her finals, she told me that she decided to stay here until I leave and take an English Language and Grammar course offered at the university. She said I was a great roommate and she told her parents that she wanted to stay around to actually get to know me and learn some more English. I couldn´t even believe it. I felt so special, especially since we really haven´t gotten to spend that much more than dinner, or a day or two together. She also has officially deemed me as her tutor in English grammar, and I must admit, she´s not bad if I do say so myself.
  • After beginning to help her when she needed, I became even more inspired to continue learning the language, so I decided to take charge of my situation and figure out some way to learn more, at a faster rate. I couldn´t take a class because I work during the day, and private tutors were super expensive, so after asking around I discovered Intercambio, a program through the University of Salamanca. Intercambio translates to ´language exchange´. It is a free site where you can post advertisements about what language you want to learn and what language you speak. Following, you are contact by students your age who want to learn your language and in exchange will teach you theirs.  It sounded like such a great opportunity, so I signed up.
  • I knew English was a good language to speak, but I didn´t know how much. Within two days I had received more than 30 requests for Intercambio from all sorts of people. I couldn´t pick, so I just chose the first request. The was a student at the university. I was sure if he was surprised to meet me, but he had an uneasy feeling about him when we went to talk. After talking about thirty minutes in Spanish, we changed to English. At first it was not that bad, then he paused to say could he make a comment. After I replied with ´´of course´´ he then proceeded to tell me that he was surprised because I was nice, for a black person. At first I thought he meant to say something else, so I asked him what did he mean and he elaborated on how black people were ´´primitive,´´ especially the males, who can not control their actions or the volume of their voices. He told me that I should be proud though, because I was not like ´´those people,´´ and to top it off every time he said ´black´ he rubbed his face as if it were dirty. I was so angry and hurt; I did not sign up for harassment. What bothered me the most though, was the fact that he didn´t find anything wrong with his comments. He felt they were justified and that I should have agreed with him.
  • Needless to say, I left directly after this comment was made. I told him that I felt sorry for him, because with a mind a narrow as his, he will miss out on so many great things and people in life. I had many other sentences, but my getting angry would have been proving his point.  At this point I wanted to give up on Intercambio, if these were the type of people I was going to meet, I didn´t want to continue. However, after taking time to reflect, I decided to give it another try. There are ignorant people in the world, but I was not going to let one person stop what I wanted, which was to learn.  The next day, I signed up to meet another partner, this time a female. I had doubts about meeting her, but when I walked under the big clock in Plaza Mayor (the meeting place for all people in the city), I was delighted to meet this 13 year old girl and her little brother. During our conversation she was very polite and sweet and she seemed to think it was so cool to be seen hanging out with an American. I mostly tutor her in English, and sometimes we speak in Spanish, but not often. So, in order to better facilitate my learning, I gave it another try and signed up for another Intercambio partner, who is a student at the University. We talk about politics, current events, popular culture, and his girl friend and I are both biology majors, so the two of us talk science
  • Sometimes it is so hard to believe you are changing, because it is almost impossible for you to see it. But I can honestly say that I see myself changing, and growing. Now that I think about it, I am grateful to have had that terrible experience. Because of that, I don´t have any fears about racism here; I handled it once, and I could do it again. Also because of that experience, I know that I am a better person than I was the day before, and maybe if it did not happen to me, I would not be at peace with who I am or think about what I have the potential to be. So, thanks to [the first intercambio], because you helped me see that I am better. Ciao!


  • However, in Madrid, Spain there a much bigger patriotic moment to celebrate than Independence Day; Spain is currently celebrating the ultimate sports championship, the 2012 Euro Cup.  While the Euro Cup to the rest of the world is a major championship, however to Spain, wining the Euro Cup was much more to Spain. The Euro Cup was the national patriotic revival that Spain has been waiting for in the midst of an economic crisis.  On Monday, thousands of Madrid natives flooded Plaza Espana to celebrate the Spanish victory. Among the sea of red , yellow, and Spanish flags was a spirit of hope and pride that filled the atmosphere and yesterday’s headlines concerning the strength of the Euro and the fiscal future of Espana were simply irrelevant. I was truly beautiful sight.  Spain’s triumph, or perhaps the upcoming holiday, was an opportunity for me to reflect on the things that make me the most patriotic. What makes me proud of America? How do I define being American or even African American?
  • Prior to being abroad in Spain this summer, the 4th of July was always about the family, food and fireworks. I never pondered the reasons to be grateful or even proud of my country’s legacy. But as I looked over data from my earlier experiments, without the soundtrack of laughs and music in the background, I realized that being an American actually meant something to me. Being an American was about a history and legacy of freedom of expression and equal rights for all people; it was about being accepting of the differences in the American fabric and allowing justice and independence to be our common thread. And most importantly it meant the freedom to have liberty in ones identity. While defining the definition of being an American wasn’t my purpose for studying abroad, however, comparing and contrasting the mission and history of Spain has gave me greater appreciation for my own place of origin. Just to be clear, Spain doesn’t disagree with the ability for one to have rights, however, the Unites States’ focus on independence, liberty and personal rights is what I appreciate.
  • After a month of planning and preliminary research, this week I got the opportunity to complete the experiments that I designed. I had been anticipating being in the lab on a consistent basis since I first found out about the project and Monday was my big opportunity. As Monday came and went and the week progressed on I realized the hard work and dedication it took to be an environmental engineer. My intensified series of the experiments includes multiple encounters with mildly toxic waste , water and rocks. While it is extremely fun and exciting, it is also quite difficult and challenging to work with materials that have the ability to extremely reactive under specific conditions. In addition, working with highly reactive material, the material is also organic therefore, drawing profound conclusions require special observation. Needless to say that week has been hard work. However, with my new found independence and freedom within the lab I have managed to really make progress towards answering my research question. Next week I really look forward to perfecting some of the lab techniques that I created and learned this week.


  • Since nothing was familiar, this experience has forced me to look for similarities among people as a whole. Universal concepts and actions have become much more apparent to me. One concept, I have come to greatly appreciate is genuine human kindness. There was the woman in the cafeteria who was obviously irritated by my terrible Spanish. After I would go to the cafeteria to get lunch about once a week, she began helping me pronounce things and tell me what was in my bag in Spanish. One day my lunch rang up to 6 euros instead of the normal 5 and I was terribly unprepared. After scavenging through my bag I was still 50 cents short and she just told me to go and that it was okay. I made a mental note of that and knew the next time I made an ATM trip that I was going to give her the 50 cents. When I finally did give her the change I owed she gave me extra food, looked around and smiled. I told her “thank you” in Spanish numerous times and walked out of the cafeteria with a smile and a story. Then there is the cleaning lady who calls me “pretty girl” in Spanish and asks how I’m doing everyday. The other cleaning ladies just look at me like I’m an alien when I say “hola” to them but not her; she smiles and replies with enthusiasm. What would normally be small gestures of kindness that I would, admittedly, most likely have taken for granted had I been at home became monumental and heart-warming. For ever few people who have been terribly rude to me since my arrival there have been a few others who have been so kind to me and I deeply appreciate them.
  • I did not realize that the project contained such a redundant process. I knew that experiments, protocols, and certain procedures had to be repeated because the scientific method is based upon trial and error. The issue here is that there appears to be a lot of little errors occurring. The errors aren’t anyone’s fault specifically but if one step, one microgram, one miniscule detail is somehow misplaced everyone who participated before and after is left to repeat experiments that could take hours. Despite these setbacks from this week, I learned how to properly use a nickel-affinity column. It is used as another protocol for purifying proteins. Once the vector has been correctly “tagged” during the expression the produced protein will have an affinity for nickel and stick to it in the column. True to the pattern of this week, the nickel affinity column protocol needed repeating after the concentration was much too low.


  • The properties of the lagoons are measured by using a technology that was labeled in situ. The in situ means that it is a probe multiparater. It is a tiny piece of technology that part of it gets place in the lagoon, while the machine records the properties. The properties recorded are: temperature in Celsius, pH in millivolts, pH, oxygen reduction potential in millivolts, electrical conductivity in microseconds per centimeters, turbidity, dissolved oxygen in milligrams per liter, dissolved oxygen in percent, total dissolved solids in milligrams per liter, and salinity. As a result my group went to each lagoon, placed the machine in the water and worked the equipment. We did this five times for each lagoon in different locations in the area. The various repetition of measuring the quality of the lagoons was for accuracy.
  • This is the first time that I have witness having an error in research, and having to do the same thing all over again. But this whole concept is a part of research. In our lab group for the following week, we will be observing the samples from the lagoons under a microscope. Also we will be analyzing the results we collected. The microscope will help with the knowing the stability of the lagoons and the impact of the environment.
  • The conclusion for this part of the experiment is to observing if the lagoons are in a good quality. It is necessary to monitor the lagoons because the changes in the environment could impact the lagoons in a positive or negative manner. Overall doing research in Brazil has been an amazing learning experience for me. This is my first time participating in research so I enjoy learning about new technics, which I did not learn in class. In the next week, the other G-STEM scholars and I will only be conducting research at UNIDUNAS.
  • My days in Brazil are very limited, but I am eager to complete my research experiment and share my results with the Spelman community.


  • After our discussion, we prepared to go out into the field. We started at the first lake, Camaroes. We took a sample of water at each lake and took readings of the parameters using a device. The device consisted of a probe that was hooked up to a handheld monitor. The probe was placed in the water and the monitor provided the parameter data which we recorded in a table. We collected readings of the parameters at five different points at each lake.
  • Because of time constraints, we did not get a chance to analyze the data we retrieved for each lake. I predict that a lot of the parameters for some of the reading points will be a lot different based on my observations of the lakes. For example, one part of Flamengo had a lot of vegetation on the surface at one point, but at another point the water surface was pretty transparent. Therefore, it should be interesting to compare the parameters for each lake and the 5 different reading points.
  • Culturally, one observation I have made this week is the difference between how Brazilians and Americans work. We were told that we would be at UNIDUNAS from 7am to 2pm. However, when it was time to take lunch, we were allotted 2 full hours. We were told that we would not resume until 2pm which meant that our time to leave got pushed back. At first, I was confused as to why we had such a long lunch break. It even frustrated me a little bit. In the States, people eat their lunch in about 20 minutes, hurriedly get back to work, and that is normal. Americans like to do everything very quickly. We like to get to the point and we hate feeling like our time is being wasted. Brazilians are not as hasty. A two hour lunch seemed so foreign to me. Why take two hours to eat when I could be working? I had to take a step back and realize that I was not in the United States of America! I was experiencing a new culture where people take their time to enjoy their food and the company of those with whom they share it with. This experience gave me more respect for this culture. Things may not be how I am used to them being, but that is perfectly okay. The world’s differences are what keep humanity humane.
  • Another cultural experience was our trip to Bale Folclorico on Wednesday, June 27th. Bale Folclorico is one of the only black dance companies in Bahia. That night we went to their theater in Pelourinho to see a performance from the company. The performance depicted typical Bahian movement and traditions such as Samba, the Candomble religion, and Capoiera. Samba is the favorite dance of Bahia rooted in African tradition, Candomble is the Afro-Brazilian religion practiced in Brazil, and Capoeira is Brazilian martial art/dance. These traditions were beautifully represented by the company. I loved the performance. It was powerful and exciting, and I loved how it brought reverence to these Bahian traditions that can often be overlooked. After the performance, we went upstairs to one of the dance studios where a class was in session. It was a privilege to see all of the black dancers working hard and giving their all. I am a dancer so this was quite a treat for me. It warmed my heart to see that these dancers had a place that could nurture their talent while also preserving Brazil’s history.


  • The question we wanted to answer was “Is there evidence that waves of young (naïve) butterflies are deceived into mass pollination of the orchid plant, Epidendrum radicans?” We hypothesized that growth of fruits would be consistent with the idea of the deception of naïve butterflies.
  • To test our hypothesis, we went out into the field in search of Epidendrum radicans. Because this flower grows upwards, we were able to count stipules of each flower scar in between fruits. Each scar that did not have a fruiting stem was a flower that had not been pollinated. We took into account the location of the fruits along the stem, and rated each fruit based on maturity. We found that the older fruits were always closer to the bottom of the stem and usually if a stem had multiple fruits they were close together. Also, the vast majority of the fruits were in similar age, indicating that they had been pollinated at similar times.
  • To test our data, we used a chi-squared significance test and found that there was in fact an association between the fruit and the position on the stem. This data was consistent with our hypothesis. We could not prove that the pulse of fruiting was due to the influx of juvenile butterflies into Monteverde, but the data was consistent with the idea.
  • We presented our report on a PowerPoint to our classmates and advisors. The study went well, and our advisors were able to give us good feedback on how to continue improving in our experimentation and presentation. I feel like these field studies are good practice for our own independent study.
  • We will be starting our independent study when we return from our next camping trip. I am planning on doing my research on something having to do with organic/inorganic farming. I was inspired to do my study on this topic after visiting an organic coffee farmer. Another option would be for me to do a study on factory farms, but it may be hard for me to find enough areas to collect data from. I am excited to begin my research when we return from camping, and I am hoping to refine my study subject soon.


  • This week I finally began my own experiment. My research topic is Rheumatoid Arthritis, and what I am essentially trying to find in my experiments is the difference between WT mice and CD38KO mice in level of differentiation from splenocytes to osteoclasts. Osteoclasts are cells that eat away at the bone, inciting many problems including arthritis. Therefore, the mice that we find a greater occurrence of osteoclast differentiation we will expect to be more susceptible to development of arthritis. I found it most interesting that spleen cells could be transformed to bone cells. My favorite part of this experiment, however, is that I was doing it on my own. I have always been a big fan of independence, and though all of the information and practice I received was helpful and necessary, I must say that I was glad to get started.
  • One piece of advice that I would like to share with students conducting research abroad is to remain patient. It may feel like you are practicing and learning protocols forever before you actually begin. But it is important to keep in mind that everything they are teaching you is likely for a reason, and though you may feel like you already know many of the things they go over, it is pertinent to your research to get all the information they give you, so that you can actually do it yourself. In working without supervision for the first time today, I saw how many of the seemingly little things were actually monumental.
  • I had become fed up with still walking around out here like a tourist after living here for over a month, just because of my lack of a language of understanding of their language. For this reason I took it upon myself to make an exchange with a boy who was also interested in learning my language. This is called an intercambio, and the way it works is that I teach him English in return for him teaching me English. This was one of the best decisions that I have made since I have been here. It was extremely easy to find him, as people post many ads online for someone to make a language exchange with, and it is completely free. Not only have I been exposing myself to the language, but outings with someone who is a native of Granada and can expose me to much more of the city than I could find on my own. My only regret is not making an exchange sooner. This experience has been rich, but I would have gotten so much more out of it if I had begun my exchange at the beginning of my program. Finding an intercambio is the biggest suggestion I can give to anyone who is spending time abroad.


  • Travelling to another country is a tremendous opportunity to force yourself to grow up. College provides the same sort of process, but in a much more gradual manner. Freshman year the classes are easier, there are events specifically geared toward helping you adjust to college life, there’s even an entire course dedicated to your transition and development. Sophomore year, the classes are a little harder, you are more involved in different organizations and you’re no longer stumbling around in the college world. By junior year you can be a leader on campus, you’re taking upper level academic courses, making connections in the business world and beginning to work towards your individual future. By senior year, you’re nearly running your life on your own, both making arrangements for what is to follow and taking on the responsibilities that come with being the most experienced class on campus.
  • When you’re in another country, all of that must happen, but it comes in fits and starts, sometimes gradual and sometimes jarringly sudden and unexpected. No one is there to prod you into finding an apartment, but there is also no one present who would let you sleep on their couch until you do. Getting to work is your affair and you must muddle through a foreign language and a transportation system all together unfamiliar to you. You have to pick up necessary parts of the language and stumble through mumbled orders and silent exchanges of cash for groceries. All this is, of course, expected. The real challenges come with the things that surprise you.

One Comment leave one →
  1. June 30, 2013 8:15 am

    It’s really a nice and helpful piece of info. I am glad that you just shared this helpful information with us. Please stay us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.

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