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Culture-Day 5

Posted by terrence.neumann Sep 5, 2012

Experiencing a new country involves using all of one’s senses. New sights, sounds, and tastes are abundant.  I particularly enjoy trying the food of the region and my trip to the Czech Republic was no different.

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My first experience with Czech cuisine was a platter of traditional fare.  Dumplings—both bread and potato—formed the starch base for two types of cabbage and four different meats: sausage, roast pork, ham, and duck.  This platter was enough to feed three people and cost roughly $12.

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The most impressive item that I encountered was a so-called Wedding Feast.  On the recommendation of a dining companion, we ordered this feast for four people, which could have easily fed eight.  The platter was similar to the previous platter with the addition of a bacon dumpling.  The dishes offered similar flavors and it was all excellent.

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Street food in different countries can yield new experiences. My father had traveled to Prague previously and encouraged me to try the street hot dogs.  For a dollar, a vendor cores out the center of a roll, garnishes the space with spicy ketchup and mustard and drops in the hot dog. By placing the condiments inside the roll, the odds of a spills are significantly reduced, although not guaranteed.

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When traveling abroad, a cooking class provides a unique souvenir. My wife and I took a Czech cooking class to learn how to make some of the traditional delicacies we were enjoying. We learned to make a traditional potato and mushroom soup consisting of carrot, potatoes, turnips, and mushrooms.  The main course included roasted pork, white cabbage, and bread dumplings. Dessert was a simple apple strudel.  Surprisingly, these items were quite easy to make and we plan on making them again soon.

Restaurants in the U.S. typically serve tap water free-of-charge. Water in Czech restaurants is bottled and mineral water is popular.  I found it particularly curious that the cost of a bottle of water—usually $2-3—is often more expensive than a serving of beer, which is just $1-2. During this trip, I was introduced to so-called “new wine” which is wine that is allowed to ferment but is consumed before aging. 

 

Overall we encountered a European dining experience that is much different than the predominant culture around Milwaukee.  Restaurants are small and usually offer outdoor seating areas. The pace of meals is slower, more relaxed.  Comparatively, the cost of dining out in Prague was less.

 

I enjoyed traveling to Prague to experience the food, take in the sights and attend a great conference.  I’d like to express my gratitude to the ACS for this opportunity.  

Opportunities-Day 4

Posted by terrence.neumann Sep 5, 2012

Our group of travel award winners visited the American Embassy in Prague to learn about funding and research opportunities in the Czech Republic and across Europe. I live by the philosophy that one needs to put oneself in the line of opportunity, and I found this panel especially intriguing.

 

The city of Brno, CZ is a hub of scholarly activity.  The city is home to eight universities, totaling 80,000 students.  The University of Brno Department of Chemistry Chairman Ctibor Mazal spoke about the ongoing research and facilities in his department.  He noted that there has been a recent swell of investment funds supporting research centers in Brno.

 

Jan Neuman spoke on behalf of Central European Institute of Technology (CEITEC), a partnership of the Brno-area universities.  This project has seven research centers devoted to advancing knowledge in life sciences and advanced materials.

 

Global and regional funding opportunities abound for adventurous researchers.  The longstanding Fulbright program sends students or scholars to participating nations at a host institution. Marie Curie Actions is a program that funds applicants for stays at European universities to work on projects of their own interest. SoMoPro is an organization from the Monrovian region of the Czech Republic that supports scientific projects by inviting applicants to study at their selected universities.

 

These opportunities could open the doors to new international collaborations for scientists, young and old. I am considering an international postdoctoral experience as part of my career and ongoing education.  Learning about these opportunities inspires me to further pursue this avenue.

Plenary-Day 3

Posted by terrence.neumann Aug 30, 2012

To witness world-renowned scientists present their work at a conference is a special phenomenon.  Their command of their subject is unmatched and their presentations are polished by years of experience. This thought never occurred to me until my time with the EUCheMS though; the plenary talks are structured significantly different than the typical science talk.

 

Likely, a large reason for this is the time allotment.  While the majority of talks at this conference have been scheduled for 15-30 minute time slots, the plenary talks are granted an hour. It’s appropriate these individuals be granted more time to explain and expand upon the work and ideas that made them famous. I enjoy hearing the histories of their fields and the novel work they used to solve problems.

 

In addition to these well-known senior lecturers, I would also be interested in the conference highlighting a few younger, less-familiar speakers and their research.  Listening to a graduate student speak for 30 or 45 minutes about their research project could provide an avenue for scientists working in adjacent fields to gain insight into this new field.  It also could help other students develop their own ideas and strategies to solve problems in their own laboratory.

 

As a budding structural biologist, I was indulged by Professor Kurt Wüthrich’s plenary talk.  Protein structures play an integral role in many areas of biology, yet the first structure was solved just over 50 years ago.  The field grew and matured very rapidly.  Less than 30 years ago, Wüthrich published the first NMR solution structure.

 

It is intriguing to consider the progress we young scientists might achieve in the course of our careers. I consider the ongoing genome projects, and how critically important it is to translate sequence to structure to function. What would this mean for future generations? Plenary talks like Dr. Wüthrich’s serve to inspire, teach and challenge us to never stop asking questions.

Presenting-Day 2

Posted by terrence.neumann Aug 28, 2012

It’s not uncommon for an oral presenter to feel anxious: “What if Senior Professor Dr. X asks a probing question I cannot answer?  What if there is complete equipment failure despite my efforts to mitigate them?”  Often, these nervous feelings are unwarranted and the presentation proceeds as planned.

 

I presented my oral talk today.  The title “Solution Structures and Models Describing the Thioreoxin System from Mycobacterium tuberculosis,” described my work at Marquette University.  Our lab is using NMR methods to calculate the solution structures of the thioredoxins—small proteins that control the protein thiol redox state in a cell—from M. tb.  Since M. tb. resists oxidative killing in part by this system, we are working to design new inhibitors that target this system with the goal of indentifying new therapeutics.

 

The presentation went as expected and seemed well-received.  Two follow-up questions were asked and I was able to answer them with confidence.  Overall, it was a great experience to present to an international audie

Networking-Day1

Posted by terrence.neumann Aug 28, 2012

Greetings from the 4th EuCheMS Chemistry Congress!  I am an ACS travel award winner and traveled to the conference to present my research.  Thanks to the ACS for this wonderful opportunity.

 

In my experience, the first day of a new conference is dedicated to meeting an assortment of new people; this conference was no different.  I’ve enjoyed getting to know the other travel award winners and fellow ACS members. These contacts might develop into useful collaborations down the road.  However, my favorite part of talking to new people is listening to their stories.

 

The most inspiring story so far has been that of a scientist from Milwaukee, Wis., where I currently reside.  Alfred Bader, founder of Aldrich Chemical Company, fled Austria at the age of 14 to escape Nazi persecution.  He attended Queen’s University, receiving his BS and MSc, before attending Harvard for his PhD.  After some time at Pittsburg Plate Glass Co, Bader recognized a need in the marketplace for additional research chemical suppliers, prompting him to start Aldrich while working out of his basement and garage.  After merging with Sigma Chemical Corporation, Bader would later serve as president and chairman of the joint company Sigma-Aldrich.

 

Stories like this illustrate the reality of entrepreneurship as a viable career path.  Leveraging knowledge and taking a calculated risk when opportunity presents itself can be the makings of an exceptional company.