Tubes & Scones to Bikes & Stroopwaffels

Hoi It’s Gina

First off I just want to say how awesome it was meeting most of the other ESR’s at the summer school in Wageningen. It was really cool to see who I will be working alongside under FoodSmartphone. Everybody seemed enthusiastic and friendly and it was nice to get to start getting to know people, (even if everyone thinks that I speak too quickly!)

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(Me on one of my first days in Wageningen, making the essential “city of life sciences” picture)

I moved to Wageningen at the start of May, and I have to admit it is very different from where I grew up and lived in London. I am already in love with the Netherlands (NL) and Wageningen has stolen my heart. It is incredibly beautiful here and I have never seen anywhere so green! One of the first things you are told when you move to NL is “buy a bike”, so that is what I did, never mind the fact that I hadn’t ridden a bike in 10 years! It was fine for the first month or so and then one rainy morning, my wheel hit the curb and I came flying off my bike with cut hands, two black knees and a serious dent in my pride.

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(Me and my trust bike before my first fall) 

The people here are incredible. Every body I have met so far has been friendly and welcoming, which is exactly what you want when living in a new country. I have made some great friends already which has gone a long way into helping me settle in the country. The team building activities here are actually FUN rather than the forced entertainment that they are in the UK. I took part in WE day which is basically a ninja warrior inflatable course for employees at Wageningen University and Research.

(WE day, Wageningen)

(BBQ with the Interns from RIKILT (p.s. first BBQ as a vegetarian and it was not as bad as I expected!))

I have visited a few places so far since arriving: Amsterdam, Arnhem, Nijmegen, Hattam but it is the charming city of Utrecht that has made a lasting impression. There is a different ambience to Utrecht, The Dom (the tallest church tower in NL) looms over the city, giving it an omnipresent quality. Climbing the 95 meters of the Dom was a great experience, despite how it made my legs ache. Each floor told a different story, the group was particularly excited that it is possible to hire out the venue for parties and you can even have a DJ placed in one of the high set alcoves in the side of the wall (but how you get the DJ up and down from there remains a mystery!). It was breath-taking to see the view from the top of the tower, as NL is a very flat country it is possible to see Amsterdam and Rotterdam (unfortunately it was terrible weather when I climbed, so the view was compromised).

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(View from the Dom of Utrecht @ 80m)

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(Rietveld Schröder House, Utrecht) 

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(Wageningen Dyke ft. some thirsty cows)

I have also been lucky enough to be able to join some groups since arriving in Wageningen. I am the public relations (PR) officer on the board for Amnesty International. This is a position that is important to me as it allows me to interact with like-minded individuals fighting for equal human rights. It is frustrating that there is so much inequality still present in the world in 2017, being a board member of Amnesty allows me to lead the PR committee and to communicate with other organisations in order to make Amnesty as visible, interactive and effective as possible.

I am also a member of Wageningen 500 Women Scientists; a response to the differences experienced between men and women in science. This is also close to my heart as it gives women (and men!) the opportunity to break down stereotypes that can negatively affect women within science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The fact that some important scientists still have the opinion that there should be gender segregated labs, as women will “fall in love” in the laboratory exemplifies, that there is still a very real gap between how men and women are thought of within science. These positons are special to me as I think it is important to have a good balance between work and social activities and I enjoy spending my time (attempting to) making the world a better/fairer place.

In addition to the summer school, so far I have completed one other PhD course: Brain Training. The day long course taught us how to speed-read (over 300 words per minute), how to filter scientific journals for relevant information and how to make “memory bridges” to make connections to important information so we can recall and understand it more easily. I found this course extremely useful as I can often find myself becoming distracted or losing my place in an article half way through. Before this course I was also wasting time reading whole articles without pre-determining whether the information would be relevant to my research, Brain Training has taught me how to effectively skim and scan texts to obtain a general overview of the subject before going into more detailed analysis. I would definitely encourage other PhD researchers to take this course or a similar one as it has already helped me so much!

Up until now I have been conducting a literature review on the commercially available allergen assays, and comparing the “proof-of-concept” research based multiplex allergen assays as a benchmark for my own design. I have just begun my initial lab experiments. I will be using the surface plasmon resonance (SPR) Biacore 3000 to perform a kinetics and affinity study on a range of antibodies for the allergens: peanut, hazelnut, soy and milk. RIKILT already owns a massive range of monoclonal antibodies for each of these allergens, so it is necessary to test these for specificity (and cross reactivity), selectivity, affinity and binding parameters to determine which antibodies should be advanced for use in my final assay.

Over the next few months, I hope to be able to select a highly-specific monoclonal for each of the allergens being included in the assay based on the results of the SPR study. Results from the Biacore 3000 study can then be replicated using imaging SPR (iSPR) IBIS machine to validate the Biacore results.

Thanks for reading my first blog post and I hope to have some more exciting results (rather than just a plan) on my second post! I am very excited to get started on the practical side of this project and to start developing devices that can benefit citizen science!

Best Wishes,

Gina

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