First of all, I am sure that all of you have heard about the unfortunate events that have happened in Barcelona during the past few weeks. I would just like to say that I am genuinely sorry for all the families who have lost their loved ones in the attacks, and for the people who got hurt during the voting processes. I am incredibly sad that we are still living in a world, where these things happen. I hope that somehow we will be able to head towards a future, where conflicts will be handled in a peaceful manner with logic and reason, rather than with actions of rage and violence.
As my fellow ESRs have already mentioned, I can’t believe it either, how quickly time has flown by since I had to write my first blog post. Similarly to the others I will try to give a short summary of my project as well. The aim of my project is to develop a multiplexed electrochemical immunosensor with an integrated smartphone readout system for the detection of different pesticides in milk and other food matrices. We are planning on reaching our final goal in four consecutive steps:
– Our first task will consist of the production and/or evaluation of the immunoreagents. After the selection of our target analytes (3 pesticides that are involved in food safety) we started to evaluate the immunoreagents (with immunochemical techniques) that the Nb4D group has already developed during their previous research projects, in order to obtain antibodies with high affinity and specificity. (Depending on our results we are also considering the option of developing a new antibody against a new target analyte that is of great significance in food safety nowadays.)
– Since one of the major expected outcomes of the project is to assess the electrochemical immunosensor detection techniques together with electrode arrays, the second part of my project focuses on the evaluation of different electrode surfaces (i.e. carbon, graphene, gold etc.), in order to find the most suitable ones for our immunoreagents. Subsequently to selecting the transducers, we are planning on increasing the electrochemical signal by means of surface modifications (using different nanomaterials, nanoparticles, additives etc.).
– The third part of the project will also be focusing on the amplification of the electrochemical signal in favor of improving the sensitivity of the biosensor. We are planning on achieving a higher amperometric signal with the labeling of our immunoreagents (with different, electrochemically active materials, such as metal nanoparticles, nanomaterials, different chemical mediators, etc.).
– And finally, the last part of my project will be about the connection of the immunosensor through wireless systems to a smartphone readout system for the data acquisition. Subsequently to evaluating commercially available readout systems, (that consist of a potentiostat which is connected via Bluetooth to a smartphone) a new technological approach for a smartphone-connected potentiostat will be studied.
Apart from starting with the evaluation of the immunoreagents after long weeks of literature studies and paperwork, the beginning of the new academic year has been quite eventful for our entire research group as well. We had two PhD defenses in September, for both of which we held rehearsals, where the candidates presented their thesis and everyone from the group could ask them questions and make suggestions regarding their presentations. Even though one of the presentations was in Spanish, it was an excellent opportunity for me to see (and to mentally prepare for) what will be expected from me at the end of my doctoral studies as well. Needless to say, talking 45-50 minutes continuously seem quite scary to me at this moment, but I hope that at the end of these 3 years I will arrive to the point (with lots of practice of course) where I will be able to confidently give even long presentations. After the week of the successful PhD defenses it was time for everyone to let a little bit loose. Some of my lab members were nice enough to organize a weekend away in a small village close to Barcelona. The whole atmosphere was wonderful, we were staying in little bungalows in a forest like environment, where we even had two donkeys to keep us company J. We had a big common house to organize meals (we also had a small fireplace for barbecue) and group activities, and we even had a small playground, a trampoline and a little swimming pool. Even though I have to admit that an entire weekend of almost only hearing Spanish and Catalan was a little bit intense for me, it was very nice and refreshing to see everyone outside of the ordinary everyday environment of the lab.
We also had a workshop of our department (Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Nanotechnology) at the institute, where we had the chance to attend some really interesting lectures about the possible on site applications of different nanomaterials in different fields of science such as the clinical field and the field of food safety for example. Unfortunately, since I am not doing my research at a university, the PhD enrollment process takes a bit more time, which means that I have not been able to attend courses at the university, yet. Nevertheless I will sign up for some on-line courses on scientific writing and presenting, that our research institute provides. I am also trying to learn Spanish, which I have to admit is still a slow process, but I hope that with time I will be able to understand more and be brave enough to engage more in conversations, too.
During my time outside of the lab I am continuing with my explorations in the city of Barcelona and in its surroundings. Until the weather was still warm enough, I went to places next to the sea on the weekends, but with the decreasing of the temperature I had to look for some other ways to relax. For example last week we hiked up to a hill with a really nice viewing point close to the lab with some of my colleagues after work, which was a wonderful way to refresh our minds and escape from the busy life of the city. A few weeks ago I also visited a place called Bunkers-El Carmel, one of the highest points of Barcelona, from where you have a marvelous 360° view of the entire city.
The beaches of Llafranc and Calella de Palafrugell
In addition to the adventures outdoors I managed to visit two of Gaudí’s mind-blowing houses, Casa Batlló and Palau Güell. I have to say that even though the buildings are spectacular from the outside, the inside parts have certainly exceeded all my previous expectations.
The incredible houses of Gaudí
Apart from hikes and walks in the city I am working on incorporating sport into my everyday life as much as I can. Especially during the last few weeks, since I have been spending several hours in front of the computer doing literature research I started to experience some pain in my back and neck. Reading about the meditation classes from Gina really inspired me, so I am thinking about looking for similar courses here, too. For the moment I am doing a few yoga exercises and a bit of stretching every morning and evening for relaxation. Furthermore I have experienced, that I can focus on my work better as well if I do even just a little bit of exercise at home or go for a run outside. I would definitely recommend it to everyone to try and find the time to do exercise, because both your mind and body will appreciate it.
Some of my favourite running spots in the city
Thank you very much for reading my second blog! Unfortunately I won’t be able to attend the RAFA symposium in Prague, but for those of you who will be there, I would like to wish a very nice time and a successful continuation with the project for everyone.
I hope to see you all really soon!