Since I am the first one to write on the FoodSmartphone blog this year, first of all let me begin this post by wishing all of you a very happy and fruitful 2018! May this be a year filled not only with new adventures and acquaintances, but with some challenges as well. Let’s not see these challenges as obstacles, but as opportunities to learn and to grow not only as scientists but as individuals, too.
You may remember that I am the ESR working on the development of an electrochemical immunosensor for the detection of different pesticides. Since my latest blog I have completed a series of immunochemical experiments in order to evaluate my selected immunoreagents. As Gina has already mentioned it in her blog, it is really important to have antibodies with high affinity. In that regard the first task was testing the interactions between the selected antibodies and the corresponding coating antigens with the help of non-competitive 2D checkerboard titration immunoassays. Performing these assays with different dilutions of the antibodies and the coating antigens allowed us to select the most suitable concentrations for the development of our competitive indirect immunoassays. With the help of the competitive assays we were able to obtain calibration curves for our selected pesticides, achieving high detectability (in pM-nM range) in all our cases. Our following task was making sure that we do not have cross-reactivities between the different antibodies and analites. In that regard we performed the competitive indirect immunoassays again, using a cocktail of our antibodies and a cocktail of the analites. We obtained identical results to the previous assays, which means that luckily we do not have any kind of cross-reactivity between our immunoreagents.
Besides evaluating our immunoreagents we have also been performing literature research on electrode surfaces and surface modifications for the next stage of our experiments. We have decided to order various kinds of surfaces (carbon, gold, graphene etc.) from commercially available sources. Our aim is selecting the ones that provide us with the highest electrochemical signal using our antibodies. After evaluating the surfaces, our objective will be to come up with different chemical configurations (with the help of surface modifications and with the labeling of our immunoreagents) in order to further increase the electrochemical signal.
Since my latest blog I am happy to write that we have welcomed my fellow ESR Raheel into our research group (increasing the number of foreigners in the group from 1 to 2 :P). Furthermore, we were lucky enough to enjoy the company of Aris for his short secondment at CSIC in November as well. Since all of us were blessed with plenty of work while he was here, we didn’t get to go out that much, but I hope that we were still able to make his time in Barcelona pleasant, showing him interesting parts of the city on the weekends.
Sightseeing with Aris
We also had two quite interesting dinners with the lab at the beginning of December. The first one was the Christmas dinner of our research group. Apart from spending a lovely time in a nice restaurant I got familiarized with a unique Spanish tradition: each one of us had to bring an object from their home (an old present from someone that you wouldn’t use or something else that you have, but do not need), a so called “pongo”. We all wrapped these objects in newspaper and placed them in the center of the dinner table. We all drew a number and then chose our “pongos” according to the order of our numbers. The person with the number “1” chose the first “present”, the one with the number “2” the second one and so on. In every case the next person could either open a new present or steal one from the already opened ones. It was a really funny night, we had presents from painted skulls to an incredibly large amount of bathing salts. The other dinner that we had in December was for the young researchers of the institute of CSIC. It was interesting to get to know new people from other research groups and to hear about their fields of work. Unfortunately I didn’t meet other foreigners, but it was still an enjoyable night, also presenting me with the opportunity to practice my Spanish.
The night of the “pongos”
In the last couple of months I haven’t been able to explore as much of Spain as before, but I still managed to see a few beautiful places. (By the way, I completely support Gina’s idea to create a travelling guide with all the places that all the ESRs have visited, since it really is getting hard to keep track of all of them.) As Aris has already mentioned, autumn here in Barcelona was pretty mild, for most of it we had sunny days with quite warm temperatures, it rarely rained and we couldn’t even see the beautiful colours of autumn (that I was so used to from my hometown) on the streets. You can imagine my excitement when on a November weekend I was able to go to a place called “magical forest”, just a few hours from the city. As soon as I set foot in the forest I could smell the fresh air and be amazed by the extremely high trees and the rays of sunshine coming through their colourful leaves. It made me realize all over again, how important it is to get out of the busy life of the city and recharge with the power of nature.
The magical forest
Another little adventure of mine was to visit Valencia on a long weekend that we had in the beginning of December. The city is located on the east coast of Spain, approximately a 4 hour drive away from Barcelona. On the way there I made a little stop in the charming city of Tarragona which is filled with gorgeous ancient remains (Aquaduct, Amphitheatre, etc.) from the Roman ages.
The city of Valencia also made quite an impression on me with its combination of old and modern buildings, with its orange trees that you could literally find everywhere and of course with its magnificent beach. One of its modern buildings that I have visited was the Oceanográfic, a center where you could see and learn about all the different kinds of sea creatures. I was even lucky enough to see a dolphin show next to all the other amazing animals.
Diverse architecture in Valencia
The Oceanográfic of Valencia
After starting to get acclimatized to the Spanish “winter” I had quite a shock upon arriving home for the Christmas holidays. Unfortunately we only had a tiny amount of snow during the time that I was there but for most of the days it was freezing cold outside. Nevertheless, I am extremely grateful to have been able to spend that special time of year at home, surrounded by my friends and family. I couldn’t have imagined a better way to spend these days than cooking and baking with my grandma, eating all the delicious food with my family and going out with my dearest friends. I am not going to say that it wasn’t bittersweet to leave home after the holidays, but knowing that I have everyone’s support on this wonderful journey of mine always keeps me focused and motivated on reaching the goals of our project.
Winter landscapes in Hungary
I hope that all of you had the opportunity to take at least a few days of rest and now are just as excited and ready for the coming year of the FoodSmartphone project as I am! Let’s make the most of it! 🙂
Until next time,