I have been keeping a written blog as well as a video blog and I hope that the two will compliment each other. The following posts will be what I had written while waiting for this site to be available for me.
Monday, June 7, 2010
Today was the start of my second week here at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara. I am currently at my desk in the biotechnology building. I share the room with three other students currently working on their Masters degree: Özge Karadaş, Sinem Kardeşler, and Gökhan Bahçecioğlu. I have become very friendly with the group that is in my office as well as with the two masters students across the hall Gizem Altay and Birsen Demirbag. Myself, Özge, Sinem, and Birsen usually go to lunch together. They all speak English really well, but obviously they prefer to speak in their native language. We share many laughs during lunch about language and how to say different words such as Tavuk (chicken), et (meat), or pilaf (rice). More recently the conversation has surrounded how one can find joy or something interesting in even the smallest things in life. I pointed to the salt and peppershaker (making a reference to the last lunch that I had had with them where we described how there are different types of salts and how arbitrary the size of the salt grain was). We commented how the saltshaker had one hole in it, whereas the peppershaker had five holes in it. I asked, semi-jokingly why that was the case and interestingly enough Özge answered that this was in fact the opposite trend to the holes in the salt and pepper shakers as seen in city of Izmir. Although we laughed about the ridiculousness of the entire conversation, it was an interesting example of what I had explained to them half-jokingly to try and inspire conversation.
After work last Friday, Özge, Birsen, and Gökhan, and I went out to a restaurant on campus that was available only to graduate students and faculty. We shared a round of Effes biras (Effes beers) and sat outside in the warm summer air. The restaurant had seating inside but outside they had placed long blue seat cushions along the sandstone walls, which offered a place to sit. In front of the seats there were high round tables. I had been somewhat nervous about my budget for food during the week (not knowing the exchange rate fully at this point), but because I wasn’t feeling well at the time (I guess I had taken an illness with me on the plane from Philly), I decided I needed the sustenance of a large meal, so I bought a burger. Although not traditional and definitely not of Turkish origin, I enjoyed the large juicy burger that was smothered in grilled onions.
Before we had gone out to dinner, Gökhan had explained to Özge and Birsen that the anyone that entered the confines of our office would be required to speak in English only. He explained how in two months, he was going to take the TOEFLE English exam necessary for pursuing a maters degree in English speaking countries. He therefore, to no objection of mine, required that everyone else in the laboratory, upon entering into our office, had to speak in English. If they failed at this measure, they would be given a check mark on a list that we now keep by the door. If someone accumulated 5 marks, they were required to buy us all a snack for when we had tea. Although I have an unfair advantage in this game, because I can only speak English, the others in the lab have yet to come up with a rule for me.
Today is Monday, so we had lab meeting with everyone in lab today. What is interesting is that although I am the only one in the lab that does not speak Turkish, the entirety of the meeting takes place in English. I certainly appreciate the fact that I can understand everything that is going on and although I know that all of the science classes at the Middle East Technical University as well as most of the other department’s classes are taught in English, I feel a sense of guilt for not being able to share in their language. Although I try every day to learn Turkish words, every single student has at least ten years on me in terms of their knowledge of the foreign language. Having initially, absolutely no basis for the Turkish language of how sentences are constructed or even at the outset, what the alphabet was, I feel completely at a loss for trying to communicate in my colleagues natural tongue. Although I feel I can connect with people here and especially those that I work with everyday, I do feel that I miss out on potential exchanges by not knowing the language.
I have been developing a potential project during my time here, which involves the association of a synthetic peptide “GGRGDGG” (which has the specific integrin recognition sequence “RGD”) with collagen films. I had the opportunity on Friday to start the process of collagen isolation by removing the tendons from rat-tails obtained from the GEZI hospital (you can see this process in my week 1 video). Unfortunately the Biotechnology institute does not have a peptide synthesizer, so in order to obtain even a simple sequence such as GGRGDGG, we have to send away for it. The customs and shipping required to Ankara takes a while so while I have started the process of obtaining this peptide (by giving Dr. Vasıf Hasırcı the necessary quote information), I will be concentrating on mixing an elastin like protein (ELP), obtained from one of Dr. Vasıf Hasırcı’s Colleagues in Spain, José C. Rodríguez-Cabello, with collagen to make films. These collagen/ELP blends will be prepared on a polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) template with nano-cone structures. Healthy and cancer cells lines will then be plated on these relief collagen structures to see how cell attachment and motility changes, depending upon the presence and absence of the elastin like protein (with the RGD sequence).
One of the graduate students in the laboratory named Hayriye Ozcelık, who has just passed one of her major examinations in obtaining her PhD, has planned to help me in the development of these collagen/ELP blends. We initially planned to begin this process today after our laboratory meeting (which occurs every Monday at 12:40 pm). However, she had to do some academic and administrative work, so we will have to do this tomorrow. She asked me if I enjoyed classical music and offered me a cd called Dual Celloists. I burned the music onto my computer and gave her back the CD. Here is an excerpt from that:
Along the same lines, I asked Sinem (one of the women I work with in lab) what her favorite Turkish artist was, and she responded that it was Sertab Erener. Here’s a link to a clip of that if you want to check it out.
The rest of the day was spent exploring the literature for background in the area of collagen tissue engineering as well as investigating the possibilities of an international research exchange between Haverford College and other institutions around the world. I believe that many of the scientific questions being asked in the world today cannot be answered simply by a single scientist alone in his research lab. The benefits of domestic and international collaboration have shown their influence not only here in this laboratory in Turkey (with labs in Spain, Prague, and US), but across the globe. For this reason, I believe that allowing students at an undergraduate level, to experience each other, communicate with each other, and to appreciate the level of analytical thinking that each of them possesses, would only strengthen academic and social connections around the world.