Fulbright Travels, Week Two

Fulbright Travels, Week Two

This second week of my Fulbright exchange has been quite a whirlwind! Albuquerque has a booming philosophical underground – I went to a discussion group called Science and Meaning (only one of many that are available here) last Sunday that is organized by a physicist at the University of New Mexico. There were people from all walks of life there, and we were all united in our passion for one thing: philosophy. We discussed the philosophical implications of whether our universe is the only one, and why it is tuned (with or without agency) to harbor life.

From there, I discovered a wonderful coffee shop called Zendo in the Albuquerque core – if you ever need a creative space, Zendo is exactly that. It’s a very open-concept space with minimal, but comfortable, modern furniture. And the coffee – it is the best I’ve had yet while here (although the hunt continues), mostly because they take the time to figure out exactly how to brew each type of coffee bean with each brew method. Anyways, Zendo’s ambience turns on the tap of creativity, and inspired a SciFi short story that I plan on submitting to Nature Futures (rejection rate is high and can be due to the whim of the editor, and competition includes established SciFi authors, but that just means it’s an excellent test. Wish me luck!). If it doesn’t make it through, I’ll post it on my SciFi page!

It seems like every day, Albuquerque has something new and exciting to offer. Just on Tuesday, I found a mantis trying to get into the UNM Biology building (see below). Luckily UNM has sufficient security measures to keep these out and away from the delicious insects that other labs work with. My colleague Lauren Des Marteaux from the University of Western Ontario, who is very good and passionate when it comes to identifying insects, said it could be an Arizona mantis or Carolinian mantis – although it can be difficult from a picture alone.

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A mantis trying rather unsuccessfully to infiltrate Castetter Hall at UNM.

My research adventures continue to be very stimulating and rewarding: I think of an idea in the afternoon, test it in the morning, revise the theory, test again the next day. One of the key study organisms that I am looking forward to working with is Boechera depauperata, a super-heat tolerant plant that, strangely, requires a vernalization period for its seeds. Vernalization is a period of cold exposure that permits the seeds to germinate, and ensures that the seeds do not germinate prematurely. Amazing isn’t it? That a very heat tolerant plant requires cold. As I prepare the seeds and start growing the plants, I’ll be updating with pictures!

On Saturday, I met with the New Mexico Fulbright Chapter. It is amazing the diverse backgrounds from which Fulbright alumni come: artists, teachers, students, community planners, scientists – there was no lack of intellectual diversity at the meeting. The meeting kicked off with breakfast at the Barelas Coffee House, which serves excellent traditional New Mexican food (see below). Afterwards, we went to the National Hispanic Cultural Center to learn about New Mexican art and its cultural inspirations from an amazing docent, Doug Simon. We learned all about the Torreon fresco by Frederico Vigil – I recommend visiting it, as it encapsulates the history of New Mexico in one vast art piece that took 10 years to produce!

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The Barelas Coffee House, serving traditional New Mexican food.
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A traditional New Mexican Posole, complete with green chillies!
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The Torreon, near the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Inside is a gigantic fresco depicting New Mexican culture and heritage.

Now I have to speak about a traditionally Canadian conversation topic – the weather. The weather in New Mexico is gorgeous! Brilliant sunshine most days, with periodic monsoon rains (that don’t last long). I happened to be out at exactly the right moment to capture a picture of a double rainbow! It was strong enough to infer where the third ring should be (although that wasn’t apparent).

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Double rainbow after a monsoon rain in Albuquerque.

That’s it for this week. I look forward to the adventures that next week holds!

Stay safe and stay informed,
Joe

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Fulbright Travels, Week One

The Fulbright. A scholarship designed to promote cultural and intellectual exchange between the United States, and over 160 countries.

I was lucky enough to have received a Fulbright grant to come to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to do some cutting-edge photosynthesis research with Dr. David T. Hanson at the University of New Mexico. I am deeply appreciative of having been given this opportunity from Fulbright Canada.

At this point, I’ve been in Albuquerque for one week, and it is already starting to feel like home. The people are friendly and polite here, and the city has a rich and diverse culture to explore. The city is full of cacti (see picture), small batch coffee roasters, craft breweries, and an excellent underground art scene. In other words, a millenial’s paradise.

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On the work side of things, I’ve had the chance to get my hands on the new Licor 6800: the next-generation photosynthetic gas exchange machine (see below). It’s a beautiful machine, and I hope to tap deeply into its potential over the coming months. It’s design differs from previous iterations in that it has much greater control over measurement conditions, reduces leaks (which can invalidate any data you collect), and provides an extensive interface for diagnosing problems on the fly. It is also, by far, the most aesthetically pleasing of the photosynthetic gas exchange tools available.

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However, the piece of equipment that I am really excited about is the tunable diode laser (TDL, below). While the Licor 6800 measures bulk carbon dioxide and water in an airstream, the TDL is capable of figuring out which atomic isotopes are present in the gas molecules. This allows us to dive deep into biological processes where the isotopic composition begins to matter. Few laboratories in the world boast a TDL optimized for use in biology.

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I will be learning how to use the TDL very soon (which is codenamed the “Millenium Falcon”). And I am sure that I will have an ecstatic update when that happens.

I am looking forward to see what happens over the next eight months!

– Joe