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September 2010

It's the time of year when most Honours students are writing their theses. But what is my project about? To spare the reader from fatigue I will summarise briefly:

I am investigating light response in a cyanobacterium, Acaryochloris marina. This organism is special because it lives in environments enriched in near-infrared light. I am specifically interested in phytochrome, which is the main red light photoreceptor in plants and bacteria, and how it might regulate responses to light. To do this, I have 1) taken a molecular evolution approach place A. marina's phytochrome in the phytochrome superfamily, 2) cloned this phytochrome into E. coli and expressed it with the aim of characterising it, and 3) performed some physiological experiments on A. marina in different light conditions.

There! I hope that wasn't too boring. Alternatively, if you find any of that interesting, just email me :).

Other than thesis writing, I've been buying cheap books. The university was selling old library books in the Great Hall a week or so ago. If my camera was working (it broke in China) I would show you a photo of the 4 boxes of science fiction books I bought.... for $20! On the grand scale of science fiction reading I am considered ignorant - but I guess that's going to change! Do scientists prefer science fiction? I have a scientist friend who once said:

"Bah! Fiction! Read a real book," as he opened the latest tome by David Haig. As an ashamed fan of the BBC series "The Thin Blue Line", I was confused by this. See Google for some help with that one :). Yikes!

Anyway, back to it.

So, the Verge Festival came and passed and I have to say it has been the most fun I’ve had at uni. Ever.

It all kicked off for me with Manning Turns Ten. Multiple awesome bands played, but I attended this party especially for these amazing people who call themselves Cloud Control. Oh, and did I mention, Bluejuice were there to help cut the cake?


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So after a long summer break, I'm almost ready to begin my final (Fall) quarter at UC Davis. Davis is a smaller town in the Californian Central Valley, located about a half hour from Sacramento and a little over an hour from San Francisco. It's not what you would consider to be "typical" California by any means - no picturesque beaches, and the weather is definitely less than perfect (it seemed to go from rainy days to 35 degree heat in a matter of weeks!) - but over the last nine months of my exchange I've come to really love it here.

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DC Baby!

11 Sep

With the opportunity the labor day long weekend gave us, a few of us internationals decided to head up to Washington DC. One of the great things about exchange, which I hadn't really thought of before I came, is that I'm here with 200 or so other study abroad students, all looking to have a great time and eager to travel as much as possible.

The contingent I was in - about 20 internationals with a couple of token apple pie Americans - decided to drive up to Washington, kicking off what I hope will be only the first of many American road trips to come. As to be expected from a group of students in a foreign country, we decided that an official 'road trip party' was mandatory the night before, meaning that there were a few gray faces as we assembled at 6:30am. To recover, we decided to have breakfast at Bojangles, purveyor of fine southern American cuisine, which seems to exclusively serve fried chicken, biscuit (which is kind of like a greasy, savory, English muffin) and sweet tea (iced tea with a lot of sugar). Needless to say, not many of us were impressed with our breakfast, but I think I'll go back under different circumstances so I can give Bojangles the justice it deserves. A highlight was seeing all the men dressed up in camos, obviously setting out on a weekend hunting trip in their giant trucks. God Bless America!


Everything looks so familiar, because I've seen the buldings on TV, in movies, in the paper etc.

DC is an amazing city, with wide streets, grand, low rise buildings and somewhat of a regal air. Apart from all the standard touristy things, such as a visit to the gates of the White House and all the monuments, my absolute favorite is the Air and Space museum. As a bit of a Science nerd, I was in heaven amongst the planes, satellites, rockets and space stations that are strung up on the ceiling. I spent at least 4 hours, which was much more than the patience of my companions could stand, who decided to leave me for something else.

White House.jpg

Just a few of us standing outside the white house. We're not looking a head, because some BP protesters had just entered the scene chanting 'Drill baby Drill, Kill baby Kill'.

UNC kicked off the football season with a game against Louisiana State on Saturday, so with the zeal that only new converts could muster, we decked ourselves out in tar heel pride, and found a sports bar that would put the game on the big screen. This summer has been a tough one for UNC football, and 16 players are currently suspended while the governing body investigates how players started handing in such eloquent essays, and why their tutors suddenly had so much pocket money. I wasn't that taken with my first American football experience, and we left the bar with the heels down by quite a bit. Thankfully someone turned on the TV at our next stop, because Carolina had clawed back, and were within sight of victory. The last minute of gameplay was best, and in the last 6 seconds, UNC had the chance to win twice - and managed to fumble the ball as many times. Despite the loss, and with only one game to base my judgment, I've decided I'm a massive fan of Football - at least until the next agonising stop start stop start defeat.

This weekend should be a little quieter, but we already have plans in the works to go to Wilmington the following weekend - a beach town which is apparently where Dawson's creek was set. Miami in Fall break is also a strong contender.

Keep you updated!


Hi! I'm Ben, second-year physics and Latin at the University of Sydney and I'm on exchange to the University of California, Berkeley. I've been here for a hectic almost-four-weeks-now and here's my first blog. I don't know how often I'll update this but I'll try to as much as possible. I'm studying Quantum Mechanics, Partial Differential Equations, Classical Mechanics and Stellar Physics here, with an all-star cast of great lecturers and a much higher load of assignments than at the University of Sydney. Nevertheless I'm enjoying it here!

UC Berkeley is a great place, I should start by saying that. Founded in 1868 across the Bay from San Francisco, colours Yale Blue and California Gold, football team the Golden Bears, and most famous landmark the Sather Tower Campanile. The San Francisco Bay Area is more like Sydney than anywhere else I've been. It's still a little strange in parts. Market St is rather like George St, say, and is very nice during the day. At night it can get a little scary - fog, lots of roadwork so you can't walk in a straight line, and angry homeless people everywhere. I've only gone there once at night (to transfer trains on the way back from Santa Clara - for some reason the Bart, which is an underground train system, the Bay Area Rapid Transit, doesn't actually link up with Caltrain, their over ground system) and that was a bit dodgy, and once during the day to go to the consulate and vote.

The trip to Santa Clara was for SETI Con, which is a public conference and lecture series that happened a few weeks back about the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. I was driven there by the kind Dr Franck Marchis, who is collaborating with the University of Sydney on an interferometry project, and highlights included listening to Frank Drake (first ever SETI researcher on Project Ozma), Dave Morrison (Carl Sagan's first PhD student and NASA personality with an enormous intellectual clout) and especially Rusty Schweickart, an Apollo astronaut who would have to be one of the most charismatic and intelligent human beings I've ever met. He talked about defending the Earth from asteroids and I was (pardon the pun) over the moon about shaking his hand and discussing the concept of an orbital "keyhole" - where an asteroid passing by a planet can be tugged just enough to speed it up or slow it down so that it collides with the planet on a later orbit. There's some danger the asteroid Apophis may do this a few decades from now.

Berkeley itself has some very nice areas too, for instance Solano Avenue. It's like Mosman crossed with Newtown. All these little shops - I had great Mexican food (better than Downtown Berkeley, and that's saying something), and nice ice cream and chocolate (hard to find good chocolate here, funnily, but some I had here was eucalyptus flavoured!), and there was an Italian delicatessen with all the cheeses and pastas and sauces you could ever want.

I had some difficulty with housing. I initially had a contract with the University of California housing, and the dorms they assigned me were really not that great - full of freshmen and small rooms. So I had to search high and low without any help from the University housing department until I found a lovely place at Westminster House nearby, and then had to spend a week looking for someone to replace me or else they wouldn't let me out of my contract. So the moral of the story is to be very careful about signing leases and never do it before you see the place! In the meantime I stayed at the Berkeley Lab Guest House up in the hills, which was not too expensive ($89 a night for a really nice room, cheaper than anywhere else) and had a great view and excellent service. But now that's fixed and I'm getting into semester.

I think I might leave this first entry on that happy note!

Last week I popped over to Beijing for the “International Congress of Photosynthesis”. It was a fantastic trip to an exciting city… and of course there was the conference as well.


Hey y'all!

After a decent amount of traveling up the eastern seaboard with some friends, I finally made it to UNC with a few days to settle in before classes. I might write a little about what I got up to before coming down south, but for now, I'll fill you in on how my first week or so has been.

As a college town, Chapel Hill has a great feel, centered on Franklin St, an amazing little cafe/restaurant/bar strip on the edge of campus with a kind of southern King street feel. Filled with locals, students and preppy frat/sorority types, something always seems to be happening on Franklin, which is open all night long. The northern part of campus merges onto Franklin street, and with plenty of great oak trees nestled around low-rise redbrick buildings, that area definitely looks like a stereotypical American campus. I'll upload photos soon, but for now I guess you will just have to take my word for it!

South campus, where I live, begins from below Keenan stadium, a 60 000 seat temple of American excess that I'm looking forward to filling as soon as Football season kicks off. With plenty of Freshman and Sophomore dorms, my part of campus definitely has a more active feel to it, and everyone is always moving around, meeting other people and having fun.

The first day or so was pretty hectic, with much socialising with fellow exchange students, members of the international student support association, and plenty of Chapel Hill natives. As a college town, there are plenty of night life options, including those that accommodate for us 'under 21' babies. One of the weirdest experiences so far - although you wouldn't expect it - was a dorm shopping night to Target that I went to with a few of my new buds. Wandering down the street to the shuttle bus stop, the frenzy of people fighting to get onto a bus was pretty daunting, but as it turn out, this trip to Target was well worth our share of elbowing and pushing in to get to the front of the line. Once we got to the store, it became pretty clear what we had fought for - besides all the freebies, they had a DJ in the middle of the menswear section, as well as 'Spot the dog' who is apparently the company mascot. It was pretty surreal to see everyone running around, frantically filling their shopping trolleys as if they were stocking the home for a hurricane. Everyone was chatting, dancing, running around, and it felt much more like a party than a dull shopping trip. We got home at 2am, which means it would have to be the best 4 hours I've spent in Target in my life.

I'll probably write a bit about classes next post, but for now I have to race off to get ready for a Labor Day long weekend trip a few of us internationals are taking to DC.

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