Life in the lab

I’m in my fifth year, the last year of my Master degree, and I came to Strathclyde primarily to work on my diploma thesis. So, what does life in a Strathclyde physics laboratory look like?

IMG00201-20120925-1304The group where I’m doing my project is the Photophysics group of Professor David Birch. The main focus of the group is interdisciplinary molecular research using fluorescence methods. Everything revolves around fluorophores, biomolecules, colloids and nanoparticles.



Some of the current projects are concerned with aggregation of biomolecules (peptides linked with Alzheimer’s disease), melanin, gold and silica nanoparticles.

There are various devices and techniques which we can use for measuring/imaging, ranging from spectrofluorometers to atomic force microscopy.

DSC_0069 (2)Some of the devices (especially for time-resolved fluorescence) can get quite busy, but we have booking sheets for planning things out.

IMG00197-20120925-1301The seat of the group is on the 6th floor of John Anderson building with a number of offices and laboratories. I have a nice big desk and computer in the PhD office and I must say, my favourite thing about it is the beautiful view. I can see a pretty large part of Glasgow and when visibility is good, I can even see some mountains in the distance, snowcapped in winter. Right under my window there is a green patch where people are picnicking, barbecuing and throwing frisbees when the weather suggests it.

Every Monday afternoon the Photophysics group gathers for a meeting. First of all there is a presentation given by a member of the group. There is a different speaker every week, so everyone has an opportunity to present his or her work to the rest of the group, including project students. The presenter gets to choose the topic, but it should be related to the project he or she has been working on. During the presentation the other group members are listening, taking notes and afterwards there is a slot for questions. This can make you nervous and uncomfortable, but in fact it isn’t that bad! On the contrary, you get new insights from the listeners and ideas for your project. When the presentation and questions are done, there is the more relaxed second part of the meeting with cookies and coffee in the 8th floor common room. Anything can be discussed- visiting researchers, conferences to attend, broken or fixed instruments, the weather etc.

DSC_0656 (2)Every now and then the group also has an informal meeting outside the university to grab a drink and talk about physics-unrelated things. The photo is from the Photophysics Christmas dinner.

Talking about dinner, something worth mentioning is the fundamental question, where to go for food. Normally a couple of us meet for lunch at Todd’s diner, where there is usually a quite good selection of hot meals ranging from typical Scottish/UK dishes to Indian curries and pizzas. If we don’t go to Todd’s, the fridge/microwave/toaster in the PhD room may provide something edible. The kettle supplies endless numbers of coffees and it is probably one of the most important devices of the group, along with all the fluorescence spectrometers.

My First Impressions of Scotland

My first impressions of Scotland (as a student on exchange):

  • Scottish people are very kind. Most of the time I can’t understand them, they drive on the wrong side of the street and sometimes the men wear skirts (kilts, of course). But they are really nice and helpful.
  • Scottish weather isn’t as terrible as I had expected- there are sunny days as well! When the sun is shining, no matter which month it is and what the thermometer says, it’s summer time and Scottish people wear short sleeves. Sometimes you get spring, summer, autumn and winter all in one day. Don’t try to fight the weather with an umbrella; the wind will immediately punish you. Just face defeat and you will get used to it.Glasgow Weather
  • Glasgow has many pretty places. Kelvingrove Park, the Necropolis, Glasgow Green… no wonder the name of the city comes from the Gaelic words “Glas Ghu”, dear green place.

    The Necropolis, Glasgow

  • All those unhealthy, strange and tasty things they have here… ranging from shortbread cookies, full Scottish breakfast, Irn Bru, tablet, haggis to deep fried anything- fish, haggis, pizza and even Mars bars. Considering what haggis is made of, I would have thought it would taste horrible, but it’s actually delicious.Full Scottish Breakfast
  • Glasgow is quite expensive, especially accommodation. However, there are many student discounts, especially if you are a member of some student organisation or club. Bar Home, for example, is a great place and sponsors several student clubs with free food and cheap drinks.
  • Glaswegians love traffic cones. The symbol of Glasgow is a statue of the Duke of Wellington, and what do you think is on his head? Obviously, a traffic cone. If the police try to take it down, students (usually a bit tipsy) will put it back in place overnight. In the student halls there are even signs saying you aren’t allowed to store traffic cones in your room. I’m wondering how many people have done it and what they did with the cone in their flat.Duke of Wellington Statue, Glasgow
  • Museums are usually for free, so it is great to explore them. My personal favourite is the Riverside museum with a fantastic realistic street from around the year 1900 with many shops and even a tram.
  • The taps. I haven’t figured out why the invention of a tap joining hot and cold water hasn’t reached the UK. Until then I will have to keep alternately burning and freezing my hands.
  • Ceilidhs are so much fun. Strip the Willow, the Orcadian, Flying Scotsman, Gay Gordons are just a few of all the fun dances that you can enjoy with your friends.
  • The word BEAUTIFUL is not enough to describe Scottish nature. I love the majestic snow-capped peaks, rocky island shores, peaceful glens with grazing sheep, many different shades of green. The West Highland Way and other long-distance walks are like heaven for people who love trekking and hiking. After returning to civilisation from the windy-rainy-muddy-chilly outdoor activities, a fish ‘n’ chips supper and a nip of whisky or some cider work a treat to warm you up again 🙂Scottish Mountain View

Best regards,