My Life This March: In Which I Do Lots of Science and Celebrate a Blogoversary

Hey, everybody! It’s the last Saturday of the month, time to wrap up what I did this month. March was kind of crazy for me, and I can’t even remember most of what happened, but here are some of the major things.

Mostly, this month has been full of school. I’m taking 19 credits this semester, rather than the usual 16, and four of my five classes have associated labs. Don’t get me wrong; I love school, and it’s great to finally be taking advanced genetics courses. It’s just been crazy taking that many credits and squeezing in time in the lab.

One of the major things I’ve been doing this month is writing a 12-page proposal for my summer research project. I really thank God that He gave me the inclination to write in my childhood and that I’ve practiced enough that I can now write what everybody said was a pretty killer proposal. But it wasn’t without its difficulties. There are enough articles written on the role of polyamines in rice to fill a two-volume encyclopedia, and I had to boil that down into five pages for the literature review part. But it worked out in the end, thank God, and I was able to submit it for my funding request. We’ll see what happens!

Just because I hadn’t finished the proposal didn’t mean I couldn’t start my research. I’ve been spending a few hours every week in the lab, growing rice and, this week, starting tissue cultures. I’m really excited to try to make this work and to present my preliminary data next month.

Because of the general madness, I didn’t get much writing done this month. I think I picked at Circle of Fire maybe four times, but progress is progress, right? I also haven’t thought much about This Hidden Darkness, which was supposed to be my secondary project, but that’s because I’ve decided to treat my “break” from the Windsong storyline as one long brainstorming session. This may even involve a prequel that won’t make it into the main storyline. So far, I’ve done some thinking about villain motivations and being more creative with my worldbuilding.

Also, this month marks my first “blogoversary”–I’ve been blogging for a year! Yay! *throws confetti* I’ve really enjoyed having this blog since I started it last March. I love interacting with everyone who reads, likes, and comments, and writing about random science and book things that I enjoy makes a great little break from studying every week. I definitely plan to keep it up further this year. Stick around; I have some good things in the works!

So that’s my month in a nutshell; how was yours? Did you do anything exciting, or was it pretty much the usual? If you have a blog, when’s your blogoversary? How much writing did you do this month? Have you ever done a research project? Share in the comments!

My Life This July: In Which America and I Have Birthdays and I Acquire Many Books

My word, it’s the last Saturday of the month already. (Actually, the last Friday as I’m typing this, but you know. . . .) This month has been rather a whirlwind, but I find they’re all like that these days. In fact, it’s hard to think of a time when they weren’t. It would have to be before my memory.

Anyway . . . with that little ramble behind us, let’s get on with today’s post! On the last Saturday of each month, I post a little (long) blurb about my life this month, some notable things I did, etc. Probably the most notable thing that happened to me this month was that I became a year older than I was last year. (In simpler words, I had a birthday, so I’m nineteen now.) And the country I live in decided, as usual, to promptly follow up with its own birthday. (Read: My birthday is July 3rd. Independence Day is July 4th. People are always shooting off fireworks on my birthday for some reason.) America is now 240, a good bit older than I am and a nice round number to celebrate. I’m excited to be around for the 250th in ten years!

For those of you wondering, I had a nice time on my birthday. Chocolate cake and beloved family members help with that. (I cannot, however, say whether America had a nice time on its birthday. Sorry.)

Books also helped with my having a nice time on my birthday, or, more generally, the week of my birthday. I received Dreamlander by K.M. Weiland as a gift, which I initially thought was pleasant, because I read Weiland’s blog (Helping Writers Become Authors) devoutly; her writing advice has really helped me, and I wanted to read one of her books. Six days later, I put the book down and proceeded to rant and rave about it to my best friend. (Look for my review next month! But while you’re waiting, go start reading Dreamlander right now.)

It’s such a good book!

 

Near the end of the week, my library held its annual book sale, with hardcovers for $1 and paperbacks for $.50. There were many great deals. I picked up Isaac Asimov’s Nemesis and The Rest of the Robots to contribute to my current sci-fi kick (and Nemesis is a beautiful hardback, too!), a thriller called First Daughter by Eric van Lustbader which looked like it fell into the same genre as the Grisham and Clancy books I’ve taken up lately, and a sleek translation of Beowulf with English and Old English on facing pages. That should be interesting when I get around to tackling it. For nonfiction, I grabbed an encyclopedia of cacti, a volume called Power Unseen: How Microbes Rule the World, and a forty-year-old title on The Biology of Flowering, to complement the old textbooks that have been lying around free outside my lab.

I’m reading Nemesis right now.

 

Speaking of the lab, in general updates, I have continued enjoying my summer research. I did another DNA extraction last week, and have been raising up little seaweeds in culture plates. I can’t believe my fellowship will be over in a couple weeks, and a couple weeks after that, I start classes again. . . .

Another general update pertains to my book Windsong (which I guess is the official title since I can’t think of a better one). I was gifted Scrivener for my birthday, and promptly (ignoring much of the ages-long tutorial) copied Windsong into this fancy new software and started organizing. (When I say “promptly,” I mean it took me three weeks to copy and paste all the scenes.) Now, I’ve finally starting kicking into gear on my editing, which means I may have this draft finished before the fall semester starts! (Actually, knowing me, I probably won’t, but it’s worth a shot.)

And that’s the major points of my month!

How was your month? What did you do? Did you acquire any books? Have you read any of the books I mentioned? Did you have a birthday this month? If you’re American, how did you celebrate the Fourth of July? Tell me in the comments!

On Certain Heavenly Bodies in Our Solar System

Think about this for a minute: What is a planet?

planetdefinition

This is what I got when I searched Google. Simple, right? A planet is anything orbiting a star, like our sun. That includes all of these:

But wait just a minute. Wasn’t there a big deal a few years back about Pluto not being a planet anymore? What was all that about? And if a planet is anything orbiting the sun, what about that asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter? Instead of eight planets (or nine, depending on whether you include Pluto or not), are there really a thousand or a million? And are there any more “real” planets out there?

Great questions! I’m glad you asked. Let’s get started, shall we?

Pluto was discovered in 1930, and for the next seventy-six years, it enjoyed the distinction of being the ninth planet in our solar system. In 2006, though, it was stripped of its status as “planet” and reassigned to the new category “dwarf planet,” which, believe it or not, is not the same thing. So why did poor Pluto suddenly become a dwarf planet?

Pluto: planet or not?

The answer to that question, my friends, lies in the Kuiper Belt, a band of “objects” (including comets and dwarf planets like Pluto) out past Neptune, in Pluto’s vicinity. In fact, Pluto is listed on the NASA website as “King of the Kuiper Belt.”

Scientists have discovered many other small “planets” similar to (some maybe bigger than) Pluto in the Kuiper Belt, as well as in the asteroid belt, and the International Astronomical Union decided it needed a new classification for these worlds. Hence, the dwarf planet was born.

The IAU, you see, has three criteria that a space object must meet before it can be called a planet. First, it must be round (which Pluto is). Secondly, it has to orbit the sun (which Pluto does). And third, it must be massive enough to dominate its orbit, that is, clear it of space debris. This is where Pluto fails. It doesn’t even quite dominate its primary moon, Charon; NASA considers them a binary system. Hence, Pluto is a dwarf planet, no longer the smallest of the planets. Various other Kuiper Belt objects, as well as Ceres in the asteroid belt, join Pluto in this designation.

Ceres, one of Pluto’s fellow dwarf planets.

So there are only eight planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. But might there be another real planet out there? The answer is, well, maybe. Scientists have never actually seen it, but they have noticed that six Kuiper Belt objects are all orbiting along the same path, suggesting that a planet five to twenty times Earth’s size is out there dominating its orbit. Several research teams are busy investigating to find out whether Planet Nine, as it’s called, actually exists. Some are trying to zero in on its location, based on the aligned orbits of Kuiper Belt objects. Others are trying to catch a glimpse of Planet Nine itself, based on the conjecture that its atmosphere might contain highly reflective gases.

So there you have it! Everyone has a different definition of the word “planet.” The International Astronomical Union says Pluto is not a planet, since it doesn’t dominate its orbit quite right. There just might, though, be another proper planet out beyond Pluto. We shall see as the research goes on.

If you’re interested in reading more about Pluto and Planet Nine, here are my sources!

https://www.sciencenews.org/article/new-clues-search-planet-nine

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/09/140926-pluto-planet-definition-science-debate/

https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/KBOs

http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/pluto

What do you think? Should Pluto and the other dwarf planets be considered planets or not? Are you interested in astronomy? Tell me in the comments!

My Life This June: In Which I Visit Washington, D.C. and Do More Research and Editing

Hello, everyone! It’s the fourth Saturday of the month, which must mean I’m describing my life this month for you. This June, I went on a family vacation to Washington, D.C., which made me promptly forget about everything else I did this month. . . . I did, however, do some more lab work and writing-related things, which I’ll talk about at the end of this post.

So I was in D.C. (we stayed in Maryland, actually) from Saturday the 11th until Saturday the 18th, which is why I didn’t respond to any blog comments made during that time until I got back. Sorry for the delay, everyone! On the 12th, our first day out doing things, we went to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, even though it was over 90 degrees outside and the zoo is a very walking-intensive place (from where we parked, you had to go all the way up a giant hill to get to the famous pandas). Despite that, it was a great place to visit! I had only been there once, ten years ago, so it was nice to go again. Below are some of the animals we saw. It was particularly cool to be in some of the exhibits with wild birds loose around us.

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The next morning, we walked around various monuments (since Washington, D.C. is monument land) and passed through the National Gallery of Art’s sculpture garden. This was the first day we passed cool buildings, like the National Archives and the Department of Justice.

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Later that afternoon, we visited the National Gallery of Art itself. This is a great big art museum composed of two buildings; the east wing was designed by famous architect I.M. Pei and is very modernist and cool, while the west wing is a more traditional design. The east wing was a pretty quick tour, since it was under renovation, so we quickly passed under the street to the west wing. This wing was full of beautiful and interesting art, including Ginevra de’ Benci, the only Leonardo da Vinci painting in either American continent, and The Sacrament of the Last Supper by Salvador Dali, my new favorite painting (even though I don’t usually care for Dali’s surrealist work). Anyway . . . here are some more pictures for you.

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On Tuesday, we attended to the actual reason we were in the D.C. area, which was so my brother could compete in the national competition of National History Day. For those who haven’t heard of it, and are junior high or high school students, you should check it out (at the link above). Students compete in the paper, exhibit, performance, website, and documentary categories, as individuals or groups, junior or senior high. I’ve never done it, but this was my brother’s fifth year, and his first attendance at nationals. It was pretty cool to go. Students from different “affiliates” (there were students from places like Guam and South Korea as well as the fifty states and D.C.) traded buttons to try to get all of them, and the different range of projects was pretty interesting. Although my brother did not win any awards at the Thursday ceremony, he still had fun and will do NHD again next year.

On Wednesday, we did a few different things. First, we visited the U.S. Botanical Garden, which was a really neat place, not least because it was the result of George Washington’s vision of a botanical garden in the nation’s capital to educate the populace about plants. (George Washington appreciated plants!) There was a conservatory and some outside gardens. My favorite was probably the orchid collection in the conservatory, although the endangered plants and sensitive plant in the “Plant Adaptations” section were also pretty cool. See the pictures below!

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After the botanic garden, we went back to the National Gallery, since we didn’t see nearly everything on our first run through. We found a few Vermeer paintings and visited the da Vinci and Dali paintings again. After that, we went to NHD night at the Smithsonian American history museum, which is a great place if you ever go to D.C. They have lots of cool stuff, like the ruby slippers Judy Garland wore in The Wizard of Oz, the hat Abraham Lincoln was wearing when he was shot, and lots of first ladies’ inaugural gowns. They also had some NHD exhibits on display that day, so we visited a couple of those as well.

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Thursday and Friday were much quieter. On Thursday, we attended the NHD awards ceremony, then went back to our hotel and hung out. On Friday, we visited the Phillips Collection, which is apparently America’s first modern art museum, mainly to see The Luncheon of the Boating Party by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, a famous Impressionist painter. It was a beautiful painting, and very absorbing; I sat in front of it for a while. They also had other interesting works by modern and contemporary artists, and a lovely little courtyard.

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That wraps up my trip to D.C., and since this is becoming a monster post, I will be brief about the rest of my month. I have continued doing research, spending most of my days in a lab happily analyzing seaweed DNA and growing seaweed spores in a little culture room. I’ve learned a lot of new lab techniques this month, such as the polymerase chain reaction (hugely important in molecular biology). I have also been plugging away at my editing, although I recently made a list of the scenes I have left to edit and realized I am going to have a huge time crunch later next month. (I set a goal of finishing my macro edit by July 31st. We’ll see if that actually happens.) But all in all, it’s been a good month, even the three weeks I wasn’t on vacation.

How was your June? Did you go on vacation this month? If so, where? Have you ever been to Washington, D.C.? (If you live outside the U.S., have you ever been to your nation’s capital, and if so, what was it like?) Have you been to any of the places I visited? If so, what did you think of them? Have you ever done National History Day? (If so, kudos to you! I could never get through all the yearlong work, haha.) If not, does it sound interesting? And lastly, have you been writing or editing this month, and if so, how has it gone? Share in the comments!

 

 

 

My Life This May: In Which I Finish My First Year of College,Win a Free Book, and Climb Over Rocks in Search of Seaweed

Hello, and welcome to today’s (celebratory) “My Life This Month” post! I am going to deal with the things in the title in chronological order, so finishing my first year of college will have to wait a couple paragraphs, but that is mostly what I’m celebrating this month.

I actually won the free book at the very end of last month. I was surprised and pleased, since despite entering various giveaways whenever I get the chance (nothing better than free books, right?), I have never won one before! I reviewed the said book, Edge of Oblivion by Joshua A. Johnston, last week, so you can click here to see what I thought of it.

Now on to the main event! Halfway through this month, I finished my first year of college, which is a little crazy. It seems like I just started. I was thinking about it, and I’ve learned so much since then, and not all about academics:

  • Having a good teacher makes a class that much better.
  • Gas prices fluctuate constantly. Try not to fuss too much.
  • Don’t discount anything before you’ve looked into it. Your last option might become your first.
  • Backups happen, and there may not be a way around them. Leave the house early enough that you can sit in traffic and still be early to class.
  • An empty lecture hall is a rare and beautiful thing.
  • Chemistry is a hard subject. Grade scaling is necessary and good for your GPA.
  • Calculus is easy. (Stranger things have happened.)
  • It is possible to eat applesauce with a fork. (Seriously.)
  • Commuting can be frustrating because it makes it harder to make friends.
  • Commuting is great because your only roommate is your cat and you get to see your family every day. Plus, when your residential classmates are complaining about packing, you can smile to yourself and think, “I don’t have to do that. . . .”
  • That first semester is rough. Give it time, and college will become one of the best experiences of your life.

I have finished a variety of classes this year:

  • General Chemistry I and II
  • Introductory Biology I and II
  • First-Year Writing
  • Professional Perspectives in Biology
  • Calculus for Life Sciences
  • Global Public Health Issues
  • Myths and Misconceptions about Nuclear Science

And here’s what I hope to tackle next year:

  • Principles of Genetics
  • Genetics Lab
  • Organic Chemistry I and II
  • Applied Biostatistics
  • Introductory Physics I and II
  • Biotechnology and Society

Hopefully, the scheduling will work out for half of those in the spring.

Even though I’ve officially finished my classes for the year, I’m still at UNH for the summer. I mentioned last month that I got a research fellowship to study seaweed, and this week, it started. On Monday, I found myself slipping and sliding over rocks trying to get under a bridge and find a very specific kind of seaweed.

Porphyra umbilicalis, a type of nori, or sushi seaweed. (Image not mine)

The goal is eventually to domesticate this seaweed, P. umbilicalis, but first we have to find out what species it is. On Thursday, I and the grad student in the lab got some samples from Dover Point, under another bridge (I’m fairly sure the people walking by thought I was crazy when I started shouting to the grad student that “I found some!”). I extracted the DNA from those on Friday, and next week, hopefully, we can use the DNA to identify what species we got (as long as I, ahem, actually got DNA out of the extraction).

As far as writing goes, I made some progress on my book this month, even with finals week smack in the middle. I rewrote most of the beginning, which made it a good bit shorter (it was proportionally too long for the book), and started putting in a new scene. Editing goes slowly, but it does go on. I also gave in and started outlining another idea that has been nagging at my brain for months. I’m not sure how far I’ll go through with it, so I won’t give you any tidbits just yet, but I hope (right now) to have it outlined fully by the end of the year, so that by the time I send Windsong off to beta readers, I’ll have something else to start writing.

And that’s my life this month!

What was your life like this month? Did you get much writing done? Have you ever won a free book? Did you also finish a year of high school or college? If so, post in the comments, and we can celebrate!