Wednesday, August 19, 2015


This summer, Andy and I both took on full time jobs at a small laboratory near our home town. My job included starting up, managing, and running both the microbiology lab and the thin layer chromatography assay. Big deal for an undergraduate. Andy was in charge of running the near infra red machine; a never ending and thankless job.

With our busy schedules, vacations and trips were near impossible. We did, however, manage to pull a few weekend trips.

One of my favorite places is Yellowstone National Park. My grandparents used to own a cabin a little over an hour from the west entrance, so I have many childhood memories of this grand expanse of wilderness.

Andy and I actually made not one, but two trips to Yellowstone this summer, one with his family and one with mine. Let me tell you about a few of the must see highlights.

What usually comes to mind when you hear Yellowstone? Old Faithful? Animals? Fishing? All of these are part of experiencing Yellowstone. When I was little, I remember going to see Old Faithful. My memory mainly consists of sitting in the hot sun and waiting. It's pretty faithful, but not entirely. If you've never seen it, you definitely have to, but there are a few other must see sights in the area.

The Old Faithful Lodge is a must see. Since you're already waiting for the geyser to spew, you might as well take a peek inside. The interior is breathtaking. It's so old, and all made of wood. The fireplace is huge, and the whole feel of it is adventurous.

Old Faithful Lodge
While marveling at the grandeur, you have to get ice cream. I mean have to. In Yellowstone, the huckleberry ice cream is to die for. There are plenty of other flavors for you non-traditionalists, but really. In Yellowstone, huckleberry is the flavor.

Some of the smaller geysers near Old Faithful are also worth seeing. Biscuit Basin has some beautiful hot pots (Sapphire pool is one of my favorites) as well as a few smaller geysers. Even just driving by you can see them spewing out boiling water.

Sapphire Pool
A bit further down the road is the famous Grand Prismatic Pool. It is massive and the colors are breathtaking. Don't be worried about weather, either. Even if it is cold and rainy, the hot pots are still worth the visit. The mist coming off of the hot pots is both beautiful and ominous.

Grand Prismatic
Another famous site in Yellowstone is Mammoth Hot Springs. I honestly had never been before this summer, and wasn't sure what to expect. It was amazing. The formations are incredible and completely cover the hillside. There are also plenty of placards telling about the formations and giving wonderful science lessons about the thermophiles that live in the hot water. Also noteworthy, there is a restaurant by Mammoth that serves huckleberry ice cream. I'm not joking; you have to have some.

Mammoth Hot Springs
If you're visiting in the summer, there is a swimming hole in Firehole river. It's just upstream of Firehole Falls. There's an area to change and everything. Unfortunately we didn't know that it had been opened up, so we didn't get to go swimming, but it looked so refreshing.

Swimming Hole in Firehole River
Safety note: Yellowstone is famous for its wildlife. When we went, we saw huge herds of buffalo and elk. We also saw cranes, a fox, and even two grizzly bears. Please remember that these are wild animals. I know it may sound silly to have to remind people, but while we were up there, some girl kicked a buffalo so it would stand up for the picture and she was mauled. We also saw people taking pictures within 20 yards of the grizzlies. These animals can kill you. They are massive, powerful, and alive. They are not simply backdrops for your selfie.

Maybe a bit too close guys?
Perfect View
Another safety note: Yellowstone is wilderness. If you have a medical emergency, there are no 24 hour pharmacies and the nearest hospitals are hours away. The rangers are willing to help, but even so, you should be prepared.

Our Emergency Kit we made after a horrible night in Yellowstone
On a last, happy note, I would like to give a shoutout to one of my family's favorite places. Around two hours south of West Yellowstone, there is a little town called Ashton. In this town, there is a diner that serves the BEST huckleberry shakes. Every time my family stayed at my grandparents' cabin, we would go and get huckleberry shakes at 511 Main Fountain & Pizzeria. We love that place. My dad would literally drive 5 hours to give a shake if he had the chance. To be honest, those shakes are part of the reason we went to Yellowstone as a family.
Enough Said
To conclude, Yellowstone is a great place to spend a weekend. There is plenty to see a do as long as your willing to take the time and do it. Happy camping, readers.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Hepatitis C Virus: An Introduction

For those of you who know my blog, or have visited before, you know that this type of article is unusual for me. I don't write about serious topics. Ever. But today I was reminded of a situation that has always weighted heavily on my mind: the availability of medical aid.

In the U.S., we enjoy the many medical advances. However, these advances sometimes--usually--come with a hefty price tag. Anyone who has had a surgery or gone without insurance knows that medical prices are very high, but at least we have access to it.

I, like many people on Facebook, follow the Humans of New York page. I love seeing the inspiring stories of those overcoming poor circumstances or the heartwarming stories of every day life. Today my heartstrings were pulled violently at the picture of a woman suffering from Hepatitis C Virus. She had escaped with her child from an abusive relationship and is struggling with her disease and situation. As I read through the comments I saw how many people wanted to help and the lack of information these people had about this disease and its treatments.

Last semester I learned of the release of Hepatitis C drugs that cured the disease. Curing a chronic viral disease after contraction is nearly unheard of, so of course I was excited and intrigued. As I researched the topic, I was surprised and infuriated at the price. All of these drugs were over $80,000 per treatment, about $1,000 per pill. I couldn't understand how. How could you develop a life saving drug and charge so much? Is it really that expensive to produce? Is this price ethical?

That was how I found my research topic for the semester. I went on to write two articles on the topic of HCV. One is strictly on the virus itself (background, characteristics, genetics, disease, etc), while the other an analytical report on the ethics of the prices for the three main HCV drugs (Sovaldi, Harvoni, and Viekira Pak).

In my experience, information about this disease and the treatment options available is spread out and hard to dig up. I feel that accessibility to this information and public awareness is the key to fighting HCV and also pharmaceutical price gouging. Both of my articles in their entirety will be posted on my blog, and I will be looking into posting them on other forums as well. I hope that through my research I can help others.

Hepatitis C Virus: Part I

Hepatitis C Virus: Part II