Sunday, February 24, 2013

Photo Challenge Week #8 - A Child's View

Shannon - The kids were off from school this week and we braved the bitter cold temperatures to go over to the school playground.  The ground was covered with a thin sheet of ice, which the kids thought was great, but I was quite worried about someone falling and breaking their arm.  The kids played around on the equipment for a while and Noah kept wanting help getting up this littler ladder, where he would then go through the tunnel and down a slide.  It was a tight squeeze for an adult, so definitely a kid's view!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

What are we doing here? A FAQ

I probably should have done this a year ago, I have thought about it on several occasions but I never took the time. However, it has become apparent that many people, including my family, don’t really know what I am doing in Denmark. So I thought I would try to write up a FAQ to answer some of the questions. I know this is kind of boring so I will add some pictures to break up the monotony.

Q. What are you studying?
A. Insect Pathology. Also acceptable answers might include: Agricultural ecology, Mycology, Microbiology, Entomology, or Biological pest management; inaccurate answers include: Doctor (given by my kids) or Nutraceuticals (given by my Dad).

Me checking a field for grasshopper abundance 2010

Q. What is Insect pathology?
A. Insect pathology is the study of diseases that afflict insect and other invertebrates (spider, ticks, nematodes, worms, etc.).
Unlike most pathologists (e.g., human pathologist) whom study diseases in an effort to cure or protect the host from the pathogen; most insect pathologists studies disease with the intention of utilizing it to infect, control and/or kill the host (in that since perhaps a more apt name might be “insect bio-terrorist”)
Mormon cricket infected with Metarhazium

Q. What are you working on?
A. I work with several species of fungi in the genus Metarhizium - a genus of fungi that infect and kill insects naturally; and have been used successfully as a bio-pesticide.  Recently it has been observed that this group of fungi can also interact with plants (for example, a recent publication in Science noted how Nitrogen was transported from an insect to a plant via the fungus). My project aims to clarify how Metarhizium interact with plant roots and with insects associated with these roots.
Root length variation I observed between fungal and non-fungal treatments

I was lucky enough to meet with a Professor from Cornell University shortly after starting my project and she gave me a very practical perspective on a PhD degree. She told me that while it was important that I became an expert in my area of study, at the same time I did not need to win a Nobel Prize or solve all the world’s problems. One of the main purposes of PhD candidacy is that I demonstrate that I can independently take a concept from the initial stage of being a question and follow it through the process of discovery; showing that I can design ways to validate my ideas and analyze my results and in the end produce a product that can be peer reviewed and perhaps beneficial to other scientists in the same field. That ability would likely be far more useful professionally than the research I produced because it would show that I could do that same thing for topics outside my area of expertise.

Infected Larvae

Q. Why is what you’re studying important?
A. This is a tough question to answer simply. I feel like I should give some background justification before I give the sales pitch, but since FAQs should generally be succinct I added a footnote to this section for those interested in my background thoughts1. So here is the sales pitch:

Both given the same fugal treatment, the one on the left, after being treated was exposed to UV radiation
Anybody that has flown across the United States and looked out the window knows that vast majority of what you see is farmland. Agriculture in the US is a $181 billion industry, and worldwide 1/3 of all workers are employed in the agricultural industry. Currently it has been estimated that crop production may be reduced as much as 21% each year just due to insect pests – in 2000 to 2001 more than $3 billion was spent on pesticides in the US alone (I know that is a lot of numbers with no citation to check the facts, the point though is agriculture is an big important industry and insect pest cause serious problems). The situation is further complicated by the fact that the pesticides we currently use are constantly becoming either ineffective against insects or unusable due to health and environmental concerns. There is no single best answer for dealing with pest insects; the solution lays in a variety of option that can be easily implemented and tailored to the circumstances. In the pest management industry, biological control (which is what I work with) is a rapidly expanding market and is becoming a very important answer to many of the “environmental/health concerns”.

In 2010, working with the USDA, we sprayed a field with insect pathogenic Fungi to control grasshoppers. 
Q. Why Denmark?
A. After completing my Masters degree my plan was to get an industry job and be done with school, however after a year of fruitless searching I felt very stuck. I was more educated than was necessary for a lab technician but not educated enough to be given my own research projects.  A professional friend of mine found out about the PhD position in Denmark and suggested I apply.

I was never really opposed to doing a PhD, as a scientist it is the only way to really advance professionally, it was just not realistic while trying to support a family. The main advantages for me to do my PhD in Denmark are: first they view PhD students as employees and as such we are give a decent salary and very good benefits (although a decent salary doesn't go too far in Denmark); and second, the program is designed so that I can complete it in 3 years.

Also, the lab I am working in is very highly respected in my field, in fact the head of my section and working group is also the president of the scientific society most relevant for my discipline (basically everyone in insect pathology knows that lab I work in and it is respected for producing very high quality research, I have already made several highly important contacts that I hope will lead to a job when I am done). Also, the University of Copenhagen is one of the top European Universities. (Plus we get to live in a European country and go see castles, churches and museums every week, who wouldn't want to do that?)
Work excursion with everyone in my research section
Q. What will you do when you’re done?
A. Basically I have 4 career options when I finish: 1. Become a professor at a University, 2. Look for a job doing research in industry, 3. Look for job doing government research, or 4. Team up with my wife and start a bakery out of our house (this is my oldest daughters plan for us, she has assigned me the job of washing dishes and taking out the trash).

I am mostly interested in either the second or third option. I really like the idea of taking my research to the next level and finding a way to make it economically practical. For this option Denmark was also a good choice as the only Metarhizium based product in the US is owned by a Danish company (which has several facilities in the US). As a master student I also had the opportunity to work with several USDA scientists and found the experience to be very enjoyable and was impressed with their projects and I'd like to pursue this further. While I enjoy research and teaching, I haven’t been to keen on pursuing the academic professorship path. It would require me to first become a Post Doc at a University (maybe two) and then hopefully find a school hiring someone with my background and try to work my way up the ladder all the while begging for grant money each year, which I could do but not as a first choice. But at the same time I like to keep all my doors open so I am not saying NO to the bakery suggestion either.  

Q. What should I tell people you are doing?
A. This is tough, it is not as easy as saying I am an accountant or lepidopterologist. It just took me over 1500 words to give a brief overview of what I am doing. Most people asking this question are looking for the 140 character Twitter answer. Usually when asked I say "I am completing a PhD in Biology". If they are interested enough to ask a follow up question like "what are you researching?" I will reply "I work with Fungi that kill insects and am looking in to how they can be used as a bio-pesticide". This is enough to satisfy most people, and if they are really interested then I am more then happy to go into greater detail.

To conclude, I am one year into my 3 year program. Some aspects have gone very well while others have hit stumbling blocks - this is normal. I enjoy the lab I work in, I enjoy my project and the challenges it presents, and I work with a great group of people. There have been lots of unexpected challenges with moving a family to an new country, but my work experiences are not one of them. I am working hard and moving forward daily. My hair is falling out at an increased rate(I can't be sure if that is stress related or genetic), and I feel that I am being stretched and becoming better able to handle greater responsibility. My project is difficult, but that is good, if it wasn't I would probably not gain as much from doing it. Most importantly, I feel like what I am doing is worth while, and I hope that others can also recognize that and even if you don't know how to explain what I do, at least support me in doing it. We are enjoying life, and looking forward to the opportunities this experience will create.


1Research is often divided into two types: fundamental (basic) and applied; although where you draw the line is often unclear. Fundamental research is sometimes described as “curiosity driven” and is basically just trying to understand how the world works. Applied research on the other hand has a more direct goal of developing something of economic value. In general I think that fundamental research is often view as less important, but I think this stems for a lack of understanding. There are of course countless examples of basic research interests leading to unforeseen world altering discoveries (e.g., Television and radio technology is only possible because some guys 150 years ago found electromagnetic wave interesting and took the time to research them, they of course did not foresee the practical application). In reality basic and applied research are inseparable; all applied research is based on basic research (and in some case applied projects have failed or floundered because the basic understanding was neglected). At the same time funding for fundamental research is often justified by the realization that increased knowledge enables increased innovation, and while the end product might not be obvious there is hope that something useful with come out of it.

Defining what type of research I am doing is somewhat difficult. If I were to describe the specific experiments I am currently working on, because I am working on a rather new area of biocontrol research without much prior work from others to lean on, you would probably concluded that my research falls in the area of fundamental research. However, the larger end application and justification for my work is highly obvious and I have already collaborated with industry contacts on developing my objectives, so with that respect in is more applied.

A cow picture because it looks cool!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Statens Museum for Kunst

The past few months have been so long and so dark and so cold and so wet!  We've all been sick, it seems constantly, and on days when we were all feeling good, we didn't want to leave the house anyway.  Well, we finally had this past Saturday, where we decided we needed to get out of the house.  After a bit of discussion, our destination was settled.  The Statens Museum for Kunst.  Also known as the National Art Gallery.  It's a huge museum and with 3 small kids, we barely touched it, but we still enjoyed it quite a bit.  I wish I knew more about art, but we were still able to appreciate the beauty of what we saw.  Of course, I just love anything old.
We spent most of our time walking through the European Art section from the 1600's to 1800's.  In here we saw some Rembrandts

 and some Renoirs, and A LOT of naked butts.  Haha. =)  Seriously.  Living in Europe, you kind of become numb to nudity.  It's not meant to be pornographic in nature, but just to be appreciated as beauty.  Our kids don't even seem to notice it, except for a strange painting in the more modern art section of the museum.  Lexi was quite confused as to why the painting had multiple parts, if you know what I mean....  Anyway....!
I really enjoyed seeing all the beautiful paintings.  I think that landscapes are my favorite, but it is also amazing to see how the artists are able to capture a human's features.

  There were a couple of paintings I couldn't stop looking at how intricate the eyes were.  Amazing!  There were also a few paintings I couldn't stop looking at because they were so strange!  There was one in particular.  One of the strangest paintings I've ever seen.  It's a little risque, so I won't post it here.  It's called the Fall of the Titans.  And was painted in 1590!  Everyone in it is naked, but several are strategically covered with insects.  Strange!  If you are really curious, here is the wikipedia page. But, don't say I didn't warn you!
After viewing the older paintings, we briefly checked out the Danish artist section.  Apart from a beautiful Carl Bloch painting
Carl Bloch painted a lot of pictures that are used by the LDS church.  This painting doesn't have the same type of theme, obviously, but was very rich in detail.  However, my favorite part is the girl that appears to have a napkin on her head.  It reminds me of Lexi a couple of years ago, when she use to walk around with a towel on her head, all the time.
and several bizarre statues,
Weird, right?
And a little scary.  Ok, a lot scary!
we weren't too excited about this section.  The kids were definitely getting burned out.
Noah ran ahead of us into the next room and when we followed after him, this is what we found.  Love it!
 So, we decided to take a very quick tour of the Modern Art section, where aside from the Edvard Munch painting,
Edvard Munch was a Norwegian painter that painted the famous painting, The Scream
the most exciting thing to happen was Noah jumping up and down several times and losing his pants in the process.  We decided it was definitely time to go! 
Paintings on old Sarcophagus's.
This is a copy of Leonardo DaVinci's - Madonna on the Rocks.  It was painted in the 1600's, but author unknown.  I think they use to have students that would paint copies of the great paintings during the time.  I thought it was pretty cool.
They had this room, with several huge paintings around the walls and little booths like this to sit at where you could play a game.  It was a nice rest.

We spent a little time walking around Rosenborg Castles Gardens and through the pedestrian street in Copenhagen, but we were pretty tired and ready to head home.  I really like Copenhagen.  It's just so alive.  The sights, the sounds, the smells.  I'm glad for this opportunity to spend time in a big city. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Photo Challenge Week #7 - Art

Shannon - This week was a tricky one. Denmark is just full of beautiful art pieces.  All over the city, you will come across sculptures and paintings and other pieces of art.  We decided to take a trip into Copenhagen yesterday and go to the National Art Gallery - Statens Museum for Kunst.  And wouldn't you know it, I completely forgot about the challenge as we were walking around the museum and around the town, or I think I would have taken different pictures, looking for something more "artsy."  Anyway, we took a few pictures of some of the paintings, art done by Munch, Renoir and Rembrandt.  One of my favorites was a copy of Leonardo DaVinci's, Madonna on the Rocks.  It was done around the same time as the original and looks very much like it.  Kind of cool.  The kids seemed to enjoy the trip and were so good, but were definitely tired by the end.  We had all been in a different room, when Noah took off to the next room.  When I walked after him, this is what I found.  He was done.

Chad - Like Shannon said there is lots of art to choose from in Denmark. Living in a big city for the first time in my life I have been very impressed with some of the "street art", and in some location I think that it is pretty cool looking. I chose this one because it was faily fresh, like the colors and the brick background.

Of course there are artist and graffitiest - so you do see a lot of scribblely tags and crude comments (usually English) all over everything also. We had some friends who's parents were living in Copenhagen tell that one day there parent saw some kids spray painting a wall and some police walking towards them. They were excited to watch the kids get caught and punished for the vandalism but the police just talked to them for a bit and then left them to finish their work - so I guess it is not really that big a deal.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Tillykke Myra!

It was a difficult decision to decide how to educate our kids while we live here in Denmark.  We decided the best thing would be to just put the kids in regular Danish school, that way they could learn the language and make friends that live near them.  So, Myra was enrolled in School and placed in a special class that is designed just for children moving here from other countries.  Last October, she was placed in a regular Danish class for about half time.  She did really well, juggling two different classes and a changing schedule.  Her teacher called me about 2 weeks ago to inform me that they felt she was ready to move into a regular class full time!  Today was her last day in the "learning Danish class" and after the winter break next week, she will go full time to her regular class.  I have been so proud of how well she has learned Danish.  We always have people comment to us on how well she speaks and that she has perfect pronunciation, which is very challenging!  And she has done so well with learning the language and moving around from class to class.  Her teacher said to me today that Myra is a very special girl.  She always has a smile and is always so happy.  We are so very grateful for her happiness.  What a great girl! 
With her teachers Mie and Kajsa.
Her class threw her a little going away party with treats and a book they had put together for her with pictures and notes from everyone.  And I took a few pictures.  She is sad to leave these friends behind, but I think she will really love being in the other class full time.  Congratulations Myra!
Myra's had such a fun time getting to know kids from all over the world.  She's had kids in her class from Turkey, Pakistan, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, the Philippines, Canada and Poland.  What a great experience!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Shopping in Denmark

Ever since moving here, over a year ago!, I've been wanting to post little blogs about what every day life is like for us.  I never got around to doing it, until now!  The problem is, we've lived here long enough now, that the things that seemed so strange in the beginning, are just normal to us now.  So, we'll see what I can come up with. 
Shopping in Denmark is SO different than in the states.  Excluding grocery stores, most other stores don't open until 10 and close at 5 during the week. And they close at 3 on Saturdays, if they open at all!  When we first moved here, nothing was open on Sunday's, but they recently passed a law, allowing stores to open on Sunday's, and it appears that more and more stores are taking advantage of that. These crazy hours were so difficult to work around, because if we wanted to go on an excursion shopping, we couldn't go in the evenings and we would have to carefully plan around the 45 minutes to 1 hour travel time, it would take us to get to most places. 
Grocery stores are a little different.  There are a few bigger stores, but most places are little corner markets.  I would compare their size to something like a large gas station.  Many of these places open around 8 or 9 and close around 6, but it seems like since we've been here, many of them have been extending their hours.  There are 2 of these little stores within 300 yards from our house.  Once now closes at 10 and the other closes at 6.  We do the majority of our shopping at a store called Netto.  It's the cheapest of the grocery store chains.  There are probably 5 or 6 major chains that you will see all over the place.  Most people go shopping every day or so.  This has posed a bit of a challenge for us.  I use to do a shopping trip every 2 weeks, now I try to plan out a week at a time and even with that, I always have so much more in my basket than ANYONE else!  You have to "pay" for your carts with a 10 or 20kr. coin, which you will get back when you return your cart.

 I've gotten into the habit of keeping a coin in my coat pocket all the time, just in case.  Most of the stores are pretty straight-forward grocery stores, although Netto is a little different.  You never know for sure what you are going to get there.  Sometimes you can buy broccoli and sometimes not.  Sometimes they will carry our favorite brand of cereal for several months, and then not at all for another couple of months.  Sometimes they are completely out of milk, but you can pick up a laptop computer or some thermal underwear.  And they always stock the shelves during business hours, so it can be quite a challenge to navigate the store.  They also have a tendency to put pallets of food in front of other pallets, so it can be quite tricky getting to some things.  Also, when you go grocery shopping, you usually have no more than 1 or 2 choices of something.  If you want spaghetti noodles, they have one brand.  Or canned beans, they come in cardboard boxes and only kidney beans, sometimes.  I guess taking the choices away makes shopping easier.  Although if you are wanting some leverpøstej (Liver paste), you'll have plenty of choices. 
Danes like to cook everything from scratch. As far as boxed foods go, this is about it.  And you can't always find these type of things either. I've never tried any of them, I just make most things from scratch too.  I was surprised to see Chocolate Chip Cookies.  You can't find Chocolate Chips here, so this was a surprise. 
Checking out is the most difficult, at least it was in the beginning.  The checkout stands are basically the same as in the states, although the checker is ALWAYS seated.  You put your food on the conveyor belt and they check you out.  But, you have to bag everything yourself.  The store will sell bags, but we always bring our own.  In the beginning, I felt so much stress at this point of my shopping trip.  Imagine, you're shopping with 3 kids, the store is SO crowded, you have probably 6 people waiting in line behind you.  And you are buying the most stuff out of anyone.  I'm sure they are always thinking something like, "Wow, they must be having a party or something!" So, the checker is hurriedly checking your stuff out and you are furiously trying to just throw everything back into your cart.  Then you've got to stop and pay and by the time you put your wallet away, the next person's items are coming down the conveyor belt and you are still trying to get everything back into your cart. Ugh!  In the beginning, I would just put everything back in my cart and then go outside and load it into my bags and then place it into either the bike trailer or my little wheeled shopping bag.  Now, i usually go shopping first thing Tuesday morning, when it's not quite so busy.  I always just bag my stuff now at the checkout stand.  I figure, the people behind me can just wait. =)  I'm much more efficient now.  And it's definitely not as stressful!
Another funny thing about most grocery stores, they have one way gates when you go in and unless you buy something, there is no way to exit!  This has caused many stressful situations.  I feel like I just have to buy something to get out the door.  And the few times I have just pushed past people at the check-out stands to get out, when i haven't bought anything, I always feel like everyone is just staring at me, and they think I've stolen something.  It's just an annoyance.
Ok, well, this is getting long, but one more thing.  Bakeries!

These are all over the place too.  And the pastries are so good, although usually a bit expensive, of course!  We love to just look through the windows and drool. =)  Most of the bakeries, you go in and you have to take a number to be served.  Actually, A LOT of stores have this system. At most bakeries, you'll find the same type of goodies, not much variation.  But, I love them!
Anyway, I'm sure I could go on and on about our stores and shopping experiences here, but there you have it.  Denmark shopping.

Saturday, February 9, 2013


It's strange being here for over a year now, and now that we know more of what is going on, we are now having some of the same experiences again.  Like Fastelavn.
This was the first "holiday" we experienced in Denmark last year and it was quite strange.  We knew what to expect this year and the kids loved it and are already talking about what they will dress up as next year. 
Fastelavn is the name for Denmark's Carnival.  It is a little similar to Halloween.  Where the kids dress up and eat treats.  That's really about it.  It use to have something to do with Lent, but now it is just a fun day for kids.  The kids all did several activities at their schools.  They made masks, had a little party where they got to wear their costumes, they had to try to eat a pastry off a rope and Lexi and Noah got to make something called Fastelavnris.  It's basically a bunch of twigs and sticks tied together with some decorations on it, like feathers, beads, etc. 
 The custom is that the kids get to go in and "flog" their parents with them until they wake up on Fastelavns Sunday and give them a Fastelavnsboller. (pastry)  I guess this tradition originates as an old fertility ritual.  Ok.....  Anyway....
We also got to go to our Ward's Fastelavn party.  The kids got to take turns hitting the barrels with the cats on them (instead of in them - which is how they use to do it.)  These are no weak pinata's.  The kids probably spent 20 minutes or more whacking them with a wooden stick until they broke apart.  Noah knocked the first slat off of his, so he was crowned the Kattedronning. (Queen of Cats)  Lexi also won the award for the cutest costume.  Myra was a little sad she didn't get any sort of award, so she's been talking a lot about what to wear next year and how she can hit the barrel harder.  Funny girl.  Then we all finished off the activity with a Fastelavnsboller.  Fun day.

Chad even took a turn.
Myra eating a pastry off a string.

I wish I had a video of this, so funny!  He just walked around and around in a circle trying to take a bite of it, then finally gave up and just slumped over and stood there, so sad.

Photo Challenge Week #6 - Work

Shannon - We made Green Jello to celebrate the opening of my newest Etsy shop, GreenJelloSalad!  I've been wanting to blog about my newest work endeavors, but I'll save all the details for another post. 

Chad - This week I was working on an experiment in the green house. As part of it i need some soil so this is a photo of me sieving soil. Shannon like this one the best, but I also took some in the green house.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Photo Challenge Week #5 - Hands

Shannon - Noah hates taking a shower, until he's actually in the shower and then he loves it and we can't get him out.  This picture isn't great, but he was pretty proud of his wrinkly hands.

Chad - This is my index finger under a magnifying scope.