A Visit with Neptune and Galileo


Although I finished the bulk of my lab work some months ago, I’m still toiling away at my research on the diatoms of the Wadden Sea. As Melissa and I have mentioned before, field and lab work aren’t the only things important to scientific research. It’s also important to carefully report on your experiment and results. After all, if you don’t make your findings known, other scientists can’t build on your work – much less use it to improve public policy and legislation.

The view from my desk is not a bad one, but it often is a soggy one.

However, it’s now coming to a close. I’ve finished drafting my report and am incorporating comments and feedback for the final draft and presentation. While the write-up I’m compiling right now isn’t going to be published formally, a PhD student in my lab is building on this research with a longer-term study. Eventually, my work may be cited or directly incorporated into her publications.

Lest you think I’ve been stuck behind a desk all month, let me clarify that I most certainly have not! I was able to escape the damp Netherlands for a mostly-sunny vacation in Italy. Plus, I was able to catch up with my family in the process: my younger brother happens to be enjoying a semester abroad there. I got a great taste of what Italian life is like – figuratively as well as literally. The food absolutely exceeded any and all lofty expectations!

  

The god of the ocean casually hangs out in Bologna’s Piazza Maggiore, just like my “little” brother and me.

We spent most of our time in Bologna, where Neptune happens to have prime real estate in the central square. The cityscape is dotted with teetering towers that once signified medieval families’ wealth and served as defensive lookout points. Though most have now crumbled, it’s still clear that Pisa can’t claim to have the only leaning tower. The long climb up the tallest of the towers is well worth it for the stunning view of the city.

Tall towers were once status symbols, but are now ideal tourist vantage points.

The villages of Cinque Terre are nestled into the coast, picturesque even on a stormy day.

In between generous helpings of pasta, frequent gelato outings, and glasses of delightful lambrusco, we managed to make our way to the surreal coastal destination of Cinque Terre. There, the winding mountainous coast over the Mediterranean Sea is dotted with five tiny, colorful villages built into the hills. In spite of rain, it made for some of the most stunning hiking I’ve ever experienced.

We also made a daytrip to Florence. Of all the amazing sights and activities, the one I absolutely insisted on visiting was Museo Galileo. As a student of marine biology, after all, I’d be remiss to miss out on one of the world’s top destinations for science nerds. The many artifacts in this museum offered an amazing perspective on the history of science.

Who wouldn’t want to admire some of the world’s first microscopes?

Of course I lingered longest in the biology realm, and in particular admired the collection of compound microscopes from the 1700s. Okay, perhaps I lingered second-longest at the microscopes, because something else captivated me even more (in a very morbid way): the museum houses a few of Galileo’s actual fingers! Still I’m glad that his legacy as the “father of modern science” goes far beyond some remains on display in glass jars.

Galileo Galilei’s remains (yes, those glass jars contain a few of his fingers).

Meanwhile, the looming completion of my project doesn’t mean I’m done – I have more than a year to go in my Masters program so I’m making preparations for my next project-slash-adventure. You’ll have to wait another month to read about it – I know the suspense is killing you! However, I can tell you this: I recently attended a conference on parasite ecology on a Dutch island as a warm-up for the upcoming endeavor.

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