And how are things in Boston?

In every human cell, several meters of long, linear DNA is used to store all of our genetic information. Although these 700 megabytes of DNA per cell are incredibly important, researchers in the field of bionanotechnology find the natural occurring DNA rather boring. Instead, they have devised ways to precisely manipulate the DNA and are now able to successfully create any arbitrary two- and three-dimensional shape on a nanometer scale. Think of a DNA strand as a balloon animal that is folded into its shape, not by a clown, but by the hands of the scientist.

The technique is known as DNA origami and has been used to fabricate everything from triangles and smiley faces to a nano-sized world map. However, in my Biomedical Engineering internship I am now working on one of the first applications of DNA origami, trying to elucidate the fundamental interactions underlying the transport of proteins across the cell membrane.

I started two months ago at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, founded at Harvard University in 2009 thanks to a 125 million dollar gift from Swiss businessman Hansjörg Wyss. The result is an impressive scientific staff, at least one Nature or Science paper each month, and a lot of media attention. Indeed, in my first couple of weeks here, the president of Ecuador visited the labs and brought with him an army of bodyguards and men in black. Strangely enough, I seemed to be the only one who was surprised.

The Boston area hosts over fifty world-renowned schools and universities such as Harvard, MIT and Berklee College of Music, resulting in a diverse and hyper intelligent population. For some reason though, everyone has an equal, nearly obsessive fascination with sports, supporting their local heroes such as the Boston Red Sox baseball team at the massive Fenway Park stadium (see picture).  

In the end, every stereotype of living in the United States is true: everyone is excessively friendly, there is a Starbucks or McDonald’s at every corner and supermarkets are opened 24/7. But at the lab the atmosphere is laidback and inspiring and that reminds me a lot of home, our little Eindhoven.

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