Dog Blog (Cultural Artifact)

Dogs are by far my favorite animal, and while in Scandinavia I noticed how many dogs there were. It seemed as if you could find an owner walking their dog on every street corner. Dogs were welcome in places that they are not in the US. Scandinavia has some of the happiest countries in the world, and I can’t help but think the prevalence of dogs plays a role in that.

Just like the United States, dogs seemed to be a part of families in Scandinavia. While in Sigtuna, Sweden, I talked to a man walking his dog. It was evident how much he loved him, just like we do in America. However, there were some differences. He talked about how most people in Scandinavia like to train their dogs. His three month old dog already new lots of basic commands. In the US, I do not think there is as big of an emphasis of training our dogs. He also told me that there are over 700,000 dogs in Sweden. That is a lot of dogs for a mid-sized country.

Sadly, when I came home yesterday, my dog Ginger passed away. It was so sudden and unexpected. She was an amazing dog and a member of my family. She showed me what unconditional love and joy look like. What this trip and Ginger have taught me about dogs is that world-wide dogs teach their owners about love. Whether they are better trained in one region than another does not matter. They bring so much happiness into our lives no matter where we are. We are universally connected through our pets who find their way into our hearts and become a member of our family.


Dogs in Old Town


Dogs in Old Town


My dog Ginger.



Wait….we have to go home?

I’m not entirely sure what it was about Stockholm, but for some unknown reason, I was more excited to visit this city prior to leaving for the trip than I was for the other two. That is not to say that I wasn’t excited for the others as well, but it is definitely safe to say that Stockholm (and the other cities, for that matter) lived up to the hype that I had created in my head since the day I got the email telling me that I’d be going on this trip.

Being a music major, I would always get excited when something on the trip involved music. In Copenhagen, it warmed my heart to hear the tour guide explain how they had just recently built an opera house across the river from Amalienborg Palace and Frederik’s Church to have three important parts of their society represented in one place: music, government, and religion. I really appreciated how much that music was valued. Similarly, in Stockholm, the changing of the guard at the Royal Palace was a true spectacle (all thirty minutes of it). The marching band was a large part of the changing of the guard ceremony. They lead the procession, provided entertainment, and signaled various parts of the event. I was completely caught off guard when I heard over the speakers that the band would give a concert which would include Uptown Funk (the TCU Marching Band had performed the same thing this past football season, so the marching band version was the only version that I’d hear in my head anymore).

I can’t believe the trip of a lifetime is already over. It feels like just yesterday I was meeting everyone at the pre-trip dinner in the BLUU and trying to make sure I didn’t forget to pack something important. This trip has given me some fantastic memories with some fantastic people, and I am eternally grateful that I was able to be a part of it.


Science in context

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Whenever I had a bit of down time during this trip, I was scrambling to put together a paper, poster, and presentation for the research I had been doing this summer.  Having spent most of my time in a nano biophysics laboratory this summer, I’ve gained some perspective on what it’s like to be in the trenches of hard science.  Before, I had only seen the glitz and glam of new discoveries, and I had never realized how difficult, lonely, and often discouraging it can be as a researcher.  I’ve spent long hours sitting in front of monitors, in the cold, bug infested basement of Sid Richardson, feeling lonely as I worked in solitude in a lifeless environment, feeling totally incompetent as I sifted through publications in scientific journals full of esoteric jargon that I couldn’t comprehend, feeling disconnected as I worked with microscopic nanomaterials I couldn’t see or touch, feeling hopeless as results were inconclusive or didn’t match with hypothesis.  I realized that being a researcher was far from being a comfortable career, and I lost confidence in my ability to pursue it.

Every single scientist honored in the Nobel Prize center had also felt the same way. But they still pursued a career in science despite all the uncertainty, the low probability of success, and the low appreciation by the public.  Which is why I felt so much joy to see scientists honored in the Nobel Prize center in Stockholm.  I felt kinship with them, seeing their sacrifice, hardship, and important work that I get to build on.  In 2004,  Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov extracted single-atom-thick crystallites from bulk graphite via the Scotch-tape method (see picture above).  In 2010, they were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their discovery of a method to produce graphene.  This very graphene was the center of my research this summer.

When I saw the scotch tape exhibit in the Nobel Peace Center, I suddenly felt full of pride for my work and for being a successor to the work of such great minds.  I felt a renewed motivation to go back to the lab and maybe one day, just maybe, be featured on those walls.



Cultural Artifact: Scandinavian Chocolate

Right when I started telling family and friends about my upcoming trip, I started hearing a few main things that I had to do/try. One thing that constantly came up was Scandinavian chocolate. I didn’t pay too much attention, as I was going to Belgium beforehand. I mean, Belgian chocolate is supposed to be the gold standard.

However, as a deep lover of all things chocolate I instantly started taking notice of all of the chocolate shops we passed when we got to Norway. With my first chocolate stop in Oslo at Freia, I started asking about the chocolate culture in Scandinavia. I was surprised to learn that Norway actually is one of the biggest chocolate consuming countries in the world! The average Norwegian eats approximately 18 POUNDS of chocolate each year!

Naturally, I bought some of Norway’s top selling chocolate- the Freia milk chocolate bar. Gotta say, it even beat Belgian chocolate.


I continued the chocolate hunt in Denmark and Sweden. While the Danes didn’t seem to be too huge on chocolate (they prefer sugary candies of other types, and even eat the most candy of all countries), Sweden also had a huge taste for chocolate. The store we stopped at in Gamla Stan featured all of their chocolate made in Sweden, which they were very proud of. The store owner said the Swedes won’t eat chocolate that wasn’t made in Sweden. Naturally, I had to sample some.


Once again, I was not disappointed.

While I never thought of chocolate when thinking of Scandinavia before, I have to say they surprised me. I’ll probably have to start importing it or something. If there’s one thing that I could relate to any Scandinavian about, chocolate is an easy choice.

Joe’s Juice

From the moment I saw the black and pink sign hanging on a storefront in Oslo, I was obsessed. Obsessed with the modern design of the store’s interior, excited by the trendy music playing in the background, and in love with the attractive baristas making the best assortment of coffee, juices, and smoothies. 

Joe & the Juice became a necessary stop in every Scandinavian country we visited, and I even went so far as to ask for a handfull of their logo stickers to wear on my shirt. As my cultural artifact, this coffee shop is a perfect representation of what I love most about Scandinavia- the slow paced lifestyle, health conscious habits, and people-centered values. 

Firstly, the store doesn’t open until 10 am which is a perfect reflection of the leisurely mornings that these Europeans enjoy. A slower-paced lifestyle trumps the daily American frenzy as customers sit down to enjoy their drinks rather than rush on to their next stop. Secondly, the coffee shop serves tropical fruit juices and fresh exotic smoothies which reflects the health conscious, active lifestyles that these avid biking cities promote. And most importantly of all, the friendly interaction between baristas and customers reminds me of the value that Scandinavians place upon the rights and dignity of all human beings. Here, the government is structured as a social democracy. Public healthcare, education, and retirement homes ensures a higher standard of living for the population as individuals forego personal income to promote the overall wellbeing of their country. Furthermore, their prison system is based upon rehabilitation rather than punishment because they believe that all humans deserve the right to a better life. 

If I’m taking away one thing from this trip, it would be admiration for a group of countries that have successfully balanced the need for sacrifice and the desire for achievement to ensure all citizens are able to benefit from a higher quality of life. 

Goodbye Norway. Goodbye Denmark. Goodbye Joe & the Juice. I’ll always be your number one fan. 

The Nobel-est of Them All

On this trip, we have been asked to identify a cultural artifact that represents us. I genuinely struggled until walking through the doors of the Nobel Prize Museum in Stockholm. This item on our itinerary did not particularly stick out to me, and I did not come in with very much knowledge on the awards that are given. However, this ended up being one of my absolute favorite places. It is especially important in Sweden as the Nobel Prizes for Physics, Chemistry, Physiology, and Literature as well as an award in Economics are only given out here.

There really is not much to the museum, but at the back, they have a special photography exhibition. The photographer took on the task of getting portraits of some of the Nobel laureates. He decided to make it interesting though. Without giving the scientists any prior warning, he gave them a giant piece of poster paper and asked them to illustrate what exactly they won their Nobel Prize for. Then, he took their pictures with their posters against a simple white backdrop. He gave them freedom to pose how they wished and allowed their personalities to come alive in the photographs. Now, these pictures are posted around the room with short comments on the photographer’s experience of working with each of these individuals. I loved how transparent and quirky it was. 

For the discoverer of water channels, he wrote, “This is a sportsman in sneakers. He sketches a beautiful picture of his discovery, the aquaporin channels in the cell membrane. During the shoot, he gives me a demonstration of some rather cool ski moves – while holding the sketch with his Nobel discovery!”

For the discoverer of telomeres and telomerases, he wrote, “The sketch comes out detailed, colourful, and humourous. There are emoticons and sound effects… So, this is the kind of professor I would have liked to have had.”

What really blew my mind was how recent all of these highlighted discoveries have been. Many of these awards were given in the 2000’s, and the concepts are now within the pages of my biology, chemistry, and physics textbooks. These fascinating individuals are the pilgrims, blazing the way of scientific exploration. The knowledge I am gaining is so fresh which only means that my field will continue to expand for as long as I live. It is a necessity for me to be a lifelong student, and this exhibit made this truth so glaringly apparent to me. I am a scientist and that identity has connected me to this city through the Nobel Prize Museum.

We had a great guide who gave us background on the museum, especially regarding the nomination and awarding process. Afterwards, I talked with her a bit. She has been working for the museum for many years and has a lot of inside knowledge. She said that most people do not know that laureates in the sciences are nominated for an average of 10 consecutive years before they ever win. They are also generally older and fall into the 50+ age category. I know there is some statistic floating around about the likelihood of a high school football player making it to the NFL (it’s less than 1%). I would be interested to hear what the likelihood of a scientist becoming a Nobel Prize laureate is, but I would guess that it is even more rare. A Nobel Prize is certainly only achieved with a high level of commitment. That is what it takes to go down in history as the Francis Crick’s and Linus Pauling’s of the world.

Reality or Myth?: Hammarby Sjöstad

Last semester, I took a course with Dr. Whitworth titled “Sustainability: Economic, Environmental, and Social Justice.” We covered a whole array of topics from food systems to consumer habits to housing and urban development. During our discussion of the latter topic, Hammarby Sjöstad, an urban residential development in Stockholm, was put forth as an example of progressive, sustainable housing. As such, I planned to visit the neighborhood while in Stockholm to see if it really lived up to what we had discussed.

I chose to analyze Hammarby Sjöstad as my cultural artifact for the trip because, upon asking the concierge how to get there, I was bombarded by a rant on how the “greenness” of the neighborhood is a “myth.” She told me it wasn’t worth it to go there, an opinion seconded by the receptionist who also told me it was “all BS” (his words, not mine). On the other hand, Dr. Whitworth had commended this development as an advancement in sustainable living, and the advertisements for the neighborhood touted how eco-friendly it was supposed to be. Naturally, my interest was piqued by the two conflicting views I had been given of Hammarby Sjöstad.

So, I decided to venture out there anyways with a few of my wonderfully obliging peers to see what it was like for myself! There had to be a reason for this discrepancy in perceptions, and I wanted to see what the reality was.


One of the Hammarby Sjöstad complexes.

My conclusion was this: Hammarby Sjöstad indeed has many sustainable aspects to it, but for some Swedes, it’s simply not enough. Brooke and I spoke with a resident of the neighborhood who was out watching his daughter play in the community sandbox. He had been living there for three months and had chosen to move out there to be closer to nature (the neighborhood is roughly three miles from the city center). He told us that he had six different waste bins for sorting trash, which he takes to the pneumatic disposal tubes that transport it to the on-site recycling and composting facilities. His residence is equipped with water- and energy-efficient features, he has easy access to multiple public transport options with a new Metro station opening across the street soon, and he is able to work out in the local outdoor gym or go hiking in the nearby parks if he so wishes. Moreover, the neighborhood was built on a site that was formerly an industrial area, reclaiming land that might have sat unused for years. Yet, as we plied him with questions about the neighborhood, I got the sense that while each of these eco-friendly aspects are good and helpful, to some they may seem like small drops in the bucket of solving our Earth’s environmental issues.

(Pneumatic disposal system.)

The concierge I spoke with had a great number of concerns about the environmental well-being of Sweden and the planet as a whole. She lamented that people could no longer safely swim in the waters off of Stockholm due to pollution; the daily Stockholm newspaper now includes a Water Quality Index to publicize how good or bad the water is each day. She also claimed that environmentalism was limited to the middle class because of its extra costs. What I sensed from her complaints was that Swedes desire a deeper, more systemic change to advance toward a cleaner, greener future. While Hammarby Sjöstad is a step in the right direction, perhaps they feel that it is too highly lauded given the small impact it has compared to bigger issues like ocean pollution or nonrenewable energy consumption.

In reality, both the little and the big changes are important. The “greenness” of Hammarby Sjöstad is not a myth, and I would love to see similar developments pop up in the U.S. because these neighborhoods have the potential to improve the environment and people’s quality of life. However, we can’t get so caught up in the small improvements that we fail to address the larger, more complex environmental issues as well. The tension that Hammarby Sjöstad has apparently created in Swedish dialogue demonstrates this clearly.


The complexes were very open and appeared to encourage local community and fellowship.


Bikes seemed to be a popular mode of transportation.


The neighborhood had beautiful, well-designed green spaces.