Now, the tardi don’t start ’till I walk in…. (Kristin)

Originally, I was attempting to write this little update in the lounge of our hostel in Padova so Suz & I could double post for double the fun. Unfortunately for my creative juices, however, a traveling madrigal choir chose to descend upon our cozy haven of free wifi and join together in song until my secret fantasy of dropping out of college to join a HS Glee Club was effectively quelched. (I guess I have that much to thank them for…) So here it goes, a few days later.

Anyways, Venice, to me, in one word: surreal. By that I mean that it took me an embarrassingly long time to conceptualize that it was actually a city, not some large scale Disney World ride specifically designed for couples on their honeymoons. However, when a half hour or so had passed and the masks lining the street-side windows still hadn’t broken into an Italian rendition of “It’s a small world after all,” I began to wrap my mind around the fact that Venice was, in fact, Real Life. That is, Real Life equipped with real people living & working & trying to make a quick buck off unsuspecting tourists who niaviely assume that just because a hotel bears the name “Centrale” it will be located smack dab in the center of the city. (Ahem. It’s cool guys, that’s what European public transportation is for…)
Venetian Gondola Ride:

It’s super cool and not touristy at all to try and match your Gondolier!!

My impression of Padova was that it was a lot like a larger, more-touristy version of Modena in terms of architecture, sights to see, shops, etc.

Now that it’s back to the lab again (a la Eminem) at our home-base, we’ve been busy rehydrating the tardigrades that we put in the Mars simulator at the University of Padova…and from the looks of it some of them are still alive! This means some of our tardis survived having been fully exposed to martian conditions, i.e. they hypothetically have the capacity to effectively function as martians (at least for a few hours), i.e. they are total ballers. We’re proud of our little water bears.

Mars Simulator at the University of Padova:

For now, we’ve got a few more hours at the lab, and then we’ll be off to continue our now-daily ritual of visiting the oversized public trampoline (which I swear has at least 5 times the elasticity of any American trampoline I’ve ever been on.)
…and we’ll bounce…

….and bounce….

& vita è buona.


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I wanna rock and roll all night, and Tardi every day (Susan)

I would like to open this post by describing to you, dear Readers, our cuisine when we hit the open road here in Italy. In a word, pizza. Pizza with tomatoes, pizza with brie, pizza with arugula. The other day we had pizza for all three meals. It’s unnaturally cheap and, naturally, scrumptious. At one point we ordered a “pizza Americana,” figuring we would learn what Italy thinks of our Yankee tastes. We did. It featured hot dog stubs and, wait for it…. corn.

We’re currently in Padua, as the Martian simulator we’re using for the Mars experiment is housed at the Astronomical Institute here. Not only are we guests of astronomers at an Institute housed in an old castle, where Galileo once walked around saying “listen bros, there are mountains on the moon!” … but being on this trip means we spent this past weekend in Venice.

Venezia is beeeeyoootiful.

A random man taught us to actually use my camera!

Being the savvy travelers that we are, we booked a hostel online before leaving. It was so cheap (for Venice) that our coworker assured us we would be ankle-deep in cockroaches, god help us. It was called the “Hostel Centrale,” so we confidently hopped off the train and commenced wandering around. Surely our “central” hostel would appear within minutes. WELL. Thanks to a clutch performance by my Kindle’s 3G connection, we finally caved and Google Maps-ed our location. The elusive hostel was not in Venice. We were 10.6 kilometers away. It remains unclear what that hostel in fact considers itself central to. (We decided our predicament was analogous to a traveler booking a room in Annandale, then jumping off the Metro at L’Enfant Plaza and thinking, surely it’s just around the corner!)

But, it’s cool guys, we got this.

You are reading the scroll-over text! xkcd has trained you well.

In front of the Grand Canal, Venice

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And I’m like Yes. It’s on and poppin’. Yes. The tardis rockin’. (Kristin)

Modena is not a tourist town. Or at least that’s what our lab directors told us when we first arrived here. I suppose this explains why the sight of two light-haired girls with over-sized backpacks and a collectively-lacking navigational sense traipsing through the cobblestone streets elicits an intrigued, and generally prolonged, stare from the everyday Modenian.

What this doesn’t explain is why a town that is the birthplace of the ferrari, home to 800 year old cathedrals, and equipped with a public outdoor trampoline roughly the size of a basketball court (seriously… but more on that later) has not yet been infiltrated by the fanny-pack toting masses. Because from what Suz & I have seen, we’d expect this place to have been pinpointed and devoured by american tourism like an unsuspecting nemotode caught in the warpath of a carnivorous tardigrade. (Did I just make my first microbiology simile? whoops.)

But on quite the contrary, it appears that Suz & I have Modena to ourselves, which means being constantly surrounded by people fascinated (or at least seemingly so) by our presence here. Needless to say we are loving the attention.

Thus far, we’ve experienced nothing short of the finest Italian hospitality in the form of loaned bicycles, gifted food and drink, impromtu italian lessons… the other day a bystander straight-up offered us free candy from his street-side tent (a la the child catcher in chitty chitty bang bang… minus the weird hat and ill-fated intentions of course).

This past weekend we met the members of a Modenian band hoping to exploit American culture to make a few bucks. "Tell us the names of the famous ‘country music’ artists that play in Southern America. We will look them up on the ‘YouTube’, study their ‘style’ and make a country music song," when we asked what prompted their desire to delve into the world of Brad Paisely and Carrie Underwood, they explained, "Since Southern Americans do not know how to use the internet, they cannot download our song for free…they will have to buy it as the record! We will make money like Nashville, Tennesse."
…I’ll let Susan’s friends from UNC try to refute their seemingly foolproof logic.

Life in the lab has been good, and yesterday we plated/viewed the tardis we mercilessly massacred on Monday. On account of our current status of mere amateur microbiologists, the grace with which we applied slide covers left something to be desired. The result:

I.e. Tardi guts, everywhere. Or in terms that LMFAO would understand, the tardis were indeed poppin’ (but by no means were we stoppin’)

Okay I’m going to wrap this up before it degrades any additional levels of social acceptability.
But first, this is what a still-in-tact tardi looks like:

Isn’t it cute???

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Tardi every day, T-T-T-Tardi every day… (Susan)

Today, we discovered that “tardi” rhymes with “party.” That’s a little teaser for our clever and super cool blog post titles!

In other news, we are living the good life here in Modena. We pedal around everywhere on bikes the lab loaned us. They might appear to the casual observer to be haphazard amalgamations of scrap metal parts, but they are actually quite functional! Plus they have little bells for when you pass someone, which is great fun for me and not at all annoying to pedestrians, I think.

(Unfortunately, having a blog makes the fact that I narrate my life in my head seem like a semi-worthwhile venture, and I was thinking today about what to say about the bikes. The narrative went something like “Our bikes are so far indestructible, so we’re able to do badass things like jump curbs…” when I went over a veritable granite CLIFF of a curb and sliced open one of my seven unbroken toes.)

Anyhow, today we achieved a lot of science in the lab. We spent an intense several hours isolating water bears from leaf litter one by one, only to mercilessly slaughter them with acid for staining. We didn’t realize that’s what we were gathering them for, so that was a little jarring (and made singing “we’re going on a Tardigrade hunt!” seem a little insensitive). We also got a legitimate Italian conjugation lesson from a student, which we found worlds more useful than repeating “there is a bug in my soup” out of our Pocket Italian Phrasebook. (We still plan to use that one when completely unwarranted, never fear.)

Later in our day we were trying to pipette our dead Tardis onto slides for staining. I was positively miserable at it. For some reason, on the last step of the process, my Tardi invariably got stuck in my pipette, forever lost to science. We stayed in the lab until 7 (we usually work 9 to 5), and by the end it was probably a good thing that noone else understands muttered English.

Over dinner out, however (much deserved by our tired and in my case bloody-toed selves) we ate our favorite dessert, Tartuffe, and reflected on the utter happiness of life here. We have fun, we eat well, we do science… we love life, and really, that’s what we’re best at.

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You might think this is lunarcris, but…

Tiao Cruz lyrics with corny moon pun aside, Ciao! We are writing our celebratory first blog post jointly from the lab in Modena, Italia (vowing never to do this whole joint thing again because it’s super awkward to have to agree on words before typing them.) 

So first, to clarify, we are not in fact going to the moon. (Yet.) And to explain why we’re in Italy, we have to explain why, in about a month, we will be in Shanghai, China.

The Google Lunar X-Prize (GLXP) is an international competition with a prize of $30 mil to the first privately funded team to launch a rover, land it on the moon, drive around sending back high-res digital imaging, etc.  In Shanghai, we’re going to be working with a team competing for the GLXP (Team Selene), and learning from them as they work to construct their lunar rover. Specifically, they want us to help with an experiment involving Tardigrades, adorable microorganisms commonly known as “water bears.” Team Selene wants to send Tardigrades to space, in part to test the imaging equipment they are developing, and in part because Tardigrades recently made headlines for being the first animal ever to travel to space, be exposed to solar radiation and the vacuum of space, and survive. They are damn cool critters.

SO right now we are in Italy, working in the lab of the scientists who performed said historic experiment. We just found out today that part of our role here will be to help conduct an experiment that tests Tardigrade survival in simulated martian conditions. That is, we’re going to see if these things could theoretically live on Mars.

Here is a post on Team Selene’s GLXP page about us (in which we sound very scientific and important. Which of course we are.)

Shout-out to every person/foundation/association that made this possible, and especially to Dr. Goldstein’s lab at UNC, for teaching us about Tardigrades. Also to the Scottish couple that adopted us in the Rome train station, bought us cappuccinos, and are probably the sole reason we are not still there wondering which train to take. You guys rock.

Okay. With our awkward first time out of the way, we promise that our future blogs (riding solo of course) will not only nerd out about space and science, but also detail our cross-continental adventures. Those are sure to be numerous, although the only real drama we experienced today was Kristin accidentally locking herself in the laboratory bathroom for approximately two decades. Italian locks are wily.


Kristin and Susan

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