"Free your mind and your ass will follow."
- George Clinton
This blog entry has three distinct sections: the first about my lab tour in Toulouse, the second about my experiences in Lyon, Tournon Sur Rhone, Avignon, Marseille, and Toulouse, and the third about motivation and #ScienceTheEarth.
Alain Bergel and the dark and light sides of the biofilm
Alain Bergel's crew after #ScienceTheEarth seminar
Alain Bergel is working in the Laboratorie de Genie Chimique at the Nationale Superieure des Ingenieurs en Arts Chemiqiues et Technologie in Toulouse, France. His research lab works both on the dark side and the light side of biofilms. The dark side he describes as biofilms that result in biofouling and degradation of important structures like sewage lines. The light side is the side that uses microorganisms to harness the energy stored in wastewater to produce renewable energy sources in microbial electrochemical cells. After giving a seminar in the lab, Alain and his colleagues were very eager to show me around the labs.
Manon Oliot is working on a Microbial Fuel Cell (MFC) that has four air cathodes surrounding a central anode. This MFC is mathematically designed to maximize fuel cell performance based on diffusion of ions to the cathode and to reduce ohmic losses associated with distance between the anode and the cathode- this design minimizes the distance. This design also enables the user to switch out the cathode without having to drain the liquid of the reactor. MFC performance is generally decreased when bacteria adhere to the cathode and thus limit the diffusion of oxygen to the interface between the cathode and the anode media. Having the ability to switch the cathode without disassembling the reactor makes replacement of the cathode after biofouling a relatively simple process.
Chong Poehere has developed a series of miniature fuel cells that functions as flow cells. Each of these cells has progressively smaller routes through which the media can flow and the bacteria can grow. In this way, the thickness of bacterial growth is limited by the size of the passage. This allows her to monitor how biofilm thickness and flow rate affect fuel cell performance. This research provides a more fundamental understanding of the limitations in anode respiring bacteria.
These reactors are lovingly called the ‘cookie jars.’ Bet you can’t guess why.
Lyon has a population of over half a million people and is the third largest city in France. While in Lyon, I went for a run along the river Rhône. Here, I visited the basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière and the Metal Tower. The Metal Tower intentionally looks like the Eiffel Tower because it was built by a rich dude named M. Gay in 1893 to be a tourist trap. In 1963, it was converted into a radio tower.
After posting a picture of my badge at the United Nations in Geneva, I was contacted by an old friend of mine named Aurélie whom invited me to her home. We used to go for runs together next to a canal located next to the campus of Arizona State University. After acquiring her master’s degree, she moved to Tournon Sur Rhone which is a little city in between Lyon and Avignon that has a shit load of delicious wine and chocolate. Since moving to France, the country in which she was born, she has been working as a tutor and raising her two beautiful twins. On her property, she also has two very curious sheep that live on her mountainside farm.
The next city is Marseille- the second largest city in France with a population of a little less than one million. The best description I can give of Marseille, the crime capital of France, is ‘the-Detroit-of-Europe.’ Seriously, walking around the streets at this place reminded me of watching Robocop. There is a huge arts scene here with street art everywhere.
My first night in town, I attend a concert performance by a stoner/ psychedelic rock band named Mars Red Sky with Moto Cuir performing as an opener at Le Poste a Galene. I was super excited to see this band since they are from France. I’ve been listening to them for about two years. The band decided to do their first tour of North America right around the time I left for Europe so I figured I’d miss them completely. However, about a week before my trip to Marseille, I received an email notifying me that the band was going to play in Marseille. The band was super nice and signed a bunch of merch for me after the performance.
To the south of the city, about an hour bus ride away is Parc national des Calanques. This national park is a pleasant break from the noise and pace of the city. Here, you can get relatively lost in the mountains and really enjoy some time with nature. The park contains a series of locations where the water comes between two mountains and forms private beaches: Plage de la Calanque de Sugiton for example. Calanque de la Triperie is a beautiful peninsula that is not to be missed!
You can check out our experience with the Toulouse night life too!
People often ask how it is that #ScienceTheEarth is happening. The question usually comes in the form of “how on Earth do you pay for all of this?” This question is important and I’ll answer it in a later blog. However, here I am going to answer a much more profound question- what is it that motivates me to partake in #ScienceTheEarth. Motivation is an important thing. Without motivation, it is difficult to give things purpose- at least purpose that is satisfactory for ourselves. Without purpose, it is difficult to give things meaning. And if things seem meaningless, then it follows that we are not very motivated to do them. Ok, so we have kind of talked ourselves into a circle here, so let’s elaborate a little bit.
#ScienceTheEarth is our journey to discover global human collaboration that is catalyzing positive social change through logic and human discovery. #ScienceTheEarth is a narrative of our innate ability to empathize with one another for the sake of elevating humanity. #ScienceTheEarth is the realization that global collaboration and positive change is not a question of if or when. Global collaboration is already happening, individuals are currently enacting positive social change, and you can play an active role in that social change.
If we are to realize ourselves to our fullest potential, we must first understand who it is we are as individuals.
Step one: think. Really, think. Think about whom it is you are; where it is you are. Is this who you want to be? Is this where you want to go? Do you have any idea the answers to those questions? To have direction in life and to have purpose, we must first understand the person who seeks such a purpose. And for this, we must first understand ourselves. To set a goal of where it is I want to be and where it is I want to go, I must first take the time to understand and ponder these questions. Without pondering these questions I am little more than hapless wonderer- directionless. However, to wander with these questions in mind, and seek to discover the answers, is the very practice of empiricism. It is our journey to self-discovery. It is the act of science.
Through this quandary, we will come to understand more of whom it is we are as individuals. Once we begin to understand who it is we are then we begin to understand what it is we have to provide. And once we know what it is that we can provide then we can contribute ourselves to our fullest capacity.
Purpose. People are uncomfortable with the word purpose because so few people consider themselves to have any. When I start talking about the word ‘purpose’ people get frustrated. People proclaim that they feel that everyone tells them to have purpose and their lack of ability to find any makes them anxious and defensive. To not have purpose is a basic human condition. Purpose is not bestowed upon us- it is something we must find for ourselves. And finding that purpose is not a simple journey.
If we lack purpose and lack passion, the worst thing we can do is allow ourselves to become distracted by externalities. The world is full of distractions for the passionless. We are convinced to purchase satisfaction, to be passionate about our houses, our cars, our clothes. We hold grand balls where we display useless disposable commodities; where we do little more than discuss externalities, discuss distractions- and we are convinced that discussing those distractions is that for which we should be passionate. Industry understands our vulnerability and exploits our lack of passion to sell us things we do not need- things we purchase in the fleeting hope that somehow, wrapped in plastic, we will find our great purpose. Only to throw it away and buy a new passion the next day.
Purpose is not a purchase; passion is not a brand. I understand the frustration people feel when they are told to have purpose. But what if we were to look at purpose from a different perspective? What if our purpose was self-discovery? What if we used all the time we spent worrying about our lack of purpose instead thinking about who it is we are as individuals? Purpose is a manifestation of our self-discovery. Once we begin to ask the questions of who we are and where we are going, we begin to realize the self. And as individuals with self-awareness we can start to apply purpose to our actions. Once we grant ourselves the liberty of being selfish, then our desires to act in self-destructive ways disappears. Once we grant ourselves the liberty of being selfish, then we begin to discover ourselves as our purpose. Self-actualization, enlightenment, nirvana- call it what you will; the path to transcendence comes with self-discovery.
To put ourselves in a situation where we can self-discover, we must understand what it is that motivates us. Maslow's hierarchy of needs informs us that we must attain certain physiological and emotional needs before we can attain self-actualization. Maslow's hierarchy of needs- a philosophical quandary so influential that, since its publication in 1954, has averaged nearly two citations every single day. Looking at this philosophy, we understand that our primary motivator is breathing, food, water, etc… Things which are essential for human life. These are the same elements that lions fight over. These elements appeal to our most ancient brain- the part of our brain that tells us that if we do not eat we will die, if we do not have sex we will not procreate. These are the same elements industry implores us to consume. Corporations, mass production, uninhibited crony-capitalism all implore us to desire no further than our basic animal instincts. The worst thing we can do is to allow ourselves to be distracted by these externalities. If we never take the time to think beyond these motivations, if we never take the time to turn off the television or our personalized news feeds; if we never take the time to look beyond advertising, then we will never attain self-actualization.
For those of us that have the liberty to look beyond those basic needs, for those of us who live in lands of plenty, it is essential that we transcend this basic level of motivation. As we move beyond focusing on the externalities of a consumer world, we start to realize things like safety, love, wholeness, esteem, and an essential sense of self. And once we achieve that sense of self, once we take the time to think, we understand who it is we are and what it is we have to offer. Then, we can enact positive social change- we can become positive actors.
And with this realization, we can see how the elevation of humanity depends upon our ability to self-actualize. The more people who are aware of self, the more people are contributing positively to their communities. For this reason, I have dedicated my life to helping provide access to people who lack these basic human needs. I have dedicated my life to providing access to clean drinking water and sustainable energy for those who do not have the liberty to think beyond what they are going to eat, how they are going to drink, and where they are going to sleep. And I do this through environmental biotechnology. I have dedicated my life to helping impoverished elementary students in my home communities realize their potential to move past the cycle of poverty- to engage them with the tools they need to self-actualize. To encourage them to think.
An Earth with citizens that understand who it is they are is an Earth that can self-actualize. A community with positive actors is a community that will transcend the status quo, a community that will realize what it is to love, to empathize, to work and act creatively. As a community of positive actors we will elevate our minds, encourage ourselves to think, and will engage each other with compassion and understanding. My motivation is to practice the ultimate artistry of science: to think, to encourage you to think, and to grant you an avenue to self-discovery.
Science /ˈsīəns/ verb the act of partaking in, learning about, or teaching about the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment. "We're gonna science the Hell outta this thing!"
Bradley Lusk, PhD
I have embarked on a mission to bridge cultures through science and human discovery. For this mission, I will be visiting innovators, entrepreneurs, and game changers around the world to bring you perspective on how logic and innovation unite our planet in a quest for knowledge.
Join me as we science one individual, one community, one Earth at a time.