News - February 28, 2013

'Exactly like in American Pie'

Who? Rik Brugman, sixth year Biology student
What? Research into cell-wall growth of the roots of Arabidopsis
Where? Stanford University, USA

Many of our prejudices about America are true. A small amount of money can buy you a lot of fast food. Order a ham sandwich and you are guaranteed a generous filling; almost an entire pack of ham goes into it. But there are also big contradictions. For example, Texans are very conservative and most of them possess guns. But the residents of the bay area - where I am staying - are very progressive: they all drive a Prius. And they pay a lot of attention to their health. All kinds of organic supermarkets do a flourishing business there.
I conducted research into cell-wall growth of the roots of Arabidopsis, a little plant often used for research. My lab is part of Stanford University. It is open 24 hours a day and a lot of hard work takes place in it. In a university where you pay 40,000 euros in tuition fees, you have to keep your nose to the grindstone. This is reflected in the social life on campus. Parties in the fraternity houses - all named after Greek letters - begin right after dinner and end at about 1 am. So you are able to work as usual the morning after. The parties are also exactly like those in American Pie - something I had not expected - with everyone playing beer pong together. With the familiar beer funnels.
The 'Burning Man' festival right in the middle of the Californian desert was great fun. Sixteen thousand people spend a week in a sort of improvised hippy city, with electricity provided by generators. Parties and art exhibitions take place round the clock. No money changes hands, but everyone contributes something to the event. 'Milk and cookies' was the theme of our contribution: we baked heaps of cookies and made litres of White Russians. To end the festival, a big wooden man was set ablaze, that being a symbol of transience.