Days 41-46: Praline Tarts, Protons, and Thirty-Five Kilometers of Cycling

Ah, the Dog Days of summer. If you haven’t experienced ninety-degree weather without air conditioning, then you haven’t truly lived in Europe during the summer. In all honesty, it hasn’t been that bad. Synthesis laboratory gets quite warm; however, our students prove to be quite creative when it comes to staying cool. Additionally, this was a particularly fun [and nerdy] week for me, so I couldn’t have been less bothered by the temperature.


Day 41

FIRST DAY OF SYNTHESIS LABORATORY GET HYPED. The experiment wasn’t the most exciting experiment (a simple substitution reaction to yield tert­-amyl chloride, then purification via distillation), but I found out that I LOVE to TA for this class. It’s the hands-on component of organic chemistry, plus I find the theory behind purification techniques to be quite fascinating. (I told you this week would be nerdy. You know what you got yourself into well before reading this post.)

Following lab, I went home to a scolding cold shower and slept from anywhere between two to twelve hours. I’m on French time, so ç’est la vie.


Day 42

This week was filled with scientific excursions, the first of which was a visit to the High Field NMR center. NMR, or nuclear magnetic resonance, is an analysis technique that utilizes the magnetic resonance properties of atoms to determine the structure of a compound. If you aren’t familiar with the concept, here is an article that explains it decently.

Located at this NMR center is the largest NMR spectrometer in the entire world, at 1 GHz (or 1,000 MHz). The larger spectrometers generate more detailed and specific spectra, which are extremely helpful when characterizing and identifying compounds.


That evening, we were treated to a delicious dinner at Le Saveurs du Bistrot: a local restaurant known for its traditional Lyonnais cuisine (recall that Lyon is the gastronomical center of France, i.e. the food here is amazing). For my entrée, I selected the “strate de ravioles du Royans, saumon mariné aux herbes et coulis de tomates.” Don’t think of traditional Italian ravioli here: although it was a pasta filled with cheese and spinach, the consistency of the pasta was less dense and served cold. The plat (main course) was “filet de poisson cuit au four, crème de poireau au curry, lentilles beluga,” which roughly translates as you would read en anglais. Of course, for dessert I ordered the “tartelette à la praline”. It’s one of my true weaknesses, next to anything with chocolate. In one word, the meal was divine!

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Day 43

The entire group took a day trip to Geneva, Switzerland for the afternoon, where we spent a few hours in the morning exploring the city. One of the most prominent sights is the Jet d’Eau, a large water spout right on Lake Geneva. You can walk up to the base of the fountain, and even receive a complementary shower with the crystal-clear lake water! It was quite refreshing amidst the soaring temperatures.

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Now, we couldn’t leave Switzerland without sampling Swiss chocolate, now could we? A short ten-minute walk brought us to Auer, the city’s oldest chocolate shop, where we sampled some of the finest chocolates in Geneva. Of course, with the hot weather, we just had to eat all of it right then in there. (All jokes aside, it kind of did turn into pudding in my hands. More incentive I suppose.)


Continuing with the scientific excursions, yours truly found herself in the heart of the European scientific community: the Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire, aka the European Organization for Nuclear Research, aka CERN. Located on the border between Geneva, Switzerland and France, CERN was founded in 1954 as a way to prevent the “brain drain” from post-World War II Europe. The organization focuses on fundamental research, and scientists from around the world gather to perform experiments in their massive accelerators. Among these accelerators is the well-known Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator. Its circumference is twenty-seven kilometers long (which encompasses most of subterranean Geneva) and uses superconducting magnets to accelerate protons around the ring. You can read more about CERN and the LHC at their website.

In short, they use really big machines to smash protons together and see what happens. It’s pretty awesome.

After a presentation on CERN’s history and current research, we received a tour of two major facilities: Linear Accelerator 2 (LINAC 2) and the Data Centre (DC). The LINAC 2 serves as the starting point for protons, which are abstracted from hydrogen gas (H2). Using magnets and alternately-charged conductors (positive and negative), the protons are accelerated and kept in a very narrow beam. From here, the protons enter the Proton Synchrotron Booster and then into the larger accelerators.

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An Easter egg for us, we also saw the up-and-coming LINAC 4, which will replace LINAC 2 in 2020. According to the guide: “Well, we probably shouldn’t be in here, but nothing’s a secret and the door was open!”


The DC is the main computer hub for CERN. All of the data that is collected from each experiment is sent here to be stored or delivered to countries across the globe. This was all thanks to Tim Berners-Lee, the man who pioneered the development of the world-wide web, or the internet as you youngsters put it. The need for the web came from CERN: they had an unfathomable amount of data to collect (for the time), yet didn’t have the capacity to store all of it. So, thanks to CERN, you can now Snap all of your friends about your visit to CERN (a bit ironic, don’t you think?).

The most fascinating part of the tour was their storage and computer halls. I can’t really describe the number of computers or the number of cassettes of data, so hopefully these photos give you an idea. Essentially, it’s A LOT.

Once our tour of the DC concluded, we were loaded back onto the bus and headed back to France. Between the heat and the walking, everyone fell asleep rather quickly on the ride home.


Day 44

FIRST I MEAN SECOND DAY OF SYNTHESIS LABORATORY GET HYPED. Today, the students had three parts of their experiment:

  1. Synthesize dibenzylideneacetone (DBA) from benzaldehyde and acetone
  2. Purify their crude DBA via recrystallization, after determining which solvent to use for their compound
  3. Maintain a sustainable body temperature during the experiment, since the temperature reached 96°F and we were all in lab coats and long pants without air conditioning.

All in all, they were quite successful in their objectives. Some received “brownie points” for their creativity in achieving part three of the practical.


Day 45

No class means sleeping in, hanging out with friends, watching Netflix, going out for dinner, and taking cold showers as a leisurely pastime.


Day 46

Today, my friend Grace and I took a day trip to Annecy, France, which is a small Alpine town two hours east of Lyon by bus. It’s a quiet but beautiful town situated on a lake with the Alps right on the horizon. The lake is one of the cleanest, most pure lakes in all of Europe! We looked forward to a lovely day of outdoor activities.

The morning brought with it foggy weather, which reminded me of the Highlands in Scotland. This city won me over in a matter of minutes.


The “Scottish” Highlands, i.e. the non-snow-capped Alps.

My Rick Steves’ guide recommended the Old Town walks, so we picked up a map from the tourism office and headed on our way. The architecture in Annecy is gorgeous, making it a perfect town for simply walking around. Several shops lined cobblestone streets, and you can’t walk down any path without stumbling upon a glacier (ice cream shop). At the highest point in the old city lies a castle-like château. There’s a museum you can tour, but we had our sights set on other things for the afternoon.

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After a quick kebab lunch, we decided to tour the lake by bike. There are bike paths that surround the entire lake, and most of them are relatively flat. It was easy to lose track of time and fatigue with the beautiful weather and breeze: we ended up biking for thirty-five kilometers! I managed to escape a bad sunburn, and it gave us the excuse to eat several scoops of ice cream upon our return. In my mind, biking was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon, get some exercise, and see the lake for all of its beauty.

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At that point, it was time to head back to Lyon. Annecy is a great place for a one or two-day trip, and I’m grateful for such a relaxing weekend. Up next on my itinerary comes three jam-packed weekends of traveling, starting with a four-day excursion to Lisbon, Portugal! Only three weeks left before heading stateside, and it feels as if I’ve only just arrived.

Photos from Geneva and CERN, and also for Annecy.




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