Last month, I was lucky to go on a work trip to Dublin / IRE, to present a poster at the 2016 MicroTAS conference. My boss Chuck, and my work friends Kat (not to be confused with wife-Cat) and Jaruwan also came along to present posters, and they were especially excited, having never been to Europe before.

Kat is in the middle, Jaruwan the back right, and the conference centre is the background

Our boss Chuck does lots of traveling to conferences, which is awesome as he can get extra people in to the fancy United Airlines members lounge at airports. It’s surprising how much of a difference it makes having comfy chairs, free wifi, free drinks and free food when waiting for a flight. Our original flight ended up being cancelled due to a hurricane down in Florida at the time, but Chuck managed to get us on the next flight AND get us upgraded seating (more legroom) which was very kind.

However, this is where it all went wrong…

For some reason, 50% of my flights for work conferences involve sitting by enormous people. I don’t know why, and the stereotypes of ALL Americans being obese are very untrue, but this is a genuine problem for me now. I think these two pictures below sum up how much space I had and my expression for the 8 hour flight that I couldn’t sleep on, as the person next to me was about 4 inches over our shared arm rest:

We arrived early on the Saturday morning and as the conference didn’t start till the Sunday night, I got to spend some time with Mum and Dad who flew over to see me. Unfortunately, they didn’t get my message about the flight being delayed, so they waited at the airport from a stupidly early hour of the morning before I actually arrived, but they were still happy to see me.

We did lots of exploring, and saw castles and parks, though the highlight was probably having an Italian dinner with them, my work friends and a Professor (Barry Lutz) from Washington DC. Barry, Barry and Margaret spent the whole evening learning about each other’s countries (such questions as why don’t you swim in Washington DC? Because the sea is too cold). I think Professor Barry was impressed that English Barry new about American football, and English Barry was impressed that professors are very easy to talk to and have good social skills.

After a few final coffee / pub breaks, they went on back to England and I went to the conference.

The conference itself was awesome. I saw some great talks, (particularly Sam Lunte (University of Kansas, USA) and Christine Klapperich (University of Boston, USA)) and successfully presented and defended my poster.

Posters edited for copyright reasons

I also got to do some outreach with local school kids from around Dublin. My experiment, was a simplified version of the pregancy test, where the student put samples (water or lemon juice) on a paper test strip and if the sample turned orange (lemon juice pH reaction), they were ‘pregnant‘.

Even slightly grumpy Irish teenagers think it’s fun to play with crayons, paper and lemon juice to make paper-based microfluidic devices

The first group of students were all 15 year old boys and all accidently put lemon juice on their test strips, and looked quite scared / unimpressed when I informed them they were all pregnant. I wish you could see the looks on their faces, it was very funny.

We did lots of socialising with different students and professors from around the world in the evenings after the conference. My two highlights are probably taking some Americans and South Africans out for a proper English curry, and getting kicked out of the famous Temple bar at approx. 2 am due to them closing early, whilst we wanted to carry on drinking whiskey and chatting, followed by post-drinking ice-creams and biscuits.

We also met up with David, a previous student of Chuck’s at the conference, and did some great sightseeing, including a whiskey tour,

… a visit to an Irish pub, run by a man from Bristol that served Fort Collins beer,

… a visit to a nice old cathedral,

… and dinner by the canal at sunset

All in all, a cracking conference / holiday.


Awesome US Road Trip! – Part 3

The adventure continues!

After Flagstaff we headed North again back towards Colorado, but on the way we stopped in to see a little of the Grand Canyon! Specifically Horseshoe Bend, a little meander in the Colorado river which is non-stop beautiful:


And of course, big! You can just see the teeny white boats down below, it was so pretty. It was also totally undisturbed, and of course safety rails are for children! Just kidding, they don’t get rails either. Happily there wasn’t any wind, so we didn’t have to watch anyone get blown down to their death.

Not for lack of trying by white t-shirt guy!

So yes, super beautiful!


Next step – Antelope Canyon! Antelope Canyon is an extremely picturesque, narrow canyon near Horseshoe Bend which we absolutely had to go visit. We’d seen lots of pictures and we had our cameras, so we booked into a Navajo led photography tour and off we went!

Lets goooooo!

The tour guide gave us a lot of advice for how to set up our cameras which we didn’t really understand, but happily he took my camera off me after a while and altered the setting himself. Pictures ensued!




Between us we took about 500 pictures of this canyon, and rest assured that I will show you all of them given even the slighest chance 😉

After Antelope Canyon our tour of amazing rocks continued with Monument Valley which is just by the Utah boarder! We got there just as the sun was setting so the light wasn’t amazing, but it was still so great. It’s an extremely flat area with these massive rock features that are just stunning:


And now a daytime picture that I googled 😉

❤ ❤ ❤

We stopped, we photographed, we stood in awe and then on to Cortez! More beautiful driving, and we were at our stop for the night. The reward for all the driving was some amazing Mexican food in a fun crazy restaurant, so very tasty:

Although that deer head haunts my nightmares

Next day, on to the Great Sand Dunes National Park! This is exactly what it sounds like, some very big sand dunes somewhere where it makes absolutely no sense for sand dunes to be.

The foreground is sand dunes, the background is mountains. At the very front, large trees for scale!

As with all things you can just run all over it, so off we went! It was very nice walking barefoot across the sand, although very tiring to climb:


“Just head up”
And so we did!

I’m not sure why, but there was something about being around so much sand that made us excited like little children. It was really great fun trying to run up the sand dunes, and then having to sit down and drink water when we were out of breath. All interspersed with pictures of our happy little faces of course!


So much fun. But of course the best part came on the way down! I would say it took us about an hour and a half to climb up, and 20 minutes to get back down. The sand is super loosely packed so you can run down without falling over, and you kind of sink in with every step! I will preface the next picture by saying that it is impossible to run downhill on sand, have fun and also maintain a graceful disposition:

Also stopping is basically impossible unless you intentionally crash into your poor friend and camera woman…

So fun, don’t care 😀 😀 The best part was that a lot of the sand was loose enough that it even made noise when you stepped on it, so the sand would hum as you ran through it. It was enough to make you feel pretty epic, I must say 🙂

After lots of extremely tiring running around and we were both pretty sandy and it was getting dark, so we headed on to our next hotel in Alamosa! I was very excited about this hotel, which was in direct violation of Sarah’s rule that we shouldn’t stay anywhere where we were likely to be murdered. It was a murder cabin if ever I saw one, and it was amazing:

This was the aptly named ‘White Tailed Deer Room’

It was also not far from a great Brewery that Sarah found, so after a quick deer themed shower…

Seriously, where do you even find stuff like this?

…we were off to the San Luis Brewery!

This brewery both had truly amazing beer and food, and as a bonus it was showing the Broncos game so we were both very happy campers. We ate lots of food and I explained American Football to Sarah, the Broncos absolutely stomped the Texans, and we even found room for dessert:

Hello friend ❤

It was a great time!

The next day we continued to cover ground by heading North some more, back towards Fort Collins! I wanted to stop for breakfast at the extremely creepy looking ‘Chill & Grill’…

How could this not be amazing

… but Sarah wouldn’t let me throw us into the jaws of death twice in 24 hours, so instead we had some truly delicious coffee from a local coffee shop:

Clever shop name = good coffee, every single time

Full of caffine we hit the road, off towards the wonderful Garden of the Gods!

We’ve mentioned Garden of the Gods before since it’s one of the places we visited when Barry & Margaret were here, but it definitely warranted a second visit:


We walked around a little, and then straight back in the car as we headed for Denver! Denver is about an hour and a half south of Fort Collins, so broke up the journey home nicely. Plus it’s a really beautiful city, so it was great to be able to walk around and look at it a little more 🙂 Highlights of Denver include…

Awesome interactive art pieces!
Beautiful architecture
Non-interactive art that is poorly guarded!
The wonderful 16th St Mall
And it even looks good after sunset 🙂

So yeah, we wondered around Denver for a few hours and saw the sights before heading back to Rob and to Fort Collins!

We were sad to finish our holiday, but it was nice to be back home after a very tiring adventure! And of course, there will be more adventures soon!!

Can’t wait 🙂






Awesome US Road Trip! – Part 2

Hello again! I hope you’re ready for more exciting pictures of the US – I have so, so many to show you 🙂

So, on with the adventure! We’d just finished Vegas and were heading off to our next stop, which was Flagstaff. I’ve always wanted to visit Arizona so was extremely excited, and it did not disappoint!

We left Vegas in the morning and drove over the day which meant that we got some pretty amazing views of the Grand Canyon and other scenery as we drove!


There were much better views that this, but we were too busy gawking to get the great shots. It sounds kind of stupid to say but the Grand Canyon is really, really big. It blew my mind a little.

From Flagstaff we travelled south on a few day trips to visit famous small towns in the area – first stop, Jerome!

Jerome is an old cowboy town that became a ghost town when the gold and copper deposits dwindled around the 1940s, causing the population to drop from over 15,000 to the 450 people or so that live there today:


It’s at a similar altitude to Fort Collins (~5000ft) but feels much higher since it’s basically on the edge of a hill. Sarah chose to avert her eyes for much of the driving, which was the usual road-next-to-an-unfenced-cliff scenario…

I confess that I did also want to go since it’s where the lead singer from Tool lives, but don’t panic! This is not your usual stalker/ murder scenario, the attraction was actually that the town and the area has inspired a lot of his music, and he also runs a store and vineyard right there in this tiny city in the middle of nowhere 🙂 There store was pretty weird, but I loved it. All the clothes were modelled by zombie mannekins that would attack you if you got too close, plus there was an in-store barber if you felt like getting a shave!

Checking the prices of things was a real struggle

The wine tasting store was also amazing, very cute. I sadly couldn’t drink since I was our designated driver, but I had a great fun taking pictures, asking questions and living vicariously through Sarah 🙂

So happy ❤

After Jerome we moved on to Sedona, which is famous for its beautiful location and red rock surroundings. Again we were treated to another stunning drive!

You can see part of the town ahead, it really was tiny

We decided to go for another hike after the indulgence of Vegas, so we hiked up a red rock structure called Cathedral Rock:

Technically more of a climb than a hike…


Off we go!
It was stunning all the way up, of course 🙂

Then you climb over the top, and see this!

❤ ❤ ❤

Much water was drunk, and we took many, many pictures 🙂 We also took quite a few pictures on the drive back to Flagstaff as the sun was setting, I now definitely understand what photographers mean when they talk about getting the best light at sunset!




I’m running out of synonyms for ‘pretty’, but it was all just so very pretty! I will look up some more adjectives for next time 😀

Part 3 coming soon! xx