For our last international trip of 2010 that is not taken as a couple, I took off last week for Stockholm, Sweden all by myself (and 2 lab mates and my boss) for a scientific meeting devoted to the current field of study, the Wnt/beta-catenin signaling pathway.  *This was my first time ever to Europe*

That's a little different than most scientific meetings I've been to before, such as the American Chemical Society or American Association of Cancer Research.  Those meetings are generally fairly broad, and also fairly huge.  For ACS there are many subdivisions and many concurrent presentations within those subdivisions.  For AACR, at least the couple I've been to, there has been one primary stage, but even then, the topics range quite widely.  For this meeting however, it was 3.5 days of pure Wnt.

Okay, I guess in the interest of science I should say something about that if you haven't asked me before and I have not said.  Wnt (pronounced "went") is a little protein that gets secreted from cells, and generally tells nearby cells to do something (grow, divide, move).  It's very involved in the early development (as in pre-birth) of all higher organisms--mutations can lead to some pretty severe birth defects.  After an organism is formed though, for the most part wnt gets turned off.  It is thought to still be active in maintaining stem cells--those cells that are kind of hidden in various tissues in your body, which have the ability to create more replacement cells that can perform all of the necessary tasks of whatever tissue. But beyond that, wnts are problematic because they are involved in several kinds of cancer. It's kind of like the cancer cells sneakily take over wnt's abilities intended for development, and use them for their own ill intentions (grow, divide, move).  So, well, that's where my main interest comes in.  As with most similar scientific understanding, there's a pretty pathway drawn in various textbooks, based on innumerable individual experiments and publications, but once you start asking a lot of questions, you realize there's a whole lot that is not understood.  To say a very quick word about complexity, in humans we actually have 19 different wnts.  These interact with no less than 12 different receptors.  And then it gets complicated when these receptors have different co-receptors, and somehow turn on and off different pathways.

So, in this case, 3.5 days all on that general topic, although there were people whose primary interest ranged from treating cancer to understanding how planaria and hydra regenerate, to of course, just more basic understanding of how the whole pathway is regulated, how it works at each intricate detail.

It turned out to be a pretty enjoyable time (kind of surprisingly--I enjoy the science, I really do, but I feared that one topic hammered on that hard in short time might make me very sleepy).  It's a pretty small meeting, something on the order of just 2-300 people, a lot of socializing, frequent coffee/snack breaks, good food, and good scientific discussion and presentation.

I left on a Tuesday night, arriving in Stockholm Wednesday morning.  Luckily we were able to get into our hotel early and nap before the first sessions started that afternoon.  And from there on, there's not a whole lot to blog about, I mean I *could*, but I'll save us both from that.  Well I'll at least show you a picture of the conference room.  Now just imagine sitting there for 3.5 days:

That bust in the back of the picture- that's J.J. Berzelius.  He's like one of the fathers of modern chemistry.  Developed the whole chemical formula thing, made himself a periodic table with elements relative to weight of oxygen.  Discovered Silicon.  Most interestingly, he was actually located at this university- the Karolinska Institute where the meeting was held.  and that's kind of neat, I think.

Our hotel had a very nice spread of complimentary breakfast, including these giant bowls of raspberries- which I know if you live in the US, you may not gawk over, but in Singapore that's like bars of pure gold sitting in front of you.
That's probably like $4000 worth of raspberries.  okay I exaggerate.  a little.
They also had a bit of local delicacy, some herring and smoked salmon.  I wasn't too happy with the herring, though I gave it a shot here.  The salmon was good, but as the days went on I slowly moved toward making myself a simple sandwich- but with really fresh tasty giant loaves of bread.

And then it was conference time from 9-7 or so (9-5 + 2 hrs of posters).  We were fed well enough most days and evenings that we left from the conference back to our hotel and straight to bed.  One evening we slipped off just a little early to have dinner at an Italian restaurant.  I had a quite nice pizza:
mmm fresh basil.
They also served a fresh sauerkraut as appetizer.  I think this was the Swedish influence.  I found it quite nice.

The weather was pretty nice.  The week prior temperatures were sub-freezing, with some snow.  While snow would have been nice to see again, I was pleased that temperatures generally hung around 40-45 degrees Fahrenheit.  This was comfortable dressed in layers without needing gloves or hat, so long as the sun was out a little.  And with that, some photos of Fall:

and look! I was there!

I should be completely honest and admit we skipped one brief section (2 hours) Thursday to take an outdoor stroll.  We visited a castle, shown here- it's the Karlbergs Slott:
I guess it was kinda neat.  Except that it's open only 1 week of the year.  The first of May in case you're planning your visit.  So we just strolled along the river pictured above and enjoyed the crisp Fall air.
And peered in shop windows- lots of little bakeries and cafes with offerings like this:
I do not know if this is a halloween special.  check out the fresh bread loaves.

On our final night we had the privelege of dinner in the Nobel museum.  It was kind of small, but neat.  Had to snap a picture of the DNA model:
They also had a conveyor belt of large cards, each with a Nobel winner's photo and very brief prize information, that was constantly circulating.  It gave everyone something fun to do- I think this may be Krebs cycling by:
And well, more general sciencey talk took place.

Oh, I almost forgot, silly me.  As everybody suspected when I told them about my trip to Stockholm, there were some Nobel prizes involved:
... made of chocolate.

Then we left the Nobel museum and followed some locals out to a bar, where we were able to see "casiotone for the painfully alone" performing live, personally recorded video here.  I think he's kind of famous, in a way.  He's actually from the US, just one guy with a casio keyboard and a microphone.  The fun part about it was he put on a kind of good show, but the Swedes for the most part just stood entirely still, kind of like they were challenging him: "go ahead, try and make us move".  Anyway it was a fun cultural experience...

...that I regretted in the morning when my colleague and boss were ready to go sightseeing.  But I went anyway, and now I'll show you a few more pictures of what I ever so briefly saw of Stockholm:

 (The Nobel museum where we'd eaten the night before)

We also visited the Vasa museum, which is mostly just this one giant ship, kept indoors.  It was a battleship, sunken on her maiden voyage in 1628, then recovered and restored in 1961.  It has tons of really nice detail and basically walking into this museum is like walking into the Goonies.  But the light was low, and the ship was huge, so getting much in the way of a decent picture with an iphone isn't easy.  Here's the best:
Here's another that Tracy took-

We made our way back to Singapore between Sunday and Monday.  And look how happy my wife was to see me.
and right now we are vowing never to leave each other alone in foreign countries again.