Lost in America

Looking Up in Antelope Canyon

Anne and I convoyed to Lafayette and returned Dave’s car. We should have texted him, because he wasn’t at his apartment like we thought, but at work instead. He gave us the building’s address and we each plugged it into our respective phones. We’ve been traveling a lot this last year and have become quite reliant on Google maps for navigating. So much so that we have often remarked, “How did we ever get anywhere before without it?” We soon were about to find out. Purdue is undergoing massive road repair this summer. In particular, State Street, the main drag through campus has been totally torn up. It just so happened that our planned Google route ran right down State. Anne started off ahead of me, with me right behind her. Traffic soon caused me to lose her and then I ran into the construction. Google or Siri or whoever she is, kept trying to reroute me on to State, but every time she tried, there was more construction, “Turn right onto State Street!” “Turn left onto State Street!!” “Turn left, then turn right, then turn on to State Street!!!” You get the idea. Eventually, I recognized a landmark from two-weeks earlier and by dead reckoning and with Siri still yammering in the background, I was able to get to Dave’s office building. Dave appeared almost immediately. I called Anne and she was able to tell Dave where she was. He told her to just sit tight and we drove to where she was. She was pretty angry with and flummoxed with Siri, by the time we got there, but with Dave in the lead and the two of us now following him, he led us to a very nice Thai restaurant for lunch.  

At lunch, Dave explained some about the research he will be doing at Harvard, starting next month. He’ll still be doing research in hearing and still be using many of the same surgical techniques that he mastered at Purdue. He’ll be working with rabbits, instead of chinchillas. The rabbits will be deaf and will have two cochlear implants. When cochlear implants were first installed in humans, typically only one implant was installed. Now, it is more common to install implants in both ears. One problem though is that even though two are better than one, people with two implants never get the same sense of auditory directionality that hearing people have. His research will be devoted to a better understanding of why that is. It sounds like exciting work!

Based upon our experiences with State Street in downtown Purdue, Dave chose the Thai restaurant with an eye towards our escape from Lafayette. We easily left town and were soon motoring along on a new, four-lane divided highway called the Hoosier Heartland Highway and were on our way to Fort Wayne. We were out in the country, when I noticed that we should have gassed up back in town, but we found a station, before we ran out. This station seemed primarily devoted to serving semis, but there was one row of pumps that didn’t dispense diesel. You know how most gas stations smell of gasoline? Well, there were so many livestock trucks around that there was a decidedly farm-fresh odor, which led us to starting to refer to the road as the Hoosier Fart-land Highway, but we eventually settled upon Hoosier Daddy Highway. 

La Sal Mountains

La Sal Mountains from Arches NP

La Sal (salt) mountains were so named by early Spanish explorers, because while traveling around them in the hot and arid country of what is now southern Utah, they could not believe that these white-capped peaks could possibly be snow-covered, but had to be caused by salt deposits. These mountains rise to above 12,000 feet and can easily keep their snow cover well into the summer. While out west, we experienced both hot and cold weather. The temperature was a function of elevation. It was nice to choose your weather, by choosing locale.

It’s Father’s Day and after three weeks in the desert, a rocket trip to Purdue and entertaining out-of-town friends, a little down time feels good today. It stormed a little last night and the rain continued into the morning hours, both lengthening the evening’s slumber and contributing a typical Sunday morning’s lethargy. Like I said, it feels good for a change. This is an inflection point. We’ve finished one great adventure and now it is time to prepare for another one. Anne has already compiled a lengthy to-do list for herself and I am tabulating my own. 


Canyonlands View of the Green River

After Dave’s successful defense, some of us decamped to Harry’s Chocolate Shop, home of the great indoors man. Founded in 1919, originally as a soda shop, during prohibition it became speakeasy and has never looked back since. The first thing that I noticed about the place is that every square inch of every and I mean every surface is covered in graffiti. Mainly just people’s names, thousands and thousands of Purdue students names. The great indoors man is Harry’s take on the Purdue home football game tradition called the breakfast club. A drinking tradition That has the bars opening early in the morning on football Saturdays. After lunch, we broke for naps, but reconvened at five. Dave’s friends and colleagues turned out in force. Rivaling the turnout for his defense. We’re back from Purdue now. Let the weekend begin!

Antelope Canyon

Antelope Canyon or Two Little Cilia in a Cochlear Canal

We are at Purdue today for Dave’s doctoral thesis defense. The tittle of his thesis is “The Effects of Hair Cell Specfic Dysfunction on Neural Coding in the Auditory Periphery”. In layman’s terms ‘Auditory Periphery’ are the ears. Hair cells are nerve cells with little cilia or hairs on them that vibrate with sound. There are two kinds, inner and outer hair cells. People experience outer hair cell loss from too much loud noise and inner hair loss from old age. The neural coding is the process that these hair cells use to allow us to hear. The specific dysfunction is when Dave uses toxic drugs to kill either the inner or outer hair cells. Dave concluded that standard hearing tests are insufficient for determining hearing loss. The gold standard test, a single tone in a sound proof room, underreports hearing loss, because the ears gang together multiple hair cells to better hear with, the loss of some hair cells is frequently masked in this kind of test. A better test would be to simulate the so called cocktail party scenario, where there is lots of background noise and the loss of some hair cells is much more apparent. Dave presented for about an hour. He was very well poised in his delivery. The audience was composed of the four members of his thesis committee, one of who participated via Skype. Including us there there were about twenty audience members. Dave answered lots of “great questions”, then we were ushered out of the room and the committee grilled him in private. Dr. Dave passed! Let the party begin!