Monday, August 29, 2005

Vivek writes an article...

Writing my thesis was easy... because I exactly knew how I wanted it to be. I had my thesis written in my mind before I typed my first page.

Writing my Langmuir paper was also easy... as I knew what my advisor wants from me. I had my thesis as a guideline, and a very strict advisor to edit my work.

Writing my PhD SOP was a bit difficult... because there were so many things to be written and main task was to fit everything in a page and half.

But writing a 2-page article from a thin- one line idea was something I never imagined I could do. I know my worth when it comes to doing something like that. I surprised myself when I agreed to write an article for the bi-annual newsletter of LRI-GSEC (Lerner Research Institute- Graduate Students' Education Committee). In one of the meetings, someone suggested that I should compile an article related to the experiences of a first year student at LRI. And believe it or not, I did it.

Here's what I wrote. Read on:

My Entry to the Crystal Maze

1: First day at LRI:

I enter Lerner Research Institute for a departmental tour, and one of the graduate students walks us around the LRI building. That girl seems to be the happiest person in the world, and when asked about her experience at LRI, she sounds like there is nothing else in this world that can be more pleasurable than LRI. I trust her for that.

My first thoughts: "Wow.... this place looks cool!!" I mean, coming from an academic research environment, LRI is like coming from a filthy bachelor efficiency room to Buckingham palace. "Ummm... this place seems to have a lot of money; the infrastructure is indeed excellent... And I will get free coffee as well, and free stationary... and free parking, TGIFs, picnics, parties, tickets to cedar point…Yup baby! This is the place to spend my next 5 years".

2: Honeymoon time:

First few days at LRI are really cool. The departmental staff seems to be very cordial, and gets most of the paperwork done in first 30 minutes. But still, I wait at the main entrance every day for first week or so for someone else to come, look suspiciously at me, and then let me in. The reason: It takes about a week to get my badge activated.

After a few days, my boss goes for a 2-week conference in Europe.... Since I am a newbie and am yet to begin my experiments, my daily schedule is somewhat like this: come to lab in the morning, pretend to read books and understand new concepts, read papers and ask a few questions to seniors, go to library and print papers, go to food courts. And have food, then go to library to take a nap, come back to my lab at 4.30, say bye to everyone, go home, play tennis. I never have had such a good 2-week holiday in my life.

3: First bombshell:

For first few days, my daily attire is jeans and a t-shirt. After all, I am still a student. One day, I come across a gentleman. I don’t know who he is (I later on discover, happens to be the administrative-in-charge). I say customary hello and exchange pleasantries etc. He doesn’t seem to be too pleased with me. I wonder what’s wrong... is it my face, or am I having too much of coffee. I am totally confused. AND then first bombshell comes my way. He says “Denim is not allowed in LRI campus. You should be in formals from tomorrow".... Oh boy... What will happen to all my torn-jeans and all those favorite t- shirts?... NO.... Someone is taking away my student-hood from me.... what should I do...

That evening, I go in my panic mode, and to JC Penny to get some khakis and shirts...

4: Trouble starts:

Well, soon, the honeymoon gets over and the "real" thing starts. After the first meeting with my advisor, I get 38 papers to read, and my desk is full of papers, books, research notebooks, and what not! And I have no idea of what they talk about. Everyone in my lab talks as if I am born with the knowledge of the research concept, my advisor talks to me in a language that is Greek to me, and I am supposed to come to that level by reading all papers!!!.... Problem starts...

Now I attend 4 meetings a week, spend most of my time under the hood and fill up 2 pages of lab notebook every day. It’s been a while since I have played Tennis.

5: Life comes back to normal:

Soon things get nasty... workload increases 10-fold... I want my boss to go for a 2-week conference in Japan... but this time around, all conferences are in nearby cities... He comes back in two days.

Nowadays, its just me, my work, my coffee, and my lab notebook... terms like chilling out, having a break, being tired, taking a day off, working out in a gym are out of my vocabulary. :(... I begin to realize that that’s what life really means... Nowadays I read journal articles in my free times, I read philosophy as a past time, my friends consider me as a junky waste... and my parents have given up hopes on me.

These are a few typical initial reactions of a first year graduate student at LRI. Jokes apart, the research activity and combined output at LRI is of so much of high quality that a new student typically gets overwhelmed seeing everyone so hard working, so knowledgeable and so thorough in their work... To start with, he/she has no clue about the cutting edge technology, has no experience of applying text-book knowledge to a practical use. Typically, what a new student needs is a mentor, who could guide him/ her in his initial research and answer a few basic questions, a few new friends with whom he/ she can have some fun while at work, a group of people with whom he/she can have daily lunch, and a boss who understands that people have life beyond research. It takes a while to get used to everything here, but once he finds his own small space in this horizon... things get easier and better.

So far, the first few months at LRI have been really satisfying and I look forward to making the next few years special ones in my career.

Vivek Raut

Monday, August 22, 2005

Whitewater Rafting in West Virginia

This one was on my "to do" list since past 2 months.... Almost finalised one in July... 10 people in Cleveland had actually said YES (my self-experience says that it takes on an average 21 e-mails to bring 6 people together in Cleveland. So imagine how difficult that was !!)... but then when it came to booking the trip... a few people backed out, and whole idea flopped.

So when Nigamath and Divya mentioned about rafting in one Asha meeting, (which was the first one for me) I saw a slim ray of hope somewhere. I liked 2 things about Asha-Cleveland chapter in the first meeting itself: 1: they all go out for a sandwich or so after the meeting. 2: they are a cool group, and don't pretend to be too busy :-).

Anyways, so we fixed 19th, 20th and 21st August to be the rafting weekend. We decided to do rafting with Songer as they offered us the cheapest rafting deal. A few of us decided to go for the Upper New river, and the rest of the gang (7 of us) decided to venture in the lower New river, which offers level 4 and 5 rapids.

A few facts about the New river. After the Nile, the New River is the second oldest river in the world (and hence the name), and it has world's second longest suspension less (single arch) bridge across its gorge. (the longest is in China, which is just 4 cm longer). It is 876 ft high. Every year, on a Bridge Day, hundreds of BASE jumpers and nearly 200,000 spectators are gather on the bridge and celebrate the largest extreme sports event in the world. The New River Gorge Bridge serves as the launch point for six hours BASE jumps. Just being there on the bridge and going beneath it was a great feeling in itself.

Anyways, so we started a long 5 hour drive at 4pm on Friday from Cleveland. Nigmanth, Divya, Himanshu, Rohini had left on Thursday itself. 6 of us (Bharadwaj, Ramya, Vishal, Dipit, Amita, me) left on Friday (we work very hard, we hardly get a day off during weekdays :D. :D.) Driving was hardly boring as we had lots of things to talk.

We reached the campsite at around 11.30 pm. Our Thursday gang greeted us with loud cheer and lots of stories to tell. We quickly set up the tent and went to bed (or sleeping bag ??) soon, as a hectic day of rafting was coming up.

On Saturday, we had delicious Masala Tea and spicy Pohe for breakfast. A very tasty and hearty breakfast set the day for us. After taking bath and packing up, we were ready for rafting. After a short ride to the starting point, at 11.30 AM, we were ready for 6 hours of rafting with our rafting gear, a huge 9 person raft and Megan (our instructor).

The New river gorge is East America's most popular white water river. Lower New River has an enormous volume of water coursing through a narrow canyon. The water creates a friction along the bottom and sides which generates big, oscillating waves, making for exciting rafting.

The entire 6 hour rafting experience was worth every rapid and every minute. Rafting has always been fun, challenge, and excitement And this time it was no different. Every time a rapid comes up, one feels a moment of excitement mixed with a bit of fear factor, one gets ready to face the worst and enjoy the best, quickly praying God with a hope of not falling in the gregarious current of water. But after all the high intensity action, that one moment of victory and joy makes you feel proud of yourself. That, I believe is the biggest and the happiest moment in rafting. When you look back at the rapid, and those thundering waves going up and down, you get an idea and a feel of what happened in your life a moment back.

We had a lot of fun in water, with many of us swimming in between rapids, and a few of us trying hard to swim. It was a very satisfying rafting experience for me, but my first rafting experience in the lower ocoee river would probably be the most cherishable one for me... may be because it was my first attempt with rafting, and also because our guide Lydia was too cute n sexy.

Some Brownie points for Songer: They have a very well maintained campsite, with excellent facilities. The restroom are spacious and very clean , with hot water bath facilities. The rates are reasonable and all the guides are friendly and helping. I would definitely recommend you to check them out if you plan to do rafting in this part of the world.

Saturday evening was camping and campfire time. We had a very delicious Rajma-Rice, and spicy masala rice (courtesy Himanshu) for dinner. It was indeed very very tasty (I swear you wont get a better rajma-rice even in the 5 star restaurent in Mumbai). We also had some sweet corn and some barbecue grilled lemon pepper chicken with that. After dinner, we had one small walk around the campsite and then we played cards till 1 AM. It was nice and cold, and overcast with occasional drizzles- a perfect atmosphere for outdoor recreation. For once, missed my monsoon trekking days in Sahyadri. Hope I can get those happy days of my life once again :(.

Anyways, plan for Sunday was to visit the ISKON Vrindavan temple in West Virginia, and also the Palace of Gold. Its a very well maintained and a very nicely developed place and one should definitely visit this place once. We had a nice time there and the 4 hour drive was worth it.

On our return trip to Akron, we had dinner in an Indian restaurant in Canton named Bombay Sitar. Its a fine place for some nice Indian food. I liked their rotis a lot.

So after almost 800 miles of drive, 2 nites of camping, and 6 hours of hardcore rafting, we were back to Cleveland with lots of cherishable memories, tons of fun, some Kodak moments, broad smiles, tanned skin and soar ankles( and for me, 9 new friends). It was a very nice trip.

Next on my task is a nite trek. Its been a while since I have done a nite trek on a full moon nite... there is no more pleasure than a nite trek with just a handful of friends in company. I don't know when that will happen, but I am looking forth to it.

I also want to do Kayaking sometime in my life. I was getting jealous of all those kayaks who were having so much of fun that day... I guess kayaking would be one ultimate pleasure. I know, for someone like me, who doesn't know swimming for nuts, (people have written articles about how they saved me!!!!) it is stupid to think of kayaking... but... there is always an hope!!

Click here for group photos. There are more coming. My digicam is broken, so have fun guys and girls. You will see some human beings in these photos because they are not taken by me :D.

Its been one hell of a summer so far: india trip, trek to himalayas, lots of travelling, a hiking trip, a rafting trip, couple of summer trips... its been fun. Am hoping to have more fun next summer.

Ok, Now I am Signing off!!

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Washington DC trip

Well, this one was planned a long time back. The occasion was Neil's wedding. Neil is my distant cousin (son of Dr. Madhukar and Lalita Thakur, who happen to be my mother's mama[maternal uncle]). The wedding was on the 12th, and I was invited. So booked the tickets and a rented car a month back. Since I was going after a long time to DC area, also thought of meeting some of my long lost friends.

My flight from Cleveland was supposed to take off at 7 PM... but was delayed by 2 hours.... I was all prepared for such delays and had a bunch of movies with me to see in spare time. So it was time to see Shaw shank Redemption. Believe it or not, I was yet to see that movie, wanted to see this one since long long time... but never got 2 spare hours for it. Its a gem of a movie.... liked it a lot. Would put this one along with Forrest Gump and The life of David Gale, two of my most favorite movies. So the waiting time at Cleveland was very well spent.

After reaching DC and renting the car, drove to Richmond, VA to meet Rohit Sawant, my undergrad friend. It was nice to meet Rohit after 2 years, and first time in US. Apart from old memories, we discussed whitewater rafting in West Virginia... He did one a couple of weeks back and I am planning to do it this weekend. Saw the DVD of their rafting, which was really cool. The lower New river in WV provides level IV and V rapids, and am really excited about coming weekend.

Anyways, next day drove from Richmond to Washington DC for Neil's wedding. It was a very well planned one, and only selected few were invited. Got to meet mama, mami, Dilip mama, Sachin, Netra tai, Sanjay, Nikhil and everyone else after really long time... precisely after 2 years. Last time we all met was for Netra Tai's wedding in June 2003. This pretty much summarises all the relatives I have in the United States, and its a different feeling altogether to meet your loved ones after a long time.

The wedding itself was a class affair, which started in a traditional maharashtrian way, with all mantras and other customs... and followed by a banquet. Had a lot of fun and lot of food as well. It went on till 12.30 AM.

Then drove to Ajinkya's places in Manassas, Virginia. This was kind of unplanned visit. I actually had called Pramod Shanbhag, to see if I could meet him. But he, and a few others were going to meet at Ajinkya's place... So it was kinda Clemson reunion. Apart from Ajinkya and Pramod, there was a strong Clemson gang of Srinivas, Nilu and Bhargavi. Most of the time was spent in exchanging movies from one laptop to other... There were 6 Clemson engineers and 4 laptops.... So there was very active information exchange on Saturday nite/ Sunday morning. It was nice to see so many Clemson people together after long time.

Next day morning, had Indian masala tea with croissants... and we watched the Ashes test match between England and Australia. This Ashes series is shaping up very well and is promising to be a very absorbing and exciting one. Andrew Strauss and Ian Bell were in full flow, and it was good (and very rare) to see Mcgrath and Warne being hit all over the ground so mercilessly.

After a quick photo-session, had to say good bye to them, as I had another brief meeting with Het and Rohit in Washington DC. Wanted to spend some more time in Manassas, as they all were heading for miniature-golf. May be next time.

So Het, Rohit and I had decided to meet at Union Station, Washington DC. It was kind of VESIT reunion. In Rohit's words: "Had a good time since few old memories came up which made us laugh a lot. I hope we will be able to meet again once Binu is up here and makes some plan to Visit the East Coast here"... am looking forth to meeting my old gang.

Anyways, so after very hectic 2 days, 400 miles of driving... I was back to Dulles airport, only to realise that the plane was an hour late this time. Since one hour was not sufficient for a movie, it was Tom and Jerry time... which of course of full of fun.

Now am back in Cleveland, and back to work... but am already in the rafting mood. Am looking forth to coming weekend in West Virginia.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Japanese dinner at Pacific East

Who doesn't like free food?....

My roommate Siddhartha has a Japanese guest from Japan in his lab for some project related work. They were planning to go to a Japanese restaurant and (since it was not very close to our apartment, they needed a car,) Siddhartha asked me if I could join them. I accepted the invitation gleefully. There is nothing more fascinating in this world than to get free food at a nice place.

so we chose Pacific East. It had some good reviews online and was placed at a very neat location. Pacific East has a neat ambiance, a mostly blue space, nicely offsetting the red wood tables and chairs. The place has a vast menu, listing dozens of sushi options plus just about any vegetable ever grown in Japan as well as many tempura, yakatori, udon, don buri, and teriyaki. Service was exceedingly polite and efficient. It was my first outing at a Japanese restaurant, and I must say that I was not disappointed.

I found Ritsuko (Siddhartha's guest) a very well mannered, confident and a charming lady. I must say that she has been a wonderful ambassador for her country and her company. It was nice meeting her.

Anyways, so Ritsuko was there to guide us for ordering food. Pacific East has huge list of items on their menu.. and for a first timer, its indeed a huge task to understand whats going on. It took me a long time to figure out what is good and what is not. Finally ordered Miso Soup (Soy bean soup with been curd, seaweed and scallion) and Tako Yaki (Octopus balls) for appetisers, Oyako Don (chicken with egg on rice) and chicken Katsu (similar to breaded chicken strips) as main course. Ritsoku had Hiya- Yako (cold bean curd with flakes and scallion) and shrimp Tempura. Sidharth had Oyako Don, and Tempuras.

Food was good. Tried to have it with those sticks, but could not. So requested for fork and knife and enjoyed this new delicacy. Now onwards, Octopus will be one more addition to my list. They actually taste pretty good... similar to shrimp. I really enjoyed the Tako Yaki. Rest of the food was good.

They also served some Japanese wine at the end.... it was really good and mellow. Liked it.

All in all, had a good Tuesday evening.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Allegheny Camping and Hiking

Ever since I shifted to Cleveland, I was getting increasingly uncomfortable to see no mountains in and around Ohio. Even feared for a few days that I will have to give up my passion for hiking and camping, and will have to take interest in singing and cooking, etc (:D, :D).... and the thought was scary enough. Surprisingly not too many people hike in Ohio and surrounding states, as its generally a flat land. Come August and I was getting desperate to get out of Cleveland, go to some dense forest and have lots of fun.

So we had to go east to find a thick jungle. And we got Allegheny National park. Vivek, Devyani, Meghna were interested in camping, so we finalised 6th, 7th August as the D-day. I also invited Aniket and Abhijit from Ann Harbor, Michigan; and they were glad to join us. I have known Aniket since past 7 years, and had a few treks together in Maharashtra. We both came to US in 2002, but it was not possible to meet up, as I was in the Carolinas. So I was also keen to catch up with him. Abhishek is also a very avid hiker and has extensive experience of hiking in Maharashtra as well as US.

Allegheny National Forest has a rich variety of outdoor activities to entertain you. There are several trails, ranging from very easy to difficult ones. Also, there are over 600 camp-sites and other recreational activities. Amongst many trails, we chose the Minister Creek trail and the nearby campground, as it was described as a difficult trail in a thick jungle and undeveloped area, which sounded interesting.

Since I have met them 20 days back, I have always found Vivek, Devyani and Meghna full of enthusiasm, a hearty laugh and something to chatter. Devang and Amit also fall in same league. So all in all, an interesting weekend was in offing; with guaranteed non stop entertainment.

On a sunny, hot Saturday morning 8 of us (Abhishek, Aniket, Amit, Vivek, Devang, Meghna, Devyani, me) left Cleveland in 2 cars. Together, we had around 60 music CDs + 8 talkative people... so the 3 hour long drive was hardly boring.

As we came closer to the national park, the forest grew thick, roads became narrower and full of curves. It was a roller coaster ride for a while. As we reached the campsite, we realised that all the sites were full. Now the option was to set up our tents at another campground nearby (which was available, but was a bit too commercialised. We were looking for somewhat more primitive), or away from the campsite, in the woods at the Minister Creek. We chose the second option.

One good thing about Allegheny is that you can set up your tent anywhere in the jungle, except near the trails. It proved to be an excellent choice, as we had even more fun away from the crowd, just by ourselves.

By the time we set up the tents, it was 5 PM, and it was time for relaxing. We started with some chips and salsa, and some beer. The topic of discussion for the evening snack was Andaz Apna Apna and Hera Pheri.... :D.

The main challenge for the evening was to set up the grill. Since we did not set the camp at a normal campsite, we didnt have a proper grill to grill our food. So we fabricated a temporary stone grill, put some charcoal in it, topped with a couple of layers of Aluminium foil. It took 8 engineers and a lot of engineering innovation to set up a grill. But we did it at last (this situation was similar to a sardar joke: it took 50 sardars to change the bulb... 1 to hold the bulb and 49 to rotate the wall, and yet they failed. I am glad that 8 of us did the job :-).

Conclusion: we are not sardars. We can do it ).

Anyways, soon our burgers and chicken breasts and veggies were cooking on red hot charcoal. We also started a campfire side-by-side and put some potatoes and veggies in it, seasoned with Mexican seasoning. It was a very delicious dinner, and it tasted even better with some fine red and white wine. I must mention that the chicken I had on that evening was one of the tastiest I have had ever.

All this while, our topics of discussion varied from Cleveland, Ann Arbor, US, India, football, cricket, baseball to Human beings, animals, Aniket Joshi and Siddharth Dutta. Aniket (who claims to get loads of spare time because he is a full -time research student at University of Michigan at Ann Arbor) tried a lot to prove his point that U Mich is a superior research place, but his efforts fell short against 6 Case researchers. Later he tried to crack some jokes from his "improv" club; however, one must say that he needs to improve. Having said that, this trek won't have been even half enjoyable without Aniket. So keep it up buddy.

It was dessert time by then and we had some marshmallow roasters for dessert. After so much of food, a deep sleep was inevitable.

Next morning, after having the breakfast of apples and doughnuts, we started our hike. This almost 7 miles hike is full of huge boulders and lots of ups and downs as well as streams and trees. It was a very enjoyable 4 hour hike. We did a bit of rock climbing, a bit of tree climbing, some apple picking, lots of relaxing and some walking.

On our way back, we had a late lunch at the Pepper-mate Restaurant in Warren. They claim to be the best family restaurant in Warren. Well, considering their food, I would say that Warren families need to improve.

Anyways, it was an excellent weekend overall. It seems that Allegheny will be my second home in Cleveland in a next couple of years. I would definitely recommend you to visit that place at least once. Its cool, and all the trails are worth the effort. I am already planning another camping trip in Fall Break later in October.

Please click here for camping pics.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Baseball game

I guess I surprised myself when I went to see the Indians Vs. Yankees Baseball game yesterday.

I like the concept of baseball, as its close to cricket; and i have been trying to understand its rules etc. But never got a chance to follow the game closely. Life in Clemson was too busy to follow baseball in addition to other games.

Couple of days back, Vivek asked if I would be interested in joining him and Devyani for this game. It sounded a great idea.

Its a great experience to be in the ground and see the game live. It was my first such experience, so thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a strong 35-40 thousand crowd, and we were in the top rows. the screen was rt in front of us. Vivek helped me to understand the game; and it was very easy after that.

About the game.... in one line: "Cleveland Indians are a bunch of idiots". They were leading 3-2 till the start of the 9th Innings. Yankees hit 2 home runs in the 9th innings... went 4-3 up.. and then got all 3 Indian hitters in a minute. It was a huge let down at the end. Something I would expect from the Indian cricket team (because Indian cricketers do not carry brain on their shoulders when they go out in middle and play. If you observe closely, Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra look mentally retarded when they bowl and are hit for 2-3 fours in one over), but not from the Cleveland Indians...

Bob Wickman messed it all up. MLB has a good cover-up article:

"CLEVELAND -- Bob Wickman knows how precarious life as a closer can be.
After recording saves in the first two games of the series against the Yankees, Wickman's attempt for a third was wiped out by ninth-inning home runs by Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi on Thursday night.

The solo homers turned a 3-2 lead into a 4-3 loss, preventing the Indians from recording their first sweep over the Yankees at home since 1970.

Instead of recording his 30th save of the season, Wickman was saddled with his fourth blown save in 33 chances.

When it was all over, Wickman knew where to place the blame.

"I let the team down," Wickman said. "If it wasn't for me, we would have won three games."

Wickman, who leads the American League in saves, said pitching for the third night in a row wasn't the issue. It was more a matter of making bad pitches. After he retired Gary Sheffield on a fly ball to start the inning, Rodriguez crushed a 3-1 pitch into the bleachers in left.

"I was trying to throw it down and away," said Wickman. "It didn't go down and away. It wasn't where I wanted it, but it wasn't the worst pitch in the world."

The 2-1 pitch to Rodriguez raised some questions from the Indians. Plate umpire Bob Davidson called the close pitch a ball, drawing a long stare from Wickman and some yelling from manager Eric Wedge.

"There were a couple of questionable pitches late," said Wedge.

"It was tough to tell," said Wickman.

Wickman (0-3) retired Hideki Matsui on a ground ball, but Giambi, who also homered in the fifth off Kevin Millwood, took a 2-1 pitch to right.

"He hit a slider," said Wickman. "It's the first home run I've given up on a breaking ball all year."

Millwood held New York to two runs in eight innings. John Flaherty also homered off Millwood in the second.

Wedge had no second thoughts about pulling Millwood, who threw 94 pitches.

"It was tough, but Kevin had worked hard," he said. "He did a great job. That was enough for him. Wicky has been great for us. It was one of those days with Wicky."

Millwood, who allowed eight hits, struck out eight and didn't walk a batter, supported the move.

"I was done," Millwood said. "I used my last bit of energy in the last inning. If I went out for the ninth, I would have been real tired. I felt like I was pretty much done after the eighth. I wouldn't have had much on the ball."

Wedge chose to credit the Yankees.

"A couple of pretty good hitters got us late: A-Rod and Giambi," he said.

Wickman also credited the Yankees.

"I felt pretty good," he said. "I just didn't make the pitches. They make you pay when you make a mistake. Guys who hit home runs make you pay when you make a bad pitch."

Down, 2-1, in the seventh, it looked as if the Indians were going to pull this one out. Casey Blake walked to start the inning, which ended the night for Yankees starter Shawn Chacon. Alan Embree came in, and he walked Grady Sizemore. Coco Crisp sacrificed the runners to second and third. The bunt paid off when Jhonny Peralta's groundout off Tom Gordon scored Blake to tie the game.

Travis Hafner, who hadn't played since getting hit in the face by a pitch from Chicago's Mark Buehrle on July 16, grounded a 2-2 pitch through the right side to put the Indians ahead, 3-2, in the seventh. Hafner had missed 17 games with a concussion.

Flaherty's homer, his first of the season, came on a 2-0 pitch and landed in the bleachers in left. Giambi homered to right to lead off the fifth.

The Indians were unable to cash in chances in the second, third and fourth innings, but they finally broke through in the fifth. Blake led off with a single, but Sizemore hit into a double play. Crisp singled and scored when Peralta doubled off the wall in left.

All in all it was a great experience though. Enjoyed it a lot. A great game, fairly noisy crowd, pizza, and beer!!... Great experience!!

Thursday, August 04, 2005


Being a part of AID was one of the most satisfying experiences for me at Clemson. Got a very fantastic friends to hang around with, had lots of fun, and also got some experience of event management in the USA. More important than that, learnt a lot about my country , India. There was a lot more to India than i knew before being a part of AID. The way I think of my country may not be same as the way others think of it; and more importantly the actual situation may not be exactly the same.

We often talk about India being a developed nation by 2020, and India making leaps of progress in IT; but there are millions of people in India who are yet to get the basic knowledge of health care, self-dependence, and education. That's when I decided to be involved with a non-profit organization. I am probably an infinitesimal factor in the development of my country, but still I want to contribute in whatever small way I can. That feeling of doing something for my country gives me a lot of self-satisfaction.

Anyways, AID doesn't have a Cleveland chapter. However, Asha (better known as Asha for Education) is fairly active here and the Cleveland chapter does lots of events thru out the year. Asha for Education is a secular organization dedicated to change in India by focusing on basic education in the belief that education is a critical requisite for socio-economic change.

I have been attending past couple of Asha meetings. Its cool. Its almost same fun as we used to have in AID meeting at Clemson. Hoping to be more involved with Asha in future months, and also get to know some of the members. We are organizing classical Indian music concert by Ustaad Amjad Ali Khan with his sons Ayaan and Amaan Ali Bhangaash on the 17th September. Am looking forward to it. Last few Indian classical music concerts have been a great experience. This one would be no different either. Lets see how it turns out to be.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Happy Happy Happy Happy, Happy days are here again....

I am enjoying these days... Past 2 weeks or so have been really great!!!.... After a good, long month; feel as if Cleveland has finally accepted me, and I have accepted Cleveland. This mutual acceptance is important for survival.

There have been lots of parties and cricket thru out. It started with a hearty dinner at Vivek Walimbe's place, with Devayani, Meghna, Sameer, Rashmi, and their kid. It was a delicious Indian dinner with Andaz Apna Apna in background, followed by Ice cream. We kept on talking for a couple of hours in Vivek's balcony. From there one can see a lovely view of Cleveland downtown. I want to take its pic one day.... will do it as I get time.

It was followed by Sunday nite dinner with some Case guys (and girls) at Tommy's, and a short trip to Edgewater park by Lake Erie. Its a cool place.... there were lots of people fishing there, and were actually catching a lots of them. I am looking forward to fishing someday by the lakeside.

Then we hosted a party at our place for Siddhath's friends, and they hosted a party the following weekend at their place. So obviously had a great time.

Also, I got my boxes from Clemson, so most of the spare time at home is spent in arranging all the stuff. And then rearranging it. Now my room looks the way I want, with a big (5 ft by 4 ft) US road map and also the world map on the walls, and a poster of a cute little lazy puppy with the quotes "Lazy Days" on the wall near my bed. Plus there are 2 small cabinets, a table, a chair. I would settle for this for now.

A few days back, went to see the hindi movie "Viruddh". Its a serious movie, but I liked it because the first half is well made, portraying the lives of upper-middle class parents living in Mumbai and having their son studying abroad. A few scenes got me thinking about my parents. I was going to talk about it to them, only to realise that they also had been to the same movie a day back.(its been a while since I have had a hearty talk with my parents either. Life is little too fast at the moment. When I went home back in June, hardly got a day to spend with them. Sometimes miss my parents and miss them for not there with me to share my happiness; but its OK I guess. One good thing is that they respect my personal life and do understand that I have a life beyond them and my other relatives. Not all parents are that nice)... They must have read the reviews somewhere.

Anyways, in between all these things, I am going to cricket practice every week and then also to Asha meetings every week.

Its good to be busy, ain't it?

Friday, July 15, 2005

Clemson to Cleveland... life moves on

Its been more than a month since I have shifted to Cleveland. Getting adjusted to it bit by bit. Never imagined it would be so tough to get used to this place, especially after spending good 3 years in Clemson. I mean, even my backyard in Mumbai is bigger than Clemson, so thought that since I am moving to a bigger city, things should be much easier at Cleveland, but soon realised that it was not the case.

Cleveland is a nice little city, but its weird in the sense that one struggles to find people to have a hearty talk with. Coming from Clemson, where I knew almost entire Indian community of 300 and so many others, felt as if coming to a desert, as there was no one to talk with.

This is something bit unusual. Its not that there are no people. The place where I work, the Cleveland Clinic, has tons of employees, but somehow all are in a hurry to do something. They don't walk, they run. That was a huge contrast from Clemson life, where we didn't walk either, we crawled. Another fact was that, since I am joining early ( in June instead of August), there is no one who's with me to start off with. So, it was bit unusual not to have a good company in day-to-day life.

Soon, things got better. Got a nice little apartment in a very good locality. Its called Little Italy, as it was primarily an Italian community, and has many nice Italian restaurants. It like lovely little castle. We have a nice backyard with a cherry tree (with cherries on it), and its a homely apartment. After settling in with the utilities, and the furniture, and all; the next task was to get a car. I was done with sitting at home on weekends.

And got a nice car as well. Its a Toyota Camry. Its runs smooth, and is a great comfort. I have already made a couple of small road trips here and there, and its cool.

Nowadays trying to meet people and make new friends.... its like whole new cycle.... did it after school, at engineering college, at Johnson Controls, at Clemson and now at Cleveland. Nowadays, am going for cricket practice every Friday with CSU guys. Its fun to be all padded up and playing with leather ball. And yes, I am not getting out on zero anymore :).

Met Suneel Sai, a VESIT senior last week. It was great to meet someone after 5 long years. He was accompanying his girlfriend Sindhu. We had a nice time first at the Omnimax dome. Watching something on a huge 160 degree dome screen was amazing. Its supposed to be one of world's largest screen.

Then, very interestingly, went to an Ethiopian restaurant, Taytu, and it was a cool restaurant. I would recommend anyone who likes to try something spicy and something new, at a good ambiance. We tried some Samboosas (similar to Indian Samosas), some spicy shrimp and some extra hot beef stuff. The shrimp was worth it. Excellent taste.

"As you walk in the door, the aroma of ginger, cardamom and cloves greets you. The walls are decorated with photos of Ethiopia, and servers are garbed in long white dresses. Here you'll dine as the ancient Abyssinian did: at basket- like tables (mesobs) where you scoop up food with injera, a pancake-like buckwheat bread, from tabletop-sized platters. Dining here isn't just a culinary experience, it's a cross-cultural experience, too. For starters, try the sambussa, fried turnovers stuffed with jalapeno±s and onions -- hot hot hot. For dinner, share a meat combo with marinated chicken, tender stewed beef, lamb and ground beef in their appropriate sauces, and/or a vegetable combo with spiced peas and lentils, well-flavored greens, string beans and potatoes in their appropriate sauces. Both come with good-sized "American" salads. Desserts are tame here (sweets aren't part of Ethiopian culture), so for afters, opt for the enchanting Ethiopian coffee ceremony. Green coffee beans are roasted to order and brought to the table still hot, then ground. Then, as your coffee brews in a clay pot, your soft-spoken server lights incense and explains Ethiopian coffee customs."

All in all, I am having a nice time in Cleveland. Never felt so relieved and relaxed in years: was always under some stress or other. Things are much better now (I hope I can get back some of my hair on my head :)) ). Making some nice friends at the clinic, and in community as well.

Signing off,

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Trek pics

Will write a detailed trek report soon. Meanwhile, have a look at my trek pics:

click here:

India Trip - Part II

SO reached India on the 26th. It was a very good Air- India flight. I had heard some very bad feedbacks about Air-India, but was pleasantly surprised at their service. Apart from excellent food, Air- India provides a lot of leg space to relax, and you don’t get cramped up at all. I was still very fresh after 18 hour continuous flight. Secondly, being a non-stop flight, you reach India in considerably short time (18 hours). I will definitely fly AI next time, if it’s not too expensive.

Mumbai was hot. And unbearably humid. One feels continuous discomfort, especially in day time after being used to coolers and air-conditioners in US. Fortunately there are lots of new malls, and Baristas and CCDs. I preferred meeting my friends at such places than meeting outside.

Anyways, this trip was special of sorts. Apart from the trek (will put a detailed report soon), got to experience everything.... from wedding to funerals, and from street fights to dinners in posh hotels. Had real fun in past 20 days. Met a few old friends, revived friendship with a few... and what not. Ate lots of fish and mutton and chicken and sweets and snacks. Delicious food, excellent trek, some nice friends, and spending few days with parents... what else does one want from a 35 day India trip?...

All in all was indeed a great trip. I feel like being reenergized and fresh for my studies and for my life overall. This trip showed me a way to live life happily. And I consider that as a big lesson in life.

More later

Monday, June 06, 2005

India Trip (25th April to 3rd June)

Well, should have put this up long back. Tried to upload it from India... but as you know...

Anyways, it all happened suddenly and in span of just 4-5 days. Let me get back to 2nd week of April: I had just confirmed my admission to Case Western Reserve University for PhD in Biomedical Engineering, rejecting other 2 admits I had. It was kind of tough decision as I had assistantship and funding from all 3. But chose Case as it gives me an opportunity to do research at one of the best medical research schools in the world + had a fellowship with healthy stipend. It was an offer I could not reject :). I decided to join Case in June itself as it would give me couple of more months for work and to settle down in Cleveland.

So after all formalities were completed, I had a break for more than a month. I was talking to Madhuri about how to spend time and all, and she said why don't you go to India and do a nice trek? It sounded interesting. It was something I had thought long back... when I was dreaming about my dream vacations. So I googled and contacted a few friends in India to see if there were some nice Himalayalan treks being organized in May, and indeed there were a few. It sounded feasible and interesting too. Then I enquired about tickets and surprisingly they were within my budget! Then thought, why not!!... Dreams sometimes come true. So, let’s make this trip.

I got tickets on the 20th and I flew on the 25th. It was bit too hectic to pack up everything as I was leaving Clemson for good. But you never feel tired while leaving for India. So somehow managed everything. And I was off to India....

(Continued in part 2)

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Pt. Shivkumar Sharma, Zakir Hussein

It was the moment of ecstasy, an extreme pleasure to be there at the Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma- Zakir Hussein concert at Atlanta last weekend. It was a wonderful display of Indian classical music and Indian culture.

Panditji is a maestro of Santoor; no one gets better than him. He was at his best on that day, literally creating magic out of those 100 strings. He received spontaneous applauses so many times, and not to mention standing ovations. And to have another genius like Zakir Hussein as an accomplice was something!!

This was my 3rd Zakir Hussein concert, and first time I saw him being overshadowed by someone else on sheer class and persona. I guess it’s to do with seniority and class of Shiv Kumar Sharma. But still, he had his own moments. I would say that Zakir was man of the match on many occasions, but Panditji was man of the series.

Will remember this concert for long long time.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Mobile Chess

Am addicted to playing chess on my Samsung X427 off late. I win 5 times before going to bed. :D.

I guess whoever designed, programmed, coded this version must be an absolute d*mba*s!!!. It was the stupidest opponent I have come across. Mind you, before this I rarely played chess, and had not won a single game till a week or so back. One day, just out of sheer boredom of standing at a bus stop, I started with this stuff. It has 3 levels of "difficulties"... easy, normal, and hard. But I guess the easy one is smarter than the hard one and basically all keep making stupidest mistakes.

It is impossible to be on a loosing side. I even tried to loose, but I guess it is not programmed that way at all. Means, you cannot loose, and the mobile cannot win. It must be a part of excellent customer satisfaction I guess.

Meanwhile, if you are looking for such momentary pleasures, like winning 3 games in 15 minutes, Samsung X-427 is there for you!!

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Happy and having fun

Things are much better and relaxing after getting couple of admits and fellowship. It gives a lot of confidence and conviction in life. I always wanted to do this (spend 5 years for PhD at a very good graduate school).... and I now see it coming to reality. It feels nice. Such moments remind you that there are always soothing and satisfying moments coming up in life, you just have to work hard to get them and then savor such moments.

Have traveled a lot in past week. Went to Charleston for beach camping and then to rafting and to Chattanooga. Will be going to Charleston again next Monday for some work. After spending a lot of days under bright sun, I have got a pretty strong tan. I am almost black now :D. Hope it goes away fast. I remember this day: I was in first year and had gone for a 3 day trek... I came back with a lot of tan... and all building friends made life difficult by calling me Koyla. ShahRukh Khan's movie Koyla was running at the same time. Literally had to hide my face for a few days. :))... hope it doesn’t happen again.

Sunil has nicely settled into his job now. It's nice to see that he's living life royally and the way he wants it to be. I guess he's setting a very nice example of how to enjoy life if you have money, and yet to be in control. Keep going buddy.

...But still some people don't change. It was strange to see him barking like a dog at a girl in other car when we were driving on interstate, just to frighten off the poor soul. :)). It was really funny to see a man earning 60K barking like a dog and immensely enjoying the act :D:D.

I have around 50 days before starting my research. Have India trip in mind. There are a few very exciting Himalayan expeditions being conducted by Youth Hostels. I want to do Har ki Doon trek... it’s a 15-20 day trek in Uttaranchal’s Garhwal mountain range, with a lot of time spent on glaciers(

Let’s see if it materializes or not. It all depends upon how soon I get my new I-20. But if everything falls in space, I should be in Bombay by 25th April. It’s been a while since I have seen my parents. I guess they are more eager to see me. Let's see what’s in store.

Ruby Falls photos

Chk Ruby Falls photos here:

Monday, March 28, 2005

Whitewater rafting and camping at Chattanooga:

We (Sunil, Jithu, Gaurav, me) started off our weekend trip on early Saturday morning for Whitewater rafting at Ocoee river. It was a beautiful day; it was sunny sky and cool breeze. Winter is over now and I guess it is an ideal climate for camping and outdoor sports.

Rafting is something I thoroughly enjoy, and the Ocoee River is an ideal venue if you want a bit of adventure and lots of fun (this was the rafting route for 1996 Atlanta Olympics, and provides level III and IV rapids. Considering that the Niagara Falls is a level VI rapid, this is not too bad). This time also, it was great fun. We traced almost all the rapids to perfection. It was basically a roller coaster ride on water, especially when we once made a 3-point whirlpool right in the middle of a rapid. Our guide, Shannon, was cool. We had a good time chatting. She holds a Masters in Communication from Appalachian State Univ. This is one thing I like in Americans: they would pursue their hobbies and interests rather sitting at home without worrying about future and money. We have a lot to learn from them.

Jithu was a bit hesitant for rafting initially, as he is hydrophobic and thought that if he falls in water, alligators would eat him. After a lot of convincing, he finally agreed for it. Sunil and I have rafted before as well, so it was OK. Gaurav was as usual hyper and excited.... till he learnt that Shannon was married. After that, he almost refused to follow her instructions. He was visibly upset. I guess his dreams were shattered (they shatter 20 times a day, anyways...)... But only till he saw a group of girls in minimal attire on riverside.

Next destination was Chattanooga. The plan was to do riverside camping and barbeque, and then visit Ruby Falls and Rock City next day. We got a lovely campsite, right besides the Tennessee River. This was my first riverside camping, and was pleasently surprised to see that it can be as enjoyable as camping in thick jungle. After setting up the tent, we started preparations for barbeque.

Chicken barbeque was the best thing I have had in many days. We marinated garlic chicken and fish fillets in Cajun seasoning and curd, and then roasted them on grill. It turned out really delicious. It was followed by Black Forest cake. It probably doesn’t get better that this.

It was a really wonderful but tiring day... and we fell asleep soon. But we had no idea what was in store for us at nite. It suddenly started raining, and then thunderstorms followed. It was raining cats and dogs by midnight... and we realized that our tent was leaking. There was water in tent. We had to vacate the tent and sleep in car. But that was a good experience. I had heard such stories earlier, but I would believe now that things can ACTUALLY get messed up badly if it rains and the tent is leaky.

Something funny happened in the morning. We went to visit restrooms. There were not too many people camping, as it was Easter Sunday. We soon realized that the toilet men's restroom was clogged, and was unusable. As it was an emergency, and there was no one around, we (Gaurav, me) decided to use women's restroom. (This was the first time for me to see women's restroom; and I was terribly excited, Anyways). There were two toilets inside, and one of it did not have the lock. We asked Jithu to stand outside and see that there was no disaster.

Well, Jithu was in photography mood. He saw some ducks nearby, and went to click them. AND at the same time, a lady came. Jithu was not there, he was behind ducks.... Well.... it would be best if the following drama is left to your imagination. Inside conversation was something like this: "Who’s that???", "Oh!! Oops...", "Oh! My god!", “Sorry”. :))). It was bit funny though ;).

Anyways, the next destination was Ruby Falls. They are basically underground caverns (360 ft deep) with a 100 ft underground waterfall. It’s a wonderful site to visit, and the view of Ruby Falls is breathtaking. It was just awesome and was treat to eyes.

My feelings would be best described if I recollect a conversation I overheard. It was between a kid (4-5 years old) and his father. After seeing the falls, the kid exclaimed: “Wow!!.... Those were the best 5 minutes of my life!" It was really astonishing to hear something like this from a small cute kid. But his father's reply was even nicer. He said: "Son, you are yet to live your life. Enjoy whatever you get." :)

All in all, it was a great weekend. Hope there are lots more in near future.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005


OK... Someone control me!!!!

I have seen 30 episodes of Seinfeld in past 2 days.... that simply means 15 hours of Seinfeld. I hope I don’t start talking like Jerry, behaving like Elaine, entering y apartment like Kramer....

Its been on my list to see Seinfeld since past 2 years.... got time this Sunday... ever since I've got up on Monday, have been glued to laptop for Seinfeld and at nite to TV for India- Pakistan... I am going crazy :D.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Boy, here it comes....

Do you believe in getting pleasant surprises??... Got one a week back.

Frankly speaking, I myself don't know what's coming up next in life. I try to live life the way it comes. Afterall, life is all about unexpected twists and turns... and I have learnt to enjoy it that way...( this is my orkut introduction, copy-pasted it..... why to write same thing in different words each time, when I essentially am a same individual?)

Anyways, so I went to Cleveland for PhD interviews at Case Western Reserve University [CWRU]... it was indeed a very pleasing and satisfying experience. Now CWRU is ranked 5th in Biomedical Engineering... is that really means something. I liked the research environment there and somehow was very comfortable with the entire setup right form the start. One thing that I liked most was that all senior students were really enjoying being there, and doing what they are doing. Talked a lot about general research atmosphere and life in general at Cleveland with a lot of seniors.

I liked Cleveland, its a mid-size city on the shores of Lake Erie.... has its own culture... Had a chance to roam around in a downtown a bit, traveled a lot thru the metro rail... Had fun at Jillian’s. ...

Anyways, next day had a few interviews... I thought I did well in that... but getting an admit from CWRU was always difficult.

Then went to Pittsburgh... (Will put up a blog about it later)... and finally came back to Clemson.

As I entered home... there was a FedEx package lying for me. Opened it... it was the admit letter from CWRU. And they had also awarded me a fellowship of 23000 per year.

Man.. That was awesome!!!!.... Wish I could yell or cry or dance or... after all this was sort of dream come true moment. I'd strived for it since October. And finally got what I wanted to do in life.... But to be frank, I didn’t expect the decision so soon.

So… I didn’t do anything like that. Called up a few close people and then called home to talk to parents.... (Well first thing they did was to locate Cleveland on USA map.... and next question was "does it snow a lot there?"... That was kinda funny as I'd just experienced a severe snow storm at Cleveland before coming back.)

Well, that’s it.... am waiting to hear from few researchers, and will take a final decision soon. For the moment, life is good.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Catching Up!!

I don’t write too often nowadays. Don’t have that much leisure time for all my hobbies and interests. Life is moving at a very fast pace. Since February, rarely has it happened that I have nothing to do. I am enjoying this new phase, as I like to be busy.... sometimes its good to keep your brain working overtime ;).

Got an admit from University of Pittsburgh, for PhD in Bioengineering. This is one school I would be proud to associate myself with, as they have really interesting projects and a very senior faculty. I am visiting the department this weekend. Hoping to meet few professors. I would also be going to Case Western Reserve Univ. at Cleveland before that, for an interview for PhD admissions. It feels good to see all the hard work (which started long way back in September) paying off bit by bit. Am very positive and excited about this trip. Let’s see what happens.

Apart from that, February appears to be a month of interviews. Have had a few telephonic ones and one on-site at Boston. Things are finally happening thick and fast. It was a very good experience, in more than one ways. I learnt a lot in past month or so. I had done a good homework for these interviews, and it always helps to be well prepared. Did well from my side, exceeded my own expectations. Let’s see what the output is. Working hard is something in my hands; the ultimate output is not really what I can decide. But I believe I have done my job well... and that itself gives me a lot of happiness.

But still, what holds in my future is a mystery for myself. I myself don't have an answer and feel out of clues sometimes. It feels as if I am a puppet, and strings of my future are with someone else, and I am just dancing to his tunes. Sometimes feel as if I myself am that puppeteer, who’s holding all these strings and doing the balancing act. Its funny feeling and its funnier to be in this ‘avalanche’ situation, but hopefully its taking me in right direction.

That’s it for the moment from my side at the moment. Will surely post if and when something new and exciting happens in life.

Signing off,

Monday, January 31, 2005

Biotech Bodies

Recently came across this article on Tissue Engineering, and its future. Its kinda old but is really well written. It's like a story, or a fairy-tale. Even if you are not from medical/ biomedical background, it should make a very interesting and enterprising article for you. I am copy-pasting it word by word from: .

This is something I am planning to work on as a career, for my PhD and lateron as well. I find it a very realistic dream, because its very well supported by a strong scientific base. Read on as you get time:

"Sean G. McCormack of Norwood, Mass., seems like your average 16-year-old boy, if a little more reckless, given his passion for mountain biking. In fact, though, he is an advance scout for a brave new world: He has the first chest grown in a lab rather than in the womb.

Sean was born without cartilage or bone under the skin on his left side, a rare congenital condition known as Poland's Syndrome. The cartilage down the center of his sternum pointed out, and his heart was virtually unprotected--you could see it beating under the skin. Doctors talked of implanting an artificial plate once he reached 21 and stopped growing. But by the time he was 12, Sean was a star pitcher for his Little League team and no longer wanted to put up with a condition that put him at risk every time he played ball. His doctor referred the family to a team of scientists and surgeons at Children's Hospital in Boston who are leading the way in growing human body parts in the lab.

Dr. Joseph Upton and Dr. Dennis P. Lund, working with tissue-engineering pioneer Dr. Joseph P. Vacanti and his brother, Dr. Charles A. Vacanti, scraped away Sean's protruding cartilage and used the cells to seed a biodegradable scaffold made of artificial polymer, molded to the shape of his torso. Dr. Yilin Cao added growth factors to the cells and ''cooked'' the concoction in a bioreactor for several weeks until a chest grew. ''The procedure was so experimental that none of the polymer companies would give us [custom-designed] material for fear of a lawsuit,'' says Joseph Vacanti. The doctors had to adapt off-the-shelf polyglycolic acid, normally used to stitch up wounds, adding to the risk of the operation.

Sean admits that ''at first I was like, 'What if they mess up?' But after a while, I put it in my head that they've done this a million times.'' Of course, they had never even done it on an animal. Nevertheless, after receiving special dispensation from the Food & Drug Administration, doctors implanted the engineered cartilage in Sean. Within a year, the boy had a normal-looking chest that was able to grow along with him. Now, four years later, the six-foot-tall teenager says: ''It's pretty cool. It looks like something I was born with.''

This is more than a nice human-interest story. It is a glimpse into the future of medicine, one in which doctors will routinely order up newly grown, living body parts whenever existing ones fail. Or they will prod the body into regenerating itself. After some 20 years of painstaking investigation into the processes by which cells grow, the nascent field of tissue engineering is ready for prime time, and dozens of startup companies are preparing commercial products. Regenerated or lab-grown bone, cartilage, blood vessels, and skin--as well as embryonic fetal nerve tissue--are all being tested in humans. Livers, pancreases, breasts, hearts, ears, and fingers are taking shape in the lab.

Scientists are even trying to develop tissues that would act as drug-delivery vessels. Salivary glands could secrete antifungal proteins to fight infections in the throat, skin could release growth hormones, and organs could be genetically engineered to correct a patient's own genetic deficiencies. ''I think [tissue engineering] holds the possibility for revolutionizing clinical medicine,'' says Kiki B. Hellman, coordinator of the FDA's biotechnology center for devices and radiological health.

The age of the biotech body is dawning. Tissue engineering offers the promise that failing organs and aging cells need no longer be tolerated--they can be rejuvenated or replaced with healthy cells and tissues grown anew. The prospect signals ''a profound revolution in medicine,'' says William A. Haseltine, a leading genetic scientist and chief executive of Human Genome Sciences Inc. in Rockville, Md. ''The current chemical era of medicine may, in retrospect, appear to be a clumsy effort to patch rather than permanently repair our broken bodies,'' says Haseltine. ''Cellular replacement may keep us young and healthy forever.''

Haseltine's genetic fountain of youth is a long way off. After all, lab-grown organs, the first step towards his vision, are still subject to the ravages of age. But tissue engineering can certainly keep failing organs from shutting down life prematurely. The principle has already been proven with the first off-the-shelf tissue approved by the FDA in May: a living skin, Apligraf, for the treatment of leg ulcers, a common ailment in the elderly. Apligraf maker Organogenesis Inc. (ORG) of Canton, Mass., turns a few cells of infant foreskin into acres of living skin that can be handled, cut to fit, and grafted on to anyone without fear of rejection or scarring. Next up: cartilage to strengthen the urethra and repair the knee and a method for replacing shinbones. Both processes are in late-stage clinical trials and are likely to be considered for FDA approval in the next year or two.


In the next 10 years, a veritable body shop of spare parts will wend its way from labs to patients. ''It's time for us to move into humans,'' says Charles Vacanti, and he's not wasting any time. At the University of Massachusetts at Worcester, his team is growing thumb bones right now in bioreactors for two machinists who cut off their own appendages. Vacanti says one or both of the thumbs should be grafted back on to the patients this summer, with growth factors added that will encourage regeneration of the nerves and tendon. He figures that the thumbs will be operational about 12 weeks after surgery.

In Boston, meanwhile, a team of doctors at Children's Hospital led by Dr. Anthony J. Atala plans to implant a bladder grown from fetal cells into a human in the next few months. Atala's lab caused a stir in the medical community last summer when doctors there successfully used the same procedure to implant new bladders into 10 baby lambs.

Creating even the most complex organs seems possible, though still 5 to 10 years out. Researchers from around the world met in Toronto in June to set up a 10-year initiative to grow a human heart. ''It's an ambitious project but not a farfetched one,'' says Michael V. Sefton, biomaterials professor at the University of Toronto and head of the heart effort. ''The likelihood of success is very feasible.''

Other complex tissues are already taking form. At Massachusetts Institute of Technology, chemical engineer Linda Griffith-Cima is using three-dimensional printers, first developed for computer-aided design, to build up structures that are turned into mouse-size livers. And at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, David J. Mooney, another chemical engineer, is heading an effort to grow cosmetic breasts for women who have had theirs removed. Researchers in Sweden and California have been able to regenerate nerves in rats with severed or damaged spinal cords to the point where they can walk again--albeit weakly.

With each success, more attention is paid. After years of barely acknowledging tissue-engineering research, the National Institutes of Health plans to award 30 grants in the field, some $6 million worth, this summer. But the lack of government interest heretofore may have been a blessing in disguise. Gail Naughton, president of Advanced Tissue Sciences Inc. (ATIS) of La Jolla, Calif., says that because so little federal money was available, tissue engineers had little choice in years past but to start a company and go public in order to raise funds. ''I think that this field has moved so quickly toward reality precisely because it spent very little time in academic labs,'' she says.

Even as it gains recognition, tissue engineering remains hard to categorize. The multidisciplinary field attracts surgeons, chemical engineers, materials scientists, and genetic researchers. Products straddle the boundaries between medical devices and gene therapy. The FDA even had to set up a special task force three years ago to figure out how to regulate the products.

The FDA is playing catch-up with a technology that has been 20 years in the making. As early as 1979, Eugene Bell, professor emeritus of biology at MIT and the founder of Organogenesis, figured out how to grow skin in his lab. Since then, much of the field's progress stems from a 20-year collaboration of two fast friends--Joseph Vacanti, a pediatric surgeon at Children's Hospital, and Robert S. Langer, a chemical engineering professor at MIT. Their lab ''seeded the entire country with people doing this work,'' says Dr. Pamela Bassett, president of medical consultants BioTrend in New York.


The two, both 49, first met as researchers in the mid-1970s and started working on a way to grow tissue in the early 1980s. In 1986, they developed an elegantly simple concept that underlies most engineered tissue. Start with a scaffold, bent to any shape, made of an artificial, biodegradable polymer. Seed it with living cells, and bathe it in growth factors. The cells multiply, filling up the scaffold and growing into a three-dimensional tissue. Once implanted in the body, the cells are smart enough to recreate their proper tissue functions. Blood vessels attach themselves to the new tissue, the scaffold melts away, and the lab-grown tissue is eventually indistinguishable from its surroundings.

Vacanti, who is remarkably self-effacing despite his pioneering role in the field, says he is driven by his dedication to his patients. He regularly saves the lives of the smallest children by replacing their failing livers--and regularly sees others die for lack of donors. ''I recognized fairly early that the biggest problem facing me as a surgeon was the shortage of organs,'' he says. ''I've devoted my professional life to solving that problem. Wouldn't it be nice if [tissue engineering] could provide the solution?''

Nice is an understatement. A study done by Vacanti and Langer in 1993 found that more than $400 billion is spent each year in the U.S. on patients suffering from organ failure or tissue loss, accounting for almost half the national health-care bill. Some 8 million surgical procedures are performed annually to treat these disorders, yet every year 4,000 people die while waiting for an organ transplant. An additional 100,000 die without even qualifying for the waiting list.

''OVER THE BRINK.'' Those kinds of numbers represent a huge commercial opportunity as well as a humanitarian one. Dr. Peter C. Johnson, president of the Pittsburgh Tissue Engineering Initiative research consortium, estimates that the overall market for engineered and regenerated tissues could reach $80 billion. As for individual products, Michael Ehrenreich, biotech analyst with investment adviser Techvest of New York, says that the most immediately promising are those that repair damaged knee cartilage, now replaced with artificial materials. ''There are a quarter of a million meniscus [knee-joint] operations performed every year, and no good options for repair,'' says Ehrenreich. ''That's the killer app.''

Tissue engineering is dominated now by tiny startups (table, page 64), but the big drug companies are beginning to take notice. Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp. has investments in four tissue-engineering companies, including Organogenesis. ''With the [FDA] approval of Apligraf, this whole area has really sparked the imagination of corporate executives,'' says David Epstein, vice-president of Novartis' specialty-business sector. ''We've stepped over the brink into the future of medicine.'' Novartis is not the only one with future vision. Britain's Smith & Nephew is investing some $70 million in Advanced Tissue Sciences; Amgen has a deal worth up to $465 million with Baltimore-based Guilford Pharmaceuticals to develop a compound for regenerating nerves; Stryker is funding research into bone regeneration at Creative BioMolecules of Hopkinton, Mass.; and Medtronic has agreed to invest up to $26 million in lab-grown heart valves from LifeCell in The Woodlands, Tex.

Although it may take a decade or more for some of these investments to see any returns, scientists in the field are heartened by the rapid progress of the past two to three years. ''The kinds of things that we are doing now are the kinds of things that we used to think about sitting around having beers 13 or 14 years ago,'' says Dr. Scott P. Bruder, director of bone and soft-tissue regeneration research at Baltimore-based Osiris Therapeutics Inc.

Perhaps most intriguing about tissue engineering, though, is how much the scientists don't know. Much of the excitement in biotech these days centers on figuring out complex cellular interactions and then intervening. Tissue engineering, however, is driven by surgeons and engineers who are, by nature, most interested in a successful endpoint--and less so in how they got there. ''The great thing is, we don't need to know exactly why or how cells organize into tissues,'' says Joseph Vacanti. ''We just need to know that they do.''

This all sounds easier than it actually is. Scientists must still figure out the best materials for the scaffolds that shape the organs, determine exactly the right growth factors, and pick the right cells. For bone and cartilage replacement, one possibility under investigation is a kind of premature cell called a stem cell. First isolated from human bodies in 1992, this specialized cell can turn into everything from bone to tendon to cartilage. Implanting these cells in the appropriate location can generate the full range of cells normally found at that site. While only about one in 100,000 to one in several million bone-marrow cells are stem cells, Osiris Therapeutics, partly owned by Novartis, has been able to isolate enough of them to regenerate bone in both small and large animals.


Scientists also must figure out ways around the immune system's rejection of human tissue. That's not a problem for skin--it presents relatively few resistance problems since the immune system will accept some foreign dermal cells. Nor is rejection a problem when the original cells are taken from the specific patient for which they are meant. However, if off-the-shelf organs are to be transplanted, patients must take the same immunosuppressant drugs now given to them when donor organs are used.

Ideally, tissue engineers want to develop universal donor cells that would not trigger an immune response, so that body parts can be manufactured in large numbers. To that end, cells must either be genetically stripped of their rejection-provoking proteins or encapsulated in a porous membrane that the body will accept. The latter approach is nearing clinical trials for the treatment of diabetics whose pancreases are failing. BioHybrid Technologies Inc. in Shrewsbury, Mass., and Neocrin Co. of Irvine, Calif., are harvesting insulin-producing cells, called islets, from the pancreases of pigs and encasing them in a membrane that blocks the immune response while allowing the cells to do their job. The capsules are injected into the abdomen, where they go to work producing insulin.

Some companies are trying to avoid the whole immunity problem by encouraging the patient's own tissue to regenerate. Genentech Inc. (GNE), for example, announced in March that 5 of 15 patients who were given a genetically engineered protein called VEGF regrew blood vessels around the heart. Integra LifeSciences Corp. (IART) of Plainsboro, N.J., believes that just about any tissue can be regenerated by implanting a collagen matrix coated with the appropriate growth factors at the site of the damage. It already has such a matrix on the market for growing back a burn victim's skin and is in clinical trials with a similar product for the nerve endings in arms and legs. ''The body is continuously regenerating tissue,'' says Integra Chief Operating Officer George W. McKinney III. ''We're just trying to harness that process.''

Most scientists agree that regeneration is the ideal but doubt that it is always possible, or practical. ''Sometimes you have complete organ failure and can't wait for tissue to grow back,'' says Antonios G. Mikos, a bioengineering professor at Rice University. ''In truth, I think we will have both approaches. There is no one right way.''

Indeed, there are dozens of right ways in the works. Reprogenesis Inc. of Cambridge, Mass., for example, is in late-stage clinical trials with its method for using lab-grown cartilage to reinforce the urethra, a tube leading to the bladder. Weakened urethras can lead to incontinence, which afflicts an estimated 10 million people in the U.S., and reflux, a potentially fatal condition affecting about 1% of all infants in which urine backs up into the bladder. Reprogenesis removes a few cartilage cells from behind a patient's ear, grows them in the lab, and then mixes them into a gel matrix. The cells are reinserted endoscopically where the urethra meets the bladder. There, they grow to bulk up the tubal walls.

A knee-repair product called Carticel, approved by the FDA last August, uses somewhat the same principle. Made by Genzyme Tissue Repair, Carticel grows cartilage cells removed from the patient in the lab and then surgically reimplants them in the knee. No matrix is provided, however, so the cells can only be used to repair small rents. To replace the entire meniscus--that's the C-shaped pad in the knee between the thigh bone and shin bone--ReGen Biologics Inc. of Redwood City, Calif., is in clinical trials with a collagen scaffold in the shape of the meniscus. The pad is implanted in the knee to encourage regeneration of the patient's cartilage. Going a step further, Advanced Tissue Sciences is in preclinical trials with a meniscus-shaped cartilage grown in the lab that's meant to work in anyone. It hopes to start human tests by yearend.

NO MORE FILLINGS? After cartilage, look for bone products. Creative BioMolecules Inc. in Hopkinton, Mass., bases its approach on a bone-regenerating protein called OP-1. The company molds a porous scaffold out of calcium, seeds it with OP-1 and a few of the patient's own bone cells, and then reinserts the newly grown structure. Doctors reported in March that in a clinical trial of 122 patients with tibia fractures, the OP-1 graft performed as well as grafts using the patient's own bone.

The biggest market for tissue, though perhaps not the most dramatic, is the mouth. Some 10 million dental surgeries are performed each year in the U.S., on everything from teeth to periodontal ligaments, and most use artificial replacements. One of the first tissue-engineered alternatives is Atrisorb, made by Atrix Laboratories Inc. of Fort Collins, Colo. On the market since 1996, it is a bioabsorbable material loaded with growth factors and healing drugs that guides the regeneration of gum tissue.

But think of the implications if cavities could be filled with engineered tissue. Harold C. Slavkin, director of the National Institute of Dental Research at the NIH, says all the genes for making enamel have been cloned and sequenced, and lab-grown human enamel could be a reality in 5 to 10 years. Some 90 million new fillings are placed each year, and some 200 million are replaced. If those could be filled with original tissue, says Slavkin, ''we'd never have to do traditional fillings again.''


Of course, many of these lab-produced body parts may never make it out of clinical trials. And doctors admit that they are entering uncharted waters: Who knows what might happen to an engineered organ decades after it has been implanted? Lab-grown tissues are put through far more rigorous purification processes than donor organs to make sure that they don't carry diseases, but it still is impossible to be completely sure that a replacement organ won't cause as many problems as the original a few years, or decades, down the line.
Still, there has been no evidence that these engineered tissues could turn malignant, says Joseph Vacanti. Therefore, he asks, ''can we really afford to wait for a complete understanding of how the process works?'' To him, the answer must be no. Millions of lives are hanging in the balance."

I remember a quote from Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam: "Great dreams of great dreamers are always transcended. Dream, dream and dream. Dreams convert into thoughts and thoughts convert into actions. Dreams float on an impatient wind, A wind that wants to create a new order. An order of strength and thundering of fire".

....A beautiful mind and a beautiful life!!