My summer challenges and beyond

Hello! My name is Laima Anna Dalbiņa. I am a bachelor’s student in computer science at the University of Tartu. 

Students always talk about how they spent their summers. I’m going to do the same, but I promise that mine really was a special one this year. From all of the exciting chores and experiences, some of my summer activities included taking a barge trip with space scientists and taking over the social media of an entire institute. 

I spent my summer as an intern at Tartu Observatory. My tasks were mainly related to project management, event organisation, communication, and dissemination of information through social media. During the initial weeks, my task was to manage Tartu Observatory’s Instagram account.

I introduced the internship activities of students at the observatory. For example, there was a two-day foosball tournament which was organized by interns themselves. 

Also during this summer, many interns were able to join the ESTCube-2 team developing the second Estonian student satellite. As the launch is planned next year, the students are actively working on various subsystems: the on-board computer, tele-communication, electrical power, star tracker, cameras and solar panels. This grows the students’ interest in a space-related project and motivates them to become space engineers.

As a part of the ESTCube team, I got to take part in different activities. The staff of Tartu Observatory and summer interns could travel on the annual barge trip as well as have regular sauna evenings. Outside of volunteering hours, I could contribute to the ESTCube project, as programming is my specialization. I helped with the development of the graphical user interface and serial communication software for the Helmholtz coil driver. 

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New southern species to reach Estonia: the European mantis

The European mantis (Mantis religiosa). Image credit: ERR Novaator

Two six-year-old kids – Heisi and Madis – found the very first European mantis in Estonia in the yard of their kindergarden. “Madis is a big fan of nature books and films; he was the first one to identify the species,” said Madis’ teacher, Juta Müllerstein.

By now the University of Tartu Natural History Museum zoologists have confirmed that it is really the European mantis (Mantis religiosa) – a totally new species for Estonia.

The species’ Latin name comes from the distinctive posture of the first pair of legs that can be observed in animals in repose, which resembles praying.

While mantises are often associated with the tropics, the European mantis is not that exotic. It is a widely distributed insect, common to central and southern Europe. It was also introduced to Americas and Australia. Its discovery in Estonia was absolutely expected.

“While the European mantis has been around in Latvia and Lithuania for some time already, it was rather a question of time when we would find it in Estonia,” commented the University of Tartu Natural History Museum zoologist Villu Soon.

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“It’s one of these Baltic states, right?”

Where do you want to go?!
It’s one of these Baltic states, right?”

Here we go. These were the questions that most of my friends asked me when I told them about my upcoming Erasmus exchange in Estonia. What people usually tried afterwards was to match the capitals of Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia with the respective countries. Most of them failed (No, Riga is not the capital of Estonia).

Now, more than half a year later, I can say that spending one semester of my master’s in Estonia has been a fabulous, enriching experience.

In order to find out why, let’s start with you. What is it that you like most about being a student? Is it the Wednesday parties? Countless afternoons in the library? Discounts for everything? The dorm life? The feeling after finishing an exam? Or rather some inspiring lectures that stick to your mind longer than you would have ever thought? Regardless of what it is, you will most likely find it in Tartu, just as I did.

The author with the Chief of State Protocol, Mr. Lauri Bambus
Me with the Chief of State Protocol, Mr. Lauri Bambus – one of the inspiring personalities I met during the diplomacy class, led by the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ms. Marina Kaljurand. Photo from a personal archive

But how to choose your Erasmus destination?

For sure, that’s not an easy question, and there are certainly different factors for everyone to consider. Some are seeking the warmest temperatures in winter semesters, while others the cheapest beers. Some are looking for the most reputable universities and others for easy grades. However, I was looking for all of that and a truly exceptional experience, something special.

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It’s contest time: Share your Tartu moments

UPDATE, 1 October 2019: the contest is over. Many thanks to all the participants and congratulations to the winners!

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Do you enjoy writing, taking photos, or making videos? Maybe you love all the above? Take part in our contest! Even if your English isn’t perfect – don’t worry. Be creative! Feeling interested? Not yet? We have some cool prizes for you!

  1. Capture your Tartu moments – in writing, photos, video, or a mix of them.
  2. Upload your entry to a social media account of your choice as a public post, so we can see it.
  3. Share the link to your post with us: http://utstudentblog.tumblr.com/submit.
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How to be the greenest fellow in Tartu?

Being green in everyday life is no longer only a specialty for environmental enthusiasts, but also fashionable for you to try out. If you agree, you will find Tartu to be the best place to kick off this series of green-you-up campaigns!

Challenge 1: Build yourself a bike!

To mitigate the climate crisis, the second highest personal action is to live a car-free life (Wonder what the top one is? Have one less child, according to a study conducted by Lund University). Where to build this magical bike? TERT! It is the coolest community-based bike shop where you can build your own bike with the assistance of the amazing mechanics. They also welcome hands just to repair bikes! By the way, they rent bikes, too! You can buy one and return it when you no longer use it. There is another option online where they also sell second-hand bicycles. 

If it’s broken, fix it!

Challenge 2: Participate in one Fridays for Future Eesti climate strike!

It’s no mistake: Students in Tartu hold strikes for the climate! Tartu is one of the few cities in the Baltic States that first stood up for climate justice. You’re invited to bring your buddies and raise your voices for the climate! Come to Town Hall Square and get inspired. 

Tartu climate strike on 15 March 2019
The Tartu climate strike on 15 March 2019 gathered a lot of youth. Image credit: Asia Bartonowicz
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The thousands of lives you lived

There is a world of wonder inside us and its home is in almost every cell our body carries. ( Well, I say ‘almost’ because apart from your cells, there are more than 100 trillion microorganisms that live inside you?) It’s been over 60 years since the molecular structure of DNA was discovered, and the world still looks at the double helix with wonder.

Animation of a rotating DNA structure. Credit: brian0918 / Wikimedia Commons

This little molecule, present in millions in the body, with four letters (A,T,C,G aka nucleotides) repeated 3 billion times, can direct the constructions, operations, and terminations of almost everything your body is capable of doing. There actually is an amazing world inside our cells, and we, the geneticists, have set out to find all of its wonders. Alright, alright, I am not yet one. I am on my way to get my PhD; give me some time and it will be official!

Many of us geneticists study the functional information present in the genes: tiny fragments in the 3-billion nucleotide sequence which are read and translated into proteins, which do most of the work inside your cells. What I do, on the other hand, is a bit different.

Some mutations have a silver lining

Apart from genes, there are a lot of other sequences that do not code for proteins: they are called non-coding sequences, or also “junk” DNA, and that’s what I study. To be fair, nobody calls non-coding DNA “junk” nowadays, as scientists realized long ago the huge potential of studying these segments. So, what could I ever find in “junk” non-coding DNA?

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How I developed magical eyeglasses for my father

As a person whose father uses two pairs of glasses (one pair for reading and writing, and the other for watching TV) and one optical lens to perform his daily activities, I had a dream to create one magical eyeglass to replace all his other glasses.

Combining the knowledge I gained through my studies in Innovation and Technology Management at the University of Tartu with my computer science background, I started to approach the idea as an aim rather than a dream. Together with Murad, who was my course mate from undergraduate studies in Azerbaijan and is now also mastering software engineering at UT, we started to think of ways to turn this idea into reality.

Murad Mammadov and Elchin Aghazada in front of Estonian National Museum. Image credit: UT IdeaLab

With this in mind, our paths crossed with UT IdeaLab and its STARTER programme, which provided great support to us in the sense of helping to shape our idea into a tested business model. At the end, hard work, sleepless nights, and being dedicated to our aim resulted in the development of the minimum viable product of our magical eyeglasses, ZoomX.

ZoomX is an all-in-one eyeglass that resolves all your hassles. Controlled via mobile app, it allows a person to continuously adjust focus on the objects with respect to his/her vision. In other words, instead of buying three glasses, you can buy only one pair of ZoomX, and all you need to do is wear it, enter the app, and adjust focus. Moreover, as your vision gets better or worse in time, you don’t need to renew your glasses, but instead just change the focus of ZoomX.

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