Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Final Report: ThinkSwiss Research Visit, University of St. Gallen

I submitted my formal "final report' to the ThinkSwiss Program after returning from Switzerland in December (I completed my research visit in October and November). This blog contains a collection of interesting, and diverse research reports. I hope that this one contributes to the general stock of knowledge about the program and provides another example of how a research visit might be constructed and executed. This entry provides an informal perspective on the experience, written primarily for those who plan to apply for a research grant, or have applied and are curious about the experiences of others.

The ThinkSwiss program is extremely well-run, end to end. The administration and logistics related to the application process were smoothly handled, the research grant was generous, and my contacts at swissnex Boston and the Swiss Embassy Washington were great to work with. The application and reporting processes were far from onerous - the output of both processes were a precisely-defined plan for my stay and a set of documents that I could pass on to my advisors at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Lally School of Management and Technology) and the National Science Foundation (IGERT Fellowship Program). I also appreciated the fact that ThinkSwiss sent a program officer to visit the University of St. Gallen (my sponsoring institution) to interview those that worked with me about my research stay. In sum, I would say that the way the program is run had a significant and positive impact on my research.

In October and November I based myself at the Institute for the Economy and Environment at the University of St. Gallen. They were great hosts - I was integrated into the activities of the Institute as soon as I arrived, and they had already arranged an office, desk, computing, and research support. Since the Institute is also home base for Oikos International, the office was a hub of activity every day. Dr. Rolf Wüstenhagen arranged a series of student-led presentations during my visit; near the end of my stay, we presented some of the results from our joint work to the other scholars there, and received great feedback. The research presentations were an important part of my visit, as my engagement with and feedback on the work of others was an opportunity for me to make a positive contribution to what was happening at the Institute. My day-to-day life at the Institute - reading, writing, thinking, and talking - left a strong impression on me.

Everyone I met at the Institute—and I do mean everyone—was focused, productive, organized, and genial: from top to bottom, from the experience getting a network password to arranging lodging, the group did their utmost to ensure that I was capable of being focused and productive from the start of my visit to the end. I can’t say enough about the capability and the hospitality of the entire group.

St. Gallen itself had everything I needed to settle into a routine. It's a walking city - I woke up, groggy, staggered down the hill to get espresso, started my day by engaging in the thuggish, brainless research tasks, occasionally accelerating into actual thinking, and usually writing. In the early afternoon Rolf and I would go for a trail run on one of the endless paths ringing St. Gallen, and then I would return and work until I snapped. After that, dinner, sleep, and repeat. Occasionally, I would break the routine of research and visit other institutions: for example, EAWAG in Dübendorf (Bernhard Truffer) and ETH-SusTec in Zurich (Timo Busch, Volker Hoffmann). Visiting other schools and meeting with visitors to St. Gallen kept things interesting at the time, and in retrospect those conversations created numerous insights and opportunities. One of the nice things about a research visit in Switzerland is that you are two hours by train away from any other university.

My research objectives during my stay were relatively straightforward (especially since the application process clarified for myself and the University of St. Gallen exactly what results they could expect). I was able to extend my existing research collaboration on innovation and the capital markets with Dr. Rolf Wüstenhagen. The two of us produced a proposal for the Swiss National Science foundation for research on the behavioral aspects of venture capital investment, using renewable energy technology as a context (does venture capital decision-making differ in the renewables space? how do venture capital investors choose new industry segments?). We also launched a new book project on energy entrepreneurship with the support of Edward Elgar Publishing. And we began work on two new papers, and presented a third (on venture capital involvement in the funding and commercialization of fuel cells) at two conferences.

I had some other, ancillary objectives to accomplish during this trip as well. First and foremost was to introduce my born-in-California, raised-in-California, never-left-California fiancé to life outside The Bubble. For an itinerant scholar, all roads do not end at the Pacific Coast Highway - one takes the jobs on offer. So for the two of us the trip was an experiment to see whether or not Switzerland fell into the No Way This Place Is Too Cold bucket. As it turns out (and much to my surprise) Switzerland (and especially St. Gallen) were a go. She liked the hills and cobblestone streets, remarking that the town felt remarkably like California to her (this is high praise). What sealed the deal: durum kabobs. Did you know that there is a Swiss version of Yelp that lists, and rates, every single kabab shop in town? Neither did I. We visited all of them. The local beer got another big-up. Smoking in the bars, not so much - but that's getting legislated out of existence as we speak. The farmer's markets were completely acceptable, as was the plethora of dark, seedy, intestine-ripping bread available from every local bakery. Other differences crucial to shaping her overall impression of Switzerland were the traditional ice cream break in the middle of feature length movies (initially confusing but good) and the rigorously enforced 10 AM and 2 PM break for espresso at the Institute (also good).

An unexpected outcome of my visit was an additional piece of joint research on solar energy investment and public policy regimes, which I am working on with another PhD student at the Institute. It was enjoyable to contribute to the development of the prestigious and important Oikos PhD Seminar for 2009, providing advice and introductions to Dr. Jost Hamschmidt.

Challenges relating to the stay are probably unsurprising, and one of which—the brevity of the visit—was of my own devising. Although I wish that I could have spent more time at the Institute—optimally, another two months—at this stage of my PhD dissertation a stay of that length would have been unworkable. It was a pleasure, however, to be outside of the United States during the weeks immediately preceding our elections, as this afforded a particularly interesting perspective from which to view the general goings-on inside and outside the United States.

The cost of living was, of course, a challenge; however the financial support provided by the ThinkSwiss grant made the visit possible, and in this sense I am grateful for the opportunity. Through the help of the Institute I secured a house stay with a host family, which helped immensely. I published my final budget to the Institute in December. Two things that I noted at the time were that additional ad hoc travel for meetings (to Zurich, Bern, Geneva, and Basel) turned out to be crucial, and quite expensive; and that staying with a host family changed my cost structure dramatically for the better. ThinkSwiss might consider trying to formalize a host-stay program somehow.

My final thought on the program relates to the oft-raised issue of expenses and activities, and for those considering a research stay perhaps the following might be something to consider. Conducting a research stay - traveling somewhere, staying there, and working - is roughly a fixed cost, minus the travel. Transport (walking) and eating (regional staple foods) are roughly the same everywhere in the world. I enjoyed a three week period in Switzerland where the Swiss Franc was pounding the dollar, and coffee got expensive, and then declined again. No big deal. What is a big deal is when you confuse or mix vacation related expenses (train tickets, eating out, general hi-jinks) with what it takes to conduct research (survive). If you try to take a "research vacation" in Switzerland, your research will be the worse for it and your vacation will suffer because you will fret about what you aren't getting done. My unsolicited advice: shelve the tourism for another time. There's a lot to learn and experience simply embedding yourself in your town, and simply living.

Thanks again to the ThinkSwiss organization, the Swiss Embassy in Washington, and the National Science Foundation IGERT Program for the wonderful opportunity.

Happy New Year (almost...)!!!

I wanted to submit my final thoughts to the blog after I got back to the US, but I thought this might be a good way to end 2008. I am sure once I get back to Austin and feel the cultural differences that I have stopped noticing, my perspective would be a little more useful. Anyway, below are my responses to the ThinkSwiss program questions!

I did not really know what to expect from my time here, but I think this program is a really brilliant idea. I see everything that others have written about their experience, and it seems like a lot of people are strongly considering coming back. As for me, I feel more likely to return here than to remain in the US because the Spatial Development and Infrastructure Systems MS program at ETH is exactly what I would like to do. While Zurich is one of the smaller major cities with about 400,000 inhabitants, it has every luxury and amenity a person could want within a manageable area. I will definitely return, especially if for a PhD, since I like the system better. I would like to return for my MS, but we will see how the application process plays out...

It’s difficult for me to name 3 “things” that were great about the stay. I really enjoyed my co-workers, the mountains, Zurich, and in general everything I got to experience. One thing I have been spoiled and especially impressed by, though, is the efficiency of everything in Switzerland. I only experienced a few delays in the public transport during my nearly four months here, and I never waited in line for an unnecessarily long time. It was possible to get information for just about everything online and even in English when I needed it. We were even able to order a 6 kilogram turkey online from a local farmer for Thanksgiving dinner and have it delivered the next day. It was the freshest turkey I have ever consumed. My favourite feature of this efficiency, though, is the integration of the post office and the banking system. The Swiss (and many other European countries) brilliantly combined two of my most frequent and annoying errands in one location.

There are not even three negative points I can think of, either. One thing that irritated me was people’s curiosity about the election and American politics. Obviously it was an exciting time, but some people were really rude when they wanted to talk to me about it. In general I am told the Swiss are as discreet about their personal lives as they are about their banking, so I am sure it was just a rare exception. Still, the exceptions were extremely pushy and insulting.

veryone at IVT, the institute I worked in, was really friendly and helpful. No one personally took me aside and explained anything as you would with someone in a laboratory, but I always felt comfortable asking for help from anyone. As far as comparing US and Swiss PhD programs, Swiss PhD programs take longer and are well paid. It’s more relaxed and people (seem to) have lives outside of their research while they are working toward their PhD. I always had the feeling in the US that getting a PhD was a very stressful and hectic time- where you sleep only a few hours a night but earn your MS and PhD after 4 years. Here the process takes on average 6 years, and it feels like everyone has more time to think about what they are doing. Also, PhD students in the US are typically much younger because they start PhD programs immediately after finishing their MS (and BS and high school diploma before those) so their perspective is different from that here, it seems.

And for budgeting purposes, I tracked my expenses during my 4 months here. I spent about 1400 CHF a month, but that is including airfare for some travel I did while in Switzerland, which is unnecessary and, to be honest, a little stressful. Looking back I would have preferred if I had just tried to visit my friends in Munich and Barcelona but spent all my weekends in the Alps or just hanging out in Zürich. I probably could have gotten by on about 1100 CHF each month.

While in the end I did not feel as though I had contributed anything significant with my research, I am so glad I had the opportunity to work in this environment. My goal was to predict the price and energy consumption of new vehicles purchased by Swiss households based on their environmental attitudes and demographic characteristics. Collecting such psychological data at all is still a relatively new concept, so perhaps there was not enough data to produce conclusive results. Maybe its because it is so difficult to measure at all; the vehicle market is so diverse that there are hundreds of options/luxuries/qualities to quantify. My models were at least consistent with past results in suggesting that price and vehicle size are the most important attributes of new vehicle purchases (so environmental attitudes, not so much). In any case, now that I know what kind of problems to look for in the data and my models, I feel any future research work will be much more productive.

Finally, I'd like to thank everyone involved with ThinkSwiss for this rare opportunity- I think its definitely a program that should be continued, if for no other reason than to advertise and incentivize overseas research. Also thanks to Prof. Kay Axhausen and his entire research group for all the fun and information they shared. It was a really great experience, and I can't wait to come back to Zürich!

With my favorite breed- the Bernese Mountain Dog, or Berner Sennenhund!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Final Report

Final ThinkSwiss Report
December 2008

Part 1:
Overall impression – Did your stay meet your expectations?
In case it’s not obvious from my previous posts online, yes, my stay did indeed meet my expectations! On the plane ride over I made a list of goals and objectives for my stay in Switzerland, and as I look back at them now, I see that just about all of them were accomplished. Being here 3 months has given me the opportunity to step back from things in the United States and reflect on my academic career, research, and personal interests. The time in Switzerland has really helped me to re-focus my goals, but has introduced me to new ways in which I might go about achieving these goals. For example, before coming to Switzerland I was debating whether or not I should apply to PhD programs, and if yes, in which field exactly and where, and if not, in which area should I be looking to begin my career. My Masters in environmental policy left me with the feeling that I have a broad range of knowledge on several aspects to environmental policy, but that I am not truly an expert in any one of these fields. Therefore, getting a PhD in a science field, such as going back to my roots with atmospheric chemistry (bachelors degree) or engineering, or even business, was looking to be an attractive option. After working on research here the past 3 months on hydrogen production pathways and seeing some of the other research that goes on at the ETH under the Energy Science Center, I am closer to pinpointing down the area in which I would like to do my PhD. I was worried that going back to the sciences would mean shutting out the policy side, but at the ETH at least, this is not the case. Not only does the research here involve policy and sometimes working directly with the Swiss government, but also direct contact and support from companies working to build certain energy technologies, or collaboration with firms working on similar projects. Suffice to say, I think I will be coming back to Switzerland in the near future…

Three positive points?
Switzerland is an absolutely stunning and beautiful country, with something for everyone! I have always loved mountains and hiking, but there’s something about the Swiss Alps that really does make me happy and bring a smile to my face, as cheesy as that may sound. The ease with which you can travel to places is incredible- there is no need for a car here (and hence a smaller carbon footprint)! Hiking trails are easy to follow, although perhaps not the easiest to climb, and the views from the top of the mountains are just breathtaking!
I also found Swiss “life” to be in general pretty relaxed and enjoyable compared to the pace of life on the east coast of the US. If Washington, DC is a workaholic’s paradise, then Zürich is…well, not the opposite, since a lot of work and great research is done here…perhaps it is where the workaholic is reminded of the importance of work-life balance. People do make time to take a lunch break with colleagues, take a coffee break, go to the opera and ballet at night, take time to be with family on the weekends, and also enjoy the beautiful nature that surrounds them. Maybe the culture and work-life balance enables people to be that much more invigorated and enthusiastic at work, hence making them more productive. And with this balance comes a general cheerfulness/friendliness/niceness/great attitude towards most foreigners that I haven’t experienced in other countries. It’s no wonder then that Zürich is ranked as one of the cities with the highest quality of life! I’m sure this doesn’t apply to the entire population here, but for a majority of the people I met, I found this to be the case.
Another positive point, which I touched upon in my overall impression, is that the research here is connected to companies such as Alstom or ABB that have practical, direct application for the research or the technology. I had the impression that research, at the ETH at least, is not as abstract and theoretical as it can be in the US. I never once thought to myself, who is going to ever use this research? Or, why am I doing this? I think the turnover rate from research to application is much faster here than in the US.

Three negative points / challenges?
I think all students will agree with me that Switzerland, and Zürich in particular, is fairly expensive!! As a poor graduate student coming to Zürich I was really strict with my budget and had to watch more closely where my money was going- which actually mostly went to groceries, rent, and train tickets to see places. Luckily though, hiking was free and the chocolate was also pretty cheap!
Another negative point would be that it was hard to meet other exchange students- be they from other European countries or from the US. I would suggest that Fulbright and ThinkSwiss work together and find some way to introduce one the students to each other (such as a facebook group or at least send the emails and contact info of students to each other). This would be especially helpful since I don’t think Switzerland participates in any ERASMUS type program, which generally makes it easier for finding travelling buddies and others to practice speaking German with.
A final negative point is definitely the bureaucracy here. Ughh. You have to register with the town, de-register, give proof of your health insurance, show your permit to work and research, etc etc. These are not difficult things to do by any means, and the process is generally very fast…but perhaps it is because the offices where you have to do these things are only open at strange hours, and not necessarily convenient ones, that it makes the bureaucracy such a hassle.

How well were you coached and integrated in the research team?
My first day I was given keys to the office, my computer was set up with an email and password, and I was briefed on who did what and whom I could ask for help, etc. A very efficient first day!! As an outsider coming in for such a short time (my initial contract with the ETH was for only 2 months, which has since been extended twice), I think those helping me did everything they could to prep my stay so I could begin research, and I thank them for that! As for integration, I think because I was not starting a PhD program or a lengthy stay, and because my research was different than 95% of the group (they work on engines, I work on hydrogen), the Professors didn’t feel the need for me to attend group meetings or classes in which my fellow co-workers were also teaching assistants. Therefore, it was a little difficult to feel integrated at first, but things have changed since then.

Comparison (advantages and disadvantages) between your Swiss and your U.S. research lab, research mentality and team.
As mentioned above, I really like the connection the ETH provides between science, policy, and technology. The universities I attended in the US did not have this linkage. I think the research mentality is the same- generally if you are doing research on a project you are fairly passionate and interested in the topic and don’t mind explaining your project to others, which I found to be the case here in Switzerland as well. The drive to publish good results and perform great research is universal in the sciences regardless of place of work, I think. As for the team aspect comparison, I’m not sure I can comment on this fairly. My research here was performed with the help of 1-2 other people, since my area of research did not have anything to do with the main area of research for the rest of the group; hence there wasn’t much of a team to work with. However, the research required the expertise of the people whom I did work with here, and not really such a big team anyways.

Do you consider going back to Switzerland for studying, a Ph. D. program, work or on vacation?
Yes, I plan to come back to Switzerland for either a PhD program or work, and certainly for vacation!! The weather started to turn cold and foggy by mid-October, so I didn’t get to see nearly half the mountains and cities I wanted to see…I think spring and summer are the ideal times to come back! :)

Finally, I would like to thank everyone at the Swiss Embassy, Swissnex, ThinkSwiss, and the ETH for making this experience so unique and wonderful!!!!


Rigi and Weihnachtsmarkt

Hello everyone!

It has been snowing all day in Zürich, and is expected to stay this way until Friday! Since it is snowing so heavily in the lowlands, I can only imagine what it is like at the top of the mountains- probably blizzard conditions! Here are a few updates as to what I have done the past few weeks:

Realizing I only had a few weeks left in Switzerland, and that 2 of the weekends would be consumed with rowing activities, I knew I had to get to the mountains one final time. After much online research to find the “perfect” mountain and hiking trail with a great view, to my disappointment I learned that most of the hiking trails and mountains were closed due to preparation for the skiing season, or they were already snow covered, and hence hiking without the proper shoes and dry gear would slowly turn into a very cold and miserable experience. However, things turned for the better as my Swiss rowing friends recommended that we go to Rigi, the Queen of the Mountains. Needless to say, I was more than excited!

The day started out foggy and cold, but at the peak of Rigi, the sun was shining and the view was, of course, INCREDIBLE! I just love the mountains here! It was also quite warm at the top. Located in between the Zuger See and the Vierwaldstädter See, Rigi gives a beautiful panoramic view of the entire Alp range (well as far as you can see). I could see Säntis, Titlis, Pilatus, the area around Interlaken, and many more peaks. We took the Berg-bahn up to the top of the peak and enjoyed a walk around the top taking a zillion pictures and then a nice meal at the hotel at the top (yes there is quite a fancy hotel at the top of this mountain!) I also saw the valley where Swiss legend Wilhelm Tell supposedly shot an apple sitting atop his son’s head (Friedrich Schiller story)…. It was a great day in all.

One weekend Alison (Fulbright friend) and I went to Rapperswil and explored the castle there. We weren’t quite sure why there was a Polish National History Museum inside the SWISS castle, but it was interesting for sure. We also walked across the entire Zürisee (ok at that point it is probably only 2 miles across) to Pfäffikon, as our guide books said walking across the bridge would be a “unique experience”. It sure was an experience, as we froze, first of all, but also saw some unique Swiss birds and views of Einsiedeln and the mountains.

Last weekend was a rowing adventure from Eglisau to Ellikon and back, which is an annual tradition that anyone from the Seeclub Zürich is welcome to participate in. After rowing in a single for the fall, it was sure nice to be in a boat with 3 other people and have teammates. The sun was shining and everyone was in good spirits, as is usually the case here, which made for a really nice day. The only thing that was not enjoyable was docking and launching in Ellikon- you had to step into the freeeeeeezing cold Rhein river! Guess the Swiss are just made tougher than me. ;)

Finally, I have been spending quite a bit of time at the Weihnachtsmarkt at the main train station. It is just it’s just something that we don’t have back at home. In the center there is a live tree absolutely covered in Swarovski crystal, which looks stunning and surpasses the Rockefeller tree in NYC by far, in my opinion. Surrounding the tree are little stands selling things you really don’t need, but end up buying anyways, like hats and scarves and incense and spices, and of course, Glühwein- the Christmasy spiced red wine. Friends huddled together drinking Glühwein with the soft glow of the Christmas lights everywhere is enough to put anyone in the Christmas spirit. :)

This will be my last post to the ThinkSwiss blog, as I head back home very soon. I would really like to thank the Swiss Embassy, Swissnex, the ETH, and all those who have made my experience here so wonderful and amazing!!! To all those future ThinkSwiss scholars, feel free to join the facebook group “ThinkSwiss” and send me any questions you might have about living in Zürich, travelling in Switzerland, or doing research at the ETH.

Adi und merci tausendmal!!

Katherine (no longer :( ) in Zürich

Friday, December 5, 2008

In Conclusion

I was planning on posting twice, once about the work and once to post the first part of my final report for ThinkSwiss. I got wrapped up in writing my final report for work, though, and haven’t really had the time. I think that I can combine the two here without compromising too much.

Wrapping Up

I “officially” finished last Friday. As time wound down, I was getting a better idea of why the Ph.D. students stay there for three or four years. You can only get so much done in three months, but as my report grew longer and longer, I was surprised to see just how much work I actually did. As I said in the beginning, I had two main projects: one focused on analyzing a potential experimental feedstock, the other on developing a catalyst screening method. I left them at very different levels of progress.

The analytical project went rather smoothly, but don’t mention confocal Raman to me any time soon. . . . The project was good practice for someone that claims to be part chemist but had little practical experience with analytical methods. I stress practical here, because working with real materials is rather different from the majority of our labs at school. Not only did I get some lab experience, but I also had to put all of my data together and draw coherent, sensible conclusions. This synthesis was by far the hardest part, but it was quite rewarding in the end.

The other project is nowhere near finished. Thankfully, there was a breakthrough in the last two weeks that answered one major question, so I got to leave with some closure. There is still plenty of work to be done and many more questions to answer; I’m going to try to stay in touch and see where it leads after I’m gone. Research like this moves in spurts. For this reason, project timelines are on the order of years, and it can be hard to make progress when you have people rotating in and out every few months. I have a singular appreciation for this fact now, and I am grateful that they let me work on such a project.

Final Thoughts

I enjoyed the collaborative nature of my work, and the work that I saw others doing. The projects at PSI all feel like group efforts with contributions from students, advisors, and technicians. I had access to any equipment that I wanted and help operating it. I learned how to apply several techniques that I learned in labs at school and that I thought would never use again. I learned some new methods of analysis as well. I worked with minimal oversight, but with as much advice as I needed, which suits my work style perfectly. Best of all, I was exposed to graduate-style research, and this has allowed me to make better-informed decisions on my future education. I have to say something about Swiss culture as well, or this report would be woefully incomplete. If the stores were open later, I would never leave. I enjoyed the food, the outdoors, and the arts that I experienced, and the Swiss seem to relish these just as much. You should be able to tell how much I enjoy travelling, hiking, and museums from my blog posts. If not, let me say that these are, ahem . . . . a few of my favorite things. Switzerland is a wonderful place to be because they combine so much of this into such a small space.

While I enjoyed my stay, not everything was peachy. My chief frustration was the location of the Institut. I lived in the on-campus guesthouse, which made my commutes convenient but traveling on the weekends was slightly more difficult, and going out after work was nearly impossible. If I were to do this again, I would have moved into a city apartment. The only other big issue I had was with the weather. I don’t like cold and the cold, rainy season started as soon as I got here. This started to get on my nerves after about two weeks. I hear the spring and summer are nice, so I'll have to come back. The last issue was financial. I was working with only the scholarship for financial support, which is not enough for both living and travel expenses. I knew about this well in advance though, so I came prepared, but it was still a bit of a bother.

I can’t really compare this fall to my previous work because this was the first real research I’ve done. I learned a lot about the academic environment (and some of the incumbent politics), and my field in general. I seriously considered applying to ETH for my graduate studies. In the end, I decided not to, but I will keep it in mind if I want to do post-doctoral work. I would enjoy working here after school, too. Several companies in Switzerland employ engineers in my field, and I have plenty of incentive to move to Europe (six weeks of holidays?!). If it turns out that I don’t come back for work or study, I will be coming back for vacation as soon as I have the means. I still have to go skiing, and there are plenty of other things to do, outdoors and in.

I would like to finish by thanking everyone that contributed: my advisor and colleagues at PSI, the staff at the Swiss embassy (especially Andrea and Muriel), and all of the people that provided support from home. This was a great opportunity and a wonderful experience. Vielen Dank!

Goodbye, auf Wiedersehen, adieu, and ciao.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Weekend Warrior

I just went back through my pictures from the last couple of months. I think I'm getting dangerously close to taking the beautiful scenery for granted, which will make going back to the plains all the more painful. It was fun to look back, but it makes me want to stay even more (also dangerous).

I've made a point of traveling or doing something every weekend since I don't get out much otherwise. I said yesterday that this would be a travel post, so I'll share some stories and a few pictures.

Wine Culture
I'll start with my favorite(s). I've been meaning to go to a wine tasting at home for some time, i.e., since I turned 21. The problem is that these are usually smallish affairs with mostly local vintners. I don't know if the Europeans know just how good they have it, but I am well aware that we don't have anything approaching the selection they have, and in the grocery store no less. When I heard that Coop was holding an event in Zurich, I decided that I had to go. Last weekend, there was another, larger event (called Expovina--much, much larger) on boats on Zurichsee. The two events had very different atmospheres, but my impression after both was "Wow. That was awesome." Highbrow, I know.

I really don't know where to begin. The selection for both events was far larger than I could really grok, but I had fun trying to find the highlights. (4000 vintages is . . . mind-boggling). Most of the vendors spoke English and I enjoy learning about wine, so it was fun and educational. I had different company for both trips, so I got to sample others' preferences too. I'm partial to Spanish wine, myself, but I tried some excellent reds from Bordeaux and was impressed by the variety and quality of the offerings from Valais. I kept notes, and I plan on doing some internet shopping when I get home.

A wine tasting is definitely a multi-sensory activity, and I enjoyed people-watching almost as much as the wine. There are no pictures.

Jungfrau and Ballenberg
A while back, I spent a whole weekend exploring the area around Interlaken. In hindsight, I should have stayed there for a night, but on the bright side, I've been there by every available route! I had heard so much about Jungfrau and the train and the ice palace that I felt obliged to see it. If only I had realized how many other people have heard the same thing, and made the same decision, on the same day. . . Well, it was impressive. The ride takes ~2.5 hours from Interlaken, a large part of which takes place on a cogwheel train inside the mountain. That tunnel has been there since the turn of the 20th century. It ends at the highest rail station in Europe. In fact, just about everything at the joch is the "highest ---", including the highest confectioner, whose chocolate I obviously tried. It was brisk outside, but you will be hard-pressed to find a better view with so little effort. I hiked a little on the glacier, took in the ice palace, and had a leisurely lunch with a view of the longest ice river in the Alps. If you don't mind tourists, it's a great place to be. I would like to go back and try hiking part of the way. Some day.

The next day, I met Charlotte and a friend of hers to see the Swiss Open-Air Museum in Ballenberg. We went primarily to see some of the Bernese mountain dogs, whose owners were having a pow-wow or rally or what have you. The museum was more interesting than I expected, having based my expectations on similar museums I visited in elementary school. I felt a little guilty taking pictures there because they felt . . . posed. But they sure are pretty.

After the museum, we had time to run down to Meiringen to see the Aareschlucht. It was almost an afterthought, but I am so glad we made it. I've been to the tops of several mountains here, but the Aare gorge is the most dramatic thing I've seen. It's hard to visualize from a written description, and the light was bad so we had a heck of a time taking pictures. So, here's the website, and I recommend checking it out on Google Earth. I wish I could give you more, but all I have are these pictures.

Basel Again
I spent one Saturday in Basel, again at an art museum. Basel's Kunstmuseum is in a lovely old mansion near the river. The collection is quite large--I took three hours to see everything--and spans several hundred years of art history. Afterwards, I met a fried for dinner at the Uelibier brewery. If anyone has an afternoon to kill in Basel, I highly recommend one or both of these. (if you like process engineering, you can see part of the brewery from the restaurant)

Pilatus and Luzern

Finally, last weekend I finally got to the top of Pilatus. If you're adventurous, you can hike, but I/we opted for a trip on the steepest cogwheel railway in the world (nearly 45 degrees in some places!). It was a little cloudy, so we couldn't see the Alps, but we had a great view of the Luzern valley. One of the PhD students I work with was acting as tour guide that day. He told us about the Swiss military installation inside part of the mountain, and you can see the camouflaged ports for anti-aircraft cannons. We ate lunch on the Tomlishorn with the eager company of mountain choughs, intelligent and fearless black birds. We started feeding them bread, but soon they were eating cheese and trail mix, and one made off with the last of our salami. They must be used to hikers because they can catch morsels you toss to them. The other person in our party had one hopping from her shoulder to her wrist to get at bread she was holding.We shook them off and hiked back to the train. We headed back down and into Luzern.

Luzern is an easy city to see on foot. The main attractions in the old city are pretty close together and the walk from sight to sight is pleasant, with plenty of old buildings to look at. We passed an Indian music video filming on our way to the Lion Memorial. From there we went to the glacier museum (expensive ticket--note to self: carry student ID more often), where we spent the rest of the afternoon. Everyone had somewhere to be that evening, so we headed back when the museum closed. All in all, it was another lovely day in Switzerland.

This is probably enough material for several posts, but I needed to get this out of the way. I have plans for my last few weekends that should merit an additional post or two. We'll see.

Until then,

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Strictly Business

Jeepers, I didn't realize how long it had been since I last posted. Now that I think about it, time has really flown here. I have three weeks left now, and only two of those will be work. That means I have to start writing my report (joy!). It also means that I'm running out of time and need "get a move on," as we say back home. I guess I'll start and end with work this time.

New Data = Fun
I remember mentioning earlier that I enjoy the thrill of discovery and the puzzle-like side of experimental analysis. Well, I got to test my optimism last week. You see, over the last two-and-a-half months I have performed a series of time-consuming and somewhat expensive experiments with the calorimeter. For the most part, we assumed a fairly basic and well-known mechanism for what was happening within. (We have to assume because we do not yet have a way to verify this directly.) I slightly varied a few different parameters and things were going pretty much according to plan. Since the main purpose of these experiments is to develop a way to test new catalysts, I had to start with new materials eventually. I'll leave out most of the technical details, but suffice it to say the latest experiment was basically just to verify what we already "knew." Hah.

When I showed my mentor the new results, I believe the reaction was, "Oh no." It turns out we don't really know what's going on in there. This happened last week, and suddenly I was all too aware of my time constraints. We had already switched (at my suggestion) to longer experiments--we get better resolution, but each one now takes twelve hours. If I'm feeling really dedicated, or especially curious, I can finish two experiments in a day. (My time spent actually preparing each one is about half an hour--I get to leave it alone after that). So, at this rate, I can do at most 14 more experiments before I leave, since they all have to be repeated at least once. I really wish I had more time here since this has potential to be a simple, useful method that would be used to save time, money, and effort in the future.

Back to the optimism bit. As I see it, this could have gone one of two ways: depression or euphoria. OK, I wasn't exactly happy about this new development, but I felt like I had made the jump from a 100-piece cartoon puzzle to a 5000-piece based on a Pollock. There's so much more to look at now, so many things that need answers, so little time . . . . These last two weeks will be busy. I'm planning two overlapping courses of experiments that will hopefully end in similar and comprehensible results. If they don't, I feel sorry for--and a little jealous of--the person that picks up where I left off.

My other project, the analytical chemistry side, looks like it will be wrapped up this week or next. I had a bit of a breakthrough last week. It was a bit of an epiphany moment--I was reading some related literature and suddenly everything came together. Pieces falling into place, if you'll let me continue my earlier metaphor. There's more work to do in order to check and quantify everything, but it looks promising. I'm hoping there are no more "oh no" moments.

I have several travel stories to tell, but this post is long enough, and I need to go to bed so I'm rested for soccer tomorrow. So pictures and more later.

Until then,

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Armada Cup, Hoellgrotten, Liechtenstein, Rheinfalls

Time is flying by here- I just realized it's been about a month since my last post...there's too much going on all the time! Although Joseph might have seen snow in the mountains, as he mentioned in his previous post, last week we saw snow in Zurich! It was only October 29th, but yes, it did indeed snow- ok, maybe only for 2 hours, and it didn't stick, but still- it was enough to get everyone excited and starting to talk about ski season. Although I don't really know how to ski or snowboard, I think I might just have to try it before I go home. At the very least, then I can say, "Yes, I have been skiing on the world-famous Swiss Alps."

So, there are so many adventures to talk about, I'm not sure where to begin! I'll try to back-track for you...
Last weekend I had a rowing race on Saturday called Armada Cup. The race is not a typical rowing race, where the standard distance is either 6000 meters or 2000 meters, and boats are either raced side by side or one after another. No, this race was 9000 meters and over 300 boats all started at the same time!! The start was absolute Chaos- you'd think the rowers were trying to escape a giant sea monster at the other end of the lake! But the race was super fun and an experience. Only in Switzerland could there be a race like this... Some of the worlds best rowers came to this regatta though, which was really great to see. On Sunday I decided I hadn't gotten enough physical activity the day before, so I went for a walk/hike along the "Planetenweg", which runs from Uetliberg to the south along the mountain on the west side of the Zürisee. It was beautiful fall weather and the foliage was breathtaking! That's one of the best things about Zurich- if you want city life, you've got it, but if you want nature and mountains, it's just a tram ride away. :)

Two weeks ago I went to Höllgrotten, which is a cave close by to Zug, and toured around Zug for a bit. I think Switzerland has something for everyone- I mean, if you don't like mountains, there are lakes, if you don't like lakes, they have caves! Saw some interesting stalactites and stalagmites in the shapes of turtles and beehives... the walk/hike surrounding the cave was also very beautiful.

The weekend before that I went to Liechtenstein, the smallest German speaking country! I have interned at the Embassy for the Principality of Liechtenstein in Washington, DC before, so I was more than excited to finally get to see the country. Charlotte came along too, along with a new friend of ours, Alison, who is in Zurich on a Fulbright grant. We thought we would do a nice little hike to take advantage of the great weather...well, this little hike turned into a death march by the end! We hiked for over 7 hours!! We took a bus up to Gaflei, which was great, since it appeared the bus took us 3/4 of the way up the mountain...but we were fooled. There was still much more to climb and hike. We didn't mind though, since the views were absolutely stunning and incredible! We made it to the Fürstensteig, then over to the 3 Schwestern, then continued around the 3 Schwestern to Planken, (crossing into Austria while we were descending), and finally back down to Vaduz. The hike took so long that we didn't have time to see much else, and we were too tired anyways. But at the top, ohhh it's all worth it!! Mountains as far as the eye can see!! It was so stunning that it almost seemed fake. The next day we were all pretty sore, but I would hike those mountains again any day!

I've also been to the largest waterfall in Europe, the Rheinfalls, located close to Schaffhausen. Switzerland has many positive points, but I will say that the Rheinfalls just couldn't compare with our own Niagara Falls. Future trips are planned to Germany, possibly Italy...and another mountain...and skiing...and another rowing race...

And now, yes, the real reason I'm here: the research! I've collected enough data now to be able to look and make some connections about which additional data I might need, or which other process was missing. For example, after meeting with the professor and a PhD student, I realized I needed to go more into detail in the production process using biomass to produce hydrogen, as well as the partial oxidation process and the autothermal process. This all just takes some time understanding the actual process and how the efficiencies of these processes are actually calculated. But, I am making progress, slow but steady, and I'm confident that at the end of my time here I will have contributed to the overall project in a positive way. (And perhaps have published something...)

Everyone here is extremely interested in the US election- more so than some Americans, I think! It seems to be one of the biggest topics of conversation- many people have asked me my opinion as soon as they learn I'm an American. The main train station even broadcasted the election results at 4am or so...

machs gut,

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Swiss Lacrosse

Yesterday I attended my first major lacrosse event in Switzerland, an indoor tournament in Bern, though I have attended a few practices with the Zurich lacrosse team since I arrived 2 months ago. At first we practiced at a nice school facility on Friday evenings. When the weather started to get a little too cold, practice was moved to Saturday afternoons at a field near the airport- about an hour away. Since we only play once a week, I don't really mind the travel, but this fact can seriously inhibit the development of the sport in Switzerland. I have come to expect to give up a whole afternoon for only 1 or 2 hours of play time with others. The women's game is played with 2 teams of 12 players (11 field, 1 goalie). The Zurich women's team consists of 5 players (including me), so I knew this tournament would be interesting.

I arrived in Bern at Wankdorf Sporthalle at 11:30 for a one o'clock game but discovered immediately that there was not "Frauen" game listed on the day's schedule. When the other Zurich female players arrived (the men had been there since 8 am) we sat and waited for the tournament committee to add a game for us. In the meantime, we watched the men's teams play. Eventually, there were 14 females total from Zurich, Bern, Basel, and Wettingen. Then everyone argued about how to split up the teams so it would be fair, and in the end, the 7 17-18 year-olds from Wettingen ended up playing against the rest of us (21+ yrs). Such trivial arguing typically annoys me, so I made it a point to play more aggressively than usual since winning a pointless game seemed so important to everyone. We ended up winning, but I must confess I took some advantage of the referees' ignorance of women's rules and probably angered a few opposing players in the process.

The 5 men's teams in Switzerland all differed in skill but had one thing in common: professional looking uniforms. The teams are the Bern Titans, Zurich Lacrosse (no mascot from what I can tell), Wettingen "Wild", Basel Lacrosse, and St. Gallen Sunnyboys. They are all members of the European Lacrosse Federation (ELF), so I think Switzerland can expect to have a Men's National Team at some point. The Basel team's uniforms did not say Basel anywhere on them, but they had "IROQUOIS LACROSSE" emblazoned on the front. I laughed a little at this. Apparently their historically accurate name did not aid them, because when our game was over and the men had started their play-off rounds, the entire Basel team was drinking beer in the stands.
The women players correspond to the same geography, but there are too few in any location to make one team (and seemingly too few in all of Switzerland to make 2 teams), so it is definitely a growing sport. I asked about the future of women's lacrosse in Switzerland and was told that if they can become a member of the ELF, then it would take 2 years to have a women's national team. Apparently this is something they are working toward. I noticed that everyone here communicates the most common phrases in English while playing, though I still have trouble trying to communicate with the team when we are playing.

Finally, every athletic tournament has a snack bar, but I found yesterday's to be amusing and perhaps counterproductive. In addition to hot dogs and sugary cakes, there was an assortment of beer and liquor available throughout the day. I prefer the healthier option that I've enjoyed of late: playing catch before work with my colleague.

It will be interesting to see how a sport still considered in development in the US will continue to develop in Europe! I did not take any pictures of my own, but if I can find any that were taken on the internet, I will be sure to post later.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

It's Been a While . . . .

This week is the half-way mark for my stay in Switzerland. I can't decide if I'm half-finished or half-started. I have been saving up things to say for the last few weeks and that's why there were no posts. I have some brief travel stories and some musings on the life of a research engineer. Enjoy!

First Snow (!!)
Three weeks ago, I took a day trip on a gorgeous Sunday to Hoch-Ybrig. I had not heard of this resort from any travel guides and have since had trouble locating it on Google maps. I guess it's not a huge tourist destination, but it was a fabulous trip. I went with a couple of PhD students from my lab and some of their friends. The peak we climbed is in the foothills (1700 m) of the Alps, and you get a great view of the surrounding mountains and valleys from the summit. The weather was perfect--the first snow of the season had fallen days before, but the temperature climbed to near 20 by the end of our hike. Everything was dusted white in the morning, but it was still pleasantly warm. There was no fog and few clouds; you could see mountains in Germany! Below is the group during our lunch break.
St. Galen
Two weeks ago, I decided to make a day trip to see St. Galen and Lake Constance. Having been there for a short afternoon, I think I need to go back. It was pretty foggy on the lake (in Rorschach), but from the hill above the city you could see much of the lake and some white-tipped peaks poking though the clouds in the south. I missed opening hours for just about everything in St. Galen, but I managed to be in the old city right at sunset. I need to go back when I have time to try the bratwurst.

Basel and the Jura
Last weekend I decided to start exploring to the west. I spent Saturday hiking around Wasserfallen (a gondola ride), south of Basel. The weather was a bit cool, but otherwise gorgeous. The landscape there reminds me very much of the Ozarks, but on a larger scale. There were several times when I felt like I was back home hiking in the hills around my house. Highlights: I saw the ruins of a fort from--if I remember correctly--the 14th century. That was nothing like home. I also walked through the highest individual farm in Basel county and a path that was once used to avoid the customs post in Reigoldswil. Also, the waterfall the gondola is named for is not one but a series of cascades that the path follows quite closely. I love hiking with the sound of water in the background.

On Sunday, I visited Fondation Beyeler in Basel, which I cannot recommend highly enough. The permanent collection is mostly modern art, and what a collection it is! I saw some major players, but I was also introduced to Anselm Kiefer for the first time, for which I am greatful. They also have an exhibition going that features art from and about the city of Venice. If I get the chance, I'm going back. I'll leave it at that.

Work, work, work
Yes, I do work. In fact, I work quite a lot. The last few weeks have been . . . busy. Every day, I get a little more insight into the life of a research engineer.

You see, most of my work experience has been in industry. I've seen--if not done--many of the things that your typical process or design engineer does on a daily basis. At school, we learn to use existing processes, existing equipment, and rarely do we get to see the innovative side of our field. I knew that graduate studies would focus more on discovery, and applied for my job here with this in mind. I enjoy this application of engineering; I feel like I use both sides of my brain. That's a rare pleasure, and one that I imagine most people don't have at work. I think I will save a comparison between research and industry for a later post, and tell you a little about what I've been doing.

We finally got the calorimeter working, and I finish experiments about every day. Each one takes anywhere from four to twelve hours, and represents a significant investment of time and resources. This makes a successful run all the more satisfying, and a failed one all the more frustrating. We just got shiny new software to collect and process data, but apparently it's a little too shiny for our one-year-old apparatus. I'm still collecting data with the old package, which is time consuming, but fairly simple now that I'm used to it.

Oh, and the joys of data processing! Not only is it a special, nerdy high to see the stream of data flow across my screen, but processing is closely followed by Analysis (yes, capital "A"). At times, I feel like an alchemist. We have a pretty good idea of what is going on inside our tiny gasification reactor, but we can't be absolutely sure. With each experiment we mold our theory a little more, and we can explain most of the things we see. But not all. So, I go back to the lab to run more trials and tweak variables to get a clearer understanding of our microsystem.

While I wait for those long experiments to finish, I do more analytical work with our raw feed sample. In the last couple of weeks, I pulled out and dusted off at least half of the organic and analytical chemistry techniques I practiced at school. My professors would be proud. For the chemists out there, this includes TLC, liquid fractionation, and making solutions for ICP-OES and GC-MS. In short, big fun!

Coop's hosting a wine tasting in Zurich this week, and we're planning a trip this weekend. You'll probably hear from me again after that. Cheers!

- Joseph

Monday, October 6, 2008

I have been putting off posting because of my inability to come up with clever titles for my posts, so I may be forced to number them from now on...

As Joseph and Katherine mentioned, Atzmännig and Titlis were a lot of fun, and the pictures are on my flickr. My story differs from theirs in that I woke up Monday morning with a very sore throat and suspected it was going to be a heinous infection. I asked my coworkers about going to the doctor, and was told that here in Switzerland, you are charged by the time you actually spend with the doctor. I think this could be another benefit of affordable education- the doctors can charge less because they don’t have to spend the first 20+ years of their practice paying back loans they borrowed for medical school, but then again, I am not sure how exactly how expensive it would have been. Instead of visiting the doctor, I stopped at the pharmacy on the way home and told the Apothekerin/Miracle Worker I had some throat pain. She procured a delicious antidote with mild antibiotic/magic powers from behind the register. For 12 CHF, I halted the onslaught of bacterial minions and suffered only mild congestion for the rest of the week. I took it as an opportunity to determine whether this miracle could be attributed to Switzerland’s pharmaceutical/healthcare industry or even its treatment of drug addiction, but I haven’t put sufficient time into this research to have any conclusive findings. I did learn, however, that the purpose of blue lights in public restrooms is so heroin addicts can’t find their veins. The government (and the rest of the EU) prefers that those with drug addiction seek out medical help, but don’t hurt themselves or anyone else in the meantime.

Unassigned research aside, my time here at ETH has been great. Right now I am writing models to estimate the utility of a given vehicle based on categorized price and energy consumption, and subsequently the probability of a household’s purchasing a vehicle within the defined categories. I’ve worked through some of the kinks with the program (thanks to the help of some excellent PhD students) and have some preliminary results at this point. The data set I am working with includes mostly household socio-demographic characteristics, and not many vehicle characteristics, but there are still many potential models one can create. The results I have obtained so far don’t really explain much, so I am somewhat frustrated at the moment. For now, I will keep writing models until I find one that fits…

I went to Prague two weeks ago, but this post is getting really long, so I am not going to say much about it. But it was 1) Beautiful 2) Affordable and 3) Full of tourists, even in the off season. Finally, I went to Oktoberfest last weekend. This is no place for anyone who doesn’t like beer or crowds, and actually, if you are one of the many who does not have a ticket and has to pay for food and drinks in the tents, you have to keep ordering things or the waiters will encourage you to leave. I estimate that we should have been consuming 1 liter of beer every 2 hours to keep the waiter happy, but this was difficult for me.

Here is a picture of our group at Oktoberfest, including a crazy guy behind us...

Monday, September 29, 2008

Immer hier was los!

Hello everyone!

There has been so much going on I haven't even had time to post- Zurich and Switzerland offer incredible activities to do all the time. :) Last weekend Charlotte, Joseph, and I travelled to Berg Titlis, just outside Luzern, and about a 2 hour train ride away from can read more about this in Joseph's post below. It was absolutely AMAZING when the fog cleared away...who knew we had been hiking next to gorgeous mountains for most of our 4 hour hike?? Ahh yes, that's another thing we learned: when a hike in Switzerland says it will take 2.5 hours, better make that a little bit longer if you are inexperienced in hiking the Alps (no matter how fit you might think you are!) and for all the pictures you stop to take along the way! The top was snow-covered and breath-taking...better than what I had imagined. We celebrated reaching the top with some Swiss chocolate (ok, even if we did take the Rotair cable car as Joseph mentioned.) I spent a lot of the hike looking for Edelweiss, but alas, couldn't find any. The picture above is of a different flower.

During the week I focused on research (still collecting some data), rowing, and the day to day activities, and of course when time allows, planning out my next weekend. This past weekend was chock full of things! Friday night was the "Lange Nacht der Forschung", which means "long night of research". The ETH and several other universities and local companies here presented their research projects to the public in large tents that were set up along the lake in 2 locations. A ship was provided to transport you back and forth to each location to see the research. Very interesting research! A robot that can juggle, a robot that is being planned to go to the moon, a computer program/machine that scans a field for weeds and then sprays only the weeds with about 99.9% accuracy, and a study into the crime statistics of Switzerland and surrounding countries were just some of the things I saw. Of course there was also free chocolate. :)

Saturday was spent shopping and roaming around the Altstadt of Zurich, rowing, and trying to get tickets to one of the Zurich film festival movies...which ended up being sold out, but Joseph got to go. Sunday was also very busy with Ruderschule, church, climbing up Uetliberg, and watching one of the Zurich film festival movies called "Noodle". I would highly recommend the film! Very well done, and very deserving to be part of the film festival. The hike up to Uetliberg before seeing the film certainly wiped me out so that I was glad to sit in a movie theater. With such a steep incline, it's no wonder I'm feeling it in my legs today... but this Uetliberg hike was certainly no comparison to Titlis, which was an unending upward climb. :)

alright, back to work!

Schöne Woche miteinander,

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Atzmännig and Titlis (and I do work, really)

Hello, all. I haven't posted anything in a while, and quite a bit has happened, so this will be all-inclusive. First, the fun, then the work.

The Great Toboggan Ride

This past Saturday, Charlotte and I took an intriguing medley of trains and automobiles to the resort of Atzmännig to have a go on the giant slide. They've rigged a 700-meter-long toboggan run to keep things alive on the slopes during the summer. According to Charlotte, this is what Europeans do when they can't ski. Well, I've never skied, but this has to be just as fun. If you want to experience it second-hand, I've included a short video below.

In case you can't tell, I had a really good time. In addition to the slide, we got to experience the Swiss countryside; rather than sit and wait for a couple of buses, we walked to the next stop and got to see some gorgeous scenery. You can even see the southern end of the Zürichsee from one of the bus stops (below). I have a few more pictures here.

Sunday, Katherine, Charlotte, and I went to Mt. Titlis as planned. We met up the main station and took a train through Luzern to Engelberg, which lies at the foot of the mountain. The four of us (Katherine's friend from Italy came too) hiked from Engelberg up to Trübsee, then took a chair lift and the rotating Rotair gondola up to the summit. The hike started off well, but pretty soon we were completely engulfed in a thick, cold fog. Visibility stayed within 20 meters for a couple of hours, but when we the fog finally cleared . . . oh my. We went from hiking in oblivion to this--> literally within seconds. We managed to take a few group pictures, thanks to a friendly local, but then the clouds rolled back in. The ride to the top was pretty entertaining, thanks to a tour group that was very appreciative of the scenery. As Katherine mentioned, it's pretty cold at 3000m, but the view was well worth it. On a clear day, you can see several other famous peaks from the heated terrace or the patio outside. When the clouds calmed down, the view was spectacular. Rather than post the rest of my pictures--tempting as it might be--I'm going to link to my album. You'll find some pics there from every stage of the trip, including some adorable Swiss cows and the man-made cave inside Titlis' glacier (that we almost didn't get to see). They tell the story better than I can, and with blog-friendly brevity.

It was quite a day; in fact, I was so tired that I slept most of the way there and back.

Research Update

Last week I broke through the "orientation" phase of my internship into the "doing stuff" phase, which comes as a huge relief. You can only read so many research papers and technical books before that section of your brain starts to melt. As of yet, I haven't done anything terribly complicated. Most of my days were spent setting up an experiment on the calorimeter in the morning and performing different analyses on our prospective feed product while the experiment runs. For the most part, I work without supervision. I don't really need supervision at this point, so that's a definite plus.

The best part of my work so far has been the surprises. I find that a process or a measurement or a reaction that goes as planned can be nice, but they just don't have the same excitement as a completely counter-intuitive reading from your machine or a sudden, unexpected change in your system. I've encountered a few hurdles, including a complete software meltdown in the calorimeter. I thought I had fixed the problem, but it took 3 consecutive 8-hour experiments to find out differently. Strangely, I don't mind at all. I came to here to experience the kind of research with which I will probably be involved in graduate school. I believe that I've found that here . . . and I like it.

Until next time,

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Einsiedeln, Rowing

Gruetzi! Things have been slow here at work this week, with me just reading things and getting a broad overview, so I will tell you about the places I've been to last weekend. The weather wasn't so ideal...very cold, rainy and misty, and foggy! Saturday I spent the morning rowing on the Eglisau, which is a river that runs very close to the German/Swiss border. It is just beautiful there!! I think I've written this before- that I joined the Seeclub Zurich for my time here so I can continue to row and train. Most of the other rowing clubs in Zurich train on the Zurisee, which we do as well, but the conditions aren't as perfect as they are at Eglisau. On the Zurisee you have to watch out for sailboats, motorboats, and the rather large ships that transport cars and passengers from one side of the lake to the other (so you don't have to drive all the way around). The Zurisee does have some good points though- if you row down far enough, you pass the Lindt Chocolate Factory, and inhale the yummy chocolate smell! Seriously, the smell is incredible...maybe a marketing trick to get you to eat the Lindt chocolate. ;) Above is a picture of the bridge under which the boathouse in Eglisau is- you can just see the very blue/green water!

On Sunday I desperately wanted to go hiking somewhere...but since the weather was being stubborn, I settled for Einsiedeln, which is a little south of Zurich beyond the lake. The views from the train of the lake were impressive enough! The higher in the train we climbed though, the harder it was to see much of anything beyond 50m. Luckily, in Einsiedeln there is a very impressive kloster called Kloster Einsiedeln, and I spent some time exploring inside. The description in my guide book says, "Records of pilgrims flock to the probably finest example of Baroque architecture in Switzerland. A pilgrimage on the Jakobsweg to the Benedictine abbey with the Black Madonna and the monastery is currently experiencing a veritable renaissance." So needless to say, it was impressive!! Inside there were many figures of a Black Madonna- which were different from the many white Madonna figures I have seen in my travels. I asked someone what the significance of this was and was told that many years ago, the Madonna was represented with fair skin, but after time, the soot from the candles dirtied her face to be almost black. After many years, the figures were all cleaned, but the townspeople were so used to the black Madonna that they insisted she be kept with a black face. Hence, the kloster being filled with the black Madonna figures.

On Monday afternoon I had off from work, along with the rest of Stadt Zurich for Knabenschiessen. I met up with other ThinkSwiss researchers (Charlotte and Joseph), and as Charlotte mentioned in her post, the festival was similar to a huge carnival! Lots of delicious things to eat, things to watch, and fun rides to go on. I'm not exactly sure of the history of the Knabenschiessen myself, but Switzerland traditionally has a history of excellent marksmen and sharp-shooters as the men in the army would perch from atop mountains and hills to protect their valleys and country many, many years ago. A twist on this tradition is now called the Knabenschiessen, which is a contest for the youth in Zurich (boys and girls) to practice their shooting skills. Whoever has collected the most points at the end of the competition is crowned "King of the Festival". Unfortunately, we didn't get to see any of the competition, as it was held Saturday and Sunday, and Monday was just the handing out of the prizes. But we did see a parade with all the participants, which was cool!

This weekend we're taking on Berg Titlis, which is close to Luzern and's going to be cold at the top (minus 3 degrees Celsius!), so I'm off to go buy some gloves and a hat!
Have a nice week everyone,

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Summer School on Nursing Advanced Quantitative Methods at Basel, Switzerland

I really had a fabulous time in Switzerland, even with my bad experience with the airlines and visa issues. The wonderfully opportunity to be in the summer school in Institute of Nursing at the University of Basel, Switzerland did refresh my head with the content of advanced quantitative methodologies, more importantly, gave me hands-on experience on SPSS, especially dealing with raw data and making it to be ready for data analysis. It is very intensive, however, comparing to the gained knowledge, everything worth it.

Through the final poster session, the communication with other students from other countries who had the similar research interests enriched my knowledge in medication adherence. Their work is very impressive. When I saw them using Help-hand in their clinical setting to monitor medication adherence and used it as an intervention tool, as well, I really opened my eyes to what is happening outside the U.S.

Everything's wondeful related to the support of ThinkSwiss and Summer School at University of Basel. I began to drink beer with my colleagues, to which I was not that used. Hanna, a master student from the Institute of Nursing hosted my stay in Basel. She's so nice and considerate. She prepared bicycles for another American student and me to travel to the summer school. Then, I realized I became a local person while I was riding a bicycle. She took us to the barbecue along the Rhine River, where I was introduced to Margret. She hosted my stay in Zurich after summer school, and planned my intensive two-day trip around Switzeraland by train. Living in Swiss family, I was very impressed by their organization of everything. Many cute things were designed to save space, they use every space for its purpose. The timing of the buses and trains is another impressive thing. We knew Switzerland is famous for its watch, but now we know it is also famous for being on time of all the buses and trains. Also, the planned trip by ThinkSwiss in Bern was wonderful, we have scoooters touring the city. I believe everyone has a great night at Bern, even Michelle and I missed the last bus to come back home, we made it back home by walking. Even we kind of worried about our safety, it turned out fine. Safety is also a positive part of Switzerland.
Deb, my fellow doctoral student, and I are both from University of Pittsburgh, same for the two professors teaching in the summer school. We all had some problems travelling to Basel. They had a hard time waiting for the delayed airplane. My major problem is the visa. I will share my experience to prevent other future students getting into the same problem. If you have U.S. passport, you won't get into any trouble as I did. I am a Chinese holding a Chinese passport, I travelled through Paris to Basel. Basel and Geneva airports are special, since these two airports have two sides, one in Switzerland, the other side in France. If I fly from Paris to Basel, I will land in the French side first, this way, I have to have a visa to France, which I didn't have at that time. I called the travel agency and Delta before I travelled, they said I would be fine, they didn't even know this international regulations. I bought my own ticket from Paris to Zurich and took the train to Basel, I didn't realize the same problem occurred when I planned to go back. The institute of nursing and their secretary are very nice to offer me phones to call some local places to tackle the problem. Finally, with the help of ThinkSwiss, I got the visa to France, even I found out they didn't check my visa when I came back in Basel airport. Since I arrived at the airport around midnight, I walked back and forth many times between two countries with legal documents, thinking of my hard time in making this travel. Anyway, that's the only bad part for my trip, I learned, cried and smiled again. I said to myself, how wonderful it is to come back.
Since I got my visa, and I have two days left in Switzerland, I went around Switzerland during these two days, I was impressed about the travel information, I could get maps of the city in each train station, they even told me where should I go for tourism purpose. I went to Interlaken, Top of Europe, Geneve, etc. I took the Glacier Express and went to the final destination where no vehicle is allowed. Switzerland is fabulous, I am sure I will come back in the future.