Wednesday, August 7, 2013

No More Cities, No More Castles, No More Being a Tourist

A Change of Priorities
After being here for two months and touring around every city, every castle, every museum, every mountain, every river, every church, and every other tourist trap you can think of, I think I am officially done.  I do not want to be a tourist anymore.  In fact, in the last week and a half, I want to work and spend some time with some old friends.
This picture was taken 3 years ago in Karlsruhe with my best friend, Lisa.
Actually, I think I was done after visiting Berlin because that city was huge and there was just so much to do.  After I experienced Berlin, something just snapped were I was like I do not need to see any other city (besides Paris) now.  I do not need to see everything because that is an impossible feat and honestly you stop enjoying Europe when you just see one thing after the other.  Everything, every city and every castle, start to blur together, and, in the end, do you even really remember what you did and why you enjoyed it?  That is why for the last week and a half I have decided that this weekend I am going to a German spa and getting a lovely massage and I am going to visit my best friend and her grandparents where I originally stayed three years ago.  I hope to catch up with them and have some lovely conversations.  I hope that there will be a lot of laughter and happiness to be shared and that is what I want to remember about Germany.

When I think about all the moments of this trip where I had a lot of fun and enjoyed myself the most, the moments that come to mind immediately are Europa Park with Matt and Alex, going to the Biergarten with Jenny, Alex, Aquil, Matt, and Daniel one night and almost getting thrown out for laughing and being too loud, spending time in Primark with Lisa and blowing 100 euro easy, and just moments like that.  Seeing Europe is fabulous, but I think I have a higher priority on who I am spending time with.  The moments where I have laughed the most have definitely been the best.  At the same time, I was seeing and experiencing Europe but in a more relaxed, joyful manner.

I believe that's why when I go to Paris.  I want to see Paris, but the only definite tourist trap I am going into is Versailles because it is the one thing I need to see just like with Switzerland I needed to see the Alps.  For the remainder of the time, I want to find a Parisian dress. I want to hang out in a cute little French cafe and enjoy my company.  However, I do not know if I want to do anything else in Paris besides just hang out with Jenny, Alex, Matt, and Aquil.  I also hope we can see Dr. Emilie so we can say goodbye to her.  That is how my priorities in Europe have changed.

Chocolate, Swatches, and Roller Coasters
When I was in Lucerne, I thought it was beautiful and charming.  With Matt and Alex, I saw the Alps and the city.  When I saw swatches, I was like I NEED A SWATCH; however, I waited to buy it in case I changed my mind.  I did not, and I kept complaining about not having the watch the entire day.  I listed benefits of having a watch and having a Swiss made watch.  I probably drove Matt and Alex insane.  At 4:04pm. I went back to the Swatch shop only to find that it had closed.  Well, I complained even more about not having a watch and kept thinking of different way to get a Swatch.  I decided to wait until I got back in the USA to order one.  Well, while Alex and I were exploring the city and looking for a movie theater, we decided to ask someone where to find one in a watch store.  Guess what this Swiss watch store had?  SWATCHES!  So, I got my Swiss watch which I am still in love with even though it ticks like crazy when I am trying to go to sleep.

After Switzerland, Alex, Matt, and I decided at midnight to go to Europa Park at 5am in the morning.  We hopped on a train the next day and had a relaxing time going on water rides, roller coasters, and more.  I have to say Europa Park has to be one of the best experiences and I am glad that I had the opportunity to go there again.

If you want to watch what we did, it's located in this video here.  Keep in mind I did it in less than two hours and the music transitions are horrible and I added some cheesy quotes so it was more than just pictures, music, and some video content.

All Work and No Play... There's No Such Thing in Science
Even with some major setbacks like no tubing and no electrolyte, I still have been able to get pretty far with researching separators.  These past weeks I measured the thickness of the mats that I had spun and found the rate of deposition for Chitosan.  Unfortunately, I have to repeat my tests with Polypropylene because something went wrong.  I also made a poster for the INM poster session which is tomorrow and I am a little nervous for.  We shall see how everything goes.

It's been a while

Sorry that I haven't posted in a few weeks, Things have been kinda crazy. The weekend after Lyon we went to Luxembourg. Their we toured the city and walked through the fortifications that once surrounded the city.
We saw a flea market with some really cool stuff and relaxed by the river for a bit.

The week after that we went to Berlin stayed in a hostel and biked around the city. On my last day there I got distracted at Berlin's largest flea market and missed my train back to Saarbrucken 

The week after that we visited Luzern Switzerland. Unfortunately my phone's battery died while there so I don't have any pictures from there. but It was absolutely beautiful. The water of Lake Lucerne were remarkably clear and the view from the Alps was outstanding. 

My research is also going fairly well. tomorrow the INM is having a poster session where we will present what we have so far. It will be good practice for the STAR Summer Showcase at Drexel.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


Work, Play                                                                                 
Legend has it, the ancient Greek scientist Archimedes shouted “eureka”, and ran naked through the streets upon having discovered a non-destructive method to calculate the density of solidified materials. While, my “eureka” moment, wasn’t so pronounced, it was similarly enlightening. Throughout the course of this project, I failed to fully comprehend exactly the electrochemical test, chronoampometry (CA). While I had a general understanding of the test, my focus had been on other characterization methods, like cyclic voltammetry, but now my research advanced to the point where CA tests were necessary. On a train running from Mannheim to Basel, on my way from Saarbrucken to Switzerland, late Friday night, I read through several journal papers specifically discussing CA measurement techniques. Suddenly, everything clicked into place, making sense. During chronoampometry, the supercapacitor is pushed to a specific current, and the voltage output is tracked. This is the polar opposite of cyclic voltammetry, where a specified potential is applied, and the current response is measured. Unfortunately, I soon learned one of my files had not been converted into a text format, remaining it its original abnormal project format, and I was unable to plot the CA data immediately. After the agonizing wait, alleviated a bit by a trip to the alps on Saturday, followed by a day at Europa-park, today, I finished this weekends quest, and plot the CA graphs of my data. 

Privilege, Productivity
Switzerland was even more beautiful and relaxing than advertised, and I fully intend to go back to the Alps in the future. Pictures and videos do not fully capture the feeling standing among, and on them. Equally true, is Switzerlands reputation for being extremely expensive. Luckily, I took heed of this reputation, and purchased a lot of food to take with me on my weekend trip. Actually, food has been my greatest expense in Europe.  I bought at German rail pass, which covered 30 days in all of Germany, 2 days in Switzerland, and 2 days in Belgium, for just 109 euros, and I have been staying in cheep hostels (10-20 euro per night). Its when everywhere charges 4 euro for a drink half the size of a small soda in the US, and the cheapest option on the menu is a personal pizza at 15 euro, that the expenses truly start getting up there. To be completely honest, I have been pretty thrifty while in Europe, carrying around a 1.5 litter bottle with me, and just refilling it with water. Paying 3.50 euros for a few sips of chilled water in a bottle, just doesn’t work for me. Also, the grocery store near my apartment is relatively inexpensive (comparable to food prices in the US), so I have been making and packing nearly all my meals. At the same time, I have also shelled out for some things, paying the incomprehensible price of 15 franks (~$15) for a box of Swiss chocolates to bring back home for my dad. In the end of this internship, I will have toured many cities in Europe, done the work I love (scientific research), and saved around 75% of my STAR stipend. When people pay thousands to come to see Europe for 2 weeks, and I get to make that amount to come here for 2 months, while obtaining research experience, I can’t help but feel incredibly blessed, and privileged to have this opportunity. Rarely, do people get so much, and I am overwhelmingly grateful to Drexel, and the INM for arranging this program.  

Learning, Business
This program has also been a tremendous learning experience, and has opened my mind to markets that I did not even know existed. Aside from my interest in science, I am fascinated by business practices. Seeing Europe has shown me a whole new side to business. As an aspiring business owner, this is invaluable. A good example of this can be found at Europa-park, one of the largest, arguably best amusement/theme park in all of Europe.  On Sunday around noon, having seen much of Lucerne, Switzerland, I stopped by Europa-park, which was on my way back to Saarbrucken. At Europa-park, different companies sponsor many of the large rollercoasters. For example, Mercedes-Benz sponsors a ride, known as the Silver Star, 100% operated on solar energy. While waiting in line to get on the amusement ride, you are lead through a series of rooms filled with pro-Mercedes-Benz advertising and information. If the wait is around 15 minutes per ride, that’s 15 minutes to convince a person that a companies product is worth getting, and-at the very least- make them remember a product. Most companies are willing to pay thousands, to get a television viewers attention for 15 seconds, let alone 15 minutes. Thousands of people enter Europa-park per day, and nearly all of them go to the Silver Star at some point. All those who do, are treated to a 15-minute infomercial for Mercedes-Benz. This is not isolated to one example. Other coasters and rides are clearly sponsored by both established and startup companies. This corporate partnership between Mercedes, and Europa-park, aligns both company’s interests, allowing for combined growth. Europa-park now does not have to spend money for electricity to keep the rides running, consequently saving money. Mercedes-Benz, on the other hand, has to shell out a bit of money (though it pales in comparison to the amount spent on commercials), and yet reaps many rewords. If just one person per month, only twelve per year, out of the hundreds-of-thousands that visit, ultimately purchases a car because of seeds planted while sitting in line, Mercedes-Benz still has made money. Should they have more future buyers influenced by the seeds planted during that wait in line, Mercedes-Benz stands to make a lot of money. Now Europa-park has to be careful with their partnerships, because they don’t want to ruin the experiences of vacationers by an inflow of advertisement. Accordingly, many rides do not have corporate sponsors, but rather a story or atmosphere is built into the wait in line. For the most part, and perhaps with particular exception to a little theme park down in Florida (where your dreams come true), in the US, when waiting for a roller coaster, you simply wait in a throng of sweaty people. At Europa-park, your either immersed in interesting visuals sponsored by a company, or your consumed in the theme of the ride. In business, the little details can save your company enormous expenses, so such collaborations can be enormously beneficial. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The End Of the Story...For Now

It’s funny how a pair of really sad looking, ripped, scuffed and torn to the point where only a few shreds of rubber hold together enough to make the boot shape is really a beautiful thing. The boots are not disgraceful or ugly, though they may be useless for they are no longer water-proof or army ant-proof. They are a sign to everyone that someone has lived, someone has worn theses boots enough for them to fall apart. Someone has worked their butt off. (Literally.) I believe I have done all of this in Monteverde. They made their last journey to La Colina yesterday, and were gently placed to their rest in the dumpster.

I have been square dancing which is infinitely more fun when everyone is there by choice and not because it is forced upon you in gym class. Bennie Guindon would call out and teach us all of the dances and everyone took turns joining in. Whether you were playing the male’s or female’s part, turning the wrong way, or trodding on your partner’s feet everyone was laughing. David, one of the Guindon’s college-age grandsons, and I made a valiant attempt at doing the polka...and we failed miserably. That’s ok. Half the fun is laughing at yourself. 
I attended another Quaker meeting which was followed by a potluck to celebrate their moving into their new meeting house. (Just gorgeous by the way.)
This was their last meeting in the current meeting house, soon to be remodeled into more classrooms for the Friends school, so this meeting a great deal more people in attendance. There was not a single seat left. Before silence was to be observed for meeting, everyone sang hymns together. With no organ and no chorus and just one person who really knows all the tunes to lead the way, the sound of the Quaker’s singing can be off key but it holds its own charm and organic-ness. Kaitlin and I joined in. Then came the hour of silence. But it was punctuated by people rising to say a few words: some memories and gratitude to the old meeting house for sheltering them, others pleads for the congregation to pray for someone in need. I wrote a bit during this hour. Here’s what I wrote:

An Observation of a Quaker Meeting:

The Quakers have it right. Their sense of community is without equal. They sit in comforting silence until one, moved to speak, stand and asks the congregation to hold their child, in need of brain surgery, in the light. Silence again falls in the meeting house. Breathe is inhaled, breathe is exhaled. The air is heavy with the thoughts and prayers of the people who have dedicated their life to peace on this Earth, to fairness, and to acceptance. Though I am not religious, and I do not share their faith in a God above, all is welcome to sit with them. Some clasp their hands and bow their heads in quiet grace. Others, taking the hand of the person next to them and folding it in their own, raise their chins, their eyes above staring at some distant being. A smile touches the corner of their lips ad if the far spirit is an old friend. One day they may be called to join the spirit and I imagine her turning to meet it with grace knowing that their time on this Earth is at an end and knowing too that it was time well spent, a life well lived, a heart dearly loved by those around her and returns it with equal affection. “The spirit of love and sharing” is alive. It fills the room making it full. It touches and is touched by everyone donates a piece of themselves to this until the air seems thick and the windows seem about to burst. How this house holds its entirety I do not know. Perhaps it is the magic of the Quakers, their legacy left behind on the Earth for the next generation: How does one love their neighbor? The answer is fully and with your whole being. Though the time spent (bi)weekly in quiet tranquility in this house is coming to a close, I am reminded that this light is not dependent upon these walls. It comes from within and can always be called upon and more importantly shared. Though these walls are imbued with laughter, prayer and memories, and forever will be, it is alright that this chapter is coming to its final sentences. It’s ok for a story to come to its end for when it does, it only leaves room for another to begin. 

There were many celebrations for the moving into the new meeting house: skits, songs, a brief history of the current meeting house.
Taken by Kaitlin Baudier
Though my personal favorite was the potluck! The people here, besides being great cooks, are incredibly inviting and open. To finish off one of our last nights in Monteverde, the Guidins once again invited us into their home for family night. After a stuffing meal at the potluck, I would like to say that I ate a very light dinner but no...the bottomless pit that is my stomach was all like “FOOD! FEED ME NOW!” There was a chocolate cake again, this time with mint chocolate icing and ice cream from the dairy! I probably ate way too much that day. Ms. Mary and I talked a great deal on our last day in Monteverde. Kaitlin and Tessa decided they wanted to go see the Cloud Forest Reserve; I was of the frame of mind that I had already been in the cloud forests and did not feel the allure to go into the reserve that they did so I hung around the house. Ms. Mary, hearing from most likely Kaitlin, that I love to cook made the comment that maybe I should think about going into the food industry than medicine. I remarked back that I love food. I love to grow it, cook it, and LOVE to eat it but I don’t think I could make a living out of it while keeping my enthusiasm for it. She said I should be careful otherwise I will end up growing in the wrong way, the horizontal way. I said that that is what the triathlons are for. 
The next morning my boots made their final journey to La Colina. We caught a bus to our hotel in Playa Hermosa for two days of well earned vacation. Working every day, including weekends, for six weeks, yes we deserve this. Here I have gotten over my seafood dislike which is awesome! A whole new area of cuisine has been opened to me! It’s quite liberating actually. Last night we went out to a little local place right on the beach and watched the sun set. I’ve seen sunsets over the great lakes, over tree lines and bluffs but a sunset over the pacific really is the most stunning.

Today we leave Playa Hermosa and go to Liberia where we will fly out of tomorrow. My time spent here in Costa Rica has rejuvenated me. I once listened to a motivational speaker who compared us to fish bowls. When we are born, we are completely clear, nothing to block the view at the bottom of the bowl and as we grow, pebbles are added and clutter the bowl and we lose sight of the bottom of that bowl: who we are. Costa Rica has definitely removed some of my pebbles. I can’t believe my time here was considered “work.” I return to the States with a new outlook on my life. I feel positive. It’s a new month, the past is behind me and my future is whatever I make it to be. I hope I keep this new philosophy, the pebbles out of my bowl, and wear through many more pairs of boots. 
Taken by Kaitlin Baudier