Saturday, August 16, 2014

Research, Germany, and Paris!

am writing this on the eve of leaving Europe, specifically Paris, and I think a tear just rolled down my eye. There are no words to describe what a phenomenal experience this has been, and the memories created from this trip will stick with me forever. The five of us Finland students have become SO close, and have been referring to ourselves as a family for weeks now because we have an indescribably amazing group dynamic. Thank you Burim, Jeff, Ashleigh, and Alex, for making this the most unforgettable summer EVER!

I realized the other day that I have been writing a lot about traveling, but I wanted to write and describe a little bit about the research experience that I had....

My project is called Catalytic Oxidation of Volatile Organic Compounds, and the two compounds I worked with are dichloromethane (DCM) and tetrahydrofuran (THF). Both of these VOCs are known to cause human health issues such as headaches, seizures, fatigue, and brain damage, along with environmental issues such as acid rain, poor air quality, and smog.

This is a syringe filled with DCM 500 ppm attached to the tube furnace

Catalytic oxidation is a method of destroying these compounds, and is preferred over thermal oxidation because it is flameless, more efficient, and requires lower temperatures. I used catalytic oxidation for these tests, specifically "light-off" tests, which involve heating the catalyst higher than its operating temperature.

So, for my project, I was testing to understand and develop better methods of abatement (destroying these compounds). I tested different concentrations (500 ppm and 1000 ppm), and then added different combinations of compounds to the catalyst reactor (THF + DCM, THF + water, and THF, DCM, and water). I was also examining whether PT/ AL2O3 is a viable catalyst for oxidation of both of these compounds.


The main reason for traveling to Germany, specifically Saarbrucken, was to present our posters to judges and get feedback so that we can revise the posters for the STAR showcase. We arrived the night of Aug. 12th, and the presentations were on the 14th.

We also got the chance to meet up with the other students studying in Germany along with Dr. Atchinson, 

The hotel that us four Finland students stayed in was extraordinarily amazing, and we each got our own room! This was quite different than when we were traveling and would stay in cramped rooms, or often the same room.

One of the first things we noticed in Germany was the significantly lower living wage than Finland. Whereas in Finland, a pizza would be upwards of 10 euros, in Germany it would be 3 euros, if that much. We also noticed a significant amount of French influence on the city, probably because Saarbrucken is so close to the border of France. it has changed allegiance 8 TIMES in the past two centuries!

Plain and chocolate croissants..mmmmmm....

Another popular food is wurst, which is a thin, long hot dog that comes in a variety of types, Rotwurst, Currywurst, and tons of others.  I particularly enjoyed the Currywurst, which isn't like Indian curry, but is slightly spicy. 

Chopped up currywurst and French fries for 3 euros!

The day of the 13th was spent at the INM (Institute for New Materials) editing our posters and reprinting them to match the INM format. Dr. Atchinson was very helpful in editing and revising the posters for presentations.

We also ate at a crepe place, which are hands-down the best crepes I have ever eaten. I tried a crepe with Tomato, Cheese, and Pesto, and another one that was filled with Nutella, Giotto (like Ferrero Rocher), Kinder Chocolate, and Banana. They make the pancakes right in front of you, and have a good 16 inch diameter or so.

Saarbrucken is full of amazing sights, such as a church right near the bus stop (below)

The picture below is one of my favorites, and it is just after the poster presentations. Everyone worked on such groundbreaking and innovative research, and it was quite a sight to see fellow students present their work from the summer at the INM showcase.

Our work was over! The time for vacation was here! 

One of the first sights in Paris was the Centre Pompidou, and, while, we did not go inside, we got a very good view from the outside. This museum is a Modern art Museum, and the air ducts and all of the pipes are visible from the outside. It is quite massive, but rely an incredible sight from the outside.

From there, we headed to the Notre Dame Cathedral. The wait was about an hour, but it is so exquisite that everyone decided it was worth it.

Inside the cathedral(which took 700 years to build), the ceiling is enourmous. I would highly recommend Notre Dame to anyone traveling to Paris.

The next attraction we decided to visit was the Arc De Triomph. We opted to climb the stairs all the way to the top, and the view at the top was simply stunning. You could see the entire city from up there.

Of course, we also had to visit the Eiffel Tower, and we went at night to be able to see the Tower light up. The tower can be visible from most heights in the city, and is much more intricate than I would have expected. It is really a feat of engineering and the architecture is astounding.

The view at the top, especially at night, is particularly amazing since the city lights up.

It was a very busy day for us,seeing all of these sights, so we decided to take it easy the next day and just visit Versailles. It is a short train ride from Paris (30 mins) and we opted to visit the palace. 

Even though we had visited palaces all throughout Scandanavia, Versailles might have been my favorite. The palace has so much grandeur, in every room there is so much gold. This is the outside of the was so worth the two hour wait!

Below is the famous Hall of Mirrors!

There is so much gold in the castle, more than any other palace I have ever seen...

We enjoyed so many croissants, crepes, and baguettes in Paris because the food, especially the bread, was so amazing.

This trip would not be possible without Suzanne Rocheleau and Drexel University, and it really was the trip of a lifetime. Truly one of the best summers ever, and I can't believe it is over!

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