Friday, August 12, 2011

Past, present, future

Living and researching in the Netherlands has been an exceptional experience. During the past few months I have been able to reflect on my own past, present, and future.

Upon arriving I expected more industry, but I was suprised by the amount of agriculture fit into the densely populated country. I was able to travel to the northern region (Friesland) and see the zeedijk, as well as track down the origins of my family name and associated ancestors.

1811 in response to Napoleon - my family name is chosen... and misspelled?
I have had the opportunity to do many things including:
+ Exploring massive flood management engineering marvels
+ Learning to love coffee
+ Spending time in a floating building in Rotterdam harbor
+ Discovering the street stroopwafel
+ Re-learning to ride a fiets (bike)
+ Re-learning what it's like to fall of a fiets (x2)
+ Traveling to neighboring countries (Germany, Belgium, Austria)

My time spent in the Netherlands has allowed me to expand my view on water management. Dijks and building-on-water seemed more like concepts or examples that could only work abroad until I was able to view and experience them for myself. I have found that floating buildings or communities are feasible, as are projects that protect populations from massive amounts of water. The flood prevention plan for the Netherlands is extensive. However, the preparedness realm is still being improved. Working on that aspect has given me the chance to investigate how flood management requires a synergy on multiple levels.

I would like to thank the National Science Foundation IRES program hosted by UNESCO-IHE and coordinated with the University of South Florida, without which none of the above would have been possible. I would also like to thank everyone at Dura Vermeer.  It has truly been a memorable and life-changing experience, and I appreciate the opportunity to be a part of the program. Thank you to everyone who has been involved!

I look forward to improving upon my biking skills when I return home...


Monday, August 8, 2011

Pleasant memories, tons of photos…

As I begin the arduous task of sorting through the thousands of photos I took I figured it was a good time to reflect on the last few months.   

Living in the Netherlands working at IHE was a fantastic experience.  I absolutely loved being able to bike everywhere and if I could bike it I could take the train.  I will sorely miss such efficient and easily accessible public transportation and how easy you can travel to other countries (Germany, Austria, and Belgium for me).  It is amazing how different these places can be even though they are so close together.

And despite everyone saying how boring Dutch food is I will miss that too.  Everything was always so fresh at the grocery store and well I like bread and cheese just fine.  I will very much miss the delicious Belgium chocolate and beer.

I really felt like an engineer this summer working on my vegetative walls.  I got to build and design something completely novel.  Before this summer I didn’t know anything about designing a system to operate at specific hydraulic retention times, or how to measure nitrogen and phosphorous without HACH kits.  I learned how to make synthetic wastewater.  I trouble-shooted my way through the summer as I needed to create a drip feed system, fix flowing problems, and fix clogging problems.  Sure in the end it didn’t work exactly as I had hoped but hey, that’s science right?  I really want to thank Dr. Rousseau and Dr. Lens for all their help and ideas.  Can’t wait to see what the next masters student accomplishes with those panels.

The NSF IRES program was a fantastic experience and the life and research skills I gained are invaluable.  I sincerely want to thank everyone who made the experience possible, NSF, UNESCO-IHE faculty and staff, Dr. Yeh, and Dr. Trotz, and my fellow students at USF and IHE it wouldn’t have been the same without you all.  Thanks all!


Saturday, August 6, 2011

what a great trip !!!

This is an amazing summer for me. Time was flying extremely fast. I never dream before that I had a great chance to do research and explore European cultures like this. This trip brought me a lot of valuable research  experience and a good networking  with researchers in Europe. Most of students working in lab in Unecso IHE are from all over the Europe and other parts of the world such as Italy, Georgia, Spain, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia.... Although I've been in Unesco- IHE for only more than 2 months and Unesco- IHE may or may not represent for all other European research Institute/University in Europe but I can see few common things for the researchers in the US and in Europe which are working attitude (very professional), passion in work. However, What I was really interested in and learnt a lot from are the differences between UnescoIHE and USF about the lab and study. These are my thought for what I have seen and observed.
1. Lab staffs: This is my first and most impression about the lab in Unesco IHE. They have really friendly and nice lab staffs here who are always willing to help student to set up instrument and experience.
Advantages: reduce a lot of headache and time for students in the lab, be able to manage efficiently all the materials and stuffs in the lab.
Disadvantages: somehow limit the "freedom" of students in the lab which means students somehow have to depends too much on the lab staffs to do experiment so it will reduce quite a bit the creative abilities from student and also the confidence, espcially because the lab staffs manage beautifully all the lab instruments and stuffs so students somehow will be lost if they have to operate and manage the instruments by themselves (when or where lab stall are not there). So somehow I can see the US students are more independent in lab work than the European's.
2. Permission to work at night or in weekend: it's really complicated to get the permission to work at night or in the weekend in Unesco IHE.
Advantages: not known yet (maybe to make sure student safe when working in the lab ??)
Disadvantages: give tough time for students who have to run experiment continuously or some people who have to take samples or do experiment at night or in weekend.
3. More oral exams: There are a lot of oral exams here. Maybe because Unesco IHE is small so they can have oral exams more often.
Advantages: be able to test if students really understand the lessons, save more paper ^____^, give student more confidence about what they have learnt
Disadvantage:  bring more headache to students (V__V), time consuming for professors (esp. in big school like USF)
4.  Courses offered in many different places in Europe.
Advantages: Student can visit and learn from other places with other famous professors in Europe. Also students can have more networking.
Disadvantages: ^___^ don't know yet.
5. Free coffee and hot chocolate
Advantages: a lot ^____^, I really love the free coffee here, good for students, staffs for stress relief so they can be more productive in work.
Disadvantages: haha drink too much coffee :D (but I love it)

Anyway, these are my personal views about the differences between Unesco IHE and USF.  I really had very good time at Unesco IHE. Especially, I'm happy because my experiment about Gypsum leachate treatment by gaslift AnMBR was going very well. I would like to thank all Unesco IHE staffs to help me during last 2 months. I really appreciate NSF for funding this project. This is an extremely good program for students to learn more experience in research outside of the US. So the students can exchange and approach with the advanced knowledge in Europe so they can bring what they have learnt back to the US to improve research in the US.

Friday, August 5, 2011

A Summer to Remember... And our 100th blog!!

Thinking back to my expectations of the Netherlands as a beautiful country full of tall Dutch people, huge windmills, and scenic vistas, I now know that I was completely right. However, there is much more to this country than meets the eye, such as awesome cheese! I have never lived in such an unbelievable place. Fiets-ing (Biking) to work every morning, I felt like I was in a movie. With such helpful and gracious citizens, living in the Netherlands was certainly an experience to remember. 

On weekends, I had a chance to travel to Belgium, France, Germany, and Italy. My gained perspective from these adventures is incredible, as one tends to develop a stronger appreciation of cultural similarities and differences on such trips. I was completely floored at each country's architectural and engineering accomplishments, such as the Colosseum in Rome or the Eiffel Tower in Paris. I certainly have a strong desire to return to these countries to explore, ideally with my IHE group-mates!

Bruges, Belgium!
Paris, France!
Koln, Germany!

Rome, Italy

My research accomplishments, however, leave my travel feats in the dust. My sole focus of this trip was to achieve ideal system design factors for a biosorption system (assuming batch reactor kinetics). I'm thoroughly proud to announce that I have met my objectives and will be publishing my work to a journal!

Prior to this experience, I did not have a significant amount of intensive laboratory experience. I am happy to announce that I have significantly progressed along the learning curve to being an efficient, productive laboratory researcher. Specifically, I have become an expert on the art of measuring metal content with a flame and graphite AAS. There are too many learned skills to list, but I mainly learned about batch reactor kinetics, isotherms, precipitation theory, sorption theories, biosorption practices, and general laboratory practices such as gravimetric measuring methodology, solution preparation, and thorough experiment documentation.

Without a doubt, this experience will help me in my career, as I am now starting to focus on areas in which I would like to specialize. I think that I am ready to progress forward in the research world, and I'm excited to see what is in store for me!

I'd like to extend a huge thank you to NSF IRES for financing this incredible experience! Thank you also to UNESO-IHE faculty, staff, and students for providing a warm environment in which to learn and grow in my research abilities. Thank you to Dr. Yeh and Dr. Trotz for their constant mentorship and program coordination. Lastly, dank u wel to all the members of the 2011 IRES students for their constant companionship in research and trips to other countries.

My favorite memories of the summer:
* My roommate Anh's renditions of Vietnamese music (usually coming from the shower)
* Mari's amazing unibrow at the mustache party
* Caryssa's fantastic navigational skills with her GPS, getting us out of some pretty bad situations...
* Kristen's constant supply of stroopwaffles and fantastic conversation!
* Suzie's paper-mache duck and other toaster oven creations (best oatmeal cookies I've ever had - no contest)

Farewell to the 6000 samples I took this summer!!


Interview with Marta

Thank you Marta for an awesome interview!


Thank you Shalane for an amazing interview!


Interview with Mira

Thanks to Mira for a fantastic interview!


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Thanks-You's, Farewells, and Cheers

So the summer is over, and everyone has wrapped up their research projects. The presentations were a success.

I would sincerely like to thank UNESCO-IHE for hosting the IRES team, Stephanie Petitjean for making sure that the program ran smoothly and providing us with the necessary information to help us get accustomed to our new lives abroad, the lab staff for being there to help everyone with their research, NSF for providing the funding to make this opportunity possible, Dr. Yeh for leading the program, and all the great students we met along the way. 

In addition, I'd like to express my gratitude to my advisor Dr. Maria Kennedy, and my mentor, Assiyeh Tabatabai, for her constant guidance and support.

I am very grateful that I had the opportunity to do research at UNESCO-IHE and aid in advancing water research. This was an amazing experience in which I not only learned about technical laboratory research, but also about European culture and daily life. Hopefully, the program will be renewed so that other students will have the opportunity to collaborate with the institute and expand their experiences beyond what is available within the United States. I'm sure this experience will prove beneficial to my professional and academic career.

Thanks to all!

final bike ride after the presentations

coffee break with the girls, kristen was there in spirit

Yasmina, my dear lab friend

the final group outing at our favorite gelato place

My favorite memories of the team this summer include:
*watching Anton eat a full plate of rice, chicken, and vegetables + 3 sandwiches for lunch....on a regular basis
*Anh's fu manchu mustache from the mustache party
*Eating kapsalon with Suzie in the middle of the night and stovetop baking experiments
*Caryssa almost winning a tv at the DUWO raffle
*Kristen sharing her infinite beer and coffee and movie knowledge


Monday, August 1, 2011

Delft, city of Delftware

Delft is of course famous for its Delftware.  The famous blue and white pottery has been produced in the Netherlands since the 1600’s.  It is a very popular souvenir item and can be found throughout the entire city.  Buying “real” Delftware however can be tricky and pricey.  There are so many different types from all over the country and every manufacturer has a different symbol which they put on the bottom of the pottery.   I bought three pieces of Delftware during my stay, one fake, one old but not antique, and one new.  I think I have quite the collection now, hopefully it all makes it home in once piece…or else I’ll have more Delftware than I wanted….

Vase from the Delftware Museum.

Vase designed to show of the famous Dutch tulips.


Say goodbye to the lab staffs

if you ask me what I remember and miss the most from IHE. The answer is lab staffs. We all love the lab staffs in Unesco IHE. They were always friendly and helpful. They were always willing to help us everything in the lab such as instruments, experiment set up, making standard, ect. They are really awesome. We were joking that we really want to bring them back to USF. Before we left IHE we came by and say thanks and goodbye to them.
The lab staffs in the pictures (from left to right): Fred, Lizette, and Ferdi. Two other lab staffs who missed from the pictures are Don and Peter. We really appreciate them all

Herring taste

We decided to try herring on Thursday because this was the last chance for us to try it. All of us (except Anton, boooo Anton haha )  had tried it but only Caryssa can pretty much enjoy it. Honestly, I almost threw up after the third bites (V.V). But anyway, we were so happy because finally we can experience the taste of a real Dutch food.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Thank you cards written in our last Thursday open Market in Delft

Thursday was our last day in Delft. We went to the Thursday open market in the center. After going around, trying herring and having good lunch at the square, we decided to find a place to write thank you cards to Unesco IHE staffs who were very kind to host us last 2 months. Thanks to all our hot models ( Kristen, Suzie, Caryssa) to help our team to express our appreciation to Unesco IHE staffs.

The people you met the people you work with (ep. 3): Lucian interviewed Anton

The people you met the people you work with (ep. 2): Lucian

So yesterday, we had a short interview with one of our friends in Unesco IHE, Lucian. Lucian is also the first student we've met in IHE. He introduced us with some other IHE student on the first day we were at IHE. We would to thank him so much for his kindness and friendship.

Interviewer: Anton
Camera man: Anh

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

We learn most from our peers

As I wrap up here in at IHE I wanted to mention one person who has been a huge help with my research this summer.  Marco Pinna, a fellow student working on his master's at IHE really showed me the ropes in the lab.  I would have never figured out how to do total nitrogen with out him.  Maro is working on subsurface constructed wetlands comparing aerated and non-aerated systems to see if it is possible to do nitrification and denitrification in both systems.  He will graduate with his masters at the end of the year from the University of Cagliari, Italy.


pasta at night in Barcelona

How can you find a good and cheap restaurant at night in Tampa ? the answer is "very difficult" or sometime "impossible". But in Barcelona, many restaurants open until 1 or 2 am which is awesome. So imagine somehow if you could not have a good dinner or didn't have time to have dinner (coz you were too busy with the lab work or research T.T) then you could find a cheap and a good food restaurant at night, that is awesomeee. In Barcelona you can do it. I went with my friend to a pasta restaurant in Barcelona around 1 am in the morning on Saturday. It was still very crowded at the restaurant. This restaurant is small but very cozy. The decoration of this restaurant impressed me a lot.The pasta was one of the best I've ever tasted before. I wish they will have a restaurant like that in Tampa someday :)

the people you met the people you work with (ep.1)

This is Pimluck, a PhD student in Dr. Lens group at Unesco IHE. She was working with me on gypsum leachate treatment in the past 2 months. I'd like to thank her so much for her help and friendship during last two months. Hopefully we will have chance to work together sometime in future.

Chemical Organization at UNESCO-IHE

I really like UNESCO-IHE's system of organization for the storage of chemicals in the lab, and I'd like to copy it for use in our USF labs. In the photo above, you can see that the chemicals are stored on labeled shelves adjacent to a poster board. The chemicals are stored for the most part in alphabetical order. Each chemical has been given a designated spot on a shelf and a shelf number. The shelf number can be found both on the container, the designated spot, and the poster.

The photo above shows the first column of the poster. You can see the shelf number, the name of chemical, the chemical formula, references in the lab manual, and safety information.

Random things

I know everyone is very busy working on finalizing our projects before the end of the trip, so I'm posting some random things I've seen here...

Graffiti in a church
Tree for sale
BestToiletpaper... ever?
How to ruin a picture
...and back to work.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

So we've doneeee with final presentations !!!

I'm so exited, no I think we all excited to say that we finally have done the final presentation today. Time's flying incredibly fast. Last week, I almost did realize that we just had few days left in the Netherlands. So we have been in the Netherlands and doing research in Unesco IHE for 2 months. Today is the day we had a chance to present to everybody about what we have done in the past two months. Before the presentation, everybody seems a little bit nervous. Thanks a lot to all IHE students and staffs who showed up to day at the presentation to support us even though it's the fact that more people would make us more nervous tho ^__^. But we all were doing great for delivering the presentation to the audience. It was a huge relief for all of us after the presentation. Then we decided to go to a BBQ  to celebrate. Thanks to Suzie and Mari to find us a great restaurant which can give us all you can eat spare ribs for just 10,95 E. The best deal ever in Europe !!!

what an exciting day !!!

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Most Anticipated Post of All Time!!!

You can spot these signs all over the Netherlands.

It literally translates to dog in the gutter. In an effort to reduce stinky-shoe-dilemas and doggy poop on the sidewalks, the Dutch suggest that Lassie and
poop in the gutters rather than on the streets and sidewalks. This brings up the issue of urban water quality and one must consider whether we really want to introduce feces into the water canals. There may be a better alternative such as picking up after your pet rather than increasing water pollution in an effort to reduce waste on the streets.


When I'm thirsty in the lab

Sometimes I wish it was orange juice, but sadly, it's just Fe3+ in Jasmina's jar tests.

Mine look more like this. If you look closely you can see the beautiful flocs forming.

 I wrapped up my final coagulation experiments last week and have been focusing on the report as Delft's skies cry for our departure (it's been cold and rainy all week!!). Hopefully the sun will come out soon.


We don't need a stress ball...

when we have our Turkish friend, the durum donor, available at all hours of the night.

Caryssa and I decided to unglue ourselves from our presentations and papers for a midnight bike ride which inevitably led to food. Don't worry, there's vegetables in there somewhere, and the cholesterol will go well with the diabetes I'm sure to develop from the stroop waffles. We'll sincerely miss you Delft.

Hopefully my nightmares will cease soon, and I'll have some sweet dreams about this tasty treat from Delft's San Marco.


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Finishing Up!!

It's truly been quite a summer. I originally thought 3 months would feel like ages, but not only did the time FLY, I want more time to research!!

Coming into the summer, I knew little about biosorption of heavy metals, but now I'm proud to announce I'm quite the expert! I'm currently writing my final report and preparing my presentation, and I feel as if I really accomplished something noteworthy this summer. I'm looking back at my experience - a combination of bitter frustration and blissful achievement - and I can't begin to describe how I have grown as a researcher. I can't wait to get return home to continue research on USF's water quality, followed by future projects! As an added bonus, I managed to travel to 4 countries besides the Netherlands this Summer. I have been instilled with a drive to explore more of the world, as my experiences in France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, and the Netherlands were each unique and absolutely incredible.

More soon, but I need to keep working on my presentation - I'm excited!!


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sea Defense

The island of Ameland is north of the Dutch mainland across the Wadden Sea. There are two ways to get there: take the ferry or walk. At low tide, areas of the Wadden Sea empty out, and guides can take people from the mainland to the nearby islands across the mudflats.

Mudflats of the Wadden Sea
Due to time constraints, I had to take the ferry. The ferry leaves from Holwerd, and to get there you have to travel parallel to and over the zeedijk (seawall) or the large barrier between the mainland and the sea.

Zeedijk in the background - it goes on forever

Ferry to the island of Ameland
Birds following the ferry
The ferry to Ameland stops in Nes, one of the few towns on the island. The majority of the island is covered in dunes.

Town of Nes, Ameland

Houses on Ameland
Dunes on the North Sea
 The chain of islands makes up the first barrier, similar to the barrier beach islands in the Tampa Bay area. However, the northern Dutch islands maintain their natural dune and vegetative characteristics, whereas those around Tampa Bay have been largely urbanized. The coastline comparison follows the same trend - the sparsely populated Friesland has the land available to put space between larger population centers and the sea, as well as the space for the high zeedijk. However, in the immediate Tampa Bay area, there are many examples of development pushed to the edge of the waterline.

Lots of agriculture
Between the natural sea dunes on the islands and the man-made zeedijk on the mainland, the local population doesn't worry about sea flooding.


A different country (literally)…

This weekend I traveled to Deutschland (or Germany) with Caryssa.  It was absolutely fantastic.  We flew to Munich, Germany and stayed for a couple of nights.  We saw castles and palaces and beer…lots of beer.  During our travels in Germany one of the big things I noticed was how different the country side was and how different the architecture was.

Munich is about 850 km (528 mi) south east of Amsterdam so a little bit less than Miami to Atlanta.  The landscape changes from the flat planes of the Netherlands to the forested foothills of the German Alps.  In Germany there are trees and forests everywhere with rolling hills of grassland and farmland in between.  It is absolutely beautiful.  I would say the transition is actually pretty similar to the transition between Miami and Atlanta although without palm trees on the Florida end and a bit more forested on the Georgia end. 

Architecture also changes the country homes of the Netherlands are nothing like the country homes of Germany.  In the Netherlands they tend to have big front windows where as in Germany this distinct feature is absent.  Instead many homes have a concrete base, wooden top complete with balcony and flowers, and clay roof.  I think the one constant between both places is the clay roofs. 

Traditional Dutch home, notice the large front window and clay roof.

German countryside, taken from the train.  This sort of gives you an idea of what it looked like but sometimes there were more trees and the pockets of houses were bigger.  Imagine this pocketed with small villages

Picture of a home in Germany, again from the train.  Multiple smaller windows instead of the larger front windows of the Dutch homes.  Also many house had red flowers hanging from either windows or on the balcony, you can sort of see them in this image (the red spots).

One last note, where in the Netherlands you see wind turbines in Germany many places had solar panels.  It was interesting to see how different Germany is from the Netherlands.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Greetings from Friesland

Waiting for a bus in quiet Friesland
I traveled north over the weekend to the province of Friesland (or Fryslan), the home of my Dutch (or I should say Frisian) ancestors. Friesland is largely agricultural, but the countryside is dotted with small medieval towns. The region also has its own Frisian language in addition to Dutch.

From Delft, a three hour train ride will get you to the Frisian capital of Leeuwarden. From there, the only way to reach most towns is by bus. Once out of Leeuwarden, all you see are sheep, cows, and small picturesque towns.

View from the bus - sheep
I stayed in Dokkum, one of the larger (but still quite small) towns. The main part of Dokkum lies on a raised island with the Ee River cutting through. In medieval times Dokkum had a city wall with fortifications around the six points of the island. Today the wall is gone. Two of the six points have working windmills, one houses a cemetary, and another is a playground.

Raised island and fortification point
Windmill in Dokkum
Towards the town center
Dokkum's reformed church
Markings for St. Boniface's route