Sunday, August 8, 2010

Post-Delft checklist


One week after coming back from Delft and I barely believe I was there for 12 weeks. Before leaving to the Netherlands, I made a checklist of all the things I had pending before the trip. I think It'd be good to make a new list accounting for the most relevant things we achieved during this experience. Let's see how this goes:

1) Build a Gl-AnMBR and bring it to full operation (COMPLETE)
2) Get in touch with your most geeky side at the Delta works (COMPLETE... and AWESOME!!)
3) Assess how UNESCO-IHE educates hundreds of people from around the world to solve water related problems in their respective countries (COMPLETE)
4) Work with Dr. Piet Lens and Dr. Amit Kumar (COMPLETE and many THANKS)
5) Visit NORIT, TU-Delft, Saxion University, Wageningen University, TU-Delft and KWR (COMPLETE)
6) Get in touch with your most feminine side in Keukenhof (The Tulip's garden) (COMPLETE)
7) Fall from your bike at least twice (COMPLETE and COMPLETE)
8) Travel around EU during the available weekends (you need a whole year to do this)
9) Try Belgian waffles (COMPLETE)
11) Try Belgian beer (incomplete)
12) Try the typical delicacy "haring" fish (COMPLETE and not repeating this)
13) Try Dutch stroopwafles (COMPLETE)
14) Eat Ethiopian, Iranian, Italian, Belgian, French and Venezuelan delicious food (COOOOOMPLETE)
15) Gaining 8 lbs after items 9, 10, 12, 13 and 14 (COMPLETE)
16) Meet amazing people without whom this experience hadn't been the same (COMPLETE)

I can't thank enough USF, NSF, UNESCO-IHE and specially Dr. Daniel Yeh for this incredible opportunity. The IRES program offers to students the possibility to expand their horizons in terms of research and life experience. Living in another country with a complete different culture, language and set of mind improves your aptitudes as a tolerant human. As a water engineer, you are able to realize that water quality and availability in the developed and developing world require prompt and effectiveness solutions. Idealization of those solution puts us apart from the the real objective of making them as sustainable as possible.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

...The End...

On our last full day available in the Netherlands, De and I walked around to some local shops to buy goodies for our loved ones while induldging in some of our favorite foods including fried fish and mussles (left), french fries and mini spring rolls from daily wok. We walked through the market for the last time and even ran into some friends. It was, in my opinion, the best way to spend our last day in Holland. 

I have greatly appreciated the opportunity to study in the Netherlands provided by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and organized by the University of South Florida and Dr. Yeh.  Prior to this summer I had only worked in the labs at USF and I feel that traveling to IHE and working in the labs there taught me a lot about myself as a researcher and as an individual. I am also grateful to have had the opportunity to live abroad for a period of time, something that I may never have been able to do otherwise. 

I hope that one day I may pass through Delft again, and until then I will always remember the calm and uplifting spirt of life in the Netherlands.

Here is to hoping that I sleep past 4 am tomorrow! (De you were right! :-) )

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Algae grown on shakers
Won just like the Lakers.
The ones in light
Put up a fight,
But algae in dark are fakers.

Optimization of productivity of Chlorococcus sp. using response surface methodology....

After many problems with the beginning of our experiment, we were able to obtain some useful and conclusive results! Take that Acid Fairy!
It appears that my species does not grow well in continuous dark conditions, but is able to use acetate for growth....... however, it doesn't like ammonia much... which leaves room for further research....

Overall, this experience has been wonderful... everything from the labwork to experiencing European culture; I have definitely learned quite a bit and have many new ideas to take home with me, including lab methods as well as preparing new culinary dishes from around the world. The last month has been very very busy and I can't believe how fast the end came. I will be reflecting on this experience for quite some time and truly appreciate the opportunity to study in the Netherlands.

Although I don't feel quite ready to go home, as I have a lot more lab work I would like to work on, the weather is getting colder here which is making Florida look much more inviting. Also, my Dutch assimilation was confirmed today when I rode two large boxes of things to mail home on the back of my bicycle without falling. Although I still can't ride without hands, riding with two boxes balanced on the back, holding them with one hand still felt like an accomplishment.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Good bye, South Holland

by Laurel
It has been very useful this summer to experience  such things in the lab as to learn how to do things "old school." For example: destructing duckweed plant material via boiling in concentrated nitric acid, and then adding hydrogen peroxide in order to oxidize the carbon and finally analyzing the resulting liquid for zinc concentration. Old school methods make you understand better what is happening in the reaction. Also pipetting with glass pipettes brings images of the past. Growing the duckweed for my experiments was also a new experience, and it gave me an introduction to working with aquatic plants in my field, environmental engineering.

I love the small town of Delft, and its historic center. Also, the Netherlands is in an ideal location in Europe for traveling in both Eastern and Western Europe. Train and air travel are very easy with the public transit system the Netherlands has. Also bike travel is very safe and it is very easy to bike into and out of a city (much unlike the US). 

I will hopefully be leaving for Dominican Republic in no less than 3 weeks, and I will see where my research takes me from there.

My advice for the future team is to enjoy life in South Holland, enjoy the food such as stroop waffels and belgian frites and belgian chocolate.... And make sure to go to your favorite European country... I didn't go to mine (Spain).

Thank you to IHE and NSF for the support that made the IRES program possible.

Thank God for this Holland Experience.....I lost 7 pounds!!!

It was so nice being here for approximately three months. As Audrey said in her recent blog, people here actually bike and walk a lot. For the first time in a long while there were many people biking and walking and drivers were in the minority, very unlike in Tampa and the US in general. As promised, I have not biked a single day (since I do not think I could remember how to and I did not want to get run over by expert cyclists here) and I walked to and from our hostel and IHE every day except Sunday. This is about two miles round trip. This together great will power to resist all the Milkshakes that Ana has coninually tried to get to indulge in has led to me loosing 7lbs...........I know it is not a lot for most people but for those like me, with near zero metabolism, it certainly is. Hopefully I can keep this walking activity going back in the US least 100lbs more pounds to go.....wishful thinking *sigh*sigh*sigh*


Monday, July 26, 2010

So many pieces

A few weeks ago my mom and step dad were here in the Netherlands. I went and met them and we traveled just north of Amsterdam to a city called Alkmaar. Here, they recreate the cheese auctions that used to take place in the town in front of what is now a cheese museum.  It was a lot of fun to see all of the big rounds of cheese being carried out and weighed. Although I believe I read that the cheese is no longer actually auctioned like this, it was interesting to see.

If you can't make it to Alkmaar don't worry though, you can always see the recreation of the Alkmaar cheese auction at Madurodam (mini holland)! 

 If you love small things, like I do!, then mini-holland is definitely for you. Just a tram ride away from the Den Haag Centraal Station awaits a fantastic journey into some of the most recognizable areas of the Netherlands. De, a group of our newly found friends, and I finally got around to going only a couple weeks ago and wished we had gone earlier. Visiting gives insight on some of the largest points of interest and can even help you decide what you would like to see in actual stature.
There are model train stations, tulip gardens and even concerts that play real music. There are theaters (from which you can hear plays like Mary Poppins), a little schipol complete with airplanes, and wooden shoe factories that, for only 1 euro, will deliver a pair of shoes on a small truck for you to take home. 
 There are tiny bikes, small streets and the Dam Square in Amsterdam. This year everything was also decorated with orange in celebration of the world cup. 
And the best thing about little holland is........................................................................................................


So, we are beginning to near the end of our time here in the Netherlands. I have been very busy trying to get all of the stuff we need to do done while enjoying the country in the time that remains. We do final presentations for IHE on Wednesday, which has been quite a challenge to get together. I look forward to catching up on my sleep when I return home since staying up until 1am and waking up at 8am has become a habit. The alarm on my phone has also given up on me, probably because it is so tired of being ignored. I will miss a lot of things about the Netherlands and Europe in general like the public transportation systems, the bicycles and mostly my new friends. Especially the ones who share their apple juice boxes with De and I when we go shopping in the Hague!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Pressure's On!!

by De

We are now entering the final 7 days we have left here in the Netherlands!  I can't decide if the time went by fast or slow.. but now the pressure is definitely on!  Not only is there a lot to do to finish up our goals in the lab, but we have found ourselves struggling to see everything we had hoped to see in Europe.  We have been here about 11 weeks now, and until last week I had not even done the "must see" things here in Delft!  So, Audrey and I spent a quick afternoon at the New Church in the city center.  The church itself has so much history.  The Oranje Royal Family is all buried at this church, the stained glass windows are gorgeous, and then there is the tower of the church.  Without a warning of what we were about to embark on, Audrey and I paid our token and began the journey to climb the tower to the top of the church.  Little did we know, 365 steps later, we would make it!  There were points along the way where you could go outside onto a very small ledge/ balcony and have a gorgeous view of the city.  Each time we thought "there can't be more steps, could there?!" But, we did it! We made it to the top!  We counted the steps on the way down to see if we were just wimps or if we had really climbed to the top of Mt. Everest or something!  365 steps was right, our legs were definitely still shaking once we reached the bottom again! But I'm so glad we decided to do it!

This week is crazy busy trying to put all of our data together from our time in the lab and put it into presentation form.  We are also working on writing a paper about our experiments in the lab.  This is the first time that I've had to anything like this, so I am quite nervous (especially for the presentation next week!)

Packing up all the stuff we brought here (along with everythinggg we've acquired since we've been here) is going to be a difficult feat in itself!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Dutch team lost the world cup to Spain. But they played dirty in my opinion, and I was cheering for Spain, so I wasn't disappointed. It is a little strange to be without futbol now, but it is okay because there is much to do before we leave Nederland.

The lab is busy; I am working on more duckweed experiments as well as preparing a final report, presentation, etc. I am getting better at the experimental methods which is good, since experiments take rather a long time, and getting better at the method means that I am faster than I was when I first started. Of course, I also am familiar with all the materials I will need, which also helps a lot.

I am off biking this weekend if the weather cooperates; this time to Arnherm area.


Friday, July 9, 2010

The Infamous Dutch Wooden Shoe

By De

Up until now, the history and purpose of the Dutch wooden shoe was just a mystery.  We had heard different theories and made our own assumptions.  BUT, this week I was lucky enough to visit a cheese farm where they harvested cheese, as well as carved the infamous wooden shoes.  Not only do the wooden shoes have one purpose, but many purposes!
The plain wooden shoe was traditionally used for farming or gardening

The yellow wooden shoe (the most widely known shoe) was traditionally used for working
The red wooden shoe was used as a dancing shoe
The blue and white wooden shoes were considered "Sunday best".  The white worn by females and the blue worn by males on Sundays.
And lastly, the crazy cow wooden shoes, typically used as an irresistible souvenir for many tourists that visit this establishment!
This is a quick video of the machine that is used to carve the inside of the shoe.  In the past, when the wooden shoes were cut and molded into their traditional shape, everything was done by hand and took hours upon hours to make just one shoe.  Now, they use machines like this one to produce the wooden shoes in just  matter of minutes!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Time flies

by Laurel
There are so many interesting things going on in the Netherlands in summer. Did you know, for instance, that the Tour de France time trials were right here in Rotterdam, the Netherlands? I didn't either, but the time trials are here, and then the riders ride to Belguim for the start of the race. We attempted to catch a glimpse of Lance, but alas, it was raining and we have an addiction to futbol, so we had to watch the Germany Argentina game instead of staying around for the real time trials after the warm up for the time trials, which is what we saw.

The Netherlands turns orange during the world cup. The color of national pride is because of William of Orange, although the Dutch flag is red, white, and blue. There are orange streamers everywhere, and orange jerseys on everyone.

I am  leaving for Peace Corps service in slightly over one month. Peace Corps preparation includes more paperwork, officially, but it also includes speaking Spanish with my Latin friends and trying to improve my grammar which has gone down hill in the past 3 years.

As for research, I am always thinking about what I could be doing better during my experiments. My duckweed finally seems to be growing happily without problems because it is getting fresh twice a week the nutrient supplies it needs.

Sunday, July 4, 2010


Dear Blog reader,
Please take a long look at the "old" church, located in Delft, pictured below...

If you thought that this church is outrageously crooked, please raise your hand.

If you partook in this short exercise and did indeed raise your hand, this just goes to show that there are some mistakes that even an attempt at optical illusions cannot fix. During our second week in Delft, our group took a canal tour that boated us down the old canal. As part of this tour, small tidbits of the towns history and present were bestowed to us. One of the things discussed on this tour was this church, its tilted tower and the things they did to try to fool us into thinking that it wasn't as crooked as it is. Please see their solution below.

Now, if we weren't even tricked by the woman they hired, I feel safe to say that optical illusion has failed them.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Acid Fairy

The Acid Fairy has killed my algae. Each day I left the lab and the algae seemed to be growing happily inside their cozy bottles. Each day I would return and the bottles would be turning more and more acidic. The only logical explanation was that someone was putting acid in my bottles. Sabotaging my experiment right under my nose!

Or.... it's science.... this same phenomenon of batch algae tests going acidic has been reported in other published studies, but not really explained.... so the next step in our experiment is to try to determine what's happening. We have a few possible scenarios: the bottles are contaminated (which some surely are) with bacteria, bacteria who produce fatty acids as a byproduct, the algae are using the glucose we added and producing carbon dioxide, or there is a fatty woman in a ballet costume adding fatty acids to our bottles at night.

Tomorrow we will get to the bottom of this. we are being trained on gas chromatography, which will allow us to test for the presence of fatty acids. we may also look at the other bacteria growing in some of the bottles to see if we can identify it..... but i think i already know what it is..... Acid Fairy!

we've also started a mini-batch test to get a better idea of what happened. we inoculated nine bottles with algae and different combinations of nutrients, glucose, and buffer. however, we are not sampling to keep them sterile to see if the same bacteria invades the experiment.....

we should hopefully have a better understanding of what's happening inside the bottle microcosm by the end of the week.... or at least have a better idea of where to set our traps....

Hup Holland Hup!

by De

So much has happened lately and I've been slacking on keeping everyone updated! The world cup has... BEGUN!! and thank goodness I'm in a country that likes soccer!! I've played since I was little and it's a lot of fun to see the Dutch get very patriotic for their team! The first game was on a Monday and this little city of Delft went completely ORANGE! The crazy outfits and ways that people were showing their team spirit made everyone be in such a great mood! (not to mention Holland is undefeated thus far..!)

Another bright note from the last week is that my mom came to visit me! Her and a friend from home came and stayed in Delft and instantly fell in love with the lifestyle over here! (I'm kind of surprised they made their flight home) I had a lot of fun seeing some friendly faces from back home and miss them already!

But on a more professional note.. things in the lab are definitely moving along.  Our SAT columns are getting closer and closer to being considered ripened as we speak.  There are small hiccups along the way, but for the most part everything has been very productive and a learning process on a daily basis!  We have characterized the columns twice now (once for pathogen removal and the second time for nutrient removal).  Through this process we now have a more exact idea about what is going on in the columns as the waste water runs through them.

More to come later for sure! Tot ziens!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

New things through lists.

By Laurel
New things I am doing in the lab recently...
-Grinding plants with a pestel and mortar: haven't done this since 10th grade biology or something....
-Learning how to use the Atomic Adsorption Spectrometer
-Using my Biological Processes background to figure out where to get "primary effluent" with a concentration of ~30(+) mg/L NH4-N from at the local wastewater treatment plant

This week has been very busy for me, but with any sort of luck, help from lab staff, and hard work, I hope to have results by Friday!! I am really excited to see how they turn out. Even if I lost mass of my heavy metal, zinc. This excitement is why I am one of those crazy scientists....

New things I did this past weekend...
-Rode my bike from the Netherlands into Belgium, without even really noticing a border sign wherever I crossed the border
-Began to realize how to recognize a terrible map when I first see the map
-Strolled through a forest and viewed art sculptures in the forest: pretty amazing
-Ate Belgian frites with a ton of mayonnaise on top (and I hate U.S. mayonnaise....)
-Discovered salsa dancing in Delft

This summer is going by in a flash, as expected. I am trying to reconcile the fast-pace of events here in Europe with the knowledge that in Two month's time, I will be in a very different world, at a much slower pace, in the Peace Corps. Alone on long rides, just me and the bike (which is absolutely a great bike in my opinion), I can just focus on finding my way from point A to point B, at whichever speed I choose. Sometimes I feel like flying down the open bike road, and sometimes I get tired. I can say that biking is a sport I truly enjoy doing alone.

I also have to say that I love Delft. I love it more than any town I have been through by bike in the Netherlands. I would call it quaint, picturesque, laid back, small....

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Introducing my mentor at UNESCO-IHE....Mrs. Valentine Uwamariya

Born in Rwanda, Mrs. Valentine Uwamariya graduated with her Bachelors (Chemistry) in 1999 with distinction from the National University of Rwanda. From June 2000, she has been working as assistant lecturer at the same university, in the Chemistry department. In 2003, she joined the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa where she obtained a Master of Science (Electrochemistry) in 2005 with distinction. In the same year she has been promoted to the grade of lecturer. Currently, she is a part time PhD student at UNESCO-IHE, Institute for water Education, in Water Supply and Sanitation Department. She works under the supervision of Prof. Gary Amy and Dr. Branislav Petrusevski. For her PhD her research is focused on "Adsorptive Removal of Heavy Metals from Groundwater by Iron (hydr)oxides-based Media."


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Gl-AnMBR under Dutch conditions: an interdisciplinary approach between engineers and wizards


One of the most gratifying activities that you can do in Delft, and in the Netherlands in general, is biking. Right after work last Friday Ivy, Laurel and I took a bike ride to a beautiful park in Delft called "Delftse Hout". This park is right at the edge of the city limits and comprehends hectares of gorgeous land surrounding a lake. Biking in this park was a great pleasure. It was so pleasant that we forgot about the park limits and continued biking north up to the Hague's outer area. So many pretty spots in the way, sheeps, faissans, a wind mill, other lakes. No wonder why people around here don't really know about stress. How can you be stressed out with a landscape like this?. Of course, we are in summer time and it's a completely different story during winter.

 (Outer area of the Hague... preeeeetty!)

By now you might think all we do here is eating and traveling, but there is another activity that occupies the remaining 10% of the time (I'm just kidding Dr. Yeh). A major part of my research at IHE is to build a similar membrane set up as the one I have at USF and to run it under different operational conditions... Dutch conditions. So far, I've been successful on building the set up but the work is just starting. You see, Dutch conditions are a little rough in the edges. I was very spoiled back at the USF lab where I had all the supplies I could possibly think of to make my configuration more efficient. Under Dutch conditions however, I have to work with what is available since there is a major constrain of time in the research program. I have to say that lately I've been missing my lab more than ever, but at the same time I think I've become better at pulling rabbits out of hats and converting water into wine. I also want to acknowledge the very helpful IHE lab staff without which I couldn't have become the aprentice magician I am now. Being this said, I'm ready to test my set up, which is a great achievement since I only have 8 more weeks to go (WOW!).

Monday, June 7, 2010

Inoculation Day...

After working in the lab all day and coming home to work on my other project, I am a bit braindead... for some reason I can only think in haiku. So here are the day's events.... in 5-7-5...

Eukaryotic chaos
In swirling glass jars!

More to come later..... hopefully with stellar results....

Black or white... or red, yellow, blue, green, etc.

I wonder if Michael Jackson or Benetton ever got a real international encounter such as the one I recently experienced. A herd of very hungry people sits in a BBQ restaurant with the aim to take advantage of the special of the day, unlimited ribs for 10 euro. Thirteen people of 13 different countries sitting down in a wooden table with one, and only one thing in their minds... MEAT!. Colombia, Venezuela, Uruguay, Guatemala, Surinam, Germany, Belgium, Serbia, Portugal, Italia, China, Macedonia and Tailand-Norway (born in Tailand, raised in Norway) united by a delicious Dutch pork. No wonder why the Hague is the judicial capital of the United Nations. You must have a very nice rack of ribs to gain the attention of the world.
If you have noticed, a common factor among the bloggers on this column is the food. As I mentioned in previous blogs, going to the market is a very interesting experience. The adventure of finding what you like to eat with little knowledge of the Dutch language. I personally enjoy dark chocolate covered raisins very much and I've had several failed attempts in the search of them. But last week, I got it right!. After browsing the aisle of the grocery store for the the 100th time, there they were... waiting for me. It was a very satisfactory moment; in fact it was more than that. Compared to this covered raisins, Raisinets will cry out of disgrace. See with your own eyes how one of these raisins look like.

 (Dutch raisinet, the tip of my finger is used as a reference of the raisin size)

the guessing game


I bought something from Aldi today that comes in a box like grits and looks like it may actually be grits, but as I cannot read the box I will find out later if it truly is grits. Things like this simple surprise awaiting me has been one of the joyous experiences of living, shopping and eating in another country. 

This past week has brought a lot of accomplishments in the lab and has paved the way for many more.  I finally began the activity batch tests that I will be doing as part of Denys' evaluation of the inversed fluidized bed reactors that are being tested as a removal method for metals in wastewater using Sulfate reducing bacteria. 
 Using samples that Denys collected from her columns of both the liquid phase and the biofilm (shown in the above right image grown on polyethylene beads) and I will be testing their sulfide production and sulfate reduction while changing varies conditions. I have learned and practiced (about a million times now) a lot of new evaluation techniques to determine sulfide and sulfate concentration and am happy to be learning so many new lab techniques. I started a new experiment today and am excited to see how the week treats me. Hopefully all will go well and we will get some interesting and meaningful results. Either way they are cooking as we speak (or as I type?).

The past weekend was fairly exciting. On Saturday De and I ventured to Amsterdam to walk around and see the Anne Frank Huis. 
 I thought Amsterdam was beautiful, and as a guy in the gift shop told me delft is somewhat it's miniature, which I decided to be very true. The canals are much wider and the building are taller (and lean a little more). From above and maps the city appears to be laid out like a spiderweb consisting of canals and roads and who wouldn't want to get stuck in it? It was a beautiful day and people were riding in their boats and enjoying the weekend and life. The Anne Frank Huis was also a very moving experience and its difficult to imagine the life that she saw and the positive view of people she maintained and relayed through her diary. 

After arriving back in Delft from Amsterdam, we ventured to the market to participate in the MooiWeerSpelen festival. Delft always has something new going on and it has been great to observe and play in the new culture.  The festival contained many theatrical acts that were scattered throughout squares in the city. The festival lasted well into the night on Saturday with the last act finishing around 12:30(or 00:30), but we were home in bed before the night drew to a close for the many performers.

 We did venture out again on Sunday to the festival despite the rain and saw some really neat acts. 

Even in the rain delft is a very gentle and beautiful city. It has been quite easy to feel comfortable here and although we have only been here a month now, it seems like much longer.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Experiments, a labyrinth, and dunes

By Laurel
This week in the lab, I conducted the first run of an experiment for my project. I learned many things along the course of the week. To describe it without photos....

My experiments contain an adsorption step and a desorption step. The heavy metal I am working with is Zinc. I first made a Hoagland solution, which is a solution for growing aqueous plants, containing nutrients and trace elements. Using a scheme of controls, I added Zinc to some of the samples and incubated all of the samples in small plastic trays overnight. During this step, in the samples containing Zinc, the some of the Zinc will adsorb to the surface area of the duckweed plants. Also during this step, some of the adsorbed Zinc will be uptaken into the plant cells. The goal of my experiments is to find out how much Zinc is uptaken and how much is just adsorbed to the plant, and show this using a mass balance on Zinc.

The second step in my experiments is the desorption step. For this step, I added EDTA diNa to some of the samples, which is a metal chelator, meaning it binds to metals. Adding EDTA will desorb the metals that have been adsorbed to the surface of the plants, but will not change the fate of the metals that have already been uptaken into the plant cells. In this way, we hope to be able to distinguish how much of the metal is adsorbed the the plants, but not uptaken.

Following the adsorption and desorption of the Zinc, I collected and acidified water samples from all of the respective samples in the experimental scheme. What is left to do is analysis. I will digest the plant samples from this experiment with nitric acid and the digested plant samples and water samples will be analyzed on the Atomic Adsorption Spectrometer.

I am enjoying my time thus far working with plants. You have to get them to grow for you in the lab so that you can do experiments without collecting plants from the wild again. Part of my lab time always includes checking in on the plants, feeding them primary effluent, harvesting them so they don't get overcrowded, making sure the light intensity is right for them....

My story this week is about a 30 mile bike ride I went on (by the map, not including me getting somewhat off the paths and also riding around exploring) yesterday. Due to an excellent bike and much stretching, I am happy to say my knee felt perfectly fine at the end of the ride!

Luckily for me, I picked up a good bike map which includes Den Haag and the Dunes on the coast from the Den Haag tourist office before leaving on my bike ride.... It was another gorgeous sunny day in the province of South Holland, and I decided that I would ride to the coast near Den Haag and then bike along the dunes north for a while and then turn around and bike back.

I took a more scenic route north (not the one that runs straight to Den Haag), but one that ends up on the coast further south of Den Haag. On the way to the coast, I was biking down a forested trail when all of a sudden, I came upon a hedge on the side of the path. The hedge was surrounded by farm fields- maybe hay. I turned my head and did a double take because it was no ordinary hedge. I had just stumbled upon a labyrinth! The labyrinth is an ancient meditation and spiritual tool- not a maze, but a path winding inward to a central circle. You may think of the greek myth of the Minotaur in the labyrinth. Anyway, this labyrinth did have dead ends, so it was not the traditional labyrinth in the sense of having only one path to the center. I walked through it, reaching the center which was a spiraled raised circular platform of stone. The labyrinth is obviously maintained, but I wonder how old it is. It could be very old indeed.

After the labyrinth, I continued on to the coast. I learned over time how to properly read the bike junctions on the map and how to look for the bike signposts that cover this country, but tend to disappear in a city or metropolitan area. I ate lunch by the North Sea. I had reached the dunes, or duins in Dutch.

The dunes were very pretty. I wished I had brought a bike lock to lock the bike and be able to walk on some walking paths through the dunes. Anyway, I carried my bike up to a lookout over the dunes and listened to whoever was opening for the outdoor Bon Jovi concert yesterday that was outdoors and thus amplified so I could hear it in the nearby dunes.

Up the coast, and the dunes were beautiful, but tiring because they were actually hills for a change from the flat landscape. Very suddenly, though, the dunes disappeared behind me and everything was flat again. By that time, I was tired, and instead of turning around as I would have had to do in most places, I decided to take a train home. You have to love the Netherlands for that combination: great bike trails and great public transit.

Inland to Leiden. When I reached Leiden, it was 4 p.m., and a little early to be going home. Instead I biked around looking for a castle marked on my map. I never found the castle, but I got to see a bit of the city of Leiden, which is located on the River Rhine, and has many nice places to eat or sit next to the river. It was a very pretty area, and I want to go back there some evening by train to explore it and hopefully find the castle, which is open to the public.

Back in Delft, the Mooi Weer Spelen festival was taking place. People were crowded into the central square for performances. The highlight was a night performance which included 8 dancers, a singer and a band, a crane, and a large steel ball. I will leave that to someone else to describe.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Almost There....

This week I spent preparing for my coming experiments... Because I don't have as much lab experience as some others in our lab, making solutions and other simpler tasks can take me a bit longer... but I take it all in as a learning experience...

Unlike other students, I'm not working directly with another student at IHE. The original plan was to continue another student's work, but due to time constraints we have a Plan B. This is the plan I've spent this week developing and finalizing (with much help!).

I will be conducting batch tests with different species of algae. I am investigating the optimal growth conditions for high nutrient loading under varying light regimes for each species. Other studies have tested species under high nutrient loading, but optimizing multiple parameter environments has not been well-covered. After running a series of batch tests, we are hoping to be able to pinpoint optimal growth conditions under these conditions, with a hope to expand to other parameters in the future.

After this week: preparing growth medium, determining trial matrices, finding out where things are in the lab, getting trained on various equipment, making mistakes and fixing them, finalizing the protocol... it's time for inoculation! Monday will be the day the algae garden is started... and hopefully they are happy there!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


by De

This weekend was full of many surprises..  beach soccer in the city center aaaaand a HAIL STORM!! Oh my, there I was, sitting at the train station awaiting my friends arrival when ice came pouring from the sky!! Shortly after it poured... then all of a sudden the sun came out! (And I thought Florida's weather was crazy!)

This week Ana, myself and Chol went on a field trip to the wastewater treatment plant in Hoek Van Holland.  Sidenote: On the way, I learned that in dutch, IHE is pronounced E-Hi-A! Back to the real story.. we went to the WWTP to collect water to use for our SAT columns.  Due to the rain (and hail) during the previous days leading up to the trip, we were slightly skeptical as to whether or not the water we were to collect would be too diluted for our purposes.  It was very interesting to be able to kind of roam around the plant without supervision! (Pictures on the next trip for sure!)  After returning to E-Hi-A (hehe) and testing the water we brought back with us, the water did seem a little too diluted so we will be visiting the WWTP again next week.

These last couples weeks have been very productive in learning how to use the different machines to run different tests.  Now I can safely say that I can perform tests to monitor DOC, UV, Ammonium concentrations and am learning about COD and plate counts!

Plate counts.. sooooo cool!! I had to run downstairs to get my camera so that I could have pictures to share! Peter, the lab staff in charge of the microbiology aspects of the lab explained to Chol and myself the process and idea behind plate counts.  Yesterday we spread our water sample on a plate and today it looked like this...
Each little dot is a colony that represents a bacteria.  The pink ones are coliforms, the blue ones are e-coli and the green are salmonella.

This plate (different from the previous plate) consisted of 106,000 coliforms and 14,000 e-coli per 100 mL.  Only one of the plates showed a salmonella colony (the most dangerous of the bacteria).

On a not so happy note, we've had some strange complications measuring COD.  We prepared solutions to form a calibration curve... 

but when using the spectrophotometer, the absorbance value continued to increase slowly (rather than give one reading).  More to come on this later...

Monday, May 31, 2010

Weather in Holland as Unpredictable as Pronunciation of Dutch Consonants

By: Ivy

This weekend Laurel and I tried to bike to the neighboring town of Gouda... spelled like the cheese, but pronounced differently, which makes me feel like the town itself wants to hide.... which might explain why we couldn't find it....

We made it about 6 miles out of Delft on the lovely bike paths that could only exist in the Netherlands. Pictures of the canals running alongside the bike path don't portray their beauty accurately... from the pictures they look like dirty storm water holding troughs, but in person they are little wildlife sanctuaries for herons, ducks, frogs, and flowering lily pads...

The day was going perfectly... canals... empty bike paths... flat trails... munchies... even a windmill siting... everything was so relaxing we didn't even notice the clouds slowly covering the sky, quietly threatening our lovely day...

It began as a light rain. The kind of refreshing rain that falls gently on your skin, like the clouds turned into a giant mister at the exact moment we needed to cool down.... but then they forgot to turn off... instead the spigot was thrashed wide open. The droplets became larger, icier, each one a reminder that we were definitely not wearing any rain gear... which still might have been ok if it wasn't for the wind. And the fact that we were lost.

But besides the lovely bike paths, my second favorite thing about Holland is that everyone speaks English when I need them to. Which at this moment of icy lostness was absolutely perfect. Unfortunately we decided to lose our way about as far away from a train station as possible in this tiny country, but luckily the directions to our ticket to warmth were excellent...

All in all the day was still quite nice, but next time we try to get to Gouda we'll train there and bike back....

A blustery weekend has come and gone

Hi Mom!

You know it's going to be a great day when you start it off with a big bowl of Honing Ringetjes and sliced bananas. Especially when you eat it with a gigantic spoon.

Another week in the lab has come and gone. As 24 June is a holiday here in the Netherlands, UNESCO-IHE was closed leading the past week to only allow four days to work in the lab. Tuesday and Wednesday I attended the 2nd Conference in Research Frontiers in Chalcogen Cycle Science and Technology and heard about many projects revolving around the use, recovery (or removal from waste water) and importance of reuse of the earth's metal supply. On Wednesday, as part of the conference, I attended a trip to the local company Biothane which uses anaerobic treatment methods to treat waste water. At their lab in Delft, close to TU Delft, they test small scale set ups of reactors that could potentially be used for clients all over the world. It was interesting to see how many different methods there are from batch continuous stirred tank reactors to column bed reactors. 
After the conference was over, I spent Thursday and Friday playing the "what if I alter this game" with my lab experiments which may have been fun for them but got somewhat tiring for me. 
Today, I started what will be the bulk of my experimental work here which pertains to sulfide production activity tests in batch reactors. I'm excited to get it all started and see what kind of things I can learn.

Yesterday was a very blustery day here in Delft, complete with a mini hail storm which I was luckily inside for. I did, however, go out exploring in the morning despite light rain. While I was out I stumbled upon some Delft treasures that calmed my spirit and brought me a sense of contentment, including:

Beautiful, new and appropriately themed graffiti under the bridge.

A place to hide during the heaviest rain from which I could still watch the Holland Beach Soccer tournament. 

A delicious cup of black chai tea and a spinach & olive bagel to enjoy while hiding in Bagels and Beans.

Some shenanigans down by the canal involving a large slide, some sort of homemade flying/flotation devices and people clad with superhero costumes.

And lastly,

 A couple of fellows enjoying the canals and watching the slide with curiosity.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

New friends, modelling, and a crazy adventure with an easy ending

This week, I really started to feel at home at UNESCO IHE. I met a lot of students because I went out to dinner at a scrumptious Ethiopian restaurant with a large group of them, and then of course meeting some people leads to meeting other people, and all of a sudden, I feel like not such a newcomer anymore.

I did some speciation modelling of the time zero in my experiments where I will add zinc to a Hoagland nutrient solution and then incubate the duckweed in the solution. The good news is that no precipitation occurs. Also when the solution is acidified, no precipitation occurs. This is good news. Yet it doesn't explain past results obtained where mass of the heavy metals was lost through the course of the experiments. What was happening in the past experiments? How can loss of mass be prevented in the current experiments?

I finally had the time to change the punctured tire on my bike, and Ivy and I went on a ride yesterday. It turned into quite the adventure. I kept telling myself that adventures are good for you, and I have not had an adventure in a long time.

It was a most gorgeous sunny day when we set off to Gouda, a town maybe 15 miles away by car (who knows really how far away by roundabout bike paths). We were passing houses right on the canal, cow pastures, birds singing in wetland areas, a traditional Dutch wooden windmill, and enjoying it all. Perhaps an hour or two into the ride, it started to look like rain. Sometime later, it began to sprinkle. This was all very well, and we kept riding because it seemed like the thing to do.

Another hour or so later, we were getting wet, and the temperature dropped. Wind, rain, cold, and we were also a little lost, even though we had two maps of the area. Luckily, the Dutch are very kind and also have good public transportation, so we stopped and got good directions to the nearest train station. While it may diminish the craziness of our adventure, the train was a welcome end to the adventure. Better luck next time in getting to Gouda!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Scarcity as an Impetus for Change

By: Ivy            
As part of the 2nd International Conference on Research Frontiers in Chalcogen Cycle Science and Technology, we had the opportunity to sit in on numerous lectures regarding engineering processes for heavy metal removal and recovery.  Although all presentations were excellent, I’d like to analyze the concept of scarcity, as presented by the keynote speaker.
            Scarcity is a dynamic idea; a concept that appears tangible and measurable but may in fact be more elusive and complicated. Certain issues, such as the quantity of discovered reserves, the invention of substitute products, better recycling technologies can influence the perception of scarcity. Although the concept of scarcity may be difficult to define, its consequences can be more easily measured, through economic or social repercussions.
            It is well known that metals, like any other nonrenewable resource, are being depleted at a rapid rate, a rate which is constantly increasing as population and consumer demand continues to rise. Metals are pervasive throughout all aspects of life, making comfort and convenience possible. Rare earth metals give us gadgets; uranium gives us power; aluminum gives us mobility.
            As resources become depleted, materials become more expensive. Environmental and social pressure increase. Technology ‘advances.’ But at some point, these resources will be unavailable, making research and development of recycling methods, adequate material substitutions, means of resource conservation, and recovery technologies imperative.
            Issues surrounding metals scarcity mirror those of water scarcity. These resources may be perceived as abundant, and so they are treated as such. Cell phones are built to be replaced every two years; landscaping is designed to require massive volumes of drinking water to sustain it. However, although there may be a substitute for aluminum, there is no substitute for water. Granted, water can be ‘created’ through reverse osmosis or other energy intensive technology, but there is always that tradeoff.
            Personally, I don’t have much experience with metals and have never thought much about their disappearance. It never occurred to me that uranium would one day (projected 19 years) run out, making nuclear power obsolete, much like it seems crazy that on a planet with so much water, this resource could become scarce. However, this is, in fact, the case in many places.
            The parallel between materials resources, energy, and water availability underlines the interdependence of environmental systems. Materials never really disappear from existence, but may change shape or location. Metals can be recovered from contaminated sites much like wastewater has its own set of resources quietly hiding within it. The difficulty and challenge lies in recovery these resources for a more sustainable closed loop exchange. It may also require a lifestyle shift away from the throw-away single use society that dominates today. In this sense, the perception of scarcity would be redefined, as materials would no longer be disappearing from the cycle, but could be revived and reused again and again.

Research, Berlin, and fun things of Delft


For the duration of my research here at UNESCO-IHE, I am working with Dr. Diederik Rosseau. The topic we are working on is removal of heavy metals from simulated industrial wastewater via sorption to duckweed, Lemna gibba. Specifically, I will be investigating Zinc.

Interesting first insights into the project I forsee that will potentially be challenges are as follows. First of all, I just took Dr. Trotz's aquatic chemistry course at USF, and I really want to make some speciation diagrams for the metal solutions I will be making up for the experiments. This will be possible to do for initial speciation, but more difficult once the duckweed is introduced to the solution, taking up nutrients and some zinc species, and thus making plotting speciation over time probably very difficult.

Second, zinc plays a role in photosynthesis. Are there zinc species that are more easily uptaken by the plants, and if so, in what conditions are these species present (pH, etc.)?

And finally, the most challenging aspect of this project is that past students working on the same research objectives have not been able to close the mass balance on the heavy metal, i.e. a good percentage of the mass originally introduced into solution was not accounted for as adsorbed to the plant, uptaken by the plant, or precipitated from solution. It is not clear why it was not possible to account for this mass. I am certainly going to give it my best, learn as much as I can in the process, and hopefully have good results in the end.

Last week, other than reading up on metal sorption to aquatic plants, my first mission for the lab was not actually in the lab. I got to ride my new road bike around Delft searching for duckweed. I found some Lemna minor, another species of duckweed. In the process, I came across this beautiful lake to the east of the city, a park full of kilometers of bike trails, and I saw a gorgeous pheasant on a trail in the middle of these woods filled with birdsong. In the end, I collected Lemna gibba from the pond near UNESCO-IHE, but I got to see another beautiful spot in Delft in the process of searching.

The Lemna gibba is currently growing in trays under fluorescent bulbs in the lab on primary effluent from a local wastewater treatment plant. Photos later.

Outside of work, which is good, we traveled to Berlin for the long weekend we had off of work. I loved Berlin. I can't properly explain it, but I liken the atmosphere in Berlin to Boston. It is the only European city I have been to that reminded me of the city of Boston, where I lived for 5 years. Of course, the history is different, the sights are different, the language is different, I just noticed similarities.

Other than learning more WWII history in 2 days than I ever learned in high school, the most notable thing I loved about Berlin was all the musicians on the streets and in the subways. I have never heard so many really good musicians in one city. One man played the glass harp, a series of wine glasses of different sizes tuned by adding different amounts of water to the glasses. He played many Bach pieces. I bought his CD, he was so good!

And lastly, I am enjoying the company of so many international students in one place. It makes me want to come back to Delft, for longer than a summer.

2.5 weeks and counting


Since the premise of this past week was to finally get ourselves to work, that was exactly what we did. We finally met with our corresponding work team. I had the pleasure to meet Dr. Piet Lens and Dr. Amit Kumar, renown environmental scientists in the fields of anaerobic wastewater treatment and membrane biotechnology respectively. I'm not trying to get gain some advantage by complementing them (or am I?), however I feel very fortunate to work with such smart characters.
Other important remarks from last week were our visits to the east side of the country. Wageningen and Enschede are the locations of Wageningen University and NORIT office. Althought our vist to Wageningen was very interesting (refer to the picture below), I had much more productive time at Enschede since I got to see a AnMBR configuration similar to mine but larger!. Yes, the concept is working and I'm not crazy!. I will not discuss the specifics of this visit but I'd like to thank Harry Futselaar, his team at NORIT and the students at Saixon for hosting us.

 (Cow skeleton at Wageningen University)

 (NORIT's pilot plant)

It's working time from now on so don't expect any more goofy pictures (yeah right). For what I'm concerned there is not such a thing as super serious blogging, and believe me, Europe is fun.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Tracer Test

By De

Yesterday was a holiday so we had a three day weekend to go exploring.  In order to make use of the long weekend in the lab, Chol decided it would be a good time to run a tracer test in order to see the average retention time the water spends in the columns we are using.  This can be done by "spiking" the wastewater that we intend to pump through the system with sodium chloride.  This addition will increase the electrical conductivity of the water and can be monitored using an EC monitor.  The EC records data on 10 minute intervals.  When the EC begins to increase then level off, the "spiked" water has gone completely through the system.

We can calculate a theoretical value for the average detention time in the column:
            avg detention time= EBCT*porosity
           (EBCT= empty bed contact time)
            EBCT= Volume/Q=Height/Velocity
for the columns the theoretical EBCT was 4 days, then multiplied by the measured porosity of the sand= 0.4 -----> the average detention time for the columns= 1.6 days

The measured value we got by monitoring the EC of the water came out to be:
   for column 1: 1.302 days
   for column 2: 1.469 days

Jumping the Country

By: Ivy

For the long weekend, we all headed to Berlin to get a strong dose of history and culture. Although one could easily spend weeks in the city and still not see everything it had to offer, we crammed a lot into the two days we spent here....

What blew me away was the depth of the history that the city has lived through.... the centuries of war and changes of government was apparent in the architecture, graffiti, food, and memorials. From the Brandenburg Gate reminiscent of the times of Napoleon to the now infamous hotel where the late Michael Jackson hung his baby out the window, Berlin is definitely an eclectic place with something for everyone.

To me, the most interesting facet was the more recent history of the Berlin Wall. To be honest, before this visit I knew of the wall, but didn't have a very good understanding of its meaning, its purpose, or the breadth of its influence. Standing by the East Side Gallery, a portion of wall restored with its original graffiti, was the best place to really glimpse what it must have been like to view freedom from across a river. Other graffiti spread throughout the city, from raised fists to peace signs to other more provocative murals, told a story of its own, through symbolism and color. I couldn't get over how recent this separation was; 20 years ago is a blink of an eye in a city with a history dating back to the 13th century.

The history of World War II was palpable throughout the city, most notably in the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe and the bombed Kaiser Wilhem Church. The Holocaust Museum located underneath the Memorial was incredibly well done. The shear number of victims of the War is difficult to wrap one's head around, but the Museum put the destruction in  perspective by putting faces, stories, and family histories to the numbers. For example, one particularly moving installation had lighted placards on the floor. These placards had copies of handwritten notes from victims to their families describing their emotions at the time of the incarceration and impending death. A border around the room listed the number murdered from each country invaded or affected during the War.

On a brighter note, the city also had many other impressive structures, such as the Parliament building with a glass dome that could be climbed for nice views of the city. Other city parks and museums offered a break from the busy and sometimes touristy streets. Live music was ubiquitous, culminating at the Carnival of Cultures, a weekend festival celebrating music, food, and cultures from around the world.

Monday, May 24, 2010

work week, take one.


It has been a while since I blogged and a ton of things have happened. Lets start with the reason that we are here, then get to the bonuses at the end.

  Earlier this week I met my lab mentor Denys who I will be working with over the summer. She gave me several papers regarding her current research, to which I will contribute, and showed me around her area of the lab. Her research involves the removal of heavy metals using an inverse fluidized bed reactor that contains a carrier material that is covered with a sulfate reducing bacteria biofilm. In theory, these bacteria will produces sulfide which can then form complexes with the heavy metals located in the water and the entire aggregation will settle to the bottom of the reactor.

In an attempt to estimate the amount of bacteria that are present in the liquid phase of the reactor (those that did not join the biofilm) this week I have been using the Modified Lowery Method, which can be done at room temperature, to determine the amount of protein (from which the bacteria concentration can be determined) in a given sample. The results from the Lower Method will give Denys a better idea of how active the liquid phase of the column is. The first step in the utilization of this method was to produce a calibration curve (exp seen in the right picture above) using the spectrophotometer. After making two calibration curves, one in just water and one in a mineral media, we ran an experiment on the liquid phase of the current reactors that are operating to get an idea of where the samples, diluted and undiluted, would fall on the curve we had developed. Overall it was a very educational week and I had a lot of fun working in the lab. IHE, like the rest of the Netherlands, is very welcoming and friendly and if you stay for a week you feel like you've been there forever. I'm excited to get back to the lab this week and have a positive feeling that I will be able to accomplish a lot for Denys and learn a lot for myself both personally and in regards to my research.

As an extra bonus of being in the Netherlands, the evenings and weekends, especially those containing a holiday, can be spent exploring and learning about other cultures.
First things first, I bought a bike the second week that we were here which, unfortunately, had loose handle bars that would wiggle from left to right. This didn't scare me too much until the cobblestone streets wiggled the screw further out causing a front and back motion to coincide with the right to left motion my handle bars. Although already having fun, this allowed a full range of direction for my handle bars to dance while I was riding. This, luckily, was easily remedied using an allen screwdriver, size 6, from the local hardware store. Now my bike sits happily in the bike room of Mina playing well with all of the other bikes until I need her.

One of the other things that I have really enjoyed in Delft is the underpass that zuidwal takes near the train station. Almost every inch of wall through this part of the street is covered with graffiti. Ranging from 3 toothed apples to super mario characters the graffiti adds a splash of color and life to the surrounding areas. I enjoy looking at the flow of colors and artistic ideas and am impressed that such impressive art can be done with a spray paint can.
I believe that this is part of Delft that changes quickly and isn't ever really the same. Just a couple of weeks ago I was walking under the bridge and saw a few people painting over already existing paint. I'm excited to keep seeing it evolve and change. 

Finally, the last thing I will try to cover in this already huge blog, is our trip to Berlin, Germany. Today, Monday May 24th, is a holiday in Holland so UNESCO-IHE is closed. Taking advantage of this, we all set out for Berlin on Thursday evening after leaving the lab. After a very very long (6hr) train ride we finally made it. 

Berlin was very interesting, filled with beauty, history and emotions about their past and their united future. 

It has been a very exciting and busy week in the Netherlands, and beyond, and I am looking forward to the next.
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