What have you been working with here at Chalmers?
Kirsten: I have been so privileged to intern in the MA Research Group with Dr. Martin Andersson. We have worked with acrylate-modified Pluronic F127 hydrogels, specifically investigating Staphylococcus epidermidis attachment onto its surface. We visualized bacterial attachment using fluorescence microscopy. We also explored 3D-printing, as compared to manually extruding, the hydrogels.
Alexi: I've been working in the groups of Anders Palmqvist (Applied Chemistry) and Aleksander Matic (Condensed Matter Physics) on electrodeposition of Manganese (IV) oxide (MnO2) for supercapacitor electrodes. MnO2 is a cheap and relatively nontoxic material, and its presence can significantly boost the capacitance of electrodes by introducing fast, faradaic reactions. Essentially, it adds battery-like properties to supercapacitors. Our goal is to deposit MnO2 on stainless steel mesh and carbon substrates by electrically reducing aqueous KMnO4, and to use these deposits to build high capacity electrodes.
Namrata: I have been working in the Department of Microtechnology and Nanoscience (MC2) in Professor Peter Enoksson group. My research project was specifically on the improvement of high voltage stability of electrolytes in supercapacitors. We tried to push the voltage window for aqueous based neutral electrolytes in order for the devices to have a higher energy density and maintain good cyclic stability. For me personally, I had to read and understand a lot of electrochemistry in order to try to explain the phenomena we observed in our experiments, which was both challenging and exciting.
Did you know anything about Chalmers and Sweden before you came here?
Kirsten: Embarrassingly enough, I did not know much about Chalmers nor Sweden prior CISEI. I had only heard of Chalmers being a European research university, and I knew Sweden was a country that existed in Europe. (I know: crazy, right?)
Alexi: I knew that my university in the USA (University of California, Santa Barbara) has a very close relation with Chalmers, especially in chemical engineering and materials science. Otherwise, I knew almost nothing about the university itself. Regarding what I knew about Sweden, most of it came from some of my other Scandinavian friends (Danish and Norwegian) who joked about the friendly rivalries between the countries. One of my uncles had done business in Malmö and spoke very highly of the cities and country as well. I was also informed by past interns about fika.
Namrata: My prior knowledge of Sweden was very limited to stereotypes, basically IKEA and Swedish meatballs. However when I was applying to this program I did some research about Sweden and Chalmers and was very excited about the country's dedication to sustainability and the environment, something that I personally care a lot about. I was also very eager to try fika and Swedish cuisine.
Have you had the opportunity to see something outside Chalmers during your stay?
Kirsten: I have! The three Chalmers interns took a trip up to Stockholm by train; Stockholm is very cool. I spent most of my two-week vacation touring Norway, which was the most beautiful country I have ever visited. We got to fly into Copenhagen and out of Helsinki on this tour as well.
Alexi: I have done quite a bit of travelling while I was here. I spent one weekend in Stockholm, one weekend Oslo, and I did a day trip to Malmö as well to meet a friend staying in Copenhagen. In addition to the weekend trips, I was given two weeks of vacation during July as well. During that time, I spent several days in Amsterdam and Copenhagen, as well as a week-long trip to Iceland (staying in and doing trips out of Akureyri and Reykjavik). Many of these were places I’ve wanted to go to for a long time, and I was enthused to finally have the opportunity to be so close to them.
Namrata: Yes, in my free time I tried as much as possible to explore Gothenburg and I really enjoyed this incredible city! I especially enjoyed celebrating Midsummer here and attending the Göteborgs Kulturkalas. I also got the chance to travel quite a bit across Europe. I went to Amsterdam, Berlin and Prague on a backpacking adventure in July. I also visited the Bergen, Oslo and cruised up to the Lofoten Islands in Norway at the end of the program. I really love to travel, so this summer has been an absolute dream come true.
Have you found any major differences between working at Chalmers and working at UCSB?
Kirsten: I have! 1) The expected working hours: colleagues of mine at UCSB work 60 hours a week on average; those at Chalmers work 40 hours a week on average.
2) The duration and frequency of coffee hour(s): depending on department at UCSB, coffee hours range from nonexistent, to one hour 4 times a week, to not-preplanned coffee runs. Chalmers has fika for 45 minutes everyday, twice a day, taking Friday 15:00 fika more seriously than the rest.
3) The amount of sharing lab equipment, supplies, and chemicals: It is uncommon at UCSB to share, lab supplies and chemicals especially. We do, however, have common laboratories where space is requested and permission granted, logging is mandatory, and multiple researchers work alongside each other. For example, I work in a PI’s lab, and this PI funds my and my graduate student’s work in (a) common lab(s); I would still report that I am a student researcher in said PI’s group. Spending (not acquiring) funds at UCSB seems to be controlled mostly by the PI.
At Chalmers, at least by building floor, anyone may use anything so long as permission was requested and granted. There are pooled lab supplies—i.e. the chemical and glass storage rooms—where any PhD student or professor may order anything. There was an economist for our floor through which our professors go when, for example, assessing purchasing new instruments.
Alexi: I think the most obvious difference is in the working hours. At Chalmers, the labs tend to be pretty empty by around 17:00-18:00, and working on weekends doesn’t seem so common. At UCSB, PhD students and undergraduate researchers often work much later than that, and often will come in on the weekend. Depending on the research group and the individual, this may be out of their own desire or out of pressure from their PI. Being on a first name basis with your professor is not quite as common for undergraduates either at universities in the USA. Unless we have known the professor for a long time, we would typically refer to them as Professor X or Dr. X, so it’s a bit more casual at Chalmers. We also (unfortunately) do not have fika at UCSB, which is something that I will miss greatly.
Namrata: I think the biggest difference I observed is that the lab organization at Chalmers was more level compared to the hierarchical structure that I've experience in the US. This created a much more social work environment which was excellent for collaboration and getting to know the other researchers in my lab. I also felt that PhD students lead much more balanced lives in Sweden, while at UCLA many PhD's are stressed and pull really long work days. I will definitely miss the lab environment at Chalmers when I am back in the US.