Exchange students from UCSB visiting Chalmers

As the last few years, two students from University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) have been visiting Chalmers during the summer. Here is an interview with the two students, Nilufar Karimi and Andrew Dawson.
What have you been working with during your stay at Chalmers?
Nilufar: During my summer at Chalmers, I was working on mesoporous cellular foam silica and modifying its surface for optimal enzyme immobilization. By functionalizing the surface with different organic groups, such as amino and long alkyl groups, the effect on enzyme-surface interaction were analysed. I was able to get to the juicy part of the project by working with the enzymes. The concentration of the enzyme immobilized and the leakage on each modified silica surface were calculated. In the long run, this research would be useful in biocatalysis.
Andrew: I have basically become a light-bender (reference for all of the Avatar the Last Airbender fans out there). I work with a system called Triplet-Triplet Annihilation Photon Upconversion in which two low energy photons are converted into a higher energy photon. You can imagine shooting a green laser into a liquid, and it turning blue.  The application is for solar cells so that we can increase their efficiency so that solar can become a more viable energy source for the future.

Did you know anything about Sweden and Chalmers before you came here?
Nilufar: When I was applying to UCSB's exchange program, I did some research on Chalmers and decided that it was one of the right fits for me because sustainability was at its forefront. In general, I did not know much about Sweden and never imagined myself travelling, let alone living, here. Once I received my acceptance to Chalmers, I did research on things to do and experience in Göteborg and Sweden as a whole.

Andrew: I knew Sweden was Awesome (with a capital A). I tend to find myself in very liberal crowds in California, and Sweden comes up often with countries that have appealing governments. I also knew that the scenery was magnificent, and the people are supposedly very happy.

In terms of Chalmers, I understood that it was better than KTH. I knew sustainable science was a priority, which was important to me along with it being a top notch technical university worldwide.

Have you had the opportunity to see something outside Chalmers during your visit?
Nilufar: I travelled as much as possible in and outside of Göteborg, whether it was a cafe or another country. I was able to visit Copenhagen, Stockholm, Oslo, and Berlin while working at Chalmers. I definitely wanted to immerse myself in the Swedish culture by doing and eating typical Swedish things. I even baked semla for fika, although it was the wrong season!

Andrew: Oh definitely! This actually has been my first time in Europe, and, luckily, I have been able to have loads of fun along with getting work done.

For example, I went on a random camping trip about an hour and a half north of Karlstad. I was able to swim in water with a lot of iron in it, which made it a reddish color. As a chemist, it was pretty exciting. I also swear that an elk almost attacked us in the middle of the night. It was either an elk or Big Foot, and I like to think it was an elk due to fear of Big Foot.

Also, I have been able to go to Copenhagen where I was excited to see the little mermaid statue until I realized how sad of a story it really was. In Stockholm, I kayaked around the islands and saw performances at the culture festival, and, in Berlin, I was able to sit by the Berlin Wall, listen to an awesome musician talk and play music, and buy him a beer all at the same time!

Gothenburg has been fantastic as well. The Museum of World Culture had great exhibitions to educate kids and adults on social justice issues. The Roda Stein was basically the most hipster place I have been to (and I live in California!). I was even able to spray paint on one of its walls because they were having a graffiti workshop. The Culture Festival had tons of fun stuff including the international food market, Seinabo Sey and Timbuktu’s performance, and great events all day long. Lastly, the city has just been great from after-work on Friday to having a picnic at Delsjon or the archipelago. There is just too much to acknowledge.

Have you found any main differences between working at Chalmers compared to North Western?
Nilufar: Chalmers was my first experience working in a laboratory and conducting research. Apart from fika, I think that the experience and setting are quite similar between Chalmers and universities in the states. The good thing about fika is that it builds a sense of community and close friendships with your colleagues.

Andrew: Even though there are many differences between UCSB and Chalmers, I love both places. For example, at UCSB I can pretty much guarantee that it will be a nice day where I can see the sun, and I would not have to prepare for rain unless it is already raining. However, Chalmers is a great place. I love the community that the labs here provide. There is a lot of cross-lab mingling that allows me to hang out with people with different interests. Even at lunch, after we argue about whose mentor is the best (Kasper Moth-Poulsen for the win), I can call these people my friends (and not only on Facebook). That is not to say people are not nice at UCSB. Everyone there is very friendly and collaborative, but I think the cross-lab hanging out is emphasized more here. However, this may also be because I work at Chalmers, while I am a student at UCSB.

Would you consider to come back to Sweden some day?
Nilufar: Without a doubt, ja! I have had such a wonderful experience in Sweden and made a lot of memories and friends here. It would be nice to experience Sweden during other seasons, and visit the northern landscapes and Gotland. Fika will not be done right if not done in Sweden!

Andrew: I would love to come back to Sweden one day! For one, it is a beautiful country and place that has a different atmosphere than California. I would love to see all the friends that I have made here again along with visiting the labs to see how everything is going. I think I have really lived here. Often when I visit places, I only stay for a week or so, and I find it difficult to really connect with the place. Whereas is Gothenburg, I feel like I really have connected with the place because I have stayed and worked here for an extended period of time. I remember distinctly when I was on my way back from Berlin, all I wanted was to go home to Gothenburg and lay in my bed. I have grown here as an individual, and it will soon be a part of my past. However, much like how people like to visit their old neighbourhoods, I would love to visit Gothenburg again.


Published: Wed 02 Sep 2020.