My Stay Abroad at the Ohio State University

Within the framework of the Resolv GSS Program, I was able to take an exciting journey to the United States of America. In June of 2014 I had my farewell party with all my friends and colleagues, at which we watched the Fußball-WM match of Germany vs. Ghana. Although the game ended only 2:2, this did not stop us from having quite the party.  One week later, I was already sitting in the plane across the Atlantic. The flight was long enough for me to refresh my English language skills by watching three Hollywood movies (Robocop, Saving Mr. Banks and The Amazing Spiderman 2), after which I felt sufficiently prepared for the many challenges laying ahead.

Ohio_State_Stadium

Ohio State Stadium

Arriving at the Columbus Airport was quite the biorhythmic shock for two reasons: For one thing, the sun was still up! I had arrived at 7:30 pm local time… which to my German rhythm of course was in the middle of the night (6 hour time delay…); and for another thing, it was soo hot! I was soon to learn that in Ohio the summers are very hot and very wet… torrent-like downpours which turn streets into rivers taking turns with parching heat is a common weather phenomenon in Ohio, which gave every trip during lunch break the potential for an adventure! But most of the time, the warm weather was very pleasant.
I was lucky enough to have one of my soon-to-be lab mates pick me up at the airport and drive me around, showing me the important places: where I could get groceries, where I could get an American sim card for my phone, and most importantly, where I could get an American plug adapter for my computer. Finally I was brought to my new (temporary) home, and after unpacking a few things, I dropped asleep in my new bed.

Olentangy River

Olentangy River

During my first month I lived in a big house shared by eight exchange students from all over the world: China, Argentina, Botswana, Brazil and Australia… quite the multi-cultural experience, which America of course should be! From there I could walk to the University in 10 minutes, which was nice. The second and third month I had a room in a private home, which was just as crowded, housing the two home owners, their two dogs and their five cats. I was never bored at this place! It was quite far away from the university, but since it was summer, I was able to take the six miles there and back again each day by bike, driving along the beautiful Olentangy River. If I were staying for a longer time, let’s say a year or so, I would definitely try to get a cheap, used car… most of America’s streets is simply not made for pedestrians.

New_York_Skyline

New York Skyline

Luckily I had arrived on a Friday evening, so I had at least two days to adjust my inner clock and to settle in, before starting to work. Walking around suburbia I saw all the American peculiarities that I only knew from Hollywood, which made me feel like walking in a movie: concrete slap walkways, wooden telephone poles, front porches, back streets, way too complicated parking signs… it’s the little differences that get you. And, of course, everything was bigger in the US: the insects chirping in the trees, the animals in your yard, the cars, the thunderstorms, and Walmart.


Science Zone

Anyway, after the initial weekend I started working at the Ohio State University. I worked in the lab of Prof. Heather Allen doing sum frequency generation (SFG) experiments, surface tension measurements, surface potential measurements and Raman spectroscopic studies on various salt solutions. At the Ruhr Universität Bochum I had already investigated the THz/FIR absorption of these salt solutions, which told me something about the number of water molecules that are strongly affected by the ions, the vibrational modes of hydrated complexes and the concentration dependent affinity towards ion pairing. Complementary to THz absorption spectroscopy, which is a method to investigate bulk solutions, I wanted to use interface selective methods to investigate the air-solution interface. The main reason for my trip to Ohio was therefore to use the aforementioned methods to investigate the effect the salts have on the water surface properties, the different propensities of different ions towards the surface, and whether we see an effect of ion pairing.


Compared to our group in Germany, the group of Dr. Allen was rather small, consisting of around 10 people at the time. Everyone I met was very friendly and helpful if needed, and I became friends with pretty much all of the team very quickly. During my first week we already had a potluck with the whole group and went to watch the city’s fireworks for the 4th of July celebration, which was quite spectacular! I also made some of my colleagues take me to other trips on the weekends, like the Columbus Zoo, the science museum COSI, the Kings Island amusement park,  a dime-a-dog baseball game (5 hot dogs for 50 cents!!), and a college football game, which is always a huge event in the US (with cheerleaders and marching band and everything… GO BUCKEYES!) I even got the chance to visit New York for a weekend, which was one of my personal highlights of my stay abroad.

I managed to obtain a lot of interesting results for my salt solutions, but not in the way originally planned. One of the instruments stopped working shortly before I arrived, and we could not get it running until my last week in the US. I had to improvise a bit, but luckily there were several other instruments I was able to use. Things worked out quite well, and I hope to publish some of my results soon.

In the end I not only got a lot of nice measurements done, but I also met many interesting and nice people and had lots of fun during my three months at the Ohio State University.

Link to Graduate School of Solvation Science

Link to Ohio State University


About the Author

 Fabian Böhm, born in 1986, is a child of the Ruhr-area. He obtained his M. Sc. in Chemistry at the Ruhr-University and is currently working on his PhD thesis about the investigation of hydrophilic and hydrophobic hydration with THz spectroscopy. His scientific Motto: “There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

Great Science in the Middle of Nowhere

 My research stay at Purdue University, IN, USA
by Laura J.B. Wollny

In Spring 2015, the RESOLV Graduate School Solvation Science gave me the opportunity for a two month research stay in the laboratory of Prof. Zwier at Purdue University in Indiana, USA, to advance my PhD project. I reached Indiana at the end of February, and while in Bochum the spring was already arriving, the winter still clung to the midwest with snow and freezing cold. Luckily, all my new colleagues and staff at the university were the total opposite of the weather and gave me a warm welcome. During my stay, they supported and helped me a lot and I really had the feeling of being a part of the group and the university.

My research project was the investigation of two small biomolecules (cyclic tetrapeptides mimicking β-turns) that had been synthesized in Bochum by another GSS PhD student. Two small samples of these fine white powders were shipped from Bochum to the US in the middle of February but were held up in Customs at the Detroit airport. So my first task was to get my samples released, which took almost three additional weeks and numerous calls by my US lab colleague. With six weeks left before returning I finally began my investigation.

Purdue_University

Purdue University


Science Zone

Purdue_instrument

Instrument I used.

My experiment consist in bringing the small molecules into a vacuum chamber by ablating them from a graphite rod with a laser beam and then measuring the wavelengths at which they absorb the light of a second laser beam. By comparing the absorption spectrum with calculated spectra we can deduce the three dimensional structure – the conformation – of the molecule, which aides in determining the function of biomolecules. The main reason for my stay at Purdue University was that they have lasers there that produce light in another wavelength regime than the ones we have in our lab. With the information from the additional wavelength regions we can determine the conformation more unambiguously. Apart from the laser source, the apparatus at Purdue looks quite similar to our instrument in Bochum and a lot of the components are the same. Therefore, I quickly felt familiar with the set-up.


The two small towns where Purdue is located are Lafayette and West Lafayette and they are in the middle of nowhere in Indiana. Their advertisement claim is “Two great cities, one great university,” which is, as I think, way better than Bochum’s “UniverCity.” Unfortunately, this is the only thing that the home of Purdue is ahead of Bochum: there is not much to do and to experience in Lafayette/West Lafayette except the university. The weekend highlights were taking part in a 5k charity run with the whole group and doing trips to Indianapolis and Chicago with two really nice colleagues. With my accommodation I also had some luck: a student from Prof. Zwier’s lab came to Bochum in my place, which meant we could interchange our flats and office places. My new place was located directly off Lafayette’s Main Street, in a nice old building with high ceilings and decorated affectionately with all kinds of American sports memorabilia. The good things about living in a quieter area are that even on Main Street nothing can disturb your sleep on a Friday night and not much can distract you from research.

I had no time after the three-week delay in obtaining my samples, especially because the project was more demanding than I had thought and I had to try all kinds of conditions to get good absorption spectra. In the end, I worked until the last possible minute and I wished I could have stayed just one more week. But it was time to go home and I really almost made it to measure in all the wavelength regions as planned in the beginning. Of course I was happy to see my family and friends here in Bochum and to return to Bochum itself, but I have to say that I really enjoyed working in the Zwier lab. The atmosphere was great, Prof. Zwier was always considerate and his team a great help. It was a wonderful experience, I would do it again and I can recommend it to everyone who has the chance.

Link to Graduate School Solvation Science

Link to Purdue University


About the Author

Laura WollnyLaura Wollny was born in 1987 in Essen. She obtained her M. Sc. in Chemistry at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum and her B. Sc. in Chemistry from the Universität Duisburg-Essen. Currently she works on her PhD thesis about IR spectroscopy on isolated molecules and their clusters in the group of Prof. Havenith.