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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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