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

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

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

Welcome to the Windy City

When you travel across the ocean for a research stay, you expect to feel a breeze of fresh air in your project. Going to Chicago is the perfect place for this because it is called the “Windy City” for a reason. This is the story of my research stay with Norman Lederman and the group of Science Education at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT).

Chicago from the sky

Chicago from the sky

I had been abroad for my studies before. I had been to Cambridge and Edinburgh in the UK. Both are traditional places of learning located in old, relatively small cities. Chicago was different from the start. It impresses with sheer size and modernity. At first, it feels daunting to walk down Adams Street between skyscrapers from the early 20th century towards Willis Tower, still one of the tallest buildings in the world. However, it was at that moment, when I realized that I had come to a city full of opportunity, where sky is indeed the limit. Seizing these opportunities was my main goal for my research stay.

Originally, I had come to Chicago with a clear purpose in mind. I had contacted Prof. Lederman at the Illinois Institute of Technology in the early summer because he is an expert in the field of learning and teaching about scientific inquiry. We had agreed that I would spend six weeks with him and his group writing an article about work I had done earlier and discussing my PhD project. Already in my first meeting, I was impressed with his personal warmth but also with his work rate. He had just returned from a research project in China the day before but took almost two hours to get to know me and discuss the plan for my research stay. From that very first day, I always had the opportunity to give drafts of the research article to Prof. Lederman and received feedback within a day or two. As a result, the article has now been submitted for review with an international journal.

Science Zone

Our aim is to engage learners with the process of scientific inquiry. To achieve this, we create learning environments that provide hands-on scientific inquiry experiences. In RESOLV, we created a one-day project for the Alfried Krupp School Laboratory. Currently, we are developing an exhibition on cutting-edge research and how it is done. In the exhibition, the visitors will also be able to create and carry out their own investigations. On both these activities, we collect data on how participants communicate about the process of scientific inquiry. We analyze this data to create a model of conditions that either promote or inhibit the participants’ engagement with scientific inquiry.

Please visit our website for more information:

While working on the article happened exclusively with Prof. Lederman, I had the opportunity of discussing my PhD project with various members of his chair. It was fascinating and demanding to explain, exchange and debate my ideas to and with experienced research staff as well as other PhD students from countries stretching from China over Chile to the US. In the end, I have a new instrument for data collection in my arsenal and a much firmer idea about the relevance (and limitations!) of my project.

Science educator meeting at the Peggy Notebart Nature Museum

Science educator meeting at the Peggy Notebart Nature Museum

Yet, when you travel, you always get more than you expect. Prof. Lederman’s chair is a hub for science educators in Chicago. So, I met people from various education communities: museum educators, university outreach staff and teachers, of course. Every new contact was a further chance to experience the American ways of science educations. I was especially grateful for people to invite me to their workplaces at other universities and in museums to observe and discuss their approaches to educating the public about science. Furthermore, the permanent PhD students in the group also took me along to science educator meetings all over the city in museums and at universities, where I had the chance to participate in discussions about science education and science education research.

Finally, I would like to thank Prof. Lederman and his group for hosting me and making every effort to engage with my research and with me as a person. I would also like to thank IIT for providing me with accommodation for my stay. I am convinced that the relationships we have built will continue to be fruitful for all parties in the future.

Halloween and farewell celebration with the Lederman group. (Prof. Lederman first from the left, sitting)

Halloween and farewell celebration with the Lederman group.
(Prof. Lederman first from the left, sitting)

Link to Illinois Institute of Technology


About the Author

@ RUB, Foto: Nelle

Christian Strippel was born 1988 in Bochum and holds a M.Ed. in Chemistry and English. His (scientific) motto of life is: “Fortune favours the prepared mind.” – Louis Pasteur
He studied in Cambridge (UK) for one year and holds a Postgraduate Certificate of Education (Chemistry, University of Cambridge). Currently, he works on his Ph.D. project “Communication about scientific inquiry during experimentation”.