The Host*: Developing new tools to engage next generations with science

The topics of scientific inquiry and nature of science are the major foci of our work in the Department of Mathematics and Science Education at Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in Chicago.


Sue, the largest, most complete Tyrannosaurus rex (85%) ever discovered, at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History © Shoffman11

For example, we worked on the High School Transformation Project (HSTP). HSTP was dedicated to changing the way science is taught at 23 Chicago high schools. We designed curricula in biology, chemistry, and physics that enhance foundational science knowledge, inquiry skills and knowledge, and nature of science through authentic and relevant learning experiences.

For example, in a class lesson designed to learn atomic structure, students had to follow various learning steps: Read the related book chapter; answer questions like “What are living things made up of?” and “What are elements made of?”; work hands on with true objects (in this case beans, peas and strings) to represent the atomic structure, and so on.

To ensure the success of the HSTP program, we provided each participating teacher with continuous and intensive support including on-site, expert, experienced instructional coaches, science faculty and graduate students. There were weekly networking meetings for all teachers. Scientists and educators from IIT and the Field Museum provided monthly professional development. Materials and activities were designed to specifically connect with each school’s diverse cultures and community interests.

Internship zone

I hosted Christian Strippel from the Chemistry Education group at Ruhr-University Bochum for his RESOLV internship in two stints: Fall 2014 and Spring 2016. During his first stay at Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), we discussed preliminary ideas on the RESOLV exhibition and it was exciting to see how these ideas turned into the exhibition “Völlig losgelöst”. We also worked with Christian on a paper about research on teachers’ implementation of scientific inquiry in German Chemistry classrooms, which was recently published in the International Journal of Science Education.


Business dinner for young researchers at Peggy Notebart Nature Museum © Christian Strippel

Currently at IIT, we are conducting an international study on seventh grade students’ views about scientific inquiry. Science education researchers have been so far disappointed at what students learn about inquiry in schools, but this has been a feeling mainly based on perception. In fact, until recently, there has never been a comprehensive valid and reliable assessment of students’ understandings of inquiry. The Views About Scientific Inquiry (VASI) was developed at IIT and we are now working with researchers all over the world (i.e., 18 countries) to get a baseline assessment of what seventh grade students understand about inquiry. This will lead to a better idea of how we can engage the next generation with the practices and processes of science – be it as future scientists or as citizens in a global society influenced by science and research.

*The host is a new series of blog posts, revealing the perspective and the work of the scientist hosting RESOLV students for an internship.  

About the author


Norman G. Lederman is Distinguished Professor of Mathematics and Science Education at the Illinois Institute of Technology. He has a Ph.D. in Science Education from Syracuse University (1983); M.S. in Secondary Education from Bradley University (1977); M.S. in Biology from New York University (1973); B.S. in Biology from Bradley University (1971). He is internationally known for his work on students’ and teachers’ understandings of nature of science and scientific inquiry.

America! Tropyl radicals, sports and campus life.

When I was first thinking about where to go for the GSS internship, I considered whether I should join a group that was using helium nanodroplet infrared spectroscopy, the same technique that we use in Bochum to study aggregates of small organic molecules with water. The alternative would have been to get an insight into a different experimental technique. Finally, I decided to increase my expertise in the setup I already knew, and I opted for a stay at the University of Georgia (UGA), Athens, Georgia, USA; in the group of Gary Douberly, from April to June 2015.

During the preparation period, Gary proposed a project: solvating the tropyl radical in helium droplets and measuring the infrared spectrum of the CH stretch modes. He also told me about the International Symposium on Molecular Spectroscopy (ISMS), which would have took place in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois at the end of June. Since he would go there with his entire group, he suggested that I should join them to participate and present my data there. What a great opportunity! So the place and the timing for my stay abroad was fixed, yet, I didn’t know what to expect. I was full of excitement.

Sun, bikes, and a bro

I arrived in Athens at the end of March in beautiful warm weather – spring was already underway. The weather stayed pleasant for the whole time and I never needed warm clothing. It also meant that I could easily explore the area by bike. There are several parks like the State Botanical Garden that were worth visiting.

The view on a part of the Atlanta skyline from the Piedmont Park.

I already knew one of Gary’s graduate students – Chris – whom I had met a year before at the Gordon Research Conference on Atomic and Molecular Interactions at Stonehill College near Boston. When he heard that I was looking for a place to stay, he offered me his apartment, as he had a spare room and no room mate at that time. I immediately agreed, for I knew he was a bro.

Downtown music and university sports

Athens is a college town, with a population of about 100,000. It is located in a beautiful countryside about the Oconee River. The downtown area is dominated by bars with frequent live music events. The music scene is active around there, with some popular bands like R.E.M. and B-52. Many festivals take place, like the ‘Twilight Series’, an annually occurring series of bicycle races through downtown.

A live band playing in downtown Athens.

The UGA, funded in 1785, is the oldest public university in the US and ranks high in academics and research. From Chris’ apartment I could either take the bus that is circuiting campus or ride the bike to the campus.

In most of the colleges athletics is a big deal, and teams of different universities compete regularly. The Georgia Bulldogs – this is how the athletics teams at UGA are called – are successful overall. Especially their football team receives a lot of attention. Unfortunately, since the football season takes place in fall, I could only watch a practice game once. The UGA has a center for recreational sports, the Ramsey Student Center. It is a huge building with two gyms, two swimming pools, an indoor track, training halls for many sports and a number of multi-purpose halls, even walls for climbing. The Ramsey membership for 3 months was only 40$ for students, and I was able to use all of the facilities.

Time to measure cold radicals        

Gary’s research group consisted of one postdoc and four graduate students at that time. They were using a helium droplet machine that had been running well for years already. But they were also setting up a new machine, that is able to produce large helium droplets, opening possibilities for a lot of new experiments. While the assembly was already moving towards completion, a lot of things still needed to be taken care of. Essentially only three persons including me were working with the running setup measuring radicals, a circumstance that gave me a lot of opportunities to perform experiments.

While their experimental setup is almost identical to the one I use at RUB, Gary’s lab focuses on small organic radicals, their reactions and complexes with other molecules. In Bochum on the other hand, we mainly conduct measurements on complexes of small organic molecules with a few water molecules, focusing on the microscale solvation processes.

In the first weeks we measured the hydroxy radical and some of its bimolecular complexes. Upon incorporating a brand new, homebuilt permanent magnet, we could observe the Zeeman splitting of the radical. In the process I got to know the helium cluster machine and the specifics of their setup. Finally, the bitropyl that I needed as a precursor for producing the tropyl radical, was delivered. By that time I was able to operate the machine and conduct the measurements on my own.

Science Zone

Helium droplets are used as a matrix for isolating and stabilizing small organic radicals, that are then probed by an infrared laser. Upon exciting a ro-vibrational transition the absorbed photon energy is quickly transferred to the helium, leading to evaporation of helium atoms and a decrease in the size of the droplets. This change is recorded as a depletion spectrum in a mass spectrometer.

The roller derby   

Gary’s group met up in the evenings several times during my stay, hanging out at bars in downtown, relaxing and drinking.

The Turner Field baseball stadium in Atlanta during the game.

Once, we went to Atlanta to watch a baseball game, where the Atlanta Braves beat the Cincinnati Reds. Another time, we went to watch a football practice game of the Dawgs. Also, Chris introduced me to some of his friends and we met a couple of times, brewing beer, playing frisbee, having barbecue, playing the Settlers of Catan board game or hanging out downtown after work and on weekends.

I even got to know a sport I hadn’t been aware of before: the roller derby. It is a game where two teams of girls on roller skates go around a track and one member of each team – the jammer – tries to overtake members of the opposing team and the rest of the team tries to hinder the enemy jammer. It is a dynamic game and surprisingly fun to watch.

The ISMS conference and a trip into the mountains

Finally, end of June came, it was time to attend the ISMS conference at Urbana-Champaign. Together with some colleagues of Gary’s lab we rented a university car and hit the road going north, direction Chicago. It was a 10h road trip to the conference site. . Nevertheless, the long drive was worth it, since the meeting had many interesting talks.

Several sessions on different topics took place simultaneously all the time, with mostly short talks on specific topics. There was a separate room, where you could get coffee and donuts all day – a habit that can become really unhealthy! However, there was a bowl of fruit, too, which got empty more frequently towards the end of the conference.

Snapshot during a roller derby game at The Classic Center in Athens.

I spent the last weekend of my stay in the mountain area where North Carolina borders Georgia and Tennessee, enjoying the countryside, relaxing and racing a quad bike on mountain trails. And suddenly, I was on my flight back to Germany! Looking back, the three months were over in a blink. I had learned a lot and gained some insight into a part of this huge country and its culture. All people I got to know were open and friendly, and everybody took care that I got the full American Experience.

Even though I was working on essentially the same experimental setup I am using at home, I experienced working in a different environment and a different lab as a new approach to research. I also learned a lot more about the helium droplet technique, by getting to know different ways to deal with experimental challenges. I am grateful that I got this opportunity and I want to thank Gary for making my stay possible in the first place and Chris, who made sure that it was always great.

The Douberly Lab including me at the conference in Urbana-Champaign.                                    From right to left: Joe, Gary, Chris, Peter, Alaina, Bernadette and I.

About the Author

portraitMatin Kaufmann, born in 1986, has studied Physics at the Universität Vaihingen in Stuttgart, obtaining his diploma in 2012. Since 2013, he is part of the spectroscopy group at the Lehrstuhl für Physikalische Chemie II under Prof. Dr. Martina Havenith, and investigates small complexes of glycine with water, isolated in helium droplets using infrared spectroscopy. He completed his internship at the University of Georgia within the framework of the Graduate School Solvation Science (GSS).

White Nights at the Finnish Nanoscience Center

The land of thousand lakes, a nickname Finland has earned from the naturalists, elegantly describes the two colors green (land) and blue (lakes) at any point in the country. Add to that the possibility to see a ravishing nature of light known as Aurora Borealis and you get a couple of reasons that convinced me to make a research experience at the Nanoscience Center, University of Jyväskylä from October to December 2014.

Why I choose Jyväskylä?

Jyväskylä is known as the cultural capital or Athens of Finland. Therefore, an internship in the University of Jyväskylä was an appealing choice to learn about the culture and history of Finland. This decision also spared me from the gloomy winters of the north, because the university is in the central Finland. But of course there are also scientific reasons.

My interest in understanding the bio-molecular mechanisms with quantum and classical mechanics helped me narrow down my list to the University of Jyväskylä where I could gain experience working in the field of theoretical and computational chemistry. This decision was also encouraged by my supervisor in Bochum, Prof. Dr. Lars Schäfer. He was a former colleague of my supervisor in Jyväskylä, Dr. Gerrit Groenhof. A recommendation always gives an advantage in this kind of applications, and it helped in my case too.

A smooth application Procedure

As soon as I received my invitation from Jyväskylä, the administrative offices from both universities were extremely cooperative and helpful to ensure a comfortable stay and experience. The accommodation arrangement was quite elegant and the administrative staff in Jyväskylä were kind enough to guide me through the complete process. KOAS and Kortepohja are two government supported student organizations that facilitate accommodation for students in Jyväskylä.

 Science zone

During my internship I implemented different computational approaches to study the reaction mechanisms of a light sensitive protein called phytochrome. The photo-receptor phytochrome detects light on a time-scale of femtoseconds to picoseconds: Thereby it harvests energy in form of photon absorption in plants, bacteria and fungi to control their biological functions like photoperiodism (seasonal change in day/night change), circadian rhythms (physiological changes in organisms in the 24h), and photomorphogenesis (light-mediated development). For example, a strawberry plant regulates its flowering pattern more than 6 months in advance based on the circadian cycle. In our study we used the QM/MM hybrid molecular simulation approach: Quantum mechanical (QM) methods described the photo-reactive part of the protein, while the remaining system was modelled with classical force fields (MM).

Updating my computational skills to 2.0.

I enjoyed my brief stay working at the Nanoscience Center at the University of Jyväskylä. It is the only university in Finland with a separate state of art research facility for nanoscience. Besides, the interdisciplinary work environment is a boon for advancing in the field of computational chemistry.

Regular group meetings and interaction opportunities with different research groups helped me adapt to the Finnish university system and to the life in Finland. The research and administrative staff was competent in the English language. That made the communication easy and comfortable with everyone at the university. Coordinators assigned to the Erasmus students provided enough information about every available facility at the university.

Some of the skills I acquired during my stay in Jyväskylä involve critical assessment of the scopes and limitations of various approaches/approximations, team work and collaboration, visualization and graphical presentation of practical results, general knowledge of experimental and computational methods, acquaintance with work flow of conferences and seminars. The different perspective and way of thinking during assessment and discussions are some important experiences one should look forward to during such internships.

An aurora is well worth a wait.

It happened on my return flight to Germany. Within minutes after take-off, I noticed a glare on the window. I looked outside and found myself staring into the sky at something beautiful. It was racing through the vast space with striking colors ranging from different shades of green, red to pink. I had to wait for three months to capture that beautiful sight from Jyväsyklä. The further away you go from a city the better the chances to see the aurora in winters.

Sauna represents another great part of the Finnish culture and history. Based on surveys and statistics almost every household in Finland has a sauna. It is the perfect place to relax and get to know the Finns even better. An advantage of staying in one of these housings is the free access to the sauna. A swim in the lake after the sauna is must for anyone visiting Finland for the first time (even better if you have already experienced it before). It does not matter if it is summer or winter (when temperature drops below freezing point), a dip in the lake after sauna is an adventure you will cherish for a long time.

The central lane in Jyväskylä is famous for hosting different cultural events almost every weekend. A music lover can always find a gig or live event at one of the pubs in the city. Jyväskylä also hosts the Neste Oil rally every summer, which is the biggest public event in Nordic countries.

Summer is also a good time to experience the midnight sun, or the white nights, another remarkable natural phenomenon. The sun stays above the horizon for over 70 days in summer in the Lapland. For other parts of the country the nights are still white with the sun briefly dropping below the horizon and rises again masking the transition between dusk and dawn. On my flight back to Germany I considered that I still missed the white nights, but then life gave me another chance. In 2015 I came back to the Nanoscience Center, University of Jyväskylä, to start my PhD.

Where great things come from

A Finnish proverb says – ‘Great things come from small beginnings’. My time in Jyväskylä was an insightful experience and has helped me shape up my profile towards a better future in science. The opportunity to learn about a new culture with an optimistic objective from Erasmus Student Network (ESN) is something every student should look forward for. I hope my work in Jyväskylä brings a positive impact on motivating future collaborations between the two universities.

Link to iMOS international Master’s program

About the Author

Hi!! I am a theoretical chemist and a sports enthusiast. I was born in Surat (India) and have an engineering degree (B.Tech) in Bioinformatics from Amity University Rajasthan. I moved to Germany in 2013 to join the IMOS program, during which I carried out my international internship and master thesis as Erasmus student at the University of Jyväskylä (Finland). I am presently working as a PhD student in the group of Dr. Gerrit Groenhof at the University of Jyväskylä.

Being a visiting student in Irit Sagi Lab

My name is Elena Decaneto and I am a graduate student in Chemistry at the Ruhr University of Bochum currently working at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Energy Conversion (in Muelheim an der Ruhr) with a scholarship funded by the International Graduate School Solvation Science of the Cluster of Excellence RESOLV. In January 2015 I moved from Germany to Israel since I had the opportunity to undertake an internship of three months at The Weizmann Institute of Science (Rehovot), in the group of Prof. Irit Sagi in the Department of Biological Regulation.

Weizmann Institute of Science / Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology Joint Conference on Cell Communication in Translation Research, 22-23 January, 2015, Rehovot, Israel.

From the first day I was able to learn from competent scientists and to discuss scientific issues in a friendly and challenging environment, comparing my knowledge with those of other students and researchers with different backgrounds. This internship was a valuable and necessary experience for me to learn a large number of biological techniques I will need in the future (both for a future in the academy and for working in a company), get practical tips on my current PhD project, using cutting-edge instruments for applied biology which are currently not available in the institution where I work in Germany, visit an experimental animal house, participate in international conferences and seminars, presenting and discussing my data to a group of pure biochemists and biologists and establish possible future collaborations.

Science Zone

The Sagi group is mainly focused on the use of advanced biophysical and imaging techniques for unravelling cellular environment molecular mechanisms, design endogenous-like inhibitors and modulators targeting matrix enzymes and studying molecular recognition of super-structured substrates.

My project involved the development of a fluorometric activity assay for the protein Lysyl Oxidase-2, the expression of different types of protein constructs both in yeast and bacteria and the development of protocols for high-level expression, purification and enzymatic characterization for crystallization purposes.

In addition to the scientific aspect, I enjoyed being part of a group of friendly and jovial people, participating in group travels and going out together even outside working hours. In Prof. Sagi`s group I found friends rather than just colleagues, and I go back to Germany enriched not only with new skills but with wonderful memories.

The Weizmann Institute of Science

The Weizmann Institute of Science is one of the most important centers of research and higher education in the world. Known for its scientific and technological research in the forefront, the interests of the institute span the entire spectrum of contemporary science: environmental science, drug development, from genetic to oncology, renewable and alternative energy technologies, astronomy, high energy physics, etc. Inside the institute the language is English and students are only Master of Science or PhD from 5 different faculties (Physics, Math/Computer Science, Chemistry, Biology and Biochemistry). The Feinberg Graduate School (of which Prof. Sagi is now the dean) is the greatest strength of the institute, which since more than 50 years aims to train researchers in the field of natural sciences.

Koffler accelerator of the         Canada Centre of Nuclear Physics inside the campus.

All the students are exempt from tuition fees and receive a salary that allows them to spend all their time to study and research, and the duration of a PhD project is usually about 4-5 years. Surrounded by greenery, this institution is a veritable paradise for scientists thanks to the high quality of science (large equipped laboratories, new machines and cutting-edge instruments, high-impact publications, seminars, workshops and international conferences, international environment) and the high quality of student life (access to libraries, gyms, swimming pools, courses of all kinds, bars, pubs, restaurants, dormitories and apartments for students with common places and free wi-fi). Students visitors like me, stay in the international guest house inside the campus which is a perfect place to get immediately in contact with other students, get to know people from all over the world and organize together trips, parties and other activities.

Sentence spoken by the scientific visionary first president of Israel        Dr. Chaim Weizmann written on a wall of the campus.

Impressions of Israel

For over 2000 years this narrow corridor of land on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean exerts an influence that has no equal on the planet. Linked to the three major world monotheistic religions (Christianity, Islam and Hebraism), Israel is a destination full of charm that includes many biblical sites, churches and mosques, but it is also an area of natural wonders from the desert landscapes, to the lush green of the north of Israel, in addition to the white beaches of the Mediterranean Sea. While Jerusalem is an ancient city on a hill with a fundamental religious importance for millions of people around the world, Tel-Aviv is a seaside town that basks in the sunshine of the Mediterranean Sea with barely a century old. Traveling in Israel is really easy if you have a driver’s license. Rental cars are quite cheap and allow to visit from north to south all the wonderful places that this country offers: from the port of the ancient Akko to the Bahá’í gardens in Haifa, from the Dead Sea to the Negev desert. Anyway, Israel is not only history and wilderness: it is a real tourist area of the Mediterranean which offers beautiful beaches with modern infrastructures. In these three months I used to travel every weekend but nevertheless there are still many places I would like to visit and which represent a good reason to return.

Non conventional view of Jerusalem from the roofs of the market.

It is a stereotype all too used, but it’s really hard not to draw attention on the incredible meeting of past and modernity in these places. In Jerusalem, you can meet next to each other, Orthodox Jews who wear traditional dress and Christian pilgrims with cutting-edge digital cameras, smells of incense and candles mixed with spices, sounds of bells intertwined with the song of the muezzin. In the Negev desert, the Bedouins use mobile phones with familiarity, while in Galilee palestinian farmers lead the oxen in the fields according to the rules of biotechnology. This great contrast is also reflected in the political situation of the country. My stay corresponded to the period of political propaganda for the election of Israeli prime minister and his party, so that I was inevitably spectator of the frequent and fervent political discussions during this period.

Rosh HaNikra grottes, a geological formation on the Mediterranean Sea at the border with Lebanon.

There is a very influential part of the society that believes that Israel should strictly abide by the laws of the Torah, while most people do not want that and look with horror to a confessional state. Despite the bad publicity in the European press and the frequent alarmist headlines with regard to safety, Israel and the neighboring territories of Jordan and the Sinai are perfectly safe for tourists and visiting students. Unfortunately it is not uncommon that political tensions explode in some act of terrorism but usually not undermine the safety of people and the Weizmann Institute can be regarded as a haven of peace. On the streets my attention was captured by the joviality of the people, their meaningful greeting “shalom” (“peace”) and the preponderance of the military: they are mostly citizens who perform military service which is compulsory from 18 years of age and lasts three years for men and two years for women.

Israeli Food

Israelian food is often simple and modest but tasty and substantial, reflecting the great ethnic mix of this country. The oriental dishes mostly consists of meat and grilled fish, stuffed vegetables and a variety of meze. Quick meals like shawarma, humus with pitta and falafel are found almost everywhere.

At the market in Akko you can find hundreds of different types of spices, along with the special “Said’s humus” famous for being considered the best humus of Israel .

Among the Armenian specialties, I especially enjoyed the malawach: a sweet flat bread with flask shape and different salty fillings. Jewish culinary tradition follows the rules of Kashrut: it is not allowed to eat “impure” meat (such as pig, rabbit and horse), while the meat from the other animals has to be deprived of any trace of blood before being cooked. Also, meat and dairy products cannot be eaten together in the same meal. During my stay I had the opportunity to celebrate the Passover, during which it is forbidden to sell and eat leavened foods like breads and pastries of all kinds. My favorite meal was definitely the typical Israeli breakfast, which consists of different types of bread, eggs, salad, cream of soft cheese, cream of olives and spicy sweet tomato. So different from a simple coffee and croissant and a great way to start the day in the lab (if you don’t fall asleep on the lab-bench!). Although Israel is often seen as a culinary desert by Europeans, I definitely had to change my mind after seeing that this country offers a wide culinary tradition, with very good food and lots of variety.

Different kinds of Israeli almond and nut cakes and sweets made with halva (from semolina, tahini or sunflower butter).

Despite wines (which are quite good in Israel, especially the white ones) during these years in Germany for my PhD I have inevitably stepped up my critical thinking about beers. It is hard to believe that until a few years ago the Israeli craft beers were practically nonexistent, but now many cafes and restaurants serve good craft beers of the place (mainly Ale beers) and I especially liked the unique taste of barley and bitter from the hop of Malka.


Link to Graduate School Solvation Science

Link to Weizmann Institute of Science

About the Author

Profile picture_597x768Elena Decaneto was born in 1988 in Fidenza (Italy). She got her B.Sc. and M.Sc. in Physics at the University of Parma in Italy. She performed her master’s thesis research project on “spectroscopic characterization of metal nanoparticles” at the Sarría Chemical Institute in Barcelona (Spain). Currently, she works on her PhD thesis about “the coupling of solvent water and enzymatic activity in a matrix metalloproteinase” at the Max-Planck-Institute for Chemical Energy Conversion in Mülheim a. d. Ruhr in the group of Prof. Lubitz and the Department of Physical Chemistry II in RUB under the supervision of Prof. Havenith.



Visiting Cardiff during the Rugby World Cup

I had the great opportunity to have a research stay for two months in the laboratory of Prof. Hutchings at the Cardiff Catalysis Institute in Wales in the end of 2015. RESOLV Graduate School of Solvation Science gave me the financial support to be able to make my journey. My project during my stay there consisted of several tasks. First of all, I had the opportunity to test my materials for various catalytic reactions which were not applicable in our laboratory. My PhD project mainly focuses on photocatalysis, that is, the utilization of (preferably visible) light instead of heat to run heterogeneously catalyzed reactions. Due to my experience in photocatalysis, I could help my colleague with whom I worked closely together during my stay. Her project also focuses on photocatalytic reactions and she started her PhD round about 6 months ago at the time when I arrived. The idea was to build a set-up which is quite similar to the set-up I use at the Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung. Although we had some great progress, we couldn’t finish the job before my flight back to Germany. Anyhow, I am pretty sure the set-up will be ready in the first weeks of January.

Safety first! My colleague and I putting on proper UV-safety eyewear before setting up the Xenon lamp. – Safety first! My colleague and I putting on proper UV-safety 
eyewear before setting up the Xenon lamp.

The third part consisted of a detailed investigation of the support effect on glycerol oxidation for various kinds of catalysts. I’d chosen this as a small project which was also an important aspect of the side-project of my colleague and I felt glad to contribute to this topic. All in all there was plenty of work to do during my two months stay at Cardiff University. It turned out to be a very productive task and the results might be published in the near future. Splitting your working time on several tasks seemed to be the way to go for my stay.

Science Zone

My research project consists of the utilization of the visible light absorption properties of nanosized gold particles for the chemical transformation of glycerol to value-added products. The whole progress of utilizing light for driving chemical reactions on a catalyst is known as photocatalysis. The purpose of my stay was the investigation of various gold containing catalysts for different reactions (glycerol oxidation, H2O2 synthesis, CO oxidation, benzyl alcohol oxidation etc.). On the other hand, the group was about to build a photocatalytic set-up. My experience in photocatalysis would help to build the set-up and investigate photocatalytic reactions.

Typical picture during the photocatalytic reaction: Illumination of the reaction solution through the glass window of the stainless steel reactor with green light from the top. My colleague in Cardiff will eventually be able to have a similar set-up at the end of January 2016.– Typical picture during the photocatalytic reaction: Illumination of 
the reaction solution through the glass window of the stainless steel 
reactor with green light from the top. 
My colleague in Cardiff will eventually be able to have a similar 
set-up at the end of January 2016.

I arrived on a Friday afternoon in Cardiff with a flight time of only one and half hour and had a very warm welcome from my colleagues. Luckily, they were all heading to the pub after work, so I could quite early get to know many faces. I used the weekend to get familiar with the city and – most importantly – to get used to the fact that people drive on the left side in the UK. This and other things which were different compared to other countries (like the plug sockets, the safety switches on the plug sockets, the lack of plug sockets in the bath room due to safety reasons, the lack of good bread etc.) were something which gave us always plenty to talk about when having conversations with my colleagues from abroad. Cardiff offers lots of things to do during your spare time. Every weekend there is a 5 km run through the Bute Park along the River Taff. The first time I joined the run, there were about 500 participants! Roath Park which, unfortunately, is way smaller than Bute Park was the next place I visited for my running session. Beautiful and informative places like Cardiff Bay, Cardiff Castle and National Museum Cardiff were also visited. Luckily, the weather was untypically dry and calm. Rainy and windy days accumulated only at the end of my stay.

Top: The chemistry department of Cardiff University (left) and the National Museum Cardiff (right). Bottom: Rugby ball “smashed” into the wall of Cardiff Castle due to the Rugby World Cup 2016 (left) and the two teams Cardiff Blues (in red) and Nottingham playing against each other in the British & Irish Cup.– Top: The chemistry department of Cardiff University (left) and the 
National Museum Cardiff (right). Bottom: Rugby ball “smashed” into the
wall of Cardiff Castle due to the Rugby World Cup 2016 (left) and the 
two teams Cardiff Blues (in red) and Nottingham playing against each 
other in the British & Irish Cup.

Of course, there are a lot of pubs where you can try various kinds of beers. Talking about a good beer – I really appreciated my curiosity for trying new things out like different Ales or IPAs (India Pale Ales). The fact that they also served Lager beer saved me from my curiosity and helped me to enjoy more familiar beer types. A full English breakfast on the other hand is for me unarguably the best thing you can get to eat in the morning. Last but not least, a visit to Wales or UK in general will not be complete if there is no rugby game. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a ticket for the quarter finals Wales against South Africa but I managed to join a game after the Rugby World Cup trouble – the Cardiff Blues against Nottingham. The matches of the Rugby World Cup were watched in the fully crowded pubs. Football requires a lot out of a body but I think Rugby puts some things into a new perspective. When you have enough from Cardiff, you can easily reach Bristol or Bath in England in about one hour by train. The highlight of my stay was the trip to London for one weekend with my cousin and some friends of her. I was really satisfied that I achieved a lot of things in the laboratory and also could manage to see a lot of Cardiff and other cities in the UK.

 Last get-together before leaving Cardiff.– Last get-together before leaving Cardiff.

Eventually, I would like to thank Prof. Hutchings, my supervisor Dr. Simon Freakley and my colleague Laura Abis who not only gave me the opportunity for this research stay but also made every effort to have a productive and nice stay in Cardiff.

Link to Cardiff Catalysis Institute

About the Author

ProfilePicGDGeorgios Dodekatos, born 1988 in Minden, achieved his      B.Sc. in Chemistry at the Georg-August Universität Göttingen and his M.Sc. in Chemistry at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum, where he decided to focus on heterogeneous catalysis, especially photocatalysis. Currently, he works on his PhD thesis about glycerol valorization via plasmonic photocatalysis in the group of Dr. Tüysüz at the Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung.
His scientific motto is: “A scientist has to work very hard to get to the point where he can be lucky.” – R. B. Woodward

Internship in Alicante

In spring 2015, thanks to the RESOLV Graduate School Solvation Science, I was able to spend three months in Alicante, Spain. Internship at a foreign University is an exciting opportunity RESOLV is able to provide for young researchers.
Alicante is a city on the Mediterranean coast of Spain in the Valencian region and it is about the size of Bochum but completely different in so many aspects. The biggest difference is the touristic appealing the city has, it attracts thousands of tourists and during spring and summer the city is always crowded. In fact many Spanish from the inland cities (as Madrid) have their summer houses also next to the sea so they can drive down to the coast and enjoy a relaxing weekend at the beach.

Luckily, I started my internship at the end of April, just when the nice season starts. And what a nice season! Three months and one week during which it was raining for not more than four hours in total!
I could find a room in a flatshare thanks to the help of a Spanish friend while I was still in Bochum so I had no problems regarding the accommodation.
I was welcomed warmly at the University and I immediately got to know the whole research group of the Institute of Electrochemistry. They helped me since the beginning not only in the lab but also giving me advice on life (and food!) in Spain. The first impression of the University in Alicante is quite astonishing for someone who is used to the Ruhr-University Bochum: small buildings of maximum three floors spread around a big campus full of palms and flowers.
The atmosphere was welcoming and the other PhD students in turn helped me in the lab showing me their know-how. The lab-instruments were different and I was not independent during the first week but later on I managed to do everything on my own. It is very useful to learn different experimental techniques and how to handle different instruments than the ones I am used to. It was a unique opportunity because at the Ruhr-University one of the experimental techniques I learned cannot be performed because the instrument is not available.

Science Zone

At the Institute of Electrochemistry in Alicante I worked under the supervision of Prof. Victor Climent and Prof. Juan Feliu. The research consisted of two main topics. One was the study of the kinetics of defect formations on the surface on Pt(111) single crystals in alkaline solutions. The other one is the laser-induced temperature jump method applied on an Ir single crystal having a (111) preferential orientation.  The technique consists of nanosecond laser pulses fired at the electrode-solution interface to suddenly increase the temperature, providing evidence on the net charge orientation of water at the interface. Thanks to this technique it is possible to differentiate between the responses of the double layer to a potential difference and the charge-transfer processes at the interface.

The first days I was communicating in English, but due to the similarity of my native language (Italian) to Spanish I soon started to pick up words and communicate in their language. The thought of learning Spanish was on my mind, but I didn’t think it was so easy to do it!
My coworkers were mostly Spanish but there were also Chileans, Mexicans, Colombians and Brasilians among them. They could all talk in English but the whole communication in the lab has been done in Spanish, so learning it helped me a lot on both scientific and social life.


What about a stroll on the beach to relax after work? In Alicante you can!

The head of the Electrochemistry Institute is Prof. Juan Feliu, former president of the International Society of Electrochemistry and maybe the worldwide most known professor in the field of single-crystal electrochemistry. The group is a bit smaller than the group of Prof. Schuhmann in Bochum and it is split in two adjacent buildings. But we were gathering all together for lunch and we also had dinner together every now and then.

I had interesting results in one of the two topics I was investigating in Alicante and a collaboration is established now to finalize the project. With the collaboration of one of the PhD students of Prof. Climent we will perform another set of experiments. This internship was indeed a great opportunity to expand my scientific network outside Germany!

Link to the Institute of Electrochemistry in Alicante

Link to Graduate School Solvation Science

About the Author

Profile Photo_Alberto GAlberto Ganassin was born in 1988 in Castelfranco Veneto (Italy). He got a bachelor in Material Science at the University of Padua in Italy and a master in Material Science at the Technical University of Munich. He is currently a PhD student in Prof. Schuhmann’s group and the topic of his PhD is “Electrochemistry of gas evolution reaction”

My iMOS Internship at the University of California

From September until December 2014 I did my iMOS internship at the University of California, Irvine. I joined the Tobias group which focuses on molecular dynamics simulation of biomolecular structure. My job was to simulate Hv1(a proton channel in a variety of organisms) under a depolarizing potential in order to investigate the opening mechanism of the channel. Fortunately for that purpose we got 75.000h computational time on Anton which is one of the fastest supercomputers for MD simulations. These simulations provided some interesting information about the opening mechanism and the work will be published soon.

University of California, Irvin - Kopie (2)

University of California, Irvine

I lived off-campus and shared a small house with five guys. Even though I just had approximately 20sq m the rent was about $950 per month. Finding a place to live in Irvine for such a short period is very difficult and expensive and if you are thinking about doing your internship in Irvine as well, search and apply for housing as soon as possible. The city itself is one of the safest places in the USA. It is very modern and beautiful as well. The university is around 5 miles away from the beach and the beaches in California are just awesome. When I arrived the temperature was about 32 degrees Celsius and during my time it did not go below 20 degrees. That is one reason for living in California. The other reason is UCI. It is one of the best public universities in the USA and the campus is modern, clean and well organized. The faculties are located around the Aldrich Park which is a botanical garden and the heart of UCI. There is no canteen or something comparable as known from Germany but there are several restaurants such as Subway, Panda Express or Blaze Pizza.


San Francisco

During my time I met lots of nice people, visited a few beaches of California and did a short trip to San Francisco with another iMOS student from Santa Barbara. Overall I enjoyed my time really much and can highly recommend UCI and especially the Tobias group for doing an internship. Last but not least I would like to thank Prof Marx who not only arranged the internship but rather gave me the opportunity being a part of such a great group.

Link to University of California

Link to  Master course in Molecular Sciences and Simulation (iMOS) at Ruhr-University Bochum

About the Author

Henfrik GoddekeHendrik Göddeke was born in Meschede and holds a BSc in Molecular Biology with a focus on Bioinformatics from Westphalian University Gelsenkirchen. He then moved to Bochum for iMOS. The international course was carried out in the Tobias lab at UC Irvine. He finished iMOS in September 2015 and is now doing his PhD in the Schäfer group.

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

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

Science Zone


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.

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”.