Part 2 of the American adventure of University of Groningen student Julian Bos
News | 22 Aug 2019
He has seen Prime Minister Mark Rutte, eaten squid organs and does his shopping in a brand new BMW. Meanwhile, his research project with homemade piezoelectric nanofiber sensors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston is steadily progressing. Part two of the experiences of Julian Bos.
Part 2 – Naturalized
Since my last update, a new roommate has walked into my Ashdown room. The room has always been a 'two-bedroom' room, the second bedroom of which has been locked since I arrived. My new roommate Gabriel is from Singapore and will be staying for the next two years for his master's degree in Financial Engineering at MIT Sloan School of Management. Fortunately we get along well and it is also a lot more cozy in the otherwise lonely room.
Gabriel also brought all kinds of electronics with him. An Oculus Rift, a desktop computer, Nintendo Switch and a projector that we use for games and movies. Moreover, he has a car that his father bought here two years ago for his brother. He will return to Singapore after his studies. The car will stay here so Gabriel can use it for the next two years. Gabriel tells us that cars in Singapore are very expensive, so when his father saw the prices of cars in America, he immediately bought a brand new BMW-3! Now we can drive everywhere, which is also useful for shopping, although Amazon Prime is also very handy.
The project is now doing somewhat better. I designed a special holder and 3D printed various parts of it using the computer program SolidWorks. This holder holds a 'fairing', a thin metal beam that looks a bit like an airplane wing in cross section. Here the piezoelectric sensor is attached at the bottom. The streamlined fairing ensures that fewer water vortices are generated behind the fairing, which in turn causes vibrations and can affect the output of the sensor. The entire construction is mounted hanging from the 'towing tank' platform and placed behind a cylinder that is also attached to the platform. This kind of experiment, in which two objects are actually attached to the 'towing tank' platform, have never been performed here before. The towing tank has so far only been used to investigate the effects of water vortices on cylinders and other shapes, by looking at the force data measured by a sensor in the cylinder holder. I have already performed a lot of tests and a nice side effect is that I can now handle the Artificial Intelligence Towing Tank. For example, all sensors have been tested and we now move on to the sensor that generates the highest electrical output. Unfortunately, that electrical output is less than hoped for (100 mV), especially compared to the much higher electrical output of the sensor in the Ocean Grazer wave tank at the University of Groningen. I am currently trying to figure out how this is caused. The results are not perfect yet, but there is still plenty to do in the field of computer simulations and other experiments, such as connecting an electrical circuit to the sensors to identify the power output. I'm not an electrician, so I'm not really into these kinds of topics. Like hydrodynamics for example, which is one of the most important topics in the MIT Sea Grant department. This is of course quite difficult, but it is also a great challenge and opportunity to broaden my knowledge and to delve more deeply into different subjects. I can then combine that in order to arrive at a solution for certain other problems. If, in the end, it turns out that the sensors do not produce enough energy via water vortices, my supervisor at the University of Groningen will probably send a few more piezo-resistive sensors that I can test here in the MIT Sea Grant towing tank. These piezo-resistive sensors work differently from the piezo-electric sensors and could generate more energy in combination with water vortices.
In addition to the research, Gabriel and I find enough time to do fun things. For example, we went to the Museum of Fine Arts in downtown Boston. This museum can be compared to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. It is really very big and there are all kinds of different exhibitions including a Dutch one with Delft Blue. There are also some famous Dutch paintings by Vermeer, Van Gogh and Rembrandt. Of course we are also exploring Boston more and more. In Chinatown we ate dumplings and strange Chinese desserts. Gabriel once came home with Chinese food that he said I should try. Once I had finished it, it turned out that I had eaten fried squid organs, among other things. Luckily it tasted fine, as long as you don't know what's in it.
We also visited the Quincy Market, Faneuil Hall and the Copley Square Farmer's Market and we went to a lot of shopping centers and malls. Cambridge Side Galleria, for example, has more than 100 shops and restaurants, from electronics to clothing and snacks. In the Science Museum we saw a Van de Graaff generator or band generator that is used for demonstrations. The light is then dimmed, after which you can see huge electric shocks. Besides seeing you can also hear them. By using different frequencies, the shocks can be seen as well as heard to the melody of Super Mario. And to get a good look at the Boston skyline, we went to the top of one of the tallest buildings in the city.
With temperatures of around 30 degrees Celsius, a day at the beach cannot be missed. With the European Club we went by train to the beach of Manchester-by-the-Sea. The film Manchester by the Sea of the same name was also filmed in this picturesque village. Behind the beach are trees, green plants and shrubs which, together with the golden beach and blue water, gives a wonderful tropical feeling. Before we knew it it was time to catch the train back to Boston. We also visited the famous Samuel Adams local brewery and cooled down at the Toscanini ice cream parlor, which according to the New York Times makes the best ice cream in the world. I don't know if that's true, but the ice cream tasted delicious!
Even more American!
Because it's fun to do, we also try to visit as many American fast food chains on the East Coast as possible, such as Taco Bell, Wendy's and Five Guys. But fast food isn't the only thing we eat, we also try a local New England delicacy, the Lobster Roll. With the European Club we had dinner at a seafood restaurant in the harbour. Then we went to a cinema to watch a movie together. Bacon popcorn with melted butter in hand – it doesn't get more American than that – we enter a cinema with mega-sized seats with heating and reclining functions. So it can be even more American! On June 4, during Independence Day, we will play fun games with the MIT visiting student association (VISTA) while enjoying snacks and drinks and of course we will conclude with a barbecue.
Besides the trips and exploring America, after the experiments for my research project I also give tours and demonstrations to different groups of high school students. Some very bright but underprivileged students from several high schools have been visiting for a few days to see how things are going at MIT. I told them about how I got there and what my project entails. I also gave them a tour to show them the various facilities of Sea Grant. For example, I showed demonstrations of experiments in the 'towing tank'. They found that very interesting! Perhaps these smart children will also end up here in a few years' time, to participate in similar projects.
Furthermore, it is rather quiet in the Sea Grant department. My 'weekly' supervisor is in China, the director is currently in Greece and Professor Consi is on vacation. I just try to continue my experiments, but this is difficult with less feedback and supervision. By the way, I got a Harvard ID card so that I can occasionally work on my project in peace in the famous Harvard library.
In addition to students from all kinds of countries, I have also met quite a few Dutch people. Sometimes I can just speak Dutch here, so many Dutch students are walking around here. I did not expect that. Of course it is not bad to speak English, which is of course the official language here, but I also keep up with my Dutch by Skype with my father and my sister in the Netherlands. Unfortunately they can't just drop by, but that way we can still see and talk to each other. Speaking of the Dutch, our Prime Minister Mark Rutte also paid a visit to Boston after his visit to Donald Trump in Washington. He visited Boston Dynamics and the MIT Artificial Intelligence lab, followed by a visit to the Museum of Fine Arts. His program was on the internet, so I went to him and actually saw the Prime Minister of the Netherlands here in Boston! Everything was cordoned off and I didn't have a chance to talk to him, but at least I saw him.
In the coming period I will steadily continue with the project and of course I will also try to see more of the area! I also have to move soon, as my sublease in MIT Ashdown is almost over. Luckily I found a nice spot at MIT Edgerton House just a few hundred yards from Ashdown and so still very close to MIT Sea Grant. I will stay here until September 8, after which I have to find a new place until the end of September. I'll send another update next month! And then the adventure is almost over. Time flies, but until then I'll make the best of it.
Julian's scholarship is made possible in part by FB Oranjewoud.