He received a grant from Innovation Cluster Drachten to do a 3-month research project with piezoelectric nanofiber sensors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston. Julian follows the Industrial Engineering and Management Masters program and keeps us regularly informed of his experiences and experiences.
Part 1 - Here we go!
On June 10, I could finally board the plane to Boston, Massachusetts, USA. To get to this point, I had to arrange many things. I needed to obtain a proof of enrollment, find a place to live, pass an English proficiency test, get health insurance, obtain a credit card, and apply for a visa. I am not going into details about these preparations. Let me start by explaining what I am going to do in Boston.
In Boston, I will be working on a research project with flexible piezoelectric nanofiber sensors. I created these sensors at the University of Groningen and took them with me to Boston. The piezoelectric effect is the generation of electrical voltage in crystals of certain solid materials when mechanical force is applied, for instance by bending. The idea is to place my self-constructed sensors behind a cylinder and drag this cylinder through water. The resulting whirls in the water will bend the flexible sensors, generating electrical voltage in the piezoelectric material. This may work as a kind of energy harvester in the future. Right now, we are still in the testing phase. The Sea Grant department of MIT has a suitable towing tank to drag objects through water, which is ideal for my experiments. Of course, this is not the only reason I came to Boston. I also want to experience American culture and explore the surroundings.
It was hard to find accommodation, as I wanted to live close to MIT at a reasonable price. This is not easy, for rents are high. Fortunately, my budget is large enough to pay for three months. After a long search on Craigslist, Facebook and dubious rental sites, I ended up with MIT Housing. I am now temporarily renting the room of a PhD student in Ashdown House, which is a place where only MIT students live. I can only stay here until August 15 and then have to find another place to stay. Now that I have lived here for a little over two weeks, I like it!
Exploring the area
I felt a little tense on the plane, but I had a smooth flight and had no trouble finding my way from the airport to Ashdown House by bus and streetcar. I spent the next days exploring Cambridge. It is an independent town within the larger city of Boston. I walked to Central Square with its many restaurants and visited the MIT museum. I also ventured into the MIT main building and walked to Harvard Square to take a look at Harvard University. The Harvard Museum of Natural History is also located on this square and I will certainly visit it later. Before I can start on my research at MIT Sea Grant department, I have to complete my registration at MIT and get my MIT identity card, which also contains a chip for public transport. Unfortunately, I discovered that my European mobile phone did not work properly on most US mobile frequency bands. I hardly ever had good reception, and even if I had good reception, the internet speed was too low to be useful. I therefore bought a 4G router that gives me good reception everywhere so that I can use Google Maps and find my way around in this huge city.
I did not know what to expect from MIT before I got to the US. It is much larger than I expected and consists of many different buildings that together make up one large campus. The Sea Grant department where I will be working in the coming months is relatively small but has excellent equipment such as expensive laptops and the towing tank. If anything is missing, they immediately order it. The research itself is not easy, as things do not work as they do at the university in Groningen. I have to get used to this. This also holds for my contacts with the professors, as they are very busy with all kinds of things and have little time for meetings and guidance. Pressure is high, but I also see this as a great challenge!
I go to the MIT sports facility every day. Here you can take part in all kinds of sports, such as basketball, soccer and swimming. I joined the visiting students association that organizes picnics for visiting students. I also went sailing on the Charles River with a few fellow-students. I visited downtown Boston , where I walked the Freedom Trail, a 4-kilometer route through the city center that passes by 16 locations of national historical interest, such as Boston Common, the Old State House and the Old North Church.
Boston is huge and public transport hardly ever operates to schedule. I therefore took out a Blue Bike membership for 35 dollars, which allows me to use the blue bikes placed in bike racks across the city in the coming months. Cycling takes courage because you share the road with cars, mega-size pick-up trucks and SUVs. I went to the baseball game in which the Boston Red Sox beat the Chicago White Sox 6 to 5. This was a great experience. The temperatures are nice and warm in Boston, but the weather is changeable: one second it is pouring with rain, the next the sun is shining and it is 30 degrees. American food is strange. They sell fast food everywhere and the rest of the food is full of sugars. Healthy food is available, but rather expensive. This makes it hard to stick to my normal diet.
I miss everyone and everything in the Netherlands but want to enjoy my time in Boston. I am eager to start working on my project. I also hope to see more of the culture and the environment, take part in all kinds of activities, and meet more nice people.