STEM in Europe: 2018 Roundup
Do you know that 30% of what you discharge is dead bacteria, and that some bacteria like us humans have memories?
Microorganisms are vital and essential to life but we usually perceive them as pesticides that must be eradicated. Micropia, the only microorganism museum on this planet, opened my mind to how these minute animals affect our daily life. From providing most of the oxygen we breathe to cheese and bread we eat; medications that prolong lives, to making waterproof fire resistant materials that save lives, microorganisms are everywhere and without them we would not survive.
Get your harness and helmet, and we are ready to go. The first view of the Fun Forest was quite eye-catching - tons and tons of lines set up through the forest within the trees high above. Jay and Chris obviously have done zip-lining before, they were quite eager to challenge themselves to some hard core ziplining. It was a battle between each student’s fear of heights and the fear of not having full control of your body. I saw Eric giving Casper a pat on the back when it he was about to jump down a steep zipline. I also heard Jason cheer out loud as soon as he managed a beautiful landing. It was a truly fun activity to join the STEM group together in the most natural way. They played, encouraged, and relied on each other on all the challenges in the forest. Seeing those smiles on their faces was truly priceless.
The Adam Lookout
After Fun Forest, we raced back across town to the Adam Lookout, which Is located on a tall building on the waterfront. The reason we visited this spot was to swing over the edge of the building on the world’s highest swing. All the students had an awesome time participating in this thrilling activity. Fortunately, everyone survived.
Today, in the workshops held at the TU Delft Science Center, we designed and built chairs and bridges by ourselves. In the first workshop, my group didn't finish our chair, because we had too many ideas that we wanted to include. In the end, we managed to present a design, though we weren't able to sit on it. Michael, who was the judge, decided that even though we were not able to completely assemble our chair, it was the most luxurious. In the second workshop, we learned about bridge design. After giving us a lecture about bridge design, Michael gave us a task. He asked us to build a bridge using only balsa wood, nails, and string. The bridge had to span a gap of 80 centimeters. Our group's bridge didn't look cool, but when Michael added weights we discovered it could carry 3 kilograms. It broke when he added another 1-kilogram weight. One other team's bridge could also carry 3 kilograms, so in the end it was a tie.
After these fun and challenging workshops, we went on the TU Delft Backstage Tour. We toured the library, the civil engineering labs, and the applied physics building. The two most interesting places our tour guide showed us were an echo chamber and an anechoic chamber (the Death Room). In the Death Room, your voice doesn't bounce back, and it's super silent. You can't hear any noise. In the echo chamber, the opposite is true. It is super loud when a person makes a sound. A sound can echo for up to for 9 seconds.
Today, we had a fun time and experienced new experiences. This is the first time that I have used a canoe and Lego mindstorm EV3 robots. In the morning, we went to TU Delft for a robotics course. Our EV3 teacher was Michael. He was a really nice patient guy, He is also a student in Mechanical Engineering. In the EV3 course, Michael showed us how to use the robots and then he gave us some tasks. Willie and I were the first team to finish the first assignment, which was to finish a course by going around different blocks and under a bridge. We even managed to finish the second task. But, unfortunately, it was already break time so it didn’t count.
After lunch, we had a guide who led us to check out the different faculties at TU Delft related to robotics. It was really awesome to see the college students create new things. Later, we went to canoe in the countryside. It was fun, although I bumped into the reeds a lot of times. It was really bad to crash into the plants. It was disgusting because the bugs crawled all over us. However, it was still a great day in the end!
Engineer for a Day at TU Delft
This was the last day we did a project at TU Delft. In the “Engineer for a day” class, we were given a particularly challenging project－designing an underground shopping mall in the city center of Rotterdam. The goal was to design a safe shopping mall that wouldn't be dark and humid, and would serve as a landmark for the city. To make this a reality, we needed to think of what all the stakeholders expected and think of how to accommodate their needs.
We were divided into two teams. First, we started with a brainstorming session for the design of underground mall after listening to the teacher's explanation. Then, we asked for the feedback and built a model for our own plan. Finally, both of the teams represented their ideas to everyone. At first, each member of our team wrote down their ideas to find out what we thought were the important features of our mall. After we had collected and organized our opinions, we listed all of the decisions that we had made and showed it to the instructor to receive feedback.
After that, we started to build the model to realize our plan. Because we didn’t have time to draw a blueprint, I felt confused about what I should do at first. However, we still finished our model before the deadline. Finally, after many hours of thought, it was time to present our design. Some of the special features our mall would have included: a prism that would disperse sunlight in the center light well, ceilings, and floors that were see-through (acrylic) and also served as fish tanks, and an e-sport area next to a big indoor park. I thought these ideas would make our mall a must-see destination.
As promised, we did geocaching in Delft after we had completed the urban design project. The most amusing part of the treasure hunt was that the biggest box we found was hidden in the corner of a fish store. It was so easy to skip it that we could't find it at first sight even though it was big. The last activity we did that day was to walk to to the top of the spire of the New Church. While we were climbing the stairs, we saw the bells and the mechanism of the clock in the tower. When we were on the top, we could view the whole city with our eyes with the cool wind blowing through our hair. That was the perfect way to end our time in Delft!
Today was our second day in Switzerland. It was sad that the two alarms Casper set could not wake me and him. Therefore, we were late for breakfast. However, we were surprised that we were still the first two students to arrive for breakfast. Jay said he and Jason were late because Jason thought Jay was in such a deep sleep that he did not want to disturb him. In the morning, we went to do SUP (stand-up paddling) in Lac Leman. It was easy, but most people fell into the water when they were trying to do tricks. For example, our guide challenged us to do a 360 by standing on the back of the board in a surfing position. However, Casper and I were the only ones that were standing after every movement. Nevertheless, I was still dragged into the water by Eric and Jay when we got back into port. They were just like two water ghosts.
Maybe they were jealous because I was still dry.
In the afternoon, when we went to CERN, which is located on the border of Switzerland and France to learn about Particle Physics. Our guide, Dr. Yang, told us that there are twelve elementary particles in total, which compose the whole universe. He also taught us that they can be sorted into 3 categories - Leptons, Quarks and Bosons.
At CERN, researchers try to detect new particles created by colliding two protons together at high speed. These protons are first created by heating hydrogen gas into a plasma state and feeding them through different accelerators to increase their velocity gradually: the straight booster, the Proton Synchrotron (PS), the Super Proton Synchrotron (SPS), and the Large Hadron Collider (LHC.) The flying particles finally meet in different detectors that record the different characteristics that the newly created particles have.
Our guide ended our tour by telling us that they played the furthest throw and catch in the world by sending neutrinos to a cave in Italy for them to detect.
Before going back to the hostel, we went to a supermarket. Eric and I bought almost 100 Franc worth of chocolates. The most expensive purchase was a box containing 32 pieces that cost 30 Francs. Eric had an interesting thought process to justify the amount of money we spent when buying the expensive chocolate. He said that the cost of living in Geneva is four times that of Taiwan, so we were actually spending a reasonable amount of money (900 NT for chocolate). I still cannot believe that we spent almost 2/5 of my budget on chocolate.
Today, our first stop was a museum at Cern called Microcosm. Here, we learnt about the LHC (the Large Hadron Collider). We learnt about how it was built, how protons are accelerated close to the speed of light, and how different particles are detected after collisions. In the exhibit, I saw a massive tube with complex wires, detectors, a cooling system, and super conductive magnets. Surprisingly, the biggest particle detector on the planet, which is Atlas, is doing the smallest experiment in terms of size. Particles collide with each other with such high speed that scientists have the opportunity to simulate the Big Bang, and observe particles’ track, time, and position, in order to know the secrets of the Big Bang, and understand more about how the universe started. It was awesome to be able to experience such a cool place because new discoveries are made here every day.
After touring Microcosm, we went biking, and then headed to Voltaire’s house. On the way to our destination, fields beside the road were so wide that I could see all the way to the frontier and beyond. The mountains were so far away from us that I could barely see them on the horizon. The breeze was so soft and the sun was warm. I enjoyed the biking a lot. Voltaire was a French philosopher during the enlightenment. He first mentioned that people should have the freedom to say anything they want. According to him, neither the kings nor the pope should be able to restrict what people say. He dramatically influenced the laws that we have today. He was a really important person in the history of Western thought and literature. His house, which we reached after an enjoyable ride, was located on a steep hill, surrounded on all sides by forest. For me, it was a great place to think and relax.
From Genève to München
We traveled from Geneva to Munich today. We experienced the “pay for what you use” culture in Europe. Everywhere we go we need to pay for the toilet. No matter if it is in a train station, or in a restaurant, you need to pay 1-2 Euros in order to use the lavatory. It was not until we purchased our lunch could we use the loo for free. Before buying our lunch, Eric even thought that going to the toilet is too expensive and tried to wait until we get on the bus for free toilet. However, this seemed to ruin his day as he felt terrible even after visiting the bathroom. I guess when you have to go, do not try to keep it in!
On the bus from Zurich to Munich, I tried to make up for sleep deprivation as we woke up at a quarter to six this morning. However, there was an four hour play that lasted the whole journey which consisted of a baby and four Chinese tourists. Their performance was so enchanting and (deafening) that I cannot help but absorb all the banalities of their character.
Later, as we were checking in at the hostel, the World Cup final had just got underway. From the outset, France started dismantling a plucky, but massively outclassed Croatian team. Whenever the French scored, the audience were unusually quiet, whereas Croatian goals were met with loud cheers. As Andre' explained, the antipathy the Germans felt toward the French was the result of a centuries long regional rivalry. For the record, the final score was: France 4-2 Croatia.
Finally, we ended our day by having a wonderful dinner of pizzas from a wood burning oven and delicious pasta at a little neighborhood restaurant. Yet, with the simplest thing there can still be a twist. I ordered a desert with my meal thinking that it would come after the main course. Yet, my Tartuffe came with my drink. Although it was delicious, but it would be more luxurious than embarrassing had it came later.
Day 1 in München (Munich in German)
Today, we had a typically standard German breakfast. The food was a little bland and boring. I didn't eat a lot. After finishing the breakfast, we went to a bike store (Mike's Bikes) to rent bikes. The bike I chose was comfortable, because the seat was big enough and the wheels were thick, too. I rode my bike with a jumping motion, up and down. It was just like doing jumping jacks. First, Andre took us to a place where people surfed on a standing wave. While I was enjoying the show, I was splashed by a surfer and my pants got wet. After watching the amazing surfing, we went to a large meadow in the English Garten where we threw a long distance frisbee. I ran around like a crazy man while trying to catch the frisbee with my head. I threw the frisbee really high, so everybody had to run really far away to get out of the way of the falling missile. As we played, we got hotter and hotter under the boiling sun.
In order to cool down, we decided to have a swim in a small stream flowing through the park. The water was freezing, so I stayed in the water for only a short time. I got really hungry at this moment, because my body was struggling to keep itself warm, so I was glad that we ate our lunch directly after our swim. We ate lunch at a German beer garden in the middle of the park. This beer garden is famous because there is a tall Chinese tower in the eating area. The tower is very old, and originally came from China. The lunch itself was great, especially the large pieces of pork. After lunch, we went to BMW Welt. It was incredibly cool because I could see different models of BMW cars and motorcycles. I saw the future car that BMW has designed. It was absolutely awesome. I also had a chance to play on a driving simulator.
In the evening, we visited the world's highest zipline at the Munich Olympic Stadium. It was really scary to climb the stairs onto the top of the roof, but at the moment when you start sliding down you feel free and light. While the ride itself was over in a few seconds, it was still a fantastic experience. Even though a lot of people were sick and suffering with colds, we still had a great day.
Deutsches Museum X Deutsche Aircraft Museum X BMW Recycling & Dismantling Center, München
Today, unfortunately, we had two students who were sick, so one of the counselors needed to stay at the hostel. So only six people in our group had the opportunity to go to the Deutsches Museum. In the Deutsches Museum, we met a friendly tour guide, Alex, who led us around an exhibition called "Energy Transitions". The tour of the exhibition was very interesting, because Alex told us about how we can transition to new forms of energy. Alex explained how solar power, wind power, hydroelectric power, and smart hydrogen power are replacing dirty sources of energy, like oil, coal and nuclear.
In the afternoon, most of the group went to the BMW Recycling and Dismantling Center. But because of the age limit (over 13 years), I couldn't go in. Instead, I went to another branch of the Deutsches Museum, the Deutsches Aircraft Museum, which is located close to the BMW facility. Inside, there were many old planes, ranging from a plane flown by the Wright brothers to combat aircraft from World War 2! The more modern planes included a Typhoon and a Starfighter. Seeing this collection of aircrafts under one roof really amazed me a lot.
After our excursion to both BMW and the aircraft museum, the group joined up once again and we proceeded back to Munich. In Munich, we visited an escape room called “Fox in a Box”. At “Fox in a Box”, players have a choice between 5 rooms: the Zombie Lab, the Nicola Tesla room, the Prison, the Central Bank, and Bunker 17. I chose to do the Zombie Lab with Andre, Lynn, and Jason. Our mission was to find an antidote to the zombie virus that was hidden somewhere in the room. We had one hour to locate the antidote or we would become zombie food. The scenario of the game freaked me out, but because I was scared, I found clues and objects that helped us solve puzzles very fast. I hated the video feed of zombies trying to break into the lab and was unnerved by the eerie sounds they made. We escaped the room with 6.43 minutes left on the clock! Success!