CarbFix is one of the many projects that we have going at NanoGeoScience. The project aims to convert carbon dioxide into carbonate minerals (e.g. calcite) through reaction of the gas with basalt.

Recently, the project has been featured by the New York Times. Check it out if you are interested to see some of the exciting science that we do here.

Turning Carbon Dioxide Into Rock, and Burying It” by Henry Fountain, 9 Feb 2015.

Institute picnic

Two Fridays ago, our institute had a picnic day. But instead of an actual picnic, we went to Klatreskoven (literally “the climbing forest”). There, we were split into two groups. One group went to the individual course and another went to the team course. After two hours (and lunch), the two groups swapped courses.

Our group went to the team course first. We were split up into further smaller groups. Each of these small groups consisted of about 10 people. Then the fun began. Our team did two exercises:

  • The first one was an exercise where two people climb up a tree. Each of them had two people responsible for their safety. Once the two people reached the top, they had to step on a plank which had to be be stabilised by someone on the ground. There were several of these planks, each one had to be stabilised by a person. That person also had to help the climber step on to the next plank. Because there were two climbers, they would eventually meet in the middle, whereupon they had to pass one another and get to the other side. The idea of this exercise is that the climbers will fail unless supported and helped by the people stabilising the planks.
  • The other exercise involved a wide “ladder” made of bamboo, each rung was about 1 m apart. There were three climbers (each supported by two safety people) who had to work together to climb the ladder. They could only touch the rung and each other. They could not touch any of the ropes. The idea of this exercise is obviously for the climbers to work together as a team to climb the ladder.

After lunch and some rest, we did the individual course. This one was more to do with having fun. There were several difficulty levels: green, blue, red, and black. The more difficult the course is, the longer it would take to complete it. I am not terribly fond of heights, so I only did the green course. It was kinda fun, though.

In the afternoon, we had a tour of the professor’s villa at Carlsberg. The villa hosted many eminent scientists, writers, and artists, including Niels Bohr who presumably had access to beer on tap 24 hours a day. Carlsberg is actually one of the (I think) rare companies which give a lot back to society. The group made their fortune through science, and they are repaying their debts by establishing funds for basic research. The group even has a research centre dedicated to biochemistry.

Anyway, that evening we also had a Dwarf Party at Nano-Science Center. It’s an annual party mainly aimed to give the opportunity for people from the Nano-Science Center to mingle with each other. As part of the party, there was a game that we had to do. They divided us based on age (and therefore roughly by position). There were the Bachelors/Masters students, the PhD students, and the post docs/professors. The aim of the game was to launch a bottle as high as possible.

I had my doubts about the success of this game, because I found it highly illogical to have 20+ people in each group. In hindsight, this was a brilliant exercise where each group’s mentality and way of thinking was really highlighted:

  • The Bachelors/Masters was kinda successful, even though it involved somewhat unconventional and borderline dangerous practices. At one stage, they over-pressurised their bottle and blew up the delivery system (a pipe). They also showed ingenuity by using a beer tap mechanism to launch their bottle (which didn’t work at all).
  • The PhD students thought about the problem thoroughly and devised a clean and efficient mechanism to launch their bottle. The technique was reproducible with excellent success rate.
  • The post docs/professors thought the longest and hardest about the problem. In the end, it was decided that baking soda and vinegar was the way to go. So out came the huge chemical bottles. We were still working on the vinegar delivery mechanism when the Bachelors/Masters and PhD students had launched their bottles at least once. In the end, our bottle never launched off the ground, and all we managed to do was to make the ground smell like vinegar that you can smell from 50 m away. Of course, apologists would have thought that it was just engineering problem.

Thesis defence

Yesterday I attended my first (Masters) thesis defence. This was a new experience for me, as there is no such thing as a thesis defence in Australia. The format was 30 minutes of presentation aimed at a general audience followed by 30 minutes of question time.

The presentation was open to public. In yesterday’s case, the presenter’s family (including grandparents!) came, along with pretty much everyone in the group. The question time, on the other hand, was done behind closed doors. There were just the presenter and her two examiners, while the rest of us shuffled to the lounge room. Some of us helped the presenter’s parents to take some food out of their car.

Oh, the food. It was a (bite-sized) feast! There were finger food and some cakes. They really do take their thesis defence seriously in Denmark! Of course, I only have one data point at the moment, so I can’t tell if this is a typical thing or not.

After question time, the presenter (and her examiners) came to the lounge with a look of massive relief on her face. She and her supervisor gave a short speech, and then the merriment began.

I actually found the whole experience to be quite nice. There are some similarities with what we currently have in Australia anyway. In Denmark, you have to hand in your thesis and then prepare your presentation/defence. In Australia, the thesis defence is like your final talk, which you typically give before handing in your thesis. So I guess it’s not all that different.

The state of science in Denmark

Last Thursday, we had a visit from the leader of the Head of Department of Chemistry. It was the usual deal with everyone introducing themselves and then he gave a brief spiel on what he wanted us to do or concentrate on.

One of the things he mentioned actually surprised me a bit. He said that we (as in the Department of Chemistry) needed to increase our number of students. In the past year, the first year intake for Chemistry has been about 50 students, whereas Physics intake is about 150 students. He said that the reason for high school students not to take Chemistry was that it is viewed as a hard science where you will be stuck with research, i.e. it didn’t lead to a “real” job.

Contrast this with, say, Australia, where Chemistry is undoubtedly more popular than Physics, precisely because it leads to more job opportunities. I also had a chat with a Swedish friend who confirmed that Chemistry is generally more popular there as well. I wonder if the Danes take up more Physics than Chemistry because of the legacy of Hans Christian Ørsted and Niels Bohr, who have undeniably changed (and improved) our understanding of electromagnetism and atomic physics.

Also last week, there was an interesting article in the Department Newsletter. The article states that job security for hard science graduates (is) untouched by financial crisis. This also surprises me. Coming from Australia where these hard sciences constantly face budget cuts, which is compounded by plans to further cut A$2 billion from the whole university sector. Although, now that Julia Gillard is no longer prime minister, who knows if this plan will still go ahead or not.

Hard water

One of the things that I miss from Australia is how good the water tastes. Over here in Copenhagen, water is incredibly hard, as it has a very high minerals content. As a result, there is a serious problem with limescale deposits. At work, there is an electric kettle that is so covered with limescale that my tea tastes (and looks) horrible. I couldn’t have more than one sip! So today I went in to Uni with one purpose: to decalcify the kettle while no-one’s around.

This is what it looks like before I began. Look at how horrible the kettle looks.

The inside of the kettle before I decalcified it.
The inside of the kettle before I decalcified it.

I boiled some water and then poured some vinegar (da:eddike) in. For science geeks, vinegar will react with limescale to produce calcium acetate, water, and carbon dioxide. The last component is the reason why it bubbles up.

Adding vinegar to boiling water.
Adding vinegar to boiling water.

After mixing vinegar to boiling water several times, the kettle is now perfectly clean!

Clean kettle!
Clean kettle!

However, as a testament to the extremely high mineral content of Copenhagen water, check out the new limescale deposit after only two boils! I think my quest to get nice tasting tea will be doomed. On the other hand, if the group wants to get some chalk sample, we can just scrape off the bottom of the kettle.

New deposit after two boils!
New deposit after two boils!

First impressions of Copenhagen

After walking 16.5 km around Copenhagen, here are my first impressions, in no particular order:

  • Immigration was a breeze; there were no arrival and customs forms to fill in
  • Copenhagen is beautiful; the buildings are not very tall
  • Some restaurants will give you an English menu once you start talking to them
  • There is no clicker at the traffic intersections
  • Bikes, bikes, more bikes, and bike shops
  • Swans will encourage you to feed them if you approach them
  • A police car has a different siren sound compared to an ambulance
  • Just before the traffic light turns green, both red and yellow lights light up
  • There are a lot of churches
  • Some roads are very quiet because there are only bus and bicycle lanes
  • There are a lot of green copper statues
  • Lifts have doors that swing open, which may be made out of wood
  • I’m not feeling jet lagged (yet); although I am getting tired, perhaps due to the long walk
  • My colleagues are a nice bunch
  • Finding accommodation in/around Copenhagen is very difficult; it might be easier (but not necessarily cheaper, once transport is taken into account) to find a place to stay in Sweden, and then commute to work
  • The buskers are great; If you are in Copenhagen, make sure you find Peter Jones



When am I flying back?

Someone was asking me the other day, “when are you coming back?”. Just like the previous question, the answer is “I don’t know”. But the reasons for this are different.

The job offer states that I will be in Denmark for 2 years. This will be a great opportunity for me to explore a bit of Europe. I can literally go to another country for a weekend. In fact, if I wanted to go and see Eurovision this year, I could take a 35 minute train ride from Copenhagen to Malmö (running every 10 minutes or so!), watch the show, and be back at work the following day.

It will make no sense for me to waste my vacation on a long plane trip to Australia or Indonesia. I want to go to places I haven’t been before. That’s why I wanted to catch up with as many people as possible before I go, just in case I won’t see them for 2 years (or more).

Having said that, while flying back on vacation is very unlikely at this stage, this does not mean I will not be back on work trip. The group has collaborators everywhere, including Australia. It is probably likely that I will be assigned on a collaborative project which allows me to travel back at the group’s expense.

Of course, everything is up in the air at the moment. After all, I have to fly off before I can fly back. But the bottom line is, I may be back before my 2 years is up. Rest assured, I will give people some advance notice, just in case they want to leave the City before I fly back.

Hello again

Hello again. Did you miss me? After a very long absence, I have returned to the world of blogging, complete with a new domain name.

The purpose of this blog is to share my experiences as I embark on an adventure which will take me to Copenhagen and beyond. I am very excited about it. I am currently waiting for my work permit to come through, after which I will fly off to Denmark and start my new position with the NanoGeoScience group at the University of Copenhagen.

In the next few posts, I will write about the story so far and the general process of moving to Denmark. Stay tuned.