The Great Ocean Road Trip

So we decided to take an epic road trip across the southern coast of Australia.  It turned out to be an incredible experience – I need to road trip more often! I’m presenting this post as a photo blog. You will see that I have lots of pictures, and plenty more in storage. My friend Jon (my colleague from EAPSI) and Jasper (our friendly Canadian buddy) flew to Adelaide in South Australia to meet up with our EAPSI friends Emily and Greg (unfortunately Greg couldn’t make it on the trip).  We rented a Skoda Octavia and were on our way. From here on out I’ll let the pictures tell most of the story:

Adelaide's mainstreet - not quite as bustling as Melbourne

One of the famous wineries in the beautiful Barossa Valley – where Australia’s best wine is made

A sunset over the vineyards that fill the Barossa Valley. And let me tell you, they make good wine

Had to throw these black swans in for all of my ONU friends...they are everywhere!

Our first sight of the Indian Ocean at Adlinga Beach

Fun times by the beach in South Australia (Emily, Jon, and Jasper - looking a bit dazed!)

We took a walk over a long bridge to Granite Island off the coast of Victor Harbor. Dinosaur eggs were everywhere!

We were reminded quite often that, yes, they do drive on the left side in Australia

We were on a road so remote we had to take a ferry across the river. The stars were out-of-this-world that night…

The Blue Lake located in a volcanic crater at Mt. Gambier. The lake is steel grey in winter and then changes to a spectacular cobalt blue in the summer.

Now that's an inviting beach, if only it wasn't winter - at Cape Bridgewater back in Victoria

We had to check out the petrified blowholes

Classic surfer van - about 12 people got out of this one

We saw southern right whales frolicking about just meters from the coastline (can you find the fin?)

Whale watching in Warrnambool

We made it to the Twelve Apostles by sunset

Twelve Apostles - a truly awesome sight to behold

We got up at the break of dawn the following morning to see all of the stunning natural features

London Arch was a particularly serene beach. But not back in 1990 when the arch closest to the shoreline collapsed leaving two tourists stranded on the outer part!

There used to be an arch between the two pillars here at the Island Archway, but it unfortunately collapsed in 2009 – just missed it!

The Loch Ard Gorge is named after the shipwreck that occurred here in 1878 at the end of a three-month journey from England to Melbourne. Of the fifty-four passengers and crew, only two survived. The combination of the “gorgeous” scenery and the dark history made me contemplate…

The grotto is a sinkhole geological formation

We walked down the beach on the other side of the Twelve Apostles. Not your typical beach scenery!

The Razorback is aptly named

In the Great Otway National Park we saw lots of koalas hanging out and munching on eucalyptus leaves. They sleep 22 hours a day on average, now that’s the life!

I've always been a sucker for waterfalls, especially ones in the rainforest (@Erskine Falls)

The tranquil beach at Apollo Bay

The requisite kangaroo crossing picture. I never did see a kangaroo in Australia even though they are supposedly everywhere! On the plus side that means we didn’t hit one with the car

Bells Beach is a renowned surfing destination and home to the world's longest-running surfing competition

We ended up back on the cosmopolitan streets of Melbourne

And these are just a few of the wonders Down Under…

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My Research – Part 3

The third analytical test I performed on the raw fly ash and the geopolymers was dilatometry a.k.a. thermo mechanical analysis (TMA). This is a measure of the deformation of a material under a constant stress over a temperature range.  The result of this method is a plot of the length change of the material as it is heated to a high temperature. This technique is useful for detecting the kinetics of solid state phase transformations. Specifically, dilatometry can be a powerful tool for quickly analyzing the reactivity of different fly ash sources. The high-temperature expansion peak can be linked to the release of chemically bound water and geopolymer samples that exhibit this expansion at higher temperatures tend to have a higher strength. Other phenomena that can be observed from the dilatometry plot include dehydroxylation and viscous sintering.

The dilatometer is ready to sinter some geopolymers!

Here are pictorial instructions on how to perform dilatometry measurements on geopolymers:

First, form a paste in a small plastic syringe.


Second, carefully remove the plastic casing after curing the sample, and cut to approximately 10mm in length.

Third, place the sample into the dilatometer and apply a small force.

Fourth, heat the sample up to a very high temperature and measure its length change. The resulting specimen will appear sintered.

The final data will reveal whether the fly ash source and the activating solution have formed a strong, durable geopolymer matrix.


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My Research – Part 2

The second analytical test I performed on the raw fly ash and the geopolymers was infrared spectroscopy. This method utilizes the FT-IR spectrometer instrument to acquire the broadband IR spectra, which can help to elucidate the structure of a compound. Note that infrared radiation is wedged between the visible and microwave regions on the electromagnetic spectrum. Infrared radiation is absorbed by molecules and transformed into molecular vibration energy—either bending or stretching. Specific bonds can be identified because they absorb IR of different wavelengths. There are known characteristic IR band positions for certain functional groups that can be used to analyze all kinds of materials. For example, the T-O-Si asymmetric stretching vibration (T either stands for Al or Si) is important for characterizing geopolymers. This specific band has been shown to shift to a lower wavenumber with an increasing degree of alkali-activation.

The sample preparation for this technique actually requires more time and effort than running the test.  Here are pictorial instructions on how to perform FT-IR:

First, an extremely small chunk of the solid sample is smashed with a spoonful of dried potassium bromide (KBr) in a mortar and pestle to form a very fine powder.

Second, the powder is poured into a circular metal plate and a metal rod is placed on top.

Third, the metal rod is compressed to form a thin plate of the sample.

Fourth, the thin plate or film is carefully removed. Note that KBr is transparent in the IR.

Fifth, the plate is placed on a metal holder.

Sixth, the metal holder is placed in the FT-IR for analysis. Note that this should be done as soon as possible to avoid hydration of the KBr, which interferes with the results.

The cover of the FT-IR is then closed to create the appropriate environment for analysis. After a few seconds of measuring the sample the machine outputs an IR spectrum, which is a plot of transmittance (or absorbance) vs. wavelength. This plot can reveal information on the molecular structure of the fly ash and geopolymers that would otherwise be impossible to determine

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My Research – Part 1

My primary reason for trekking across the Pacific wasn’t to see koalas in their natural habitat (even though that would be good reason), but actually to conduct research on fly ash geopolymers. Specifically, I am developing beneficial pathways for utilization for co-fired fly ash. Co-fired fly ash is a by-product of co-combustion of coal with biomass—a renewable source of energy. One potential reuse is the formation of geopolymers. These binders are formed by alkali-activating solid fly ash aluminosilicates. They can be used in the construction field as a less carbon intensive alternative to ordinary portland cement (OPC) concrete. In fact, in Australia they are already being commerically sold (see This research not only aimed to develop these co-fired fly ash geopolymers, but also to understand the science behind their formation.

Hard at work creating geopolymers

First, we created many different mix designs utilizing three sources of ash (one coal fly ash and two co-fired ashes). Various alkali-activating solutions were formulated and added to these ashes to see if geopolymerization would occur. A quick test to see if you have actually created a geopolymer is to place the recently cured samples into water.  If the matrix remains intact after a few days you have most likely created a geopolymer. Yet, if the matrix completely dissolves it’s back to the drawing board. Luckily we were able to create viable mix designs for each type of the ash.

This mix geopolymerized!

This one didn't...

I performed three analytical tests on the raw fly ash and the geopolymers (which I will explain over the next few posts). First, as I mentioned in the previous post, I utilized x-ray diffraction (XRD) to characterize the crystalline phases present in each sample. Samples were tested before and after geopolymerization to identify changes in the microstructure. All of the samples were pulverized to a powder before being placed in the holder for analysis. The crystalline structures in the samples are assumed to be randomly oriented when in this powder form and thus the diffraction pattern will reveal concentric rings of scattering peaks with the spacing between these rings dependent on the crystal lattice parameters (see Bragg’s Law). The final result is a plot of scattering intensity vs. the scattering angle, 2θ. The intensities and positions of the peaks are used to identify the crystalline components. In geopolymers the identification of zeolites can be an important step in understanding its unique structure. Furthermore, the detection of a hump in the intensity plot indicates there is an amorphous component to the structure. XRD is a powerful tool that when used properly can reveal detailed information on the chemical and crystallographic framework of a material.

The XRD Machine - the powder samples are put on the shelves behind the glass for analysis

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Melbourne at Last!

Graduate House - great people, great times, but kinda bad food

Time has passed so quickly since I’ve arrived in Melbourne. I’ve been so busy researching, sightseeing, and having the time of my life that I haven’t had a chance to blog! I will attempt to recap my first four weeks in Melbourne in the next few posts. John (my research advisor at the University of Melbourne) picked me up from the airport and took my directly to Graduate House, my home away from home. I have essentially been transported back to freshman year of college in that I share a bathroom and I eat in the dining hall for every breakfast and dinner (although I’m so thankful for this because food is so expensive). However, it has been so much fun living in dorm-style housing again after owning my own apartment for the past three years. I have met great people from all over the world and made lasting friendships. Yet I have struggled to stay productive because of the many activities that occur every night (why work when everyone is playing cards and watching a movie?!?) – one reason why it’s been so long since my last post.

My new office building

The next day I walked across the street from Graduate House to the university to meet with John and Susan (whom I have primarily worked with on this fellowship) to discuss my research plan for the “winter”. We then all went to Brunetti’s (a local institution in Little Italy on Lygon St.) for coffee. I drank this rich and decadent Italian hot chocolate that was so good I’ve been back at least four times a week (but not only for the hot chocolate – the gelato and sweets are fantastic too). Lygon St. is our haven for tea and food anytime of the day, because there are probably over 100 restaurants and cafes all in one area two blocks over from Graduate House!


Such a diligent worker

At school, I share an office that has really large windows (yes!) with Alireza in the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering building. I got right to work and performed X-ray diffraction (XRD) on the three fly ash samples I brought with me (one coal fly ash and the other two co-fired ash). I then learned from Susan how she interprets the diffraction patterns for fly ash and geopolymers. Everyone in John’s group is extremely friendly and helpful, which has really made my transition to researching at this school very pleasant. I believe I will be able to accomplish quite a bit this summer with regards to obtaining good experimental results.

Suhandy, Laura, and Susan (left to right) at the XRD Machine

The impressive St. Paul's Cathedral

Flinders Street Station and Eureka Tower

Over the weekend, I went on a long stroll around the city with my friends Jon and Paul. First we went to Queen Victoria Market, which is the largest market in the southern hemisphere! It has rows and rows of meat, dairy products, fruits and veggies, and a never-ending flea market. It’s a great place to grab a quick lunch and also the cheapest place to find snacks (except for the bananas – see attached picture). Afterwards, we walked around the busy CBD and enjoyed the lively atmosphere. We ended up at Federation Square, which is at the heart of the city. We went into the towering cathedral before heading into ACME (Australian Centre for the Moving Image). This free museum had fun interactive exhibits where you could even reenact the bullet sequence from The Matrix. It’s amazing how many famous actors and actresses are Australian given its small population. Afterwards, we walked along the Yarra River that runs through Melbourne and watched the crew teams speed by us. That evening we attended the Winter Solstice festival at Federation Square. This multicultural celebration had dancing and singing from all over the world. There were also aboriginal-style campfires set on the red earth of the Outback scattered all around.

Only in Australia...

$12 for four time I'll check the price first!

To the orginial Wurundjeri people who lived on this land, the river was called "birrarung" or 'river of mists and shadows'

St. Kilda at dusk

Later that week we went to St. Kilda Beach, which is just south of the CBD and easily accessible by the tram. The main street reminded me of one you would find along the beach in LA. There is a little historical carnival called Luna Park set on the water that has plenty of character, but unfortunately costs more than Cedar Point :0  We had a long walk along the esplanade before heading out to the pier at dusk. Little Penguins (that’s their official name) come out to feed at this time. We saw a few swimming around in the clear water, but they were so quick I couldn’t catch them with my camera. On the way back we stopped at some famous cake shops before calling it a night. The next day we toured some of the many beautiful arcades that connect the city streets before heading to the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV). It was the most impressive art museum I have seen in Australia. Its vast European collection was surprising given the fact that Sydney had such a small one. The NGV was so large we only made it half way through before getting too tired (of walking and, well, of art).


One of the largest glass ceilings in the world (at NGV)

A delicious cake shop in St. Kilda

A real-life version of the Australian Coat of Arms

I also visited the Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton Gardens (Carlton is the “posh” suburb I live in – they call it a suburb even though it’s practically downtown). This World Heritage Site is magnificent to behold on a sunny day.  Right next door is the Melbourne Museum, which is a fancy natural history museum. There were three main sections: 1) Aboriginal and Australian History, 2) An indoor forest, and 3) A room with tons of dead animals. Seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many different types of animals in one room in my entire life! Anyway, I would definitely recommend visiting this museum given that it is free for international students, but also because it was such an interesting experience.

Royal Exhibition Building (where the UniMelb students take their final exams!)

The modern Melbourne Museum

A vegetarians worst nightmare

Abnormally large stopwatch at Melbourne Central

Later, I ventured over to the State Library of Victoria, which is an absolute must-see for anyone visiting Melbourne. This hidden treasure has many nooks and crannies to get lost in, but the domed La Trobe Reading Room was the highlight. It was the world’s largest concrete dome at the time of its construction (1913) – 114 ft. in diameter and 114 ft. high. It’s the perfect place to spend an afternoon researching and writing. Just don’t expect to take out any books because, much to my chagrin, it is a reading-only library (but I need travel guides!). I then crossed the street to enter Melbourne Central. This indoor shopping mall has a massive conical glass dome that shelters the old Coops shot tower (a shot tower is a tower designed for the production of shot balls by freefall of molten lead). Melbourne Central also has a massive pocket watch that plays Australian national songs every hour, which I watched before heading back home. Luckily it’s a short walk back to Graduate House from anywhere in the CBD!

Now that's a library!

Coops shot tower at Melbourne Central

I am loving the vibe of Melbourne, and I can easily understand why it is considered one of the most livable cities in the world. Now I just have to find a balance between work and play, because there is so much to see and experience!

Good thing I'm here!

Melbourne from St. Kilda Beach - the classic shot

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A Hop, Skip and a Jump to Canberra

Missed this at our hotel by a week...phew

There was a happy reunion of the EAPSI fellows at the Sydney airport before boarding the prop-plane to Canberra for the shortest flight of my life. Yet the efficient stewardesses still served us food and drinks even though we practically started our descent the moment we reached cruising altitude because we were flying on Qantas (a much nicer airline compared to most American ones). It was the Queen’s birthday (a public holiday) so the city seemed quiet as we drove from the airport to the luxurious Diamont hotel.  On a side note, this hotel sadly burned to the ground only a week after we stayed there- yikes! Luckily no one was injured, but it’s still crazy. I’ve recently had this common theme of fire in my life as someone attempted to burn down my apartment building the week before I left (Melbourne better watch out!). Anyway, Canberra is a sleepy capital city (oxymoron, right?) that was only deemed capital because they couldn’t decide whether to use Sydney or Melbourne so they went half-way between the two. That evening, a group of us walked around the large, tranquil manmade lake and documented the colorful sunset with our cameras as it hid behind the mountains. We also saw some of the local fauna including an Australian water rat and numerous black swans (which I particularly enjoyed because we had a few black swans living on our ponds at my undergrad school, Ohio Northern). That night we walked through the empty city to have dinner (a tasty steakburger with chips and a rich waffle dessert).

The fiery skies of Canberra (Image Source: Paul)

The following morning we were given a guided tour of the National Gallery of Australia, a modern building with a large collection of Aboriginal art. Of particular interest were the grave poles, which are hollowed-out tree trunks decorated with a person’s life story. When a person dies they are left to decompose in a tree until only the bones are left (the aboriginal people believe a person’s spirit is in their bones). The bones are then placed in the pole and the pole is situated upright into the ground (above the surface) to free the spirit. I didn’t realize there were several hundred groups of indigenous people in Australia each with their unique culture so it was interesting to learn about them. We then walked around the planned city, which reminds me of a very small Washington D.C.

The modern Australian Parliament House

After a pleasant lunch with ginger beer (similar to ginger ale, but better) we headed to the Parliament House to view the question and answer session. Essentially, one member from one party asks another member from the opposing party a question that must be answered. However, we all know that there are no direct answers in government (which the speaker of the house even said outright at the start) and the sessions became quite heated with name calling and ridiculous retorts (really fun to watch). The main topic of discussion was the carbon tax, which seemed to elicit a large response from the members. The prime minister Julia Gillard (who looks like Tilda Swinton) was an eloquent speaker, but I read later in the day that she is currently very unpopular. I have to say the best part of the experience was sitting across the room from the Dalai Lama who just happened to stop by!  That evening we had a merry time at Kamberra Winery (Kamberra is actually the name of the local Aboriginals). Everyone even sang happy birthday to me (as it was my birthday), which really made my day!

Yes, this happened (Image Source: Oren)

I really am in Australia...and patriotic

On the final day of the orientation we had an official session with the members of the Australian Academy of Science who organized this entire event (and partly funded our trip, thanks!). We heard an interesting lecture on “Sex and Australian Mammals” where we learned that males may become obsolete in the distant future – I don’t like the sound of that. We said our sad goodbyes as we all split up to fly to our respective destinations. I really developed some great friendships even during that short time span, and I look forward to our debriefing session in Sydney when we all meet up again. Now off to my host city, the capital of culture in Australia – Melbourne!

The Shine Dome at the Australia Academy of Sciences (Image Source: Greg)

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Sydney Explorer

See...winter in Australia isn't THAT bad (Manly Beach)

I had two more days to spend in Sydney before heading to the EAPSI orientation in the Australian capital of Canberra. The majority of the time was spent wandering around the sprawling city. After taking the ferry back from surfer paradise Manly beach, we visited some historic buildings including St. Mary’s Cathedral (a magnificent sandstone structure where we heard the mysterious singsong of the choir) and Hyde Park Barracks (the first government-funded prison built in Australia to house early convicts).

Food on Level 5

Around lunchtime we were having difficulty finding a decent place to eat until we saw this discreet sign that said “Food on Level 5”. We boarded this long, narrow escalator thinking we would end up in some modest restaurant. Oh, were we ever wrong. “Food on Level 5” must be code word in Australia for “largest food court you will ever see in your life”. Around every turn there were more and more restaurants serving every possible type of cuisine. It became so overwhelming we just chose an Asian place half-way through (and the huge bowl of Laksa soup hit the spot). After that we wandered through the large Westfield shopping center (which is funny because that’s the same mall brand as in my hometown of Strongsville).

The ornate interior of the Queen Victoria Building


Across the street was the Queen Victoria Building (known endearingly as QVB) – a beautiful shopping mall.  Unfortunately it is the kind of place where I don’t even bother entering any of the stores because they’re all way out of my price range. It reminded me of the Cleveland Arcade (which was actually built eight years earlier in 1890) but with actual stores and, well, people. I then managed to trek out to the famous Bondi Beach just as it began to downpour. The area seems super hip and I can imagine it would be great on a hot, summer day. The waves were wild (there were high surf warnings that day, which even violently rocked the huge ferry boat we took from Manly) so some surfers were loving it. There is also this awesome ocean-side pool where the waves splash into it with dramatic flair.

The impressive exterior of the Queen Victoria Building

Does every classical art gallery look like this or what?

It was still raining after returning to the CBD, but that didn’t stop a lively jazz festival from filling the streets with music. Later that evening we visited the Art Gallery NSW which featured mainly Australian and Asian art (not much European art as they were a bit too late to the party). It also had a wide variety of modern art including the creepiest display I have ever seen in any museum . It’s painful for me to even recall the imagery in my mind, but I will try just for you.  It was a life-like sculpture of some ape-girl-creature holding a baby made out of human adult hands. We took a picture of it, but decided to immediately delete it for obvious reasons… That night we strolled around the harbour to take some cool night shots of the Vivid art display (which was a light-show of sorts) before heading back to the hostel. I’ve had an incredible experience in Sydney and I hope the rest of my Australian adventure lives up to this extraordinary start!

Vivid light show on the sails

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