Mijn gezellige reis naar Tilburg

Hallo iedereen! My name is Maxwell Shaver, and I studied abroad in Tilburg in the Netherlands. I cannot recommend it enough- especially if you love biking (check out Not Just Bikes on youtube: https://youtu.be/9OfBpQgLXUc ). There I was close enough to a major hub for international traveling (Schiphol Airport), and studying at a top 50 school for economics. All of this is with the added bonus of the GLI scholarship! What’s not to love?

Moving abroad is tough at times, like this picture of me implies. But first and foremost remember: everyone is struggling the same amount as you. This was my second study abroad and by far the harder, and the first one wasn’t even in English! The school system is harder, and the separation you get from friends and family is tough, but hey- you’re tougher! Studying abroad, you get so many awesome experiences. I managed to learn Dutch in only four months, and now I can communicate with a population that has a 93% English literacy rate! In all seriousness, I made friends in my international dorm from all across the world. I now have a couch to sleep on in Madrid, Singapore, Vienna, Taipei, Hong Kong, and even as far away as Sydney! Some of the people I met are going to be lifelong friends, and really encourage me to be true to myself. As my friend Libor told me (in a thick German accent) “Mixwell, you are, who you surround yourself wif.” I will never forget those words, and I am happy to have taken lessons from people I love so much. They pushed me to be who I want to be, and it is an experience I wouldn’t have given for the world.

Apart from the sappy (yet always important) personal growth you will inevitably experience abroad, there are so many things you can do. Tickets from Schiphol to Barcelona were at one point 22€, not to mention how easy and cheap it is to get around by train or bus! I had six close friends and family members come to visit me throughout my semester, and I got into a rhythm of showing them the cool parts of Amsterdam and the Netherlands. Not to mention how cheap it is to travel (especially in Eastern Europe), there are always super cool events going on! Somehow a pirate band I had known for most of my life (don’t ask) was playing in a few nearby towns on tour, and I managed to rope a few friends to go. This band was so engaging and fun we all went to each time they played in the Netherlands.

How crazy is that? All of the members on tour (they are called Ye Banished Privateers by the way) signed my CD, and it remains a highlight of our friend group.

Regardless, this experience was life-changing (as you have heard a billion times), and I can only say good things about the Netherlands. Also, I need people here to speak Dutch with. Please go, if not then please learn it and hit me up!

Dankjewel om dit te lezen, ik vond Tilburg heel gezellig en jij zult het ook vinden!

Simulated Galaxies

I am not a leader in the sense that most people think of when they hear the word. I do not make speeches. I do not do outreach. I am not on the front lines of some political movement. I code. I do not even code for purpose that many of you would deem worthy of your interest; not even something many have heard of.

For the summer, I get the opportunity to spend the summer in Piscataway, New Jersey. I am simulating galaxies with Professor Alyson Brooks with the hopes of discovering something about galactic evolution. I was offered this position out of 368 applicants. In that sense, I am leader. I got this position, not because I can talk to people, but because I can solve problems.

Aside from the work, I have been able to go on several day trips with others in the program. I have visited the Hayden Planetarium in NYC and the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Reading Terminal Market, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Philadelphia. Through these visits, I have been making connections that will last a lifetime. My roommates and I plan to go to Asbury Park this weekend.

All of the trips make it sound like I have a lot of freetime, but I work 40 hours a week on simulating galaxies. The cover photo for this post is an example of one. I have been spending long hours trying to use this information to determine information about galactic evolution.

Along with work, we have been doing Physics GRE prep and having many discussions on Graduate School, Collaboration, and Scientific Ethics. I am confident that these “courses” will help me succeed later on as a scientist. I am hoping to take the Physics GRE this fall and begin applications to Graduate School for Astrophysics, specializing in either Observational Planetary Science and/or the Origin of Magnetic Field lines in M Dwarf Stars. Both of these topics are very “hot” in Astronomy right now.

I am incredibly happy about my field choice both because of the people and the amount of open research questions. I am glad I found my passion so early in life.

The Fourth Largest City in North America

I’m spending the entire summer in a suburb located just outside Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Mississauga, it’s called, has everything you could ever need to thrive: a good transit system, plenty of clothing shops and grocery stores, and so many houses that I get lost easily in the sea of driveways and grass. Mississauga’s most famous buildings decorating its skyline are two condos with hourglass-like shapes, commonly known as the “Man” and “Woman” for their likeness to human bodies.

I came here for the university, located quaintly on the edge of Mississauga and buried in all the deciduous, leafy trees found so commonly in the east. The University of Toronto – Mississauga is a satellite campus of the renowned University of Toronto, known for its research and position as arguably the top university in Canada. After a few emails, the help of many, and a lot of luck, I found myself accepted into the Chemical Sensors Group for the entire summer, focusing on the cutting-edge research of nanoparticles.

With plane delays, I didn’t arrive to the campus until 1AM. However, with the help of some friendly campus police, I was able to break my way into the room I would be calling my home for the next three months.

“If I get fired for this, I hope they’re hiring in Montana, eh?” one of them said.

On my first day, I was picked up in a sleek black BMW. Its driver was Matt, one of the best teachers and scientists I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet, and my boss and guide through my lab work this summer. While showing me around Mississauga, he explained his research project.

The goal, he said, was to cover a nanoparticle with a certain molecule on one side, and a different molecule on the other. That is, to find a way to cover each face of a sphere with something different. This could in theory be useful in something like drug delivery – have molecules that detect a sickness on one side, and the drug to treat that sickness on the other. Give these nanoparticles to a patient, and the drug will only be released where the ailment can be found.

But first, this has to be proven to be possible. On particles so small, chemistry does not always work so easily. At the bottom of the page  is a diagram of Matt’s strategy:

A nanoparticle is first immobilized on a flat surface by the attachment made through a “linker” molecule. By virtue of geometry, given short enough lengths of the linker, only some of the surface of the sphere can be covered. The linker can then be cut to free the nanoparticle into solution. The nanoparticle retains its bareness on the opposite side, allowing for a separate reaction to occur to decorate that opposite face.

You could even cover more or less of the sphere by varying the linker lengths:

Matt and the rest of the people I work alongside in the lab never cease to amaze me. They’re super hardworking in the lab, and often I can’t fathom how they can keep up with eachother. No matter how many failures they have, or weird results they can’t explain, they always put their heads together and help eachother out. It’s the best work environment I could ever dream of. I find myself hanging around the lab even hours after I’m done working, just to see if I can help them with any work and get to know them better.

Equally as fascinating was my first roommate, Anjana. If it weren’t for her and her boyfriend, it would have taken me weeks to even locate all the best grocery stores. Or heck, even the mall.

Anjana wasn’t given any notice that I would be showing up as her roommate. She had started her summer business classes nearly a month earlier, and simply assumed the second bed in her apartment would remain empty. I woke up the first morning to the sound of her voice on the phone, in perfect English but tainted with a Tamil accent that I would come to love.

“I have no idea, I just came home and the door was open and there’s stuff everywhere!”

Even though she hardly knew me, she shared her food, took me out with her friends, and taught me all about her culture and her former life in Sri Lanka. No matter if it was planning a surprise birthday party, going to a Hindu temple, or dealing with the inevitable drama of relationships, she always welcomed me into her life.

She finished classes and moved back home a couple weeks ago, leaving nothing behind but a bag of roti and a rose in a blue wine bottle.

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A diagram of the research I’m involved in (described above), and a shot of the famous CN tower taken on Lake Ontario.