Saturday, June 28, 2008

NSF EAPSI orientation week

As Anna mentioned already, I went on a week-long orientation for the NSF East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes (EAPSI) program last week, and I thought I would share some pictures! In addition to Chinese language and culture training, the other EAPSI participants and I were introduced to a number of institutions to learn more about the state of science and technology development in China. Officials from the National Natural Science Foundation of China, Tsinghua University (one of the top universities in China), and the Chinese Academy of Sciences all extended their welcome to us and they each gave us an overview of their program. The best part of the orientation week, however, was the day trips to the Great Wall, the world's most famous Peking Duck restaurant, the Laoshe Teahouse (a teahouse with live performances), the Capital Museum, the Forbidden City, and Tiananmen Square.

Tsinghua University.... the campus was beautiful and it was just nice to walk around.

Great Wall.... I have to say that going to the Great Wall was somewhat anticlimactic, because I guess I had never imagined myself on the Great Wall before and in my mind, I never thought of it as being just a wall. It was only when I was walking on it that it hit me. It was still neat to think that each and every brick was laid down by hand though (actually, the brick kind of reminded me of the Graduate College at Princeton...). It was a foggy day when we went, so we couldn't see very far, unfortunately. Nevertheless, it was still a good hike. I was fine going up, but I was kind of scared coming down... it was VERY steep.

Feast at the Peking Duck restaurant.... the most food I have ever seen in my life. The dishes just kept coming... although that seems to be typical in a Chinese dinner....

Laoshe Teahouse.... impressive. The live performances were excellent. The most impressive one was of a girl who was able to spin a variety of heavy objects with her legs.... (see photos)... I also liked the performance when two men put on a whole show by making realistic sounds of a train, a horse, birds, an airplane, etc. with only a microphone.

Capital Museum.... my personal favorite! Lots of really cool stuff and I feel like one can really learn a lot about ancient Chinese history.

More to come...

Monday, June 23, 2008

Blue Sky Day

After it rains, the air clears somewhat and you can actually see the Bird's Nest quite clearly and the sky becomes quite blue. Saturday had "blue" skies but was also ridiculously hot.

With June still away at NSF events and Yan hanging out with her sister-in-law, I ventured off on my own to the Forbidden City. It was probably a bad choice of days to visit as it was so incredibly hot. I know why the Chinese ladies all carry umbrellas now! Still it was a beautiful site to see. I almost bought ice cream to eat to cool down, but decided that pea flavored ice cream just wasn't my thing. Whatever happened to vanilla? I was amazed by the immense size of the Forbidden City. I can't image that I even saw half of it. Just like New Yorkers go to the Hamptons, the emperors used to go to the Summer Palace and now I know why... to get away from the terrible heat of the Beijing summer and it's only June!

All of the tour books claimed that there is a Starbucks in the Forbidden City but I never found it. I just looked online and apparently it was shut down.
So much for me having a blueberry muffin and a latte!

I must admit that I did stumble across a Starbucks later in the day and got excited for a coffee. I don't really visit Starbucks itself that often in the US but I do love coffee and muffins and they are both very hard to find here, so Starbucks is a big treat. Also- my $7 coffee maker I bought for the apartment here makes very watery coffee. It brews the coffee it about 1 minute. I don't know why, but it doesn't seem to work right, yielding very speedy but very watery brown coffee. Sad. Unfortunately that Starbucks was sold out of blueberry muffins (I think that is the 2nd time I have tried to get blueberry muffins) so I was resorted to getting mandarin flavored muffins. It was that or red bean scones! I think perhaps Starbucks doesn't realize that it isn't the locals that visit, but the tourists that do, so they should just make thousands of blueberry muffins to sell.

Enjoy the photos of the Forbidden City! I really enjoyed snapping photos of people with their umbrellas! There was also a lot of construction going on at the Forbidden City. I wonder if they will finish in time for the Olympics.... Also- the reason the photos are never very vivid is due to the constant smog in Beijing. I am always tempted to photoshop them to make the colors of the buildings look brighter but that would not show you the smog!

I left the Forbidden City and went through to see Mao and Tiananmen square. I am old enough to remember the protests of Tiananmen square. It was very interesting to see the picture of Mao and Tianamen square as they are such famous sites and I have seen them so many times in the news. There were these fountains in front of Mao that suddenly came on and did a kind of show...sort of like at the Bellagio in Vegas but on a much smaller scale and with no music. Different patterns of water fountains shot up at different times.

I like to wander when I travel as often the best finds are off the beaten path. I have found great stores, restaurants, and sights walking away from the main touristy areas in so many countries. Usually the local people are more than happy to see you and are friendly. I have brought home great things from shops that are away from the touristy areas and are in the more local areas by doing this. So after my visit to Tiananmen, I started to walk. I came across a lovely little park with koi fish. There was a man at the park dressed in an official looking outfit, like a security guard. Anytime someone got too close to the pond, his job was to yell at them. I then came across a fancy shopping area. I liked how between the fancy shops there was a McDonalds. You would never see that on 5th Avenue in NYC! I also discovered a good place to find a clean and proper toilet is at McDonalds. I think this is why Mary Lynn sent me to China first!

I then came across this row of stalls selling anything you can imagine on a stick. Squid on a stick, corn on the cob on a stick, crab on a stick, sugar on a stick....
and the workers at every stall had exactly the same hat and apron on.

I kept walking and came across hutongs.
To quote wikipedia, "In Beijing, hutongs are alleys formed by lines of siheyuan, traditional courtyard residences. Many neighbourhoods were formed by joining one siheyuan to another to form a hutong, and then joining one hutong to another. The word hutong is also used to refer to such neighbourhoods.

Since the mid-20th century, the number of Beijing hutongs has dropped dramatically as they are demolished to make way for new roads and buildings. More recently, some hutongs have been designated as protected areas in an attempt to preserve this aspect of Chinese cultural history."

I immediately fell in love with the hutongs. The architecture is amazing and there are so many doors and alley ways. I just want to explore them all! I had left the touristy part and it was just me and my camera and people sitting in a park playing games and such. Everyone was smiling at me and said hello. I was cautious about taking photos or entering the alleys but one man waved me in and after I entered the first, I wasn't afraid. There were shops and restaurants in them.
I came across a restaurant and took their card so I could return to it. I really want to see inside some of the courtyard houses and several restaurants now occupy houses so this is a good way to get to see them. Apparently you can live in courtyard houses which is a very interesting place to live! After walking around for a long time, I was tired and took a taxi home. There are so many hutongs in Beijing that I can't wait to have some time to go explore more. The architecture is truly incredible. I don't think these photos do them justice and next time I'll aim to take better photos!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Lesson 1: How to buy a soldering iron in China

We packed almost everything that we thought that we would need to do lab work in China. However, the one thing that we decided not to bring was a soldering iron due to the power conversion. We figured it would be easier to buy it here than risk trying to convert the power on it. Yesterday of course what do I need, a soldering iron!

I asked the graduate students if they had one, but no one could find me one. One of the graduate students wrote out the Chinese characters for soldering iron, the characters for the name of a store that "sells everything," and drew me a map to this store.

I figured I was on my way to a Wal-Mart or Home Depot type place. When I got to the store and went inside, I discovered it was full of hundreds of tiny stalls selling everything from goldfish to fruit to shoes. I started to laugh not sure what to do not sure how I was possibly going to find a soldering iron in here. I wandered around and bought some bananas. Finally I came across a stall that had some electronics goods. I showed the man the characters for soldering iron and voila he produced a soldering iron! I could not believe it! I only wished someone could have been with me to laugh with!

I was also confused that the soldering iron had no stand and that it plugged directly into the wall. I tried to ask this but my miming this question got me no where. I did manage to ask for solder though and he produced a small coil of solder.

When I asked how much for the soldering iron and the solder, he said 25 yuan ($3.6 dollars!). Of course I was at a market in China so I had to practice my bargaining skills. So I offered 20 yuan ($2.90) and he accepted. Great I saved MIRTHE $0.70! Although the soldering iron did the trick and saved the day, the tip fell out while I was soldering and burned my lab book! I guess you get what you pay for!

Random Photos

Here are just some random photos taken near our apartment and near the tower site....
The birds were just hanging in cages and very loudly chirping in the park next to the canal by IAP. All these people were just sitting around next to the birds hanging out.

I hope Professor Smith and Dr. Baeck packed their dancing shoes and their 70's clothes so they can go dancing in their Beijing apartment! Check out the light-up floor in the closet in the apartment they are going to stay in.

The air quality hasn't been too good for the last couple of days. We hear rain is in the forecast however.

And yes sometimes they don't quite get the English right. I also liked the sign I saw on a sliding glass door that said "Mend Door." They meant to write "Mind Door!"

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

QCLOPS Arrives!

It has been a very busy week thus far and we have only just finished up Wednesday!
On Sunday, June moved out of our apartment and into her "dorm room" as she began her NSF EAPSI program. She and I moved all of her things to the Mining University. When we arrived at the University, the cab driver let us off at the front gate. It turned out that we really needed to be let off at some other building and it took us awhile to figure that out (language barrier) and to get all of her suitcases to the right place.

It was graduation day at the Mining University and June and I enjoyed seeing the hoods. They all seemed to be made of silk and were floral. Some of the students had yellow floral and some seemed to have red floral. We weren't quite sure what the students exactly were doing for graduation as they seemed to be standing outside the gate for the hour or so we were at the university. We also watched them toss their caps into the air. June was given the largest plastic key we had ever seen. It turned out you needed to stick this in a slot to get the AC to work. The "dorm" wasn't quite what June was expecting but she was mostly sad that there was no internet!

On Monday, I waited for QCLOPS to arrive at IAP. Next to the guard's station, there is a bunny on a leash who helps to "guard" IAP.... Finally, after having made it safely through customs, QCLOPS arrived in 2 vans! Luckily Dr. Wang has lots of graduate students who were willing to help us get QCLOPS from the vans into the "lab." The boxes arrived perfectly and when we opened them they were exactly as we had packed them. And we got to work....

When we tried to get liquid nitrogen, we found out that we can't just get liquid nitrogen whenever we want. Instead, we can only get it when the lab that uses it gets it delivered. Therefore, we decided to order our own tanks. We called to get it delivered. The nitrogen itself is about 50 cents per liter but the deposit on the tanks is about $600 so we had to go to the bank as they only take cash! We decided to combine a trip to the bank with a trip to Starbucks for an afternoon jolt. We were also thrilled to find out that there was high speed internet at Starbucks, much faster than in our apartment! We know where we'll be finding June!

Yan took us to a hotpot restaurant which is kind of like fondue except you don't have fondue sticks but you do have chopsticks. We each had our own little pot so I could eat lots of veggies and Yan could eat lots of meat. The food in restaurants in China is very inexpensive. They also always bring you all these "free" dishes. Yan sometimes asks for a discount and they often oblige. The receipts also have scratch off things where you can win money off your dinner. It's all very confusing.

Science is a little different here and I am enjoying the experience very much! The liquid nitrogen arrived and I had to give 4000 rmb in cash to a man in a van. I can't imagine that every happening at Princeton! The "lab" space is a room which I think has typically been used as a meeting room in the past. It is where the drinking water is so people come in and out all day.There is also a rice cooker in the room but so far no one has used that! The room looks right into the guards room outside and you can also see the 2 towers out the window. There is one very friendly professor who can't speak any English but is very smiley and nice. He always waves and says hello when he comes to get water or sees me at IAP. QCLOPS is now all set up and aligned! It needs some more tweaking but I have a good signal all the way through so I am happy now! Actually I was very happy the minute I saw a signal from the laser! Tomorrow I will let it run in the lab for a long time and see how well it runs.

There is a nice green space, as Yan calls it, or a park, as I call it, about a 2 min walk from IAP. Here there is a canal where you can sit or walk. I took my lunch and sat and walked here the last couple of days to get some "fresh air." I say fresh because the Professor who sits in the office opposite to my "lab" chain smokes in his office. It is a really beautiful park and nice to get outside for a little bit. Yan tells me in July and August that I won't want to go outside at all due to the heat!

I took some photos of some signs that I thought were funny or confused me. I am not sure why there will be so many emergencies in the park!

And finally a few random photos....


Sunday, June 15, 2008

Summer Palace

From the zoo June and I took an hour long boat ride along a canal to the summer palace. Luckily the man behind us spoke English and told us we had to change boats. The canal was full of all sorts of cool bridges. It was raining though. The entire time there was a lady on the boat giving us a very loud tour in Chinese about what we were seeing.

The boat took us to the summer palace which was incredible. We only made it through part of the grounds. It has lakes, pagodas, temples, bridges, and ferry rides. It was so beautiful. There is apparently an old part which we didn't even make it to.
Even though it was a rainy day, June and I ate some yummy ice cream. I couldn't convince her to get the corn flavored ice cream though. I wonder if it looks like a corn on the cob? They also sell corn flavored yogurt at the shops here and corn juice.

I would like to go back to the summer palace on a sunny day. It felt like you weren't in a city. It was built as the summer retreat for the emperor. After we got tired of walking, we took a taxi to a place mentioned in my tour book as good for dumplings. We ordered vegetarian dumplings and they were yummy.
Our dinner of dumplings and 3 cans of coke/sprite costs $5 and we still brought half the dumplings home! The area where the dumplings were was cool so we walked around a bit. June liked the "cutesy" stores full of hello kitty flip flops with blow up hello kitty faces stuck to them and things like that. It was fun to look in the different shops.

QCLOPS is set to be delivered tomorrow morning at IAP so expect more science-y blogs soon!



On Saturday June and I ventured out on our own to do some sightseeing. We started by going to the zoo to see the pandas! There were so many pandas and little ones too. They have the Pandas rescued from the conservation park that was in the earthquake zone.
The pandas were so adorable. They all were either sleeping or eating!

Our Apartment

I know several of you have been wondering where we are living so we thought we should show you photos of our apartment. We will have two apartments this summer since such a large group of MIRTHE engineers will be traveling to China at different points this summer. This summer we will have undergraduate students, graduate students, a postdoc, research staff, and faculty come to Beijing from both Princeton and Rice Universities and from electrical engineering and environmental engineering. June will be moving into a university dorm as part of her National Science Foundation in China summer program, though for now she is living with us. She claims she'll hang out at our apartment if our internet connection is faster than hers, though I can't imagine how it could be much slower or flakier! -anna

Our apartment is in a high rise building that seems to be a mix of apartments and offices. These very nice ladies say hello and open the door for you every time you enter the building. The apartment next to ours seems to be a tv station's office. There is a 7-11 type convenience store downstairs and a foot massage place, although the photos of the feet are a little bit scary looking. There is also a restaurant that is sometimes open although they overcharged June for being a tourist so we aren't sure how we feel about them anymore.

Our apartment came with some "interesting" art. It has great windows for watching the urban landscape. The windows get very dirty here so the window washers keep busy here washing them. Yan let out quite a good scream the other day when she walked into her room and saw a man outside her window washing it! We live on the 12th floor!
It is great to have a kitchen and I love all the wonderfully colored and very tasty fruit. I bought a coffee maker at WalMart for $7 so now I can have my morning caffeine fix. We can't drink the tap water so we have water delivered. That too is quite inexpensive, about $2 for a 5 gallon container.

Friday the 13th

Today was the worst air quality so far, thus, I decided to do the logical thing and venture out to take photos of the Olympic venue in the pollution. It was unbelievable and hopefully these photos can described at least somewhat what I saw and felt. The Olympics are set to begin in less than 2 months and they are still building. Around the Olympic venues, buses are lined up ready and streets are waiting to be opened; yet, everything is coated in this thick layer of dust and the air is thick. The streets are being lined with flowers in preparation for the Olympics. I took a photo of the apartment building that we are living in, the tall reddish high rise. The rest of the photos I took as I walked around the Olympic venue. Some are of Olympic buildings and some of neighboring buildings. You can see that they are still building. I realized that I had not seen the sun until I took the photo with the sun peeping through the smog. We think that the tower that you see is where the Olympic flame will go. I went with June to get some lunch and she hid herself from the smog. We met the amazon delivery man who kindly let me take his photo. So far, except for one cranky taxi driver, everyone has been extremely nice and helpful to me. - anna

Friday, June 13, 2008

June Arrives in Beijing

June has arrived safely in Beijing. We passed through a beautiful tollbooth on the way to the airport. The Jersey turnpike should take note...
I was very happy to find out that across from the International arrivals gate is a Starbucks. You can sit and drink a latte while watching for your arriving passengers! I also stocked up on blueberry muffins for the next few mornings since baked goods aren't easy to find here. We don't have an oven in our kitchen (not that I will be baking) since Chinese cooking doesn't include baking apparently.
The apartment where we are living is located close to IAP which is also very close to the Olympic center. Our apartment is basically located across a highway from the main Olympic buildings. One of them looks like it is in the shape of the torch and has giant tv screens on the side. They seem to still be building that one but test images on the screens. I wonder if they will broadcast events on the screens or if it will be for advertisements? June and I went to look at the Water Cube at night. The Water Cube is the Olympic Aquatics Center and looks really cool at night when it is all lit up.

Field Site Selection

We are working this summer at the Institute of Atmospheric Physics - Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing. Our host is Professor Wang Zifa. There are two main locations of this Institute, the modeling site and the tower site, both are within a few miles to the main Olympic stadium. On Wednesday, Professor Wang took Yan and I on a tour of the Institute to scope out the field site where we will be working. Our summer work involves both modeling and field work and both IAP and Princeton are interested in the integration of the two. MIRTHE will be deploying two instruments for field testing at IAP this summer and we needed to locate ideal sites for each. Each instrument has its own unique set of requirements and we found two different locations that meet our needs. We did manage to get locked on one of the roofs while scoping out the sites but luckily Dr. Wang had his iphone so could call one of his graduate students to open the door! The good thing about working at the tower site is that you can see the tower from quite far away so we can't really get too lost! Did you notice how blue the sky is on this day?- anna

Welcome to Beijing!

I arrived in Beijing on Monday and have spent the week adjusting to being in China and to being 12 hours ahead of the east coast! Yan and I spent much of the week running errands to try to get our apartment set up. Although the apartment includes furniture, we needed to get sheets, towels, order water, get cell phone service etc. Some of the English translations gave me a good laugh! For example, the saucepan that I bought was labeled as a "glaring milkpan." I also learned that in Beijing you have to add salt to the dishwasher because the water is so hard. The air pollution problem was sadly immediately recognizable.

Monday, June 9, 2008

MIRTHE gears up for Beijing Olympics

by Yan Zhang-Princeton University

The 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing have focused attention on the problems of air quality in urban environments and will serve as an important platform for developing and testing new technologies and procedures for analysis and management of air quality problems. Regional decisions concerning industrial development, agricultural practice and urban policy can play important roles in air quality problems linked to fine particulate matter. The Olympic Games will provide an important research venue for addressing these issues and unique opportunities for advancing novel environmental sensor systems and atmospheric models. In our work, we will deploy two environmental sensor systems at the Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences near the Olympic Stadium in Beijing from June to August 2008 for continuous monitoring of trace gases, before, during, and after the Olympic Games. Data from these sensors will be incorporated into analyses using the Weather Research and Forecasting model, a state-of-the-art meteorological model which is coupled with an atmospheric chemistry (WRF-Chem) module. These analyses will be used to examine air quality problems in the Beijing metropolitan region and regional climatology problems linked to trends of decreasing precipitation in the Beijing metropolitan region associated with increased aerosol loadings.

The environmental sensor systems deployed in Beijing use Quantum Cascade Lasers (QCLs) as the core technology for measuring trace gases from "remote sensing" and "point" sensors. QCLs are tiny, tunable mid-Infrared (mid-IR) semiconductor laser sources that have extremely broad wavelength coverage (3-20 μm), which includes the wavelength range where trace gases have their strongest absorption features. The lasers are designed to emit at aparticular wavelength; thus, by knowing where a gas absorbs best, a laser can be designed for detection of that specific gas. As a result of new developments of QCLs, laser absorption spectroscopy is becoming aviable alternative to other analytical methods for trace gas sensing.

QCLOPS (Quantum Cascade Laser Open Path System) is an "open path" remote sensing system that uses two QCLs for monitoring multiple trace gases. The principal target gases for QCLOPS are ozone, ammonia, and carbon dioxide. Elevated ozone levels in urban regions around the world present one of the greatest air quality and public health challenges associated with industrial and automobile emissions. Ammonia plays an important and complex role in aerosol chemistry in urban environments and development of sensor systems for ammonia has proven especially challenging. Carbon dioxide is broadly recognized as an important greenhouse gas and its measurement in urban environments is an important goal of QCLOPS. The laser radiation is transmitted through the air and reflected back by a retro-reflector to a detector. The detector is connected to a data acquisition system and a computer. The computer runs a custom algorithm to calculate concentrations.

NO and NO2 are important ozone precursors and their presence in urban environments is strongly connected to automobile emissions. Detection of NO and NO2 is of great interest for air quality problems linked to elevated ozone concentrations. Fast and sensitive detection of NO can be realized by Faraday rotation spectroscopy. The best NO detection limit (sub-ppbV;parts per billion by volume) can be obtained at approximately 5.3 μm. An "externalcavity" (EC) QCL source that precisely coincides withth isoptimum absorption wavelength was developed and a Faraday rotation spectrometer based on the EC-QCL was developed for detection of NO. The measurement technique will allow for sensitive and selective measurements of NO even in the presence of strongly interfering gases (especially water vapor). A fully automaticand autonomous EC-QCL Faraday rotation spectroscopic sensorsystem will be deployed at the Beijing test site for contiuous atnospheric NO monitoring.

The Weather Research and Forecasting model, coupled with the WRF-Chem atmospheric chemistry module (WRF-Chem), provides a powerful platform for meteorological and air quality forecasting, as well as regional analyses of the impact of anthropogenic emissions on air quality and regional climate. WRF-Chem has been used at Princeton for analyses of aerosol impacts on regional precipitation climatology in the Baltimore and New York City metropolitan region. With the collaboration of the Nansen-Zhu International Center of the Institute of Atmospheric Physics (IAP), the Chinese Academy of Sciences, WRF-Chem will be implemented as a forecasting tool for the Beijing Olympics. An important element of the forecasting system will be integrating observations from sensor systems like QCLOPS in to the forecasting process. The Princeton group will also work closely with IAP in studying and understanding how the urban aerosols influence local weather and public health through coupled modeling and monitoring analyses.