A cultural immersion

Saturday was a very culture-filled day.  I saw and learned a lot from the whole trip.  Our cultural outing was almost all day.

We first stopped at a little souvenir/gift shop kind of in the middle of no where.  I wasn’t really sure what it was a gift shop for, and I don’t really think it was attached to any building or anything.  It was just a gift shop next to a church that I guess tourists come by and get souvenirs from.  We stayed there for an hour waiting for people to buy things, but since I didn’t get anything from this store, I waited outside, which turned out to be an interesting experience.  We heard singing coming from the church so we started watching the people (because the doors to the church was open).  We saw two ladies walking into the church with matching fancy yellow dresses and guessed that maybe they were the bridesmaids and that it was a wedding.

This was pretty much our whole view of the church and the inside.  We heard a lot of singing and could see people dancing inside, but couldn’t tell much else of what was happening.  We didn’t even get to see the bride or anything, but we know that there was singing and dancing for sure!

After this stop, we went off to see some cliff drawings done by the bush men 2000 years ago.  There were very few drawings left to be seen, because they don’t have any preservation protocols here.  We just drove into a small village and stopped by a metal fence.  Inside the metal fence were the drawings (it was a national monument).  It was very strange to see a national monument right next to some homes, but here it is much different than back in the United States.

This is what the cliffs looked like.  We had a guide, Justice, show us where the drawings were.  This is the first one he took us to:

Can anyone guess what it is?  I wouldn’t have even been able to tel  that this was a drawing, because most of the other parts of the rock look like this too-very smeared colors.  The second one we saw was a little more clear.  Any guesses for this one?

One thing we saw that was NOT a cliff drawing was a cave where the native people hid a pregnant wife of a chief while they were at war right below the cliff.

That is Justice on the side.  I don’t know about you guys, but the cave seemed pretty small to me.  I wouldn’t want to be kept in there.

After the cliff drawings, we went to see the Livingstone tree.  The tree didn’t look too much like a tree from the outside.  It actually resembled more of a bush.  Take a look:

I’m not sure if you can tell how large the tree is from this first picture, but it is pretty large.  Maybe you can compare it to the grass in the foreground.  We walked into its shade and were amazed by the size of its trunks (yes plural trunks)

To get a better idea of exactly how large this tree was, you have to see someone stand next to it:

Amber (Penn) standing next to the tree.

Me and Maren next to some large tree trunks.  The tree is a wild fig tree and they are not sure how old it is, except for that it was already big by the time David Livingstone came to Botswana.  It is named after him because he would come and sit under this tree and practice his Western medicine.  The tree is really cool, especially because every time the branches end up touching the ground, the tree re-roots itself, so our guide told us they are not afraid of it dying.  I asked if they water it year-round to make sure it is healthy, but he said that whatever rain comes due to the weather is the only watering it gets.

Afterwards, we went to a cultural center.  I wasn’t sure what to expect from this visit, but it was really just an introduction to the culture in villages I think.  We were welcomed by dancing young people (not really sure of their age).

This was right when we came in.

These people were in a dance troupe and they did four dances as a “welcome” to us.  They all seemed really happy to be dancing and they really enjoyed themselves.  At one point, they came to where we were seated and pulled people from the audience to come dance.  Brian (Tulane), one of my lab-mates got chosen and he had a really good time.

We were also taught about how the village people treat visitors.  They throw bones to see if they are allowed to welcome the visitors to their village.  When the bones are thrown, if there is not a group of them together (as in they are all scattered), they cannot welcome them and must send them away.  Luckily, we were welcomed!

This is the chief after he threw the bones.  See how there is a group of bones together?  When we were first greeted by the chief, we all had to kneel and say hello to him.  Apparently, if you are a woman, you are supposed to wear a skirt or dress when you meet the chief, and I was the only one who was appropriately dressed that day (definitely on purpose)!

Afterwards, we were all asked to come out and do a welcoming dance (because we were all welcomed to the village) and then they taught us some of the chores that the villagers do.  They have to mash up the seeds of the sorghum in order to make a sort of corn-meal-y stuff (but obviously not corn).  They also showed us how to grind these seeds and sift the large seeds out from the ground ones, which will eventually be cooked.  They let several people come up and try to do these tasks.




Finally, the told us that to keep their floors clean inside the huts, they wipe them with cow dung because it is the most sanitary thing they have.

“Cleaning.”  Good thing they said that they wouldn’t pick anyone to try this task.

All in all, a very cultural experience I believe!  I had a lot of fun and it was very interesting seeing how the village people interacted and everything.  Presentations on Sunday!


End of Week 3

On Thursday, Professor Sathiaraj came into the lab and told me “I read your blog.”  So now I have to make sure I don’t say anything bad about the lab. Not that I have been anyways 🙂

We extracted more dyes for the new set of solar cells and made the new TiO2 suspensions and put them away to soak for 24 hours.  Since we finished this by lunch, we had a nice free afternoon-a first for this trip!  We worked on our presentation some and then just had an afternoon for reading.  I didn’t take any pictures on Thursday because it wasn’t very interesting.

Friday, we finished putting together our new cells and tested them.  Here’s a picture of how we tested them with a variable resistor:

We did the last of the testing that we would need to do for our data for the final presentation and paper before lunch, so we were able to go to the National Museum, a trip that Professor Mohan arranged for any of the students who wanted to go.  The museum was pretty small, but had some interesting things in it, but mostly animals, which we had seen most of on the safari trip.  It was still interesting to see the museum here.

Afterwards, a group of four of us walked over to the Main Mall because we had extra time before it got dark.  I didn’t notice it the first time I went to this mall, but there is a really pretty arch at the entrance of the mall.  It looks like this:

I really liked it and thought it was cool.  At the mall, we bought some meat pies from Pie Time and brought them back on campus to have for dinner along with some meatballs and garlic cheese bread that Andrew (Rutgers) cooked for us!  Here are some pictures of my dinner for the night:

Pies! They were all different flavors.

Meatballs in the back and garlic cheese bread in the front.

Sorry my days haven’t been too exciting, but I know tomorrow I will probably have a lot of pictures.  We’re going to the cultural center and making a stop at some cave/cliff drawings.  It will be a very cultural day with lots of pictures taken!  And then on Sunday, I will have my final presentation.

Week 3

So these past few days (Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday) have been super busy, because this is probably our last week in lab, so we’ve been trying to wrap up our experiments and get all the data we need for our presentation and report.  We’re giving our presentation on Sunday and the report is due before we leave (which is June 12).

On Monday, Professor Mohan, the second professor from Case Western, came into our lab to check out our work.  It turns out that he and Professor Sathiaraj, the professor heading my research, are really good friends.  Professor Mohan (is last name is actually Sankaran) is really excited about our project and thinks that we’ll be able to go to a conference and maybe even publish our research!  We just need to gather a little more data that will help us explain our results better, like why certain cells worked better than others.   So we’ve been in lab characterizing the dyes and tomorrow (Thursday) we will actually be making a new set of solar cells to get a second set of data to see if the cells are consistent.  We have quite a bit left to do, but Maren and I are really excited and are willing to work hard for the next few days to get the right data.  Here’s a picture of our lab group:

Not sure who the guy on the left is, but from left to right: (back row) Unknown, Mosaic (a UB student who participated in the research program last year), Muiva (the PhD student who has been working with us), Kelebogile (Muiva’s boss), Brian (Tulane), Nikki (UB student working with Brian), (front row) Professor Sathiaraj, me, Maren (Yale), Kay (UB student working with me and Maren)

So in order to characterize the dyes, we had to make more dye extractions.   Maren and I went out to get more of the plants.  We made the extractions and put them on clean glass slides to dry (since the solvent is acetone and acetone evaporates fairly quickly)

Since we are using lemon leaves, we had to go by the lemon tree and this time, I was determined to get a lemon!  So I climbed a tree.  Unfortunately for me, the branches have thorns in them, which made it a little difficult, but I was successful!  The lemon was bigger than my palm.  I don’t have any pictures, but Maren has one of me in the tree, so if she sends it to me, I will but it up here, but the lemon was so big!  We didn’t know what to do with it, until yesterday when we went to the grocery store at Riverwalk to…(drum roll) BAKE COOKIES! Maren and I made chocolate chip cookies yesterday and then used the lemon to make lemon sugar cookies, just like at home 🙂 We couldn’t exactly find everything we needed, but we improvised!  Instead of a mixing bowl we used:

A gallon sized ziploc bag!  Thanks mommy for stuffing some extra ones in my bag 🙂

We also couldn’t exactly find bakers chocolate or chocolate chips, so we just got a bar of Cadbury Dark Chocolate and figured that would be close enough.



Look how good they look!

I don’t really remember why I’m wearing my head lamp..

They didn’t taste quite the same, I’m thinking because they didn’t have light brown sugar like at home, but they had brown colored sugar, so we took it used it anyways.  Luckily, the ovens came with these black trays that we put aluminum foil over them so it was practically like baking at home!  And we had enough ingredients left over for lemon sugar cookies:

Everyone loved the cookies, because here they don’t eat dessert, and so for the Botswana people, it was a shock that we had baked cookies (apparently they don’t bake here either) and for the American students, it was a little taste of home.

Getting ready to make lemon sugar cookies!  Amber decided to zest our lemon for us, but since we didn’t have a grater, we improvised (again!)

If you can’t tell, she’s holding a knife.   This was the lemon I picked.  And they turned out well too! Look:

Also, on my trip to Riverwalk to get the baking ingredients, we stopped by the first coffee place I saw on my first trip there:

It’s really cute on the outside.  It has this old coffee machine sitting outside

I wanted to mess with it, but I didn’t think that was appropriate behavior.  It also has a really large outdoor sitting area

and there is a large board in one of the windows that explains about the coffee that they serve

On the inside (maybe you can see from this picture too) there is a sink in the corner!

I ordered an iced coffee because it was actually pretty hot outside that day and we had just speed walked for like 15 minutes.  I thought that they were just going to pour coffee into a cup of ice, but it turns out they had a machine that blended the coffee and ice together.  And when I got it, it was actually a mocha I think, because it was definitely not drip coffee.  But it was good.  I usually don’t like watered down coffee, but this was actually not watered down tasting and it was exactly what I needed.  I was really happy with the place 🙂

We have a couple more days in the lab and then all we’ll have left is the presentation and paper.  It’s weird to think that my research is almost done even though I’m barely halfway done with my trip.  I still have so many places to go see and many more things to experience here before I go!  Will write more soon.

Safari Weekend

So I’ve decided that my stories from this weekend are best told in person and with accompanying photos (about 50 of them) so you’ll have to wait and hear them from me later! But in the meantime, here are a few highlights of the trip and a link to the photos:

Highlights (some have picture proof, others, you will just have to take my word for it):
-On the first day, when we just got to the campsite and were sitting down for a lunch, a whole herd of elephant came stomping by about 20 feet from where the safari vans had parked. It was a great introduction to the wild!
-We saw hippos in a lake! No fighting or killings, but it was amazing to watch them rise out of the water, yawn, and play around.
-On the first morning we were there (Saturday morning), a leopard just walked right through our camp as we were eating breakfast. It was still dark, but the guides shined a light on it and we watch as it casually strolled through the tents into the open area and then just turned and left.
-We went out on the Okavango Delta and it was amazing even though we didn’t see any big game. It was really fun and nice to be out on the water after seeing sand everywhere.
-On the way to the boat tour of the Delta, my van almost ran over a black Mamba, which , if you only catch the end of it’s tail under the wheels, can swing up and into the car and kill the person sitting by the window (it almost happened to my driver one time, but fortunately he had his window closed)
-I saw a honey badger
-A cape buffalo walked about 5 feet behind our truck
-We followed a lioness and her 2 year old cub for about 45 minutes
-A lion walked right by my van!


Last post before a weekend hiatus

I went into lab today super excited about the solar cells and testing them.  But first, since the sun was not at it’s peak at 9:30 am, we did some characterization (more surface profiling), this time with the annealed samples.  Then, at 11:30, we brought out all of the equipment necessary for testing the cells.  While setting up, Professor Sathiaraj, the professor who is heading the Botswana side of the program, as well as the professor in charge of our research (even though we work more with his grad student and the grad student’s boss) came by and bought us all soda for completing the solar cell stuff!  We used this set up to measure both voltage and current:

And this is how we set up the solar cell:

We got a nice little table of values and were able to see which dyes worked the best and out of the two samples of the same dye, which was was the better sample.  Lemon was by far the best dye we used (gave about 0.5V) and the red bougainvillea was surprisingly the next best (we thought that the morula leaves would perform better than the flowers).  We then quickly went to lunch and came back to lab before 1pm so that we could test the best sample of each dye using variable resistance.  The kit had a variable resistance thing that we put into our circuit and we measured voltage and current at 9 different resistances.  I didn’t take any pictures because I was writing down the numbers, but Brian took some, so I’ll upload them as soon as I can get them from Brian.  Once again, the lemon was the best.

Our final tests with the solar cells was to put multiple cells in series and parallel.  We tried a lot of different combinations, lemon-lemon being the best performing combination in series.  We even put four cells in series and got 1.8V, which lit a small LED bulb and even an alarm clock!  That was maybe the most exciting, to see that these tiny 2cm x 2cm solar cells could conduct enough to power a small clock.  Imagine if we had them on larger slides.  It was also really cool to see the physics that we learned in action.  Like the addition of voltages when cells were put in series and the current was the lowest current that any of the cells had, and vice versa with the cells in parallel.  The only problem we ran into was that it looked like there was some type of problem with the TiO2 suspension if it was left out too long in the sun or we used too much iodine solution.  We had to cover the cells with some polycarbonate plastic (we used petri dishes) so that they wouldn’t have overexposure to UV light, but I wonder why that is, and how/if commercially made dye-sensitized cells have this issue as well.

We finished with lab early (we didn’t want to start anything that we would have to wait until Monday to finish since we’re leaving tomorrow for the safari) and so we took a little trip to Riverwalk Mall, especially because Brian needed some warmer clothes.  So I bought some apples at the grocery store there and then we went to a coffee shop!  Not the one I saw earlier, but it was cool that I found another one!  It was called Equatorial Coffee Company:

And I got an espresso shot con panna, since I haven’t really had any espresso since I got here (only instant coffee in the mornings).  It was gooooooooood.  Here are some pictures of the place (mostly for Chau and my coffee tour).

My drink (and the cool cup. I’m keeping it!):

The menu/ordering area:

The sitting area:

They have newspapers available, but they just drape them over the railing:

A close up of the poster thing above the stage/seating area:

A picture that was by the window:

We came back from Riverwalk and had our research group meeting that we have every week.  Dinner was provided.  There were 17 of us and we ordered 14 large pizzas (which were 30 cm each).  We demolished them.  Here is a picture of my group and our presentation for this week:

We got back and I packed for the safari, which was kind of stressful, because I didn’t know anything about the place we were going until I talked to one of my suitemates and she said that Professor Lacks sent out an email about where it was to the Thermo students (I guess he forgot about us).  This is the link: http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowUserReviews-g317055-d1523734-r113861895-Moremi_Crossing_Camp-Maun.html and just google maps Moremi Botswana and you’ll see where I’ll be staying.  (Hint, yes you found the right place if you see water all around it: It’s an island!)

There is apparently a lot of game there and it is a really great place to see wildlife.  I’m really excited about it but I didn’t want to pack too much because I’m just bringing my duffel bag as a check in that I’m sharing with Maren.  We’re putting all of our liquids in that bag and our towels…Other than that, I just have a backpack full of clothes for three days and my journal to write in.  Can’t wait for tomorrow, except that I’m waking up in about 4 hours to get on the plane and fly there.  It’ll be really fun though!

I won’t post another one until at least Monday, so maybe go back and refresh about the earlier parts of my trip.  Or leave comments!

Booyah! (Wednesday)

Today was a very exciting day on many levels!

We went into lab today and did characterization of the thin films using two different machines: the surface profiler, that I learned how to use earlier, and the spectrophotometer to measure transmittance and reflectance.  To use the surface profiler, which looks like this:

In order to measure thickness, we did chemical etching on the thin films using nitric acid.  We started off with making a scratch, but that wasn’t that effective, so we just ended up wiping off some of the film on part of the glass slide and then measuring the height difference between the part with the glass slide and the film, which is essentially what the scratch does, but damages the film less.

Wiping off some of the film on the glass slide.  (Yes, at the bottom is a hole where the nitric acid burned through…)

We got a lot of measurements done and also did a lot on the spectrophotometer.  Brian was doing most of that, but I watched him do some and asked when I didn’t understand.  It was cool to see how as the samples became more doped (but were unannealed) they transmitted a larger range of light.  Also the reflectance was interesting as well, except that I didn’t watch too much of that one.

After doing this characterization, we took an extended lunch break so we didn’t have to be back in lab until around 3:30pm when the solar cells should be done soaking, since we put them in to soak yesterday at 4pm.  During our extended break, we took a field trip with some Case students to an elementary school.  Lebo had organized a visit to the school for the donation of tennis rackets (I don’t remember if I talked about this earlier), but it turned out that we weren’t donating the rackets because this was a more wealthy school and that we were just going to visit the school.  It was pretty unclear what we were going to do, but it turned out to be an excellent visit.

The school we visited was in Phakalane, which is actually where Lebo lives, and is about 45 minutes away from UB.  It is a private school, and it looks pretty nice.  When we walked in, Kevin told us that we were going to do some sports activities with the kids, so I just went out and started talking to them and asked if they wanted to play games.  They pretty much swarmed us and were all really excited and all wanted to play.  It didn’t work so well when all of them (there were a lot.  Sorry I didn’t take pictures, but they literally swarmed us) wanted to play.  But then the headmistress came out and wanted to talk to us and the kids got very organized and sat on the bleachers while we were in the tennis courts.  There were about 15 of us, so we split up and did different activities.  Those who played tennis helped with the kids playing tennis.  Some people went to play net ball (wiki it!) and about 6 of us went to an empty court and waited for students to come to us.  We decided to teach them how to play Sharks and Minnows, which turned out to be the best idea ever (it was Amber’s idea)!  They had never played it before and even the older kids liked it.  Also, the PE teacher liked the game and watched/learned the rules so now they can play on their own without our help.  We did this with two different groups.  I didn’t get a group picture, but when someone sends it to me, I will upload it!  I thought this was the best part of the day, but it gets better!

When we got back into the lab, we started getting things ready for putting together the solar cells.  Again, no pictures, but I can explain!  Basically, with the extra glass slides that weren’t coated with TiO2, we coated the conductive side with carbon, using a soft graphite pencil (provided in the kit).  Then, we washed out the stained slides and put them together by facing the TiO2 coated side with the carbon coated side and used binder clips to keep them together like this:

Then we put copper tape on the glass parts that are sticking out just to increase conductivity and put some iodine solution in between the two glass slides to act as an electrolyte.  Then we took it outside to be tested!  Here are before and after pictures:

Before (no conductivity):


IT WORKS! This was ACTUALLY the most exciting part of the day.  Our work for the past week actually gave results!  And good ones too!  We were so excited about it, even if it’s only 323 millivolts.  And if you couldn’t tell, this was at like 4:30pm and there was only this one tiny sliver of sunlight left in the physics building courtyard for us to test in.  It was definitely enough.  The physics building looks like this by the way:

That door is one of the entrances that we go in every day.  Here is a picture of the side that is sort of shown on the right of this picture above:

We went back to assemble the other 9 solar cells but didn’t add the iodine solution, because we figured it would probably dry out and that we should just add it right before we want to test it.  But we put them all together with the binder clips and copper tape and were finished for the day.

We finished by 5pm and to celebrate, Brian, Maren, and I did a work-out together.  We were planning on doing an abs circuit, and started off on a warm-up jog.  Brian was leading the way and made us basically jump around the entire campus on benches and weaving through things.  It was a fun warm-up and then we found an area covered in turf (but they do have some grassy areas) and did a circuit and finished it off with some yoga (I led that part!)

And then after dinner (yes, my day keeps going) we went to an international friendly soccer match that was Botswana vs. Lesotho.  It was crazy fun and Botswana won 3-0.  I only saw the last two goals, but they were amazing!

Also, the crowd was very exciting.  At half-time, this “spirit squad” went around the stands and danced with music and vuvuzelas.  Check out some pictures!

This is the beginning of the “spirit squad”.  The two guys in front have a fake large beer belly, which I thought was kind of funny.  Here’s a better picture of the guy:

This was the end of the “spirit squad.”  Note the zebra printed vuvuzelas.  The Botswana team is called the Zebras and this is the tunnel that they run through in the beginning:

And we found out that on June 9th there is another international match between Botswana and South Africa, and apparently it is a World Cup qualifying match?  I’m not sure, but I know it will be really fun.  I’m definitely planning on going!

Friday, I leave for my safari trip in Maun, so I won’t be putting up any posts over the weekend.  I might just do one big post about the safari trip, or it might take me too long, so I might just save the stories until I come back where I can tell them in person and it will be much faster.


Today, was the first day I saw clouds in Africa.  Not only that, the entire sky was cloudy, and it felt like a real winter day!  I forgot to take a picture to prove it, but I’m sure everyone can imagine what a cloudy winter day is like.

We went to lab and we sort of did a lot of work that took all day.  First, we thought that we were going to do the titanium dioxide suspension, but it turned out that the PhD student and his boss thought it’d be better if all five of us helped with annealing the thin films (which took all morning almost).  I guess he kind of wants all of us to know how to do everything like use the machines in the labs and stuff.  So we figured out that we can use this machine that I’ve actually used back at Rice, that heats up a sample in the middle of the machine.  Here is a picture of it with Brian:

The problem we had with this machine was that we needed a way to push the sample (in a little boat thing) all the way into the center, where that metal plaque thing is, and then also pull it out when it is done, so we kind of didn’t really do anything until the PhD student figured it out, or went to find a solution.  I made a little foil boat for the slides to fit into:

But the PhD student found a better solution.  Using floppy disk parts:

Also, the room that this machine is in had this sign posted on the door:

After a while, we decided that we should work on the solar cells, since we had already made all of the dyes and hadn’t done anything with them yet.  So we made the TiO2 suspensions according to the manual, but unfortunately, it didn’t really work out that well for us.  They provided some TiO2 powder that we mix with water and a little bit of acetone and it’s supposed to become the consistency of white paint (apparently TiO2 is actually also used as white paint) but ours was much more solid and not free-flowing at all.

Picture of me and Maren mixing/grinding the TiO2 in a mortar and pestle.  It was quite thick.  But we put it in the squeeze bottle anyways and left for lunch.  When we came back, we set the slides up to be coated with the TiO2 suspension.  We had to tape them like this (see picture) and only needed to cover the top slide completely with the paste.

According to the instructions in the manual, you’re supposed to spread the paste with a glass stirring rod, but we found that this wasn’t very good at spreading the paste and that a glass slide was actually a lot more effective.


Then, after annealing the suspension on the slide,

we were finally able to put the glass slides into the dye that we extracted and leave it for 24 hours so that the dye can completely cover the TiO2 nanocrystals that are “suspended” on the glass slides.


We put these away and were done with lab for the day!  We were out before the sun set, so I wanted to go out to the track and do a track workout, but it was already getting dark (around 5:30pm), I was going alone, the stadium/track is kind of far away from the main university campus area, and the courts that you pass on the way to the track is open to the public, so I didn’t really feel comfortable going over there by myself.  So I just ran double the amount of shuttle runs that were originally in my track workout with the lamp posts that were right in front of the dining hall.

A fun fact about today: So when we went to the supermarket at Main Mall the other day, I asked the three Botswana students what their favorite candy was so I could try it, and one of the students said the Lunch Bar was her favorite.  I tried it today and it was surprisingly very delicious!  The description of the bar is: Milk chocolate crammed with wafer biscuit, caramel, peanuts, and crisped rice.  It was yummy!  If anyone wants one, I will try to bring one home. It looks like this: