Monday, 28 July 2014

MH2014 Part 2: Hydrogen storage celebrities, my presentation and dinner at Old Trafford.

Wednesday was the day of my presentation and the most relevant to me in terms of the other talks taking place as well. There was only a morning session: so a short day but very informative. The "celebrity" of my field (Ping Chen), who was the first to discover the system reversibility was also speaking, which was exciting! My talk went well once I got over initial nervousness, and I had no difficult questions, so all was well :-)

The afternoon had a planned excursion to a country house. Having worked in one for 5 years I decided to take the opportunity to go out on the bike. I plotted a 70 mile route on Google and headed out into the sunshine. 5 and a half hours later, I got back after climbing over 4,500ft, having wished I'd also plotted the elevation! I just about had enough time to turn myself around for the conference dinner at Old Trafford, the Manchester United football stadium. This was exciting for a lot of people, but not me! The dinner was good, although a bit late coming... 

Thursday was less well attended, probably due to the number of people out until gone 2am the night before! The plenaries were interesting reports from the US Department of Energy and a group using metal hydrides in satellites. I spent the rest of the morning working up my experimental data from the previous week whilst watching the Commonwealth womens triathlon race. After a trilogy of cheesecakes at lunch, I went to some interesting afternoon technical sessions on a range of topics: including one from someone who had waited so long for a UK visa that their flight landed 30 mins before their presentation! 

Again, before the poster session I went to the quays, swimming one more lap than on Tuesday! The poster session was more relevant to my work today and therefore more interesting and productive. 

Friday was just a morning session, but with some interesting presentations. It seemed a shame for the presenters that the programme was quite bare, but the attendance during the sessions was reasonably good. 

Overall: a well organised and productive week. It has definitely given me and my supervisor some things to think about for the future and provided a great opportunity to meet and talk with other researchers from around the world in this area.  

Thursday, 24 July 2014

MH2014: Metal hydrides conference part 1: networking at MOSI and freezing on the hottest day of the year!

My second international conference of the year was the Metal Hydrides conference, this time at a more local venue of The Lowry on the Quays in Salford, Manchester. Not exactly exotic, but going to a conference near home does have its benefits (mainly that I was able to bring my bike in the boot of the car!). 

The week began with an early start (even for me!) to be at the Lowry for 9 via dropping cars and luggage at the hotel. The first session began with a plenary lecture that set the scene for the rest of the conference: a discussion of the current energy system and the potential for application of hydrogen technologies, notably metal hydrides. 

This conference was much more focussed than WHEC in South Korea (see other posts) and so many of the technical sessions were very relevant and interesting. All the "big names" in my research area were there, and so it was great to hear what they are doing and also to speak with them during the breaks. 

The welcome reception was held at the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) and was a good opportunity for me to catch up with some of the researchers I had met a year ago at the Gordon conference in tuscany. I also discovered some areas of the museum I had missed on my previous visits this year. 

Tuesday began with plenary lectures reporting back on the status of hydrogen technologies in the UK and Japan. It is promising to see how close the Japanese car manufacturers are to commercialisation of the technologies. Most of the UK progress is in research at an earlier stage of development. 

I then took a break from the sessions to finish off my presentation before attending some more interesting technical sessions in the afternoon. Before the poster session, I then went swimming in the quay! I had left my wetsuit at home, but decided to risk it (it was the hottest day of the year!) - I managed 45 minutes before turning blue and heading back to the greenhouse-like conference room on top of the Lowry (below) to look at the posters.


Tuesday, 22 July 2014

WHEC day 4: exploring Gwangju and karaoke!

There were no sessions in the morning today that were relevant to my research, so I decided to only go along to the conference centre in the afternoon. I planned to go hiking, but woke up to some very low lying cloud and so decided against it. I ran to the outside gym where I was joined by a few locals before heading back to the hotel and then out into the centre of Gwangju. 

The subway was very friendly to English-speaking foreigners and I easily navigated myself into the centre. There were no obvious tourist sites, so I just wandered around - including going up a tall building to see the view of the city, and seeing the memorial to the massacre that took place in the 1980s. 

After my exploration of the city I went back to the hotel and then went to the conference centre. Annoyingly the presentation that I had gone in specifically to see was cancelled and so I stayed for the closing ceremony. A lot of prizes were presented for oral and poster presentations (none to anybody that I knew), although a lot of recipients had left already. Before leaving the centre, I went to the Kim-Dae-Jung exhibition. He won the Nobel Peace Prize, and it was interesting to see what work he had done on North/South Korea relations and see what the medal looks like. 

Once the conference had finished, I went out for dinner with some of the other members from the DTC and some others we had met during the conference. We had traditional Korean barbeque and then went out for another Korean tradition: karaoke! 

WHEC day 3:

Today was the day of my talk, so I was glad that I had finally managed to get a good nights sleep! I woke up with enough time to go for a run along one of the beautifully well maintained river cycle paths. This put me in a great mood :-)

The plenary session today was about using liquids such as toluene to store hydrogen: a hydrogen storage method that would reduce the changes needed to infrastructure. We then heard about the current state of electrolysis and filling stations in Korea. When this session finished at 11am they decided it was lunchtime and served up some sweet potato noodles and vegetables. 

The afternoon session for me was manic - there were two parallel sessions which I wanted to go to, so I ended up running between the two at every speaker change to try and see everything. This worked out quite well, and I ended up in the room I was presenting in with enough time to watch the speaker before me. My presentation went well, although it was a bit short. That was due to the content though, and not because I spoke at the speed of light, so that was re-assuring! I had a few questions afterwards that prompted a discussion that I continued over coffee. 

In the afternoon I went to the metal hydrides session, although annoyingly missed the talk I had been hoping to see as it had been rescheduled at the last minute. 

Tonight was the gala dinner night - a rather bizarre evening which began with an awards presentation. However, no explanation was given as to what the awards were for, so it was a bit hard to follow. We then had a buffet accompanied by a tribute to the president of the IAHE who was celebrating his 90th birthday this year. Once we had eaten, there was entertainment of an opera quartet and a traditional dance which were both very good. 

WHEC Day 2: fuel cell cars

I successfully managed to use my alarm this morning and did some strength training and yoga before setting off for the conference centre. 

The morning session today was made up of presentations from car manufacturers who are all working on fuel cell cars. It was pretty impressive seeing the progress from the companies, and also seeing the different approaches they have taken. For example, Toyota have a focus on hybrid vehicles, with fuel cells being a sideline development, whereas Hyundai have taken on the initiative to develop fuel cell cars independently. 

Lunch was another Korean speciality of beef with rice. This is one country where I am not finding wheat-intolerance to be a problem! They seem to find vegetarianism much harder to comprehend... 

There were very few sessions in the afternoon that were relevant, so I spent the time looking at the posters and the exhibition. After the last talks had finished, I went off into Gwangju to (successfully!) locate a swimming pool. On my way back to the hotel I discovered the Korean exercise trend: power-walking through the parks with portable speakers blaring out "K-pop"!

World Hydrogen Energy Conference, Day 1 Gwangju, South Korea,

The day after finishing off at POST, I flew out to Gwangju in South Korea for the World Hydrogen Energy Conference (WHEC). I had prepared my presentation before leaving Birmingham, but that was now 3 months ago, and my brain was full of information about big data rather than hydrogen storage. Luckily my talk wasn't scheduled until the Wednesday, giving me 2-3 days to listen to others and remember what it was I did! 

I arrived on Sunday evening after over 24 hours travelling (plus 8 hours time difference) and went to the conference centre to register. Luckily I had my photo ID (driving license) and business cards in my purse as I needed both to register. I then had a look through the programme and the abstract booklet before going back to the hotel for dinner and sleep. 

The Monday of the conference did not start well! I failed at using the alarm on my borrowed phone and not only missed my morning run, but also breakfast and only just made it to the conference on time after some epic powerwalking... The morning sessions were  a number of different countries reporting back on the progress of their hydrogen technology progress. There was also a welcoming address from the mayor of Gwangju and the president of the IAHE. We then had lunch - a Korean special of bibimbap: a rice and vegetables dish that is mixed together with sesame oil and red pepper paste. There was another session after lunch about the development in different countries. I found the Californian presentation interesting, as they do a lot of work on communication. A possible job for the future...?!

In the tea break I discovered that all the snacks were made with rice flour and not wheat, which was a treat for me and my wheat free diet! I then attended some interesting technical sessions. Some of the presentations were reporting back on the European Project HyUnder that is researching the potential of storing hydrogen underground. I had done my industrial placement with a UK company working on this project, so it was interesting to see how the feasibility studies have progressed. 

In the evening there was a welcome reception. This consisted of a welcome address, a laser show, a 3 course meal and some traditional Korean music and dancers. 

Friday, 18 July 2014

Reflections on a POST fellowship

When I finished my time at POST, I told myself I would write a blog post reflecting on my time there. Now I have been back in Birmingham for a few weeks, and my POSTnote is now online, I feel like I have sufficiently gathered my thoughts enough to write something that makes sense! 

Overall, it was an amazing experience and I thank the EPSRC for the opportunity. I hadn't realised at the start just how much I needed a break from the bubble of research that I was in whilst working towards my PhD. Getting the chance to continue research, but in a different field and in a different environment acted as a perfect interlude. 

There were a number of things that I was surprised at. To write the note, I carried out a lot of interviews. When I first started I had no idea just how useful these would be, as all previous literature reviews (which is essentially what a POSTnote is) had just involved reading. However, so much is gained from speaking to an expert that I wonder whether this should be carried through into the academic world, with researchers encouraged to go to conferences just to hear from and speak to other researchers when they are just beginning their PhD. Currently, the norm is for a PhD student to wait until they have something to present before attending a conference. I guess that the budget is the limiting factor, as conferences can be expensive. 

The importance of every word in every sentence was a bit of a shock: as the published note becomes "the voice of POST", you have to make sure you don't say anything at all that you cannot back up with supporting information. Going over every word to ensure you can provide evidence for what you are saying was a way of writing that I was new to, but quickly got used to!

I also discovered just how bad my grammar was... I learnt a lot from Lydia (Harriss) and Chris (Tyler) but was still needing correction at the end! 

My favourite thing about the fellowship was the people. Not only the permanent staff, but the other fellows, the cyclists from the Kingston Wheelers and Twickenham CC, the regular early morning swimmers at the Queen Mother Leisure Centre and all the friends I realised I had in London. They ensured I had an excellent time during my stay!

Although I don't miss the commute, living in London was a great experience. Now I'm back, I realise just how refreshing it was to work with adults after 7 years at university. Another benefit for me was that, as most of the other fellows were nearing the end of their PhDs, most of our discussions were about "What next?". This was great, as it has prompted me to start thinking about life post-PhD when I still have 18 months left, rather than waiting until hand-in day to contemplate my options. 

I have come back with renewed motivation to finish my PhD - I have spent a lot of the last 2 weeks in the lab and have taken a different approach to getting things done. I am hoping this will give me a strong advantage when it comes to finishing next year. 

My time at POST not only gave me an insight into how science is communicated in parliament, but also improved my writing, communication and confidence. A massive thank-you to POST, the EPSRC for the fellowship, and to the University of Birmingham for welcoming me back.
Photo courtesy of James Courtney