From UT to Utah (part one)

Hi everybody!

My name is Álvaro, I am a PhD at the University of Twente and this is my first blog contribution to MCEC-Matters. In a series of four, I will tell you about the amazing experience I am living right now: I am working in the USA (in Utah) doing a collaboration for my project!

I have been here for one moth so far, and luckily for me, I am obtaining results. I have been told that usually it takes much longer to get data that can be considered good enough to start a research. Therefore, I am extremely happy and satisfied with my progress during my first month. Let’s see if I can keep up with this successful streak.

Creating electrodes

However, it has not been easy. During the first three weeks, I was learning and controlling the technique to create my electrodes in order to perform experiments. I needed to manually make them: first of all, you need to glue a platinum filament to a tungsten rod; then, you need to etch the platinum wire so that you achieve a pointy peak, which will be the place where the future bubble will nucleate; the last step is to seal the electrode in glass and polish until you expose the tip of the etched platinum wire. At least, one hour or more is necessary for each electrode. Making them was and is very exhausting and frustrating. Any single mistake that you make destroys the electrode and then you need to start over again.

University of Utah

So far, I manage to get two or three good electrodes out of ten, which is a very good percentage according to the people here in the lab. I always try to prepare ten electrodes in one day and on the next day I try to perform successful experiments. But there are days that I simply cannot get any single electrode to work, so I normally leave earlier and go to the gym or do some sports: a bit of relax after a disastrous day. But when I get results, I stay in the lab until very late: it is very tiring, but you never know when the electrodes are going to work again!


My project is about transporting gas away from a catalyst surface. The group I am working right now is called the White Group, named after the head of the department, Henry White, from the University of Utah. This group is pioneer in developing a method to create nanoelectrodes on which nanobubbles can be nucleated by electrolysis.

Nanobubbles are crazily small bubbles, you cannot see them even with a normal microscope. These bubbles are problematic when they block the surface of the electrode, so my research goes in the direction of trying to understand how the bubbles are created and how we can get rid of them.

The group is very homogeneous, I am the only guy from Europe in the whole group. And the worst part: there are NO girls working here, only guys… too bad! In any case, the people are extremely friendly and always willing to help. I appreciate that a lot, because my background in chemistry is very poor, so I needed a lot of help in the beginning. My research here will focus on the nucleation rate of oxygen bubbles, which are very difficult to create in a controlled way.


In terms of my daily life, I have already made some friends. Salt Lake City (which is the city I live in) is the capital of Utah, a state in the mid-west. It is literally in the middle of the desert, a completely different environment as that of The Netherlands. Here everything is dry and warm, temperatures around 30 degrees at this moment (end of May) and it is predicted to get warmer and warmer, until 45 degrees. I like that, since I am from the south of Spain, from a city called Sevilla. We also have those temperatures there, so I will be suffering a real hot summer again after a few years living abroad.

The city was founded by Mormons. There are many rules controlling the time at which the restaurants and pubs close, and there is a very strict control on alcohol (beers, wine, cocktails). It is allowed to drink, but there are laws controlling beer production in the region, so that the alcohol content is extremely low, almost water I would say…But there are plenty of things to do here: there are amazing natural parks and places to go if you love nature: canyons, rock arches, desert…and the closest city, which is 6 hours away by car is Las Vegas! You know, what happens in Las Vegas, stays in Las Vegas. Do you remember all the movies about cowboys and indianers? Well, imagine living there! My dream has always been living a real American experience, and I think I came to the right place.

Well, I hope you like my first contribution to the blog. I will be writing soon again about more experiences. And of course, by next time, for sure I will have some scientific results that you may love!

See you!

Alvaro’s project is about transporting gas away from a catalyst surface. His background is aerospace engineering, but he is now working in the group Physics of Fluids of the University of Twente.


Do you have a question for Álvaro? Please let him know in the comments below!