Willkommen in Deutschland

Guten Tag! My name is Allana Schafer, and I’m a chemical engineering student at UAH. I will begin my fourth year this fall, and I will graduate in May of 2021. This summer I will be in Halle, Germany working alongside a masters student to continue my Honors Capstone research project. I will be here for two and a half months to conduct my research at Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg.

Before I talk about my arrival in Germany, I’d like to touch on what my research is about. At the University of Alabama in Huntsville, I work with Dr. Carmen Scholz in the Chemistry Department on polymer synthesis of poly(amino acid)s. My specific project is aimed at synthesizing a molecule called poly(glutamine) at a specific length due to the relevance it has in the protein that determines whether an individual has Huntington’s disease. Once I had synthesized poly(glutamine) of determined lengths in Huntsville, it was my next step to characterize this polymer and discover its physical properties and behaviors. In Huntsville we do not have all of the capabilities and instruments required for polymer characterization, so Dr. Scholz contacted a colleague of hers at Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg named Dr. Joerg Kressler. They worked together to create this opportunity for me to come to Germany to continue my research project and hopefully discover more about Huntington’s disease through bio-mimetic polymers.

Now that you know a little bit more about why I’m here, I’d like to talk about my first few days and the experiences I have had. I began my journey to Germany early in the morning on Thursday, May 16. My family took me to the airport and said their goodbyes which was really difficult for me. I had never traveled before, especially not alone or to another country. This was a huge deal for me. I went through security at the Huntsville airport feeling like a fraud because I didn’t quite feel like I was ready to embark on such an independent journey. To my surprise, I navigated four different airports that day with ease and kept a calm composure. Many.. many.. MANY hours later I arrived at Leipzig airport to get my luggage and go through customs which surprisingly was one of the easiest experiences I have ever had.

Waiting in the lobby for me were two graduate students from Halle with a sign that said “ALLANA” with logos from both of our universities. They were so kind and even gave me German chocolate to welcome me. At this point, I was extremely exhausted and figured we would take a short train ride and I would be able to go to my apartment and sleep. I was so wrong. It was only about 11 am in Germany and I had to stay up for the rest of the day to fix my sleep schedule. This was one of the longest days of my life and felt like a dream. They helped me buy a train ticket to Halle and we waited for some time for the train. At one point a different train passed by the station at an astounding speed and my mouth dropped. I was used to tiny, slow trains from Huntsville and this train traveled so fast it was gone in an instant. My first day in Germany was filled with shocking instances like this because it was so different, and I was also very sleep deprived.

After our train ride into Halle, we took a tram to the university. I stared out the window for a long time in shock thinking about how different everything looked. Every building is something new to look at, very different from the architecture I am used to. Another thing that I noticed was a lot of graffiti, and I don’t mean like some scribbles. This was really good, professional looking graffiti. Everywhere. Once we had gotten to the university, the students gave me a tour and introduced me to a few people. They showed me where my shared office space was, and I even had my own desk. They showed me the labs with equipment I had never seen before. Everything was different: light switches, door knobs, elevators, etc. It was a lot to take in and for a while I started to feel panicked and overwhelmed. They took me to eat at the Mensa (basically the Caf), and I was so tired that I could hardly eat. After lunch they took me to meet with Dr. Kressler who showed me pictures of my apartment and said he would drive me there by car. At this point I thought I was going to get to sleep soon, but I was wrong again. He told me he didn’t know how the Wifi worked, and my phone did not work despite the fact that I paid extra for it to still have international service the first few days while I was there. I began to panic internally because this meant I would be spending the night with no way to contact my family and friends to let them know I was okay.

One of the graduate students that had picked me up from the airport, named Aaron, made it his personal goal that day to make sure I would have some sort of internet access by that night. He was so kind. Dr. Kressler took me to my apartment and then left the internet situation for us to figure out. Aaron read the information about Wifi and said that we would need an Ethernet cord and an adapter for my computer and then we would be able to set it up. We had to take the tram back to the university and then to the city center to an electronics store to get everything we needed. By the time we had gotten back to my apartment, many hours had passed and I felt like it was a different day entirely. Aaron helped me set up my internet and then made sure I was okay before leaving for the night. My first night was really tough, and I will admit that I had a few moments thinking “what have I gotten myself into” but I slept a few hours and felt a little better.

The next day Dr. Kressler took me to Kaufland which is a supermarket close to where I live. He helped me find the things I needed so that I could make food in my apartment. This experience went very smoothly but that is because I had help from someone that speaks and reads German. After this, Aaron invited me to travel to Leipzig with him and his friends to walk around, have dinner, and then watch Eurovision 2019. I’ve included some pictures from my second day in Germany below. Today I am just relaxing and reflecting. I will be posting once a week most likely on Sundays to reflect on the experiences I have had.

Bis zum nächsten Mal,

Allana Schafer

Walking through downtown Leipzig, Germany
Artwork on a building in Leipzig, Germany
Watching Eurovision 2019 in Halle, Germany
“To be or not to be…” building in Halle, Germany

Knock Knock

The classes. One of the main reasons I wanted to come to Germany: no one can deny their genius engineering. I obviously want to be one of those genius engineers so who better to learn from than the best? But once again, everything is different.

My very first class (all of them taught in English by the way) was entirely made up of international students. So okay, this isn’t too bad, I know all these people already and the professor isn’t the best at English so he teaches slowly. This will be fine. My next class is where the culture shock hits. I am the only international student, and the desk confused me for at least 8 minutes. The professor speaks exceptional English so he is talking too fast even for me, a native English speaker (I have no idea how the Germans were keeping up with him). It felt like being the new kid in school again, but also in a different country, so good luck inserting yourself into a conversation. At the end of the lecture, everyone in the class knocked against the desk with their knuckles and I’m the American who, instead of knocking, jumped a foot out of their seat.

That was the first day. I have been attending classes for a few weeks now and I have noticed some deeper differences than the initial shocks. For instance, I think the students have a really high level of respect for their professors, some might say, higher than UAH students give their professors. Not a single person is on their phone during the lecture, everyone is taking notes and paying attention, and I learned even the knocking on the desks is like the students’ version of applauding after a lecture. Also, no one leaves a lecture early, even if the professor runs over. All the students will stay until they are done and knock before they start to leave. A lot of this respect comes from the professor’s side as well. In every class, the professor asked us within the first few weeks what we hoped to learn out of the subject and our personal goals for this class. Some of them even changed or developed the syllabus around what we wanted to learn. Sometimes a student will ask a question in class, something that I would’ve naturally assumed to be true but they want to be sure of it, and the professor will derail from their own plans and work on that question until the student feels completely satisfied with the answer they come up with. There is a lot of responsibility on the student from the professor, some might say, more than UAH professors give their students. The professor doesn’t give a lot of homework or extra assignments, so it is completely up to the student to find a book that works for them and create exercises to do for themselves. The lectures don’t even have a lot of worked examples built into them. And the killer, your grade for the class is determined by your final exam only.

Hochschule Offenburg has its pros and cons over University of Alabama in Huntsville. Obviously if we tried to make a student’s grade completely dependent on one test, people would lose their minds. However, I do think the professors at UAH could expect or require some more responsibility from their students. If you are taking a full course load of engineering courses at UAH, that is basically your life. If students felt more in charge of their work load and their responsibilities, it could improve their mental health. We are young adults trying to prepare for the world and the work force; how are we going to practice being responsible and having a work-life balance if we’re constantly working on assignments that might not even adhere to our specific learning style anyway? And if students felt like they were getting what they pay for, a professor who wants to answer their question to any level and teach them what they want to be taught in a way they can actually learn it, maybe students wouldn’t be as disrespectful.

Of course all of this is a thought experiment at best. You could call it a cultural difference that we could never implement, or simply these are the reasons US credits are worth twice as much as ECTS credits.

First Week of Vacation

While I’ve naturally been having a blast in Paris, the time finally came for me to have my first week long vacation. A few friends and I decided that, even though we only had a week, we would try and see as much of the surrounding European countries as possible. Somehow I got put in charge of managing all the plans surrounding that (yay). After several weeks of multiple group texts and a group survey and asking people in person what they wanted to see and do, no one could decide on anything. So eventually, I just booked my own travel plans and hostels and told people to come along if they want. That surprisingly worked. Well, people still complained about the places I chose (despite telling me and I quote “I’m good anywhere”), but that’s life.

Our first stop was Amsterdam. 3 of us went on Friday overnight and arrived early morning Saturday. We spent the rest of the day on a free walking tour, exploring the city, enjoying a Dutch breakfast (which honestly was just a breakfast themed desert), and just generally enjoying the city. We met up with a few friends who got in later, learned that one of our friends canceled without telling any of us, and explored some more. Now as the day turned into night, our adventures became less and less like something I would like to share with the public, but to summarize: yes we went in some coffee houses, no I did not do anything that would cause me to fail a drug test, yes we went to the red light district, no I did not walk away with 50 fewer dollars.

The next day my friend and I payed for a bus tour around the city of Amsterdam, which was honestly one of my favorite parts. We got to see all the classic parts of Holland: windmills, old churches, cheese, a fishing village, cheese, a nice quaint old town famous for its cheese, dykes, cows that make cheese, and canals. It was nice to get away from the crowded bicycle ridden streets of Amsterdam for a bit, plus we got to walk around on our own and explore more of the “true” Holland.

After Amsterdam, 3 left and only 3 remained, but we headed on to Bruges in Belgium. This town was honestly incredibly amazing; it looks like an old medieval town, fit with a central clock-tower, old narrow and winding cobblestone roads, a wall surrounding the city, and so much more. It felt like traveling back in time in many ways. Our tour here was beautiful, and we learned so much about the history and culture of the city. It’s also, fun fact, the only city with an underground beer pipeline (because Belgium). We also visited Brussels, however we all agreed we would have rather spent another day in Bruges. We also did all the classic Belgian things like eating fries, waffles (remember how in Amsterdam the breakfast was basically desert? These Belgian waffles made that look like a salad), trying fancy chocolate, and more. I’m not supposed to be drinking as per UAH rules, so I can neither confirm nor deny any accusations made regarding the my participation in the country’s national pastime of drinking.

Finally, we visited Frankfurt. I wish I had more to say, but honestly, it was pretty boring. Frankfurt was a very modern city with basically no original buildings, so it was really like visiting any other large metropolitan city. One of my friends was staying in a hostel that was in the REALLY bad part of town though, so that was neat. Seriously though, my favorite part was meeting some other American college students (somewhere from Arizona I think?) and exploring a little with them.

Overall, I had a very good time, and I’m ready to start planning for my next adventure. I saw way more than I thought I would be able to in the short amount of time we had, however we truly got to explore so much and I am and will always be very grateful for that. I’m also glad to be back in Paris… not so glad to be back in school, but I’m sure I’ll live.

Living in Bucharest: Land of Dracula

Just north of Bucharest is the region of Romania known as Transylvania. While the name translates to “Land Beyond the Forest,” it is most commonly known (as the title of this post implies) as the “Land of Dracula.” The other weekend, I decided to take advantage of this and do what any person living in Romania for several months should: visit Dracula’s castle.

My friends and I left from Bucharest on the train Friday afternoon, and we arrived in Brasov that evening. After checking into our Airbnb and getting some sleep, we woke up the next morning and hopped on the bus to Bran. When we arrived, we were right at the base Bran Castle, the castle most commonly associated with Dracula.

Once inside the castle, we learned a good bit about Marie Victoria, the last queen of Romania, but only a little about the real Dracula, Vlad Tepes. Even though this is the castle that is usually promoted as “Dracula’s Castle,” he was only ever believed to have been imprisoned here for a few days. However, most historians agree that even that never happened, so his connection to Bran is almost entirely made up. Fortunately the castle was still pretty cool, so we had a good time exploring while we were there.

After exploring Bran Castle, we went back to Brasov and checked out some of the sights there. One of them was the Black Church, which is the largest church between Vienna and Istanbul. Another was the White and Black Towers, a pair of guard towers on the hill that offered a great view of the city (with the Black Church front and center).

As cool as it was to see all the stuff in Bran and Brasov, my favorite part is that it was a nice change of pace from Bucharest. While Bucharest has some cool stuff, most of it is larger, newer buildings made to look impressive during the Communist control of the area. In Brasov, I got to see more of the older European stuff that I’d been looking forward to seeing. We stayed right next to the Black Church, and just a short walk away from places such as the first Romanian school and Strada Sforii, one of the narrowest streets in all of Europe. But as cool as all of that was, one thing you definitely can’t miss out on if you ever go to Brasov is the crepe lady. Her cart is open everyday from 8am to 3am (yes, really), and she serves giant crepes with Nutella and fruit wrapped inside. She was almost always busy whenever we walked by, and if you look towards the street to the left on the picture below, you can see her cart right at the edge of the piata.

Instant and Constant Confusion

I have never written for a blog before, so please forgive me if I do not do this correctly or very well.

I have been in Germany for about three weeks, one week for orientation and two in classes so far. The town I am living in is kind of small in the southwest region right in the Black Forest. The closest big city is Munich, which is still about a four hour train ride away.

Ok now that you have a little information on where I live and for how long, let me tell you, everything is different. I thought I had prepared myself for that before I came, but honestly, there is no way to properly prepare yourself for the change in comfort. It is especially difficult if, like me, you have never traveled outside of the United States before. There is a constant (and I do mean constant) feeling of discomfort and confusion. It is not just a vacation because you still have to know how to live. You have to find the grocery store, the pharmacy, the post office, and etc. I had no idea how comfortable I was in the States. If you had asked me “hey where can I buy a planner?” while I was in the States, I would’ve said “Staples, Target, Office Depot” and probably five other places. But I have no idea here. And it isn’t just where to find things or buy things, because I mean everything is different. From the doors and light switches to internet service and availability to the groceries, there is never a time where you feel something familiar.

So naturally this leads to another level of discomfort that I personally was not prepared for. I was prepared for not knowing the language very well, leaving my friends and family, and experiencing a new culture. I was not adequately prepared for just constantly feeling uncomfortable, out of place, and confused. In all honestly, yesterday I found brand name Oreo’s and I literally cried just from finding something familiar and in English.

If you are reading this wondering what studying abroad is like or looking for advice because you are thinking about doing it yourself, I would suggest packing some little comforts to take with you so that in those first weeks when you want to break down you have a familiar shampoo or snack. Or if you are super brave, just become comfortable with being uncomfortable and lost.

But please don’t let me steer you away from considering experiencing studying abroad, because it is wonderful and very strengthening to feel lost and confused and then figure it out and succeed in buying groceries or ordering in a restaurant. It may be something small, but it becomes big and you develop a new appreciation for yourself and what you are capable of.

Living in Bucharest: The Streets

One thing that I’d heard about Bucharest before I flew over was that most of the taxi drivers here will try to rip you off every chance they get. However, once I got here, I decided to give my driver the benefit of the doubt and follow any if the advice I’d seen online about keeping an eye on the driver. I wound up having a very pleasant ride to the university, and during the ride he told me about the history of the city and mentioned some cool places to eat. Then, as soon as the car stopped, he charged me about five times as much as he should have for the ride. It immediately became apparent that I should have taken the warnings more seriously; but it was late and I was tired, so I paid him the twenty bucks and got checked into my dorm.

In the few weeks since that happened, I’ve learned a lot more about how getting around on the streets here works. One thing that I noticed right away is that everyone drives like a maniac here. Literally no one cares about staying in their lane, at most intersections everyone will just turn across each other’s paths and hope for the best, and the traffic lights only seem to matter about half the time. That being said, since everyone was raised thinking this a safe way to drive, they all know how to somehow make it turn out okay. Another important thing I saw is that while they will stop for pedestrians, you have to make it abundantly clear that you’re ready to cross. If their light says to yield, but it looks like there’s even a chance you might be waiting to cross, they’ll probably just keep going until someone steps out onto the road in front of them. Again, it all works out because they were raised driving like this, so they all have fantastic reaction time; but it’s still daunting to have to be the person to take that first step off the sidewalk.

As reassuring as it is to see the apparent mayhem of the streets somehow come together in a way that gets people across the city with few incidents, I would do almost anything to avoid having to drive in Bucharest. Instead, when I have to get somewhere using the roads, I leave it to the people who have been doing it their whole lives. The main difference now is that rather than get ripped off by a taxi, I just take an Uber.

Finally visiting Paris

Okay, I know it’s been more than a week since my last update, so there is a lot to cover in this one. First of all, school has now really started ramping up, which has been a good thing in all honesty. It’s been keeping me busy and talking with my classmates (now close friends). That being said, school is boring and uninteresting. What I’m sure you really want to hear about is that I have finally taken the half hour train ride to Paris to explore that fantastic city.

There is, of course, a lot to see in Paris, and of course we couldn’t do everything in just one day. We did see quite a lot of things though, some of which I’ve been told is something even many locals haven’t done yet. Fortunately, the school I am staying at provided each of the exchange program’s students with a buddy. My buddy just happens to be a local of Paris, so he knew all the places to go see and hidden gems.

First we explored the catacombs. Even though we purposefully tried to get there early and beat the line, it still managed to be about an hour and a half just to get in. Not to mention 15 euros. But it was so worth it. It was a oddly humbling and calming experience, while also of course being morbid and slightly horrifying. Reading about the number of skeletons (around 2 million), and the inevitable fact that many of the bodies I was looking at were children, was a weird experience to say the least.

Next we went to the Church of Sacre Coeur, which even my limited knowledge of French knew meant sacred heart. And let me just say that boy, was that an incredible place. By far my favorite of the day. The view from on top of the hill is absolutely stunning, and allowed us to see much of Paris. The church itself was also beautiful. I remember reading or hearing something about how the church is considered a modern one, despite being built in the 1800s. Another culture shock moment to realize that, compared to much of Paris, that is pretty modern. For the United States that would basically be ancient history.

Our local friend then took us to see something called the “I love you” wall, which is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a wall with the words “I love you” in as many languages as they could fit. Supposedly it’s a lesser known part of Paris, however it was still really cool getting to see it. We also happen to be there right as a man proposed to his (now) fiance, which was sweet. A Google search revealed that it happens rather frequently however. Still a sweet idea on his part.

We also of course saw 2 of the most famous landmarks: the Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel tower. These were mostly just seen by us in passing; we didn’t have time to go up and see the view from the top (it’s a planned future visit). That being said, I got some good photos, so that’s all my family really cared about in the end.

Hopefully I can go back soon and see some museums, and finally go up the Eiffel tower. There is still, obviously, a lot to see in Paris, and I’m excited to see as much as possible before I go back home.

First Week (or so) in France

Well, I have now been here for a little over a week, so it’s time to write about my experiences on my 4 month study abroad in Paris, France. Well, not technically. One of the first things I learned here is that the city I am staying in, Montigny-Le-Brettoneux, is NOT a part of Paris. It may only be a 30 minute train ride from the Eiffel Tower, but the people here are adamant that this is absolutely not even remotely related to Paris at all. Although geography may be against their agenda, I think it’s funny to see people strongly defend not being Parisian.

That’s just one of the many cultural experiences I have, well, experienced since arriving. France is very similar to the US; similar cultures, clothing, people, mannerisms, media, etc… most people even speak enough English for me to get by totally fine knowing about zero French, and it sometimes makes me forget that I am over 8000 miles from home. However, it’s the little differences that I have noticed the most. People are a lot less friendly in public than they are in the US, especially coming from the South where people can be a bit too friendly to strangers in my opinion. Also, although most of the shops and restaurants are very similar to the US, everything shuts down around midday and never stays open very late. People walking dogs without leashes is the norm, smoking is far more common, you don’t have to tip at restaurants… I could go on.

My friends in school are all from different parts of the world as well, and learning about their cultures and comparing has been fascinating. I’ve already inadvertently begun using British slang words from my English friend, and my friends from India have taught me a few words in Hindi. Fortunately none of them know much French either, so we are all struggling to learn this together. In addition to learning about French culture, it’s been really cool learning about British, Indian, and Chinese cultures as well; it’s almost like a little double dose of study abroad.

So far I have really enjoyed myself and learning about the culture here; it was my main goal in studying abroad, and I am glad I have been able to learn and experience so much in such a short amount of time. Hopefully in the upcoming weeks I will be able to write about more exciting things, like actually visiting Paris. But for now, this was just a short summary of the little things I have noticed. Oh, and here are some pictures of my apartment since I haven’t done much exploring yet.

Programming in Oslo – Part 2

After a few weeks of extensive traveling and working on school I am back on the SAGA Blog! Soon I will be posting about my travels across Europe, but for this post I will be talking about the other engineering class I am taking, Computational Physics.

You might say, that doesn’t sound like an engineering class, it’s physics! You are right, but at the core of Computational Physics is creating simulations to solve these complex physical equations. This makes it more of a programming course than actually learning all the concepts and theories in physics. This is most likely true for the majority of students in the class, since they are physics students, but I quickly learned that some of the concepts being discussed were well above Physics I / II at UAH. I should have expected it considering this is a senior level class in their physics curriculum and they have already taken Special Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, Magnetism etc. However, thankfully the teacher, Morten Hjorth-Jensen, has been exceptional at explaining the theory to the class. Typically this instruction is meant as more of a layout guideline for discretizing or deriving the algorithmic process, but for me it was the baseline for actually learning the theory or method itself. I took this course from the recommendation of another former UAH student that studied abroad at UiO, Christopher Parker, who suggested it for a specific project in the course using Monte Carlo methods. I can say with confidence that finishing up the 4th project a few weeks ago with only one more to go, this course was incredible.

As always I try and get out whilst programming, this specific time I hammocked along the Akerselva river that runs through Oslo.

Hammocking while Programming

I can say though that being suspended in the air literally over a river while holding your laptop can be scary. I usually prefer safer situations for my electronics, but it was one of the last gorgeous days in Oslo and I couldn’t resist the sound of a waterfall while working on the project. Also, this place is conveniently only a 7 min walk from my student house!

I would go into detail explaining each project, but they are fairly complicated and deep in Physics so I will summarize and provide links to view my final reports for each if you are interested in a topic. Also as always, all the code/results are listed in the Github repo.

The first two projects were not part of the final grade and the feedback was used for our own benefit to improve before the projects that actually counted for our grade. The first project was familiarizing the class with dynamic memory allocation and using matrix/vector operations in programming. This was pretty much review for me and a nice task to warm up my skills for the semester. The second project was the algorithmic development of a solution to Eigenvalue problems using the equations of a buckling beam coupled with Schroedinger’s equation. This project was definitely stepping up the physics knowledge, especially dabbling into Quantum dot theory. The feedback provided by the TAs/professor was exceptional in giving me a basis of how the physics department expects reports. I also learned how to format code beautifully using proper syntax highlighting in the text with crisp rendering. They also could tell my lack of theoretical knowledge translation when writing in project 2 and suggested routes of ensuring I had a firm foundation when writing my reports in the future. I am a big fan of this detailed feedback, especially being a TA at UAH for 3 previous semesters in ENG-101. On that note, if you’ll be taking ENG-101H this spring, I’ll see you then!

The third project was the first real graded project worth 33% of our grade. Even though this brought additional stress, I actually really enjoyed the problem being solved. We were tasked with creating a simulation that modeled the solar system. Several different solvers were used and lots of different planetary quantities were evaluated. This project really combined everything I had learned and it showed in the grade I received back today, a 95. I really worked hard for it and I think classes like MAE-311 really prepared me for the rigorous writing style, resulting in a comprehensive 22-page report. This is why I always stress to freshman that listening to feedback, going to office hours, and putting in the effort always makes the difference in college.

The fourth project simulated the Ising Model using the Monte Carlo method coupled with the Metropolis algorithm. This project was the reason I took the course and it lived up to my anticipations. This project was where the mathematical equations got intense really fast with constants and variables appearing out of thin air. Actually programming it was fairly short, but understanding the math took a lot of studying. Once it was all done though it was actually really interesting seeing how the model interacted.

The fifth project is due in a week and a half and I will be starting it this weekend. I just got done taking my Biologically Inspired Computing final today and I have been dedicating a lot of time towards it. Especially since it is worth 100% of my grade (the assignments were just pass/fail to even get the chance to take the final). With that out of the way, I now have the time to start and wrap up the last project in Computational Physics. Wow, that was a lot of text, I hope I didn’t lose you in the middle! If you are taking finals this week, I wish you the best of luck and remember, it’s almost winter break!

Programming in Oslo

It feels good to be back and posting on the UAH Honors SAGA blog. This post I will be focusing on one of my passions consuming a lot of my time in Oslo. On the academic side, I have been challenged with Senior level programming courses in Biologically Inspired Computing and Computational Physics. Coding has always been a passion for me and through my ME degree at UAH I have constantly felt the desire to learn advanced ML, AI, and randomization methods (Monte Carlo), and the University of Oslo gave me the chance. I have been able to keep my coding skills up by TA’ng ENG101 for three semesters (including the first Honors section!) but I felt it was time to further my skill set.

One aspect of programming Oslo that is like no other is the free wifi absolutely everywhere in public places and it’s super fast. This allows me to work on my projects with views like you can see below.

Aker Brigge, Oslo Bay

It is amazing what a relaxing environment does for productivity. I try and do this at UAH, but Oslo has definitely inspired me to come back and spend more time studying in places like Monte Sano.

Biologically Inspired Computing focuses on Neural Networks and Machine Learning techniques. There have been two mandatory assignments so far and they have definitely challenged my programming skills. This is mainly because I had to receive special permission to take them, due to the fact that they are Senior level Computer Science classes.

The first assignment involved using a genetic algorithm (GA) to solve the traveling salesman problem. By essentially breaking the problem into genotypes and phenotypes, you can use a genetic-based reproduction structure to develop your family bloodline. The GA then produces new generations of children to optimize the results towards the optimal solution.

The second project I just turned in last week was a Machine Learning classifier for EMG signals. The assignment explores supervised learning with the implementation of a multilayer perceptron (MLP). The task at hand was to analyze data from electromyographic (EMG) signals to learn eight hand gestures from a robotic prosthetic hand controller. The algorithm used backpropagation to fill the neural nodes to refine a weighting system for the dynamic classification process. The confusion matrixes are filled with the results allowing for analysis.

Both of these assignments allowed me to learn in-demand algorithm knowledge, as AI / ML is the future of all computing. You can view my work for the course on my Github course page and there are reports included in both for an easy to read summary. I feel blessed to have the opportunity to experience this world-class course that is recognized for it’s rigorous but exceptional content. The applications in the field of robotics (my future career path) are endless and provide a solid foundation for future growth in programming. This is all I have for this week and in my next post, I plan on talking about Computational Physics!