A Geological Expedition of Albania

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Arriving in Tirana, the capital of Albania I was so scared as this was my first time travelling to SE Europe, I was alone, and I couldn’t speak a word of Albanian! This photo shows a beautiful Sandstone outcrop (with a WWII bunker-tunnel system beneath it) and Mt. Dajt in the background.

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I travelled to Enver Hoxha’s (the Communist leader of Albania from 1944-85) largest bunker to discover and use old geological maps of Shqipëri (Albania).

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A fantastic example of cross-bedding on a sequence of rock.

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In my spare time I visited the World Centre of the Bektashi, a Sufi Mystic sect of Islam originating in the 1500s in the Balkans.

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After spending a few days in Tirana I began to realize that the people were hugely friendly and nothing like the Albania “gangsta” stereotype perpetrated by Western media. Hearing stories of kidnapping by bandits, robbery and human trafficking had previously scared me before travelling to Albania. It was only when I spent time with the people and tried to integrate myself into their culture that I began to see that the Albanians were actually very hospitable and kind.

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I then travelled to Berat, a city in Southern Albania in order to explore The Tomorr Mountain National Park, the Kuçova oil field and surrounding geological features.

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The countryside around Berat was stunning although difficult to hike!

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An overview of the city ft. me during my ascent.

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Berat County stretching out into the distance with the River Osum in the foreground.

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On one day I travelled to the Bogove waterfall and explore the karstic landscape and the nearby valley.

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On another day, while trying to access a Nickel mine I stumbled across some oil pipeline structures and began to follow them!

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Travelling down to Vlorë I was stunned by the amazing coastal geological features and took various rock samples of the Mesozoic Limestone. It was interesting to travel along the promenade and learn about Albania’s coastal management strategies and explore the karstic structures of the Karaburun Peninsula.

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I was super worried about travel before I departed on this expedition but actually found it to be very easy (with beautiful scenery) to get a minibus between cities. I learnt that you just have to be confident and go up to people and more often than not they will be willing to help you!

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During his time as leader of Albania, Hoxha built over 700,000 conrete bunkers to avoid invasion. These now derelict structures are dotted everywhere around the Albanian landscape.

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Finally I travelled to Sarandë, part of the Cika anticlinal belt and famous for its Limestone and silty clay soil deposits. Albania was an INCREDIBLE country to travel to and I have learnt so much about myself following this trip. It has taught me lessons in self confidence, preparation and communication as well as increased my knowledge about Geology hugely! I couldn’t have done this without the help of the PGAF and I thank them for this truly life changing experience.

Vienna – Chichi Kabaso

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Thanks to the Principal’s Go Abroad fund, I had the opportunity to travel to Vienna for the conference of geoscientists and engineers. This was an incredible opportunity and I had a great time meeting students from around the world and getting to know a new and beautiful city. Prior to my departure, I was anxious about travelling to a country in which English was not the main language. This was also my first time travelling on my own! All my fears dispelled once I arrived in the city. Yes, everything was in German but the majority of people and expats spoke English! It was also a great excuse to learn some German. During the day I attended the conference where I found out about great research and developments being made in the engineering field. After the conference, I explored the warm, vibrant and diverse city. It was an incredible experience and I can’t wait to visit Vienna again someday.

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A Journey through the Centuries: Encounters with Artists from the Middle Ages and Renaissance, Italy

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Rome_view to St Peters from the Castel Sant’Angelo

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Rome_Medieval Entombment group at Castel Sant’Angelo

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Ferentillo_Abbey S Pietro in Valle

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Ferentillo_Abbey St Pietro in Valle, medieval church and bell tower

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Ferentillo_Church of SS Pietro e Paolo façade

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Ferentillo_Church of SS Pietro e Paolo interior

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Ferentillo_Church of SS Pietro e Paolo_my case study – medieval relief by Master Ursus, 8th century

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Bologna_self-portrait of Niccolo dell’Arca as a Biblical character Nicodemus

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Modena_Duomo portal by Master Wiligelmo

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Ferrara_Duomo, Early Christian sarcophagus with the Traditio Legis

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Verona_Duomo, portal by sculptor Nicholaus, 12th century

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Verona_Duomo, portal with the inscription of sculptor Nicholaus

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Verona_Duomo portal detail, prophets

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Milan_Sant Ambrogio, interior with a cibirium and altar by the goldsmith Vuolvinus, 9th century

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Milan_Sant Ambrogio, self-portrait of the goldsmith Vuolvinus at the High Altar, 9th century

What can temporary shipping container buildings teach you, which lasts? A study trip to Amsterdam

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In August 2016, thanks to the Principal’s Go Abroad Fund, I visited Amsterdam in order to research several shipping container projects, meant to meet the needs for urgent accommodation. It was the first time I was doing self-conducted study trip, so I was anxious about managing to ask the right questions at the right time and taking detailed notes to review later. However, after my first building visit, I felt more confident, as people were happy to answer questions and to help me with my research, point me to interesting details, and even share stories about the buildings over coffee in a shipping container home. As a designer of shipping container homes myself, I had the invaluable opportunity to experience the atmosphere of similar premises first hand, and to consider the causes of existing issues of ventilation, isolation, temperature, bug infestation, light, fire proofing which I can now take into consideration in my designs, and to take a note of advantages such as very good noise insulation levels.

I wish to thank Tempohousing – for their helpful guidance and the time they set aside to answer my questions and guide me through the construction process, Robert Lijbers from Lijbers Architects – for his useful tips and for taking the time to tell me the story of the Skaeve Huse, and to the residents who agreed to talk to me about these projects.

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The Spacious Courtyard of Diemen Student accommodation is a result of the optimal arrangement of the containers in a square shape.

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Damages and rust caused by rain. Ventilation openings – too small. The only way to air the room is to open the door, which is not always a convenient solution.

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Two circulation cores at two diagonal corners of the block of containers.

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Spacious 12×40 ft containers (as an alternative to the 8x40ft standard container dimensions).

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Labour Hotel – structural bracing. In this case the circulation cores do not provide additional structural support, hence bracing is needed.

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Labour Hotel – an example of a living room in a standard 8x40ft container.

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Lijbers Architects Office – designers of Skaeve Huse, a temporary build of 6 containers aiming to provide temporary accommodation for homeless people with problematic behaviour.
Skaeve Huse is now demolished, so I approached Lijbers Architects for information about the project, and as a result, Robert Lijbers kindly invited me on a visit to their office.

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The construction process of the Skaeve Huse (1-storey building), courtesy of Robert Lijbers.

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De Key Cafe, a two-storey container structure with an example of interior staircase.

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De Key Cafe. The interior does not suggest this is a shipping container construction.

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Keetwonen Student Accommodation one of the 6 shipping container blocks. According to a resident, the structure is to be demolished in December 2017, and the container units are now for sale.

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According to a resident, the former prison seen in the background (now refugee shelter) to the north-east of Keetwonen student housing, was a factor when deciding the orientation of the containers. As a result, very few windows of units now get direct south sunlight, and many of them cast shade on their neighbours, causing the bottom storeys to have cooler living conditions.

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Similar to the one in Diemen, the circulation in Keetwonen is an additional structure to the outside, which allows for an optimal use of the space in the container units, and provides structural support to the 5-storey container blocks.

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A student moving in to a container unit. It is the responsibility of the tenants to paint the units, provide flooring, fit lights, and bring furniture. Bathroom and kitchen fittings are provided.

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Construction of one of the Salvation Army buildings – courtesy of Tempohousing. This is a refugee shelter which was constructed to meet the needs for urgent housing. The concrete column ground floor allows for different layout including offices. The hotel part of the building is accommodated in shipping containers on 2nd and 3rd storeys.

In conclusion, my research trip surpassed my expectations. I had the opportunity to experience the quality of urgently constructed, cheap accommodation solutions, look into their construction methods, and search for information utilizing methods which are new to me. This was definitely a rewarding experience and I will look for more opportunities like this in the future.

Research trip to the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF) – South Dakota, USA

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I had been a part of the University of Edinburgh Dark Matter Group (EdiDM) and University of Durham Institute of Particle Physics (IPPP) collaboration for the last one year. I had been working on data from the Large Underground Xenon Dark Matter Direct Detection Experiment (LUX). It is the world’s most sensitive Dark Matter Detection experiment.

It is based at Davis Cavern, Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF), Lead, South Dakota, USA. Which happens to be the same place where the Nobel Prize winning Neutrino detection experiment was based roughly 50 years ago. The laboratory is 4850ft (roughly a mile) underground in a now decommissioned gold mine.

My trip was 4 weeks long and here is a pictorial outline of it:

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After a weeks of safety training courses and videos, I was allowed to join the team down. In the background of the above picture you can see the cages used to enter and exit the mine it was a 10-15minutes ride from 4850ft to ground level.

We had to wear special reflective mining clothing while commuting up and down while carrying safety equipment such as the W65 carbon monoxide filter attached to my belt on the right in the upper picture.

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A replica of the cage used to commute.

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A map of the 4850 level.

Within the Davis Cavern where the actual experiment is based it’s a clean environment so external clothing had to be removed to enter.

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Upper Davis Caven.

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The big metal tank seen here, in the lower Davis Cavern, is filled with purified water which contains the xenon tank. The way the experiment works is that when a Dark Matter particle passes through the Xenon tank we see a light flash. The idea to be so deep underground is to be able to shield the experiment from all other radiation from Space so as to only allow the Dark Matter particles to pass through the Xenon tank.

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This is a picture of all of us on the shift many of the people here are students from various universities worldwide lead by a DSCM who is a Post Doctorate researcher. My task was to help them with the day to day running of the experiment. We all were 24 hours on call in case something went wrong we had to go down. And things did go wrong quite often so we had to go down quite a few times out of hours. The experiment is quite sensitive, even lightening a mile above on ground could trigger it to trip. And if not reached and restarted within 3 hours it could die.

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A model in the visiting centre of the tunnel network. The copper level is the one where the experiment is taking place.
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The Homestake mine’s map where SURF is based.

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This is a graphical depiction of the inside of the Water tank. However, this is of the LUX-Zeplin experiment which is the future planned experiment meant to replace the current LUX experiment after it is decommissioned in late 2016. LZ is planned to be even more sensitive and the one most likely to detect Dark Matter.

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On the very last day we took a day off and went to the Devil’s Tower in Wyoming.

Beijing: LSE-PKU Summer School – Exploring the Chinese Culture and History

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This summer, I have a chance to step into Beijing, China as a participant in the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) – Peking University (PKU) Summer School, which was held in Peking University. The specific course I had taken up was the “Economics of Gender” in an Asian perspective delivered by the experienced Dr. Judith Shapiro. I have learned a lot on why gender balance plays a role in economics development and the insight on how the Chinese culture are associated with the mentality of Chinese families in evaluating the role of a female and a male. The program is intensively structured. It’s a challenging yet rewarding experience as it was my first time being challenged to dive in straight to a topic in depth in this short amount of time with assessments following suit one after another. The classroom’s learning atmosphere was what exceeded my expectation. We had classmates coming from different countries, background and vary from professions, giving us a dynamic discussion on the topic. I was fortunate to meet all these amazing people through the course and the program.

Another reason that excites my visit is the opportunity to experience the culture in China for the first time as a Chinese myself. The course was packed with schedules and I could only stay for the length of the course. Hence some of us did some visiting after class whenever it’s possible. Beijing is huge but majority of the attractions can be easily accessed by boarding the metro. I have travelled to most of my attractions using metro except to the Great Wall of China where I joined the trip organised by the summer school. Hence, I would imagine getting to some parts of the Great Wall will be slightly challenging if you’re entirely depending on public transport. A number of attractions do offer discount for students studying in China so make sure you take advantage of that during your visit if applicable.

Below are some photos that I have captured throughout my journey which I hope could give a brief view and help those who are thinking to adventure to this part of the world.

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West gate of the university is the most symbolic part of the entrance. Hence, there are full of tourists taking photos of the stunning gate of this prominent university in the country.

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One of the lunches I had in the university canteens. The prices are affordable and I was surprised on the number of canteens and the variety of stores they have on campus. They have convenient stores from haircut salon to fruit-selling stall.

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The summer school organised a few other program on top of the daily curiculum. LSE-PKU Roundtable is one of them which the panelist discuss a number of current affairs that deemed to be challenging for the future and their opinion. It’s an informative 2-hour that shouldn’t be missed.

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The ‘Boya Pagoda’ on campus. This view is part of the reason why there are tonnes of tourists queueing outside the gate, requesting to visit the campus everyday.

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Peking university is huge and with a few entrances (or gate), each leading you to a different part of the university. There is a metro stop at the east gate of the university, making communting much easier.

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Night market in Wangfujing.

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The school has also organized a Saturday visit to Mutianyu, the Great Wall. There was a fee charged but completely optional. There are so much sweat and efforts to hike up behind all these smiles. With Rosie (left) and Loes (left).

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We were brought to Mutianyu section of the Great wall where its not so tourist attracted and hence was not very crowded, its nice as it gave more room to enjoy the hike and more room to explore.

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A few of us went to Nanluoguxiang after class. Its easily accessible by metro.
Nanluoguxiang is one of the famous hutong in china. Hutong is basically alleyway that still keeps its traditional Chinese architecture. There are lots of stores selling foods, shops selling things ranging from traditional Chinese folding fans to water bottles, and no surprise, its full of people too.

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Picture taken in Temple of Heaven. It is an imperial complex of religious building in a big park. It is reachable by taking the metro to ‘Tiantan’ stop.

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There are a lot of elder citizens could be seen playing Chinese chesse or card in the park on the corridor benches.

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The Forbidden City (or also known as the Palace Museum) and Tiananmen Square -The most crowded places of all. I kept mentioning that it was crowded for almost all the attractions I have visited, after all its China. But believe me, the forbidden city and Tiananmen square have taken this crowd level to another level. And, visiting here during a weekend is the most annoying thing you can do to yourself.

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The Forbidden City. Imagining the crowd in this attraction.

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With its history, culture and people. Picture taken in the Forbidden City.

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Opposite the North Gate of Forbidden city, there is Jingshan Park which offers a stunning view of the whole Forbidden City at the peak. Ticket fee is around 2 yuan. The air quality is, as can be seen, not as decent. It is very advisable to stay hydrated.

Lastly, I would want to express my sincere gratitude to Principal’s Go Abroad Fund who had made this journey possible and thank you for all the supports given throughout the journey.