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ANSTO Summer '16 Post 1

Cameron Howard
Friday, Jun 17th 2016

June 17, 2016

I’ve just completed my first week of work at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization (ANSTO) in Lucas Heights, New South Wales. I am grateful to have this opportunity to participate as a summer research fellow through the East Asia Pacific Summer Institutes (EAPSI) program, jointly sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the U.S. and the Australian Academy of Science (AAS). The 15 hour flight down to Sydney from LA went by surprising smoothly and quickly as I was able to get close to a full night’s sleep. However, due to torrential rain in NSW equating to their monthly amount in one day when I arrived, another EAPSI fellow and I ended up waiting 5 hours in the Sydney airport for our flight out to Canberra. Good thing we planned ahead and arranged an Airbnb apartment with 6 others to get acclimated two days before orientation starts! The first few nights adjusting to Australian time, all of us ended up waking up in the middle of the night between 2 and 5 am. It’s hard to sleep past 7, but it makes the days incredibly productive; you’re just tired by 8-9 pm. We managed to sort out banking together and even had time to go check out the Australian National Museum. After about 5 days, you’ve fully kicked the jet lag and adjusted to the Australian day!

Australian National Museum and the road paving the way across Australia in Canberra

The Canberra orientation put on by Shannon Owen from AAS was excellent! We went out for typical Aussie pub food on the first night, which is chicken parma and schnitty (schnitzel). Typical Aussie beer is pretty mediocre, basically all light lagers. We did venture to Wig & Pen, a craft brew that makes smooth winter stouts. The second day out in the bush in Tidbinbilla was by far my favourite of the 3 day orientation. We were led by an aboriginal tour guide to multiple sites including Hanging Rock which was the main meeting/shelter point for all nations in what is now the Australian Capital Territory. We also got to get up close and personal with some kangaroos and koalas. The night ended with an interesting lecture about marsupial genetics and an Aussie BBQ at the Shine Dome.

Wildlife, Hanging Rock and Tidbinbilla landscape

The orientation concluded with a day at the National Gallery and Parliament House. Canberra is a very new city, being that it is a created capital (government center) equidistant from Sydney and Melbourne. Australian politics are as much of a mess as back in the states. There has just been a double dissolution and the Prime Minister has called for a re-election of the entire Congress happening on July 2nd

Backdrop from the roof of Parliament House, Aboriginal piece at the National Gallery

After orientation and a quick flight to Sydney, I settled into my home for the next 2 months in Cronulla, which is a beachy suburb similar to Pacific Beach outside of San Diego with lots of restaurants and shops. By now, I’ve gotten a pretty good grasp on a few Australian sayings such as “How are you going?” as a greeting “Have you got anything on?” for what do you have planned and that coffees are ordered as either long blacks (espresso-like) or flat whites (latte-like) and are quite good, more similar to European style coffee than American. Australians break for morning tea, which is a snack between breakfast and lunch around 10:30. The attitude of Australia feels somewhere in between the states and mainland Europe. People shoot straight with you and are blunt but in most cases extremely friendly. (minus a road-rage episode between my cab-driver and another driver on the way to Cronulla from the airport. I guess we have similar driving issues in California.) 

Cronulla coastline

The benefits of working at ANSTO have already become evident after only a week of being here. It’s much more well-funded than university research, and the network infrastructure is excellent. The full time metallurgist, Tim, is excellent, and was able to easily perfectly polish 4 of my samples using my formula and his equipment in less than a full day. We have already begun helium implantation on the samples, and we have a machinist working on SEM/FIB sample holders. Unfortunately, our SEM/FIB is down at the moment, so still waiting on training.

During my first weekend, the weather was beautiful and I was able to do lots of sightseeing in downtown Sydney, which is about an hour away by train. The Vivid Sydney light art show is going on all around town and has been truly spectacular. Different parts of the city such as the opera house, Harbor bridge, and botanical gardens are illuminated with bright animations of unique Australian elements.

Downtown Sydney sunset and Vivid light art show