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Chemical Engineers: The Ironman of Superheroes.

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I was thinking of a title for this blog and once the word superhero came to mind. Obviously, I couldn't let it go. So yes, as you may have guessed, Ironman is only the greatest superhero ever (well Thor also but he's not really into science) unlike sissy Batman and Spiderman...

Chemical engineers do remind me of Ironman though. They are super smart, resourceful, (more often than not) wealthy and extremely witty. Yes unlike other engineers we do have personality and are not socially awkward ;)

Perhaps I'm just biased because I'm a chemical engineering major myself. That's very unlikely though, as my 4 years in this major have not been a walk in the park.

Chemical engineers have done much to leave their mark on history. Take for example World War II. Many people think, erroneously, that majority of soldiers died from battle wounds. The actual culprits in these casualties were the infections that developed after the wounds were sustained. Fortunately, Alexander Fleming discovered Penicillin, the antibiotic, which would eventually solve the problem. However, another problem arose. The process of extracting this drug from bacteria was painstakingly long and only afforded little amounts of it. It was the work of chemist Jasper Kane and chemical engineer John McKeen that saw the production of penicillin on large enough scales to be used to turn the tide of the war.

As tempted as I am to go into how chemical engineering principles were used to solve the world food problem, I shall not. Instead I leave you with a history of the Haber Process for those of you interested in further reading.

I was curious about what my fellow classmates thought about chemical engineering and the program provided here at the U. So here are some questions I asked them and a few students' replies.

T: "What is chemical engineering about?"

S1:"It's about designing and supervising processes that make chemical products on a large scale. It entails process optimization/engineering, plant design, operations supervision but most importantly: SAFETY!

T: "Gosh you sound like a professor right now..."

S1: "That's what 4 years in the department does to you (laughs)"

T: "What are some courses people take in the undergraduate program?"

S1: "Like every other engineering major, we start off with the basic chemistry, calculus and physics courses. For chemical engineering specifically, a few of the core classes we take include:

Process control- to understand how to keep a process running at specifications you choose.

Transport phenomena- Dealing with fluid flow modeling and heat transfer topics.

Separations and diffusion-Pretty self-explanatory.

Materials science- The physical properties of materials (e.g. ceramics, polymers, metals etc.).

Thermodynamics-I have no words to describe this.

Numerical methods- How to model processes numerically. This is done because many of the processes we deal with are non-ideal and their models are not solvable by hand. So we build numerical models that approximate them in a simplified manner and make them soluble.

T: "Wow, sounds like you really liked numerical methods".

S1: "What can I say; we were drilled very well on the concepts in that class."

T: "I can't say I disagree. What have you learnt from the program here?"

S1: "I don't remember things from every single class. The lessons that have stuck with me more are those dealing with transferable skills."

T: "Can you explain that?"

S1: "Sure thing. I no longer rush into a problem blindly like I did when I first started. I observe then proceed with a logical and critical thought process. I now apply this method of thinking to everything I do like designing experiments, assessing and producing meaningful data. Most of all I havelearnt how to manage my time and prioritize. As you know, you won't always get to be the perfectionist you wish to be. [They] won't allow you"

T: "By prioritizing you mean between school, a social life and sleep?"

college_triangle.jpgWhat prioritizing may come down to in college sometimes.

S1: "Yup, that triangle but also between classes, assignments due and so on."

T: "Interesting. What kinds of jobs are available for people like you and me?"

S1: "You can work in virtually any field. Not like English literature, but you know what I mean! You can work in oil and gas production, paper industry, food processing, refining, pharmaceuticals, patent law, medicine, business (with an MBA), renewable energy, and the biomedical industry."

T: "Is there anything else you would tell incoming freshmen or prospective students about the program, fun facts and such?"

S1: "A couple things actually.
• If you have plans to go to graduate school, it's a great idea to get involved in research early.

***To find out more about doing research at the U, here is co-blogger Tarun's blog on the subject.

• I came into chemical engineering because I liked chemistry and math a lot. In the program we are required to take many chemistry classes, so with 2 or 3 additional classes, you can get chemistry major as well. However, core chemical engineering classes hardly center on chemistry, at least on the undergraduate level. Instead the classes more focused on using applied math.

• From early, you are encouraged to work on group projects. In higher level classes; you perform labs and write joint reports with group members. You will be put in groups with people you don't know and will learn how to work with different kinds of people; odd quirks and all. This is great since it simulates the environment you will be in when you enter the workforce.

• The program at the U is so very challenging. If you asked a junior about it they'd be likely to tell you to jump ship. It definitely is worth it to stick it through though. You learn so much about perseverance. Many people start here as the brightest from their high schools but the chemical engineering program really is an eye-opener. It is a talent leveler of sorts and in the end; you will have been well schooled on humility. However, if you can get through the chemical engineering program here, you can regard yourself as one of the foremost in this field--at least I believe so!

• We have many accomplished professors; a favorite of mine, Professor Cussler. He received an Ig Nobel Prize for settling whether people swam faster in water or syrup. I know, the award is not as prestigious as the Nobel prize but how many professors do you know who would turn a University swimming pool into a sea of syrup and have a varsity swimmer swim in it to run an experiment? How cool is that?!"

T: "What has kept you going all this time then? I suppose it doesn't hurt that we have the 4th best undergraduate chemical engineering program in America at the U."

S2: "(laughs) Not at all. To be honest, sophomore year I realized I would like to focus on biomedical engineering and biophysics for graduate school. I probably could have switched majors but the concepts I've learnt in chemical engineering are very easily applied in other fields. They are enough and maybe even more enlightening for my end goal."

That concludes my interview questions and describes chemical engineering and the U's program in a nutshell. If you have more questions feel free to ask!

It's what?

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It's great we are on thanksgiving break. It's the time to relax, hangout with family, pig out at countless dinners, catch up on some Thursday night football and just let loose for a couple of days. At least that's our typical line of thought as students: relax now, scramble to finish up school work Sunday evening before school. I hate to be a Debbie Downer here but there are academic responsibilities to seriously to consider after thanksgiving break.

For some of us, it's a straight shot to finals; without any more midterms, your sole attention is on preparing for finals. For others, there are still papers to write, quizzes to ace and tons of homework to do. I hope it has been a successful semester for everyone so far but I understand that may not be the case for every student. So here are 3 tips for getting back on your feet:

1. Break = Catch-up/ Study time
Play hard, work hard! You've got full days during this thanksgiving break to run wild and do what you want. Remember though, when school returns we will be getting down to crunch time. If you've fallen behind on the semester's work, you can use this time to get yourself back to pace. If you are already at a comfortable place with your schoolwork, you could review what has been learned or better yet get ahead! Oh this probably a good time to get those sleep cycles back to regular :P.

2. Organize, organize organize.
Thanksgiving break is also a time to reflect on what has happened in the semester: reflect on what we planned to get done at the beginning and what we have ended up achieving so far. It's a nice time to figure out what in our plans worked, what didn't and what we could do to improve our positions. Also it's a great time to figure out final schedules (if you have not already), study spaces and study plans.

3. Still unsure...
If you are still uneasy or unsure about how your semester is going, this is definitely the time to reach out to your professors, teaching assistants (TAs) and advisors. It is a good habit to always monitor where you stand in a class throughout the semester. If you have not done so, don't worry, it's still perfectly fine to find out about your class grades and see what your TAs or professors expectations are of you. Depending on your performance, you could also speak to your advisers about steps you should take for the rest of the semester. It could be for academic worries, involvement, etc. The point is to work together to find a solution to whatever problems you may be facing. Since it is registration period most advisers are busy helping students organize their spring class schedules at this time. However, take patience and don't fret; appointments always open up for students in no time.

So I hope you take this thanksgiving period to re-energize for the last push of the semester. Remember: it is never too late to turn things around for worse or (preferably) better!! Good luck!

Student Health Benefit Plan and Boynton Health Services

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It's happened to the best of us. We come to the US and hear horror stories about expensive health care. So on arriving we vow to not set foot in a hospital for the next 4 years of our education. At least that was my master plan... until I sprained a ligament. When this happened I was very determined not to get any help. I figured I could wade through the pain a day or two and it would get better. The morning of the first day I tried to go to class. I think it took me about 10 minutes to get from Yudof to the back of Coffman Union (a distance of 40 feet at most). That is when I knew I HAD to go to Boynton.

At the end of my trip to Boynton I came out with a surgical boot, crutches, results from an x-ray and a bag of medication.I was sure I would get $700 bill soon enough. I was so off with my estimate.

Granted that I have not had any serious medical issues since I came to the U, still I have always been pleasantly surprised at how reasonable my bills have come to be. In Nigeria health insurance is available but I'd say majority of the population don't have insurance. So it has taken me a while to get used to the fact that the Student Health Benefit Plan (SHBP) that is offered by the University is there for one reason: affordable health care for students.

Besides covering a percentage of the cost for more non-routine medical services, the SHBP makes it possible to receive commonplace services at Boynton Clinics with no out-of-pocket costs to students. Furthermore basic health programs such as massage therapy, tai chi, women's clinics etc. are provided at Boynton for free (well under the SHBP)!

I encourage you to explore the health coverage you are provided here at the U so you can utilize the resources you are entitled to as best as you can.The next time you have a common cold and plan on going to CVS to pick up some medicine, I challenge you to drop by the Gopher Clinic to get the medicine free.

Remember, if you are confused about health coverage and services available to you, always feel free to call in and ask questions. For now, I leave you with Boynton's contact details.

(612) 625-3222 Appointments
(612) 625-8400 Information
(612) 625-7900 Medical Information Nurse

Until next time!

Horse carriages and buggies and camels, oh my!

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Ok maybe my title is kind of random since as you guessed no one uses horse carriages or buggies or camels to get around the twin cities. BUT this post does have to do with transportation, so it makes sense right? Right!? Besides its fun to think about those old forms of transport... but that's enough of my meandering thoughts, its time to get back to the topic at hand.

Minneapolis is probably one of my favorite cities in the USA when it comes to the transportation system. It doesn't have the wild pace of New York, neither the desolate feel of Decorah, Iowa. No Minneapolis is in a world of its own with its near-European charm. There are always people on the roads running, biking, walking and getting fresh air. With how easy it is to get around in the Cities, it'll be easy for you to settle without the need for a car.

As a University student who gets around the Twin-Cities quite a bit, the U-Pass has come in handy time and time again. It's a discounted bus pass offered at $97 to enrolled students at the U. It is a one-time payment that lasts all semester long. It will get you on all metro transit buses, the light rail and suburban buses (associated with the Minnesota Valley Transit Authority) . So you can easily get anywhere with the swipe of a card because, really, you don't want to be THAT guy: you know, the one who fishes for lose change in his or her pocket while holding up the passenger line and beginning an unending cycle of a late bus for every stop after...


I can't tell you enough how time consuming it can be to have to look for loose change just to pay a bus fair...Look how miserable this guy looks.


My precious...

The Minneapolis transit organization is called Metro Transit. They offer many bus routes that criss-cross all over the Twin-cities in addition to the light rail. Metro Transit also offers a Go-To card. On this card you can store a lump sum of money from which a fare will be taken for each trip. Or you can pay for a specific number of passes. Find out more about the different payment options for a Go-To-Card here

Here is a Go-To card being swiped at a typical swipe station. All you have to do is take a second to swipe instead of looking for change and missing that train!

The light runs from Mall of America to Downtown Minneapolis. However, come Fall 2014, it's route will extend through the U down to Saint Paul.

If you prefer to do your own navigating, there are several other options available. For instance Nice Ride Minnesota is a bicycle sharing system that's offered seasonally (Oh winter, where is thy sting ? :( ). There are several bicycle stations all over the city where you can pick up a bicycle, ride for any duration of time around the city and drop it off at a station near your final destination. I hear you can rent for as little as $6 for a 24 hour rental. Get the real scoop here.

Here you have your Nice Ride bikes. Always in tip-top shape and ready for you to hop on and explore the cities.

If you would prefer to be within the confines of a car while getting around though, the ZIP CAR may be for you. You can easily sign up online and pick up your preferred car from a station near you or even on campus. These cars include gas and insurance which clears up a lot of documentation that is usually needed for regular rentals.

If all this fails,there are more travel options available within the cities. That still not working for you? You could always carpool with a good friend! or buy a car...However, that's a whole other process. If you have specific questions on how to get around feel free to shoot me an e-mail. Take care!

You don't have to get picked last for the team anymore!

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Intramural sports is a program organized by the University to give students an opportunity to participate in friendly competition in a good selection of sports that could be played individually, with a partner or with a team. Opportunities include intramural leagues, events, athletic leagues (more competitive) and golf leagues. The focus of this post will be on the less competitive intramural leagues.

If there is anything that has been a constant since my freshman year, it has been my participation on an intramural sports team. I always played football (as some may call it, "soccer") while I was back home so when I came to the U, it was nice to be able to continue my hobby by way of intramural sports. I know many students who are sports active and would like to be part of an easy going league. So my aim in this post is to give you a feel of what intramural sports entails and how you can get involved!

-Why intramural sports?

As I said earlier, if you've been an avid sportsman all your life, this is an easy way to find other people who are interested in playing too. Also this gives you an opportunity to try out new sports since intramurals are typically not competitive. You never know, it may turn out you're a pro at a new found sport! It is also a great way to socialize and meet new people. Personally, I've found that participating in intramurals weekly has provided a kind of study break for me when I've needed to take one to get refocused on school work. The best part of intramural sports by far is you get to stay fit!

-Who organizes it?

Intramural sports are organized by the intramural sports office within the recreational sports department. However each sport has a specific group of students and staff that handles it.
The intramural sports office is located at 1901 University Ave SE.

The office can also be contacted by email at or called at (612) 625-8094.

-Who plays intramural sports?

Basically anyone who has a working U-Card. Your U-Card, a form of student ID, is your key to all university services. If it works, it pretty much shows you are currently a student at the U enrolled in courses. So as long as you are a student and enrolled for the semester, you are eligible to play on an intramural team.

To clarify, intramural leagues are by no means professional leagues. Teams consist of normal students like you and I who are looking for a leisurely way to partake in some sport. This is not to say that teams are only filled with amateurs. Player expertise vary across board from those who have years of competitive experience to those who may be playing for the very first time. The point of intramurals is not competition but fun! So don't be shy with your skills (or lack thereof), this is a great way to start building them up.

-What sports are played?

Some sports include flag football, football (...fine "soccer" :'( ), bowling, basketball, ultimate frisbee (what in the world is that??), hockey, dodgeball and so on. You can find a full list of sports and their rules on the Intramural sports page.

-How much does it cost?

Usually the cost per team varies between $15 and $300**. $15 being for an individual sport like racquetball and $300 when you are using super cool facilities like Mariucci arena (where our school hockey team plays!!) for hockey.

The cost is shared among teammates. While playing soccer over the years, depending on how many players were on my team, I've always paid between $12 and $15 to play.

**The fees stated here are for Fall 2012 and do not include taxes. Fees for each sport can be found on the Intramural sports page as well.

-When are games played?

Typically leagues start after the first two weeks of school. Games are played once a week in the evenings between 6 pm and 11 pm on weekdays. Actually, in freshman year, majority of my indoor soccer games began at 12 am which was pretty late, I know, but those were some of the most exciting times from my time at the U.

On Saturdays and Sundays games could be played anytime of the day, spanning from morning till evening.

-How long do you compete for?

This depends on the sport and league to be played. For instance for a 7v7 TCF Bank stadium co-rec soccer league we have 8 teams and compete over 5 weeks. After that, if a team qualifies, they compete against other teams during play-offs that last one week. So this particular league lasts for about half a semester. Feel free to contact the intramural office to ask about the duration of a league you are interested in.

- Co-ed or Open?

This really depends on the particular sport being played but most sports offer the option of a co-ed or open team. Co-ed teams are required to have both male and female players in specific numbers while open teams could have any number of boys or girls on the team i.e. it could be an all-male team or an all-female team depending on your preferences.

-How do you register?

There are just a few steps to take in registering an intramural team:

-Get a team together!

Ask your friends, roommates, lab partners, student organization members, that random guy or gal you awkwardly make eye contact with in freshman writing... Ask ANYONE if they would like to start an intramural team with you or if they have an intramural team you could join.

If you don't have a full team by the time registration rolls around, don't worry, you are allowed to add players to your team roster right until play-offs.

If you can't find a team to join/start, most, if not all intramural sports have the free agents registration. This is for students who , for one reason or the other, cannot find a team. For this, you register yourself independently as a free agent and the intramural office assigns you to a team of free agents--very convenient right?!

-Fill out a registration form

Collect all your team members (or just your own for free agents) full names and ID numbers and fill out a team registration form that can be found on the intramural page when registration is around the corner.


Look on the intramural website to see the time and date of your sport's registration and make your way to the recreation centre to do so early.

I've had the experience of registering a team a few times and I have to say it's an interesting process. Soccer usually takes place at 7am in the morning BUT the line for registration is 20-people long by 5:30 am in the morning (yes before the crack of dawn -_-). When the recreaction centre opens at 5:45am to let us line up inside, the scene is best described by the picture below.

bar fight.jpg

Welcome to the jungle...Just kidding! We shuffle in in a civilized manner and conduct our business in an orderly fashion, eyes bloodshot and half asleep. Fun times, especially when you bring a friend to tag along!

And so I hope I've been able to shed some light on intramural sports at the U. If you still have questions about it feel free to ask! Goodluck!

A Girl, a Goat and an Engineering Dream.

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Hi, my name is Temilola. I'm a 4th year student at the U of M, majoring in Chemical Engineering. I come from Esa-Odo Nigeria but spent the better part of my life living between Maiduguri in the north, Port-Harcourt in the South and Paris, France for 2 years.

A fun story from my country, this was actually on the news... A vigilante group in Ilorin, central Nigeria chased a car thief. Allegedly, on cornering the thief, he turned into a goat. The goat was apprehended, taken to the local police station and locked up. I still remember when the story was aired on NTA, our local news channel. You can find a short form of the story at the BBC website.

One of the reasons I chose to be an ambassador was to be able to share quirky stories like this and tell people about Nigeria. More importantly, I remember my first days on campus, feeling a bit out of my element and not knowing much about the University as a whole. What I needed was a group like the International Student Ambassador to take the edge off stepping into the unknown. I am an ambassador because I get to help students who might be in the same position as I was back then.

So here's to an exciting start to your college years. Welcome to the U of M Twin Cities!!!


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