Brandon Strellis' Research Internship in Norway

Monday, July 12, 2010

Brandon Strellis, a senior in CEE, engaged in an extended research internship overseas. After working for two semesters with Dr. Thorsten Stoesser, Brandon flew to Norway in January, 2010 to work with Dr. Nils Ruther at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). Dr. Ruther is a frequent collaborator with Dr. Stoesser, and this was the first time that he had taken on an international undergraduate research assistant. All parties were excited to see how things played out. 

Brandon’s introduction to the Norwegian winter wasn’t long in coming.  After arriving at Trondheim-Vaernes Airport and taking a bus into the city, he spent three hours waiting outside in -30°C for Dr. Ruther to meet him.  As it turned out later, there was some confusion about where exactly the last bus stop on the route was, and Dr. Ruther was waiting with some agitation a mere half kilometer away on the other side of a bus depot. 

However, Brandon survived his first extended exposure to the cold and quickly adapted to the brisk climate, thriving in the still, bitterly cold conditions of the far north.  After countless grandmothers sprinted past him on his walk to work, he learned that in order to avoid frostbite, Norwegians had learned to walk at a running pace, and he soon followed suit.  Among his Norwegian experiences he counted cross-country skiing up mountains in blizzard conditions, savoring the delights of brown cheese, starting an international dinner club with his German and Austrian coworkers, paying $30 for a single six-packs of beer (the cheapest beer in the store, mind you), and being chased by a moose while walking in the forest behind his house.  It was, in a word, "otherwordly". 

The collaboration between the young researcher and Dr. Ruther proved more fruitful after the first misunderstanding about the bus stop.  Brandon was involved in multiple projects, including simulations of hydropower peaking in the River Nidelva and scour beneath a pipe, and analysis of the code for a migrating trench.  He was lucky enough to experience some of the peculiarities of fieldwork during a Norwegian winter.  For example, he learned that no matter how many layers of fleece and down you wear, after you have spent four hours in -20°C you will be unable to feel your hands or your feet, and you will have the strange sensation of walking around on not one, but two peg-legs.  Where once you sensed your extremities, you will feel nothing more than a dull tingling which gradually transforms into an aching pain.  At this point, it is wise to reach for your trusty thermos of hot coffee or tea (an essential for fieldwork) and warm yourself from the belly out.  At one point, having waded chest-deep into the river with his GPS device to record the geometry of the bed, Brandon watched a flock of ducks fly through swirling snow and disappear into the whiteness of the sky over frozen hills, and it occurred to him that Norway is a long way from Atlanta. 

Towards the end of Brandon’s time in Norway, the volcano in Iceland decided to start having fits, and for a moment it was questionable as to whether he would ever return to warmer climes.  Thankfully, the volcano fussed itself out, enabling Brandon to attend a conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, with his research group before he returned home in May.

In the end, it proved to be one of the most valuable and enriching experiences of his life, and his gratitude towards GT and Drs. Ruther and Stoesser is immeasurable for providing him with this opportunity.  He strongly recommends that anyone who enjoys beauty and serenity take a trip to Norway, although he also recommends saving up for it first, since your money won’t take you too far. 

Going forward, Brandon has agreed to work with Dr. Mike Bergin on a project studying the impact of aerosols on the Greenland ice sheet.  Having gotten his first taste of true winter in Norway, he is excited to freeze his various limbs off in new and more exotic locations.

Asked whether he had any advice for other undergraduates seeking unique international opportunities, Brandon said, “I hope that other students see the kinds of opportunities that they can create for themselves, if they are creative and persistent.  Georgia Tech is a breeding ground for great opportunities.  All it takes is initiative and a certain willingness to try new things.  Talk to your professors. Apply for funding from the Mundy Global Learning Experience endowment fund.  Get chased by a moose.  You won’t regret it.”