In one of the few punctual moments of my life, I arrived at Istanbul's Ataturk airport early. I was pumped: ready to write some science, meet new people and see Turkey. Good thing, as the route to Tubitak was not quite over. I met Xavi, my Catalan counterpart and taxi companion who arrived shortly after me. We head to the tourist information desk to ask about the cab ride to Gebze.
TI desk person: You want to go where?
Us: Gebze? Gabzo? Gubzu?
TIDP: Let's see on the map… ohh, that's far. It will be expensive by taxi. 200 Turkish lira. Why do you want to go there anyway?
After a taxi offered us the same price, we decide to play it cheap and take the bus. Make that two buses and a taxi. Finally, we arrived to the warm welcome of the coordinators, Howard and Gulnihal.
It's no surprise the tourist information lady questioned us on our motivations to stay in Gebze. It's a town of industry, a work site by day, and supposed ghost town at night. No matter whom you ask, the answer remains the same:
“There's nothing to do in Gebze.”
Great. Just what a group of young people want to hear on a first-time visit to Turkey.
(By the way, I don't believe this. I have decided that, along with publishing a story on the research of Tubitak, my goal for this week is to discover the secret nightlife of Gebze).
I met Maurizio from Italy (via Brussels) and Larisa from Romania.
Woke to bright sunlight from my window. I have a view of the hills and a small pond. Sweet!
Met the rest of the group for breakfast: Greg from Wales, Monta from Latvia and Aurore from Belgium. The group is split into two subjects: Food and Energy.
Gebze is situated on the Sea of Marmara, glittering in the sun today. The sea divides the country between the Western (European) part and the Eastern (Asian) part. Our location is symbolic of a country straddling the line of two continents, its culture strongly rooted in the traditions of the East, but with the desire to integrate the West, politically and intellectually. I observe the research here with this in mind, whilst on a programme organised by the European Union. Gulnihal speaks openly on life in Turkey and the Turkish– from their interpretation of Islam, to its history and contemporary politics.
We arrive at Tubitak Marmara Institute at around 9:00. After a short introduction to the RELATE project and the specific institutes within Tubitak, we took a tour of the facilities: The Turkish Ukrainian Joint Research Laboratory for High Technologies, The Environment Institute (where we discussed waste water treatment), the Metrology Institute (the science of measurement– one of the research projects involves finding the right level of radiation to treat cancer), and finally, the Food Institute, where we learned about the probiotic wonders of Boza, a fermented cereal drink that, at one point, was banned by the Ottoman sultan Murat IV for its light alcohol content.
After visiting a few more projects in the Food Institute and learning about bacteria-made polymers, rosemary-infused plastic packaging and green tea flavonoids, we came back to Tusside to soak up the last few hours of sunlight on the terrace.
Awake yet? It got me out of bed just before 6. I was initially invited to participate in the Food programme, but switched to Energy when one participant was unable to attend.
The morning began with an overview of energy issues in Turkey, followed by descriptions of the projects. While the researchers were not exactly… errr… media-savvy, it was quite refreshing not to hear about research from a PR perspective.
Once one finishes his/her coffee, he or she must turn it over the saucer and wait until the cup cools. Then, the grounds are read for insight into the future.
Gulnihal said I had an inner struggle within me. Hmmm…
These are hazelnut shells. Turkey is one of the top producers of the nut, and researchers at Tubitak are investigating how the waste of this industry can be used for biomass, mixed with pulverised coal. Coal is the largest source of energy for total primary energy supply in Turkey. It is also available within the country, making it a self-sustainable energy source.
Hazelnut biomass could replace up to 30 per cent of pulverised coal in this energy mixture.
You thought being a shadow could be so exhausting? Today was out first full day of shadowing researchers at the Energy and Environent Institutes.
I started at the combustion and gasification lab with Greg, where we received a lesson in the basics of mechanical engineering by Hakan Karatas.
Hakan works on the TyGRE project, a FP7 project to research the best way to derive energy from used tyres. The Energy institute collaborates with research centres in Italy, France, Belgium, Hungary, Germany and Denmark.
While I'm sure Hakan enjoys his work at the Energy Institute, I think he was even more excited to tell us what we should do in Istanbul– a conversation that may have take up half of the time we had with him!
We also visited labs in the Environment Institute, where researchers work on air pollution monitoring around factories, as well as waste water treatment.
Dr. Ebru Mehmetli took the time to speak to us on her project in both the composting and anaerobic digestion (for energy) of animal manure in the town of Amasya.
Upon my arrival back at TUSSIDE, I crashed into my bed and took a nice long nap. That evening after dinner, we took a little trip down to the seaside for wine and dessert. (note to self: take more photos of Turkish desserts)
Man, I really wish I could borrow a fuel cell battery, or maybe a photovoltaic panel from the Energy Institute to hook up to my body. Even some gasified coal will do. I need another energy source! Although this kind is much tastier:
my breakfast this morning: the Turkish version of a sesame bagel, cucumber, olives and a hard-boiled egg.
I completed most of my recording for a possible audio project today. Press conferences, shadows and more plant visits. I also recorded some video of Gulnihal telling us our coffee fortunes.
At this point, the ideas for a final RELATE project are becoming clearer.
Friday morning was set aside for journalistic housekeeping: getting names, recording audio and clarifying the science one last time before the close of the program. I was able to interview the director of the TyGRE project and visit the project's SO2 reduction lab.
After lunch, we sat together with the researchers to discuss the week and what we have learned, the aims of both scientists and journalists and finding a common ground.
I heard some interesting anecdotes on the barrier of communication– for example, the need to use Wikipedia in order for one researcher to explain what exactly he or she was doing in the lab. Overall, this new programme ran exceptionally smoothly. The organisers (Gulnihal and Gulniyaz with the Energy Institute) and researchers were incredibly accommodating, taking time out of work to speak on projects and making an effort to explain the details clearly.
At 5 pm, we took Tusside's employee shuttle bus to Istanbul. Finally!
Many thanks for a great week, let's hope for a RELATE-Tubitak reunion soon!