Braving the cold

Journal Entry-Written 10:14a from Champaign, IL on the Amtrak


So the last couple of days have been truly magnificent! As many of you know, I have begun applying to PhD programs around the country. Well, Bruce Rhoads, a well respected scientist and professor from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana contacted me and invited me to come up and see the school at his expense. This is a very cool opportunity. I am writing this now from the train as I return to Chicago for my flight home later today. Currently it is whiteout conditions here, and they are expecting around 5 inches of snow, which is a new maker here. Actually it was eerie, as we boarded the train the city was sounding air raid sirens for some reasons, surely related to the weather, though I do not know exactly why.


I have had a lot of firsts on this particular trip. I had never been to Chicago, and I decided to go on SB weekend which was fun, and I have never been in a place this cold. When I arrived in Bears town it was 3 degrees and very windy. The next morning in Champaign when I left to catch the bus into campus it was -3, with a wind chill of -26. That was an interesting experience. Did I mention cold? Apparently this is the coldest it has been here in ten years, it was cold enough that even though it was mostly dry, and no ice or snow was on the ground Monday, the area schools and several businesses remained closed. Today it is just a hair warmer, with a high predicted in Chicago of 11, but light snow coupled with wind is making for an interesting day of travel. I am pretty sure my flight out of O’Hare will be delayed. This should be fun considering I leave Thursday for a symphony concert, I need as much extra time to prepare as I can get!


I was overwhelmed by the U of I, the fighting Illini, this is a massive school, that is as large as UT Austin (at least the main campus). There are around 40,000 students here with about 10,000 graduate level students. Though the geography department is not huge, it is very high quality, and what is most impressive is the amount of collaboration with the other departments. If I came here, I would have a bevy of faculty to take classes from including several of the world’s best (and I do not exaggerate) scientists in their fields. The Civil Engineering Dept. has Gary Parker and M. Garcia to study hydraulics and morphodynamics/sediment transport, along with a incredible research Hydrodynamics lab built by VE Chow (he wrote the book, literally!) There are 6 flumes of various types , and 4 of those are icredibly impressive. They have a deep ocean flume to study density currents and related stuff, a large sluice type flume being built by Gary Parker probably to study turbidity, a ocean dynamics wave tank, and a custom built meandering flume which they are studying shear velocity and bedforms as well as planform roughness. Very fascinating stuff going on there.


In geology there is Jim Best, a fantastic Sedimentologist, and probably the nicest guy I have every met. I really enjoyed talking with him. The in Geography they have M. Sivapalan, who is very well known for theoretical hydrology, Bruce Rhoads who is a respected Fluvial Geomorphologist, and Colin Thorn who studies periglacial processes. They have been approved to create a new school there that incorporates all of these professors and departments, as well as created a water research group with emphasis on interdisciplinary studies of water issues and complexity. Truly this is an amazing place, and after visiting or meeting with all of the other programs I have applied for, hands down this programs seems to fit me best. I am hoping that they feel the same way.


I may write some more about my travel experiences if I am delayed in Chicago, because there is a lot of entertaining happenings and so forth.



Well I have arrived at O’Hare to find about 1/3 of the domestic flights cancelled, including my original itinerary. I have been rebooked to a later flight, and I am keeping my fingers crossed that it does indeed leave tonight, else I will end up spending the night in the concourse…


Now for another travel story from this weekend. When I got of the “L” for the first time in Chicago, a young lady essentially told me to take her scarf out of her bag for here. Her name was Nora G., and she is a German Post-Doc studying knot theory and crazy eucliedian math…later I looked her up on the U of Il website and tried to read one of her papers. I was totally lost halfway through the first sentence. Impressive stuff she is researching to say the least. Well Nora and I became travel buddies of a sort. We ended up exploring downtown Chicago together looking for a decent lunch spot, which we found in an amazing greek café and bakery, and I picked her brain about Champaign-Urbana and the University. She wrote me a list of cool spots for groceries, good eats, and hang outs that are off the beaten path, and seldom advertised. We were on the same train to Champaign, so the trek continued, but once we got to the station she was gone like the wind. It was a relationship of convenience, and it was definitely an experience.


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