Engineering on the Other Side of the World

Posted on Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Dmitri Ridner devant la Grande muraille de Chine

Chemical engineering student Dmitry Ridner is spending his summer in Tianjin, China, as a research intern.  He’s keeping us in the loop with his exciting blog, Crossroads of Tomorrow. The following is an excerpt from the blog.

Hey everyone! My name is Dmitry, and I am a third-year chemical engineering student at the University of Ottawa. This summer, I received an unbelievable opportunity to travel as a research intern to Tianjin University in China.

My interest in working internationally came about long before I began my university studies. I was always fascinated by the sheer vastness of human culture. We all lead our lives so differently, yet experience the same challenges, albeit in our own way. Engineering is the realm of facing challenges, and a true testament to human ingenuity. Chemical engineering is no exception.

Tianjin University is home to the largest national chemical engineering laboratories in China. Funded by the government, they conduct all kinds of research. The topic that I will be working on is oil sand refining.

Historically, oil wells were the most commonly used method of obtaining crude oil (the first of which were developed in China in the 4th century BC). Due to the huge worldwide consumption of petroleum, such conventional deposits are at a risk of being depleted before the industry can find alternative ways of obtaining crude oil. Bituminous oil sands are a major source of unconventional oil, and Canada has up to 70% of world reserves. There are many ways of separating bitumen (sticky viscous crude oil) from the sand, some of which produce harmful environmental effects. Together with Dr. Xingang Li’s research group, I will be exploring the optimization of pyrolysis (or thermal cracking) and applying it to revamp the Alberta Taciuk Process.

Upon arrival, I was surprised by the sheer size of Tianjin University’s campus: stretching over twenty blocks, it is a city in and of itself. Students cycle almost everywhere, and the spaces between buildings are filled with hundreds of neatly arranged bikes. Every morning, I wake up to the sound of horns and sirens. In the crowded street outside my residence, bikers and pedestrians zigzag the streets, paying no heed to the trucks that graze past them. Energy radiates in the air, all below a calm grey sky. The massive skyscrapers seem like mountains shrouded in a thick film of smog.

Tianjin is the fourth largest city in China, approximately 130 km away from Beijing. This city is a symbol of the crossroads between China and the West, and a relic of China’s rocky history in the last century. Tianjin has the uplifting charm of a forward-thinking and industrious people, ready for positive change. The exchange of knowledge is vital in our evolving world, and being here as a research intern allows me to be a part of the future of these relations.

Follow me as I delve farther into China to see the Terracotta Army in the ancient capital of Xi’an, the wild nature of Sichuan in the west, the floating mountains of Zhangjiajie (the same ones seen in the Avatar film!), and end the summer in Hong Kong.

If you have ever thought about doing engineering work and research in Asia, I hope my blog can show you the exciting possibilities that await you on the other side of the planet.

Follow Dmitry’s story.

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