Nereida Abad-Yang (Department of Chemistry) – Technical University of Munich

For my IROP experience, I spent nine weeks in Munich, taking part in the Technical University of Munich’s Practical Research Experience Program (TUM PREP).

My supervisor’s research focuses on the use of scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) to study models of heterogeneous cluster catalysts. Throughout the summer, we tested different models by varying the catalytic components.

We then used STM to study how these changes would impact the cluster dynamics and stability under controlled, ultrahigh vacuum conditions. This was a great opportunity to apply the theory I learned about STM during the Materials Chemistry module of my Chemistry degree at Imperial and gain hands-on experience, familiarising myself with the experimental STM setup, preparing the sample, and learning how to use the software to obtain good STM images for analysis.

In addition to the practical and scientific knowledge that I gained, my time in the lab was invaluable to help me gain a deeper understanding of the day-to-day life of working in a research group: from learning to be flexible and adapting when things don’t go as planned, to enjoying the collaborative aspect of speaking to and getting advice from different PhD students and post-docs. Being at TUM also gave me a good insight into the system of higher education in Germany and how it differs from the UK; for example, I was surprised to find out that German university students still have lectures during July, and they sit their exams from August until September.

Each exchange student participating in TUM PREP was assigned a ‘buddy’, a student enrolled at TUM. This provided the opportunity to not only meet all the other exchange students, but also to establish connections with a network of local students. I found that this was very helpful to feel more immersed in German student life and to find out much more about the local culture and traditions, as they taught us a lot about Bavarian food and language. Furthermore, my ‘buddy’ helped me transition more easily from living in London to Munich, as she picked me up from the airport and helped me settle in by showing me how to get around on the U-Bahn and which supermarkets to shop at.

TUM PREP organised many social events to fill our evenings and weekends outside of the lab, including a guided city tour of Munich, museum visits and day trips. Since Munich is well-connected to explore nearby lakes or mountains, there was always something to do on the weekends with the other exchange students: we visited several lakes and a medieval city, had a boat ride on the Danube River, went hiking in the Alps and rode an alpine coaster. We even managed to spend a weekend in Prague, which is a 5-hour bus ride away from Munich. These experiences were great to bond with and get to know the other exchange students, who came from different North American universities. As such, I felt that I got to learn a lot about American and Canadian higher education and culture in addition to everything I was learning about Germany.

There was also plenty to do in Munich itself. Beer gardens are a staple of Bavarian life, and I would often gather in a beer garden to have dinner with the other TUM PREP students and our ‘buddies’, or with the other members of my research group after work. Inevitably, we tried a lot of schnitzel, sausages, and pretzels. Another highlight of Munich is the English Garden, where we went for walks, or to swim in the Isar River that runs through it. I enjoyed the experience of adapting and getting to know a new city while also being able to practice some German with the locals.

Overall, I had an amazing time during my IROP in Germany. I greatly value the opportunity to carry out research abroad, as it enabled me to get practical experience to complement my academic studies, learn about the German scientific industry, and also help me get a clearer insight into whether I would like to pursue a PhD, potentially even in Germany. Munich is a great destination to feel immersed in German culture and traditions, and to experience student life outside of London. Moreover, I enjoyed the multicultural aspect of being able to meet scientists from universities outside of the UK, and I now have a network of friends and mentors that I met through TUM PREP in Germany, the USA and Canada.

Read more about Nereida’s experience in her interview on the TUM PREP website.