by DAAD-summerstudent Laura Berneaga
What happens when you stop planning and start letting life flow by itself instead? Many would assume everything would crumble or you would somehow fall behind, but for me the complete opposite was true. This path led me to Germany, something I had been dreaming of doing since the last time I stepped foot in this country. Five years ago, I did a research exchange in Stuttgart and ever since then, all my plans revolved around finding a way to come back here. I enrolled in German language courses, I looked for internship opportunities in the area, I was inquiring about master’s positions, but to no avail, nothing ever came of it. I was almost ready to give up and settle for a job closer to home.
That is until I randomly found out about HZB through the DAAD internship program. I submitted my application and completed the interview with little hope that I would get the job; after all I was an engineer and this was a physics and chemistry institute. Why would they take me when there are so many other more talented and better fitting candidates? But to my surprise, a resounding ‘Yes, we’d like to hire you!’ popped up in my inbox.
Fast forward to today and I wish I could tell my past self that everything will fall exactly in place. Because things have a way of always figuring themselves out; sometimes even better than when they were methodically planned ahead of time.
One of the biggest surprises of this Germany project was the ability to be reunited with one of my long-term interests: physics. Ever since I could remember, math and physics were my favourite subjects. I was deeply fascinated by the exact sciences and the ability to explain why things around us worked the way they did. However when the time came to choose a career path, the world of problem solving under the umbrella of engineering seemed more appealing. And so, physics became an interest on the side; but as with most hobbies, one slowly starts to not have time for them anymore when there are other ‘more important things to do’.
That is until I started working at HZB. I technically don’t need any physics or chemistry knowledge for my project since my focus is on the redesign of the equipment used for experiments. I’m not conducting any of the experiments myself, nor am I directly working with the equipment. I just need to know enough to understand what could be improved or made easier, which considering what the setup looks like, is in itself a challenge.
The Equipment I am working on
Kind of intimidating, right? In my rather rough understanding of it, this is a highly sensitive spectroscopy machine that takes liquid samples and turns them into gas, and using x-rays, it is able to create a highly detailed overview of all the ions and molecules inside our sample. As much as I don’t need all this additional knowledge to complete my work, I look at it as a challenge to further my expertise. It’s been very intriguing for me to work on such a specialized device and to apply my engineering skills in the field of physics. And I can’t wait to gain even more knowledge in this domain as I go.
Keeping in Mind the Scales
I am officially at the halfway mark of my internship and of my time here in Berlin, but it feels like the best is still yet to come. Apart from all the technical knowledge I’ve been accumulating, I have grown so much in so many other areas in my life. And it almost feels like the experiment and project I’m working on is a metaphor for my time here: sometimes it matters more to look for the smaller things rather than the bigger ones to get the full picture. And my picture on that scale is turning out pretty amazing so far.
On the author:
Laura Berneaga studied Mechanical Engineering (Master) at the University of Toronto in Toronto, Canada. Her summer project is funded by DAAD and she works in the team of Tobias Lau in the Department Highly Sensitive X-Ray Spectroscopy (PS-AHSX) at HZB.