How ProMat took me to the Queen
my name is Eric Macke and I am a student of the new master's programme "Process-oriented Materials Research, ProMat" at the University of Bremen. After completing my bachelor's degree in geosciences with a focus on mineralogy and crystallography, I was mainly interested in the relationship between the structure and the properties of crystalline substances.
What drives me
Crystalline substances are special because they make up a large part of the solids that we encounter every day: Metals, electronic components, building materials such as cement just to name a few. They also have a very high internal ordering, which explains many of their properties such as hardness or electrical conductivity. At the moment, I am dealing with a special group of crystalline solids, the so-called two-dimensional layer materials. These are about 500 times thinner than a piece of paper, which allows them to do many things much more efficiently than comparable, thicker materials. Among other things, these substances could enable us to build lighter and more efficient photovoltaic cells, which might serve as energy sources in space. Despite all the research, we are still lacking knowledge to explain some of the phenomena we observe in such structures. I try to use computer simulations based on the basic laws of physics to find ideas that help us to develop a better understanding.
How ProMat promotes and challenges me
Thanks to ProMat, I can dig into scientific work from the very beginning of M.Sc. studies. I am allowed to freely choose my lectures out of an enormous catalogue so that I only attend what will take me forward professionally. My mentor, who is an experienced scientist, provides support by proposing classes and events that expand my fortes. He tries to raise my awareness of deficits in important fields and thus helps me to overcome them. For example, I attended classes in numerics at an elevated level, even though I had previously reached just a standard university level in maths. Of course, these lectures cost me a lot of effort. However, I notice how they top off my profile and how the new knowledge is directly helpful for my research work.
Academic exchange as an important building block
Another part of the ProMat programme consists of a mandatory, eight-week stay at a foreign research institute. This can be designed very flexibly and in favour of one's own research interests.
In my case, my mentor took advantage of his own scientific network and contacted a working group at the Imperial College London to see if they could host me. The entire exchange was planned at short notice, but things went well from the very beginning. Barely arrived in London, I began to work after having agreed on a research question with my supervisor. Luckily, I was able to produce some helpful results within the time available. In doing so, I benefited from the great professional expertise of the working group and learned an incredible amount of new techniques in a short time. On a personal level the exchange was a complete success as well. I will never forget the friends and experiences I made in London. When leaving the beautiful Kensington campus, I used my time to explore the giant metropolis and many of its cultural treasures, although I was so busy I did not manage to have a five o’clock tea with the Queen.
Despite the high living expenses in London, I had a pleasant stay thanks to generous funding from the DFG Research Training Group Quantum Mechanical Materials Modelling (QM³). Although the request for funding did require some paperwork, altogether it resulted rather quick and straightforward.
Conclusion: A stunning experience
I strongly recommend ProMat to anyone who is willing to engage in interdisciplinary work on materials and who wants to explore new fields of science in his master studies. Since materials science involves virtually all disciplines whether it be biology, chemistry, physics or engineering, it doesn't matter from which particular STEM field one approaches the topic. Choosing ProMat will enable you to define a very personal focus. The stay abroad lays the foundation for your own scientific network and creates an excellent opportunity to enter the world of professional research.