Electrical Engineering Research in Berlin

This article is part of Summer Stories, a special, online issue of Dukengineer Magazine, in which students wrote about their experiences in the Summer of 2007 during their time away from Duke.

by Poy Tor-ngern, ECE/Physics ‘09

photo5.jpgThis summer, I did research in electrical engineering at Fraunhofer Institute of Reliability and Integration in Berlin. My project involved modeling the first-order delta sigma analog to digital converter using MATLAB & SIMULINK and also its non-idealities. I was supervised by a PhD student at the institute. This was under the program called Research Internship in Science and Engineering (RISE) by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). There were 270 students from the United States and Canada in this program. The scholarship included monthly stipend, German pass and accommodation during the conference. I have gained not only research experience, but also living experience in a country whose language is very unfamiliar to me. Two months in Germany gave me so many new perspectives on life and many fun experiences that cannot be told in one day. Thus, I have selected some aspects that impressed me most.

Working environment

One of the most notable new experiences that I had was the work environment at the institute. I worked with a PhD student who does research in the advanced system engineering department. The department is small, with approximately ten researchers there; however, the building was full of graduate students at the Technical University of Berlin.

Though my work station was in the computer cluster in the department, I worked independently most of the time; however, I was able to talk to many graduate students working on their projects and theses. Most of them could not speak English very well, but they tried their best to communicate with me. They helped me with many programming problems and also trivial questions about Berlin. I had a lot fun going around the room and seeing the various simulations. They were so eager to explain their projects in English that they often referred to the online German-English dictionary.

I also went to lunch with different groups of people at work, but I generally ate with my advisor. There were two major eateries: the Italian restaurant and the university’s Mensa (student’s cafeteria in German). I had many traditional German dishes at the Mensa and usually had problems when ordering because the menu was in German; however, my wonderful colleagues helped me translate the German to English. I was really impressed with the generosity of the people, and their enthusiasm of exchanging knowledge. Their curiosity drove me to work harder, especially when they questioned some aspects of the project that I did not know well.

Conference in Heidelberg

The program held a conference in Heidelberg, one of the historically beautiful cities in the southeast of the country. This conference was a great opportunity for RISE scholars to meet representatives from German institutions and companies. They presented a number of scholarship and grants for graduate studies and professions in Germany, focusing specifically on science and engineering.

I was surprised by the amount of scholarship that DAAD and these German institutions offer. These opportunities are definitely good options for students who are determined to continue their studies in these areas. Most of these programs require certain levels of German knowledge; however, a few programs do not. I was drawn by one of the programs, which particularly suited my interest in devices and physics. It was a master's program in material science and there was no German language requirement.

In addition to these informative talks, we also visited companies around the city in groups assembled according to the students’ interests. I went to the Heidelberg printing factory, the largest printing factory in the world. I also went to the John Deer factory where tractors and agricultural tools are assembled. Then, we had a city tour on our last day. We went to the famous castle on the mountain by the river of the city. On the last night, there were fireworks and all the RISE scholars who stayed went to see the show on the bridge. It was one of the most memorable nights in my life.

Traveling

Germany was once divided into two parts: West and East Germany. Despite its unification in 1989, the country still seems to be divided, economically and culturally. However, its true beauty still remains in every city I visited. I had an opportunity to travel to ten cities in Germany using the free German pass provided by the program. This pass was valid for five traveling days, meaning that I could go anywhere in the country within each traveling day. I spent most of my weekends traveling in Berlin and some nearby cities within two to three hours of the capital.

My first trip outside Berlin was to Leipzig, a relatively small city with one of the most prestigious universities in the country. Leipzig University was home to many familiar scientists such as Heisenberg. I also made good friends with some people who I just met on my trip. They invited me to their place in Hanover, and we even went to Hamburg together that weekend. I first used the pass to travel to Heidelberg, one of the most attractive cities in Germany. Fortunately, my advisor allowed me to take a week off so that I could explore Germany as much as possible. My long journey began after the Heidelberg conference. I traveled from Heidelberg to Cologne. The most famous sight of Cologne is probably the twin cathedral at the main station. By Lindt there is also a chocolate factory where I stayed for almost three hours. Then, I went to Munich which is in the south. During my stay in Munich, I also had a chance to go to some other cities nearby.

Ulm, Einstein’s birthplace, is one and a half hours ride from Munich. Constructed in 1300, a church in Ulm is the tallest in Germany. Then, I went to Füssen on the same day. This city is two hours from Munich and it has an exotic and luxurious castle build by King Ludwig. This castle named Neuschwanstein (Neu=new, schwan=swan, stein=stone) inspired Disney’s production Sleeping Beauty. I was very grateful to receive such a great opportunity. Traveling not only helped me relax from work but also opened my world to other cultures, which differ from my own and from what I have seen in the States.

Personally, I think the program was successful. I finished my project and was able to fulfill my advisor’s expectations. My advisor, another researcher, and I had a small meeting to examine my reports to evaluate my work. Through the program I acquired more knowledge of engineering tools like Cadence. I also gained some insights into the device from reading extensively on the topic. In addition, my summer was colored by the trips I had during my “holiday” and over the weekends. I would like to thank DAAD for initiating such a good program. This summer will surely be engraved in my memory for the rest of my life.