Research and Play in Dresden, Germany

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 Rae Luan, BME ‘09

I had the opportunity to do a ten-week internship at the Vodafone Mobile Communications Chair, at Technische Universitat Dresden from May to August 2007. Dresden is a city in mid-eastern Germany about two hours south of Berlin. It is the capitol of Saxony and is a city with a rich history and culture.

This internship program was through the Research in Science and Engineering (RISE) program sponsored by the DAAD, which is the German Academic Exchange Service. It provides various scholarships and program opportunities for students in North America to complete a research internship in Germany with a monthly stipend provided by the DAAD.

Impressions

My summer internship in Germany was such a great experience and I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. Part of the reason this program attracted me so much was that it was a combination of study abroad and research. I not only gained valuable internship experience, but I also had the opportunity to immerse myself in German culture.

I loved that I was exposed to a university atmosphere in Dresden. While there were some language barriers for me due to the fact that I am not very fluent in German, I was able to quickly overcome my initial inhibition and just laugh about it. The atmosphere at the university was refreshing and the German students were very open and welcoming.

Research

This internship was my first experience working at a research-based institution. The laidback German lifestyle and the more relaxed atmosphere of the university was a good environment for me to perform my research. I was especially impressed and thankful for my supervisor and other PhD students’ genuine interest in research.

My project turned out to be very much independent, although my supervisor was always available for discussions. One of the most important things I learned through this experience was approaches and methodologies for research. My tasks included reading a lot of literature and formulating questions that interested me.

My research topic initially was exploring the applications of information theory to the field of genetics. Genetics and genome analysis is a relatively new and exciting field. In addition, the application of methods and theories from communications engineering to genetics shows promising potential.

By viewing DNA as a code for biological communication (sharing of biological information), developments from communications engineering can be applied to the field of bioinformatics. I had the chance to work on different methods for comparison of DNA sequences, and from that derive phylogenetic trees representing the evolutionary relationships among organisms. I made a lot of headway in my field of research and hope that my work will lead to an extended research project in the future. Most importantly, the internship gave me the chance to explore an interesting topic that I would likely not have come in contact with otherwise.

Closing Remarks

I am very grateful for this experience. Without the RISE program I would not have had this opportunity to meet and interact with the many Germany students and other people that I met. Other than working, I also had the opportunity to travel within Germany. Summer opportunities such as this are a great way to integrate academics and recreation.