McCormick Magazine

In Munich, a chance for both research and culture

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graysonThe life of a McCormick undergrad can seem filled with years of required courses, activities, jobs, and internships.

Now a new program offers students a way out of the grind — a summer in Germany that not only fulfills course requirements but also offers days spent touring famous technology corporations and labs and nights filled with German culture and gemütlichkeit.

The program, called Finding Nano, is the brainchild of Matthew Grayson, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science. Grayson, who spent seven years at Technische Universität München (TUM), had heard that the German Academic Exchange Service was petitioning German universities to create programs that would attract American students for the summer. He spoke with his connections at TUM, and after a year of networking and building upon his scientific contacts in Germany, the Finding Nano program was created.

The six-week summer program offered by TUM gives students a chance to earn credits by taking a course called Electronic Properties of Nanoengineered Materials as well as a technology course that includes visits to nine research technology centers — including labs, start-ups, and major international corporations — to get a feel for German technological culture. Students also take a German language course, live in a dormitory with German students, and visit cultural sites during evening and weekend excursions.

"I know it's hard to find a study abroad program that has technical aspects," Grayson says. "I had to jump through hoops to study abroad when I was an engineering undergrad. This program offers students the chance to see research labs, start-up companies, and headquarters of companies like General Electric, and it also gives them science courses and a taste for German language and culture."

studentsDuring its inaugural run last year, 11 students participated in the program, of which Northwestern is the principal American partner. Michael Parrott (mechanical engineering '09) saw an ad for it in the Daily Northwestern, and after applying for and getting a scholarship from Shell Oil, was able to partake in the program and stay on for an internship at a Munich company.

"It was really exciting," says Parrott. "You go to labs where famous German scientists have done work — we even visited Werner Heisenberg's lab — and you do both scientific and theoretical training. It was great to see such a different higher education system."

Seeing the labs motivated Parrott to do his own research, and he's now working with Horacio Espinosa, professor of mechanical engineering, on research involving nanowires.

"I think this program is a hidden gem within McCormick," Parrott says. "It's not comparable to anything else. Besides the experience, I now have friends all over Europe that I never would have had if I didn't do the program."

Grayson is working to further develop the Northwestern-Munich partnership. Last fall he brought to McCormick a production of the Michael Frayn play Copenhagen that was originally mounted at TUM. And when he's not teaching courses in the Finding Nano program, Grayson performs research at TUM as well.

"We already have four McCormick students signed up for summer 2009, so word is getting out," Grayson says. "Having an international experience is an opportunity for students to put miles on their résumé and get out there and see other countries' technological culture and job market. This connection opens doors for them."

—Emily Ayshford