Only few weeks have passed since I finished my mandatory iMOS international practical course at Yale University, but I can already see how much I have grown. On the 30th of December I left the comforts of my home university, Ruhr Universität Bochum, to join the Johnson lab for two months and immerse myself in an entirely new culture. That change pushed me to the boundaries of what I was capable of. It challenged me, personally, culturally and professionally, yet it was the most exciting experience of all times.
Screening reaction intermediates in solution
The idea of doing an internship at Yale took shape during my Focal Point Practical in Prof. Martina Havenith’s group. I spent three months there as an iMOS student, investigating n-butyllithium, an organometallic compound, embedded in superfluid helium nanodroplets. At cryogenic temperatures (0.37 K), helium droplets become superfluid – i.e they flow freely with no viscosity – and pick up one molecule at a time. They truly become nanoscopic reactors where single molecules are isolated. I analyzed nanodroplets with n-butyllithium by means of infrared spectroscopy and I was fascinated by the high resolution obtained with this gas phase technique! I immediately knew that I wanted to have international experience in cryogenic spectroscopy. Together with Prof. Havenith, we decided that the group of Prof. Mark A. Johnson at Yale was be the best choice, as they specialize in probing chemical processes and related intermediates in solution, at molecular level and at cryogenic temperatures.
In Yale, I investigated the cooperative hydrogen bonding interactions in hydroxyl-functionalized ionic liquids as well as in iodide-methanol clusters. In both cases I used the cryogenic ion vibrational predissociation spectroscopy. I made measurements with a new instrumentation, which is a hybrid mass and optical spectrometer. While working with other graduate students of the group I noticed that they were still devoting a lot of time to the improvement of the scientific apparatus. They would conceive, design and even construct, themselves, parts of instrumentation for the support of their research. The complex instrumentation I was working with was put together by two graduate students of the Johnson lab! I was so fascinated with the real application of their engineering skills and detailed knowledge of building a scientific apparatus, that I made it a future goal to educate myself in this field.
In addition to influencing my professional vision for the future, the iMOS internship at Yale provided me with the unique experience of participating in an international and multicultural environment. I met people from a variety of backgrounds, including China, Vietnam, Singapore, India and different states of the US. We became very close, especially when I participated in their annual group ski trip in Stratton, Vermont. Although some were more advance skiers than others, we stuck together during the whole time. I cannot appreciate enough the patience when I fell in a steep hill and had a hard time getting up. Everybody stopped, and they even tried to climb up to help me.
In no time, I also started developing cross-cultural skills and sensitivity towards diversity. Today, I am very happy to have fostered meaningful friendly relationships in the global network that will hopefully last a lifetime.
Despite of being one of the leading institutions in research, I found Yale to be very special on its architecture as well. The residential colleges and even the libraries, which were part of the Yale campus, all had Gothic character, with the Sterling Memorial Library being the centerpiece.
Moreover, by being constantly surrounded with English native speakers my language comprehension was forced to level up. I became acquainted with new idioms and vocabulary which deepened my immersion in the English language.
The iMOS internship was so much more than gaining practical experience in high-level research and working with a cutting-edge technique. It was the most rewarding endeavor a student could ask for. It was a lesson of independence, personal growth and diversity celebration. It was a dream come true!
About the author