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Internship Field: Biotechnology, Material Science

Major: Biomechanical Engineering

Host: Zentrum für Biomaterialentwicklung / Center for Biomaterial Development (GKSS), Institut of Polymer Research

Location: Teltow (near Berlin)

Duration: June – August 2008


Description: My internship was divided into two projects – one five-week project with the polymer synthesis group and another five-week project with the cell biology lab. The first project revolved around primary research on a particular species of cellulose whiskers and their properties. I first performed a functionalization synthesis on the whiskers themselves and then analyzed the crystalline properties of the original and functionalized cellulose. Characterizations of the materials were also performed. We also looked at the possibility of manipulating hierarchical structures and the intrinsic self-organization of the functionalized cellulose. These findings could later be implemented into brain probes that mimic the texture and consistency of brain tissue, however, this would be applied for several years.

The second project focused more on the biocompatibility of a particular biomaterial or medical device, such as aorta stents and electrode nerve cuffs, and the testing methods used for their characterization. Originally, my project centered on these properties and methods in reference to an electrode cuff used in a brain-controlled, prosthetic, robotic arm. I was responsible for finding out if there were particular immune responses or deterioration of the nerves on which the nerve cuffs were implanted. However, due to set backs and complications, I was unable to see the project completely through. I did learn the techniques needed for the project including paraffin, kryo, and hard polymer cell cuttings, slide staining, and what to look for in certain cells to identify immune responses. Over the five-weeks I worked in the biology lab, I became more of an assistant, helping others with cell slide making, revising staining protocols, typing up methods for processes, and even assisting in pig operations at the BCRT in the Charité testing of the medical devices.

Comments: The experiences I had in my first project showed me how primary research progresses through its stages, which then create opportunities of application. In the second project, I was introduced to many cell research skills. Both of these will definitely help me during my participation here at Stanford and allow me to work on more advance topics with professors if the opportunity is there.

The most rewarding part of my internship was the people I met throughout the entire process. It was these people who made experiences in Germany so rewarding. Even though I loved the independence and responsibility that came with directing my own research during it’s first stages, it wouldn not have been as rewarding as it was without the people I was working with. Even though these co-workers were students themselves, working towards their Ph.D. degrees, they were great teachers, illustrating the teaching philosophy that is at the core of the GKSS Institute.

German Language Skills: My goal going into this internship was to be able to go into work one day and not speak a single word of English. At times it was hard to not speak English, since many of the Ph.D. students wanted to speak English to me most of the time, but by about week six or seven, I was able to achieve that goal thanks especially to people I worked with in the lab on a daily basis.

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