Upon completing my first year of studying the “classic trio” of the Physical Natural Sciences modules, physics, chemistry and material science, I was left uncertain which branch of science was the most appealing to me. Thankfully, I came across an opportunity to explore myself a little further – two months of working in a chemistry lab at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, Germany. EMBL is Europe’s flagship laboratory for the life sciences, so naturally I was very excited to go. With the help of Gateway Challenges funding, I bought a plane ticket to Heidelberg and spent two months of my summer there.
At EMBL I was working with a group of scientists that were developing state of the art anti-cancer compounds. My role was to synthesize molecules with a similar structure to those already created, to perhaps find an even more potent anti-cancer compound. This fascinating project was very different to anything I have ever done before, and its importance to the future of medicinal chemistry and my soft spot for biology made me eager to turn up to the lab every morning! By the end of my placement, I had become confident of working in a chemistry lab, something that I hadn’t managed to do during the first year of my degree.
Developing my ability to work effectively in a chemistry lab was only part of what I achieved during the internship. I learnt a lot about how drugs
are tested before they can be administered to patients, how research facilities apply for funding and how patent applications for new compounds are carried out. Through attending the group meetings, I found out how biological testing of compounds takes place and I was astonished how elaborate and intricate some current biological techniques are. Another thing that surprised me was how developments in technology and software have allowed biology to take huge leaps forward. For example, it is possible to find out the structures of huge complicated proteins with X-ray crystallography (a topic covered in the first year Materials Science course) and a computer program which allows the structure to be viewed in 3D with the aid of 3D glasses!
Besides enriching my skills set and knowledge, I was able to explore a few of the nearby cities. I had the chance to visit the thermal waters of Baden-Baden, the beautiful historic quarter “Petit France” in Strasbourg, as well as the international motor show in Frankfurt. Having to find my way around without knowing much French or German was a challenging but fun experience.
This has definitely been an enlightening experience. I have become more self-aware, more independent and have gained a lot of happy memories of sunny Europe that I will forever cherish.