Attractive internship program for young talent

25 September 2018

A special internship program regularly succeeds in getting talented young people to come to PRISMA, the Precision Physics, Fundamental Interactions and Structure of Matter Cluster of Excellence at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU). Seven students were welcomed this summer. Zhiyuan Wang is one of them. He took the opportunity to work on his own project in nuclear physicist Professor Dmitry Budker's team.

Zhiyuan came to Mainz only about six weeks ago, but many of the scientists here at the Helmholtz Institute Mainz (HIM) know him already. The 24-year-old is greeted several times during the short trek from the foyer to the laboratory where he conducts his experiments. He already belongs here, and he visibly enjoys the feeling. "I'm really glad to be here," he says. "It's all a bit more relaxed here than it is in China or in the United States, even though people in Mainz work just as hard."

Zhiyuan Wang is also known as Aaron here. He's originally from the coastal metropolis Tianjin in northern China, a large city not too far from Beijing, and went to the University of California in Santa Barbara to study physics. It's typical for Chinese students to choose a name which is easier for the hosts to pronounce in such cases. So Zhiyuan became Aaron.

Only the best

"I decided on America to study cutting-edge physics," he says. Having his Bachelor's degree in his pocket, he was looking for new and interesting challenges when he came across the PRISMA Cluster of Excellence and its international internship program. "I was especially interested in Professor Budker's work. I had already heard of his research back in the USA. And I thought that maybe the PRISMA internship program would give me the chance to take a look at his work at Mainz University." Zhiyuan received that chance.

"We invite talented young people from all over the world to Mainz with these internships," explains Dr. Kevin Anding, who is responsible for Graduate Marketing and Recruiting at PRISMA. The program was initiated in 2014 and started picking up speed in 2015. "Since then, we have always been able to fill every slot. For this summer alone we had 50 applications for seven internships, so we really can choose the best."

A research project of his own

Zhiyuan was one of them. He was part of nuclear physicist Professor Dmitry Budker's team at Mainz University for a month and a half. As for the young Chinese, the University of California was also an important landmark for Russian-born Budker. He earned his doctorate there before moving to the prestigious University of California, Berkeley, where he was a professor until 2014. Budker then followed the call to JGU, PRISMA, and the Helmholtz Institute Mainz.

The Budker Lab is doing research on fundamental interactions and symmetries. In order to gather data in the experiments, the team has developed optical sensors based on atomic vapors and color centers in diamonds. Budker entrusted Zhiyuan with part of a project, which the student now demonstrates in the lab.

He points to a black box. "That is where we aim a green light laser at a diamond in which we placed nitrogen atoms." The laser penetrates the gem, on which different samples can be placed. "Diamonds have a very stable structure. Thus, they are good sensors. The implanted nitrogen atoms create color centers in the diamond and these react to the laser according to the local magnetic fields. We can map the magnetic field created by the sample using that reaction. It's my job to work on getting a higher resolution map. For achieving this, I'm experimenting with various lenses and changing the exposure times of single image recordings. To put it simply: I'm trying to get a better picture." And Zhiyuan succeeded. In just these few weeks, he has proven himself to the Budker team.

A sense of community

"The labs here are wonderful and the atmosphere is really friendly,” Zhiyuan says of the working conditions at PRISMA. He’s also close to the six other students who received internships at PRISMA. "We are living all on the same floor in our dorm. There are people from Spain, Scotland, and Croatia. It's exciting to learn more about each of them and their cultures. We do a lot together and we've become friends."

"We support this community spirit," Anding comments. "Connections like that will help tie talented young people to Mainz. This year we offered a boat trip to Rüdesheim, a guided tour through the university's MAMI particle accelerator, a pub night, and much more. So the students can get to know the region and the university together."

However, the scientific work is the most important aspect. "The special thing about our internships is that they were created around PRISMA. We can plan the students' collaboration with our specific research groups. At the same time, we can cater to our guests' individual needs. If someone comes to us from Glasgow, they have probably had a lot of theory and not much experimental work. We offer them the practical experience in our lab."

Zhiyuan will return

"I highly recommend this internship," Zhiyuan shares. "I feel at home here." He already knows that he will return to Mainz. Beginning in October 2018, he will be continuing his research with the Budker team for ten more months. "Before this internship, I had not thought about going to Germany at all, but now I'm interested. I have been to Berlin, I visited museums, and I learned about German history. When I come back in October, I will try to learn German."

Zhiyuan likes Mainz. "It's not too big, and at the university, here at the Gutenberg campus, I fit in really well." The young Chinese is not sure yet where will end up studying for his Master's degree. But PRISMA has definitely left an impression.