Name of the intern: – Aditya
Institute: – IIT Kanpur
Organization interned with: – University of Alabama, USA
Even before I got admitted into IIT Kanpur, I had heard about students going abroad to do projects as a part of internship. I always had the desire to do the same. The craving to explore ‘Fatherland’ was a big inspiration for me to get into IIT. I even bought a fast track watch with double dials just to keep me inspired to get an international internship opportunity (sounds crazy, but worked for me!). Six months back I finally got an opportunity striking at my doorstep. It was the international REU program at Centre for Materials for Information Technology. I had applied for it back in January and finally got my call on 22nd of February.
In no time May arrived and I found myself on a flight to Birmingham, USA. As soon as I arrived at Birmingham airport, there was an SUV with the logo of University of Alabama painted across it waiting for me. It felt great! I wasn’t expecting the director of MINT to come down himself to pick me up! Well after that followed an hour long road-trip to Tuscaloosa. My first week’s accommodation was arranged in a nice studio apartment with a queen size bed and a kitchen at Home Towne Studios. I was just starting to unpack when the owner of the place came up, invited me over for a barbecue, and within 3 hours of my landing in USA, I was already doing my first barbecue! More than the place, the people of USA, their honesty, their discipline, and their food just stole my heart!
The next day I met my guide Dr. Nitin Chopra, an alumnus of IITK and a young professor with high ambitions and great work ethics. I moved around the MINT centre and got acquainted with my lab mates all the three of whom were Chinese. I had my lunch with the director of MINT and the other 4 participants of the program: a German, a Chinese, a Japanese, and a Taiwanese. And suddenly I was in a room having people from so many different cultures. I started on my work which was on Graphene encapsulated nano-particles for chemical sensing applications. It was funded by various organizations. I was probably the first ever participant of the REU program from India, or for that matter only Indian material science undergraduate this year in USA. In fact, last year, MINT centre made the internship international for the first time. I was lucky!
After the first week I was shifted to a 4 bedroom suite in the Ridgecrest Residential Community along with the other participants. I was given a food card worth $500 which could be used in the food court inside the campus which had various brands of food like Subway, Topio’s, Zoca, Burger King, Chick-fill-A etc. I also visited the huge Bryant-Denny football stadium which is the home ground of the Alabama football team. I had no problems whatsoever. The arrangement served its purpose of shifting my focus entirely to the research work. My professor kept inspiring me from time to time and pushed me really hard. As a result, I completed my first project in the first 5 weeks of my stay. My first report was highly applauded by everyone at MINT. But this was just the beginning. The best was yet to come!
On June 10, 2012, I got a mail from the director of MINT offering a fully funded trip to Davidson Rocket and Space Centre, NASA, Huntsville, Alabama for a program. One day as an astronaut, I couldn’t believe all of this was happening to me! Then finally the day came and all the 5 participants along with the director of MINT and director of the REU program started for Huntsville in a big bus which is the one being used by the football champions of USA, the Crimson Tide Alabama football team, Tuscaloosa Charter. It had all the amenities like a dining area, TV room etc. I was almost living the dream of my life. After reaching Huntsville, we were showed around the NASA centre by one of the guides there and after that started out astronaut training program. The first simulator used was the space shot to make us experience the high initial inertia involved. The next one was the high speed G-force accelerator which made us experience a force of around 3 times the gravity by rotating in a cubicle at 100kmph rotational speed. After that, we had our training for weightlessness experience inside a large tank which was followed by a driving training of a rover on a man-made replica of lunar surface. It was an overwhelming experience. That was the day I understood how difficult it is to be an astronaut. In a single day, I had headaches, breathlessness, and my heart missed a beat almost every minute! Imagine a guy going through this every single day.
Any ways, it was a great outing and it refreshed me for my second assignment which was the fabrication of a composite of carbon fibre mesh to make a material so diverse in application that it could be used for very different uses such as armor construction and as a heat sink in space shuttles and air crafts! My first project was exciting enough, but the second one just made me go mad! I worked around 14 hrs a day in the lab and started spending nights there. Along with the other participants, having the building to us for entire night was one of the best experiences! During the work period I had many Eureka moments from time to time which kept refueling me in my quest to do some good research work. Before leaving, I gave the MINT centre my final presentation. My professor was so impressed with my work that he offered me a fully funded master’s program in the US Army funding based on the armor composite that I had fabricated! This was the icing on the cake! It competed on the list of the most unexpected things that happened to me this summer. And that’s how in the the last six months I became from a normal 8 pointer into something extraordinary! I achieved what I had always dreamt of. This summer, I enjoyed, socialized, traveled a lot, learnt a lot, and also achieved a lot. A complete package! I hope this program continues next year too, so that more students from India are able to get this experience of a lifetime.
The story doesn’t end here. My professor gained a lot of recognition because of my work. As a result of which, I got an invitation to his place on my last day for a goodbye dinner cooked by him, his wife, and me; collectively! On the way back to my place, my professor told me, “Make it a point that you watch’ Swades’ to get back the Indian feeling and ‘Tanu weds Manu’ to get back the ‘Kanpuria’ accent before going back to India. Even if you decide not to come back for your graduate studies here, it’s not the end for our association. Let’s put up a show at IITK on 9th August. I know this will come as a surprise to you. See you in 20 days at IIT Kanpur, India. Have a good flight!”
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