The foundation for a long-term stay abroad was laid when I was working on my diploma thesis. My second supervisor, Paul Scheier, offered me a short research stay at Queen’s University in Belfast. After some hesitation I realised that this was a splendid opportunity to gather new experience and I gratefully accepted. It was probably one of the best decisions of my life, and I have felt the pull of going abroad in the service of science ever since. While writing my doctoral thesis I decided to spend a longer period abroad after my degree for the benefit of my professional and personal development.
Towards the end of work on my thesis my doctoral promoter, Michael Probst, made me aware of the possibility of joining the team of Kersti Hermansson. Her group studies surface catalysis and solvation processes and was very interested in the experimental work undertaken in Innsbruck. So I decided to pay a short visit to Uppsala in Sweden. This first stay was very important as it enabled me to get a sense of my potential new workplace but also to see something of the city. I immediately liked Uppsala and it now feels like my new home. Uppsala University is the oldest in the Nordic countries and enjoys an excellent international reputation. The research group of Prof. Kersti Hermansson is equally renowned at international level, and this professional competence was one of many good reasons to go to Sweden.
I had first known Kersti Hermansson a few years before my degree, since she teaches a series of seminars at Leopold-Franzens University in Innsbruck as visiting professor. This was also how my doctoral promoter got the idea, since these two scientists have enjoyed longstanding professional co-operation. The social climate at the Institutionen för materialkemi is excellent – there is a friendly family atmosphere in my working group, and the contacts between teams at the Institute are also well established. One of my favourite things is torsdagsfika (Thursday coffee), when everybody at the Institute meets for a cup of tea or coffee, making important announcements or introducing new staff members. We are even treated to Swedish pastries by the Institute.
The project comprises the modelling and development of so-called many-body force fields to describe the interaction of ions in helium droplets at very low temperatures. My aim is to run computer simulations in order to gain a deeper understanding of the experiments conducted at the Institute of Ion Physics and Applied Physics in Innsbruck and compare theoretical data with the results of experimentation.
Life in general
Sweden is a beautiful country, even if, as someone hailing from the Tyrol, I tend to miss the mountains in the region around Uppsala. The people are very friendly and it is rare to meet someone who does not speak excellent English. I made my move to Sweden at the end of November, i.e. shortly before the darkest days set in. In retrospect this turned out to have been a good choice, since after a wonderful winter I could watch nature and the people in the streets awakening to spring. I was fascinated to see how much the outlook on life changed during springtime.
In any event, this stay abroad has broadened my horizon – not only in professional terms, but also at personal level. I can only recommend such an experience to everyone, for you will not find the things I was able to learn during this time in any textbook.