On September 1st, five high school (A-level) graduates started their Voluntary Scientific Year at the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH). The renowned research institute is thus providing important support for future scientists.
Voluntary years for social work or for cultural or ecological work are aready common in Germany. However, in Germany this initiative Voluntary Scientific Year (VSY) from the state of Lower Saxony is a first. The program is designed to give young people practical experience in a real scientific setting. This program was started in September 2011, by the Hannover Medical School and the Leibniz Universität Hannover. Already, 56 young people from throughout Germany have been assigned to these two and other partner institutes, such as the LZH.
One young woman and four young men, all high school graduates from 18 to 20 years old, are currently learning about metrology and vacuum technology, laser components or nanophotonics at the laser institute in Hannover. The goal is that they will be able to carry out practical work on their own, such as soldering or sandblasting, optical measurements, or planning and manufacturing optical or mechanical components.
However, in the first few weeks, these former pupils must first tackle the basics – theoretical seminars, scientific books, a two-week laser course, soldering and electronics courses, and even simple component sorting.
But who is afraid of practical work? Certainly not the five future scientists at the LZH! On the contrary, concrete practical work seems to be the key to their motivation. Their supervisors have already planned the next steps for their journey down the path of laser technology. Bastian Kühne (18) from Gehrden (near Hannover) will be characterizing so-called microchip lasers, and also be carrying out environmental tests for the development of a laser for the space mission ExoMars. Thomas Lettau (19) from Darmstadt is working on a machine that will be used for the complex process of cleaning vacuum screws.
In the Nanophotonics Group, Martin Kapelke (18) from Soltau and Kim Albers (20) from Nordhorn are working on the construction of a tunable laser source for spectroscopic investigations on nanostructures. This includes their using photolithography processes for making micro-optical wave guides. Presently, both are working on a process to make mask production for these processes more flexible. Tim-David Job (19) from Hannover is currently learning, for the first time, how to program a microprocessor, with the goal of increasing the lifetime of high-output fiber amplifiers by improving control functions.
All of these young people have similar motivation to join the VSY. After their formal schooling they wanted to do practical work. They were all interested in scientific work, and the VSY program gives them the chance to take a close look at science and research. “I’ve always been interested in physics. Now I want to know what scientific work looks like before I decide, in a year, which direction I want to go for my future career” says Thomas Lettau.
University study programs are currently so diverse, that it is difficult to choose a certain field. Whereas in the past you simply studied physics, nowadays you can study nanotechnology, or microsystems technology, or materials physics, or a number of engineering fields, which tend to be even more practice-oriented.
According to Dr. Dietmar Kracht, chief executive officer of the LZH, one of the chief advantages of the VSY lies in giving important orientation support for the students. For many years, a high number of students in the fields of mathematics, engineering, natural sciences and technology drop out or change their fields of studies. “By giving young people the chance to take a close look at the real world of science,” says Kracht, “we hope to be able to motivate them to study a field of natural science.” Kracht, who studied physics himself adds “Above all, these future engineers and physicists can assess their own potential better after working for a year in theses surroundings. It will be easier for them to know whether they want to pursue a career in this field or not.”
For the four supervisors at the LZH, working with the “fresh out of school” VSY’ers is a new experience. Of course, they do not have the fundamental knowledge a university student has, but they are “extremely willing to learn and work independently in different fields”, says Dr. Christian Kolleck, Head of the Space Technologies Group. Dr. Carsten Reinhardt of the Nanophotonics Group says “The VSY’ers are still in the learning phase, and they are doing a very good job. We’re looking forward to seeing the potential in these young workers, and what we can achieve together in the next year.”
The President of the German Research Foundation (DFG) Prof. Dr.-Ing. Matthias Kleiner is also enthusiastic about the new program in Lower Saxony. “It’s an imaginative and innovative example for helping young scientists on their way,” he says.
The Voluntary Scientific Year is being especially supported by the three excellency programs of the German Research Foundation (DFG):
• Graduate School of the Hannover Biomedical Research School (HBRS)
• Excellency Cluster REBIRTH (From Regenerative Biology to Reconstructive Therapie)
• Excellency Cluster QUEST (Center for Quantum Engineering and Space-Time Research)
The institutes taking part in the program are the Hannover Medical School, the Leibniz Universität Hannover, the Laser Zentrum Hannover, das Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research in Brunswick and the Friedrich-Löffler-Institute in Mariensee.