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Math Major says ‘Guten Tag’ to Nano Particle Research

Melissa Cantu“Ich mag einen Kaffee.” This is how Melissa Cantu began most days this summer. As an intern conducting research in Duisburg, Germany, her day started as early as 7 a.m., and coffee was a vital part of her day.

Cantu, a senior math major, performed research through the Research Internships in Science and Engineering program run by the German Academic Exchange Service. RISE is a summer internship program for undergraduate students from the United States, Canada and United Kingdom. It offers unique opportunities for students to work with research groups at universities and top research institutions across Germany.

“I think this is a great opportunity for any student that is interested in expanding not only as a professional in the lab, but also as a person,” Cantu said.

Cantu’s research focused on the production of silicone nanoparticles, a complex process that utilizes a reactor to decompose gas particles and create plasma used to heat gas and make a powder. This powder is used in several applications including electronics and lasers; however, Cantu’s main interest is in biomedical applications.

Because the silicone nanoparticles are fluorescent they can be attached to bio molecules that target certain cells and allow researchers to visualize where in the body these cells are situated.

The research allowed Cantu to work closely with students from other countries with different areas of studies and build interdisciplinary and global connections.

“You learn to work as a team and be happy about it,” Cantu said. “You learn not only to be happy, but to be relentless in what you are doing. The most important thing is that at the end of the day, even if everything fails, even if you didn’t get any results at all, you should be happy because tomorrow you can try something else.”

Aside from research, the 10-week internship provided German language courses and opportunities to travel within the country.

Cantu credits Dr. Birgit Mellis, assistant professor of physics, as being an important influence in her decision to study physics and apply for the internship in Germany. It was Mellis who, two years ago, while visiting colleagues in Germany got the idea to provide UST students the opportunity to conduct research on a larger scale. After learning the German government already had programs in place, she encouraged Cantu to apply.

 “I am happy she got to experience it and that it worked out for her,” Mellis said. “I think if you are going to work in this field it is very important to get practical experience. To go abroad and do research with a group from all around the world, it lets you grow as a person.”

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