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Cologne-Bonn-Montreal: STIMULUS Exchange for Doctoral Students in Chemistry and Physics

Report by Sandra Cordes and Marie-Hélène Tremblay

"I heard about the program and I wanted to be on it,” says Patrick, a PhD student at McGill University in Montreal, about STIMULUS. As the name suggests, the so-called exchange is only the impulse of something larger which is planned for the future – the foundation of a joint graduate school.

The group built its ties in Montreal. Photo: Private

The goal of STIMULUS is to foster interaction among German and Canadian students by bringing them together in central locations, notably in Montreal, Bonn and Cologne. Klaus Meerholz, professor of the workgroup Organic Nanoelectronics at the University of Cologne and coordinator of the future network, explains that conductive organic materials are already in use for smart phones, for example, but their implementation in further technical products still has to be researched. This will be a major task of the future graduate school. Also, it is important to expose students to organic electronics research, equipment and infrastructure within the network and to lay the foundation for bilateral research-related exchange among the seven participating universities. 

A new German-Canadian graduate school

Lab tour at McGill University, photo: private

Klaus Meerholz from the University of Cologne and William Skene, professor at the Université de Montréal, proposed the STIMULUS program in 2014 with the aim of strengthening collaborative partnerships between Cologne, Bonn and Montreal. The exchange program is the first phase of their larger plan: an international graduate school called “Trans-Atlantic Graduate School of Pi-Conjugated Materials” (TAGS). Two German (Cologne and Bonn) and five universities from the Montreal area (McGill University, École Polytechnique, Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique (INRS), Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) and Université de Montréal (UdeM)) will be part of the graduate school.

Klaus Meerholz says: “There's a multitude of gains in this exchange: a dense researcher network of the participating institutions, tandem projects in chemistry and physics for our PhD students to work on, bilateral or multilateral visits within the network and of course the use of facilities and equipment, which constitutes a huge advantage for our research community."

The student group in Ottawa, photo: private

In May 2015, eight doctoral students in chemistry and physics from Cologne and Bonn spent two weeks in Montreal for the first part of the STIMULUS exchange program. The German students were hosted by their Canadian students and learned about the Canadian network research activities and Canadian culture. The visit was also the start of many friendships. A few students also had the opportunity to further enrich their experience by travelling around North America before and after the program. During the first exchange, each German–Canadian pair developed a project that would combine both of their expertise and be mutually beneficial. This was a valuable team building exercise in light of the diverse research projects of the participants in chemistry and physics. 

No visit to Canada without visiting the Niagara Falls, photo: private

The first day of the program consisted of welcoming the German students to Montreal and building the team. During the following days, the group visited the participating universities, went on laboratory tours and learned about the members’ research activities. It was a worthwhile experience for both the Canadian and the German students to learn about the available equipment and infrastructure for their proposed team project and future collaborations. The team also organized trips to Quebec City and the capital of Canada, Ottawa. They moreover had the opportunity to visit Toronto and the Niagara Falls. The team also met regularly after their work days to further foster team building. 


Welcome to the Rhineland

The second phase of the program consisted of the Canadian students being hosted by their German partners in Cologne and Bonn for two weeks in September. It was kicked off by Klaus Meerholz, followed by research talks by several hosting professors, and lab tours. “I was happy to get an insight into our neighboring universities in Montreal and to see which facilities they use for their research. Also, facilities in Bonn and Cologne are excellent, so it was great to benefit from the resources you have here," says Patrick on the visits to Cologne and Bonn. In Cologne, the team visited the Cathedral and climbed to its top, had a brewery tour, went hiking in a vineyard at Ahrtal, and even had a weekend trip to Amsterdam while working on their joint projects. 

Lab tour in Cologne with Professor Klaus Meerholz, photo: private

Some Canadian students extended their German visit to further work in the labs and use the specialized equipment. Marie-Hélène from the Université de Montréal: "The exchange for me is a really good way to learn how to use the equipment we need at UdeM. I am going to learn how to use it in the Cologne lab and will apply it at home." “In general, within the cooperation only the professors talk to each other, but thanks to the program we met the whole working group. The program enabled our group to exchange research samples and questions, which enabled a pleasant interchange of materials. Scientific questions can therefore be answered more easily and directly. This highly strengthens independent working” says Sandra, speaker for the German student group. She continues: “STIMULUS is both scientifically and personally an enriching experience for all participants.”