A year ago, I applied for an Erasmus scholarship to carry out an internship in a research laboratory abroad, and I had no idea about what would eventually happen. In December, two months before my departure, after a stroke of bad luck, I had to find a new destination very quickly. I was lucky enough to be offered an internship for a duration of four months in the group of Prof. Joop ter Horst, which works in the field of chiral crystallisation.
Finally, immediately following my exams in February, I landed in Glasgow, and my internship started at the University of Strathclyde, specifically within CMAC in the Technology and Innovation Centre. My first impression is that Scottish people are really kind, though unfortunately the rain never stops for very long, but I got used to it quickly. It was very impressive to arrive as a student in such a large building with many people, but I worked daily alongside two friendly PhD students: Maxime Charpentier from the CORE network, and Corin Mack.
My project consists of understanding the crystallisation behaviour of some chiral molecules from thermodynamic and kinetic points of view. It was a bit scary at first because this was my very first research experience on my own, and I was thankful that I could count on the help of Maxime and Corin when taking my first steps in the laboratory, and they always had helpful answers to the different questions I asked. The lab in CMAC was totally different from what I imagined, and from what I was used to working with in the didactic lab in Belgium: small benches with our materials back home, as opposed to large fume hoods and lots of different engines in CMAC.
Gradually, I learned to search which chiral molecules I would study. It was really exciting to prepare the operating procedure, to choose and to receive the molecules. I learned to use the DSC and Crystal16 experimental equipment, and it soon started to become very tangible and useful. The general atmosphere was very relaxed in the research office, and I got on well with the PhD student with whom I shared a desk. However, my experience with the different students I met was too short-lived for me to really fit in.
The University of Strathclyde is very active both administratively and socially. I lived in university accommodation that was only a five-minute walk from the lab. I shared the flat with five other international students from Australia, China, Italy and the United States, and it was very rewarding to get to know other cultures and I made unforgettable memories. Moreover, the Erasmus team organises lots of activities and parties that allow all the international students on-campus to meet, while Strathclyde Sport offers a wide range of sports activities to let off steam.
In mid-March, I had to make the difficult decision to return home to Belgium due to the COVID-19 crisis. It was very hard to say goodbye to all my new international friends and to realise the internship was over much sooner than expected. I cannot say that I miss the rain, but I am really disappointed I did not get to discover the Highlands. However, I know that one day I will be back. In terms of my project, I continue to study from a theoretical point of view to build an overview of thermodynamic data and to write my report, but it is really frustrating to not have the opportunity to further develop my experimental skills since this was my primary personal objective. My supervisors and Prof. ter Horst are still very attentive even from a distance, and I am grateful to them for all the time they have given me. Even if my internship did not end in the best way, it was still a wonderful experience to be confronted with so many new challenges.
Louise Lejeune is a student in the first year of a Masters degree in Advanced Chemical Science at Université Catholique de Louvain in Belgium. She has a Bachelors degree in Chemical Science, with a minor in Chemistry from the same university. In her Bachelors degree, she acquired first basic knowledge in all applied sciences, and was then able to delve deeper into other types of chemistry. Crystallization was a topic not fully covered in her Bachelors degree, which encouraged her to orient her internship towards the field in order to discover more about it.