Faculty of Science

Department of Chemistry

Ling Yun Zhen (July 2002 - December 2002)
(BASF in Ludwigshafen)

July 2002. I arrived in sunny Mannheim, Germany, for my half-year internship with what is by some accounts the world’s leading chemical company, BASF. Being an applied chemistry undergraduate, the BASF site in Ludwigshafen was definitely the right place to be in.

I was attached to Prof. Dr. Hartmut Hibst, who heads the catalysis division in the central research laboratory (the famed “Ammoniak Labor”). My project was to investigate the reductions of vanadate using different reducing agents for the development of a commercial catalyst. Like so often in industry, this is the most I can disclose! I had learned the necessary skills in NUS, but working in the research laboratory in BASF was still a different experience, and very much out of my expectations. There were no teaching assistants to give me instructions; there was no lab partner to rely on. I realized that this would be what I can expect in my working life, and was glad to be exposed to this culture before graduation. Now, back in my lab in NUS, I am more confident when working alone, and I always make sure I clarify all my doubts to eliminate any chance for potential hazards.

BASF has a very established system with internships. There were no problems with the language as most supervisors there speak English. But I wanted to grab every chance to improve my German, so I often initiated my conversations in German. The 4 semesters of German I learned in NUS proved to be some eyebrow-raiser. I managed to communicate effectively with my supervisor and colleagues. During my internship there, besides joining in one of the regular tours around their 7.11km2 site, I also visited the water treatment plant, a plastic plant, and a catalyst pilot plant. In addition, I attended information seminars on industrial safety and work opportunities in the company. There were also monthly Stammtisch gatherings organized for interns to meet in a pub. On top of all these, I was also invited to a barbeque session in the summer and a Christmas party organized by my colleagues.

Me and Fountain at Friedrichshafen

The special internship program I took part in involved Fachhochschule Mannheim, a ‘university of technology’ in Mannheim, just on the other side of the river Rhine. They helped me greatly with the administration processes for immigration and lodging. I got to stay in a student hostel, which was very near to Ludwigshafen, but took me 40 minutes to get to work because there was no direct transport. I had to take a bus, and then a Strassenbahn (tram) to reach the gate of BASF, before taking another shuttle bus to reach the Ammoniak Labor. I was still thankful for the hostel despite this, because I got to know other nice students. Our friendships were forged during exchanges in the kitchen, when we peeked into one another’s pans and talked about our countries. There, I learned a very German food, the Eintopf, which is a perfect dish to prepare for lazy people like me. I just had to throw whatever I want to eat that day into the same pan and cook. No frills. Well, I really didn't’t mind the fact that my food looked ugly…

Having already traveled 11 hours by plane to reach Germany, I would not leave the place without some more traveling. I was such a fanatic for travel that I managed to leave an impressive track record of visiting 13 countries in Europe! I was in Norway, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary, France, Luxembourg, Spain, Italy, England, Scotland and the Netherlands. The romantic Karlov Most in Czech impressed me most, while the ancient ruins in Rome left me intrigued by the genius of the Roman Empire. I tried many different methods of getting to my destinations: the rail, the plane, the bus and even hitchhiking! There were some crazy moments, like using the hitchhiking services of a web site, taking a 16-hour bus ride to Budapest, and making a ‘transit’ in London when I traveled from Rome to Barcelona! All in the name of traveling in the most cost-effective method! I am thankful for the Gleitzeit (flexible working hours), and the 5-working day systems in BASF, which allowed me to claim overtime hours as leave and do my traveling over the weekends. It was a pity that the time I got to spend in each place was short because of I could only travel over weekends. Such is the life of being a ‘working adult’!

Gudvangen to Voss
(Me at Stalheim Hotel)


You may have gotten it already, but I will say it again: my trip to Germany was fun-filled and fruitful, and I will always recommend this experience to others. Academically, I was given an insight of the working life of a chemist, and of the operations of a research laboratory and a pilot plant. Socially, I am enriched with cultures from the different countries I visited, and the friendships I forged with my hostel mates and some travelers I met along the way.

Being very much a tourist there, Germany has left a lot of sentimental memories. I am really happy to have my internship there, and my 6-month stay there will definitely be a good premise for recollections.