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Imperial College, London – Swati Agrawal, BB5

The advent of second year put me, just like the majority of other sophomores, on a wild goose chase, hunting for a summer intern abroad. The whole mailing conundrum, plagued by excitement and disappointment alike, was finally concluded (much to my respite) when an acceptance came from the hallowed precincts of the chemical engineering department at none other than Imperial College London.

By the way, I’m Swati Agrawal, now a junior undergraduate at IIT Delhi pursuing a major in Biochemical Engineering and Biotechnology.

As the fourth semester drew to a close, the levels of restlessness hit the ceiling. After gruelling pangs of excitement, partly from my first air travel of over three hours and partly due to other obvious reasons, I finally landed in London on May 12, 2015. As a first time visitor and a proud student waiting to see the deified labs Imperial College London, I was, needless to say, absolutely ready to take in all that this majestic city had to offer.

I was welcomed by clear skies, sprawling manicured greens and the all-too-familiar hustle-bustle of the forever stirring multitude of the city, surprised by its wide diaspora. I took the first few days to breathe in the cosmopolitan pandemonium that London is.

My first visit to ICL, which took superbly less effort than I’d imagined owing to the spectacle that London’s public transit system is, was a warming up session with my supervisors who totally convinced me that the next 10 weeks were going to be a great learning experience in their enriching camaraderie (I, btw, worked in a project titled “iterative synthesis of polymer nanomedicines” if someone is interested). ICL, along with being a modern infrastructural marvel, has hues of the bygone Victorian era which makes it stand apart in the vivacity of South Kensington. It also stands boasting one of the best chemical engineering departments in the world, all located literally in the heart of the city.

The lab of Prof. Andrew Livingston was a melting pot of cultures. The potpourri of his brilliant research fellows included people from the world over which not only broadened my knowledge of their spectrally opposite philosophies about life but also gave me deep insight into their countries’ work cultures. I quickly became friends with everyone over badminton matches, coffee breaks, mid-work tennis streaming online and needless to say, saying goodbye in the end bought a stream of tears.

On the work front, I got to see what getting one’s hands dirty at one of the world’s best labs felt like. And believe me, it was an immensely rewarding experience. My work primarily comprised of testing and characterization of polymeric membranes and evaluating their performance in acetonitrile/oligonucleotide solution systems. Through the two months, I got the opportunity to become well versed with equipment like the HPLC machine and play with lab toys like pressurized valves, dead-end/series cells and diafiltration rigs

No foreign internship is complete (actually, it never starts) until you’ve let your legs take you as far and away as possible (given the hefty amount of scholarship ICL gives, thankfully). Being an ardent paramour of traveling and a complete street-lover at heart, I had more than my share of endless strolls and tube rides through the beautiful city that never stalls. The city is in itself replete with an endless buzz of concerts, parades, observatories, exhibitions, parties and carnivals happening at a frequency that’s more than difficult to keep up with and took a good first 6 weeks exploring.

With Wimbledon and uncountable soccer leagues for the sports fanatics, gigantic theatres and museums for the art lovers, always heaping clubs and pubs for the party goers and needless to say, possibly one of the best experiences for shopaholics, London succeeds in bedazzling everyone alike (and oh well! There’s Harry Potter,Sherlock and what not for the fiction and fantasy junkies).  Being well connected through trains, buses and flights to destinations outside London, extended weekend visits to Brighton, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Warwick and the like did more than needful to make my internship a memory that will be impossible to part with.

“In the end it’s not the years in your life that count, it’s the life in your years.” Thank you London for adding so many more years to my life. You made me smile and you made me cry in the end. And like I said before, we’ll definitely meet again. 😉

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