Lillian Zhou, a Princeton University senior, learned this past summer that there is more to computer science research than programming, particularly when working abroad.

“Learning to work with other people is crucial,” said Zhou, a computer science major who spent most of the summer on a research internship in Germany. “I learned how to interact with people from a different country who speak a different first language than I do.”

Zhou interned in Germany as part of the Princeton-ConRuhr International Research Fellowship Program, a new research and teaching collaboration and student exchange initiative between Princeton and ConRuhr, a consortium of three universities in Germany’s Ruhr region.

The program, developed by Princeton’s Keller Center in partnership with Princeton’s International Internship Program, aims to expose engineering students to international approaches to technology, research and leadership, while giving them hands-on research experience in their field of study.

“The Keller Center’s mission is to educate leaders for a technology-driven society,” said Cornelia Huellstrunk, the center’s associate director for external affairs. “So it’s imperative to prepare students to become part of a new generation of globally trained researchers and innovators who can function effectively in an international context.”

The three German universities in ConRuhr are the University of Bochum, University of Dortmund and University of Duisburg-Essen, which comprise a science and engineering trio often referred to as Germany’s Engineering Triangle.

As an outgrowth of the student program, a scientific delegation consisting of faculty and administrators from the German universities will visit Princeton on Monday Nov. 8, to explore potential faculty research collaborations and share information on visiting scholarships and opportunities for graduate students. The event that will begin at 10:00 in the Friend Center Convocation Room is open to all interested engineering and science faculty and students.

This past summer was the first exchange of students under the program. Five Princeton undergraduates interned in Germany and three German graduate students interned in Princeton research labs. The program predominantly is conducted in English.

Zhou worked with a group of researchers at the University of Bochum, studying how to send data more securely via the Internet and protect computers from online predators.

“I learned a lot,” she said. “I’m taking a computer security course this semester and I already know a lot of the material because I learned about it in Germany.”

Kwesi Adarkwa, a senior in mechanical and aerospace engineering, also interned at Bochum, on a project building and testing a laser system.

“My coworkers in my lab research group were really friendly and helpful,” he said. “They helped me get up to speed on the project in no time, provided great insights and engaged me in conversation that made for great cultural learning.”

In addition to building cultural awareness, Adarkwa said the research experience will be helpful for his senior thesis work at Princeton, which focuses on laser design and testing.

Athanassios Panagiotopoulos, the Susan Dod Brown Professor of Chemical and Biological engineering at Princeton, hosted one of the German graduate students, Philipp Mertmann, in his laboratory for eight weeks.

Panagiotopoulos said Mertmann brought expertise in electrical engineering that helped the researchers make a breakthrough in the study of graphics processors used for video games and, increasingly, for visualizing scientific data.

The researchers have submitted a paper about their findings for publication in a scientific journal. “It was a great opportunity to get different fields together and solve a problem,” Panagiotopoulos said. “Without Philipp’s help, we wouldn’t have gotten so far so fast.”

In 2011, the Keller Center program plans to send six Princeton undergraduates for internships in Germany and to again bring three German graduate students to work with Princeton researchers.

Students interested in applying for the 2011 internships can find more information on the Keller Center and International Internship Program websites. Faculty and graduate students interested in working with German graduate students or with the delegation from ConRuhr may visit the Keller Center website.

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