Most importantly, the winners get an opportunity to study at an international university of their choice – including those in the top 300 of such rankings as THE, QS and ARWU – for the term of up to a year. At these universities, the students will be able to not just take internships, but also conduct research. The scholarship covers tuition and expenses on accommodation, travel expenses to and from the location of the university, visa, medical insurance, and local transport fares.

If you want to participate, now’s the time to prepare for the contest, which traditionally opens at the beginning of the calendar year. Participation in the contest is available to first-year Master’s students and first-to-third year PhD students studying in ITMO’s full-time programs on tuition-free basis who are citizens of the Russian Federation and plan to go study abroad in the 2021/2022 academic year.

Those who want to give it a try should hurry and visit the Academic Mobility Support Office before the contest starts.

Every year, we write about the achievements of our students who managed to win this scholarship. We’ve talked to three students who are currently studying in the USA, Belgium, and Spain who told us about their research activities and the opportunities that winning the contest gave them.

Tatyana Mashel

Master’s student, Faculty of Applied Optics

Tatyana Mashel. Photo courtesy of subject.
Tatyana Mashel. Photo courtesy of subject.

Studies biomedical engineering at the Free University of Brussels while doing an internship at the Laboratory of Molecular and Cellular Therapy

On academic career

I’ve always been interested in medicine: I enjoy reading various books and articles on how our organism works. But I knew that the profession of a doctor and working with patients directly don’t interest me as much as the opportunity to use modern technologies to develop various new artificial organs and tissue, protheses, and micromanipulators for surgical purposes. 

In my Bachelor’s years, I learned more about the use of cellular and biomolecular approaches in diagnosing and treating diseases, and I decided that I wanted to do research in this field.

When I only started working at a lab, I focused on conducting cellular experiments: preliminary tests of biomedical products on cellular cultures help exclude the most toxic options and decrease the number of further tests on lab animals.

While studying the various approaches to working with cells, I became interested in the idea of changing the cell genome for the purposes of treating various hereditary and acquired diseases. There are many approaches to the delivery of genetic material, but I thought the use of micro- and nanocapsules to be the most interesting and promising one. The opportunity to change their properties and size depending on specific purposes of a study opens up lots of opportunities for their use in the field of biotechnology.

On current projects

The key goal of the projects that I’m working on is the creation of an effective platform based on polyelectrolyte micro- and nanocapsules for the purposes of delivering genetic material into cells. Today, when developing methods, we use a plasmid DNA that codes a green fluorescent protein. This makes data analysis easier, as we can visually demonstrate our experiments’ results.

Then again, our future work will be aimed at the delivery of various clinically relevant genetic constructors. For example, the key focus of my current internship has to do with working on an international project on the development of a therapeutic mRNA-vaccine against AIDS and its delivery to immune target cells.

Tatyana Mashel. Photo courtesy of the subject.
Tatyana Mashel. Photo courtesy of the subject.

On doing research abroad

The presidential scholarship gave me the opportunity to study biomedical engineering in Brussels and take an internship at the Laboratory of Molecular and Cellular Therapy. Here, I continue my work on the development of a mRNA-vaccine against AIDS and its delivery to immune cells.

At a laboratory in St. Petersburg, we conducted a part of our research on the development of optimal protocols for the delivery of genetic material with the help of polyelectrolyte submicroparticles, and I’m currently working on using our methods for working with mRNA and the cell lines that are used here.

I believe that the best opportunity I got as a part of this internship is the chance to strengthen my relations with the team of this laboratory for future work on joint publications and development of new international projects. Apart from that, our laboratories study various aspects of working with genetic material, thanks to which I have an opportunity to considerably increase the number and diversity of experiments and learn new methods and principles of working with equipment that I don’t have at my lab.

On differences between Russian and Belgian universities

As a Master’s student at ITMO, I have an opportunity to freely come to the lab, make arrangements with other staff members on using specific equipment, and conduct experiments on my own. Here, only PhD students have free access to labs, so you can’t just come in and start working: you have to negotiate it with a more experienced colleague who will supervise you during the experiment. This has to do with the fact that students at this university begin their research work only from their second year of Master’s studies, meaning they don’t have enough experience and need additional control.

On future plans

It’s possible that apart from the work I’ve already done, we can develop new joint projects as a result of my internship. I really hope that our collaboration with the local research team will go on and lead to even more joint grants and opportunities for student academic mobility.

Anna Volokitina

PhD student, International Research and Education Center for Physics of Nanostructures

Anna Volokitina. Photo courtesy of the subject.
Anna Volokitina. Photo courtesy of the subject.

On an internship with the Physics and Crystallography of Materials research group at Rovira i Virgili University, Spain

On becoming interested in science

At school, I’ve always liked physics and mathematics, as I was really impressed by optical phenomena. When the time came to choose a university, ITMO suited me perfectly. But I became really enthusiastic about science in my Master’s years when I joined the Department of Optical Physics and Modern Natural Science.

I started researching the processing of formation of nanocrystalline phase in glass ceramics by means of Raman scattering. Then, my research interests expanded to other solid materials such as ceramics and crystals activated with rare-earth ions. I started researching the optical properties of these materials and searched for correlations between their composition, structure, and spectral and luminescent properties. Such materials are promising for creating luminophores as well as various laser elements.

On current research

Right now, my work focuses on new laser components. My research is dedicated to the study of new composition crystals that can be used as active laser media (you can say that this is the heart of a laser, the place where laser generation occurs).

In collaboration with my international colleagues, we’ve already written several articles that describe the synthesis, structure and optical properties of such crystals. It is these results that helped me win the contest.

International Research and Educational Center for Physics of Nanostructures
International Research and Educational Center for Physics of Nanostructures

On the presidential scholarship

The hardest thing to do was to make the decision to participate. I understood that if I won, I’d have to leave my friends and relatives and go to another country. But participating in the contest is also a great opportunity to win a scholarship that covers all expenses on education and an internship, and get the experience of conducting research abroad. How could I miss such an opportunity? I’m really glad that I made up my mind and won.

On working in Spain

I’m currently doing an internship together with the research team of Physics and Сrystallography of Materials at the Rovira i Virgili University in Spain. I carry on with my work on the spectral-luminescent properties of crystals, which I started at ITMO University, and also try new equipment, conduct low-temperature measurements of the optical properties of these materials, and conduct experiments wherein I use the materials to produce laser oscillations.

I like that here, I’m seen not only as a student who’s learning to use advanced equipment and conduct experiments and research, but also as a specialist who can contribute their own experience. The trip has helped me see that ITMO University provides a high-quality education that makes me a valuable expert both in Russia and abroad.

On new opportunities

The presidential scholarship also gave me an excellent experience of interacting with my  colleagues from around the world, the opportunity to conduct fruitful research under the supervision of international scientists, enrich my practical skills and deepen knowledge in my field, as well as add new experimental data to my PhD thesis. And, of course, the chance to live in another country and broaden my cultural outlook.

I will continue my scientific internship in Spain till April, and I hope that there are still many interesting studies ahead of me. Then, I will return to Russia and start to prepare for my thesis defense. Thanks to this internship and the experience I gained, I now know that I could continue my research both abroad and in Russia – it’s all up to me.

Alexander Berestennikov

PhD student at ITMO's Faculty of Physics and Engineering

Alexander Berestennikov. Photo courtesy of the subject
Alexander Berestennikov. Photo courtesy of the subject

Doing an internship at the City College of New York

On academic career

I’ve always been drawn to physics and science in general. That’s why I decided to study physics and technology and began to choose between various universities in St. Petersburg. First, I studied at SPbPU, then – at ITMO.

Now, I’m doing research in the field of hybrid perovskite nanophotonics and optoelectronics. Nanophotonics is an extremely promising field that studies the behavior of light and the interaction of light with nanostructures. Scientists in this field make remarkable discoveries, both fundamental and practical, that find their application in everyday life and technologies, for example, LEDs, batteries, or lasers.

On current projects 

Right now, I’m engaged in topological photonics. This field studies metamaterials, namely, photonic crystals, the arrangement of which prevents light scattering. There are also high-order topological states, which effectively amplify electromagnetic fields at certain frequencies. Such nanostructures potentially can be used in optical computers. This was also the topic of my internship in the USA.

On choosing an internship

I think anyone would like to study science at one the world’s leading universities, as well as join a top-tier scientific team that publishes its work in high-impact journals and conducts exciting research. Our faculty offers various opportunities, but studying abroad is a unique experience.

I chose the City College of New York because of my supervisor Sergey Makarov, who suggested that I join Alexander Khanikaev’s topological photonics team. For a long time, he has been working closely with our faculty: he often delivers lectures here and conducts joint research with ITMO. This topic seemed interesting both in terms of physics and practical implementation. So it was not that hard for me to choose a university.

The City College of New York. Credit:
The City College of New York. Credit:

On research in the USA

As part of Alexander Khanikaev’s team, I’m working on hybrid silicon-perovskite topological nanostructures – a new class of semiconductors. As I said earlier, topological metamaterials make it possible to create structures with unique resonance and waveguide properties. Perovskites also have special optical properties that may be applied in nanophotonics. This way, the combination of these two fields opens up new opportunities for creating new nanoscale light sources.

There aren’t that many differences between scientific work in the USA and in Russia. Everyone cares about science and faces similar challenges. The main advantage of working here, however, is that you have easy access to all necessary equipment and consumables, which greatly speeds up the research process.

We had an international team: there were people from Russia, China, India, and Japan. I really enjoyed communicating with them.

For the most part, I do scientific projects: for instance, I study the optical properties of active topological resonance structures based on perovskites. I also try my hand at working with various equipment that can be used to create nanostructures but, sadly, due to the pandemic, access to the laboratory is currently restricted.

On new opportunities

Thanks to the presidential scholarship, I had the chance to work at the top university in New York, and even living here was already an extremely valuable experience for me. It greatly helped my academic career and I acquired new knowledge and skills. At ITMO, I was engaged in optical experiments and modeling, and here I discovered a new field, namely, the creation of nanostructures with the use of nanolithography techniques. Now, I’ll be able to conduct a complex study – from the creation of structures to their measurement.

The pandemic will gradually pass, and this chance is not to be missed.

On future plans

We are now finishing an article for a top-ranked journal on the topic that I currently study in New York. This will be good for my career, as publications and citations are the first things people look at in a scientist’s CV. I hoped that this experience would help in my scientific career and it has – all thanks to the scholarship I received. 

Tips for future participants

The main thing is to devote yourself to science and be hardworking. Your future laboratory also plays a key role, and here ITMO University offers a wide range of scholarship opportunities. But remember, you need to be proactive and always push forward – and then you will achieve great results.

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