IST Austria – Praveen Sriram

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The air resonates with Mozart’s symphonies as I make my way through the city’s Baroque centre on a chilly afternoon. It has indeed been an amazing summer in the musical city of Vienna as I reach the end of my internship at the Institute of Science and Technology, Austria. (IST Austria).

Getting There

I am an Electrical Engineering undergrad with a passion for Physics. Working on summer projects at IITB gave me some exposure to the theoretical research done in Nanoelectronics. I spent a couple of weeks last year at a summer school in The Netherlands, which introduced me to experimental research in nanoelectronics, and I was very clear that I wanted to get my hands dirty in experimental work this summer.

I started looking for opportunities in different groups around the world working in experimental nanoelectronics. Not having any experience in this field didn’t make things easier. The first few months of “apping” were unsuccessful with most of the professors requiring me to stay for at least 6 months to do something meaningful in experimental work. But I didn’t lose hope. I realised that experimental work depends a lot on the equipment and resources and is plagued with delays. But since we don’t have such equipment here, I really wanted to get a “feel” of the research done in that field and so I went on with my search. Bala uncle, my guide for everything in life, was always there to motivate and support me throughout all my rejections, and he reassured me of the benevolence of Divine Grace.

In December, I stumbled upon the Nanoelectronics group at IST Austria. That’s when I realised that Sandesh Kalantre, a friend of mine from the Physics department had been to the same group at IST Austria last summer! Their research seemed very interesting and so I went ahead and applied. Sandesh gave me great feedback on his experience and soon a Skype meeting was scheduled with the professor who encouraged my desire to do experimental nano electronics with an electrical engineering background. He invited me to apply through their internship portal which was to open in January. This internship programme, known as the “ISTernship” was financed by an Austrian Scholarship company – OeAD. The application required me to submit a Motivation Letter, CV and a couple of recommendation letters. Then one warm March afternoon, my phone pinged with the email I was waiting for 🙂 . The visa formalities were completed without any issues and before I knew it, I was on my flight to Vienna!

My 6th semester wrapped up only the 2nd of May with the last few project presentations, and hence I didn’t have too much time to do some serious preparation for the internship. My prof sent me a couple of papers and I spent a few days going through them.

Vienna, IST Austria and my Work

The weather wasn’t good when I reached Vienna, with rains pouring down and a chilly breeze blowing. IST Austria is located outside the city limits of Vienna, but they couldn’t provide accommodation since their guesthouses were fully booked this summer.  OeAD helped me find affordable accommodation in a student dorm in Vienna and there is an IST Austria Shuttle Bus which takes you to the institute in about 20 minutes.

The institute currently has 5 departments – Biology, Computer Science, Mathematics, Physics & Neuroscience. There are two experimental physics groups – Nanoelectronics, and Quantum Optics. I was welcomed at the institute by the academic office staff who after completing some administrative work introduced me to my professor and group-mates in the office building.

The Nanoelectronics group has 5 PhD students, and one PostDoc. The research in the group was focussed around Hole Spin qubits in Germanium nanostructures and Topological qubits in Majorana Fermions. On the first day the professor gave me a nice overview of the work they do, and some of the PhD students showed me around the lab explaining the different components and their applications. I stared in awe at the awesome equipment they had in the lab! They have two dilution refrigerators and a Helium3 refrigerator which could cool down our samples to the milli-kelvin range. They also have Helium dewars for measurements at 4 kelvin. The work was heavily experimental, with a large portion done in the cleanroom fabricating and imaging the nano-devices.

My first task was to learn to design contacts on the Germanium nanowire for which I took images of the sample under a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) in the cleanroom. The cleanroom was managed by the Nanofabrication Facility of the institute and was shared between the two experimental groups. I had no experience of working in a cleanroom, and so, in the initial weeks my prof gave me a detailed tutorial on using the SEM. I then had to pass a test before I was granted access to the cleanroom for SEM.

My group-mates fabricated the devices based on my design, which I then measured the device at 4 kelvin to characterise its working parameters. This was an important set of steps we had to repeat with different samples as it helped us decide the optimal recipe to design  and fabricate the devices with our desired parameters. Once we had good devices, we could the go further and realise a quantum bit – “qubit” in them. A major portion of my internship was spent understanding, designing and measuring Superconducting Microwave Resonators which will allow the flow of quantum information between two quantum bits. Thus, though all of us were working on seemingly different projects, it was towards a common goal of building quantum bits and manipulating them, i.e towards a Quantum Computer.

This internship gave me the opportunity to explore experimental physics, in state-of-the art laboratories with amazing group-mates ready to help! When some of my simulations were running and I had nothing much to do, I would go around the lab and “pester” some of the PhD students with my curiosity about their experiments and they were always so kind to help me understand their work!

I shared my office with two other PhD students and the entire group had their offices in three adjacent rooms. The atmosphere was jovial and the whole group went for lunch together in the institute cafeteria. Every Thursday we had a group meeting where each one of us would present a slide describing the work they did during the week and would receive inputs & suggestions from others. We had many group outings which included an an evening at an amusement park followed by traditional Viennese cuisine! When some of us had a good result from their experiments(or even if they didn’t :p), they got ice-cream or cake for the entire group! I also enjoyed evenings with them playing football, basketball, and having BBQ in the institute. I often stayed back in the evenings for a visit to the supermarket followed by dinner with my professor and some group-mates, taking the last bus back to Vienna.  

The institute organised many talks by esteemed researchers from different universities, and there also was a 3-day symposium on experimental Solid-State Physics which included speakers from MIT, Stanford and other leading institutions. Every Friday, professors from different groups in the institute gave a small work-overview lecture for all the interns giving us the opportunity to understand the interesting research they did.

(Trying out something!)

(Lab Building West – My office and Lab)


Places to See

Vienna is a splendour of Art, Culture and Cafés! The imperial history is alive through the Baroque architecture and you can never have enough of the delicious cakes and the traditional Mélange coffee in Viennese Cafés. The city is a paradise for music lovers, with Mozart and Beethoven everywhere around! A concert by the Vienna Philharmonic is a joy to watch and one just cannot miss the chance to witness a show in the Vienna State Opera!

Centrally located in the European continent, Vienna is considered as a gateway to the east & west of Europe, with good connections to Budapest, Rome, Munich, and Zürich to name a few. The weekends gave me a good opportunity to go around different places and discover the cultural and culinary diversity in Europe. I had bought a rail-pass and travelled by train for most of my journeys. My explorations included the big cities of Paris, Brussels and Munich, The ancient marvel of Rome, the Alps of Switzerland, the impossible city of Venice and the place of Michelangelo & Leonardo Da Vinci – Florence! However, above all was the opportunity to experience the football atmosphere in Europe in a match at Camp Nou, in Barcelona! The scholarship company – OeAD also organised small day trips to different parts of Austria where I had a chance to interact with the other interns.

The outing with the other interns

The football match

The End

The Farewell Dinner

My professor made my last week special by organising a farewell dinner for me! As a small token of gratitude for the amazing time I had, I bought a traditional Austrian chocolate cake – “Sachertorte” for the group. I thank God for truly fulfilling summer experience and I now look forward for a new beginning at our very own insti! Ciao!


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