"The best choice"
The Erasmus student María Antonia González-Huici came to Germany to graduate. She initially concentrated on the expanses of the universe but then redirected her focus to objects in the earth and came to Fraunhofer FHR.
Frau González-Huici, what did you study?
González-Huici: I studied theoretical physics from 1997 to 2002 in Madrid. The central focus lay on things such as astrophysics, particle and quantum physics. A lot of theory basically.
When did you get interested in radar?
González-Huici: I originally intended to graduate in cosmology, but on completion of my studies in Madrid and after having spent some time at the International Graduate School for Physics and Astronomy in Bonn I decided that something a bit more application-oriented would be more along my line. I then changed to geophysics. I attended my first lectures at the university in Bonn and was able to familiarize myself with the subject matter very quickly. I liked it from the word go. And GPR (Ground Penetrating Radar) is a widespread and popular technology in this scientific area: it provides a lot of leeway and is non-invasive.
What drew your attention to FHR?
González-Huici: Oh, that was a bit of a coincidence. I came as an Erasmus student to graduate at the University of Bonn. In the first years, I worked with the university's particle accelerator as a student assistant. But when the focus of my studies changed I started to work as a volunteer in the research group for geophysics. Parallel to this I started to work on my doctoral theses in geophysics, but with a slightly different orientation. One day my professor asked me if I would be interested in working for FHR – there was a vacancy there that needed to be filled. I familiarized myself a bit with the institute and then applied. At that time, there was a project that was being funded by the Bundeswehr the theme of which was quite suitable for a doctoral thesis. That appealed to me.
What was the main focus of your doctorate?
González-Huici: I investigated possible ways in which radar can be used to detect and identify buried landmines. Radar is a promising, complimentary technology that is also suitable for humanitarian measures such as the clearing of minefields. The Bundeswehr was quite interested in this. But at that time, the Bundeswehr also had to deal with the IED problem. IEDs are improvised explosive devices that are usually buried in streets. This poses a problem for the Bundeswehr, particularly when engaging in missions abroad. Here, it was possible to use GPR to protect the armed forces.
Why did you decide to come to Germany?
González-Huici: I was very keen to gather experience abroad. And Spain, unfortunately, does not invest a lot in research. I had several possibilities within the framework of the Erasmus program but Germany and, in particular, the University of Bonn, were the best choice for me personally. Germany has a good reputation in the area of physics and mathematics and I had already spent some time here while on holiday. I liked it here.
How did you feel during this time?
González-Huici: Well, at the beginning it was quite difficult. The Erasmus grant is quite small so I had to find a way of earming more money. I was very grateful for the assistant jobs and, of course, my appointment at FHR as of 2005. I was not able to speak German, but in the scientific community most of the people communicate in English. When you have to battle through such a phase you learn how to find your own way and, in hindsight, this is always a good thing. You learn how to work independently and how to find information. This makes you a better scientist.
You received your doctorate at the beginning of 2013. How do you see your future?
González-Huici: I cannot say for sure what I will be doing in ten years, but, in principle, I plan to stay at FHR and pursue a career. I have had a permanent position since 2012 and also have my own industrial project and a colleague to help me. I also support other ongoing projects and am currently training in a doctoral student. I am very happy and like my work. My doctoral thesis involved a lot of simulation work, but now I experiment with other research topics and methods and can release the scientist in me.