Engineering co-op student does research on board of a German spacecraft

As the fall class schedules are quickly filling up with lab assignments and classroom projects, Max King, a fifth-year co-op student in chemical and materials engineering, runs experiments in micro-gravity conditions on board of a German spacecraft. He’s doing his co-op placement in Cologne, Germany, at the German Aerospace Centre, a leading research facility designing and implementing the country’s space program.

“The group I work for does research on materials physics in zero gravity,” said King, who embarked on the project in May.

More specifically, King and his fellow researchers are using electromagnetic levitation to characterise properties of liquid metals and describe their solidification process. The project goal is ‘simple’: make stronger, lighter materials with better electrical properties. This will not only help streamline the construction of satellites and spacecraft, but also be useful to the automotive and energy sectors.

The research King is conducting is part of the job he got through the Faculty of Engineering Cooperative education program designed to provide undergraduate engineering students with hands-on paid engineering work experience with placements in Canada and all over the world. Unlike the standard four-year option, it will take King five years to complete his degree, as he is gaining the required 20 months of full-time work experience. 

“I wanted to do the co-op option, it was a big reason to pick engineering,” said King as he’s starting his final year of the program.

King’s current placement in Germany is his first real-life encounter with aeronautics industry, but definitely not his last: his dream is to land a job with NASA.

“I want to work for NASA, that’s why I am in engineering,” said King. This might soon become a reality as he gets to learn from a NASA researcher he’s sharing his office with.

King’s explorations go beyond studying materials physics in space: since the beginning of his placement, he has been taking German language lessons and has travelled to the UK, Spain, the Netherlands, and all around Germany. 

“I’ve been given an opportunity to attend conferences, academic and engineering,” said King of his experiences as a co-op student in Cologne.

Since the start of his engineering education in 2012, King has had three different jobs: road construction at Fort McMurray, pipeline design with ATCO Gas in Edmonton, and now space research in Germany. The diversity of his placements is allowing King to master multiple technical and soft skills like problem solving, developing confidence to show more initiative, and not being afraid to admit mistakes.

“I realized that one huge part of working anywhere is the social part, getting to know my co-workers. It’s been a huge motivator for me,” said King of the importance of communication skills.  

“You come out of a five-year option with 20 months of real engineering experience on your CV and in your brain,” says King encouraging aspiring engineers to sign up for the Faculty of Engineering co-op program.