Nathaniel is one of 15 undergraduates who were awarded 2018 Streicker International Fellowships. Streicker Fellows design their own projects or internships in conjunction with a hosting organization. He interned at Alumil Aluminum Industries in Thessaloniki, Greece, where he assisted in the design a composite agricultural drone.
When most people imagine Greece (below) they envision flawless beaches, olive groves, and romantic sunsets. Archaeological sites. Precisely as the Greeks intend: Tourism is a cornerstone of the Greek economy, 20% of the country’s GDP in 2017. And Greece delivers for the tourists. But life isn’t quite as rosy for the average Greek. In Thessaloniki, the city in which I stayed, unemployment among those 18-35 exceeds 40%.
Greeks, culturally, are not as intense as their Northern European counterparts (causing no shortage of strife). Going out for coffee usually takes several hours and is common at all times of day. Afternoons are punctuated by a rest period (less so in large companies). But during the week the coffee shops seemed filled with a stale unease. Working age people trying to ignore the country’s economic hopelessness. Nevertheless, the Greeks I knew lived as best they could—there was always a great meal, the beauty of the beaches, or the people around them to celebrate. Life could still be fun.
I didn’t spend all of my time at the beach. For eight weeks I interned at Carbon Fibre Technologies (Kilkis). Carbon Fibre Technologies (CFT) is a newly-formed subsidiary of Alumil, (a global Greek aluminium manufacturer) specializing in composite manufacture and design. CFT is currently working in conjunction with the engineering laboratories of Aristotle University (Thessaloniki) to manufacture a UAV for the Greek civil services. Specifically, the UAV is a 7-meter span, 95% carbon fiber blended body built on a three-year contract with the Greek government.
Mockup, body, after coat of primer
Parts we had laid up entering the autoclave
CFT also manufactures composite parts for Alumil's windows and doors units. For the first few weeks, I read composites textbooks, listing questions for discussion with the lead engineer and writing manuals for some of the more complex procedures. The Aristotle University Formula Racing Team arrived during the third and fourth weeks in need of parts, which I helped manufacture. In the final weeks, I worked in CAD, picking up some of the nuances of composite design and helped with the production of a scale model of the drone. Valuable experience, particularly as composites become ever cheaper and more popular. And my co-workers’ light-hearted attitude made the time at work fun.
(Thoughts after visiting Meteora)
Sometimes, I used to imagine that I would enjoy the life of a monk. Spiritual, physical, and economic security—it’s prison with the righteous instead of the sinners. Look at how much Mendel managed achieve. Visiting Greek monasteries quickly relieved me of such visions of sheltered productivity. Greek monks, as a rule, only inhabit areas in proximity to sheer cliffs. Generally minimal gardening opportunities. The first monastery I visited was located on ideal ground: on the face of one of the 490 m walls of the Vikos Gorge (deepest in the world, though the designation is contended by “gorge lobbyists”). Better yet was Meteora (below). Monks occupied caves in the pinnacles (as tall as 550 m) in solitude as early as the 11th century.
Monasteries were built in the 14th century—six remain today. The spires were secure from turmoil among those below, as the only means of ascent were by winch in large nets (ropes were only replaced when “the Lord let them break”) or via assemblages of ladders lashed together, and, to be fair, the views from such sites are usually spectacular. However, the risk-benefit analysis still seems flawed. Perhaps the constant vertigo elicited a psychochemical response that eased spirituality. Maybe it was a distraction from the boundaries of monastic life. Possibly the monks liked the idea that they could always throw themselves into the abyss. I was too intimidated by the thought of trying to make it to the bathroom alive on an icy winter night to consider staying for long. Being a monk, it seems, required a high degree of physical coordination. I would have been better off putting my faith in the rope back down.
Below are a few more highlights of the trip. I’d like to thank Mr. Streicker for the funding, IIP for doing the work to make everything come together, the staff of Alumil for being so accommodating, and my family and friends in Greece for ensuring that I didn’t end up lost everywhere I went. What a summer!
Meal with some family friends.
Trip after internship finished (Eurail)
My cousins and I, first day, top of the White tower.