For students Malcom Lau and Indra Putra Kamsan, this year's June school holidays have included many firsts.
Early last month, the 18-year- olds travelled to Germany and worked in laboratories at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), a renowned German science and engineering school.
Under the supervision of the university's PhD students, the teens carried out experiments in subjects close to their hearts.
Mr Lau, who is a second-year Temasek Polytechnic chemical engineering student, helped to search for the best algae strains to convert into biofuel, which can be an environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuels. Mr Indra Putra, who is in his second year at Millennia Institute and studying chemistry, analysed how aluminium can be used as a catalyst to create plastics with different properties.
The 10-day trip, which cost almost $10,000 in total, was paid for by TUM and its Singapore-based branch TUM Asia.
Mr Lau and Mr Indra Putra were the third batch of students to take part in an initiative by TUM Asia and The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund, the paper's charity project to provide financial assistance to needy students. The programme allows the fund's beneficiaries to visit TUM's three campuses in Germany, which include one in Munich and two in Garching and Freising, both north of Munich.
It was launched in 2012 to mark the 10th anniversary of TUM Asia.
Both students said working with the researchers at TUM was an eye-opener.
Mr Lau, whose mother is a part-time Yakult promoter, said he hopes to become a chemical engineer and work in Jurong Island.
He said: "When I looked in the TUM researchers' refrigerator, they had so many algae species from different parts of the world.
"The passion they have for their work is very deep and that was very inspiring."
Mr Indra Putra, whose father is unemployed and mother works in sales, hopes to continue his chemistry studies here, and possibly in TUM Asia. "This trip helped me to get a feel of what tertiary education in chemistry might be like, and what I might be doing in the future."
The two students stayed with German host families during the trip and visited tourist spots such as the Deustches Museum, one of the world's oldest and largest science and technology museums.