Focusing on advanced materials
A graduate school in Adlershof offers top qualification and turns teams into families
Advanced materials are a cutting-edge field. Diodes, solar cells, transistors, and storage elements – they are all based on state-of-the-art electronic materials. The products containing these ‘advanced and novel materials’ – according to Norbert Koch – are often not yet for sale. However, the professor of the Humboldt-Universität’s physics department as well as IRIS Adlershof foresees ‘fascinating prospects for organic and two-dimensional semiconductors in fields like information technology, sensors, and energy.’ Koch, who is the head of the so-called mutual research group ‘Molecular Systems’ at Berlin’s Helmholtz-Zentrum, also highlights the benefits that lie in the extreme miniaturisation and the systematic energy-saving effects that the production and application of these materials make possible.
Aptly named ‘kochlab’, Koch’s diverse international team features weathered scientists, post-docs, young post-grads as well as PhD students. Many of the latter’s career paths not yet have clear direction. Will they go into research after receiving their doctorates, or will they seek out a career in the industry? Whichever path they go down, the PhD programme facilitates picking an appropriate focus.
Combining scientific qualification with non-academic skills, this is where the newly founded graduate school ‘Advanced Materials’ comes in. In addition to HU, the project is funded by the Technical University Berlin, Free University Berlin, and the University of Potsdam. Twenty-two graduates were admitted when it kicked off on 1 April 2020, including Dominique Lungwitz, who has a master’s degree from HU. As part of Koch’s team, the physicist focuses on doping organic semiconductors and more specifically examines the electronic and optical properties of these systems with the aim of improving, for example, the efficiency of organic solar cells and LEDs.
After the graduate school’s kick-off event was cancelled due to the coronavirus measures, everybody met up online. Dominique Lungwitz then attended workshops remotely on topics like project management and scientific writing. The young researcher was also able to analyse her earlier experiments while working from home. After two months of online tuition, she could finally go back to the lab for two days a week. Lungwitz is glad she took the step to go to graduate school. She enjoys learning new things unrelated to her PhD and mingling with other working groups. Moreover, the school supports students with going abroad and visiting conferences. ‘It would have been a shame not to take this chance.’
Christos Gatsios could not agree more. With a diploma from the National Technical University in Athens, Greece, the physicist made a conscious decision to move to Berlin for his PhD. At ‘kochlab’, he uses photoelectron spectroscopy to analyse the charge transport in organic semiconductors. ‘I am so lucky to have been admitted to the graduate school,’ he says. He is looking forward to receiving additional training, including courses on organic physics and on improving his soft skills such as presentations, posters, or academic writing. Working remotely, he too could process previously gathered data at home and then continue his experiments once the lab was reopened. In the spirit of his academic mentor, Gatsios collaborates closely with his colleagues working on the complex, vacuum-powered machines. ‘In the end, all the teams work together and the graduate school is one big family,’ says Norbert Koch.
By Paul Janositz for Potenzial – The WISTA Magazine