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Ksenija Milicevic Neumann

Senior Research Advisor

RWTH Aachen University

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When you challenge yourself by understanding the world of STEM you will be capable of everything. It gives you a freedom that is priceless.

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WHAT DO YOU DO?

I like to say that I am trying to shape a (physical) world around me, although my friends typically say that I am an alchemist due to constant efforts to make a major technical breakthroughs. I am an engineer with a deepened career in electrochemistry and metallurgy. Currently, I work as a Senior Research Advisor at the RWTH Aachen University with the focus on three major areas: Space Resources, Battery Recycling and Zero-Emission Metallurgy. I supervise the execution of the projects, develop new technical ideas and search for the new cooperation and funding opportunities. Next to it, I contribute to the education through supervision of undergraduate and graduate students and lectures. Basically, I am trying to bring the master ideas to life, especially those ones that improve the life quality. Space Resources area is quite futuristic approach we took based on our terrestrial competences in the field and my previous work experience where we try to develop the technologies for production of oxygen and metals/alloys on celestial bodies. We are still very excited to see how these efforts reflect back on improvements of technologies applied on Earth and bring expected environmental advancements at our Planet. With battery recycling as a part of Circular Economy Initiative we give the scrap the second life, cutting the necessity for critical raw materials and their primary production, like cobalt involved with child labour and lithium as environmentally unfriendly. The last but not the least, trying to cut the greenhouse emissions from metallurgical industries. Metals are after all a commodity that is everywhere around us. It is so exciting being a part of such initiatives and having the people around myself that are never-ending source of inspirations for improvements.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS FIELD?

Growing up in Serbia in 1990s was quite challenging on many levels. As the country continued struggling through NATO bombing and subsequent economically and politically restless times, the main thought was simply safety. So my family motivated me to enroll in medical high school to be a pharmaceutical technician because with a very insecure country development it was not clear if I would be able to pursue further education. And, with this, I would be well paid and safe.

This field was only available in 3 cities in Serbia and it was extremely difficult to matriculate, succeeding based on grades and my enrollment test. The pharmaceutical industry in Serbia collapsed during my final study years, so I did my bachelors and masters in biomaterials on production of artificial bones. In the meantime, wanting an international experience, I got an internship in the field of electrochemistry. This led later to my PhD in that field, the formation of an expertise and career.

HOW DO/DID YOU TACKLE OBSTACLES?

Maybe too many. Being a foreigner and a woman in a man’s world was always shadowed by prejudice and underestimation. But I had my goals on which I was focused, proving my ability and hard work. It is important to be kind and honest, it has always resulted in a mutual respect and helped in solving issues. Show empathy and look at the events from different angles to understand the actions. Then usually the solution for passing the obstacles comes easily.

WHAT DO YOU LOOK AT & THINK, "I WISH YOUNGER ME WOULD HAVE KNOWN THIS WAS POSSIBLE?"

The progress is not blocked by others but mainly by ourselves.

WHY DO YOU LOVE WORKING IN STEM?

Each day is a day at which you can get an idea, invent or develop something that can change the world.

BEST ADVICE FOR NEXT GENERATION?

When you challenge yourself by understanding the world of STEM you will be capable for everything. It gives you a freedom that is priceless.

INSPIRATION

I find the women that have made a success in difficult and challenging times inspirational. One of them is Mileva Maric, Serbian physicist and mathematician, the second women to finish a full program of study at the Department of Mathematics and Physics at Zürich Polytechnic. Co-author of Einstein’s work? – Most probably.