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Stefanie Kern

PhD candidate, Institute of Physical Chemistry, Justus-Liebig University Gießen

Technology and science can be used in very different careers, and there is place for every open mind. 

What do you do?

I am an interdisciplinary chemist with focus on mass spectrometry and analytical chemistry. My PhD project was focused on the biochemical analysis of alterations in diseased bone. The main goal was to investigate novel biomarkers in diseased bone using mass spectrometric approaches. 

 

My current research is focused on the field of microplastic analysis. The increasing use of polymers and microplastics in everyday life, such as in toothpastes or shower gels, leads to an accumulation of microplastics in the environment. Chemical toxicity of those particles can occur due to leaching of harmful substances, which can be accumulated within the particles. Such substances can be metals, pesticides and organic toxins. For the study of these small sized microparticles, I use time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry (ToF-SIMS). This research aims at assessing potential environmental and human health risks of contaminated microplastics.

Why did you choose this field?

Since I was a child, I enjoyed analysing things, doing experiments and observing nature. My twin sister and I always got small experimental kits for Christmas and birthdays. I remember that I was anxious for the first chemistry lectures in school, which in Germany comes in the 7th grade. I pursued the interest in science and added extra-curricular studies in school such as an additional biology and geographic course. Together with my sister I participated in “Jugend forscht” which is a German youth science competition and won a second place in the subject group “chemistry” for analysing copper corrosion. Hence, it was only logical for me to study chemistry in the university. During my studies of chemistry, I was particularly interested in biochemistry and analytical chemistry. 

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

Although going to university was a dream come true, it was initially quite difficult for me and my twin sister, who studied with me. We were the first in our family to study at a university. The lack of knowledge about university experience was rather challenging as was the fitting in on campus. However, it was great to have a twin sister to share the ride. That said, I wish younger me would have known that although sometimes it does take longer than anticipated, it is definitely worth it. 

Why do you love working in STEM?

"Working in STEM is the best thing a curious person can do."

You can do experiments, learn new stuff and techniques and you can try to make the world a better place. The challenge of analysing and conducting experiments is always something I look forward to. Science is everywhere in the world around us and it is great to participate in elucidating the great questions of life. 

Best advice for the next generation

STEM pervades every part of our lives. If you want to learn hands-on and minds-on lessons, then pursue STEM. Trying new things can be challenging, but if you stick to that path, it may open a whole new world of possibilities. Technology and science can be used in very different careers, and there is place for every open mind. 

Fun fact

My sister and I used to read science fiction books, comics, and watched science fiction as a children and until now. One of our favourite shows was Star Trek, the whole franchise. Star Trek showed me what science can do and that it is indeed very cool to be a scientist or engineer.