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New generation of researchers making their mark

Young researchers in the FOXCET project: Back row, from left: Tarjei, Ida, Min og Rokas. Front row: Carlos og Laura. (Photo: NTNU)

It is not unusual for doctoral and post-doctoral research fellows to go abroad as part of their researcher training. But in this case, says Professor Tor Grande of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), these six are all connecting with top-notch research groups in their fields.

In the nationally coordinated FOXCET project, researchers from SINTEF, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and the University of Oslo (UiO) are studying proton-conducting materials (see the fact box below). The fundamental knowledge they are building will be valuable for energy-sector applications ranging from fuel cells to power production without CO2 emissions.

“These doctoral research fellows and post-doctoral researchers are going abroad to learn from the best, and that contribute to make this project better,” says Rune Bredesen, Vice President of SINTEF Materials and Chemistry and the FOXCET project manager.

Japan, the US and Germany
In a group interview, the young researchers were asked where and why they are venturing abroad for a research stay, and how they envision their future career paths in research.

Carlos Bernuy-Lopez, post-doctoral research fellow from Spain, working at NTNU
He has previously carried out research on oxygen ion-conducting fuel cells, and is now studying proton conductors.

“I will be heading to Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan, where I will do experiments I’m not able to carry out here. One of my tasks will be to prepare electrodes for fuel cells. I will have to characterise them to see how well they work. The Japanese research group are experts at such measurements, and I will learn techniques to bring expertise back to NTNU. Travelling to Japan is really exciting in itself.”

“I’m certain I will continue in research; I’ve already been doing it for ten years. I want to pursue an academic career and become a professor. But if I were to get a good offer to do research in industry, I would consider it.”

Min Chen, post-doctoral research fellow from China working at UiO
He has previously conducted research on fuel cells in Canada.

“I’ve just spent 12 days at Kyushu University in Japan, where I carried out special measurements called low-energy ion scattering to study material surfaces. That Japanese university has one of very few such instruments in the world. We tried to characterise the surface of materials here in Oslo, but weren’t particularly successful. I plan to travel back there with more samples in April.”

“I want to continue with research for at least ten more years. As a researcher you learn something new every day, and if you get a scientific paper published, you feel successful.”

Tarjei Bondevik, doctoral research fellow from Norway, studying at UiO
He previously worked at a consulting firm.

“I will be travelling to Berlin a couple of times to do experiments with electron holography. The expertise is in Berlin and I’m going there to learn the technique. As doctoral research fellows, we can stay abroad several times, so there will be more stays abroad for me later on.”

“I’ve only been working towards my doctoral degree for two months and I don’t know yet how many years I’ll remain in academia. There’s a 50-50 chance I will still be here six years from now.”

Laura Rioja-Monllor, doctoral research fellow from Spain, studying at NTNU
Her background is in materials science; she carries out research on green chemistry and the environment.

“I’ll soon be off for a four-month stay at the Colorado School of Mines in the US. I’m going to characterise materials using a special technique in order to gain a deep understanding of the materials, and I’ll learn from a professor who is an expert in this type of measurement.”

“I’ve been here a year and a half now, but I still don’t know what I’ll do once I complete my doctoral degree. I will probably go into industry, but I’m not sure yet.”

Ida Hasle, doctoral research fellow from Norway, studying at UiO
Her background is in physics and solar cell materials, and she now conducts research on energy storage.

“Right before Christmas I returned from RWTH Aachen University in Germany. During the three months I was there I analysed material samples using their SIMS instrument and the research group taught me how to interpret the data. It’s interesting to experience another culture and bring the good things back to the FOXCET research group.”

“I like the job I have now. But I don’t want to continue a career of temporary positions in academia. I would rather work in a research lab towards something useful for the world.”

Rokas Sazinas, doctoral research fellow from Lithuania, studying at NTNU
His background is in chemistry, and he now carries out applied research.

“In August I will travel to the National Institute for Materials Science (NIMS) in Japan and stay there for six months. I’ll be doing measurements on materials, while at the same time helping to strengthen communication and cooperation between NTNU and NIMS.”

“I definitely want to continue with an academic career.”

The nationally coordinated project Functional oxides for clean energy technologies: fuel cells, gas separation membranes and electrolysers (FOXCET) under the NANO2021 programme has three partners: SINTEF, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and the University of Oslo (UiO). Four doctoral research fellows and two post-doctoral research fellows are working on the project alongside researchers at the three institutions.

The project studies proton-conducting materials in fuel cells, electrolysers and gas separation membranes for applications in the energy sector. Electrochemical energy conversion is an important environment-friendly alternative for electricity generation, for production of hydrogen as an energy carrier and for energy storage purposes, for power production with CO2 capture, and for production of biofuel.

The researchers’ supervisors at NTNU are Professors Tor Grande and Mari-Ann Einarsrud, while the supervisors at UiO are Professors Truls Norby and Reidar Haugsrud. At SINTEF, the key personnel are Marie-Laure Fontaine, Henrik Ræder, Jonathan Polfus, Mehdi Pishahang, and Rune Bredesen.



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