Our institute is home to over 500 staff and students. On this page, we highlight some of these people, showing off not only their scientific research, but also their life here in Stuttgart.

June 14, 2022

Lena Majer: A German PhD student working on Thermal Laser Epitaxy

Lena is a local to Stuttgart, having been both born and raised here. For both her Bachelor and Master degrees, she focused on electron spin resonance (ESR). During that same time, she took interest in the field of epitaxy thanks to a university seminar course. As a result, she began her doctoral research here at our institute where she works on specifically Thermal Laser Epitaxy (TLE); a new and upcoming method for the creation of thin films. At the beginning of her PhD, Lena focused on the production of thin metallic films, and will now continue with the production of oxide films.
In her spare time,  Lena is active with a student beekeeping association at the University of Stuttgart. Together with other students, Lena cares for bees and in turns harvests their honey! Additionally, Lena is involved with the Sindelfingen Riding Club. Her passion for horseback riding takes her weekly to Weil der Stadt, which she describes as a beautiful town where you can not only ride, but also hike and enjoy nature.

Rotraut Merkle: a German scientist working on ceramic fuel cells.

Rotraut grew up just North of Stuttgart in Ludwigsburg. She completed her PhD in physical chemistry at the University of Stuttgart, and has now worked at our institute since 1998. She works in Joachim Maier’s department, focusing on ceramic fuel cells which are constructed from proton-conducting oxides. Rotraut typically supervises between 2 to 4 PhD students. This is one of the highlights of her job, as she supports the growth of these young scientists over several years. Rotraut commented that all of the department's PhD students share a strong enthusiasm towards science, and yet are all unique in their approaches and characters.

Rotraut appreciates that our institute has a broad mixture of physicists and chemists, as well as theorists and experimentalists. This diversity allows easy access to specialised knowledge from other fields. Rotraut commutes to work with her pedelec (ebike), and so is putting electrochemistry to work even before she starts her day of electrochemical research! Outside of work, Rotraut loves exploring the green surroundings of Stuttgart, and particularly recommends the Botanical Garden of Hohenheim, which serves as both a large beautiful park and an impressive scientific collection of plants and trees.

Chuanlian Xiao: a Chinese PhD student working on the physical chemistry of solids.

When Chuanlian was completing his Bachelor’s thesis in China, his supervisor told him about the various Max Planck Institutes in Germany. His supervisor had studied at one of our institutes in Postdam, and talked highly of the experience. Combined with a visit to China by one of our directors, Professor Maier, Chuanlian was ultimately inspired to complete his Masters here in Stuttgart. Chuanlian thoroughly enjoyed this experience. For one thing, he was pleased to learn and develop his research skills under the guidance of Professor Maier. For another, he describes how his learning does not stop at the boundary of his department, as he regularly relies on the expertise of other groups, such as the thin-film group, interface analysis group, crystal preparation group, TM group, and the nano-structuring lab. As a result, Chuanlian decided to stay with us for his PhD as well!

For Chuanlian, the average day begins with either reading recent literature, or working on the theoretical component of his work. Then, after lunch with his colleagues, the afternoons are typically dedicated to experimentation. About once a week, he’ll finish his workday with a game of football with other colleagues. Chuanlian is a big fan of football, and has been to seen several VfB Stuttgart football games since arriving in Germany. On other days, he attends one of the German language courses offered by our institute, or goes jogging through the nearby forests, where he can visit one of several scenic lakes.

Sabine Lacher: a German chemical technical assistant.

Sabine was born in Stuttgart and would regularly pass by our institute in her car, wondering what it would be like to work in such a big and grand building. And in 1984, she found out! She was hired as a chemical technical assistant, working in the crystal growth group, and has maintained the role ever since. Over the years, she has also become an integral part of the institute’s community. Namely, she’s part of the Work Council, and helps organise the various sports at our institute. Thanks to her, we currently have 3 Pilate, 2 yoga, and 1 spinal-exercise classes, which together welcome over 50 colleagues per week. Additionally, she spent 8 years as the women’s representative in the institute. During this time, she pushed for there to be a Kindergarten here at the institute. And her hard work paid off! We now have an in-house Kindergarten for the children of our scientists and staff!

One of her favourite parts of her job is how multicultural the workplace is. She meets people from all over the world, and as such, has learned a great deal about many cultures from around the world. She’s committed to an environmental lifestyle and therefore avoids flying. But through this institute, she feels as though she has an insight to the world right from her lab room. Outside of the institute, she enjoys biking (to and from work) and seeing the many classical music concerts that Stuttgart has to offer.

Rebecca Pons: a German PhD student working on solid state spectroscopy.

Rebecca is working on the newly discovered nickelate superconductor. She grows thin films by molecular beam epitaxy, and then completes a chemical reduction and analysis to find the material’s oxidation state. Rebecca wasn't always an experimentalist, and comes from a theoretical background with a Masters on ferromagnetism in twisted bilayer graphene.

Rebecca is also one of the institute’s PhD representatives. The PhD representatives aim to foster community amongst the PhD students by organising events such as board game nights, BBQs, and an annual PhD trip. This year’s trip was to Vienna, and the students spent their time visiting other scientific institutes, as well as enjoying some city-seeing and plenty of team-bonding. The representatives also organise career events, such as a recent python workshop. Outside of the institute, Rebecca enjoys music, and has found a fellow PhD student to make music with; he plays piano while she plays violin.

Prosper Ngabonziza: a Rwandan PostDoc working on quantum electronics.

Prosper’s research work at the Max Planck Institute focuses on quantum matter heterostructures and related nanoscale electronic devices. He is also a member of several international scientific communities, such as the Global Young Academy (GYA) and the African Lightsource Foundation. Within his work, Prosper takes advantage of many of the resources here at the institute, such as collaboration with the Stuttgart Center for Electron Microscopy, using the cleanroom facility of our Nano-structuring lab, our computer services and our various supply stores.

Beyond his scientific work, he also makes use of our in-house childcare center. He is glad that his child can benefit from a childcare center that has good infrastructures, pedagogical tools, and bilingual teachers. Sometimes, he also attend various events and recreational activities within the city of Stuttgart. For example, Prosper often takes his children to various playgrounds, museums, and the zoo. Two stand-out events for him are Stuttgart’s Africa festival and the Stuttgart Christmas market.

Soon Jung Jung: a Korean senior scientist working with low-temperature scanning tunnelling microscopy.

After completing her PhD in South Korea—with much time spent on exchange at Stanford—Soon Jung started researching semi-conductors at Dublin Trinity College. Shortly after, in 2013, she continued this research at our institute in Stuttgart. Soon Jung typically starts her day by dropping her youngest of two daughters off at our institute’s on-campus child care centre. From there, she will meet with her PhD student to discuss his progress. This might involve discussing results, solving unexpected problems, or brainstorming what to do next. Before long, its lunch time, which Soon Jung typically enjoys with members of her team. The afternoon involves a mixture of discussion with her PostDoc, and having some time in her office to read the latest relevant literature.

Soon Jung uses her weekend to spend quality time with her children, and makes use of Stuttgart’s many playgrounds and festivals, such as the pumpkin festival and the Christmas markets. She also knows some of the best places to eat in Stuttgart, and will sometimes take her students out for a meal. In particular, she recommends the Korean restaurants Mandu and Soban, which are both near the city centre.

Ali Alavi: a British director and head of the electronic structure theory department.

Ali started his academic career in classical molecular dynamic simulations. As his career progressed, he transitioned to electronic structure theory, realising that it was necessary in order to obtain a deeper understanding of the behaviour of molecules and materials. Ali describes electronic structure theory as inherently very complex, suiting the mindset of the chemist - for whom complexity is an integral aspect of the world.

Ali splits his time between Stuttgart and Cambridge, where his family lives. On an average day in Stuttgart, Ali dedicates as much time as possible to discussing the science with members of his group. He finds these discussions are essential for problem solving and sparking new ideas.  Other parts of his day involve writing references and reports, and occasionally running his own calculations. Outside of work, Ali enjoys going for walks in the surrounding areas of the institute. When his family visits, they will head into the Black Forest as a break from city life. As a personal endeavour, Ali works on his language skills with weekly German lessons.

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