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Sabine Wenzel wins first Surface Science Young Investigator award

Ever did something for the first time and got an award for it? Sabine Wenzel did. Her research about the surface of zinc oxide won her the Surface Science Young Investigator award.

When Wenzel got the e-mail that she’d won, she was happily surprised but at the same time didn’t really grasp what it meant exactly. ‘At that moment I didn’t know how many people had competed with me for the award. How big my achievement really was. Yet, I was super proud nonetheless.’

No party right away

However, she couldn’t share her excitement with her family immediately. ‘The e-mail said that it was not official yet that I had won the award, and that I should keep it secret till the official announcement had been made. My colleague already knew though, as he was sitting right next to me when I got the mail.’ Luckily, the announcement followed soon after, so she could celebrate her prize with her family and friends as well.

‘When the surface roughens up, a lot of chemistry can happen'

The publication she submitted was part of her PhD thesis and delved into how a specific surface of zinc oxide changes when exposed to water. Together with her supervisor, dr. Irene Groot, Wenzel found that even with just a little bit of water vapor present, the normally smooth surface roughens up. ‘When the surface roughens up, a lot of chemistry can happen. Which is important when the material is used as a catalyst in, for example, an industrial process.’


'The research I do now leans more to the side of fundamental physics, which for me is more fascinating just scientifically.'

Invited to America for an additional conference

Her paper was part of a special young investigator issue of Surface Science. Together with Wenzel, ten other early career scientists competed for the prize of €3000,- and a commemorative plaque. ‘I actually haven’t received the plaque yet’, Wenzel says, ‘Maybe they will hand it to me during the American Chemical Society conference in March. I have been invited together with the other participants of the special issue. I’m looking forward to meeting them.’

Postdoc in Germany on fundamental aspects of surface behaviour

For now, Wenzel has chosen to pursue her love for surfaces in another direction. She’s doing a postdoc in Jülich, Germany, that focusses more on the fundamental aspects of surface behaviour. ‘The research that I did in Leiden was closer to practical applications, such as industrial processes. What I do now leans more to the physics side, which for me is more fascinating just scientifically.’

The Surface Science Young Investigator award was presented for the first time this year by the journal Surface Science. The aim of the award is to provide a podium for early-career scientists and their contributions to the research field of surface chemistry. The award consists of €3000 and a plaque. Read more about Sabine's research and the award she won here.

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