16. Mar. 2023
She headed the R&D department of one of the most famous ceramic companies in Iran, had many opportunities and seemingly had it all planned out for a happy and successful life. Yet she decided to take a "step back" in the working world. She applied for a Ph.D., and furthermore, she applied to study abroad. She has been working at CEITEC in Brno for over four years. She also went to Canada for a ten-month internship.
What did you do before coming to the Czech Republic?
After completing my master's degree in materials engineering, I decided to work in the industry. I was head of the R&D department of one of Iran’s most famous ceramic companies. I had a great job as a young engineer there.
So why did you decide to leave it all?
Higher education in Iran is very popular and it was always my plan to find my dream job in academia. I had the chance to join high-ranked universities in Iran twice. There is no meaning in life without challenges, it would be boring for me. I was enjoying solving problems but I was feeling my job was becoming a routine job. So, I needed a change in my professional life to plan a higher goal. Doing a Ph.D. abroad is absolutely one of the best decisions I have made in my life.
Did you know what path to take?
I have been investigating titanium dioxide (TiO2) nanomaterials since 2013. TiO2 has always been a subject of interest to me, so I knew what I wanted to study further. I sent my CV to my current supervisor Dr. Jan Macák, one of the great scientists in this field. He gave me this opportunity to work on TiO2 nanotubes to create new knowledge and slowly become an expert in my field.
What did you feel about CEITEC BUT when you came here?
I was the first Iranian at CEITEC BUT. It would have been easier for me then if I wasn’t the only one at the beginning in terms of the slow documentation process. CEITEC is one of the best institutes in Europe for doing a Ph.D., not only the opportunity of working with top international scientists from all around the world but also with modern equipment and facilities. The system of training at CEITEC is amazing. Whatever you need as a Ph.D. student, you have. I have more than 8,000 SEM images, which is incredible.
What do you think Czechs are like?
I like Czechs, you all are nice and supportive. I have nice Czech friends here. The only thing that I should mention is the language issue. In the beginning, the lack of English speakers was a problem. It has changed recently, at least there is someone everywhere who can speak fluently, and it makes life easier.
Let’s go to your studies now. What can TiO₂ nanotubes be used for and how is this structure beneficial?
I am focusing on the high aspect ratio TiO2 nanotubes (TNTs) and their membrane using electrochemistry during my Ph.D. TNTs are one-dimensional materials because one dimension (their length) of the tubes is out of the nanoscale. Imagine billions of tubes like straws forming well-organized tube layers. A very symmetrical structure with unique hollow geometry that provides a large surface area and inner capacity. These tubes are the most promising materials in a wide range of applications.
Why did you choose the University of British Columbia for your internship?
Based on my previous papers, Prof. Mohammad H. Zarifi invited me to discuss his idea of using visible light for microwave sensing applications. He was knowledgeable and the meeting was productive. Hearing about his ideas which completely matched with an application of our nanotubes was interesting to me. After sharing his idea with my supervisor, the collaboration was started by sending some samples to Canada. Based on his idea, I received 2 years of junior research projects between 2021 and 2023, and a part of the project was to visit Canada for my internship.
What was your internship about?
During my internship in the OMEGA lab, we investigated the improvement in sensing performance using high aspect ratio TNTs and ALD-coated TNT layers when exposed to visible light and UV light with different resonators by microwave technology for possible sensing and wireless space communication applications.
How would you evaluate your internship in Canada in retrospect?
Working with electrical engineers who were talking in another scientific language was challenging. Fortunately, I was fully supported by Prof. Zarifi and his team, without their support even with working hard, I could do nothing. He trained me like his own students. I am happy I chose there for my internship. Because of the large Iranian community, I felt at home (laughs).
Could you compare the student environment in Canada with the Czech one?
Many European universities are more focused on research with a few pieces of coursework, and the exam might be a discussion with the professor. CEITEC Ph.D. students typically develop an elaborated research proposal prior to commencing an active research stage. Here, student funding is supported by government organizations but in Canadian universities it is mostly directly from the supervisor. The Canadian education system is closer to my country’s system. Living and education costs in Canada are more expensive than in Czechia for students.
Should you be defending your dissertation this year?
I hope in Spring. I had to overcome different challenges while working in the lab, sometimes more than 10 hours per day. After my internship, I thought it was time to defend my thesis, but it was not easy to get my supervisor’s approval. Luckily the efforts paid off and the results came out great. However, I will never be 100% satisfied. Maybe I am a perfectionist.
Do you know where you're going after you finish your Ph.D.?
As I love research, I want to contribute more regarding this and continue working in academia. It wouldn't be easy for me to leave CEITEC. My long-term goal is to get to some point with my own grant project and I would love to set up a new research lab and develop new materials.