Many colleagues work on site, others continue to work from home. These different working environments will continue to accompany us in the coming weeks. Therefore, we will introduce people telling us what it means to be back in the lab as well as people who continue working from home.
Today we ask Rowshanak Irani, postdoctoral researcher at the HZB Solar Fuels Institute based in Wannsee.
How did you start the lockdown period?
I was lucky, as I had my PhD viva a few weeks before the lockdown. At HZB when you do your PhD in three years you get a contract extension for six months; due to the situation and the ongoing projects, my contract has been prolonged to September. I am very excited because I really enjoy my work.
Lockdown meant working from home to me, what I also sometimes did during the last months of my PhD, while writing my dissertation. The only difference is that the libraries were not open during quarantine… So, I had to get used to concentrate and write from home.
Which new experiences do you take with you in the life after lockdown?
I will definitely do regularly yoga, I started with some nice online programs, which makes me feel healthier! In the future, I will do it in addition to the HZB yoga class in Wannsee (NDR. It does not take place at the moment).
I also did much more cooking and tried new recipes. Learning Spanish was also on my bucket list. I found some extra hours per day to spend on my favorite hobbies instead of commuting to work for two hours every day.
How was your first day back in the office and lab?
I felt that I needed to go back to my working place very much, as the last week home office was very inefficient. Coming back, I realised how much I missed being in Wannsee. Seeing people, catching up and also doing experiments again – it was awesome! I did a big bunch of experiments that day; I needed results for a paper. I was exhausted afterwards, but also happy having been able to do my experiments. I really love my job; I mean working in the labs – I am definitely not a PC person!
I am a bit nosy; may I ask you what you were working on?
My studies are on the photoanode in a solar water splitting cell. I basically try to make it absorb more visible light while working efficiently in oxidizing water. At the same time, the water is reduced by the counter electrode and hydrogen is produced. Chemical bonds of hydrogen can store the sunlight energy in a large scale as compared with other storage technologies. Hydrogen can also be used directly in hydrogen vehicles as fuel or in food industry as fertilizer (when combined with nitrogen). Long story short, on the first day I did some electrochemical tests on our desired photoanode. The measurements, however, did not show good results probably due to sample aging in the time when our lab was closed during the minimal operation at HZB. But since in science bad results are also results, now I know that these thin films are not very stable when left in normal lab conditions.
How do you work in your team in this “post-quarantine period”?
We are around 40 people in the Solar Fuels Institute and we all work some days from home and some days in the labs – luckily there are many labs and equipment that there is enough space to work without many limitations. During lockdown we did online coffee-breaks twice a week, which was definitely a positive experience for me. I am not a coffee drinker, so when I was a PhD student I did not go. Now the motivation to see my friends and talk to them brings me to dial in each time. We continue with these shared breaks to keep everybody in the loop.
What are your next steps and projects?
I used the lockdown period to write a manuscript, which I am now preparing for submission with my supervisor. There is also a review paper that we just started in the quarantine time, and now I am collecting and sorting papers. There have been some ongoing collaborations that I am also working on at the moment. Some samples we are dealing with come from Hong Kong, exciting times… I cannot say that I am bored!
Florentine Krawatzek was interviewing Rowshanak Irani.