Young Researchers Symposium 2022


Young Researchers Symposium brings talents to light

Young Researchers Symposium brings talents to light

Getting to the heart of research work in a generally understandable, exciting and entertaining way for a non-specialist audience: Young scientists are given this opportunity every two years at the Young Researchers Symposium. Started as an interdisciplinary competition in Kaiserslautern, this year young researchers from the University of Landau also took part for the first time. This new diversity was also represented by the six winners, who were delighted to receive prizes worth a total of 6,000 euros for their presentations and posters at the YRS 2022 at the end of July.

Participation in the Young Researchers Symposium is an investment in the future. After all, the ability to explain research approaches in a generally understandable way is always in demand in the course of an academic career. For example, when it comes to applying for funding.

At the end of July, over 40 doctoral students took up the communicative challenge at the Fraunhofer Center in Kaiserslautern. Under the motto "short and crisp, instead of boring and dry", they took the audience into their research work at YRS 2022. The variety of topics ranged from intelligent composite materials and autonomous driving to chemical catalysts inspired by nature.

Communicating a complex topic in minutes

The competition has two categories, talks and poster presentations, for which doctoral students can register. The prerequisite is that interested parties submit an abstract of their work, which will be reviewed by a panel of experts. On the day of the competition, the talk participants then have just under 12 minutes to present their topic. The poster presentations are divided into a 3-minute poster pitch and a subsequent poster session. The overall evaluation is based on the quality of the abstract and the expert jury's assessment of the lecture or poster presentation. An additional decision criterion is the audience vote. In other words, the winners must convince three times over, which also promotes equal opportunities.

A special feature of the young talent competition is that the participants can also use communication tools that are rather unusual in traditional scientific lectures and presentations. In 2022, for example, odor samples, laser experiments and mascots were used to vividly convey complex issues.

What does Netflix have to do with material properties?

Nicolas Hayer (1st place lecture) and Sara Kolbenschlag (1st place poster presentation) overcame all three hurdles particularly well. Hayer combines thermodynamics and artificial intelligence in his research work. The doctoral student at the Chair of Thermodynamics at TUK is working on the prediction of material properties in mixtures using machine learning. Test presentations and the resulting feedback helped him to prepare. Only having 12 minutes to speak was a challenge for him at the beginning: "I couldn't do without a lot of explanations," says the engineer. With humor, animations and analogies, such as the comparison with Netflix's film recommendation system, he ultimately succeeded in drawing the audience into his topic. Looking back, he says: "I can definitely recommend taking part in the YRS. You can work more freely and creatively than at many other conferences. At the same time, it offers a unique opportunity to gain insights into many other interesting research topics far removed from your own everyday university life."

In the environment, everything is connected

Kolbenschlag, a doctoral student at the Institute of Environmental Sciences at the University of Landau, is studying ecological relationships. What happens, for example, when people apply a mosquito repellent to freshwater ecosystems? In the Rhine Valley, this is an effective way of counteracting mosquito infestations. "We were able to observe that this primarily changes the time at which other insects, so-called non-target organisms, hatch," says the young researcher. "This in turn has consequences for hunters on land such as birds, spiders and bats, which at times feed mainly on these insects." And it was precisely this connection that she focused on in her poster presentation. The response was great: "People kept coming up to me during the breaks," says Kolbenschlag. "This led to many conversations." All in all, the YRS was a good opportunity for the doctoral student to practise presenting in front of other young scientists.

Using nature as a model for green chemistry

This year also saw the first double success for a research group at the YRS: two doctoral students from the working group of junior professor Sabine Becker in Anorganic Chemistry at TUK secured second place in both the talks and poster presentations. Chemist Meike Landsiedel, who has been doing her doctorate there since 2020, reports: "I've often found that chemistry topics can be daunting. This was one of the reasons why I was excited to present my research work on multinuclear copper complexes as catalysts at the competition. In my poster presentation, I concentrated on the essentials: the added value that I create with my work. I recreate catalysts or enzymes that set certain chemical reactions in motion in nature. By adapting these to industrially relevant applications, it could be possible in future, for example, to replace climate-damaging reaction steps in the chemical industry." She also scored points at the poster pitch with a creative idea: she brought along a stuffed cat called "Mr. CATalyst" to give the topic of catalysis a face.

Tracking down the causes of Alzheimer's

Her colleague Annika Maria Pick, runner-up in the Talks, sums up her YRS experience as follows: "At the Young Researcher Symposium, we had the opportunity to practise presenting our research topics in a comparatively relaxed setting." The young researcher is developing zinc fluorescence sensors that can be activated with light in order to make zinc visible in living cells, particularly in the central nervous system (CNS), and to investigate what effect it has there. In the CNS, zinc is involved in fundamental processes of signal transmission. On the one hand, it is thought to play a role in memory formation. On the other hand, it is associated with the development and pathogenesis of neurodegenerative diseases. "I think it's great that my research can ultimately help us to better understand diseases such as Alzheimer's." And the doctoral student communicated this in such a rousing way at the YRS that she made it onto the winner's podium with her presentation.

Further information on the competition

The YRS took place for the fifth time since 2022. Traditionally, in addition to the organizing team of the TUK and Leistungszentrum, the contributors also include a group of scientists who review the submitted abstracts and a scientific jury that evaluates lectures and poster presentations. Both committees are made up of members of various disciplines, mainly doctoral students and junior professors, from the participating universities and research institutes.


Source: Article from Unispectrum live/ Universitätskommunikation RPTU (original article in German)

The award winners

Best Talk:

1. Platz: Nicolas Hayer, TU Kaiserslautern: Learning from Netflix – Recommender Systems for Predicting Thermodynamic Properties

2. Platz: Annika Maria Pick, TU Kaiserslautern: Photoactivatable Zinc Sensors: One Step Closer Towards Understanding Zinc’s Role in Neurodegeneration

3. Platz: Simon Scherr, Fraunhofer IESE: Analyzing Emojis in Feedback to Improve Apps

Best Poster:

1. Platz: Sara Kolbenschlag, Universität Koblenz-Landau, Campus Landau: Effects of a Mosquito Control Agent on Emerging Insect Communities in Freshwater Ponds

2. Platz: Meike Landsiedel, TU Kaiserslautern: Multinuclear Copper Complexes – From Nature to Industry

3. Platz: Nina Röder, Universität Koblenz-Landau, Campus Landau: Efficient DNA Metabarcoding of Dipterans: How Work-Shy Scientists Identify Insects