Kiel Nano, Surface and Interface Science (KiNSIS)

What do you need as a scientist?

Oct 15, 2020

Holger KerstenHolger Kersten, Professor of Plasma Physics, not only gave a presentation at the 7th International Congress On Energy Fluxes And Radiation Effects (EFRE), 14 to 26 September 2020. During the online conference, students interviewed him and asked why he became a scientist, what qualities are needed in science and why research is so important. The whole video can be found on YouTube, an excerpt here - read more:

  • Do you remember the moment when you decided to do science?

When I was in school, I was interested in natural phenomena and also had a small telescope with which I observed the starry sky - that's where my interest started. I was good at maths, chemistry and physics and also took part in competitions. I started studying astronomy in Jena, but then moved to Greifswald for personal reasons. Because you couldn't study astronomy there, I decided to do physics.

  • What always admired or astonished you in science?

You observe an effect in nature, for example a rainbow, and you want to know what is the reason for it? Then you start to make mathematical models to describe what you see. Once you understand it, you can not only explain it, but even predict it next time. That we can use these mathematical or physical laws for technical applications, for instance to build optical instruments or to construct aeroplanes and do something for humankind - that is the most exciting for me about science.  

  • Why is it worth to do science in your opinion?

Since the beginning of men it is the intention to understand the world surrounding us. With science we can find out something about the nature, our interaction with it, what is going on in society. Science also helps us to improve, it can help to make our lives easier and to make the world a better place, for example starting with the invention of the wheel or protection against some natural disasters. Science is necessary in the present, the past and it will also be in the future.

  • What are the most needed and useful qualities to do science?

The most important property is curiosity. You observe something that you do not understand and want to know how it works. You have to ask questions, learn scientific laws. You also need persistence and endurance so you do not give up if the experiment does not work the first time. And nowadays you have to communicate. You have to exchange ideas with other scientists or students. You are not alone in the lab making great inventions, you have to cooperate.  

  • What is science: Mission and lifestyle or occupation and job?

If you are only looking for a "job" to make money, you should better go to industry. You should have a kind of "vocation", a mission. In science you get other “money” in your mind by recognizing some effects in nature, for example. Scientists can - hopefully, with a little luck - combine their profession with their personal interests. Then you can do experiments, write papers, go to conferences, meet other people, teach and discuss with students.

  • How does remote work effect science conferences?

Because of COVID-19 it is a completely new situation for the whole world, but we all learned a lot. Last semester, I had to give a lecture on optics - online, and we recorded the experiments in advance on video. It actually worked better than I had thought and the students' results in the exams were not bad. We now have a combination of video teaching and Master's and Ph.D. students who can do experiments directly in the lab. Administrative meetings are more efficient via video, but for conferences it should be the exception. Scientific discussions lack the personal exchange of new ideas and cooperation. That's what I also hear from my students - in the long run, we need personal contact with each other.

  • What would you recommend to young scientists?

I always tell my students to be curious and not to give up so easily when problems arise. Follow your "mission", your idea. And you should go through the world with an open mind and open eyes. With a critical view - what is happening around me, in my work group, at university, in nature and in society - but without biasing.

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  • all day: International Conference NIBS 2021: 4th Nanotechnology and Innovation in the Baltic Sea Region
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