Meet the People: Melanie Nentwich

I want to introduce you to the new co-chair of the Young Crystallographers. She was elected during the annual DGK meeting in Stuttgart. This was also the place where I first met her and was able to talk to her and interviewed her about the many things she had done so far and will be doing in the near future.

Melanie started her studies of Mathematics in 2005 at the University of Leipzig. Due to the reorientation from school to university and high student enrolments, she changed to the city of  Freiberg only one year later. There, she changed her  study subject to Applied Mathematics at the Technische Universität Bergakademie Freiberg (University of Technology Mining Academy) where she focused on cryptography. Beside her studies, Melanie worked as tutor for Higher Mathematics for Natural Scientists. Professors Dr. S. Bernstein and Dr. D. C. Meyer offered her the possibility to write an interdisiplinary diploma thesis on „Strukturbestimmung von ausgewählten Selten–Erd–Verbindungen unter Nutzung der DAFS–Methode“ („Structure Determination of Selected Rare Earth Compounds using the DAFS Method“) [Diffraction Anomalous Fine Scattering –Ed.] for which she received the Bernhard-von-Cotta Award for the best diploma or master thesis in 2012 at the Bergakademie. After her diploma, she started her PhD in the working group of Prof. Meyer and continued research in Freiberg.

Can you tell us a little bit about the research topic of your PhD thesis and your method of choice for your investigations?
My thesis aims to determine the structure of the rare-earth compound Ho2PdSi3, which has hexagonal symmetry and a 2x2x8 superstructure. We want to know more about this superstructure. First, we wanted to verify the superstructure ordering with the Diffraction Anomalous Fine Scattering (DAFS) method. This method combines the advantages of spectroscopy and diffraction and allows to evaluate influences from elements and even Wyckoff positions. We could confirm one of the tested structures using synchrotron experiments complemented with simulations. Second, we want to find the origin of the superstructure. By analysing the literature of R2TSi3 compounds, we could already identify some driving forces.

What is your fascination with resonant scattering?
Using resonant scattering means to analyse the intensity signal in the vicinity of an absorption edge. Depending on the energy, the X-rays interact with the electrons within the sample and fine structure oscillations arise. Those „wiggles“ seem very chaotic on first sight but they give information about oxidation states, local environments, distances and many more. This ordering within chaos is very intriguing.

What motivated you to become the new co-chair of the Young Crystallographers?
When I started my diploma thesis, crystallography was completely new to me and the principles were hard to learn. Luckily, my colleagues are at least half-crystallographers and helped me a lot. Nevertheless, I wished the Young Crystallographers existed when I started and had offered me the chance to get into contact with more experts to answer my questions and also with other beginners to exchange experiences. Additionally, being the co-chair of the Young Crystallographers is a great chance for me to train my leadership and presenting skills. I am rather shy and presenting myself and my work to other researchers is very challenging for me. Thus, I want to gain more routine in presenting and the rather informal meetings of the Young Crystallographers offer a great opportunity.

Is there something special you want to achieve within the Young Crystallographers?
I want to fascinate young scientists for crystallography and to intensify their network with each other. I think the former and current co-chairs [Julia Dshemuchadse and Carola Müller –Ed.], did a great work to achieve these goals by establishing the meetings and lightning talks as well as forming a network of „young“ scientists in all branches of crystallography. Thank you very much! I hope that I can contribute to a successful development.

What are you most excited about in your new function?
I hope to meet outstanding crystallographers, possibly even Nobel Prize winners. And, because I am a „working-class child“, this is the first time that I can tell my relatives about my work and they can imagine what I am doing.