Interview with Patrina Paraskevopoulou, visiting research fellow at TUHH

Patrina Paraskevopoulou at the lab at TUHH. Picture: M.Remmert-Rieper/TUTECH

Professor Patrina Paraskevopoulou, Assistant Professor of Inorganic Chemistry at the Department of Chemistry of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens (NKUA) spent a DAAD scholarship of three months at the Institute of Thermal Separation Processes at TUHH in Hamburg. The interview was conducted on 23 January 2018, ten days before she ended her research stay at the Institute of Thermal Separation Processes at TUHH in Hamburg.

Patrina, you are now almost at the end of your research stay at the Institute of Thermal Separation Processes at TUHH in Hamburg. Your research stay started on 1 November 2017 and has been funded by DAAD. In the very beginning we had a short report on your goals on our website. Today I would like to talk to you about the three last months. I’d like to learn what you achieved and how you perceived your stay.

Patrina Paraskevopoulou: For me it was a very productive time. I learned a lot. In addition, I had the opportunity to meet several of our NanoHybrids partners away from the formal review meetings. I appreciate the opportunity given to me for a site visit at Dräger in Lübeck, only 60 km north from Hamburg; for this week, we have been planning another visit to BASF Polyurethanes in Lemförde. Nick Leventis visited TUHH last month, Barbara Milow is visiting today, Natalja Menshutina will visit next week. You know, Irina Smirnova has won a new cluster project on the contribution of aerogels to the increase of energy efficiency in industry funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy and they have their kick-off meeting today here at TUHH.

My DAAD scholarship in the last three months has funded a new project which is complementary to our NanoHybrids project. And based on our good data we are already planning for the continuation of our collaboration. Currently, I am working on a Greek proposal for funding young researchers. Irina Smirnova and Pavel Gurikov will be partners of this project. Aerogels and related materials offer such a wide field of unexplored research opportunities and I am so happy that we will be able to intensify and continue fruitful cooperation beyond a limited project. You know that you can rely on them, you know that you can collaborate with them and you know that the combination of their expertise and your expertise is a good foundation for fascinating research which may well lead to future industrial applications for the benefit of the society.

Let’s just start with your “normal” life – You are an Assistant Professor of Inorganic Chemistry at the Department of Chemistry of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. What kind of research are you doing there?

I am specializing in inorganic synthesis and catalysis. I am researching new catalytic systems for several organic reactions. For those more interested in chemistry: My area of expertise is on metal-metal bonded transition metal clusters and their applications in catalytic reactions, especially oxidation and polymerization reactions. I am also working with several other catalytic systems, ultimately aiming at materials with novel combination of properties.. Currently I am supervising two post docs, one PhD student and one master student.

For which kind of applications are your research results used?

My research focuses on understanding the very basic properties of the catalytic systems under investigation, and use of that understanding in order to tune their activity towards optimal catalytic efficiency. But I definitely don’t like the traditional differentiation between basic and applied research. Both belong together, go together in parallel and complement one another. For instance, I like catalysis because it is more applied and I decided to work with metal-metal bonded clusters because of their unique properties that give them a strong potential for application in catalysis.

For me, chemistry is exciting. But I know that this passion is not shared by too many people. Do you remember since when you have been interested in chemistry?

I do not recall exactly. I was still a kid, perhaps first grade of high school. I was fascinated by the universe, interested in observing changes in nature, e.g., colors etc. Then I wanted to be a chemist, nothing else! You just know when you know what you want!

Let’s switch to your research stay here at the Institute of Thermal Separation? What were your expectations and goals?

My goal for my DAAD project at TUHH has been to synthesize new organic/inorganic aerogels based on alginates as biopolymers and tungsten compounds. The alginates work as the host. They are natural products, inexpensive and well-studied. Tungsten precursors are monometallic or bimetallic with metal-metal bonds. Those tungsten-doped aerogels will be tested as catalysts for hydrogenation, oxidation and other reactions. In Greece I have already been working on metal-doped aerogels, but here at TUHH I have the opportunity to work on biopolymers. My DAAD project has enabled us to connect the expertise of the Institute of Thermal Separation in the production and processing of biopolymeric aerogels with my experience in inorganic chemistry.

What did you achieve in these three months? How content are you with your results?

Three months is such a short time. I can’t believe that I will have to go back so soon. But, yes, I am extremely satisfied with my results and I will definitely continue working on this project.

What were the best experiences you made here?

Everything was great. I enjoyed working in such a big group of talented people and I learned a lot.

How did you enjoy Hamburg? What did you do here beyond research?

I have not lived in Germany before. I only had made short visits to Hamburg and Cologne. 2014 was my first visit to Hamburg; I attended the International Seminar on Aerogels. Then I visited Hamburg and Cologne for the NanoHybrids project meetings. Now I had a bit more time.

I love Hamburg, I think it is one of the most beautiful cities with all the lakes and channels and with the harbour – of course! My mother visited me for Christmas and we walked around a lot. She was so excited as Germany in Christmas time is  beautiful. We liked the lights, the Christmas market and the Christmas parade.

I visited Elbphilharmonie, Elbe tunnel, St. Michael’s and St. Catherine’s Churches. I also visited the miniature museum, I liked it so much. Very realistic! I couldn’t have imagined that whole landscapes could be reproduced in such detail in miniature.

And what do you think about the weather in Hamburg?

We were lucky this winter. It could be worse. It has not been too bad.

Would you recommend research exchanges to other researchers?

Yes, I definitely would. You work so closely with a group with different expertise from yours; you learn and benefit a lot.

Do you have tips how to ensure a successful exchange?

I’d say openness, curiosity and communication are the most important elements to a successful exchange.

Patrina, thank you very much for this interview. It was a pleasure to talk to you and I learnt a lot about the potential of aerogels. I wish every success for your research. I am definitely looking forward to our next NanoHybrids project meeting at your place in Athens.

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