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Research and Life

Face-to-Face with Nobel Prize Winners Next-generation scientists from the University of Stuttgart meet the international research elite

For Theresia Richter and Tobias Steinle it was a great honor: they were among more than 650 selectees from 88 countries who attended the Nobel Prize Winners' Meeting last summer in Lindau. Richter, a chemistry student, and Steinle, a physicist, had the chance to test the mettle of 65 Nobel Prize winners in many discussions and events. “It was an unbelievably pleasant and enriching happening,“ is Theresia Richter's high praise. She is currently getting her Doctor's Degree at the University of Stuttgart's Institute for Anorganic

© Helmine Braitmaier

© Helmine Braitmaier

Tobias Steinle

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Theresia Richter

University of Stuttgart

Chemistry. The 27-year-old was astonished when she was approached on the very first evening by Elizabeth Blackburn, an Australian-US-American molecular biologist and Nobel Prize Winner for Medicine in 2009. The invisible wall separating the elite and the next-generation researchers at most professional conferences seemed to disappear in Lindau. “Everybody talks to everybody,“ reports Richter. the doctoral candidate was deeply impressed by the life stories of all the Nobel Prize winners, often full of uncertainty and difficulties, and their many charismatic personalities. “I learned to be pluckier, less doubtful about whether things would go well, and just give it a try,“ says this chemist. Her research tool back in Stuttgart is an autoclave, a sort of pressure cooker. Among other things, it boils metals like zinc at temperatures up to 600° C and a pressure of 3,000 bars in an ammonia atmosphere. The target of this so-called “ammonothermal synthesis“ is to produce the pure semiconductor crystals required, for example, in LEDs, lasers and transistors. “Up to now, zinc nitride still is not found as a monocrystal whose component parts form a unified, homogeneous crystal grid“, explains Richter, who comes from Germany's Nürtingen. This is needed to eliminate disturbances in the electrical behavior of semiconductors. In industrial production the nitride crystals are usually grown on substrates like silicon disks, whereas this is unnecessary in ammonothermal synthesis. “The different properties of nitride and silicon often cause defects in the nitride crystalline structure“, says Richter. She has still not succeeded in manufacturing zinc nitride while working for her doctorate with Professor Rainer Niewa, but at least many intermediate products. “That allows us to determine the conditions under which pure, high-quality zinc nitride and other new types of semiconductor materials emerge,“ says Richter.

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