The BAM-BfR team ‘NanoBER’ before departure (from left to right): Maria Heilmann, Tony Bewersdorff and Zengchao You in the lab

The BAM-BfR team ‘NanoBER’ before departure (from left to right): Maria Heilmann, Tony Bewersdorff and Zengchao You in the lab

Source: BAM, Division Structural Analysis division

The final of the First International Nano Olympiad will take place in Tehran, Iran, at the beginning of April. Maria Heilmann and Zengchao You from the Structural Analysis division will represent BAM. They will be joined by Tony Bewersdorff from the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR). Their task is to detect silver nanoparticles in surface waters and to find out what effects they have on the ecosystem.

Ms. Heilmann, Mr. You, You have qualified for the final in Tehran – congratulations! Together with your colleague from BfR you will represent Europe in the final. How does that feel?

Maria Heilmann: As far as I understand it, there is a second German team that will also travel to Tehran. This means we do not have to represent Europe alone. But I'm curious about the country. It is culturally very different from Germany and you have to pay a lot of attention, especially as a woman. I'm curious if clichés are confirmed or not.

Zengchao You: Yes, I'm also somewhat excited. Iran is exotic to me – I've never been to an Islamic country. It's a different culture for me, too. But I probably can meet many nice people there.

Do you have specific expectations for your stay?

Maria Heilmann: There will be a few workshops, so I rather assume that we'll learn and take home new things for our work both in terms of presentations and for nanotechnology in general. I'm curious to see how other Ph.D. students work on research topics in other countries.

Zengchao You: (laughing) And I expect to win the prize!

What was your research topic?

Maria Heilmann: It was about the hypothetical entry of silver nanoparticles into a body of water. Our task was to think about how to analyse these particles, their concentration and how to detect them. We also looked at what effects nanoparticles have on the ecosystem. And lastly, how they can be removed from the ecosystem.

Zengchao You: In the beginning, we expected to get a very difficult or theoretical task. But the task is fine because the underlying issue has practical relevance. And now we are looking forward to the final!

About the Nano Olympiad (INO)

The first international Nano Olympiad will take place in Tehran on 10 April for 6 days. The focus is on nanotechnological applications in water and wastewater treatment. INO is an annual competition between undergraduate and Ph.D. students from various countries aimed at exploiting the full potential of nanotechnology for global challenges. The Nano Olympiad focuses on a different topic each year.

The contestants’ selection process is carried out in two stages: The first stage is an idea contest organised by the European Commission (via EU NanoSafety Clusters) where teams are selected to represent Europe in the Olympiad. All interested undergraduate and Ph.D. students can compete individually or in a team. The aim is to strengthen international cooperation and the soft skills of young scientists. At the end of the first stage, an international jury reviews the results and the teams present their solutions in a webinar.

In a second stage, the best teams are nominated to participate in the international Nano Olympiad. There the teams receive challenges that need to be solved. During a boot camp in Tehran international tutors coach the teams to further refine their solutions. An international jury then selects three teams based on their presentations and they receive a cash prize of 2000 to 3000 euros.

INO founding members are: Institute of Physics Academia Sinica (Taipei, Taiwan), Iran Nanotechnology Initiative Council (Tehran, Iran), Korea Nanotechnology Research Society (Daejeon, South Korea), Lomonosov State University Moscow (Moscow, Russia), Russian Corporation of Nanotechnologies (Moscow, Russia).