Dr Ana Guilherme Buzanich holds a PhD in physics from the University of Lisbon. Since 2014, she has been a scientist at the Structure Analysis Division and is working on the particle accelerator (synchrotron) BESSY II, conducting experiments on two X-ray lines (BAMline and μSpot) among other things. For the ‘International Day of Women and Girls in Science’ in February, she offered young women scientists a look into her research. She was previously in Africa, where she also carried out research on a potential synchrotron.
Ana, you were recently in Ghana at the Pan African Conference on Crystallography (PCCr2) and the African Synchrotron Light Source (AfLS2) – what ties your research with Africa?
Yes, that was a very interesting opportunity. The five-day event in Accra (Ghana) united two conventions: PCCr2 and AfLS. AfLS began in 2015 as a project with the goal of providing Africa with a synchrotron. In October 2018, Dr David Dodoo-Arhin visited us from the university in Accra. He learned about our beamline at BESSY and then invited us to the event in Accra. My colleague Dr. Kirill Yusenko and I attended and offered our expertise. There were nearly 150 participants from almost all synchrotrons were present – even the scientific directors of ESRF (France), ALBA (Spain) and SESAME (Jordan). And now we stay in touch with those involved in the AfLS project after the conference.
What are you currently researching?
I am particularly engaged in X-ray based analytical methods, X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) for material characterisation. The range of applications is vast. Our division focuses on structure elucidation for all possible materials in various forms (e.g. solids and solutions). Whether it’s nanopartical systems, pharmaceutical substances, catalysts or metal alloys, XAS is often the simplest method for investigating chemical states and local structure. We have different XAS modes at the BAMline and µSpot Beamline for this purpose. For example, we can offer a time resolution of one second or a spatial solution in the micrometre range, and we also have the possibility to investigate trace elements in the nanogram (ng) range. We can also ‘look’ at dynamic processes. Personally, I am interested in researching catalysts, particularly the development of new environmentally friendly and efficient materials, and the simultaneous adaptation of our methods to the new challenges. There is currently an ongoing DFG project, with the goal of investigating vanadium-based catalysts for a more efficient production of formaldehyde. Our most recently developed XAS method is being used for this.
What inspired you to study physics? Do you have any advice for women who are interested in a carrier in natural sciences?
I’ve been interested in maths, physics and languages since my school days. At that time, I actually thought that I would like to study informatics. I quickly abandoned that idea and although it wasn’t very easy, I decided to study physics. When I started in 1999, I 'fell in love' with atomic physics almost immediately. I was particularly fascinated X-rays and spectroscopy. And I am still fascinated by how easy it is to extract properties from a material 'only' by looking at changes in X-rays within the matter. In addition to this, everything can be perfectly and exactly explained by physics.
As a woman in science – and especially in physics – people often think: “That’s not easy.” However, when you’re interested in a scientific career and are motivated, then you should do it! So women: Believe in yourselves! Women are often more creative – and that can be advantageous. In my opinion, two things are very important in science: teamwork and interdisciplinary. My advice: always make the best out of the variety of team, learn from the others and share as much as possible with them.