Viola Vogler-Neuling, Adolphe Merkle Institute

Dr. Viola Volger-Neuling is a postdoctoral researcher at the Adolphe Merkle Institute. She is fascinated by how highly complex three-dimensional photonic crystals form naturally in butterflies and beetles. As part of her current research, she is focusing on the question of how to develop sustainable and biodegradable optical components from chitin/chitosan. Passing on her knowledge to younger pupils and students is also one of her great satisfactions.

"Even as a child, my favourite question was, "Why? During my A-levels, I participated twice in a school competition organised by the Siemens Foundation. This was the first time I carried out scientific projects independently, and in this way, I discovered my love for research. Thanks to the second place in the national final and the scholarship I received as a result, I was able to study physics at my university of choice, ETH Zurich. I will always be grateful for that. When I arrived at ETH Zurich, meeting so many other like-minded young people was wonderful. My enthusiasm for scientific work began during my Master's thesis at IBM Research in Rüschlikon. Afterward, I applied for a PhD with Prof. Rachel Grange at ETH Zurich. My research topic was the development of a bottom-up fabrication process for three-dimensional photonic crystals and electro-optical metasurfaces. During my PhD, I had two children, and thanks to the support of my husband, I quickly learned to combine my family life with my research work. Developing a bottom-up fabrication method for nonlinear photonic crystals was a long and challenging process, but finally, I succeeded, which made me very proud.

Through the fabrication of 3D photonic crystals, I developed a fascination for the biological photonic crystals in butterflies and beetles. Therefore, I am currently working on how nature creates these highly complex structures. When Prof. Ullrich Steiner at the Adolphe Merkle Institute in Fribourg offered me precisely this research topic for my post-doctorate, I didn't have to think twice. Now I have the wonderful opportunity to research my dream topic.  Thanks to the support of Prof. Steiner, the NCCR Bio-Inspired Materials, and the SNSF Flexibility Grant, it was relatively easy for me to tackle this new challenge with my family and rebuild our support network. But there are still many challenges: Every conference, every workshop outside the usual working hours, and also the school holidays have to be organised long in advance so that our children are always looked after during these times.

Besides my enthusiasm for research, my other passion is teaching. I love to pass on my knowledge to students or even offer workshops for pupils to awaken the same fascination for science in them. During my time at ETH Zurich, I was also involved in setting up a mentoring network and a mathematics pre-course for physics and mathematics students. This summer, this mentoring programme, which due to its success has since been extended to all students of mathematics and physics, is already in its third round."