“You don’t have to be a genius”

Katrin Unger does away with prejudices several times. Not only is she active in what is still a so-called “male domain”, her youthful, open nature does not correspond at all to the cliché of the (female) “laboratory nerd”. When asked why she decided to pursue a career in the natural sciences, she virtually takes a brief detour into the humanities and replies with Goethe’s Faust: “That I recognize what holds the world together”, not without adding a dash of self-irony. In a subordinate sentence, the 34-year-old researcher at TU Graz naturally mentions that she is also the mother of two small children. It bothers her that picture books often depict women as astonished extras next to the active male heroes of everyday life. “I always add the female fire fighters and police officers. If my friend forgets about it while reading aloud, our four-year-old daughter mends it, ”she says with a smile.

Delicately strung. Back to physics. Not only the protective acid mantle of the skin is sensitive, but also the tattoo papers with which Katrin Unger works as part of Anna Maria Coclite’s group at the Institute for Solid State Physics at Graz University of Technology, are “softly strung” and are extremely sensitive to heat, for example . The particular challenge therefore lies in applying the layers. The electrodes are printed on using a screen printing process and sealed with smart hydrogels. A continuous measurement of the pH value of the skin in the sense of body tracking, for example for athletes, can be relevant, but it can also be used for skin diseases or during chemotherapy or for the early detection of infectious diseases. This is still a vague dream of the future, at the moment we are at the stage of basic research, which makes up about the first quarter of the way to commercial medical products.

3 : 206. Back to the role models. Even 117 years after Marie Curie was awarded the Nobel Prize, women physicists are still exotic. Katrin Unger doesn’t have a simple answer to why that is so. “There are great female researchers” and yet to date only three women in addition to 206 men who received the Nobel Prize in Physics – Marie Curie 1903, Maria Goeppert-Mayer 1963, Donna Strickland 2018. Patriarchal structures are subtle and extremely long-lasting, like it seems. And have a tendency to make women invisible, as the following episode suggests: In an interview, Katrin Unger tells us that there was no Wikipedia entry about Strickland at the time the Nobel Prize was awarded, because the online lexicon previously had an entry due to insufficient importance the researcher had refused.

The young researcher herself has no problem appearing as a role model and, in addition to her work in research, sees it as her task to act as an ambassador for women in the MINT subjects (subjects from the fields of mathematics, computer science, Science, technology). She is now being asked by the media and various initiatives to promote women in science. “I don’t really like to be in the spotlight, but it’s important to be present as a researcher. Girls in particular often believe that they have to be able to do something to start a path. But you don’t have to be born with anything and you don’t have to be a genius. Physics or computer science are studies that you can successfully complete if you are interested. ”For her, however, the proximity to physics or technology was also inherent in the parents’ home, the mother is an AHS teacher for physics and mathematics, the father a software developer . She sees her professor at the TU, Anna Maria Coclite, as a role model and mentor at the same time. She thinks a little longer about the somewhat provocative question of whether women research differently than men and then describes the following observation, without wishing to derive a generalization from it: “A man often sees a goal and just stumbles, women see a goal, sometimes weigh longer, focus more on the problems. ”Is this a symptom of traditional role models? “Maybe, but it doesn’t mean that both approaches don’t ultimately lead to the same goal.”

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