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Interview with Florentin Weiss: How a young chemist benefitted from DCNA’s Young Scientists Program

by Johanna Zweiger

Between March 2021 and September 2023, Florentin Weiss was a DCNA Young Scientist and was funded for his chemistry doctorate at the Leopold-Franzens Universität Innsbruck. After successfully completing his studies, he has now started his career in the chemical industry. In this interview, he tells us, among other things, how he benefited from the Young Scientists program.

Why did you decide to pursue a PhD in chemistry at the University of Innsbruck and what was your dissertation about?

Florentin Weiss: I found the field of analytical chemistry the most exciting during my bachelor's and master's studies. The PhD in chemistry offered the opportunity to specialize in this field. In addition, a doctorate in the natural sciences provides excellent opportunities for entering the job market.As part of my dissertation, I dealt with the development of measurement methods that make it possible to monitor inhalation anesthetics in the exhaled air of surgical patients in real time. To create these methods, I examined fundamental ion-anesthetic gas reactions in the measurement system. These could be applied using real patient samples. The dissertation itself is based on publications in scientific journals.

While pursuing your doctorate, you were also involved in the TRACK project coordinated by the University of Innsbruck - what was this project about and what was your task?

The Austrian-German research project TRACK was concerned with tracking down people hidden in trucks or containers in order to reduce human trafficking. The analysis was based on the specific human body odor. Various compounds (such as carbon dioxide, ammonia) and classes of substances (such as ketones, aldehydes) contribute to this olfactory pattern. The goal was to develop a precise portable measuring device (gas sensor system) that also works through sealed containers.
Within the project, I dealt with calibration and standardized test gas measurements which contributed to the method development of the prototype. Subsequent field tests together with project partners also helped to adapt the sensor system for the users.

While pursuing your doctorate, you were also a DCNA Young Scientist for two and a half years - what does that mean exactly and how did you benefit from it?

Being part of DCNA as a young scientist enables networking with interdisciplinary research groups in and outside of Austria. This creates the opportunity to combine your own projects with aspects of security and disaster prevention. With the help of DCNA, I was able to represent my former working group at the Institute for Breath Research at the University of Innsbruck in the area of ​​development and research (R&D). As an example, I would like to mention the Disaster Research Days (DRD) conference which provided the perfect stage for presenting our work in 2021 and 2022. The exchange with specialists from related fields is a valuable experience that I was able to gain that way.

What does the exchange between the young scientists look like? 

An exchange with the other members was made possible through online meetings and through the DRD conferences. DCNA's willingness to strengthen the networking of its young scientists was also demonstrated by organizing a summer school. The regular meetings also made it possible to get in touch with DCNA’s managing director Christian Resch. 

What is your new job and what do you plan to do next? 

After graduating in September 2023, I decided to start a career in the chemical industry in the area of ​​quality control. In my new job, on the one hand, I am using the skills I have acquired so far, but on the other hand, I would also like to acquire new ones. 

How was the transition from security research to your current job? 

Analytical chemistry is a universal tool for examining a wide variety of samples for their components. The transition to new areas is therefore easy to manage.

Florentin Weiss started his chemistry studies at the Leopold Franzens University of Innsbruck in 2014 and received his PhD in September 2023 at the Institute for Breath Research. Between March 2021 and September 2023, his work was funded by DCNA's Young Scientists program. Starting in October 2023, he has been working as an analytical chemist at Dottikon Exclusive Synthesis AG in Switzerland.

DCNA’s Young Scientists Program promotes young scientists in the field of disaster prevention and response and offers them access to our network and knowledge. Every three years, doctoral positions are publicly advertised which are funded by the five lead universities of DCNA (Graz University of Technology, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna, University of Innsbruck, Montanuniversität Leoben and University of the Bundeswehr Munich) and for which students can apply. The positions are complementary to the academic strengths of the universities so that students from different disciplines are addressed (natural sciences, technical sciences, social sciences). 

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