In northern Bavaria, at the University of Bayreuth, a passionate scientist has been quietly making waves in the world of organic semiconductors.
Prof. Anna Köhler, an Associate Investigator with Exciton Science, is not just interested in the fundamental magic of physics, but is also motivated by real-world applications, like creating efficient solar cells.
The Path to Discovery
Anna's journey into physics began with a fascination for quarks, atomic physics, and the captivating mysteries of quantum mechanics. However, it wasn't until she reached the prestigious environment of the Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge that her focus shifted towards photovoltaics.
“If I want to make a good solar cell, and save the world, then I actually first needed to understand the excited states in my material,” she said.
It was in these early days of her research career at Cambridge that Anna realised the importance of not just knowing the states of the materials but understanding how excitations move within them. During her 12 years in the UK, Anna transitioned from device physics to spectroscopy, a shift she found both challenging and immensely satisfying.
Yet, the allure of home and family drew Anna back to Germany, first to Potsdam and then to Bayreuth, where her career has gone from strength to strength. “I really, really like it here,” she said.
Diversity in Research
Anna's research revolves around organic semiconductors, a diverse and fascinating subject. From creating efficient solar cells to OLED displays, the applications are many. But for Anna, it's not just about the end product.
"What I really like is the variety that is there," she says, emphasizing the interdisciplinary nature of her work, which involves collaboration with theoreticians, industrial partners, and chemists.
Teaching: More Than Just Knowledge Transfer
Beyond her research, Anna takes immense pride in her role as a mentor. Watching her students grow, both in terms of their knowledge and as individuals, is one of the most rewarding aspects of her job.
"It's so interesting when you have PhD students, how they start and how much they develop,” she said.
“I like to see how their personality blossoms and how much they benefit from interaction with others.”
Partnership with Exciton Science
Anna's association with Exciton Science began during her travels in Australia. Over time, she became more integrated with the institution, contributing to collaborative research and exploring innovative ideas with like-minded scientists and students across two hemispheres.
“It sounded quite fascinating and interesting, because it was the same questions that I was interested in,” she said.
“Working styles in Germany and in Australia are very different. So, we’re having the experience of trying things out, and seeing there's not one single stairway to heaven, but learning there are different ways to become happy.”
Fruitful contacts made during Anna’s time in Australia resulted in the German Science Foundation granting funding for OPTEXC, an International Research Training Group comprising the University of Bayreuth, the University of Melbourne and Monash University.
OPTEXC operations commended in April 2023. Led by Anna, it includes short and long-term exchanges of PhD students working on optical excitations in organic and inorganic semiconductors.
As a woman in a traditionally male-dominated field, Anna's experiences have been unique. She recalls being the only female PhD student among 30 at Cambridge. Yet, Anna views this not as a challenge, but an opportunity to pave the way for future female scientists. "It is something that is very important for us," she says, stressing the importance of diversity in the lab.
When asked about the future of the research sector in Germany, Anna stressed the need to recognise and prepare for increasing competition. Her advice for young researchers? "Do what you like," she says with a smile, emphasizing the importance of passion in research.
“Don't be too concerned about whether it's opportune or not. Take good common sense and don't get too nervous.”
In an era where practicality often trumps passion, Anna Köhler stands out as a beacon for aspiring researchers. Through her work and her journey, she sends a clear message: follow your heart, stay curious, and never stop exploring.