uniaktuell The online magazine of the University of Bern

uniaktuell from 2015

“What particularly fascinates me is the potential application of my research”

Cancan Huang, Chinese Postdoc at the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Bern, has been honored with “The Chinese Government Award for Outstanding Self-financed Students Abroad“. “uniaktuell“ has spoken to this young researcher about the challenges abroad and has asked her what is so fascinating about molecular electronics.

Interview: Brigit Bucher

“uniaktuell”: What were the main challenges in organizing your PhD studies abroad?
Cancan Huang: Until four years ago, I had never been abroad for working and living, only just for travelling. Although I had some background in English from school and textbooks, it was still a big challenge for me to handle the language issue in a foreign-language working and living environment. Another huge challenge was the absence of my initial supervisor at the University of Bern Prof. Thomas Wandlowski who passed away in 2015. This was actually a devastating drawback for me personally and for my entire PhD project. I had to ask myself a number of serious questions, such as, what I really wanted to get from my PhD studies, and how to continue. Luckily, thanks to Prof. Wandlowski’s successor PD Dr. Peter Broekmann, I could fix and sharpen my research direction and I finished my PhD studies with a series of great achievements. Mastering these challenges made me stronger so that I now feel prepared for the next steps in my scientific career.

What had initially brought you to the University of Bern?
Based on what I had learned in high school about Switzerland, this country was my first choice when I was considering studying abroad. What actually brought me to the University of Bern was a discussion with Dr. Wenjing Hong with whom I had worked as a master student in the same research group in China. He had left China to start his PhD studies here at the University of Bern. When I talked to him about my ideas to continue my studies in Switzerland, he introduced me to the research group of Prof. Thomas Wandlowski at the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry (DCB) here in Bern, which is actually one of the world-leading groups in the field of electrochemistry and molecular electronics. Moreover, Prof. Thomas Wandlowski was a precise, respected and creative scientist, from whom my colleague had learned a lot. Therefore, when I got the offer to work in this renowned research group, I did not hesitate to accept it. 

Can you explain in simple terms what your research is about?
My PhD research topic is related to the field of molecular electronics. The principal research target is to use single molecules to construct smallest possible circuits for electronic devices. Simply speaking, we design and synthesize various molecules, mostly organic molecules, and then we test their physical, thermal and electrical characteristics by means of so-called single-molecule junction techniques. Based on their characteristics, these molecules can be used as conductive wires, logic gates, switches or as diodes in electronics devices. This research can be considered as fundamental for the development of future generations of microprocessor and data storage technologies. 

What is your personal motivation to do research in this field precisely?
As a chemist, I was particularly attracted by the field of nano-science and nano-technology. Molecular electronics is exactly the research field which combines chemistry (tailored molecular design, synthesis etc.) with the world of nano-technology. What particularly fascinates me is the potential application of my research in form of electronic devices. Furthermore, my PhD studies gave me the unique opportunity to improve my skills on my way to become an independent researcher. As mentioned above, molecular electronics is a highly interdisciplinary research field covering organic chemistry, material science, quantum physics and electronics engineering. It combines fundamental research and applications. By doing my PhD project in the field of molecular electronics, I could learn and combine a lot from these disciplines. Moreover, working together with outstanding people of different scientific backgrounds is exciting and fascinating. I believe that this interdisciplinary approach is important for the development of new creative ideas in science. 

What are your plans for the future?
In the future, I would love to continue my research in the field of molecular electronics. However, I would like to translate the methodologies of charge transports I have learnt here in Bern into the field of material science, more specifically to energy conversion/storage and photovoltaic devices. Currently, I am applying for a SNF early postdoctoral fellowship, which will hopefully allow me to start a Postdoc project at Harvard University in the group of Prof. George Whitesides. Afterwards, I would like to come back to Switzerland and pursuit one research position in academic or industry.

About Cancan Huang

Teaser

Cancan Huang was born in China in 1989. She obtained her bachelor in material science in 2010 at Beijing Institute of Technology (BIT), China. Until 2012, she completed her master in the laboratory of Prof. Gaoquan Shi in Tsinghua University, where she was studying the graphene-based materials used as chemical catalyst and electrochemical catalyst. During October 2012 ~ December 2015, she joined the group of Prof. Thomas Wandlowski (later group of PD Dr. Peter Broekmann) in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry (DCB), University of Bern for her PhD studies. Since then, she has focused on research topics related to molecular electronics, charge transport (CT) studies through single molecules, molecular switches and devices.

Contact:

Dr. Cancan Huang
University of  Bern
Departement of Chemistry and Biochemistry (DCB)
+41 31 631 42 43
cancan.huang@dcb.unibe.ch

The Interfacial Electrochemistry Group

The Interfacial Electrochemistry Group at the DCB (Department for Chemistry and Biochemistry) deals with two major research topics that are related to applied science and technology. The first research focus is related to the development of future microprocessor technologies. Together with industrial partners (e.g. BASF SE, Ludwigshafen) new processes are developed for the metallization of nanometer sized transistors which are the key elements of these logic devices. A second and new research focus is concerned with the development of electrochemical processes which convert environmentally harmful carbon dioxide (CO2) into products of higher value by using of an excess of electricity which originate from solar, hydro or wind energy sources (power to value concept). Our research activities in this field are embedded into the Swiss Competence Center for Energy Research (SCCER) Heat and Electricity Storage. Our contribution to this SCCER is in particular the development of novel catalyst materials for the efficient and selective conversion of CO2.              

The Chinese Government Award for Outstanding Self-financed Students Abroad

This award was founded by the Chinese government in 2003 with the purpose of rewarding the academic excellence of self-financed Chinese students studying overseas. Only those with outstanding performance in their PhD studies will be considered by the award selection panel and no more than 500 young talents will be granted the award each year all over the world.