ESR3: Episode One

On the 1st September 2019, I started working as a new PhD student at the Ruhr University Bochum, Germany under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Schuhmann. These first few months have involved much learning, new experiences, meeting new people and my first business trip to Training Workshop 1 in Paris. On the first day I was very nervous meeting my new work colleagues, researchers, technical staff and my boss (Wolfgang) … but after a while I realised they don’t bite. Thanks to the research group’s annual excursion, just a week after I joined, I got to know the majority of my colleagues and felt warmly welcomed to Germany – instead of taking water bottles for our hiking, we took lots of beer!

My first big project was to make and characterize carbon nanoelectrodes. Yes as simple as that. However, those electrodes are really needy and until you fall in love with them, they refuse to give you what you want. By spending some alone time with the electrodes and with the guidance of colleagues who already knew how to show them love, I could connect quickly with my precious electrodes. More importantly it helped me gather enough confidence to tackle the more fragile, needier, grumpy and even impossible stuff. Have you heard of scanning electrochemical cell microscopy (SECCM)? It is a powerful local electrochemical tool extensively explored to visualize heterogeneous electron transfer processes. Nothing is more frustrating than crushing your nanopipette on your test substrate before measuring some current after all the initial effort in successfully pulling the capillary, silanizing, characterizing under the SEM, filling with electrolyte, getting the bubbles out, ensuring meniscus/droplet conductivity and so on. However with more love, these various steps just worked and finally I was counting some electrons (current). The love for the technique grew deeper when we had to build a new SECCM setup. Yes from the basics of mounting the vibration damping table to wiring up current amplifiers, stepper motors, piezo cubes, installing software, calibrating various instruments, etc. I even operated a forklift and I got training in using the SEM to measure the size of my nanopipettes.

Four months ago I didn’t know anything about nanoelectrodes or SECCM and had only used the SEM to characterize my catalyst through the help of an operator. I didn’t even know what potential drifting of reference electrode is, how to measure pA currents, or the importance of the faraday cage. Now I feel I have accumulated a huge amount of knowledge within a short period and I hope it will continue this way without my brain crushing!

In the meantime I still find some time for my other passion which is music. I joined a local Ghanaian Church band and I am now music director. I am also learning German which is exciting. Within the coming months I plan to get to know everybody I am working with and to be more comfortable with the people around me. I plan to meet the goals of my project by putting in my best effort. Wolfgang has been the perfect boss … and I’m not just saying that because I still work with him. I love what I do now, where I am doing it and the people I am doing it with.

Emmanuel Tetteh

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