- Who are you?
My name is Simona. I live in Belgium now, but originally I come from Slovakia, a lovely country in Central Europe.
- How would you define yourself?
Often I want to see things nicer than they are. If I think about my hobbies, then this defines myself very well.
- So, what do you exactly do within the DEMETER project?
I do chemistry, I want to recover pure individual metals for very specific applications out of the magnets. Besides direct reuse or reprocessing of magnets, my part is also very important in terms of sustainability! People tend to compare direct and indirect recycling as two competitive approaches, but the targets are different for both.
I use solvent extraction. That’s a chemical separation technique widely spread in industry, which helps you to separate different metal ions from each other. We optimized the separation processes and recently started with upscaling to the continuous solvent extraction.
- Why did you choose this topic, and why the DEMETER project?
It was a time when I was searching for some work possibilities in recycling, metal recovery or waste processing area. I was introduced to professor Koen Binnemans during my visit to VITO (Belgium). He is very active in research. Among other activities, challenging separations between rare-earth elements are his specialty. About the DEMETER I’ve got to know directly from him. I immediately liked the idea of the project and decided to apply.
- Would you pursue a career within your topic?
My topic is very specific, so I need to be a little bit realistic. But the experience and knowledge that come along with my topic are transferable, and I expect to reuse them in my future career. Sure, I will definitely pursue a career within my study field for one simple reason, because I like it.
- Have you ever considered moving to a new country/continent before?
I did because first I used to dream about a career of a conservator or restorer of fine arts. I wished to have my own atelier and recover damaged paintings, put some rock music on and paint. Considering the Czech Republic or Poland could increase my chances. Later on, I followed the path of environmental engineering and I gathered some professional experience in Germany. Both study areas are not so spread, rather uncommon, and excluding other countries would mean closing many doors.
- What is your impression of your host country? Would you like to stay after the project is over?
It was love at first sight… Yes, after the DEMETER I am staying here in Belgium, still trying to improve in Dutch. To me, living abroad doesn’t mean forgetting where I come from. However, today if I say “I go home” I always have to specify, which home I mean. Now I have two.
- Do you work alone on your topic or do you have a “teammate”? Tell, us something about him/her!
Our topics are individual, but I share the office with my DEMETER colleague Martina. Her work is the closest to mine and we were put together from the very first day in Leuven. I saw her questionnaire! She said, she is a volcano and I am a calm sea and I fully agree. It’s great to have someone facing the same, but who is not the same as you. Then an apple is not always red or the sky is not always blue (which is true). I believe that the best teams are made of very different people.
- Approaching the end of the project…share your best memory in DEMETER.
Many little situations happened to be so funny during the project, it’s hard to pick one. I will never forget driving mini electric vehicles with all the colleagues in France.
- From your experience, what do you think an EU MSCA project offers to an ‘early stage researcher’ that a regular one doesn’t?
I don’t know how is it in other projects, but the number of opportunities we have got was amazing. Opportunities to talk to experts from the field, get training or travel to international conferences. It all helped me to move my limits higher… even with my fear to take a plane. Today I am a hero in this sense, still scared, but brave enough to fly.