A Focus on our PhD Students – Sofia Moreira Fernandes

 

My academic journey started in Slovakia, with a quest to find a profession that resonated with my innate curiosity and thirst for knowledge. Despite excelling in various disciplines during my early school years, the path ahead seemed uncertain until the guidance of my teachers steered me towards science. Following their counsel, I applied to Brno University of Technology in Czechia to study Physical Chemistry, where my passion for science was finally born. It was during this time that I had the privilege to meet Prof. Petr Sedláček, the supervisor of both my bachelors and masters theses and my professional role model, who encouraged me to pursue a PhD. 

Solar2Clean Lisbon, led by Professor Ana Marques (second from left)

During my masters, I studied abroad through the Erasmus+ program, selecting Lisbon, Portugal as my destination. In one of the classes, there was an extra motivation to perform well, as the two best performing students could get the chance to do a summer internship at a start-up working in the field of polymers. As I wanted to stay in the sunny Lisbon a little longer, I put in some extra effort which granted me the position. The professor of this course was my now supervisor, Prof. Ana C. Marques, who later presented me with an opportunity to do a PhD and become a part of an exciting project, Solar2Clean, which deals with finding solutions to wastewater purification from pollutants such as organic dyes, antibiotics, and microplastics. The topic dealing with the environment, as well as the fact that the project was international, in collaboration with ETH, Zurich, convinced me to embark on this journey.

That is how my journey as a PhD candidate started. In my work, I synthesize nanoparticles that are photocatalyst and I utilize them for the removal of pollutants from water. Moreover, I immobilize these nanoparticles on porous microspheres (prepared via a modified sol-gel route), called MICROSCAFS®, facilitating their recovery and enhancing reusability. By exploring different strategies for nanoparticle immobilization and extending their responsiveness into the visible region with gold nano-particles (aiding the system through localized surface plasmon resonance), we want to make the process low cost and applicable in real life conditions. Furthermore, our group has also designed a closed loop, in-flow setup, as opposed to the traditional batch reactor, to make the system more attractive for industrial applications.

In the lab at IST, Lisbon, 2023

Within the scope of my PhD, I have had a plethora of great opportunities. From spending a month at ETH, Zurich,synthesizing rare-earth doped TiO2 nanoparticles with a micro-wave synthesis under the guidance of my co-supervisor, Prof. Markus Niederberger, to presenting my findings at international conferences, co-organizing a workshop on microencap-sulation, and participating in programs enhancing my entrepreneurial and leadership skills. Most recently, I had the chance to use some advanced characterization techniques at the International Iberian Nanotechnology Laboratory in Braga. 

Being a PhD student exposes us to a sea of opportunities, but it is on us to embark on them. I think I have succeeded on this mission so far, and I know there is a lot more to come. I am infinitely grateful to all my mentors, peers, and the scientific community for their unwavering guidance and support on my journey.

Being a PhD student exposes us to a sea of opportunities, but it is on us to embark on them. I think I have succeeded on this mission so far, and I know there is a lot more to come. I am infinitely grateful to all my mentors, peers, and the scien-tific community for their unwavering guidance and support on my journey.