„It was red and yellow and green and blue and cyan and …“ - thats not only a line from Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s successful musical „Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat“, it also decribes the first impressions of ICFO quite well. What a coulorful building. And what a coulorful and relaxed atmosphere. People from lots of different countries are working here, there are huge bean bags on the floor between the labs and offices and everywhere in the building you‘ll find coffee areas with big sofas and nice people having a break and chatting. Everyone has been very welcoming here. We got our own coffe-cup and ICFO-T-Shirts as a welcome present and during a short tour through the building Lluis Torner, the Director of ICFO, invited us to a quick match of table football. Spain and Germany vs. England: 2:2 drawn. A nice and sporty start into a week of meeting interesting and enthusiastic people. „This man is full of energy“, Sinead Kennedy, our contact person at ICFO, says about her boss. Well, obviously most people here are. After lunch we met Alejandra Valencia who is doing outreach work for the institute. „I like physics and I like to tell the people about physics“, she says. We are sitting in one of the coffee areas talking to this enthusiastic young woman. At the other side of the huge windows we can watch people waterskiing on the canal olimpic, which has been built for the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. The weather is warm, no clouds up in the sky. „I want to reach the people out there, because we live in democratic society and I think scientific knowledge is a basic requirement to take part in this society“, she says. „It might sound naive but that‘s my motivation.“ For me it doesn‘t sound naive. It‘s an impressive motivation for science communication. And of course it is for (science) journalism as well.
Alejandra takes us to Niek van Hulst who gives us a short introduction to nanophysics, especially to his research subject: nano-antennas. He shows us a lab where two students are up to scan a surface with a nano-antenna. A tiny nanocsale antenna emits radiation and makes you observe things which you could not observe with optic measuring instruments. Impressive but not easy to understand. I hope to learn a bit more about it during the next days. Afterwards it‘s coffeetime at ICFO. We grab our new ICFO-cups, get a coffee and watch the canal olimpic. It‘s still beautiful outside. After writing the blog we leave the institute heading to barcelona city.
“I want you to get your hands dirty“, Stephanie Cheylan already said to me yesterday. And well, today I did. Stephanie is researching on so called OLEDs (Organic Light Emitting Devices). In contrast to normal LEDs which are already used quite a lot, OLEDs are made of organic materials which make them a lot cheaper in production and offer a wide range of new fields of applications.
To get my hands dirty Stephanie takes me to the lab. Not to normal lab but to a cleanroom. This is very important because you need absolutely clean conditions for producing the tiny electronic devices. During the morning we produce different sorts of OLEDs. That‘s what Stephanie does almost every day. As a basic component we use a small glass disk with a very thin Indium-Tin-Oxide layer on it. Afterwards we use different organic polymers to put them on top. It‘s quite a lot of work and Stephanie asks me to support her in measuring the right amounts of chemicals we need and then later on put them on to the glass disks. Her aim in research is to find a good combination of different organic layers to produce an energy-efficient OLED. “It‘s a lot of trial and error“, she says, “but when the light comes out of it‘s just like “Yeah!”” There already has been lots of research on OLED in other european countries she tells me, but not in spain (apart from ICFO). “The funding-situation of OLED-research in spain has been far behind other european countries.“ Stephanie pretty much started with OLED-research in spain from scratch seven years ago. Today it is absolutely state-of-the-art, she says. As other countries are mainly focussed on the applied physics of OLEDs, Stephanie is doing more fundamental research on the organic devices. For example, she tries to find new materials that could replace the Indium-Tin-Oxide layer which is quite expensive. The materials (ultrathin metal layers) can even be transparent so maybe in the future it will be possible to cover a normal glass window with OLEDs and use it as a lighting system when it gets dark. “OLEDs will be the lighting system of the future”, Stephanie says. Well, she has convinced me.
After our coffee break we meet Armand and Giorgio from the ICFO Student Chapter. They also do outreach work for the institute and we talk to them about general aims, problems and tasks of science communication and science journalism. “It is important to connect physics and science in general to the daily life of the people”, Armand says. “Physics is not equal to equations. It‘s intuition.” And passion, he adds. “Passion is the driving force in science.” That‘s absolutely right I think. In fact you can see it everywhere at ICFO and you can feel it talking to the people working here.
Another day of getting my hands dirty. As it is rainy and cold outside it is alright to spend the morning in the labs. But today it‘s not about producing light, it‘s all about collecting it. I‘m in the cleanroom again with Johann, a research engineer from France. He is researching on processes to form the surfaces of solar cell devices. I help Johann with cleaning the devices and putting them into plasma chamber where radicals and accelerated ions shape the germanium-surface of the solar cells. Later on we have a look at the shaped surfaces with an electon microscope.
I won‘t be able to use any of the stuff I did today for my article but again it has been a good opportunity to see how scientists really work in the labs and how they try things again and again. It is impressive to see how much work has to be done to make just a little step towards a result. If you don‘t get the result you wanted, you need to start again and change parameters in the process to see if it works better afterwards. That‘s what (applied) science is about: Trial and error.
I think the whole project is a good opportunity for me to see how research really works. And it is a good opportunity to talk about sciece in a different language as well.
It is still raining outside. It started last night when Henry and me returned from our dinner-trip to Barcelona. Hopefully it‘s going to stop within the next few minutes because I forgot my umbrella in the hotel.
After an afternoon and a night of rain (and cool pigs) in Barcelona yesterday, spring has luckily returned to spain again today.
So this is not a day to spend in the lab but at the coffee area with its nice view of the canal olimpic. We meet Alejandra, Tania and Marta who do most of the outreach and media work of ICFO. We have a two hour chat with the three women talking about science communication, the need of outreach work and different ways of visualizing science. “Illustration is very important in science”, Tania says. She does the visual communications for ICFO. “Because often you just can't see or take pictures of the stuff you try to explain.” We get to the conclusion that science needs pictures. After all a picture tells more than a thousand words. The outreach work done at ICFO seems to be quite unique. What is the sense of and the motivation for doing outreach work and presenting science to the public? “We want to reach the people to make them feel enthusiastic about science”, Marta says. To do so it is not enough to just explain science in an easy way, she adds. “You have to show the people where science actually has an affect on their daily life. And we want to show the motivation of scientists doing research. They are not only doing it because they want to understand things better. They do it because they are really fascinated and passionate about it.” Finally we figure out that most people are not just interested in how scientific phenomenons work. They also want to know how mankind discovered scientific knowledge. They want to know more about the motivation of researches. That's what we do here at ICFO.
URGENT RECOMMENDATION for the next participants of RELATE-Project in Barcelona: Keep away from the Port Olimpic at night!
Nice but dangerous: Port Olimpic, Barcelona
It actually startet to be quite a good last day in Barcelona. The sun was out again and we had very interesting interviews at ICFO in the morning. First we talked to Silvia Carrasco. She is head of the Knowledge and Technology Transfer at ICFO. She is sort of the connecting part between the researchers and the industry. „When researchers and companies work together you need trust“, Silvia says. „We want to know what the industry is interested in and the companies want to know what our researches do.“ I was impressed by the wide range of different companies that are linked to the OLED and Photovoltaik-research. It‘s not just the lighting industry it‘s also glass-companies that could integrate transparent solar cells or OLEDs in their windows. Afterwards I talked to Goncal Badenes. He is chief of the Nanophotonic lab and coordinator of the „Nanophotnics for Energy Efficiency“ project. Nine european partners take part in this network of excellence. Its aim is to put together the best institutes of nanophotonic research. One of the tasks is to do outreach and convincing work in order to promote the efficiency of OLEDs and organic solar cells. „We have lots of opportunities to improve efficiency of solar cells“, Goncal says. The network also works together with industrial partners. „It is a win-win-situation.“ Goncal says that the attidute of researchers towards outreach and getting their research to the public has changed a lot. „More and more researchers work on things that have an impact“, he says. „That is because our todays challenges have become visibly. Todays problems are health and energy.“ The interview was very helpful. It probably would have been better to do it right at the beginning of our week at ICFO. Now I am pretty sure that my article is going to deal with the OLED technology and the future ways of efficient lighting. I am going to get in contact with german lighting companies which do applied research on that technology. But it was great to see the fundamental research of organic devices at work. I can use a lot of the information I got at ICFO.
After saying goodbye to ICFO and the very nice, welcoming and passionate people we met there Henry and I spent the afternoon in Barcelona. Park Guell, Gracia, Barceloneta, the beach - it certainly was a great day. Until we got to port olimpic at about 9 o‘clock. In an unexpected moment two strange guys came towards us and pickpocketed Henry. Luckily Henry was able to attack one of the guys and he got back his wallet. But the money was gone. We really had to have a drink afterwards in the gothic quarter.
Anyways, this incident should not sour the great time we had in Barcelona. Spending time at ICFO, talking to different researchers and other people has been a great opportunity to see research and science at work. It has been awesome to have a look at the very top research in europe. Spending one week as a journalist with top researchers really confirmed my decision to study science journalism.
That‘s why I finally want to say thank you to everybody at ICFO, especially to Stephanie and Johann who spent a whole day with me in the lab, to Sinead Kennedy, Goncal Badenes, Alejandra, Tania and Marta. It has been an very intersting and inspiring stay. And of course I also want to say thank you to Henry for the great time we had in Barcelona!