Department, Lab or Center: Department of Chemistry, Laboratory of Prof. Tim Swager
Number of years at MIT: 2
What is the focus of your research?
I work on making molecules and materials that have applications as sensors for environmental health monitoring and as energy storage media.
Why did you decide to do your postdoc at MIT?
I was drawn specifically to Prof. Tim Swager’s lab because of how creative his research group has been in finding practical applications for chemical concepts. Also, I wanted to do a postdoc at MIT because it is a magnet for passionate scientists who create a unique atmosphere of innovation.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up partly in Budapest (Hungary) and Calgary after my family moved to Canada when I was 11 years old.
Tell us about your current role. What is it? What is an average day in your life like?
I am an assistant professor of inorganic chemistry at ETH Zurich where I started in August 2021. It is a highly multi-faceted job which is one of the reasons why I find it very exciting. The typical day does not really exist, as I may be in lab, preparing presentations, attending seminars, writing research proposals, giving lectures for a class, reading the scientific literature, or my personal favorite: discussing science with my students. Every day is unique with new challenges.
What is your favorite thing about Zurich? If you’re new to Zurich for this role, what is something that surprised you?
Zurich has something for everyone, which is my favorite thing about it. It has a historic city center, a vibrant arts scene, a beautiful lake, in addition to being a global hub for commerce, science and technology. In Zurich, you’re also in the heart of Europe with easy access to all its major cities. Despite having all of this to offer, Zurich still does not feel like a very big city, which I found pleasantly surprising. Also, they tell you how good Swiss cheese and chocolates are, but I was shocked to find how true this is when I tried for myself!
How did you become interested in this career path?
I was very lucky to grow up in a household where I was encouraged to always learn new things. I eventually settled on chemistry as an undergraduate student because it nicely blends the technical craft of doing experiments with the theoretical knowledge needed to explain observations and understand nature. As a chemist, you need to both “think” and “do”. During my PhD and postdoc I also realized how much I enjoy teaching and mentoring, so a career in academia became my goal.
What was your most memorable experience as a postdoc?
Taking part in the inaugural MIT Research SLAM stands out. The challenge was to summarize my research project in just 3 minutes for a broad audience. The limited time means that one must think in broad strokes, which I found very educational and fun. Hearing all the other presenters share their expertise and engage in scientific discussions was also a tremendous experience! I would highly recommend this event for anyone looking to sharpen their communication skills.
What advice would you give incoming postdocs about navigating MIT?
The MIT community is nothing short of extraordinary. My advice for anyone new is to take advantage of this unique environment and get to know as many people as possible, and ask as many questions as possible. In my experience, people are very happy to share their expertise.