A chemical clock and sugar under the microscope

30 schoolgirls visit the institute on Girls’ Day 2024

April 26, 2024

They got to know the scientific, analytical and service departments of the institute: 30 young people from Mülheim and the surrounding area took part in Girls' Day at the MPI. They and the institute's team had a lot of fun on this special day. 

No, Madita has never looked at sugar like this before: The 14-year-old girls from Mülheim, who normally attends year 8 at the local Karl Ziegler School, is sitting in the physics building of the Max Planck Institut für Kohlenforschung on this Thursday morning. Together with Lucas Schulte-Zweckel from the Crystallography and Electron Microscopy Department, she has placed the small, crystalline grains of sugar on a microscope slide and examined them under the microscope.

This year, the Max Planck Institute once again took part in the nationwide Girls' Day. True to this year's motto "And now it’s your turn!", 30 schoolgirls aged 13 to 16 from all over the Ruhr region took the opportunity to get to know the work at the Institute.

Madita has now refined her sugar samples even further so that she can carry out further tests. "Yes, it's fun!" she says, even if processing the sample under the microscope is still a rather unfamiliar task for the youngsters.

And this is exactly where the Max Planck Institute team wants to step in. "We are still desperately looking for young female colleagues," explains Prof. Dr. Claudia Weidenthaler, Group Leader and Equal Opportunities Officer at the Institute, who has been responsible for Girls' Day for many years. After all, the challenges facing humanity are enormous. Without scientists, Weidenthaler is convinced that problems such as climate change, epidemics and the pollution of the world's oceans cannot be tackled.

By giving the girls a very practical insight into the work of the various departments, she hopes that they will develop an interest in technology and science and ultimately decide to pursue a career in science after leaving school. "Who knows, maybe even directly at our institute," says Claudia Weidenthaler.

While Madita is trying out all kinds of exciting equipment in the crystallography department, Anna, a pupil at Mülheim's Luisenschule, is in the chemistry lab with doctoral student Nils Frank. "We've just made a chemical clock," says the 14-year-old enthusiastically, describing: "It's a color change experiment in which the color of a liquid changes with a time delay." And while Anna and the other students are carrying out exciting experiments, they talk to the Institute's doctoral students about career opportunities in chemistry. "Pretty cool!"

The workpieces that the girls produce in the institute's own glassblowing workshop are also "pretty cool", creative and sustainable. With glassblowers Marcus Proske and Stefan Teckhaus, they learn how to make drinking straws and stirrers for cocktails - out of glass, of course. In the precision engineering workshops, the schoolgirls make their own key rings.

"For us, Girls' Day is a good opportunity to showcase the wide variety of training occupations we offer," says Laila Sahraoui, Head of Training at the MPI. A concept that works: some female colleagues actually got to know the institute as their future employer during a Girls' Day. The institute currently has around 30 trainees, including prospective chemical laboratory technicians, physics laboratory technicians and industrial mechanics. Training is also provided in administration and IT.

Whether any of the girls who attended Girls' Day 2024 at the MPI will actually go on to do an apprenticeship at the institute is, of course, anyone's guess. One thing is certain: both the schoolgirls and the Max Planck Institute team had fun on this day. "It was great," commented one student and added: "I'll definitely be back next year!"

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