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With the courage to start over in Applied Chemistry

#youngscientists: Lisa Rausch-Wendl, research assistant and laboratory technician

Lisa Rausch-Wendl is a research assistant and laboratory technician at the Institute of Biotechnology, Department of Life Sciences at IMC University of Applied Sciences Krems.
In her bachelor’s thesis, the graduate of the “Applied Chemistry” programme dealt with the analysis of by-products of cellulose production and their sensible use to reduce waste production. In the interview, she talks about her professional reorientation, her chemistry studies, role stereotypes and her research work in the lab.

Porträt von Lisa Rausch-Wendl

Lisa Rausch-Wendl is a research assistant and laboratory technician at the Institute of Biotechnology, Department of Life Sciences at the IMC University of Applied Sciences Krems. In this interview, she talks about her professional reorientation, her chemistry studies, role stereotypes and her research work in the laboratory.

After several professional years as a social pedagogue, you decided to take a completely contrarian path. Where did your desire for reorientation come from?

As a social pedagogue, I come from a very female-dominated professional field. I worked in child and youth welfare, where I was part of a multi-professional team that cared for children and adolescents in family-like settings. My focus was on trauma pedagogical concepts and the stabilisation of children and adolescents. Simply put, catching them, giving them support and opening up perspectives.
After years of striving to help kids find their footing and think outside the box, I decided to take that step for myself as well and give space to my passion for the wonders of nature by reorienting myself professionally.

Why did you decide to study Applied Chemistry?

When I learned that a chemistry degree was offered at IMC Krems, I dared to tackle this change. My husband encouraged me and made this big step possible through his support and encouragement. For me, going into chemistry was a courageous step and I am glad every day that I took it.

What makes this study programme unique?

The subject itself is not an easy one, but the well thought-out organisation removes obstacles. On the one hand, the practical exercises are coordinated with the theory units in terms of content, and on the other hand, I can be sure that I can work in the lab every semester and don’t have to just hope that I’ll get a place. The good supervision ratio also convinced me. The lecturers always take time for questions and are very interested in a professional discourse. The class-like community also has advantages. In learning groups that form as if by themselves, you benefit greatly from the community. And last but not least, the beautiful surroundings, the Wachau region, are a good argument for studying at IMC Krems. 

In which research project are you working?

I work in the field of organic chemistry and had the opportunity to work in the Institute of Chemistry of Renewable Resources with Univ.-Prof. Dipl.-Chem. Dr.rer.nat. Dr.h.c. Thomas Rosenau on a synthesis route. My project dealt with the properties of technical lignin, a by-product of cellulose production, for which there is still no useful application.
This project shows that chemistry is strongly concerned with sustainability. Green Chemistry on the one hand includes, as in my project, the analysis of by-products and their further useful application in order to drastically reduce waste production, but on the other hand also the optimisation of production processes as well as process development for the recycling and reuse of solvents in large factories.

What are the processes like?

Due to the complexity of lignin, its analysis is extremely difficult. One property that is still unexplained is that technical lignin fluoresces and natural lignin does not. The idea behind my project was that a specific reaction takes place in lignin during the cellulose manufacturing process that yields a fluorescent product. I replicated this reaction piece by piece. Going further, I would like to add the reagent to different lignin samples under the tested conditions and measure the fluorescence of the lignin before and after. I would repeat this with different lignin samples depending on various factors such as the exact extraction process, the origin of the raw materials, and the preparation process. The goal is to understand the origin of the fluorescent property of lignin to be able to work with it further.

What was a special moment in your research work?

A special moment was definitely when I grew beautiful large crystals for the first time, and it was confirmed to me by analytics that I had generated a particularly pure product. At that moment, I was very motivated to repeat all the steps with derivatives to not only guess the reaction mechanism, but also prove it.

What motivates you most about your research?

The novelty. I am not simply imitating what has been done before. I really do something completely new, something that no one else has tried before. On the one hand, of course, that’s intimidating, but on the other, it fills me with humility and pride in equal measure.

What do you personally think women in science need? 

Equal opportunities. However, this doesn’t start in university or in research, but already in kindergarten, where girls are supposed to play in the doll’s corner. Unfortunately, girls are still often told at school that science is predestined for boys. By the time they choose a course of study, or a career, girls and young women have already been socialised for years to believe that chemistry, mathematics and physics are too difficult for them anyway. I am therefore all the more pleased that the ratio of women in the Applied Chemistry programme is about half. In my opinion, this clearly shows that the trend is going in the right direction and that IMC Krems has found a timely approach to the topic.

About Lisa Rausch-Wendl 

Lisa Rausch-Wendl, BSc graduated from the IMC University of Applied Sciences Krems with a bachelor’s degree in Applied Chemistry after several professional years in social pedagogy and now works as a research assistant and laboratory technician in the Institute of Biotechnology. She is 31 years old, comes from the Pielachtal region and has a passion for dog sports and handicrafts.