Awardee Interviews | Markus Valtiner - 2017 Peter Mark Award - Interview

Markus Valtiner

2017 Peter Mark Award Recipient - Interview

Interviewed by Dick Brundle, October 29 - November 3, 2017


 
BRUNDLE:  Okay.  So my name is Dick Brundle, and I’m representing the AVS in interviewing one of our award winners, and that is Markus Valtiner, who is this year’s Peter Mark awardee.  So before we get started, just say, “Hello.  Markus,” so that the transcriber can recognize your voice as opposed to mine.
 
VALTINER:  Hi.  I’m Markus.
 
BRUNDLE:  Okay.  Well, thank you for coming here.  The first thing I’m going to do is read what the citation is for your award.  So it is “For advancing understanding of physical and chemical mechanisms at molecular, nano- and microscales that impact adhesion and friction at electrified interfaces and for the development of novel stimuli-responsive materials,” which is a very long sentence. 
 
VALTINER:  I agree.  [Chuckles]
 
BRUNDLE:  So I hope during this you’ll explain some of that, but where I’d like to start this is where you started from.  Tell me where you were born and maybe a bit about your family and background growing up, school and so on, till you get to university.
 
VALTINER:  All right.  I was born 1981 in the small town Villach in the south of Austria. That’s very close to the border of Italy and Slovenia. I lived there for the first 18 years of my life, and then I went on to study chemical engineering at Vienna University of Technology in 1999.
 
BRUNDLE:  Okay. So high school, then, you already specialized in chemistry?  You knew you wanted to do that?
 
VALTINER: Oh yes, I did, actually.  I started to become really interested in natural sciences and chemistry in particular during my high school time.  We had this special class you could take on general chemistry, chemical synthesis and analytical chemistry.  I was trained on all the classical chemistry already during high school. Classes were each Friday for five hours in the afternoon. It was quite amazing and interesting and we learned a lot.
 
BRUNDLE:  So a very good teacher, then?
 
VALTINER:  It was a very good teacher.  He had a Ph.D. in chemistry and was able to make classes interesting and inspiring.  He expected a very high level as well, but that was somehow also encouraging for me. That was how I really got into chemistry. Within 2 years I got into all the different fields of chemistry and had a chance to do some organic synthesis, standard analytical chemistry and so on…  This was what encouraged me to enroll in chemistry …
 
BRUNDLE:  At university.
 
VALTINER: at the university.
 
BRUNDLE:  At 18.  So tell me something about your family before we get into your university—mother, father, where they’re from, any brothers and sisters.
 
VALTINER:  Mother, father are from that same town.  My father was actually born on a farm in the mountains in the back country.
 
BRUNDLE:  So no background in science.
 
VALTINER:  No background in science.  He was doing architecture, technical drawing…  That’s his profession, and I don't know what the English word for that is. What is that? 
 
BRUNDLE:  I think that would be maybe the surveyor or architect.  I’m not sure.
 
VALTINER:  It’s not the architect, he was project leader in a major architect office.
 
BRUNDLE:  And your mother?
 
VALTINER:  My mother learned programming.  She went quite early into programming and basically finished an associate degree in programming. In Austria we have this system where you have standard high schools, and then you have this “extended” high schools where you learn a specific profession for 5 years.
 
BRUNDLE:  I see.
 
VALTINER:  And she did that.
 
BRUNDLE:  So they both had a profession.
 
VALTINER:  Yeah, exactly.
 
BRUNDLE:  Both technical.
 
VALTINER:  Both technical professions.  That’s true.  So she was a programmer and started programming for the city of Villach and basically introduced computers to the city. That is all the data-basing and everything which is essential for a city nowadays. She started, I think, with things like the calendar of the mayor…
 
BRUNDLE:  A good place to start! Any brothers and sisters?
 
VALTINER:  Yeah.  My parents got divorced at some point, and I do have 2 half-brothers from my father’s side and a stepsister from my mother’s…
 
BRUNDLE:  So younger than you.
 
VALTINER:  They are all much younger than me.  My brothers are —what are they?—16, 17 years younger than I am.
 
BRUNDLE:  How old are you, by the way?  I didn't ask that.
 
VALTINER:  36.  That’s the cutoff age for this prize.  [Laughs]
 
BRUNDLE:  Well, it’s actually the work that has to be done before.  You could be older if all the work was done before.
 
VALTINER:  Oh, I see.
 
BRUNDLE:  But it’s usually around that age for people, for awardees, yes.
 
VALTINER:  Okay.
 
BRUNDLE:  Okay.  So now you’ve decided to go to university.
 
VALTINER:  Yes.
 
BRUNDLE:  Where was that?
 
VALTINER:  That was in Vienna, Vienna University of Technology.  I was leaning towards medical school, chemistry, or physics, and in the end, this intense chemical training in high school inspired me to continue with this. Regarding medical science, it was very clear that I could not do that, because you start the curriculum with cutting up corpses, and that’s a thing I can't really do. Or back then I was sure that I couldn't do it. Today I would probably be able to, but back then I decided that this is not really my thing. So physics or chemistry and I finally decided to go for chemistry.
 
BRUNDLE:  And it sounds like it was because of the enthusiasm in your learning of the teaching at high school.
 
VALTINER:  Yeah, it basically was, and it was a bit of a gut feeling to go for chemistry rather than physics.  Nowadays I’m in between both fields, so I ended up doing physical chemistry and chemical physics, which is at the interface of everything.  Both fields meet anyway, so somehow I found my way back to [overlapping voices].
 
BRUNDLE:  Well, yes.  Physics is important in chemistry for sure, so physical chemistry or chemical physics is a good place to be.  I did the same.  My reason for not going into physics was I didn't think my maths were strong enough to do that.  But I also very much like chemistry.  Okay.  So now you're at university.  How long does that take to get that first degree?
 
VALTINER:  Back then, the curriculum was five years.
 
BRUNDLE:  Oh my goodness.
 
VALTINER:  In Austria we still do a full master’s degree first, back then it was called a diploma engineer degree.  Basically the curriculum was two and a half years of fundamentals (edit: equivalent to a bachelor’s degree). Once you finish this part, you are allowed to go on with another two and a half years of specialization in a subfield of chemistry. Whether this is chemical engineering, biochemistry or inorganic chemistry is up to you. You basically choose after two and a half years.
 
BRUNDLE:  So you did that, and then you were there a total of five years, then.
 
VALTINER:  It was five and a half years until I handed in my thesis.  So we end that with a thesis. I got a scholarship for doing my thesis in Germany.  It was on…
 
BRUNDLE:  So the scholarship was from Germany, or Austria to—?
 
VALTINER: It was from the Technical University of Vienna…
 
BRUNDLE:  Oh, to go to do it.
 
VALTINER:  …to go and to visit any lab abroad, where they do some special things for a subject which is not part of the curriculum at TU Vienna. TU may not have the expertise to support a scientific thesis, and in that case it was simulation of magnetic molecules.
Well, at some point I got interested in fundamentals and simulations, my master thesis I hence did on simulation of spin crossover compounds.  That’s Fe(II) complexes which can undergo a transition from a high-spin state to a low-spin state, or from a low-spin state to a high-spin state if you increase the temperature, or if you excite them by light or by pressure.  With this transition you also go from a diamagnetic to a paramagnetic state, so you can switch magnetism. Basically molecular magnetism.  In that field I did some simulations of the molecular structure and the vibrational frequencies, and based on that, thermodynamic calculations of the spin transition as a function of the temperature.
 
BRUNDLE:  Okay.  So was this related in any way to the storage industry at that time or completely academic?
 
VALTINER: This field probably still is completely academic.  It’s being sold for this type of storage industry: On a 1×1 cm cube you could store a whole universe of information …
 
BRUNDLE:  But that wasn’t the driving force at all.
 
VALTINER:  The driving force was academic interest.
 
BRUNDLE:  Okay.  Where was this?  Which university?
VALTINER:  That was Technical University of Vienna.
 
BRUNDLE:  Okay, you're still there.
 
VALTINER:  For the thesis work I went to Germany to a group at Lübeck University.  Hauke Paulsen was my supervisor there.  He is a specialist in simulation of these compounds. I learned DFT simulation in his lab, and did my first simulation work with him.  That also got me my next position.
 
BRUNDLE:  But none of this has anything to do with surfaces and interfaces yet.  Yet.
 
VALTINER:  No, not yet. Those compounds are nowadays immobilized on surfaces, but it was sort of slowly getting towards the field which started to really interest me, so no.
 
BRUNDLE:  Okay.  Then what came after that?
 
VALTINER: I applied at Max Planck Institute for Iron Research in Germany for a Ph.D. position which they advertised.  In Europe it’s a little bit different how you get your Ph.D. position. You basically look for advertised positions, or you contact supervisors, asking whether they have a position. I contacted, actually, Max Planck because they had this open position for a person who was supposed to start with simulations and experiments in adhesion science.  So I had this background of doing simulations, and then I was very much interested in this field of interfaces and adhesion in general.  I got this opportunity to go to Max Planck, that’s how I actually started with surface and interface science.
 
BRUNDLE:  Any involvement with the AVS at that point?  Or it probably came pretty soon after that.
 
VALTINER:  It came pretty soon after that.  Actually, it’s my tenth anniversary of attending an AVS.
 
BRUNDLE:  Where was that?
 
VALTINER:  Boston.
 
BRUNDLE:  Okay.  We don't go there anymore.  It’s too expensive.
 
VALTINER:  Yeah, I know.  I know that by now.  [Laughter]
 
BRUNDLE:  Yes, those were very good meetings.
 
VALTINER: It was very accessible from Europe, and I could convince my boss, after one year working for him, to submit an abstract on the work, which I did on zinc oxides.  It was dissolution of zinc oxides, and then my talk was accepted and I could go. I was immediately drawn into that society because it really is at this borderline of surface science - this perfect understanding of what atoms are doing on surfaces-  and the wish of relating to the real world.
 
BRUNDLE:  Yes, yes.  It’s a society that has people from all different backgrounds of science.
 
VALTINER:  Exactly! 
 
BRUNDLE:  A lot of us, actually like me, are pretty old now in the society, but early on, in the early days of surface science, the same group of people were 40 years younger, and then it was a really exciting place because everybody was young in surface science.
 
VALTINER:  Okay.  I see.
 
BRUNDLE:  But they came from physics, engineering, electrical engineering, chemistry, whatever.  Very exciting place.  It’s still an exciting place.
 
VALTINER:  Oh, it totally is.
 
BRUNDLE:  But a lot of us are long in the tooth now.  [Chuckles]
 
VALTINER:  From 2007 on I went to AVS every single year.
 
BRUNDLE:  Were they giving you a year’s membership or something for when you came at that time free, or did you join the society?
 
VALTINER:  Back then I received the membership with the conference, so I started to be a member since then. 
 
BRUNDLE:  Okay.  And then you stayed.
 
VALTINER:  Then I stayed and I continued attending AVS for the last ten years.
 
BRUNDLE:  Yeah, that’s how I became a member, but that was back in 1974 in New York.  [Laughter]
 
VALTINER:  So yes, AVS was pretty soon after.  At Max-Planck I started working with Guido Grundmeier, who is now professor in Paderborn.  He was group leader at Max Planck back then.  His work was, and still is, very applied. He is working on adhesion of coatings and cathodic delamination of coatings from steel sheets, which are protected by zinc from corrosion. 
 
BRUNDLE:  Definitely real world.
 
VALTINER:  That’s a real-world problem, and when I started with him, he gave me…Well, the goal for my thesis was: Explain adhesion on the molecular level. [Laughter]  Great.  That’s a good goal!
 
BRUNDLE:  Yes, it is, but a tall one!
 
VALTINER:  With this question he inspired a lot of thinking, in a way.  His work was very applied, but he gave me and him the freedom to think about it from the molecular level. 
His lab just got an AFM and there was all this exciting development on single molecule AFM work.  You can manipulate single biomolecules, and then we asked whether we could do this in adhesion as well, and started to work on this. I was supposed to do theory and combine it with experiment, and I first started out looking into the theory.  Coming from the theory side the idea was to simulate both, the surface and then molecules on a surface in a liquid… but to what do I compare these simulations in adhesion science?  It soon turned out… well, there isn't really anything you can compare to.  There were no experiments.
 
BRUNDLE:  So you had to start to think about experiments and how to design and build equipment.
 
VALTINER:  Exactly, so how to run experiments, how to design experiments, to actually try and bridge to theory.  This is how everything started out with my interest in surface science and then interface science. When water meets a surface and molecules in water meet a surface, you have to understand the surface first.  You have to start with a pretty good surface.  For us, coming from a really applied world, a good surface was a single crystal. So, we started with single crystals, and started to prepare single crystals our way. So not like in UHV science, simply because we had no appropriate UHV equipment.  We used high-temperature furnaces and annealed crystals and then we figured out that high-temperature annealing of oxide crystals, gives very nice surface structures with large terraces to work with. Then the idea was, to put single molecules on our crystals using AFM, pull them off and measure interaction forces.
 
BRUNDLE:  What kind of molecules are we doing, then?
 
VALTINER:  Back then we started that with polyelectrolytes.  That was state-of-the-art in pulling molecules off surfaces.  If you bind these molecules to an AFM tip, and throw them on a surface you’ll find, that sometimes you pull off - let’s say five at the same time - whereas one is a little longer thanall  the others.  If you continue to pull, and pull, and pull , you are left with three, two and finally one molecules, which you finally pull off as a single molecule.
By preparing our crystals in a couple of different ways, we generated crystals with varying step edge densities. We could then prove that molecules specifically bind to the step edges.  Basically, if you peel them off from a big terrace, you end up with very low forces and very weak interactions. However, if you have many step edges, you will measure high forces and ruptures at every step edge, or more precisely in distances which correlate with the distances of the step edges on your surfaces.  So that was part of my Ph.D. work back then.
 
BRUNDLE:  So the position there, was that a permanent position?
 
VALTINER:  No.  It was a Ph.D. position. I received a salary and I was supposed to work on a specific project. In my case, there was an industry project in the background.  It was an industry project with Voestalpine. That’s a steel supplier in Austria, and they were interested in the fundamentals of the adhesion, because coatings on  surfaces protect them from corrosion.  In order to increase corrosion protection it is central to understand the interaction of your coating with the surface. In particular, if you have a scratch, and water coming in coatings can delaminate.
 
BRUNDLE:  I understand, yes.
 
VALTINER:  So that was the industrial background, but it was industry that was interested in the fundamental questions, in a very particular national funding program that allowed for this.
 
BRUNDLE:  Well, the German environment, and I guess Austrian too, is very good to that.  They’ve always been interested in the fundamentals and followed that.  That’s declined somewhat over here, at least in terms of funding.  But you did end up in the US after a while.
 
VALTINER:  Yes, I did end up in the US after a while.
 
BRUNDLE:  So how did that come about?
 
VALTINER:  I worked for Jacob Israelachvili at UC Santa Barbara in chemical engineering.
 
BRUNDLE:  Who is a really well-known character in the surface science field!  [Laughing]
 
VALTINER:  And in adhesion and friction.  Well-known character, that’s true.  I had a great time with him, actually, and how it all started was…  well, you know that he published this very famous book about interface science and adhesion.
 
BRUNDLE:  Yes.
 
VALTINER:  Again, my supervisor at Max Planck, Guido Grundmeier, gave me this task: Solve the molecular aspects of adhesion.  It’s a quest I’m still on.  Then he gave me Jacob’s book maybe a week later or so and he said, “Well, this is a really good book.  Read this, and if you know everything in this book, you are good in adhesion science.”  I said, “Okay.  Fair enough.”  So I read that book. 
Then after I defended my Ph.D., I considered what to do next. It was clear that I want to do post-doc in order to pursue my career in academia.  I knew that very early on, so it was very clear that I do have to do a post-doc.  In Europe, it’s considered good that you leave the German-speaking world. So you can go to England; you can go to the US.  My choice was the US, and then I did a bit of research on different people who I could go to. Jacob came into my mind and I checked out where he is located.  I didn't really know where he was located before I started doing my research. Santa Barbara…
 
BRUNDLE:  Well, that’s a very beautiful place!  [Laughing]
 
VALTINER:  That’s a good place to go, right?  So I decided to send him an email and said, “Well, I’m very interested in your work and in pursuing opportunities for me to join your team as post-doc”.  I told him that I am interested in visiting, and trying to find out whether we can work together and then maybe also apply for funding.  Jacob was apparently interested, so he replied to me and said, “Well, let’s have a phone call”. So we chatted a bit over the phone.  I told him my story, and then he agreed on a short-term visit. I visited him for four months, and that’s when we already started doing electrochemical work in his surface forces apparatus (SFA).  In these four months we could set up an electrochemical version of the SFA and we did very nice preliminary experiments, which was good enough to apply for funding to go back again, so…
 
BRUNDLE:  The funding came from where?
 
VALTINER:  The European Union has a program called Marie Skłodowska-Curie program. This program offers an outgoing fellowship —It’s called a Marie Skłodowska-Curie International Outgoing Fellowship.  So, the European Union pays…  If you receive this scholarship, you can go to any place in the world outside of the Union and the associated countries like Norway, Israel, Turkey.
 
BRUNDLE:  So now you could probably go to England in a while.  [Laughter]
 
VALTINER:  In a while I can probably go to England.  True.  This program allows you to go anywhere outside of EU.  The fellowship supports two years outside of Europe, and one year to come back and reintegrate.  So it’s a three-year grant, which is pretty good, and it comes with a little bit of research budget as well. I was excited that this exists and convinced Jacob to give it a try.  So I wrote an application and he wrote a letter of recommendation and my old boss from Germany wrote a letter of recommendation.  Then I submitted this and finally received that grant.
 
BRUNDLE:  And this is not done blind because you’d already been there four months.
 
VALTINER:  Exactly.
 
BRUNDLE:  So the two of you know that you are compatible.
 
VALTINER:  Exactly, so we knew that we were compatible.  Jacob also told me, “if that doesn't work, we might find an alternative way to get you here.”
 
BRUNDLE:  Some other way.
 
VALTINER:  Some other way, and then this finally worked out and I could work in his lab for two years with my own funding. The idea of that project back was to combine an electrochemical SFA, basically developing the electrochemical SFA further, and to try and combine it with interfacial spectroscopy. As model systems I proposed to use peptides as a tool to understand adhesion at interfaces, simply because peptides offer, in my view, flexibility to tune and program molecules on the drawing board.  You can synthesize them in any kind of sequence.  You have charged molecules.  You have uncharged ones.  You have hydrophobic, hydrophilic.
 
BRUNDLE:  I see.
 
VALTINER:  You can mix that in any way you like and start to study how that influences adhesion, and that as a function of the electrochemical potential.  Then on top of that, I wanted to even do interfacial spectroscopy in the SFA, which never happened because it was a bit too ambitious.
 
BRUNDLE:  That’s hard, yes.
 
VALTINER: We managed to come up with an idea how we could do this and tested it a little bit, but it never got further than that in the two years I was there.  But, it was an ambitious program which I wrote up [Laughs].  In the end this project brought me closer to biosurfaces.
 
BRUNDLE:  Yes, I understand.  Yes.
 
VALTINER:  The peptide model systems brought me into the Biointerfaces Division here at AVS. So I transitioned from zinc oxide crystals and looking into dissolution reactions using high resolution AFM, into understanding adhesion with programmed molecules at interfaces. We now systematically vary parameters such as solution parameters, molecular parameters, and really start to learn how those correlate in a complex environment.
 
BRUNDLE:  So how did you get back to Germany?  I know you explained that you have kind of one year to play with anyway.
 
VALTINER:  Exactly.  So, I had to ask someone in Germany if they were to accept me after two years with Jacob, and that was…Well, my PhD supervisor already moved on to Paderborn university, and I ended up asking the director of the department at Max-Planck, Professor Martin Stratmann.  I asked him, if there was a chance to return to his department, even though my former supervisor moved and the topic also moved away, and then he said, “Yes, sure.  If you get this grant, I will support the return phase, and then we’ll see how it goes.”  So I could come back to Max-Planck.  In the end this was a lucky coincidence, like it often is in your life:  There was a position of a group leader that just became vacant when I returned from the U.S. and he promoted me to a group leader.  I mean there was a bit more involved to that.  He asked me to write up a five-year program, about my aims and ideas, which was reviewed.  In the end I got this position as a group leader.”
 
BRUNDLE:  Where was that?
 
VALTINER:  That was again at Max Planck Institute for Iron Research, so I came back to Max Planck and started as a group leader.  That was a very exciting time as well. For the very first time I was really my own boss.  Well, I had my own Marie Curie grant in Jacob’s lab.  I could basically already follow many of my own ideas. But it’s really an exciting feeling to recruit your own people for your own ideas.
 
BRUNDLE:  Right.  Now you can get them to work on what you are interested in.  [Laughter]
 
VALTINER:  Exactly!  [Laughs]  So that was an exciting opportunity and I started recruiting people for my ideas. I got a nice startup package as well, and I still had my own funding for one year, so I could pay myself for one year and my group leader payment could go into students’ payment and a nice startup package for the first year.  That gave me the opportunity to hire two very talented post-docs right away, and then Max Planck offered internal funding for Ph.D. students and so I could hire one or two Ph.D. students quite quick as well.
 
BRUNDLE:  Okay.  So you have a small group over here.
 
VALTINER:  Yeah.  Four people, or maybe five.
 
BRUNDLE:  How long were you there, because you didn't stay there.
 
VALTINER: I was there from 2012 to 2016.
 
BRUNDLE:  Four years.
 
VALTINER:  About four years.  At Max Planck it’s very clear:  If you are a group leader, that’s a position which you must leave again.  You basically have very good funding.  You can really pursue your own ideas and go ways, which are probably impossible at other institutions simply because Max Planck has a high base-level funding…
 
BRUNDLE:  A lot of funding, yeah.
 
VALTINER:  …that covers already a lot.  That gives you amazing opportunities to really go for ideas which are very preliminary; you wouldn't get funding for that. But it is very clear from the beginning: After six years it has an end and you have to leave.  After four years I started to apply for positions (or after three and a half) and then I received an offer from Freiberg University of Technology, which is one of the few remaining schools of mines.  Colloid and interface science is, of course, very important for mining and in general for earth sciences.  That was a very good opportunity again. At the same time, they offered me a professorship, and I was awarded with an ERC grant, which is this well-known and competitive European Union scheme for young researchers.  You get about €1.5 million grant for starting something completely new.
 
BRUNDLE:  Wow!
 
VALTINER:  And together with the startup funding of the university, that gave me a lot of opportunities, which even go beyond the opportunities of Max Planck.  So it was just a good opportunity to move on after 4 years.
 
BRUNDLE:  So the work for which you are cited mostly here, is that mostly from over the past—what would it be? —five years there?
 
VALTINER: It’s Max Planck mostly.
 
BRUNDLE:  Max Planck, okay, and then Freiberg.  Okay.
 
VALTINER:  And then Freiberg was…I don't know if you have my most recent CV, but I just recently moved again.
 
BRUNDLE:  No.  I was leading you to that because I know you have, but it’s not in here.  [Laughter]  So just say a little bit about that.
 
VALTINER:  Okay, no.  I was in Freiberg for one and a half years, but that’s taking the story a bit ahead of time now.  So Freiberg was a very great opportunity for me.  The university gave me a very nice startup package.  Together with my ERC funding, really I could go back to university level, start doing teaching as well. Teaching is an aspect of the academic careers, which I am also very passionate about. So going back to university to really teach the field you work in and that you really like and love, I mean, that was a good opportunity!  In Germany you have these appointments which are lifetime appointments. I was holding, what in Germany is called a W2 position, and if you are ambitious you want to go for a W3 position.  So W1 is non-permanent assistant professor/group leader-like. W2 is permanent professor, tenured, but…
 
BRUNDLE:  Associate professor here.
 
VALTINER:  Associate professor probably, and then you can go for the full professor.  True, I wanted to go for the full professor, and then I had all of this money and all the possibilities that come with a first professorship.  Well, I was all set to do research for the next five to ten years in Freiberg, to qualify for the next level, and then…  You know I’m from Austria.  My wife is from Austria as well and…
 
BRUNDLE:  Well, I didn't know you were married.  I was going to ask you about that, yes.
 
VALTINER: And we always wanted to go back to Austria at some point.  My wife and I, we’ve known each other since we studied together, and she followed me for the whole journey of a scientist…
 
BRUNDLE:  So she was from the same area in Austria?
 
VALTINER:  No, she was from Vienna.  So when I moved to Vienna…
 
BRUNDLE:  That’s where you met.
 
VALTINER:  …I met her, and then I finished my master’s.  Then I got this offer to go to Germany and then she joined me, and finished her studies in Germany… But anyway, that’s leading us to a completely different topic now. Well, that’s a long story.  We can go into the details later if you wish…
            But it was a bit of a goal to go back to Austria for both of us.  Yet, for career reasons you can't stay in Austria. You don't have the opportunities you have if you go to Max Planck and then a post-doc in the US.
 
BRUNDLE:  You at least have to go somewhere else for a good while.  Yes.
 
VALTINER:  Yes, and I strongly feel that everyone has to leave their safe territory where you feel…
 
BRUNDLE:  The comfort zone.
 
VALTINER:  The comfort zone. You have to go out and you have to see how other people work and how their approach is to various problems.  You learn so much from that.  At some point, if it works out well, you may bring some of your experience back. We always wanted to go back, and then soon after I started my position in Freiberg, there was this post for a full professorship at Technical University of Vienna in the field of applied interface science.
 
BRUNDLE:  And you mentioned it to your wife and she said, “Oh, Vienna,” right?  Or something like that?  [Laughing]
 
VALTINER:  No, I was personally also very excited about this position because I really didn't expect it.
 
BRUNDLE:  I know, I know.
 
VALTINER:  It was in a department where there is a really, really great surface science group - the group of Ulrike Diebold - who is also very well-known to AVS, I feel.
 
BRUNDLE:  Yes.
 
VALTINER:  And there is a biophysics group which is doing applied biophysics, STED microscopy, and single molecule microscopy.  This is an amazing place and with my expertise - coming from this surface science-driven practical approach to understand adhesion, my experience with biointerfaces, which caught my interest over the last couple of years… Having the opportunity to fill a position where you are in between these two fields, that is also exciting.  So whether I would have been a position in Vienna or London or Melbourne or anywhere, this would have been an exciting position to go for.  I was lucky that it was posted in Vienna, so I had to apply, and give it a chance.  Then I was invited for the interview, which went pretty well. The competition, I knew, was big and other very, very good people also applied.  However, they were looking for someone that can bridge these two fields, biophysics and surface science, and well, it was a lucky coincidence.
 
BRUNDLE:  Yeah.  Right place at the right time with the right combination of backgrounds.
 
VALTINER:  Exactly.
 
BRUNDLE:  When was that?  When did you get the position or when did you know that you would be moving?
 
VALTINER:  At some point earlier this year.  So I got this letter from the rector of the university. Then I had a first appointment in May, I think, this year.  It was May certainly because it was exactly five days before the due date of our second child.
 
BRUNDLE:  And this is your second child?
 
VALTINER:  Yes, it was our second child.  So I had to go to Vienna for negotiations just five days ahead of that…
 
BRUNDLE:  They’d probably be understanding.
 
VALTINER:  Yes, they were very understanding and said, if it doesn't work out, we’ll find another date.  Then negotiations went quite well and they made me a very good offer to go back to Vienna. I think in beginning of July I decided that this is really a good offer and I accepted it.
 
BRUNDLE:  Good.  So you’ve only just moved there, then.
 
VALTINER:  Yes, and this had to go fast because it doesn't make any sense to wait for half a year, or I don't for know how long. So my lab basically transferred within three months to make a clear cut and to move on.  TU Vienna had to do quite some work in the labs because I inherited labs which have been run for 30 years.
 
BRUNDLE:  Mm-hmm [yes], so needed renovating  I guess.
 
VALTINER:  Exactly, but they managed this quite well.  I just recently moved in with my lab, and the equipment. We could test each of the systems by now, and they all seem to work fine…
 
BRUNDLE:  So you were able to transfer equipment from Freiberg?
 
VALTINER:  Yes.
 
BRUNDLE:  And a lot of the grant money just follows you?
 
VALTINER:  That all follows me.
 
BRUNDLE:  Very good.
 
VALTINER:  So that’s all part of the package.  Freiberg agreed as well.  I mean for them it was a pretty tough situation as well because they put a lot of investment into my startup package just some one and a half years ago, and now…
 
BRUNDLE:  Now they have to start over.
 
VALTINER:  They have to start over again, possibly with my old equipment.  So in the end, the decision was clear from their side and my side that the best thing will be to move everything and to compensate them financially, and that worked out well.  So it was all very tightly scheduled within two and a half months over the summer break…
 
BRUNDLE:  Yes.  And then you have to come over here to the AVS to accept your award.
 
VALTINER:  Yeah, exactly.  Exactly.  So here I am now.
 
BRUNDLE:  And the award is on Wednesday.  When is your talk?
 
VALTINER:  My talk is on Thursday at 11.
 
BRUNDLE:  Okay.  What’s the title of that talk?  I assume it’s not the same as this…[Laughs]
 
VALTINER:  Well, now you caught me on the wrong foot.
 
BRUNDLE:  Well, it doesn't matter.
 
VALTINER:  No, it’s about hydrophobic interactions.  I don't know the exact title right now…
 
BRUNDLE:  And it’s part of the Bio Division?
 
VALTINER:  It’s part of the Bio Division, and this talk will cover the history of the hydrophobic effect,  its current understanding, and what we do now with single molecular probing of the hydrophobic effect. It’s a very nice story, going from the microscopic understanding to the molecular understanding of an effect, and that is precisely what I am getting awarded for, to really try and bridge the scales from a single molecular level towards the microscopic level.
 
BRUNDLE:  So we’re going to finish in a minute because I said we’d make this half an hour.  We’re already 50 minutes.  [Laughs]
 
VALTINER:  Okay, wow!
 
BRUNDLE:  But that’s fine.  That means there was plenty to talk about.  But I know you’ve looked at some of the previous transcripts from the discussion you had, and there’s always a question I ask and it’s usually…I haven't actually interviewed a Peter Mark Award winner before, so you're much younger than most of the people I’ve interviewed.  But I always ask at the end, well, now in your position—and I’ve learned about how your career has progressed and what you’ve done and why—what advice do you have to somebody just starting in this area?  Maybe in surface science, but in general interest of AVS, what do you think is the most important thing that you would tell them?
 
VALTINER:  I think we’ve talked a little bit about it.  You have to get a good fundamental training, sure, but then you have to leave your comfort zone.  I mean go somewhere.  Explore the community.  Get to know the community and look in detail what other people are really doing.  Looking for exiting collaborations is probably an important advice: Be open to collaborations.  Look for good collaborations that can complement your work and your skills. Also, just working in a new group is central. If you are young, do your Ph.D. in a group which does what you are interested in, but then try and see how you can expand your horizon.  So really go out and be international and cosmopolitan.  That is good for everything,; I guess also for your private life…
 
BRUNDLE:  Yes, not just science.
 
VALTINER:  Not just science.  That is a general advice.
 
BRUNDLE:  Yes.  So anything else you want to add before the end of the interview?
 
VALTINER:  I think we’ve covered quite a bit, right?
 
BRUNDLE:  Yeah, I think so.
 
VALTINER:  Probably the only thing which I should have probably said in the beginning—I’m really thankful to AVS for awarding me.
 
BRUNDLE:  Well, congratulations for the award.  I don't think I congratulated you.  I read it out, but congratulations and I look forward to hearing your talk.
 
VALTINER:  Yes.  We’ll copy/paste that part in the beginning.  [Laughter]
 
BRUNDLE:  Okay, I will stop it now, then.


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