Unfold your career

Madeleine Petschnigg, Junior Scientist, Thin Film Technologies

Master student, Junior Scientist and PhD student: That sums up Madeleine Petschnigg’s career at SAL so far! Madeleine joined SAL in 2020 as a master student to write her thesis on piezoelectric thin films. Now she is working as a Junior Scientist for Thin Film Technologies and writing her PhD thesis. When she is not working, Madeleine likes to take a walk through the woods of Villach and to bake – which she even got to do in our new SAL MicroFab cleanroom before we celebrated its opening ;-) You can watch the video here!



"My career tip: Don't be discouraged by obstacles that are only in your mind!"

Dear Madeleine, what are you currently responsible for at SAL?

At the moment I spend most of my time on the development of a sputter deposition process for lead zirconate titanate (PZT) and adjacent layers. PZT is a ferroelectric oxide ceramic, which can be used as an actuator in ultrasound transducers, micro speakers, mirrors and other microelectromechanical systems (MEMS). In my PhD thesis, I explore the effects of PZT plasma on the materials performance in the final application.

In addition, I recently took over the management of a strategic project on PZT based quasi static micro mirrors for medical applications. The project is called VARIMED, and I won the Early Career Call for it together with my colleagues Pooja Thakkar and Sara Guerreiro. Apart from that, I am also working on process development and other materials science related questions in the frame of several projects.

Learn more about VARIMED

Why do you like your work and what do you appreciate about SAL as an employer?

I appreciate that I am very free in my work and that I get to take on many responsibilities. I have the feeling that my colleagues from other backgrounds value my expertise and that another perspective is often a positive contribution to projects.  What I appreciate the most though are the opportunities SAL provides for young researchers at an early stage of their career! I feel supported in my scientific and professional development at SAL – I can already lead my first own project while I work on my doctoral thesis, for example.

What tip would you give applicants or other young researchers for their career at SAL?

My most important tip that has also advanced my own career is to not be discouraged by obstacles that are only in your mind. If you want to achieve something, don’t wait for the perfect moment or assume that it is beyond reach, but take the path step by step. This includes, for example, taking on more responsibility, asking critical questions and reaching out to peers and superiors.

Let me tell you an anecdote from my own career: At the beginning of my PhD studies, I was faced with the question of which university I wanted to do my thesis with. I contacted my supervisor of choice at Pennsylvania State University– and instantly got a positive response! If I had been discouraged by her popularity in the field and not even tried, I would’ve missed out on an amazing opportunity.

What has been your highlight at SAL so far?

My personal highlight was my research stay at Pennsylvania State University, where I took different classes for my PhD. This way I was able to gain experience with microfabrication and characterization at a different institution.

Learn more about Madeleine’s stay abroad

What intrigues you about your work as a researcher?

As a researcher, boredom is not a feeling I know. There is always something new to explore and learn! I can work on fundamental research, or I can improve existing processes, but I am always engaged in fascinating new topics.

Do you have a professional role model?

If I had to pick one role model, it would be my PhD supervisor Prof. Susan Trolier-McKinstry from Pennsylvania State University. Not only is she a brilliant scientist, but also a passionate teacher who loves to share her knowledge. She always encourages her students to critically review their work and the work of their superiors – because scientific progress is only possible with a creative, analytical and critical way of thinking.

Check out even more insights into Madeleine’s work in the cleanroom


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