Published 29 June 2022 by Ulrike Böhm

Women in Research #LINO22: Julia Müller-Hülstede

Julia in the lab. Photo/Credit: in courtesy of Julia Müller-Hülstede

Julia from Germany is a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Engineering Thermodynamics at the German Aerospace Center (DLR), Germany.

Her research deals with the high-temperature polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cell. There, a target is to reduce or completely replace the Pt-based catalyst to lower the material costs. Promising candidates for the replacement of Pt catalysts are metal-nitrogen-carbon materials (M-N-C) which are the focus of my research.

Julia will participate in the 71st Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting.

Enjoy the interview with Julia and get inspired:

What inspired you to pursue a career in science / in your discipline?

I decided to study chemistry due to the high practical portions in lab classes where it is possible to directly apply the theoretical knowledge. Since my bachelor’s program, renewable energies and sustainable chemistry were always important topics. Therefore, it was clear to me to do research in this direction to contribute to a more sustainable world.

Who are your role models?

Several people inspired me during my path in life. Starting with my chemistry teacher in school, an enthusiastic chemist who inspired me to study chemistry. Followed by the female supervisor of my bachelor’s and master’s thesis. Moreover, during my Ph.D. thesis at DLR, I got a lot of support from two postdocs who were kind of role models.

How did you get to where you are in your career path?

Julia Müller-Hülstede
Julia targets to reduce or completely replace the Pt-based catalyst to lower the material costs. Photo/Credit: in courtesy of Julia Müller-Hülstede

After finishing school in 2013, I started my studies in chemistry at the Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg, Germany. For me, the most exciting working group was the technical chemistry group of Prof. Wark, dealing with renewable energies. Therefore, I wrote my bachelor thesis under the supervision of Prof. Wark in cooperation with Next Energy in Oldenburg (now DLR) in the field of Pt/C catalysts for fuel cells. During my master’s studies at the University of Oldenburg, I did a research internship abroad at the University of Alberta, Canada, in the group of Prof. Marc Secanell, where I also worked on fuel cells. Then I had the feeling that I should also have a look into another area. Therefore, I wrote my master thesis at the Fraunhofer IFAM in Bremen, Germany, in the division of fiber-reinforced composites. This was also a fascinating topic. However, fuel cells were still the most interesting topic for me, with a lot of research potential. Therefore, I returned to DLR to do my Ph.D. in cooperation with the University of Oldenburg and Prof. Wark. During my Ph.D. project, I developed novel Pt-free biomass-based catalysts for the oxygen reduction reaction in fuel cells. After finishing the Ph.D. project, I was offered a postdoc position at the DLR to further work on this topic and other fuel cell-related projects.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?

The coolest project until now was my Ph.D. project, as these were three years of intensive work, resulting in a lot of experience, results, and especially a large personal development. During this time, I learned to deal with setbacks, for example, if an experiment failed several times or a manuscript was rejected.

What’s a time you felt immense pride in yourself / your work?

I felt pride in myself the days after my Ph.D. defense when I realised that I had finished this chapter. But there are also these small moments during daily life where I feel a little bit proud, like giving a good presentation or being able to help someone solve a problem in the lab.

What is a “day in the life” of Julia like?

My working days start at around 6 AM. After breakfast, I start working from home or go to the institute. First, I check emails and then start some experiments in the lab, for example, the characterisation of new materials in the fuel cell test station. Over the day, there are some online meetings, e.g., project meetings or scientific discussions with students. At 12 pm, I have lunch with my colleagues or my husband when I am working from home. The afternoon also includes some experiments or working on manuscripts, project drafts, or evaluation of results. My regular working day ends at around 4 pm. After that, I love spending time with my horse, meeting friends, or helping my husband on his farm.

What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?

At the moment, the mixture of project work, supervision of students, and carrying out experiments is quite good for getting more experience. In the near future, I would like to lead larger projects and a project team.

What do you like to do when you’re not doing research?

I like spending time with my horse, visiting my parents and meeting friends. Moreover, if there is time, I help my husband and his parents on their dairy farm.

What advice do you have for other women interested in science / in your discipline?

Be yourself and do what you want to do! As long as you have an interest in Chemistry and are willing to learn, you can become successful.

In your opinion, what will be the next great breakthrough in science / in your discipline?

I hope the vision of a complete Pt-free PEM fuel cell with good performance and stability becomes true. This would contribute to the larger commercialisation of fuel cell systems which can be fueled with green hydrogen.

Ulrike Böhm

Ulrike Boehm is a physicist and science enthusiast. She works as an optical scientist at ZEISS in Oberkochen, Germany. Previously, she did her Ph.D. studies at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen in the Department of NanoBiophotonics of Nobel Laureate Stefan Hell, followed by research stays in the US at the National Institutes of Health and HHMI’s Janelia Research Campus, developing tools for biomedical research. She is generally passionate about designing and building (optical) instruments to image, probe, and manipulate (biological) structures. Furthermore, she is passionate about science communication and open science and is a huge advocate for women in science.