Dr Michaela Froehlich
Tell us a little about yourself – what are you passionate about?
I always wanted to be a nuclear forensic scientist. Although not exactly labelled and employed as such, part of my work involves investigating and identifying the origins of uranium and plutonium in our environment.
I also like to be outdoors and love camping.
Where did you grow up? What is your earliest memory about science?
I grew up in Vienna, Austria and I think from early on, I was interested in how things work. I remember once that I took the kitchen timer apart. My mum was not really pleased when I was not able to reassemble it. In school, I was immediately drawn to chemistry, physics, and maths. I also always wanted to have one of those chemistry/science kits for kids, but my mum was a bit concerned and said that I should wait until university before I start any experiment. Well, I guess, I did.
What did you do after you left school?
I started studying chemistry and finished with a PhD in it. It was certainly not always easy, especially at the beginning with all the mandatory lectures and practical courses which needed to be done in a specific order. Once I was able to choose my own subjects, I found my specific areas of interest – radiochemistry, analytical chemistry, and nuclear physics.
What do you do now?
I’m a Senior Lecturer at the Australian National University (ANU). My role encompasses a wide variety of activities in environmental chemistry, nuclear physics, and astrophysics. My own research program focusses on actinides (metallic radioactive elements) in the environment and their applications by using a single-atom measurement technique called Accelerator Mass Spectrometry.
Tell us the story of your proudest achievement;
I don’t think that there is one single achievement that I’m most proud of. It’s more my journey, I guess. I had absolutely no idea what it meant to study chemistry. I remember a maths lecture where we covered in 5 minutes a whole topic that took us three months at school. It was shocking and frightening but at the same time also exciting to see that there is so much out there to learn.
I am proud that I finished my chemistry degree, although there was a period where I struggled and considered to do something else. I am proud that opportunities were offered to me which I recognised as such.
What advice would you give to current female students thinking of pursuing a career in STEM?
Follow your interests and passion. It might not always be easy, but a certain degree of challenge is good to keep you going.