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PhD Natalia Bel Potrzebowska: Every path has a beginning

Doctor Natalia Bel Potrzebowska obtained her doctoral degree at Université Claude Bernard in Lyon, and she currently works as a R&D engineer in STMicroelectronics. She is a co-author of scientific articles and a co-inventor of one of the European patents. In her work, she primarily seeks projects that require innovation, focusing mainly on physico-chemical research.

The article is part of a series of Coopercnius conversations with Polish scientists with foreign scientific backgrounds.

How did you start your adventure with science?

 Science has always been present in our home. Both my parents and my older siblings were my first scientific mentors and inspired me to learn about it. I attended my first science festivals when I was just a few years old. I had the opportunity to learn about science through play, as simple examples of the laws of chemistry or physics. I used to sip chocolate in the canteen at the scientific institutions, even though I was still a few years away from going to college. However, it wasn’t until the end of high school that my scientific passions became more specific.

What were the factors that made you decide to go abroad? What were the biggest challenges with this decision?

Curiosity was a major factor. I studied Nanotechnology at the Lodz University of Technology with the possibility of going to study abroad. I was in my master’s degree when I first went to France to do research for my thesis. 

The first trip was not a big challenge because it was supposed to be temporary. There was more complicated about going for a PhD. On the one hand, I had the feeling that after going through a few interviews, it has been already at this stage a reward for my work at university, but on the other hand, it involved creating everything from ‘zero’, both in terms of personnel and professional life.

What are the benefits of working in the international scientific community compared to working in Poland?

 When I left Polish for my PhD in France in 2016, I did not have much experience in working in an international environment. I gained it only when I became a foreigner myself, when I had to face the language barrier, the difference of cultures, views, and even the form of communication, including the results of scientific research. I believe that it has broadened my views and motivated me to understand people from the country where I currently live, and associate with the society.

Do you keep in touch with the Polish scientific community?

 Currently not, apart from my family and friends. However, in my current position, we have opportunities for scientific cooperation, accepting interns and even PhD students. I am currently participating in a European project with French and Greek researchers.

What are you currently working on and what is your main research focus?

 I work for a semiconductor manufacturing company (STMicroelectronics). The Crolles site, where I work, is located in France, in the department of Isere, about 20 km from Grenoble. As an engineer in the R&D department, I am primarily involved in the fascinating design of semiconductors with a transistor gate width of less than 20 nm. This is a global challenge! 

What are the latest developments in your field of research that are of particular interest to you?

 As part of my scientific path, I have already had the opportunity to change my main field of interest at least three times: from catalytic chemistry, through piezoelectric materials, to microelectronics. There are many areas of science that interest me.

As representatives of the industrial sector, we participate in a European project to create photoresins derived from natural sources. I believe that it is necessary to look for pro-ecological solutions in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, especially for large companies such as ours. I hope that we will be able to introduce this type of solution on an industrial scale. Combining high-tech technology with a low carbon footprint remains still a huge challenge.
In addition, I am personally fascinated by achievements in the field of medicine in the broadest sense, such as drug carriers with a regulated dose and release time, or micro robots used to treat brain disease proposed by one of the Parisian start-ups. 

What is your most important scientific achievement or discovery? Why is it important? 

As a co-author of several scientific publications and a European patent, I have a fondness for each of these projects. I think I appreciate the ones where I feel a lot of my own work and the ones where I could be creative. The more I participate, the greater the satisfaction.

What scientific problems in your discipline are you most looking forward to solving and why?

 In the field of microelectronics, our sensors are expected to be 100% efficient, fast and compact. It is unacceptable for any sensor in a car or airplane to not work properly.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your scientific work?
The creation of a semiconductor, which takes several months to produce and involves more than 300 steps, is a very complex process. Even though my work is limited to photolithography processes (i.e. placing a resin on a silicon wafer and then exposing it), understanding the steps, explaining, and analyzing the production processes is still a very complex field of science. Every day I learn something new and there is no end in sight.

What are the most important research questions that you plan to address in the near future? What directions of development do you see in your field?

As semiconductor manufacturers, product performance is our top priority. According to Moore’s Law, the size of the transistor is constantly being reduced. Currently, there is rummer of 10 nm technology!

However, taking into account the movements in European politics and beyond, the introduction of pro-ecological solutions is necessary for the further functioning of both the company and our comfort as residents of the region.
Despite the fact that STMicroelectronics has already made a lot of changes in this area, we are still working on improving the systems.

Are there practical implications or potential applications of your research results? How do you see their impact on society or the economy?

STMicroelectronics products are present in phones, computers, cars, airplanes, toys, credit cards, etc. We have already seen a huge change that took place after 2020 (the year of the pandemic), when it became apparent that there was even more demand for semiconductor production in Europe. Our experts observe the trends in the global market and adapt the factory’s activity to the needs of our customers.

What advice would you give to young scientists at the beginning of their scientific careers?

 Openness to new challenges and scientific projects allowed me to get to know other fields of science than those I had known so far. It sometimes required additional work to catch up with a few basic courses in a specific field, but on the other hand, my experience or knowledge from another area of science turned out to be an innovative solution that created new perspectives for the project.

Every road has a beginning. Surely, being fluent in a language helps a lot in finding your way in a new place, but many things can be simply learned, which takes time and patience.

Fot. Unsplash

Natalia Potrzebowska
Master of Nanotechnology, Ph.D from chemistry, I joined STMicroelectronics (Crolles, France) in November 2021. I am working as R&D Engineer in team of Photolitography.
Marta Sikora
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