Rym Soltani has just joined Carbon Waters as an R&D process manager. The doctoral candidate has been passionate about chemistry since she was a young girl. Now she has decided to leave academic research behind for a career in applied R&D. Read our interview with this major fan of science and the nanoworld.
Before joining Carbon Waters in August 2022, your background was more academic, focused on medical research.
Rym Soltani: That’s right, and these two spheres seem very complementary to me! I’ve always been fascinated by the world of science, especially chemistry. After completing the second year of my master’s degree in organic chemistry and a master’s 2 lab training in therapeutic nanoparticles, I wanted to continue my university studies with a thesis on the use of nanoparticles in biomedical research. But opportunities are rare in Algeria, so I applied for a grant at the University of Strasbourg. I was awarded the grant, so I began my thesis in 2018, under the direction of Dr. Albert Bianco, director of research at the Institute of Molecular and Cellular Biology in Strasbourg. My research topic was about “chemical functionalization of carbon nanotubes for applications in cancer and inflammatory diseases,” where I was in charge of using multiple previously optimized methods to graft antibodies and any other interesting molecules onto the surface of graphene cylinders, and to characterize them by various techniques. I collaborated with teams of biologists to carry out all my research work. They were doing in vitro and in vivo experiments to observe the behavior of nanomaterials and validate their efficacy. I was also able to train in numerous cutting-edge technologies during my research, and to enhance my interdisciplinary skills, like project organization and management. I finally defended my thesis in March 2022, but after much thought, I wanted to test the waters in applied research, which is more concrete and accessible.
What made you choose that?
R.S: My three years of academic research were enormously fulfilling, but I wanted to move out of my comfort zone and tackle field work. Carbon Waters matched my search requirements and my fields of expertise perfectly, since the start-up specializes in graphene, which is a revolutionary, promising material that I am very familiar with from my doctoral work. Its mechanical, thermal, and electrical properties, and its anticorrosion qualities, give it immense potential for several industries, and I was eager to investigate these new fields of application.
What are your various tasks at Carbon Waters?
R.S: In general, I optimize the graphene dispersion production process. It’s a major challenge if we want to succeed in scaling up and moving on to the industrial phase. On a day-to-day basis, I run various tests to better understand and improve every stage of our current process. These monitoring and verification tasks are part of a virtuous learning loop. They allow us to vary the parameters to improve the performance, output, and quality of our products throughout the production chain.
My team consists of two technicians and a doctoral student. Together, we also conduct multiple lab experiments, where we work in glove boxes in an inert atmosphere, since our products are sensitive to oxygen and humidity. So we’re going to modify all sorts of parameters (temperature, product concentration, synthesis technique used, etc.) to observe the impact of these changes on the process. Our studies have led us to adjust our protocol by eliminating and altering factors that don’t impact graphene production and quality but that have allowed gains in productivity and the work environment.
Aside from graphene, what else are you interested in?
R.S: I have two passions: pastry and travel! For me, pastry-making is a lot like chemistry, because you have to be very exact, very careful, and patient! My specialty is baklava, a flaky pastry with almonds soaked in honey. I recently baked my first macarons, and I also love to make totally original attractive desserts and pastries. When I travel, I never fail to taste the local specialties! I’ve visited multiple countries in Europe and Asia, including Turkey and Malaysia. My childhood dream is to fly off to the US, my “American dream,” and walk around the streets of New York, discovering its most beautiful skyscrapers!