Documentary films or a physics degree? A researcher or a leader? Berlin or Aalen? Measuring or polishing? When you have as many interests as Kathrin does, you want to do it all – that's the story her résumé tells us anyway. In fact, she almost didn't become Group Manager for Optical Technology at ZEISS' Semiconductor Manufacturing Technology segment – but rather a camerawoman on the hunt for interesting motifs.
"After graduating from high school, I hesitated between pursuing a career as a documentary filmmaker or a physicist. But I had to decide: Did I want to impart knowledge or create it? In the end, science won out." At least temporarily – because Kathrin, being Kathrin, wasn't about to give up on either one of her passions. However, while at university she took part in a three-month research project in Paris. Three floors below the Mona Lisa, in the basement of the Louvre, she investigated Stone Age jewelry. Were the shells deliberately dyed, making them the first pieces in a consciously designed jewelry set? Or did they turn black by accident? Kathrin worked with a team of archeologists, using comprehensive characterization methods to uncover the answers. And ultimately identified the jewelry that our ancestors wore some 10,000 years ago.
After completing her research, Kathrin joined the Press Relations department for the BESSY II synchrotron in Berlin. "The inaugural ceremony for a shared Helmholtz research center was just around the corner," she remembers. "We were busy preparing for everything from the multimedia presentation through the inaugural ceremony. And yes, that did include some documentary films! That meant I could speak with both scientists and researchers at length. I found that incredibly exciting." So exciting, in fact, that she soon accepted a new challenge: to build a high-resolution X-ray microscope and get it up and running. This innovative system allowed her to examine liquids in a vacuum by using soft X-ray radiation – even though liquids and a vacuum normally go together like oil and water.
Once the X-ray spectrometer was running disruption-free and Kathrin had found answers to the first exciting research questions in her dissertation, she switched the wavelengths. "I wanted to do something with lasers. Do research on my own terms. Lead a team." She gained experience with lasers during her post-doc and a stint in Switzerland, and formed her own team at the Helmholtz Center in Berlin. There, she investigated materials in liquids and under applied voltage. She worked just as hard when it came to forming her 6-strong research team – and shared her experiences as a junior professor in Bielefeld. "But eventually, the campus walls began closing in. I didn't just want to impress a few of my research colleagues, I wanted to make the world just a little bit better. I wanted more hands-on experience, to focus more on products and to take on more responsibility." So Kathrin kept her eyes and ears open, and interviewed in Oberkochen. "Before that, I'd always equated industry with mass production. Nothing to write home about. But then I discovered ZEISS. A place where people do research and work as a team to solve some really tricky challenges. I found that very exciting right from the get-go. I mean, semiconductors are the building blocks of progress. And I wanted to be a part of that."
As a Group Manager for Optical Technology, Kathrin is now in charge of optimizing polishing processes. Specifically, she heads up a group of development teams consisting of more than 20 staff members. Or, in her own words: "I manage some very smart cookies. Together, we advance precision in semiconductor manufacturing technology." Her processes see her working in the sub-nanometer range, which is nothing short of a challenge. "When ten parameters all change at the same time, it's difficult to understand all the processes happening in the polish slot. And believe me, we're nothing if not thorough. No one else is going where we're headed. And I'm really enjoying the challenge. Not to mention the freedom I enjoy at ZEISS. I can try out a lot of things, and lead the way I see fit."
Kathrin believes the ZEISS team spirit, alongside its flat hierarchies and targeted employee support – both by and for her – are beneficial. "Just like our products, all of us also have to develop, too. And ZEISS offers tailored ways of doing this, from manager seminars and workshops through to personal development surveys." So what does Kathrin like to do when she's not supporting others, conducting researching or leading? "That's what's so great about this location: everything is just a stone's throw away: work, the bakery, and the bookshop. And of course our next trek through the forest – that's something my two kids never fail to enjoy."