Welcome Nicolai and Sapthagiri at HPC

Nicolai Hoinka and Sapthagiri Sukumaran both recently started in Jian Cui's lab. Nicolai as a postdoc and Sapthagiri as a PhD student. Here they briefly introduce themselves, explain what will keep them excited scientifically for the next few years and what it is like to come to Munich during a pandemic.


Nicolai, you completed your PhD at the University of Kassel. What was the focus of your work there?
Nicolai: During my time as a PhD student at Kassel University, I investigated the influence of disordered materials on optical amplification. My research as subdivided into two main topics:
(i) The demonstration and characterization of so-called random lasing in multi-layered slab wave-guides, which establish a wrinkled surface when they are heated. These wrinkles acted as scatters for an embedded laser dye and multiple scattering resulted in resonant laser modes – a random laser.
(ii) Utilizing cellulose-based paper as a flexible and biodegradable substrate for amplified spontaneous emission. While conducting my experiments, I observed that upon optical pumping with a pulsed UV laser the emission of copy paper shows a drastic narrowing of its spectrum at high input intensities. This effect was the beginning of a very fruitful and literally colorful research topic.

Why did you decide to do your PostDoc in Jian's Lab? What interested you in Jian's research?
Nicolai: As I worked on disordered material photonics before, the combination of my expertise in these fields as well as the possibility to work with an interdisciplinary team to approach biological questions sounded both very appealing and challenging at the same time to me. Therefore, I see an opportunity to contribute to this team while being exposed to new research from my co-workers and collaborators. I was drawn to Jian’s research through his unconventional approach towards biological research and the way this affects his group’s approach while conducting experiments. In Jian’s research, I am interested in the photonics of biological systems and I would like to contribute to a better understanding of how light travels through and interacts with biological matter.

You have been at HPC for almost three months now. Have you been able to make a few contacts with other groups, despite Corona?
Nicolai: Naturally face-to-face networking proves difficult while social distancing. However, through video calls I was introduced to many researchers in related fields. I would like to highlight HPC seminars and express my gratitude to the organizers that put in great effort to find virtual solutions to network afterwards. Of course, the coffee machine is a good place to casually meet people and chat for some minutes.

You moved from Kassel to Munich. How do you like it so far here in the south?
Nicolai: Munich is a great city that has so much to offer. I am looking forward to exploring the museums and the cultural programs once it is safe to do so. Although Kassel is not far from here, the mentality, and sometimes the dialect of Bavarian people is quite different. Their welcoming and friendly disposition makes it easy to feel at home.

Sapthagiri, first of all, welcome to Germany and to Munich. You moved from India to Germany during the Corona Pandemic. That was certainly not easy. How was it for you to move to a foreign country in such special times? Did you have support?
Sapthagiri: Thank you for your warm welcome. Coming here to Germany has been a months-long process, initially I was supposed to visit Jian’s lab for an interview during March 2020, but then the corona pandemic put a halt to it. So we did every process virtually to accelerate my joining here, parallely I was also waiting for the air travel lift, and luckily I was able to find a ride through a special air travel bubble!
The Admin staff here, I have to mention Stephanie Montag and my PI Jian were supportive and were motivated to have me here, so I did not give a second thought to take a flight during this pandemic!

What fascinated you about Jian's work so that you decided to take this big step?
Sapthagiri: Jian’s background and experience in both biology and physics makes it unique for our team to work on diverse fields that converge at finding solution for a complex biological problem. This fascinated me, and the team we have is also interdisciplinary, that inherently presents a opportunity to learn from each other towards addressing a specific problems.

What are your wishes and goals for your PhD?
Sapthagiri: I have a quiet big list! But, to sort out the important ones, it comes to establishing cross-disciplinary techniques/methods, doing relevant research that will have eventually broader societal impact.

You came to Germany from India. What are the greatest differences for you so far? What do you like so far?
Sapthagiri: It is the weather, in the first place! Coming from a tropical country, the snow makes you feel strange which is also good in way that I am learning to take a good care of my health. Secondly, of course the bureaucracy, a lot different from India, from corona regulations to availing residence permit. The only thing that feels relevant is coming to work and starting to establish things in lab.