Aisha Aqeel | Meet the MCQSTians: in this series, we regularly feature members of the MCQST community.
“Be confident about what you know and be curious about what you don’t”
Aisha Aqeel is an MCQST START Fellow working in the group of Christian Back at TUM. We invited her to talk about her START research project, which just started in March, and the advice she’d give to scientists starting their research careers.
Can you briefly explain your research within the START Fellowship?
In the START fellowship, I am working on growth and surface engineering of unconventional magnetic materials, which can be used for future quantum-hybrid systems. These are topological materials, which host complex magnetic knots like skyrmions. An example of such materials is Cu2OSeO3. My research focuses mainly include static and dynamic magnetization of complex skyrmion hosting materials, magnon-transport, and crystal growth.
What does your day-to-day work look like?
Usually every day is different, but always exciting. Sometimes I work many hours to days setting up experiments, and sometimes I am just busy at my desk analyzing data, writing manuscripts, or preparing lectures. What is the same every day is having a quick chat with my START Fellowship team and coffee with my colleagues. We have a quite good coffee machine and a vibrant, lively group. Every day is full of so many exciting things that it often feels like it’s flying by too fast.
Did you always want to be a quantum scientist when you were younger?
Honestly, no. During my studies in Pakistan, I was interested in experimental physics, and this topic was not taught very much at that time. There is a varied sequence of events which actually led me here, and I am very happy about it.
If you weren't a scientist, what do you think you would be doing now?
I used to like painting and poetry. Therefore, if I were not a scientist, I think I would have been an artist.
What drew you to Munich (and MCQST)?
I was already working in collaboration with WMI in Garching when I was a PhD student. After my PhD, I did my first postdoc with Christian Back at the University of Regensburg. I really enjoyed working with him. When he moved to Munich, I had the option to come too. As I really liked working with Christian and I knew Munich already, it was a fast and easy decision. I then got a first chance to collaborate with an MCQST team and now I feel lucky to be part of it.
What was your most memorable moment or proudest achievement in your research at MCQST thus far?
During my PhD in Netherlands, I got the chance to work with Prof. Thomas Palstra – who introduced me to the beauty of magnetic materials, their growth, and their physical characterizations – and Prof. Bart van Wees, who introduced me to studying these materials by transforming into small devices. I found it amazing to grow a material (crystal) and optimize its properties for applications in quantum technologies. We have found recently some interesting properties by modifying the interface of magnetic crystals (which I am working on). We are excited to explore it further.
Outside of science, what do you enjoy doing most?
I love spending time with my little baby, painting with him, going for a walk, or even reading stories to him.
What advice would you give to someone at the beginning of their physics career?
I would advise them to be confident about what you know and be curious about what you don’t know. It helps to be open about your doubts and questions with your boss and colleagues. The more we share openly, the more chances we have to learn.
What kind of support do you think it’s important for early career scientists to have?
Funding programs like the MCQST START Fellowship are unique and important for early career scientists. It provides them a chance to build and lead their own team, with a platform to excel and gain their own scientific visibility. Such funding programs empower young researchers and boost skills that are necessary to continue in academia. I wish there were more funding programs like this for early career scientists.