A wide range of interests and commitments – Rafael Eggli receives a fellowship from the Werner Siemens FoundationPortrait, SNI INSight December 2020
Rafael Eggli, who has been studying nanosciences at the University of Basel since 2016, has been awarded a fellowship by the Werner Siemens Foundation. Hailing from Switzerland, the 22-year-old has also held a scholarship from the Swiss Study Foundation since 2017. He is an enthusiastic participant in the broad program opened up to him by these awards, and he never ceases to be amazed at the opportunities that the nanosciences program in Basel offer him.
In summer, for example, he attended a summer academy in Ticino, where he spent a week learning about ethnology and globalization. Next year, he plans to take part in the National Model United Nations in New York, which will see him slip into the role of a national delegation at the United Nations General Assembly together with associates from the Swiss Study Foundation. The twist, however, is that each delegation will represent a country other than their own. It takes a great deal of preparation and sensitivity to acquaint yourself with another culture and to represent the interests of that country in the ensuing negotiations.
For Rafael, activities such as these are a great opportunity to immerse himself in a new world brimming with fresh knowledge and intriguing contacts.
A new world thanks to the scholarship
This exciting chapter of Rafael’s education began in summer 2017, when he was accepted as a member of the Swiss Study Foundation after successfully completing the lengthy selection process. He qualified based on his good grades, wide range of interests and broad community engagement. “This gave me access to an amazing range of educational opportunities,” Rafael explains in our interview.
The opportunities he is referring to are part of the annual program of the Swiss Study Foundation, which encompasses more than 75 courses across a wide range of subject areas. These also include seminars from the Werner Siemens Foundation, some of which Rafael has already attended. From September 2020 onward, he will now also receive financial support for a period of one year in the form of a Werner Siemens Fellowship from the foundation of the same name. This year, Rafael has been selected as one of 10 fellows who stand out due to their academic excellence and are prepared to commit themselves to the support and promotion of STEM subjects in wider society.
“We send Rafael our warmest congratulations on the fellowship. It’s always great to hear about how and where our students are getting involved. We wish Rafael the best of luck with his plans, and we’re sure we’ll be hearing from him again in the future.”
Prof. Dr. Christian Schönenberger, Director Swiss Nanoscience Institute
This is something that Rafael is already doing in numerous ways, including by teaching math and physics as a supply teacher at Gymnasium Kirschgarten, the secondary school where he completed his own Matura (high-school diploma). He is also involved in a project that aims to prevent the extinction of Parosphromenus, a genus of labyrinth fish from the peat swamps of Southeast Asia. In addition, he helps out as a scout leader as needed and when time allows.
Indeed, time is often an issue for Rafael, as nanosciences is also a very time-consuming and challenging course of studies. Nevertheless, he explains that this varied and interdisciplinary degree course was precisely the right choice for him. “So many times, I’ve come out of a lecture and thought to myself: Now I understand just a little bit better how nature works.”
The sheer diversity of block courses in the bachelor’s program was a real bonus for him, and he is now also excited at the opportunity to dig deeper into different subject areas as part of his master’s studies. “Since I joined the Study Foundation, I’ve met many students on different degree programs, including at other universities in Switzerland. None of them have the opportunity to acquaint themselves with as many different subjects, topics and methods in their course of studies as I do on the nanosciences degree here in Basel,” he says.
Rafael completed his first project in Professor Richard Warburton’s group, where he examined various geometries of a fin field-effect transistor (FinFET) for the realization of spin qubits. His second project, at Cornell University in New York, was actually supposed to follow on from this work — but, with his plans somewhat up in the air as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, it will now be next year before he travels to New York. Once there, he will use high-speed atomic force microscopy to study the conformational changes of an ion channel that occurs in human synapses and plays a hugely important role in medicine. In the meantime, he is working on his master’s thesis at the Department of Physics in the group led by Professor Dominik Zumbühl, in research that follows on from his first project on the FinFET.
Exciting plans for the future
For Rafael, what he likes most is being part of a team conducting research into the natural sciences. Although he also enjoys teaching and training young people, he believes that research is a more fitting vocation. With that in mind, he would like to move on to a doctorate after completing his master’s studies. “I still don’t know whether it’ll lean more toward nanophysics or nanobiology — I find both areas fascinating,” he says.
At the same time, he is not only fascinated by the fundamental principles but also interested in their possible applications and commercial potential, to the extent that he is already tentatively looking into how to found a start-up. When asked about his longer-term plans for the future, he says: “I want to learn about how technology can contribute to progress in our society. What are the basic principles and processes that lead to improvements? And then I’d like to be part of that progress.”