The ESRF user Kirsten Jensen wins the L’Oréal UNESCO Women in Science Rising Talents award


Kirsten Marie Ørnsbjerg Jensen, an assistant professor at the University of Copenhagen and a longtime user of the ESRF, has just been awarded the L’Oréal-UNESCO international award for women in science as a rising talent of 2019. Her work focuses on structural analysis of nanomaterials and the ESRF plays an important role in it.

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If we change the size of functional materials used for energy technologies such as batteries, solar cells or catalysts by going to the nanoscale level, they can exhibit completely different properties. Kirsten Jensen and her team of ten people are trying to find out why this happens by studying the atomic structure of nanomaterials related to potential energy applications. The L’Oréal foundation, together with UNESCO, has recognised the importance of her work by selecting her among the 15 rising talents of women in science in 2019.

The prize was presented by L‘Oréal, and UNESCO, the UN organization for education, science and culture, last week in Paris. The evaluation committee selected the 15 laureates from a list of participants from 117 countries, all of whom had already been awarded L’Oréal-UNESCO awards at national levels.

Jensen’s research is focused on the relations between atomic structure, properties and the synthesis of new nanomaterials. With her team, they aim to obtain an atomistic understanding of new advanced materials. The ultimate goal is to make ‘materials by design’ – materials tailored to give specific properties for applications in e.g. catalysis, solar cells and other energy technologies.

At the ESRF, Jensen uses the technique of Pair Distribution Function analysis. “Using PDF at the ESRF we can get structural information of materials that show no long-range order, e.g. amorphous or nanostructured materials. Even if the theory behind the technique has been around for many years, it wasn’t until the development of computing and software, and the availability of high flux, high energy synchrotron radiation that the technique became possible to use about 15 years ago. Now, it is becoming a more and more established method for structural analysis of nanomaterials, and it is only growing in importance”, explains Jensen.

ID11 and ID15 are the main beamlines she uses for her research. On the beamlines with her team, they use X-ray scattering to follow material synthesis in real time. They set up a small chemical reactor where oxide nanomaterials are formed. “Using time resolved X-ray scattering, we are able to see live how atoms get together and form materials. We need to know this mechanism to understand how we can build new materials in the future”, she says.

Although she defines her research as fundamental, the knowledge acquired with her experiments can have a potential impact in applied energy materials, such as batteries, sensors or catalysts.

It is not the first time that Jensen’s talent has been recognised. Last year, she received an ERC Starting Grant from the European Research Council of EUR 1.5 million for her research project MatMech; Live Tapings of Material Formation: Unravelling formation mechanisms in materials chemistry through Multimodal X-ray total scattering studies.

Text and video by Montserrat Capellas Espuny.

Top image: Kirsten Jensen on the experimental hutch of ID15 at the ESRF. Credits: C. Argoud