Marion Höhener: "Since I was 16 years old, I have been travelling three times a week from my home town of Uzwil (SG) to Empa in St. Gallen. I work in the Plasma & Coating group. Our research is aimed at giving surfaces and textiles new properties, for example with the help of nanostructured coatings. I feel very much included in the group. I plan experiments, set them up, collect measurements and present the results at working meetings. Of course, the postdocs know much more than I do, but I always felt respected.
For example, I have tested processes for coating textile fibres with a nanoscale layer of silver so that they can conduct electricity. We are working with industrial partners who want to develop a new electrocardiography device: a simple band placed around the chest that records the heart's electrical activity, without the usual electrodes that have to be stuck to the skin.
I knew early on that I wanted to work in natural sciences. At the end of secondary school, I decided to do an apprenticeship – I think I would probably have made it to the Gymnasium, but I wanted to do something concrete. I did several exploratory courses for laboratory apprenticeships in biology, chemistry and physics, also in industry. But I really liked what I saw at Empa, especially the variety of tasks. In a company you often focus on a small number of products, whereas here you are confronted with different problems every day.
During my first two years, we were mainly trained in the basics, with practical tasks such as repairs or making parts for experimental devices. But from the third year onwards, I was able to take on more responsibility and autonomy.
I have finished my apprenticeship this summer and will work at Empa for another year. But after that I'd like to take the "Passerelle" supplementary exam, which allows me to study at a university. I could also go to a university of applied sciences, but I haven't found a course of study that really appeals to me. I like research, and that requires university studies. I imagine studying at ETH Zurich, and probably physics. My impression is that few people who have a CFC in physics work in this profession all their lives. They often do new things – like me!