Genevéve, South Africa

10 Questions with Genevéve Marx

Genevéve from South Africa works as a research assistant at the Centre for HRTEM in the Department of Physics at Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

Her research aims to develop an approach to help coal-fired power plant companies to more accurately analyse their component steels using advanced electron microscopy techniques to determine remaining life. The final output is a strategy for more accurate component management at SA coal-fired power plants using a microstructural-based approach instead of conservative conventional approaches. Since this is a novel approach for the SA power plant industry, this research contributes to industry innovation and improved infrastructure management.

Genevéve will participate in the 69th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting.

Enjoy the interview with Genevéve and get inspired:

  1. What inspired you to pursue a career in science?

It was only in Grade 10 of High School that I really discovered my love for Chemistry and Physics. I realized I had an aptitude for understanding Chemistry and Physics concepts – and I liked the challenge they provided. The more my knowledge of these fields grew, the more passionate and driven I was to become a Scientist and discover a world that the normal person does not get the chance to discover. Therefore, I applied for a BSc (Materials Development) degree at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU). I also believe that with Science you have many opportunities to contribute to solution to real-world problems.

  1. Who are your role models?

In Science and specifically Physics, there are many role models I can mention – the Nobel Prize winners in Physics inspire me. However, one role model I will mention is Dr Caroline Leaf – a well-known neuroscientist and motivational speaker. She has the gift of linking her faith (Christianity) and the science of the brain. I am an unashamed Christian and I aspire to also someday be a motivational speaker that can use my knowledge and background in Science to show the link between Science and God. She also has found the perfect balance between having a successful career, being a wife and mom to 4 children – these experiences she shares openly. This is valuable to me being a married female scientist.

  1. How did you get to where you are in your career path?

I might have started answering this question in my answer to Question 1. In first year of my undergraduate studies, I was fortunate enough to have been given a research opportunity in Physics by Prof Japie Engelbrecht. I will always be grateful for the potential he saw in me. During each university holiday, I had research opportunities in Infrared Spectroscopy, Raman Spectroscopy, and the field of Solid State in general. These research opportunities made me realize that I have potential as a Physicist and Researcher.
After completing my Honours degree in Physics, I pursued my Masters and Doctoral degrees in the field of Electron Microscopy. I had exposure to this field during my undergraduate research opportunities and I found the field captivating and challenging enough to ensure I develop my full research potential. I realised in this field I get to “see” a world that the normal eye cannot ever perceive.
During the 2 years of my MSc and 3 years of my PhD I have trained on and mastered about 11 different techniques and am able to operate 3 types of electron microscopes. I have also developed various sample preparation techniques for my material. The skills I have acquired are known as scarce-skills in South Africa and I am very fortunate to have attained these skills at a young age. To date, I have attended and presented my work at 21 conferences/workshops. Specifically, I have attended and presented at 3 international conferences where I had numerous opportunities to visit world-class research laboratories such the Electron Microscopy Centre and Materials Science Centre situated at the University of Manchester and the electron Physical Science Imaging Centre (ePSIC) located on the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire. I have also co-authored 3 publications to date. I have been fortunate to have won a total of 10 awards during my student years – each award being a confirmation to me that I have chosen the career path that best suits my talents.
The fact that I have been awarded full scholarships for both my undergraduate and postgraduate studies made it possible for me to develop my career as a Physicist. I was awarded the NMMU Vice-Chancellors Scholarship for academic excellence in first year of university. To maintain this scholarship, I had to obtain an average of more than 70 % for each year of study. I received scholarships from Nelson Mandela University and the National Research Foundation of South Africa for my postgraduate studies.

  1. What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?

It was so cool I am not legally authorized to talk about it. 🙂

  1. What’s a time you felt immense pride in yourself / your work?

Obviously, being selected to attend the Lindau Nobel Laurate Meeting is such a time. I could not help thinking as I was completing my application application: “What if all I have achieved so far was setting me up to be able to attend this one meeting…”.
I also felt proud of my work when I won the prestigious ALS/JEOL award for the “Most Promising Microscopist” at the 54th Annual Microscopy Society of Southern Africa (MSSA 2016) conference held in Port Elizabeth. Winning the top award at this conference was particularly special to me since Port Elizabeth is my hometown and I had my husband in the seat right next to me when they announced my name at the MSSA Gala Dinner. What made this award exceptional was the fact that the prize was an all-expenses paid trip to any international conference sponsored by ALS and JEOL UK. Since I always have wanted to travel to the UK, the conference I chose to attend was the Microscience Microscopy Conference 2017 (mmc2017) held in Manchester, UK from 3 to 6 July 2017.

  1. What is a “day in the life” of Genevéve like?

A normal work day starts out with me having to sort out my husband and two Bull terriers (yes TWO BULL TERRIERS :-)) for the day with breakfast etc. Then getting ready to go to work at the university – it is about a half an hour drive for me. As soon as I arrive at the university, it is the normal greet everyone since we are quite a close-knitted group at the Centre for HRTEM. I then do admin (check e-mails etc) and plan my daily calendar while drinking a cup of coffee (my catalyst :-)). Finally, my day then starts usually by either doing sample preparation, analyses on one of our electron microscopes or processing results on the PC. My day usually ends after 4 pm when all my planned work is completed. My husband owns his own construction company – so sometimes after work I help him with admin work at his offices. Otherwise, I go home and perform my normal “wifey” duties e.g. cooking dinner etc., which I love to do BTW. 🙂

  1. What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?

My greatest desire is that my research contributes to both the industry and society. The information generated from my postgraduate studies will eventually help power plant companies, specifically those of South Africa to perform more accurate life assessments of their components. Subsequently, power plant failure can be prevented and all its negative impacts to the environment, economy and society. I also aim to contribute in someway to the development of better power plant materials. My other love it lecturing and working with students – so I would love to lecture Physics, while maintaining a career as a researcher in Electron Microscopy and Materials Science.
In addition, I have touched on this answer in the answer to Question 2. In summary, I am a person that has always set out to use my God-given talents to the best I possibly can be in whatever I pursue and to pave the way forward for generations to come. Therefore, I aim to be the best possible researcher while also influencing, inspiring and further the careers of younger researchers. I also have some business and charity aspirations/ideas I aim to pursue – but nothing concrete yet to discuss.

  1. What do you like to do when you’re not doing research?

As previously mentioned, I have a husband and two Bull Terriers, so I like to spend time with them. Then, I also like reading and spending time with my other family members. I also use my spare time to do courses from sites such as Coursera and Udemy – I have a special interest in programming.

  1. What advice do you have for other women interested in science?

Identify your career goal and then work hard to reach it. Don’t wait around for opportunities to reach you – create them! And those opportunities that you do get, make the fullest use of them to learn. Lastly, no matter how hard your studies/research gets, the knowledge you gain is worth it at the end.

  1. In your opinion, what will be the next great breakthrough in science?

The use of computer modelling to accurately predict the behaviour of materials to further develop high quality materials – I am bias as a Materials Scientist 🙂

What should be done to increase the number of female scientists and female professors?

It is simple – the existing female scientists must speak out and inspire! That is why I think this blog is an amazing platform to address this.

Photo Credits: (1) Genevéve Marx (presenting an oral presentation at the Microscopy Society of Southern Africa (MSSA) 2017 conference.), (2) Genevéve Marx (Prof Angus Kirkland and Genevéve standing at the JEOL JEM-ARM200F double Cs-corrected TEM at ePSIC, Harwell, UK. This is one of the top electron microscopes in the world.), (3) Genevéve Marx (Genevéve and from left Mr Shaun Quill (Managing Director and Sales Director of JEOL UK), Mr Jason Dalby (JEOL UK) and Mr Dave Perrett (Sales/Marketing Director of ALS) at the MSSA 2016 Gala Dinner after I had won the award.), (4) Genevéve Marx (Genevéve (right) in the sample preparation lab at the Centre for HRTEM with Mr Nkululeko Mfuma.)

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