Coffee with Postdocs - Zuzana Slavkovska

Zuzana Slavkovska

Zuzana Slavkovska – Accelerator Mass Spectrometry

Join us in discovering the fascinating world of Dark Matter and Accelerator Mass Spectrometry with Dr Zuzana Slavkovska! In an interview with Dr Maryna Bilokur and Dr Matt Thompson, Zuzana shares her journey to the Australian National University, where she now works as a nuclear physicist.

Words Zuzana Lives By: "Savour every moment!"

Zuzana's journey to ANU

Zuzana's curiosity for science was sparked at a young age, which may have been influenced by her father who was a physics teacher in Slovakia. This passion led her to pursue physics studies at Goethe University Frankfurt in Germany, where she was fortunate to learn from many excellent lecturers. With a hunger for knowledge, Zuzana decided to delve deeper into experimental nuclear astrophysics under the tutelage of Prof Rene Reifarth.

Zuzana's journey led her to the shores of Australia, where she was offered a postdoctoral position in the Department of Nuclear Physics and Accelerator Applications in 2019. Thrilled by the prospect of exploring new projects with a fresh team, she eagerly embraced the opportunity to expand her expertise in the field.

But Zuzana's thirst for knowledge doesn't stop at physics. Zuzana has always had a keen interest in languages, which has helped to make her globally-focused career all the more interesting.

Recreating star reactions on Earth

When Zuzana started her career as a nuclear physicist, her work focused on reproducing nuclear reactions that occur during supernovas and other high-energy stellar phenomena. Since then, her work has changed direction to search for the mysterious particles that make up dark matter.

This dark matter search involves burying high-purity sodium iodide crystals deep underground to shield them from cosmic rays, and carefully watching them for the light they emit when a dark matter particle collides with them. The collision rate is expected to vary over the course of a year as the direction the Earth moves relative to the dark matter background should change. The DAMA detector in Italy has shown some signs of oscillation. Still, these results are not considered conclusive as it could also be due to seasonal changes in background radiation levels. To further explore this intriguing phenomenon, a new detector is planned to be constructed in a mine located in Victoria. This endeavor aims to verify if consistent results can be observed in the Southern Hemisphere. By continuing to pursue these groundbreaking investigations, Zuzana and her colleagues are pushing the boundaries of our knowledge about the nature of the universe and its fundamental building blocks.

If Zuzana had a chance to change something in her scientific career

At some point in her career, Zuzana took herself too hard, working six days a week from early morning till late night. Now when she looks back, Zuzana says that she would take longer breaks and allow herself to recover from long working hours and intensive research schedules.

One of the biggest problems that hasn't been solved in science yet according to Zuzana

Dark matter detection

5 Things you should know about Zuzana

  1. Proudly Slovakian. Zuzana comes from Slovakia, and she says it’s an important part of her identity
  2. She did her PhD studies in Germany
  3. Piano player. Zuzana loves playing piano, and once, she was even considering attending a conservatorium of music
  4. Sports enthusiast. Zuzana’s sports interests include surfing, snowboarding, running and going to the gym
  5. Language aficionado. Apart from Slovak, Zuzana speaks English, German, and Spanish, and she is currently learning Japanese

Her next steps

Zuzana hopes to remain in Australia and develop her career here further. While not sure yet whether those next steps will be at ANU or elsewhere, she is optimistic about the future and the changing attitudes within Australia towards hiring women in physics.

Zuzana's role model in science

Zuzana looked up to her scientific role models, her supervisors, who possessed not only impressive knowledge but also the valuable ability to convey complex scientific concepts in a way easily understandable to students. She recalls them as approachable, amicable individuals who were always willing to lend a helping hand and take the time to guide students through their academic journeys.

One scientist Zuzana would like to meet

Zuzana dreams of getting a glass of wine with Albert Einstein and delve into his remarkable insights on the theories of general and specific relativity :)

The best advice from Zuzana's supervisor

Always strive to push yourself a little harder – Prof. Rene Reifarth

While this advice was not always easy to take at first, it helped to develop an attitude towards research and professional development that has proven very helpful.

Advice to postdocs coming to ANU

  1. Don’t be afraid to apply for ANU positions. Zuzana enthusiastically encourages all Ph.D. students pursuing an academic career to consider applying for positions at ANU. "Don't let fear hold you back from exploring this exciting opportunity".
  2. Socialize. Getting absorbed by a research load and feeling isolated is very easy. Zuzana says that having good friends around is essential for a mental health
  3. Attend social events that ANU offers. Not only can they be fun and engaging, but they can also be a great way to connect with like-minded individuals and build a supportive academic community.

Interviewed by EMCR representatives Dr Maryna Bilokur and Dr Matt Thompson

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