Get to know PhD students in CCMX projects

03.07.2012- What does Deniz Kecik see when she looks at gold?

Four years ago, PhD student Deniz Kecik thought of gold as just another metal. Now, it's hard for her to look at a shiny ring or necklace without thinking of its electronic properties and the colours that result.

Deniz has spent the last four years in the lab of Helena Van Swygenhoven, head of the Materials Science and Simulation group at the Paul Scherrer Institute, developing novel simulation models to characterise the optical properties of gold and gold-based alloys—her contribution to a CCMX project aimed at helping jewellers and watchmakers offer new colours without expensive experimentation.

It's difficult for the vibrant Ankara, Turkey native to say what excites her most about the project. The work has introduced her to the experts behind cutting-edge modelling methods familiar to only tens of people around the world, seen her jetting off to speak at conferences as far away as Japan and Mexico, and inspired her to add German to the list of languages she speaks.  She smiles broadly when she talks about her work.

“I've had a chance to learn a lot in a completely new field which turned out to be to pretty different from my background, see the bigger picture and make contacts with real experts and learn more about available theories,” she said.
Deniz came to work with Van Swygenhoven—who is her skiing instructor as well as joint PhD advisor along with Prof. Gian-Marco Rignanese at the Université Catholique de Louvain in Belgium—in 2008 after finishing her master's and bachelor's degrees at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara. She spent her undergraduate years studying in the Department of Metallurgical and Materials Engineering, but also performing in musicals, taking on roles such as Tzeitel in Fiddler on the Roof.
One of Deniz's main challenges now is tackling the GW method, a series of calculations based on Green's function, itself an approximation for solving problems involving many-body electronic properties of a system. Most people are trying to advance the method on a simple system like silicon, she said. "What we are trying to do is 1,000 times more complex than that," she said. "Working on metals is challenging." Deniz and colleagues in Belgium have nonetheless shown, to their great satisfaction, that the method works better than those previously applied to gold.  
Deniz, who likes to "socialise as much as possible" and also counts Latin dancing and cooking among her hobbies, will finish up her thesis by the end of the year and hopes to continue on to a post-doc position where she can keep using the novel techniques she has learned during her PhD, and then hopefully on to a career in academia. The life suits her.
"You're learning all the time," she said. "You can really progress and open new windows every day. You never know which direction you'll be heading in."


Text by Carey Sargent



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