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Andreas Sommerfeldt wins PhD Cup 2021

Andreas Sommerfeldt, PhD in chemistry and nanotechnology from Department of Chemistry and iNano at Aarhus University has won the PhD Cup final. The competition was broadcast on the Danish television channel DR 2 on Friday 30 April.

[Translate to English:] Andreas Sommerfeldt fik ud over ære en præmie på 50.000 kroner. med sig hjem. Pressefoto: Agnete Schlichtkrull
[Translate to English:] Andreas Sommerfeldt fik ud over ære en præmie på 50.000 kroner. med sig hjem. Pressefoto: Agnete Schlichtkrull


The PhD Cup is a communication competition that aims to spread Danish research to a broader audience by focusing on the best communicated PhD dissertations from universities in Denmark.

The competition has been held every a year since 2013, and this year Peter Lund Madsen hosted the popular show on DR2. On the panel of judges sat the Danish Minister for Higher Education and Science, Ane Halsboe-Jørgensen, DNA researcher and professor at the University of Copenhagen, Eske Willerslev, and astrophysicist and professor at the Niels Bohr Institute, Anja Andersen.

The three judges agreed that Andreas Sommerfeldt was the right winner.

"I'm delighted and proud. Winning is a huge honour, and to be honest, it's not really sunk in yet. It's been a crazy experience from start to finish, and it's been very rewarding to meet the other participants, who I immediately clicked with, and who were all very talented," says Andreas Sommerfeldt.

A different kind of research communication

Communicating your research to your peers and colleagues is one thing; it is something quite different to stand in front of a TV production unit, a minister and two well-known researchers, and then communicate to people who do not have in-depth knowledge about your field.

"I was pretty nervous during filming and I had butterflies in my stomach. I was worried that I’d talk too quickly, but luckily it went really well, and I managed to give a little boost to my enthusiasm instead. That was one of the things the judges were particularly pleased about," says Andreas Sommerfeldt. 

Prior to the TV recording, the five finalists had to go through several coaching sessions to work on their communication skills, so they were well prepared when the recording started. 

"It's been a very unusual experience, which I can only compare with having to talk at a conference or taking an exam. I’d like to see everyone have the same opportunity as I had to work deeply on communicating their research. It's been incredibly rewarding and exciting to be able to communicate my research simply and clearly, so that everyone can understand what it’s all about," he says.

A new type of plastic

Andreas Sommerfeldt qualified for the PhD Cup final on the basis of his and his colleagues' research into a new type of plastic that can be broken down at will. A kind of self-sacrificing plastic that can easily be recycled because it is broken down into its basic chemical components instead of being melted down, as is the case for most of the plastic recycled today.

The idea is that the plastic is given a chemical command and is then broken down into its basic components, which can then be used for new plastic.  

"What's unique here is that we've built a kind of lock into the plastic, and when the key is in the lock, the plastic is stable. However, if I take the key out – drip the key chemical over the plastic – it will degrade," says Andreas Sommerfeldt.

He stresses that this is basic research, and that there is still a long way to go to solve the global plastic problem, but he hopes very much that the idea of self-sacrificing plastic can form the basis for other research projects and inspire others to think outside the box.

Andreas Sommerfeldt is now working at the Danish Technological Institute, where he also works with plastics.

The Danish Broadcasting Corporation and the newspaper Dagbladet Information work together on the PhD Cup, which is supported by the Lundbeck Foundation.


Read the whole of Andreas Sommerfeldt's communication text (in Danish)