Meet our Doctoral Candidates
DC2 - Laila Kestem | MNHN
My name is Laila Kestem and I just started my PhD on the topic “Tongue and beak filtration in dabbling ducks: An evolutionary and ecological perspective” at the Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle in Paris. I was born and raised in Germany and while spending a year abroad after graduating high school, I decided to also study abroad. In 2015 I started my bachelor's degree in biotechnology at the Wageningen University & Research (NL), focussing on Bio-nanotechnology, with a minor in Neuroscience at the University of Leicester (UK). In a biomimicry course at the Universität Wien (AT) I discovered my interest in bioinspiration. This course brought me back to the Netherlands where I started my master's degree in Bioinspired Innovation at the Universiteit Utrecht (NL) in 2019. Two main areas within my studies were plant-microbe interactions and innovative mycelium materials. After graduating I founded my own consultancy company specialising in sustainability and innovation in the horticultural sector. However, I stayed passionate about research and bioinspiration in practice so upon encountering the Nature4Nature network, which combines both perfectly, I did not hesitate to apply.
DC3 - Jindong Zhang | THD
I am Jindong Zhang from Beijing, China. I earned my bachelor’s degree in vehicle engineering from Beijing Institute of Technology. During this period, I spent a year as an exchange student at Vienna University of Technology, completing my bachelor’s thesis. After graduating, I worked as an autonomous driving test engineer at China Automotive Engineering Research Institute Co., Ltd. for nearly a year, deepening my insights into autonomous driving, sensor testing, and data analytics. I then pursued a master’s degree in innovation and product management from University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria, with a specialization in product concept design. During this time, I completed a six-month internship at Hilti AG, focusing on technology scouting, AI implementation, and Industry 4.0 topics. I am deeply honored to join the Nature4Nature doctoral program and look forward to the journey ahead.
DC4 - Lukas Hageneder | UA_FM
My name is Lukas Hageneder I have studied Physics in my bachelors and technical physics in my masters at the technical University of Graz. Ever since I have heard the first time the concept of bioinspiration and biomimetics, I was a big fan of the idea to utilize evolution’s proven concepts. This fascination led me to investigate this in my master thesis, where I studied the interplay between the chemical and morphological structure of water strider legs at the institute for nanoanalytics and electron microscopy. In this project I will now continue to refine my knowledge in biomimetics, as I am studying the hydrodynamics of the filter mechanism of paddlefish and duck to create an advanced filter system, based on this understanding.
DC5 - Hiva Hormozi | HSB
I was born and raised in Iran, where I developed a deep fascination for engineering and technology from a young age. I was mesmerized by the idea of positively impacting the world, which inspired me to pursue my B.Sc. and M.Sc. studies in mechanical engineering at K.N. Toosi University of Technology, one of the most prestigious universities in my country.
During my B.Sc., I developed an unwavering passion for fluid mechanics, and this passion continued to flourish during my M.Sc. studies. Taking courses such as Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) and multiphase flow simulations became the cornerstone of my master's thesis, and I was privileged to address a real-world problem and fulfill a lifelong dream. The global COVID-19 pandemic was a pressing issue at the time, and preventing infection in densely enclosed spaces became imperative. Consequently, I felt a sense of duty to dedicate my thesis to investigating cough particle dispersion within an aircraft cabin. The results marked a significant milestone in my academic journey, confirming my passion for research and solidifying my commitment to pursuing a Ph.D.
Furthermore, I had the opportunity to work as a teaching assistant for numerous B.Sc. and M.Sc. courses. This experience allowed me to discover my enthusiasm for teaching and mentoring. Pursuing my childhood dream, my vision is to secure a professorship position. I believe working in academia would enable me to continue enhancing people's quality of life through cutting-edge research while nurturing the potential of future students.
DC6 - Kristina Schreiber | RUG
I am from the Ruhr area in Germany and initially studied Biomimetics at the Westphalian University in Bocholt for my bachelor's degree, focusing on lightweight construction and sensor technology. During this time, I took part in developing various biomimetic abstractions, initially only up to a conceptual stage and, in the last semester, up to a demonstrator part.
During my final thesis, I participated in developing the Bionic Oil Adsorber under the supervision of Leonie Beek and Prof. Dr. Wilhelm Barthlott at the Institute for Textile Technology at the RWTH Aachen University. For this, I conducted a parametric textile study and checked how specific parameters correlate in removing and transporting oil. Then, I then returned to the Westphalian University for a master's degree in Mechanical Engineering with a focus on lightweight structures. Fluid dynamics and product development complemented the portfolio.
I further deepened these two topics during my master's thesis in the FishFlow group under the supervision of Leandra Hamann and Prof. Dr. Alexander Blanke at the Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Ecology at the University of Bonn. The FishFlow group aimed to utilize suspension feeders to develop a bioinspired microplastic filter that can be retrofitted i n, e.g., washing machines. My part of the project included studying the flow pattern in the mouth of ram feeding fishes and abstracting different structures for the directed collection of microplastic. The desire to pursue this path further led me to the Nature4Nature project.
DC7 - Simone Auer | FHIWS
Simone K. Auer studied Physics and Biomedical Engineering at the University and Technical University of Vienna in Vienna, Austria. During her studies she worked there as a student researcher at the Austrian Institute of Technology (AIT) in the BiosensorTechnologies Group. As doctoral candidate 7 of the N4N project, she will now investigate and implement the additive manufacturing of bio-inspired structures and designs at the Fraunhofer Institute for Materials and Beam Technology (IWS) in the Process Chain and Product Design Group in Dresden, Germany.
DC9 - Dana Sprung | ImpactVista
I am originally from New York, and have a background in Clinical Psychology and biology, and recently completed an advanced study in Global Health, which deepened my knowledge of complex systems thinking and essential skills in communication and negotiation. I have clinical medical experience as a medical assistant, research experience working in various psychological and medical teams (ranging from neuropsychology to anesthesiology medical education design), started and ran a wellness and educational non-profit in Harlem, worked for many years as a professional dancer, and I run a part time holistic fitness and health coaching business since 2020. My aim is to continue to solve complex global health challenges by innovating more open door paths between various stakeholders in bio innovative research and industry, in order to help inspire collaboration on sustainable solutions for our society.