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Women in Science: Elisabeth Leiss-Holzinger

Elisabeth Leiss-Holzinger

Elisabeth Leiss-Holzinge studied Physics at the Vienna University of Technology. Since then, she has worked on a lot of projects related to the development of sensor concepts and prototypes for industry. Within the FLOIM project, she works on an optical coherence tomography system that will be integrated into an injection moulding machine.

When did you realise that you wanted to pursue a career in a science and technology field? What were your motivations to make this decision?
As student attending a modern-language grammar high school, to me technology was something abstract and unexplored. It seemed to be some combination of applied math and engineering in terms of crafting some kind of machines that should finally work. At least that was what I wanted to do for earning a living, as I loved to disassemble anything mechanically broken, such as watches or bicycles, and find out, how they work. 

Give an overview of your professional path.
Thus, having passed my final exams in Mathematics, German, French, Latin, Psychology and Physics, I started into studying applied Physics at the Vienna University of Technology. Since attending the first lecture of mathematics at this university, I appreciate the scientifically detailed, very basic approach that assumes nothing but proves every little step (except axioms of course). It was beautiful. In this first week, all familiar faces, friends, who had mostly attended natural science high schools, left for other fields of study. I stayed. In the third semester, I started to earn money by working in a lab at the campus, my first contact with granted, scientific projects. After failing three exams in a row due to nervous black outs, I suspended my studies in Physics and started with data techniques, as there were less exams but more ‘project work’, where I discovered my talent in programming and coordinating team work. After having successfully finished this 3 years course of short studies in time, I finished Physics. 

Provide a short overview of your job. What are your main responsibilities?
Since then, I have worked on a lot of projects, partly granted research, partly development of sensor concepts and prototypes for industry, in the field of non-destructive testing by various physical modalities. My work often is interdisciplinary, and I do consulting in the research groups of big companies. One my favourite projects as a consulter is the 4D sensor for sterilizers of Miele, which will make sterilization of medical equipment much safer, and will most probably be the future standard for successful sterilization.

What do you find the most rewarding in your job? What do you find the most challenging in your job?
The most rewarding in my job are the highly intelligent colleagues and the continuous mental stimulation, I have. I love to discuss and contribute to solutions for complex problems. Seeing one of my ideas work out properly, makes me happy. Frustration tolerance is trained as well, and the experience of both, failing and succeeding, made me a robust fighter. The flexibility I needed, to raise a family, did not deprive me of this interesting job.

What is your role within the FLOIM project? How do you expect your work in FLOIM project to contribute to your career development?
Within the FLOIM project, I work on an optical coherence tomography system that will be integrated into an injection moulding machine. In this case, a complex system that is usually operated by a user, shall act as simple customized sensor, in the spirit of an embedded system. Beside the improvement of the CUDA programming, that speeds up image acquisition, and the processing of the images to discover misplacements of the sample, also the embedding of the system will contribute to my experience and thus to my competence.

What would you advice to girl students that want to pursue a career in a science and technology field?
No matter, if you are a boy or a girl, and no matter, what school you attended before: let your passion, and your curiosity guide you towards your field of interest. Don’t listen to people, who tell you that this is too difficult for you, or doesn’t suit you. Usually you know better. I have colleagues and friends, who started without school leaving exam as some technical trainee, but later on caught up on passing this exam and going to university – they took the long, hard way. But if you love, what you do, energy is high, and sweat rewarding.