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Imagine a piece of chocolate

Kelly Peeters, researcher at InnoRenew CoE; main area of research: analytical chemistry

  • Where were you living in childhood and where do you live now?

During my childhood, I lived in Belgium, the kingdom of chocolates, waffles and beers, in a city called Lokeren. When you draw a straight line between Ghent and Antwerp, Lokeren is somewhere in the middle of it. Now I’m living in Škofljica, a village close to Ljubljana.

  • What have you studied and what were the motives for your decision?

I studied chemistry at the University of Ghent. I really liked sciences because these studies depend more on logic than learning by heart. When I started studying sciences, I was super enthusiastic with the thought that I’ll never have to study languages again or do group works with accompanying presentations…well, looks like life fooled me…

  • How would you describe your work to someone outside your field?

This is the way how I explain my work to my husband, who has no clue about science. I always start with: “imagine a piece of chocolate” (always works to get his attention). It’s made out of different things: milk, sugar, cocoa, etc. This milk, sugar and cocoa exist out of chemical compounds. For example, milk contains lactose, sugar is glucose, cocoa contains caffeine and theobromine (btw that’s the compound that is toxic for your pets if they ate the chocolate). My job is to put things like chocolate in a machine, push the button and see which of these chemical compounds (lactose, glucose, theobromine, caffeine and others) are inside and how much.

  • What does your typical working day look like?

I don’t have a typical working day. The only thing that is constant in my work is that I try to be time efficient, so I can spend time with my husband. Typical things I do are: lab work and measurements, planning experiments, organizing the lab, doing data analysis and trying to explain the results, writing reports and writing once in a while a project proposal, conference paper or scientific article.

  • What makes you excited about your work?

The fact that I can work inside an international team full of highly motivated people, with whom you can have interesting discussions about how to solve fascinating problems.

  • And what is the biggest challenge at your work?

To convince people that I can’t just put a piece of chocolate in the machine, push a button and get all the results rolling out. That it actually takes time to prepare and process samples. Or that I can’t answer the question: “tell me all the compounds which are present in the chocolate”. But I think I slowly manage to let people understand this.

And also: to present my work in front of an audience at conferences.

  • Which scientist or scientific achievement are you fascinated by and why?

It’s always difficult to choose one achievement above another. I’m admiring every scientist or group of scientists that were able to create something life changing to the world, for the good of people.

  • Tell us about the work of art (books, music, movies, theatre, dance, visual arts) that has a special place in your life.

When I want to relax, I like to colour. Each time I’m at the end of the colouring page, I wish that I could invent other colours because I always have the impression that I run out of options. I also like to read criminal and fantasy novels.

  • What have you read, listened to, or watched lately?

I love reading fantasy novels because they make you experience a world where magic happens. For the moment, I’m reading the novels Throne of Glass. The story follows the journey of Celaena Sardothien, a teenage assassin in a corrupt kingdom with a tyrannical ruler.

  • Describe your very first impression of Slovenia.

When I arrived, I immediately fell in love with Slovenia. I really like the sunny days, especially during winter time when a blue sky appears. I was also amazed by the colourful houses and the beautiful nature with so many possibilities to hike. After nine years, I still can find some places, which I never visited before, that can take my breath away.

  • What do you like about Slovenia and what do you miss most from your homeland?

In Slovenia, I like most the nature. In spring and summer, the grass has such a vivid green colour, which I really like. It’s also really nice how people welcome you in their house when you are on a visit. You won’t leave before you’ve gained 5 kilos.

From Belgium, I miss mostly the food, mainly certain sweets, local dishes and my mother’s cooking. She always put so much effort in getting us a good meal with lots of vegetables. I’m mostly too lazy to prepare something that tasty.

  • Which place on the Slovene coast do you like the most?

I don’t have a particular favourite place, but I actually enjoy the most when I’m active. One trip that stayed especially in mind was a walk from Izola to Portorož via the beach during higher tide.

  • What makes you enthusiastic?

Definitely chocolate (good ones, of course). The moment when I see my husband and bunnies back after being away for a couple of days/weeks because of traveling for my job. You can also see me do the ‘happy dance’ when I figure out a riddle, puzzle or problem which was troubling my mind for some time. When I reach the top of a hill (it’s always challenging for my endurance and fear of heights). The moment when Crt says he will drive to Koper so I don’t have to myself 😀

  • Characterize your life’s guidance or an important realization (or epiphany) you have experienced.

Aspirations: Life is full of surprises. Opportunities opened when I thought everything was lost and I ended up in places I didn’t even know existed, living a life I never imagined to have. For the future, I hope life keeps surprising me in a positive way.

  • What does the charm of wood mean to you?

When I come in contact with wooden things, it always gives me a relaxed mood and it feels natural. It’s fascinating to see how many different applications you can use it and that, when you use it responsibly, it’s a never-ending source.