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Nature, animals and coffee

Mariem Zouari, assistant researcher in the renewable materials composites group.

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

My childhood was in Sfax, a big city in central-east Tunisia on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea. Sfax is famous for the highest production and export of olive oil, almonds and fish. My childhood was all about taking care of animals. Now, I live in Koper, which has similar weather and coast vibes as my hometown.

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

During my educational career, I studied a variety of majors that are somehow related. I started from a bachelor’s in applied biotechnology, then a master’s in food sciences and technologies, followed by an engineering master’s in food biotechnology. I have always been keen on natural science subjects that can be practically beneficial in our real life, like food safety, nutrition, microbiology and the environment. My motivation is to contribute positively to protect the environment from my position as a research student by using renewable resources and developing sustainable products with minimum impact. I believe that preserving nature should be the main aim of all human beings.

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

My work is very exciting! It allows me to be polyvalent by exploring several topics and research activities. The main aim is to help tackle environmental problems, and for this, I use biocarbon derived from wastes and non-valued resources. I use photocatalytic biocarbon to mitigate air pollution and develop sustainable bio-composites.

  • What does your typical working day look like?

It depends on the tasks I have planned. In general, my working day is an active day in the lab — divided between experimental work and data processing and observation. Of course, some time is always preserved to discuss with colleagues, reply to emails and drink lots of coffee.

  • What makes you excited about your work?

My passion for research and ambition to achieve something in the scientific field. After I experienced working in industry, I realized that I enjoy working more in the lab, where I can explore different research subjects and learn something new every day.

  • And what is the biggest challenge at your work?

My biggest challenge is to manage time and stress levels. Researchers’ mental health should be a priority.

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

Discovery of the microorganisms’ world. It’s amazing to know that invisible organisms are existing and contributing to the ecosystem as much as other livings do, or even more! Invisible organisms that can make us sick or secrete bioactive molecules to heal, can spoil our food or ferment them to deliver a new delicacy, can take your life or give you a new life … they are invisible, but very powerful.

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

I played violin when I was 12 years old, but it was not a very pleasant experience. As a non-patient person, I did not appreciate spending months just learning how to hold the instrument! I always liked reading books and novels; my favorite are philosophy and thrill books. I prefer reading in Arabic as one way to keep my native language. My favorite writers are Ahmed Khaled Mustafa and Dan Brown.

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

Recently I read “The Devil All the Time” by Donald Ray Pollock; I strongly recommend it. I can’t really tell what I have watched; it is always very random. But most of the time, I watch comedies or documentaries.

  • Describe your very first impression of Slovenia.

Green everywhere …

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

Besides the beautiful mountains in Slovenia, I really like the streets that are not as hectic and crowded as in my hometown. From my homeland, I miss the spicy food and sunny winter days.

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

Strunjan is definitely very beautiful, but I have special feelings about Izola because it is the place where I’ve been spending most of my time since I moved to Slovenia.

  • What makes you enthusiastic?

Nature, animals and coffee.

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

I really don’t know, exactly, and can’t say those deep words that often people repeat. I believe it is just important to live a simple life, appreciate the nice things and be satisfied.

  • What does the charm of wood mean to you?

To me, wood represents happiness and comfort. Just like nature!

Olive trees take a big part in the Tunisian culture and daily life, and so does olive wood. So, wood in general always brings me warm and peaceful feelings.