NCCR Catalysis Trailblazers: Anastasiia Komarova

For our second Trailblazers feature, meet Dr. Anastasiia Komarova (she/her) from EPFL in the group of Prof. Jeremy Luterbacher! She has been working across three continents with the goal of engineering a greener future in chemistry. During her PhD studies, she filed three patents and received several awards.

Hi Anastasiia, could you tell us about yourself and your research within NCCR Catalysis?
With pleasure! I am a PhD researcher at Jeremy Luterbacher’s group at EPFL. My research, supported by NCCR Catalysis, focuses on developing a novel class of green solvents from non-edible lignocellulosic biomass. Imagine starting with something as simple as corn cobs in the flask – and then watching the magic of chemistry unfold to create valuable nature-inspired chemical products! Our new solvents offer a renewable alternative to traditional toxic and fossil-derived counterparts. We now see growing interest in our solvents from industry and research institutions as they shift toward more sustainable practices. That’s why we’ve recently scaled up solvent production to a multi-kg scale to ensure everyone can get a sample to try! Outside the lab, you might find me playing the keys in the music band or hitting tennis balls – activities that keep my creative energies flowing!

Anastasiia showcasing a novel green solvent made from biomass at EPFL (left) and performing with her band at Fécule Festival in 2023 organized by the University of Lausanne (right).
What made you consider a career in science, and what/who got you interested in science in the first place?
As a teenager, I enjoyed chemistry, biology, and math classes - though I wasn't the quintessential science geek. When figuring out what to do after high school, I sought advice from my family. Most of them said something like, “Pick anything but what I do for a living”. The only exceptions were my uncle and aunt, both brilliant scientists, who advised me to “go for science like we did! Do chemistry; it’s really cool!”. I've never regretted this choice and am grateful to them for inspiring my career path in science!

Where are you from and what is your background?
I was born and raised in Siberia, Russia. After highschool, I enrolled in a prestigious and competitive Chemistry program at Novosibirsk State University in Akademgorodok, a unique place surrounded by Siberian nature and renowned research institutions just outside the bustling city of Novosibirsk. During my studies, I worked with scientists from these institutions to complete both my Bachelor’s and Master’s theses. I was a proactive student and seized every opportunity to gain new experience. This drive first led me to explore the academic world in Europe (Italy), and then in the USA, where I worked for a while as a researcher. Inspired by these international experiences, I decided to pursue a PhD position abroad and ultimately chose EPFL in Switzerland! To me, Lausanne has a somewhat similar vibe to the one I experienced in Akadem
: collaborative, friendly, and intellectually vibrant.

What value has NCCR Catalysis brought to you as an early-career researcher?
NCCR Catalysis opened the door for me to a unique community of leading experts across various branches of chemistry. This opportunity allowed me to find key collaborators for my doctoral project. Together, we elevated this work to new heights, something I couldn't have achieved on my own. Plus, presenting my research at several NCCR Catalysis Annual Meetings was a fantastic experience. I got a ton of helpful feedback, won the best talk prize once, and made valuable connections in my field.

Anastasiia presenting at the NCCR Catalysis Annual Retreat 2022 (left), where she received a best talk prize, awarded by Dr. Sharon Mitchell, Program Advisor, and Prof. Jérôme Waser, Co-Director (right). © NCCR Catalysis
During your doctoral degree, you had three patents granted. Could you tell us about this experience, and how it enriched your studies?
Patenting your inventions is very exciting! It means that the technology or product you are developing has practical value and might one day hit the market. The patenting process, though, is quite complex and vastly different from writing a research article. Fortunately, I wasn’t alone on this journey. I received a lot of support from our Technology Transfer Office on campus, and I even
took a course offered by EPFL to learn more about what patent attorneys usually do. This experience was a valuable part of my doctoral studies and also revealed an interesting alternative career path for researchers in STEM like myself.

What advice would you give other female early-career researchers in STEM?
Networking, networking, and once again… networking! Join events, conferences, and mentorship programs where you can connect with industry experts and great scientists. Learn how to effectively communicate your research to people with different backgrounds - you can even practice with your grandparents or younger siblings! Don’t be afraid of changing your research area as you transition from the Bachelor’s to Master’s and then to the PhD level. But always prioritize finding the right advisor and supportive work environment over the specific research project. Above all, be kind to yourself and trust your intuition!

Anastasiia presenting her NCCR Catalysis work (left) and receiving the Runner-up Award for Best Oral Presentation in Catalysis Sciences & Engineering from the Swiss Chemical Society at the Fall Meeting 2023, awarded by Markus Steinke, representative of Metrohm (right). © Swiss Chemical Society
You recently obtained your doctoral degree - congratulations! What will be your next adventure?
Thank you! Right after passing my PhD defense, I embarked on my next adventure by flying to an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean to rest and reflect on what I wanted to do next. After completing PhD, you have so many options! I am flexible and open to all opportunities, from continuing in academia as a postdoc to making a leap to industry jobs in R&D or process development. Additionally, here in Switzerland, there's a plethora of startup companies. Why not consider joining one or even founding a new one? 😊

Thank you so much for sharing your experience! We wish you the very best for your next steps.

Learn more about Anastasiia’s research
here and connect with her on LinkedIn and Instagram.

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