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Ulrica Edlund

A scientist - that is what Ulrica Edlund is. Not the stereotype in lab coat and crazy hair surrounded by fuming beakers, instead her appearance is rather the opposite. Ulrica’s scientist character is however manifested in her curiosity, her attempts to find answers to seemingly impossible questions. Questions and answers within the scope of a world full of chemistry that, for the ones not familiar with the science behind it, can be perceived as magic.

But Ulrica explains that much of what we experience are chemical processes happening everywhere around us, whether it’s human made or nature’s own. This includes her main field of material research and polymers. The fact that everything is a process is what started her fascination: “I think that my interest for chemistry came pretty early on. Because somewhere I realised that everything that happens in the world, everything that makes my body work, everything I eat, they are results of chemical processes. Subsequently, if you want to understand what happens in the world, then you have to understand the chemical processes behind it. I think that I already in primary school noticed that natural science was fun and exciting. For me it was like; wow is this how it is? And my education at KTH was a real eye-opener on a lot of things I had never thought of.”

A woman standing in front of a blackboard
Ulrica Edlund

“Studying chemistry was a way for me to learn more about the world and understand how things work. And when you start digging into chemistry you can only become fascinated. How amazing how the world works, and to think about all these things that work without us having to control them! But if we could control them, what could we then not achieve?” This is in many ways what signifies being a good scientist; to have a deep desire to know, to find out, and perhaps most of all, to try to solve problems for the future.

When asked why she pursued the career of a researcher Ulrica says that during high school, she was certain that she didn’t want to stop there, she wanted to learn more. “And you can do that in many different ways but I wanted to learn so much, to the extent that it was a given for me to continue with further studies. I felt that the natural sciences is what I wanted to do every day, and I have never regretted it.”

It becomes clear that Ulrica is very determined. “I have to choose the way that suits me. I’m really happy to have this curiosity. A career choice boils down to what one wants to do in life and what one wants life to be like. I knew early on that I wanted to do something where I felt: ‘How fun this will be, I can learn something new every day and I wonder what it will be and what I can do with it.’ Since work is such a big part of life it should be fun.”

Ulrica continues by telling how, at the end of her PhD studies, she received an offer to work in the US as a postdoctor researcher. “I felt that I don’t know if this is right but I have to try because it’s so much fun to work with research, so why not take the chance? It’s always possible to quit if it doesn’t work out, but I wanted to try. I’m really grateful for that opportunity. It strengthened me in my realisation that this is how I want to work. And to be in that international environment and to get to know so many people was just so much fun. It’s one of the great advantages of being a scientist, you truly have the opportunity to meet people from all over the world. It truly unites us all, this curiosity.”

a test tube with liquid
A falcon tube

When asked about what’s negative about being a researcher, Ulrica immediately has an answer - time. “It’s of course a challenge that the time is never enough. You could work for 24 hours and it would still not be enough. It’s not like you pack up your things at work and then you’re free because work is always there, in your mind. You live inside your projects. You never just quit and leave it on Sunday, they are always on your mind. It is fun that there’s so much to do but it’s also really difficult to have time enough. Somehow I always walk around with a bit of a guilty conscience because I should have done this thing as well or I should have put more time on that. To never suffice is a constant feeling which is probably the worst part about being a researcher.”

Is this a warning to not enter the scientific field then? No. “Go for it! Because it’s so exciting, but be aware that it’s very demanding. It’s something that takes a lot of time and commitment. You are the one who has to push it all, it will always fall back on you. I have to make sure there’s money for my projects, I have to make sure that the projects deliver, but you receive a lot in return such as enjoyable work where you can learn new things everyday”, Ulrica says with a smile. “But, it’s not an easy task to balance life as a researcher.”

Even though the work as a researcher can get frustrating at times, Ulrica is very clear about that for each down there is, there’s an equal amount of ups - if not more. Maybe it is her determination that makes her see it this way, a determination that seems to only have grown stronger since childhood. This strong will may be what has allowed Ulrica to pursue her goals and kept her moving forward. ‘Magic’ is a poor excuse for not trying to understand how our world works and what we can do with that knowledge. As Ulrica says, you can always stop whenever you want to, but you will feel a lot better quitting if you’ve at least tried.

The actual magic is the fascination, curiosity and passion – as seen in Professor Ulrica Edlund.

Text: Mee-Linn Swartz

Belongs to: WaterCentre@KTH
Last changed: Aug 17, 2023