Interview with Martyna Kniazevaitė 

Martyna Kniazevaitė is the recipient of the 2023 EU Contest for Young Scientists EuChemS Award.
Conducted by Marton Kottmayer,

Allow me to congratulate you for being the recipient of the 2023 EU Contest for Young Scientist EuChemS Award. Can you briefly introduce yourself, and tell us what has drawn you towards science and entering the EU Contest for Young Scientists (EUCYS)?

Thank you for your congratulations! I’m Martyna Kniazevaitė, born and raised in Lithuania, currently studying bachelor’s biology in the Netherlands. I‘ve been passionate about science since I was a kid, so I think my parents and my first teacher made the biggest impact on my development as a future scientist. I always say yes to new opportunities and new challenges and that‘s exactly what happened with entering EUCYS. It was the end of my penultimate year of high school and I was offered the opportunity to visualise my ideas and do a project for my last year of high school and to participate in the national round of competition of Lithuanian young scientists, where I got the honour to represent Lithuania in the EUCYS competition.

What did you think of the competition, now that you participated? How would you summarise your experiences?

The EUCYS competition was an incredible opportunity to meet with young scientists from all over Europe and other parts of the world, hear about their projects and fields of interest, and present my project to everyone interested. I’m very thankful for all the comments, questions, pieces of advice, and overall for the experience gained, which will help me to be a better scientist in the future.

Your project deals with the topic of making Martian soil suitable for life. Can you briefly summarise the science behind it?

The Martian soil contains various toxic substances to humans and plants, and I tried to make it more suitable for life by removing one of those toxic substances – perchlorates. For this purpose, I used the bacteria Azospira oryzae, which had special enzymes, that convert perchlorates into chloride ions and oxygen, which is a scarce resource on Mars and can be collected and used for possible human needs. This bacterium was also selected, as it can form a symbiotic relationship with plant roots and the second step of my experiment was to observe the plant growth in Martian soil. Plants grew better with bacteria than without them in significantly reduced concentrations of perchlorates when compared to the actual concentrations on Mars.

This project relates to human expansion into space – what made you choose this area?

I was very interested in bacteria and their working mechanisms with benefits for humans. Then during the summer vacation, I was in the United States of America, where I visited the John F. Kennedy Space Centre and saw everything they had about the moon. It was there that I thought that I wanted to try and find something for Mars given that little is known about it. I then spent a lot of time doing literature research to try and find something that could help plants grow on Mars with bacteria degrading the toxins.

Are you interested in space research? Do you see it advancing towards planetary colonisation (to which your project relates) in the near future?

For planetary colonisation, there must first be some great advancements in technology to be able to get to Mars and to be able to build structures that allow humans to live in the harsh conditions of Mars. While I believe that this will be possible in the future I don’t think it will be feasible in the near future.

What are your future plans? Do you see yourself working on this topic further?

Currently, I‘m a first-year biology student, so my plan for the near future is to gain as much knowledge as possible about different fields of biology, then successfully finish my studies and find my path in the science world. My research contained various biology science branches, such as biochemistry, microbiology, and plant biology. I also find certain fields of medical biology, such as neurology and cancer biology particularly interesting. At this moment it‘s hard to say what I‘ll be working on in the future because now I find too many things interesting. However, if there will be an interesting opportunity to work on the topic of Mars, I would definitely consider it.

Do you have any advice for your peers who may be interested in science?

Science is a very broad area, where everybody can find their niche, so don’t be afraid to follow your dreams and always remember that nothing is impossible, but it might take a lot of desire and effort to make it possible. The most important piece of advice is to say “yes” to every opportunity and challenge because you never know what places they can take you.

We usually ask scientists interviewed here if they have any advice to give to young, early career researchers. Now, let me turn this around: as a young scientist, do you have a message for those researchers who have been in the field for a long time already?

Please use your knowledge and experience to teach us young scientists, so we can better carry on your legacy and further advance science.

This interview is approaching the end – would you like to share any final thoughts?

I want to thank the European Chemical Society for the award and the recognition of my work. It has been an encouragement for me to work towards my goal of becoming a career scientist.

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