Friedrich-Wilhelm-Award 2021

  Copyright: © Andreas Schmitter

Friedrich Wilhelm Award 2021 to Dr Laura Zieger and Christina Schwanen (M.Sc.)

The Division of Geosciences and Geography is very pleased that in 2021 two Friedrich Wilhelm Prizes for a Master's thesis and a doctoral thesis were awarded to Christina Schwanen and Laura Zieger from the Department of Geology, Geochemistry and Deposits of Petroleum and Coal. The prize is awarded annually to honour outstanding achievements in master's theses, dissertations and postdoctoral theses. The Division warmly congratulates both prize winners on receiving the Friedrich Wilhelm Prize.

Further information on the awarding of the Friedrich Wilhelm Prize 2021 can be found here


Auszeichnung für die beste Masterarbeit: Christina Schwanen (M.Sc.)

Copyright: © Christina Schwanen

After completing her bachelor's degree in Georesources Management at RWTH Aachen University (2016), she worked as an intern for internationally operating companies (including Daimler AG). In 2017, she began her master's degree also at RWTH with a specialization in environmental management. She also placed a lot of value on practical relevance in an international setting by working as a research assistant, spending a semester abroad in Wroclaw (Poland), and participation in the IGCS Winter School in Chennai (India).

In her master thesis at the Institute for Geology and Geochemistry of Petroleum and Coal (LEK) under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Jan Schwarzbauer, Ms. Schwanen dealt with the analysis of microplastics in our environment. In this process, she developed an easy, reliable and fast method to identify microplastics in sediments. It consists of two parts: an extended sample treatment by density separation and sample identification by μ-FTIR spectroscopy. Here, FTIR Imaging has proven to successfully analyse larger sample quantities quickly and without much effort. Since this measurement method generates great amounts of data, a strategy is needed to evaluate the data fast and efficiently. She achieved the best results by the comparison of the Imaging dataset with reference spectra of the specific polymers. This visually highlights spectra with high agreement, even allowing a rough quantification. In this way, she detected microplastics in three sediment samples from Albania, India and Scotland. Despite different environmental conditions and properties of the sediment samples, this method provided reliable results, and thus highlighted the global significance of microplastic contamination.

In November 2020, Ms. Christina Schwanen started her PhD in the Organic Environmental Geochemistry Group at LEK. She is a holder of the RWTH Scholarships for Doctoral Students and works on the dynamics and the complex environmental behaviour of organic pollutants in the river system Rur.


Award for the best doctorate in 2021: Dr Laura Zieger

Copyright: © Laura Ziegler

In her dissertation, Laura Zieger investigated the question of how organic matter from different plants and plant parts in geological systems changes with increasing subsidence. In the course of her studies in Georesources Management, she already dealt with the petrographic and organic-geochemical properties of lignite before starting her doctorate at the Chair of Geology, Geochemistry and Deposits of Petroleum and Coal (LEK) in 2016. In her dissertation, which she passed with distinction in 2020 and has now been awarded the Friedrich Wilhelm Prize, she primarily studied hard coals from the Carboniferous of the Ruhr region. The Bolsovian (about 310 million years old) belongs to the youngest units of the more than 3000 m thick coal-bearing strata sequence. The depositional conditions of the peatlands formed at that time, from which the coals emerged, were investigated with regard to climate, water balance and predominant vegetation on the basis of several, completely cored coal seams. In addition to the palaeo-environmental conditions in the tropical peatlands of the time, the changes to which the plant organic material was subjected during subsidence to a depth of several kilometres were the focus of the work.

In order to quantify the structural and chemical characteristics of charcoal and especially the wood-derived vitrinite, the main component of humus charcoal, a series of petrographic, geochemical and spectroscopic analytical methods were combined with pyrolysis experiments. It could be shown that a loss of functional groups as well as an aromatisation of the organic material (kerogen) proceeds at different rates depending on the initial type. The proportion of more highly condensed aromatic clusters compared to aliphatic components increases steadily with increasing thermal maturity and increasing vitrinite content. The kerogen composition in turn depends on the environmental conditions that prevailed at the time of the formation of the original organic material. For the wetlands of the Bolsovian, similar depositional conditions in a warm-humid climate could be demonstrated as they prevailed previously in the somewhat older Duckmantian, i.e. the environmental conditions did not yet change much. This only happened in the even younger units of the Upper Carboniferous, in the youngest Westfalian and Stefan, when increasingly semi-arid conditions replaced the previously tropical-humid climate.

In addition to publishing the studies on which her dissertation was based in high-ranking international journals, Dr Zieger contributed to 16 other published studies. Following her doctorate, she is now working as a PostDoc at LEK, where she is coordinator of the BMBF-funded research project "H2ReacT_2" in addition to her role as project leader of the ZIM-funded cooperation project "Auto-Vitrinite".