Author: Sergio Leiva

From Recovery to Research

A few months over half of the Ph.D., I have come across many realizations. The vast amount of experiences I have accumulated, both in physics with excellent and profitable discussions in conferences and the SPEAR training sessions, as well as personally, with more and stronger friendships that would last year after the end of the Ph.D. I have been contemplating this more and more since returning from Chile for the Holidays. However, I am always amazed by the small daily changes that have transformed me into who I am today.

However, only some things can be good news. By the end of the summer, I had an accident requiring knee surgery. The process was complicated and tedious, from figuring out how the German health system works (kudos, by the way) to internalizing that I would be out of the office for at least two months. Here is where the solid friendships and interpersonal relationships saved the day. No surgery comes without fears, doubts, and loneliness, usually overcome by love and care from family and old friends. For me, this time, between friends, colleagues, and roommates, there was barely any time left to be afraid, worried, or even scared. Of course, I still had the essential and long video calls with my family and friends from Chile that kept me in shape. I don’t have the words to express how much I love every single one of you. Everyone will forever have a special place in my heart!

Luckily, the two months of recovery, with physiotherapy and training, went by without complications. I couldn’t have asked for the timing to be better. I was walking again just two weeks before I started my first secondment at Nanogune. I can’t think of a better place to return to work: an excellent lab in Spain (where I can speak my mother tongue), by the beach at the middle to end of summer. Nanogune welcomed me with open arms and such wonderful, insightful, and friendly people that it is hard to find anything to complain about. I may need to come back sooner than expected.

All in all, the 3rd 6-months period has been so remarkable that even a knee surgery feels like less than a typo in an otherwise perfect storybook of a Ph.D. Prost and see you all in Halle!

The Journey of Homecoming: Reflections on a Chilean Vacation

More than a year of the Ph.D. passed so quickly that I barely believe the first year is already over. This first year has been full of exciting adventures and amazing new friends. Initially, this post would have been a sum-up of my first year, both adventures and successes. But, with the first draft, I realized I was not going to do justice to all the great things that happened this year and to include the biggest realization I had this year. Therefore I decided to focus on my vacations in Chile.

I stayed in Santiago for a few days to meet many friends, and the feeling of closeness had not disappeared with any of them. Moreover, with a group of friends with whom I gather daily to play online games and chat. Now that we were in the same city again, since most of us left the country after the pandemic, we had a wonderful barbeque just in time to see the Word cup final and celebrate for our neighbors! After this, it was time to go to my hometown with my mom and sisters. Over there, I met my dad, and the crying came back with no less intensity. I will never forget the long hug and the feeling of finally being home. Here we stayed a few days before continuing the trip even souther to see my brother in Llanquihue. This meeting was the most emotional since it was the very first time all six of us were together to spend New Year’s as a family since I left, and most probably, the last time until the end of my Ph.D. We spent the most relaxing weeks in Llanquihue, enjoying the lake, mountains, and weather of the south of Chile. Thereon, the goodbyes were in order, so undoing the route back to Santiago, I saw most of my friends and family members. When I went to take the flight, I realized that my heart was full of love (and food), so I started missing my family as soon as I had to say the final goodbye at the airport door.

New Year’s with the Leiva Montecinos

Upon arriving in Halle, I had the strangest feeling since, from the minute I was out of the train station, I felt at home again. The last year and a half showed me that home is not a place, but the people with whom I feel at home. I am forever thankful to SPEAR since it taught me not only physics but also how to enjoy living abroad and the importance of good friends and colleagues.

Silly me, thinking that a Ph.D. was only to learn about science. Here I am, with tears again, prost to Halle and the SPEAR program!!.


It has been more than five months since I arrived in Halle. The time here defies any logic since every day is full of experiences, and I could say that I have been in Halle for over a year. But on the other hand, as we progress with the research and the constantly increasing learning curve, I could also say that I have been here less than a month. These very active first few months couldn’t have been possible without the beautiful vibe of Halle. A place where one can have an excellent week of work and a peaceful weekend at the park, perfect to start a whole new week full of new things to do and stories to write.

Ziegelwiese park, close to the river

Last month we had the first training session with almost every ESR, and it was incredible. Having the opportunity to share ideas and different perspectives about the topics and previous works is something I really think will make a difference in the program. The ethics and physics training sessions were incredibly useful and well presented. Besides, we had many interesting discussions arising from them, which I think might eventually result in very interesting collaborations. On top of everything, the city is beautiful, with many things to do and see, so combined with a perfect organization of the time and schedule, I was very impressed. Moreover, since I have to do my secondment in Grenoble, I cannot wait to come back and spend more time there, and I am looking forward to the next training session in Leuven!.

Before the trip to Grenoble, I started to study the orbital effect in a bilayer system with Rashba interaction. This project started as a practice of what I had learned in the first four months of my Ph.D. But once we saw the promising results, we were very excited about the model and the rich physics that we can extract from the calculations. At the moment, we are incorporating extensions that can be applied to this simple model so it can be more realistic. Luckily, in a few months, we will host the secondment of ESR1 (Eoin), and the timing will be perfect for us to discuss our simulations with their experiments and start a theoretical-experimental collaboration.

All and all, I think I couldn’t have asked for more or a better environment. Prost to Halle and the SPEAR program!!.

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