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February 11 marks the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, designed to raise awareness for gender gaps in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths). While gender gaps remain, we’d like to celebrate this day by focusing on the power and dedication of female scientists at PM-International. As part of the Research & Development Department, Alexa Nikolai, Karina Herz, and Carolin Knecht are responsible for the development and quality management of all FitLine products, as well as joint research and innovation projects together with the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology.

Alexa’s journey to science included a minor, maybe surprising, detour. After finishing school, she first decided to become a pastry chef. Only later did she realize that food engineering was an even better option to combine her interests in science, technology, and the food industry. Today, she’s a graduate engineer for food technology at PM-International and plays a crucial role in the development of the nutrition supplements. For example, she contributed to making the new ProShape Wild Berry taste the way it does. She conducts blind tastings to find the perfect recipe for texture and flavor.

Alexa Nikolai

Ever since Karina was a child, she was interested in biological and chemical processes of all things flora and fauna. Excursions with her dad across fields and through forests only sparked her curiosity. This curiosity led her to where she is today. With a Master of Science in Biology, she works as a developer of FitLine cosmetic products at PM-International. Her latest project was the new FitLine Hair+.  She’s fascinated about interesting ingredients and how they can be integrated into new products: “I spend one day looking into new horizons in hair care and the next researching new anti-aging ingredients.”

Karina Herz

Carolin is the assistant to PM’s Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Kühne and supports him in all projects. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Ecotrophology, which literally translates into “the study of the home and nutrition.” At the moment, PM encourages and supports her professional development. Alongside her day-to-day responsibilities, she’s also doing a Master’s degree in Micronutrient Therapy and Regulatory Medicine. As her interest in nutrition increased, Carolin wanted to learn more about the scientific background: “That meant not only knowing what does or doesn’t have a positive effect on the body’s health, but also understanding the scientific processes of substances within the body.”

Carolin Knecht

Where does the idea for a new product come from?

Ideas are quickly found. Karina explains: “Either there are specific instructions and popular demand or there’s a particular substance whose benefits we’d like to offer in a product.” The real fun starts when ideas become reality.

Okay, but other than the idea, what else makes products, like Activize, successful throughout the whole world?

“First step,” as Karina stresses, “is to get an overview of the market. You need to keep in mind whether the idea has already been put into practice by someone else and if there is room for innovation or optimization.” Alexa adds: “You also need to have a clear concept and goal to meet all needs and requirements. Basic pillars of every successful products are quality, a clear concept, and great taste. Simple. Successful. indeed.” Carolin concludes: “Last but not least, it’s about standing out with a unique feature. For FitLine products, it’s the use of synergistic groups. That means, the products are not only made up of isolated but multiple nutrients, which influence each other positively and contribute to a higher bioavailability.”

What can we do to close the gender gap in the STEM fields?

Karina, Alexa, and Carolin have been brought up by strong and independent mothers. Their support has shown them that they can achieve anything they want. All the more if that means pursuing a career in a field, where women are still in the minority. As for PM-International, we’ve come close to closing the gap with an almost equal distribution of men and women in the R&D Department. But what more can be done? “Break down prejudices, because I believe that the cooperation between men and women in all areas is the perfect starting point to create something big,” Karina pleads. Alexa adds: “It must become self-evident that women and men can perform equally in supposedly tradition ‘male domains.’ No questions asked.”

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