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Monday 1 May 2023 9:19am

A new collaboration between the dental schools of the University of Otago and the University of Leipzig in Germany has led to a summer research adventure for a German dental student and a productive return visit for his Otago supervisor, Dr Joanne Choi.

Academic adventure in the heart of Kiwi dentistry

Over the summer of 2022-23, the Faculty of Dentistry at the University of Otago hosted University of Leipzig dental student Johann Doerschner. Johann's summer exchange research was supervised by Dr Joanne Choi, the SJWRI's director of Clinical and Translational Research.

Here's Johann's experiences, in his own words:

What made you to choose Otago Faculty of Dentistry for summer research exchange?

Kiwis are well known for their kindness and hospitality, so Dunedin was my first choice for my summer research exchange!

What was your summer research project about?

Computer Aided Design/Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAD/CAM) holds great opportunities for dental practitioners – We can now restore a tooth with a crown chairside in a day. There is a big variety of dental materials in the market. At first sight, they all look white and shiny but these materials actually have very different optical properties, which can make it difficult for the dentists to choose the best one for their patients. At the University of Leipzig, Faculty of Dentistry, my supervisors Dr Andreas Koenig, Florian Fuchs, Leonie Schmohl and Dr Elena Gunther are investigating the aesthetic properties of monolithic CAD/CAM materials and their structures. So my part in the project for research exchange at Otago was looking at the microstructure of these materials using a scanning electron microscope (SEM) to get a better understanding of why materials show particular optical properties.

How did your project go over summer?

Dental materials such as composites and ceramics are bad electric conductors so it's been difficult for researchers to obtain good SEM images to study their microstructures. So the number one priority and a major achievement for my summer research project at Otago was to actually take good images of these materials using the SEM. We managed to take very high resolution (x 50'000) images of 15 different CAD/CAM dental materials revealing differences in their microstructure such as composition, crystal size and alignment. Thanks to Niki Hazelton from OMNI (Otago Micro and Nanoscale Imaging), we were able to try different SEM imaging techniques to take consistent and high quality SEM images of different CAD/CAM dental materials which will made comparison easier. Having this set of SEM images will not only help dental practitioners and researchers to understand the current dental CAD/CAM materials, but also in new development of materials with even better optical properties which will meet the patients need of the best looking dental restoration.

What was the best aspect of your time at Otago?

Otago is a place of various possibilities. My expectations of this summer research exchange were by far outreached. My supervisor at Otago, Dr Joanne Choi always found a way to make ideas possible. I made great progress academically, learned new skills (SEM) and was given insights into many other dental research projects from fellow researchers. The atmosphere on the 4th floor of Walsh building [our research laboratories and postgraduate space] has always been productive especially during afternoon tea when everybody was chatting about their new research accomplishments or challenges.

Outside the university, what was the highlight of your visit to NZ?

My time in NZ was full of smaller and bigger highlights from Christmas Dinner with my work colleagues, to Queenstown ́s New Year's Eve Fireworks, to the Royal Albatross on the Otago Peninsula. The first story I will always tell anyone asking me about my NZ trip will be probably how a 2 metre, 150kg (at least!) sea lion passed by me during a surfing session at Smaills Beach in Dunedin. The creature was definitely showing everybody off with its wave riding skills!

Now you are done with your summer research, what's the plan and where to now?

I will go and explore the South and North Island and surf at the Catlins coast and up north in Tauranga. I am very excited to see the Glow worms in Te Anau and get to know more of the Māori culture in Rotorua. After my NZ trip, I'm going to Kenya for a while to work as part of a project “Dentists for Africa” before returning to Germany to work as a dentist.

Any tips for students doing research exchange overseas in general or future students coming to the Otago dental school like you?

Dunedin summer starts late but stays all the way into March. Wearing a good raincoat and a scarf will make you stand out a lot (12 degrees is considered t-shirt weather) but keep you nice and warm. Buying a car in NZ is easy and relatively affordable, for exploring the beauty of Otago and the South Island!

One last piece of advice that I would give to fellow researchers and students who will be visiting the University of Otago for research exchange is “If you come to Otago, do not promise anybody at home that you will come back for sure!”

Johann Doeschner SJWRI farewell lunchFarewell dinner for Johann (centre) with the Choi lab: (L-R) Abby Liu (PhD), Ana Grymak (PhD), Dr Joanne Choi (supervisor), Kevin Huang (BDentTech summer research student).

In March, Dr Joanne Choi had a chance to visit the University of Leipzig's dental school and the research team while she was in Germany to attend the International Dental Show (IDS). Both the Leipzig and the Otago team look forward to continuing this exchange program and further developing their research collaboration.

Joanne Choi Leipzig visitLeft to right: Dr Joanne Choi, Dr Andreas Koenig, Leonie Schmohl and Florian Fuchs, at the Dental School, University of Leipzig

Learn more about Dr Joanne Choi: From Asia to Aotearoa - how a Korean/Kiwi upbringing moulded an academic star

Johann Doeschner SJWRI summer exchangeJohann DoeschnerJoanne Choi profileDr Joanne ChoiJohann Doeschner SJWRI electron microscopeJohann working on the SEMJohann Doeschner SJWRI SEM imageJohann Doeschner SJWRI SEM image 2SEM images from Johann's researchJohann Doeschner SJWRI exchange surfingJohann surfing at Smaills BeachUniversity of LeipzigUniversity of Leipzig main campusUniversity of Leipzig dental schoolUniversity of Leipzig dental school
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