Next January, German postdoc Martin Elsner (pictured left), currently based in Toronto, will start his first independent position as a Helmholtz Association Young Investigator in Germany. The tenure-track job, which will fund his salary and that of four group members, will be based at the GSF National Research Center for Environment and Health in Neuherberg, near Munich. Elsner represents a new generation of young scientists based in Germany who have the opportunity to establish their scientific independence at an age far younger than their predecessors.

While he was an undergraduate studying chemistry at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Elsner developed an interest in environmental chemistry. That led to a Ph.D. at the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, where, along with René Schwarzenbach and Stefan Haderlein, he investigated the degradation of chlorinated solvents in groundwater.

Last year, he began a postdoc in Barbara Sherwood Lollar's lab at the Department of Geology at the University of Toronto. The Toronto group uses stable isotopes to trace the origin, route, and degradation of pollutants in groundwater. Elsner developed a method to determine the chemical pathway by which a pollutant is degraded.

For Elsner, a research group leader position at GSF is "really an attractive possibility. …I can concentrate on my research."

How has he managed to make the transition to independence at the relatively young age of 32? "It is very important to find your own research field, something original," Elsner says. "Go abroad for some time. That is how I got into a field that I could make a significant contribution to."

Anne Forde is the European Editor, North and East, for Science's Next Wave.