David Fernández Rivas has been awarded the ERC Starting Grant. The MCEC member from University of Twente received the maximum amount of € 1.5 million for his project focused on the development of needle-free injections, or: ‘bubble gun’, as the technology is based on ‘pushing’ liquid into the skin using laser-made bubbles.
David Fernández is a great advocate of societal benefit of scientific research. He’s ensuring its deployment into society on three topics: cavitation, renewable energy, and process intensification through microfluidics. Since 2014 he has focused on biomedical projects.
What is it exactly that fascinates you about the biomedical implementation?
It’s all about the challenge. First you have the technical factor: A lot of researchers before me have tried to study this difficult topic. The big question is, can I make it work? Then there’s the human factor. Successful implementation will only be possible if we can deal with all the variables of the human body. In contradiction to the work we do in a lab, the circumstances can change instantly and unpredictably.
A €1.5 million ERC Starting grant, what will you do with it?
Such a grant can be spend in many ways. Depending on the type of research you do, your location, whether or not you do a lot of experimental work. You have to factor in the salary of people who are working on the project, the equipment and the experiments.
For this specific project we will be looking to work with three PhD students and one PD. The aim is to assemble a multi-disciplinary team that covers the fields of micro-fluidics, physics and bio-engineering. For me, it is a great opportunity to learn to work on a longer running project. Now I can apply all the experiences that I’ve gained during my time as PD and assistant professor with other professors.
What would be your biggest take-away for any aspiring MCEC PD or PhD that may think of taking a next step in academia?
My advice would be: Do not stop when you’re afraid that your research idea is not good enough. With time your idea will become better. How? By pitching your idea to many colleagues. Your ideas will improve, your research will become more focused. Peer reviewers will get familiar with your work . It’s not a miracle. Of course, luck plays a part. But it’s also about putting in the hard work and continuously improving your ideas.
Extreme high-resolution microscope coming to Utrecht
Dr. Marijn van Huis
Utrecht University is getting a new transmission electron microscope, which will be one of the most comprehensive electron microscopes for materials studies in the Netherlands, and one of the best in the world. Researchers will be able to use the microscope to study materials, nanoparticles, and 2D materials such as graphene with a resolution of a single atom. MCEC researcher Marijn van Huis explains more about this new addition on the website of Utrecht University: “With the new microscope, we can not only look at atoms, but also at the electrons surrounding them. That way, we can also see if the atoms carry an electric charge, and whether they are in an excited state. That’s important for the study of catalysts, for example, in which the atom’s charge determines whether it is catalytically active. With this technology, we can see where the catalytically active atoms are located in the material, and we can study how to activate them.”
Prof. Detlef Lohse – Nanoextraction, separation and detection of micropollutants in one single and simple step
Prof. Bert Weckhuysen – Greenhouse gases to valuable liquid chemicals: High-flux zeolite membrane-based reactor for the efficient conversion of CH4 and CO2
Proof of Concept grants, worth €150,000 each, can be used for example to explore business opportunities, prepare patent applications or verify the practical viability of scientific concepts. The new grants were awarded to researchers working in 15 countries.
3 May 2019
Completion of PhD Cum Laude – Dr. Aditya Sengar
On April 18, Dr. Aditya Sengar received his PhD degree (cum laude) making him one of the youngest PhDs (at age 25) to do so from TU/e. Dr. Sengar’s work in mesoscale modeling has been able to connect reactions from a chemistry perspective(nanoscale) to a chemical reactor engineers perspective (microscale-macroscale). Here you can read the full text of the PhD thesis and here you’ll find the public summary. Congratulations Dr. Aditya Sengar!
U-Talent is a collaboration between Utrecht University, Hogeschool Utrecht and more than 40 partner schools from the Utrecht region. The goal of U-Talent is to strengthen regional science education in secondary education and in the bachelor phase of higher education. To improve the connection between secondary education and higher education the U-talent Conference invites teachers with different backgrounds. During their presentation, Anne-Eva and Robin also gave an insight into the process collaborating with other PhD scientists with different backgrounds.
16 April 2019
Special MCEC Section in Chemical Engineering Science
The special section offers a lot of insights on MCEC (related) topics, and showcases the scientific knowledge, talent and multidisciplinary approach MCEC has been developing and nourishing ever since its start. Please take note, new MCEC PhDs and community members, as it is a perfect starting point for reading up on catalysis and multiscale energy conversion.
To everyone involved in this issue: congratulations!
** April 1 2019
MCEC chemists publish in Nature Protocols
It is suddenly made possible for scientists all around the world to investigate the relationship between the structure and function of molecules during a chemical reaction. In Nature Protocols, Katinka Wondergem (MCEC linked PhD), Bert Weckhuysen and other chemists of Utrecht University, and chemists of the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) in the UK, are publishing a detailed protocol for tip-enhanced Raman spectroscopy as an analytical technique. In another journal, they are describing a technique to produce stable probes for such measurements.
“I’ve always been more inclined towards the sustainable route”
Interview with Michael Jenks , second-phase MCEC PhD at Utrecht University
In 2017, MCEC was granted the Marie Skłodowska-Curie COFUND; a grant from the European Research Council which is designed to stimulate excellence in researchers’ training, mobility and career development. The grant, with a value of 1.7 million euros, will be deployed to attract and involve more international students to and in our research center. Already 19 international talents have been selected. One of them is Michael Jenks (25) who turned out to be exactly the right candidate for the project ‘Catalytic Conversion of Municipal Waste’.
Michael: “I grew up on the quiet side of an island off the coast of Scotland; the Isle of Arran. My primary school – twenty-two pupils in total – got its energy from its own wind turbine. It wasn’t until I visited a city for the first time, that I realised that all that ‘greenness’ I’d experienced, the living amongst and with nature, wasn’t so self-evident.
‘When you work in industry, the greater part of your job consists of managing people and their tasks.’
“After finishing my master’s thesis in the ‘Mathematical Modelling of Coffee Grinding’ I was appointed as a consultant engineer in the energy-from-waste industry for two years. The company I worked for, helped plants construct and operate high efficiency waste incinerators– which, I know, is quite low on the ladder of sustainable ways to deal with waste, but still a spot higher than landfilling and probably still one of the only viable options for large-scale waste processing. Additionally, I also worked on the topic of battery storage. Renewable energy is a great resource, but to power the country it’s highly unreliable by itself. One cloudy, windless day and you’ve got a problem. I am really excited to see where research into chemical and mechanical energy storage can take us.
Targets “I love a complex technical challenge. But when you work in industry, the greater part of your job as a consultant consists of managing people and their tasks, rather than solving complex envirotechnical problems. Besides that, the projects I was involved in were quite focused on, for example, increasing the throughput in order to hit that year’s targets. But the question of how much waste you can get through a facility differs fundamentally from the question of how much energy that same waste can produce.
‘The deciding factor was the promise of a challenge.’
“Ever since high school in which I had a very inspiring chemistry teacher, I’ve been more inclined towards the sustainable route in my education and career. He got me interested in hydrogen fuel cells, by telling us that in order to solve the immense world-wide energy problem we needed to find a way to safely store hydrogen on a large scale. This was still in the back of my mind during my time in industry and, later, during my travels through Myanmar, where there’s both a huge plastic problem as well as a huge energy shortage.
Promise “I’d already decided to pursue my career in academia further when two great opportunities came along: one at TU Delft and one at MCEC. I applied for both and ultimately, got offered both positions. The more I read about the two programs, the more I realised I’d rather come here. The deciding factor was the promise of a challenge. When I spoke to some of the first-phase PhDs of MCEC, none of them said it was easy. They were all very positive about the program and passionate about their projects, but they made it very clear that it wasn’t something that just came naturally. You had to be up for the challenge. And that happened to be exactly what I was looking for.
‘I will have to manage my own expectations – by setting realistic goals, and not trying to end the world’s plastic problem all by myself with one bit of research.’
“My project is Catalytic Conversion of Municipal Waste. It mainly focuses on chemical recycling of plastics. A lot of research has been undertaken on the role of reactors in the chemical recycling of waste, but the current solutions are generally either prohibitively expensive to set up and run, or produce a varied product. So, it would be great to find a practical solution and perhaps take a step towards creating a truly circular economy for plastic. In that sense it’s also interesting to explore the opportunities of collaboration with the chemical engineering department of TU/e.
Goals “I’m looking forward to the next four years. I will have to manage my own expectations – by setting realistic goals, and not trying to end the world’s plastic problem all by myself with one bit of research. I do plan on learning Dutch. I can understand it fairly well already, but in order to fully integrate scientifically and socially, learning the language certainly helps. And if anybody’s up for a MCEC Sports Team: I am, so let’s start one!”
Michael works at Utrecht University under the supervision of Bert Weckhuysen and Florian Meirer. He can mostly be found in the David de Wied Building. You can contact him here.
On March 12th, new MCEC PhDs from Utrecht came together for an informal meeting with MCEC Office and some first-phase PhDs. You can read about that meeting here.
27 March 2019
“Such a pity that time is a linear thing”
Interview with Ellen Sterk, second-phase MCEC PhD at Utrecht University
Another talent* that has recently started working at MCEC is Ellen Sterk (31). In 2018, Ellen won the AkzoNobel Graduation Prize for Chemistry and Process Technology. Within MCEC, she will work on ‘Support, Alloying and Promoter Effects and Active Sites in CO2Hydrogenation’. This research project has the potential to increase large scale applicability of renewably produced hydrogen and reduce the negative impact of CO2point sources.
Where does your fascination for chemistry stem from? Ellen: “Studying chemistry allows you to think about fundamental aspects of nature. I think it is intriguing that after hundreds and hundreds of years of people exploring ‘the nature of things’, there is still plenty left of that we do not know or understand.”
What will be your biggest challenge, working on your project? “In principle, I’m not bad in time-management; however, setting a realistic time frame is not really my strongest suit. I tend to not choose between several tasks and ‘just’ start doing all of them with the aim of delivering complete work.”
In the next four years, what is it that you hope to learn, develop, or explore? “In four years, I would like to learn a lot in spectroscopy as a scientific skill. I want to be able to use that together with a theoretical approach (DFT) to ‘attack’ the problems and questions that I will come across during my research. Sometimes I think it’s a pity that time is a linear thing, because I would like to learn a lot of things – and really own it.”
Do you see chances for collaboration with other MCEC PhDs or research groups? “Being a new PhD, I still have to discover what’s swimming around in the MCEC pool. But I do already have a close collaboration with Ivo Filot. This originates from my master project – which was a computational study of the CO2methanation over nickel – and Ivo (as well as Bart Zijlstra from TU/e) taught me all the ins and outs needed to successfully perform this research. For my PhD project I’m also planning to perform other DFT calculations and Ivo is willing to serve as a go-to person.”
What do you do in your free time? “During my free time I like to play soccer. Unfortunately, I currently have a long-lasting sport injury which really holds me back. I hope to be able to pick up sports in the upcoming season. Another hobby of mine is doing handy-craft projects like stone sculpting. For me it doesn’t matter that these projects take several weeks, sometimes even months. I find it very satisfying to work precise and to build something new using my imagination, creativity and patience.”
Ellen Sterk works at Utrecht University under the supervision of Bert Weckhuysen. You can find her profile page here.