PhD Selection Process has started

The selection process following the PhD Call for MCEC’s second phase has started. At Utrecht University, MCEC members Florian Meirer and Freddy Rabouw, Program Coordinator Nina Versteeg and Hannie van Berlo-van den Broek (ARC CBBC) came together to discuss the first round of candidates. Since our PhD Call received almost 900 submissions, we expect these discussions to continue well into December. Naturally, candidates will be informed as soon as possible. We wish our committees in Utrecht, Eindhoven and Twente as well as all the candidates every success!

Image used on Twitter and other (social) media outlets.

 28 November 2018

Fluorescent ‘breathalyzer’ makes optimisation of catalysts much easier

A breath test instead of a blood test. That’s how much easier it is to use the test for industrial catalysts developed by chemists at Utrecht University. The test uses fluorescent molecules to literally show whether catalyst 1, 2, or 3 works better than the others. This makes it much easier to work on improving the catalysts, which allows production processes in the chemical industry to become increasingly more sustainable. The researchers, under the leadership of Prof. Bert Weckhuysen, will publish their results in Nature Chemistry of 5 November.

In their research, the chemists from Utrecht studied the sustainable production of methanol, one of the building blocks for products such as plastics. Sustainable methanol can be synthesised from CO2 and hydrogen gas produced using wind- or solar energy or household waste. The catalyst is needed to ensure that the reaction produces as much methanol and as few by-products as possible, at the ideal temperature. The catalyst’s composition and porousness are important aspects of the process, but so is its shape.

Read the full interview on the website of Utrecht University in English or Dutch

5 November 2018

Bert Weckhuysen engages in dialogue with activists

During the MCEC-KNAW symposium last December, a group of environmental activists protested the presence (and invitation) of Shell. Bert Weckhuysen was interviewed by online magazine Down to earth (‘platform for green journalism’) for their column ‘Onder vuur’ (‘Under attack’), in which people or organisations who have been under attack for their green ambitions or promises (or lack thereof) , are given the opportunity to respond to the criticism.

“During the conversation [with the protesters] it became clear that we have the same goal: the transition to a sustainable society. But we take on different roles. I conduct research into alternative energy sources and try to help reduce the pollution of fossil fuels as much as possible. Fossielvrij [Fossil-free] wants to emphasize the urgency of change. That’s something I can appreciate.”

Bert Weckhuysen

The full article, which is in Dutch only, can be read here.

16 October 2018

MCEC PhD Defences October-November-December 2018

In October, November and December, three MCEC PhDs will defend their PhD dissertations: Ivan Devic (UT, 26 Oct.), Jiangtao Lu (TU/e, 19 Nov.) and Robin Geitenbeek (UU, 19 Dec.). We asked them about their research, their time at MCEC and of course and the contents of their dissertation. You can read their responses below. We wish Ivan, Jiangtao and Robin all the best and good luck with their defence! 

Ivan Devic: Wetting and dewetting effects of bubbles, droplets and solids

Supervisor: Prof. Detlef Lohse

University of Twente
Friday 26 October 2018, 16:30
More information & location

Could you tell us a little more about your dissertation?
The present dissertation explores many morphological properties of bodies in the presence of capillary interactions (surface tension). We obtain stable bubble/droplet shape by minimizing its interfacial energy, which in a case of a patterned substrate gets mathematically complicated. Throughout the thesis we have used many experimental and numerical techniques. Since the field itself is still very multidisciplinary, we’ve realised many collaborations as well.”

How do you look back on your time as a MCEC PhD?
I consider myself very lucky that I got to be part of the “first MCEC generation”, since I really enjoyed spending time with my MCEC peers on our project meetings.  Even though there were too many meetings in my opinion, I never got tired of my fellow PhDs.

What is your biggest motivation?
I wish I knew.
[Excerpt from the 2016 MCEC PhD Interview for the internal newsletter.]

Have you found your biggest motivation yet?
Yes, I have. It is to use all the education obtained, to control my life; not the other way around.

What’s next?
The complete net sum of my plans are as follows: go back home, and relax. I’ve decided to take a breather before embarking on new adventures.

Jiangtao Lu: Direct numerial simulation of couled heat and mass transfer in dense gas-solid flows with surface reactions

Promotor: Prof. Hans Kuipers
Supervisor: Prof. Frank

Eindhoven University of Technology
Monday 19 November 2018, 13:30
More information & location (t.b.a.)

Could you tell us a little more about your dissertation?

An efficient ghost-cell based immersed boundary method is developed to perform direct numerical simulation of coupled heat and mass transfer problems in fluid-particle systems, which provides insights in the interplay among mass transfer, chemical transformations and heat effects.

What, to you, is the most important result from your research?
It is the first time in the research of chemical engineering that the immersed boundary method is applied to modeling of realistic catalytic reaction processes.

How do you look back on your time as a MCEC PhD?
MCEC is well organized. The autumn school every year consists both knowledge-learning and fun-enjoying. MCEC also encourages collaboration, which provides me a chance to produce a joint paper.

What do you enjoy the most about your research?
Some innovative technique never done by other people before.
[Excerpt from the 2015 MCEC PhD Interview for the internal newsletter.]

Is that still the case?
Doing something innovative has indeed been the most exciting thing during my PhD research. As I focus on modelling, writing codes and finding bugs are permanent challenges and I always enjoy those.

What’s next?
Throughout my PhD years, I found my personality is more suitable for academia. I study, and think about problems quietly, and then merge myself into the process of solving a problem. But industry requires a more outward personality, which means fast but superficial solutions, good talking skills and interacting with a lot of different people all day long. It’s something I can do, of course, but it requires changes and it might not be comfortable for me. So, I’ll probably stay in academia. In the following years, I will do a PD at ARC CBBC.

Robin Geitenbeek: Luminescence Thermometry: Fundamentals and Applications

Promotors: Prof. Andries Meijerink, Prof. Bert Weckhuysen and Prof. Alfons van Blaaderen

Utrecht University
19 December 2018, 16:15
More information & location (t.b.a.)

Could you tell us a little more about your dissertation?
My dissertation is about monitoring temperature by looking at light. We have prepared special nano- and microparticles that have temperature-dependent luminescence. By monitoring this luminescence using light microscopy we have been able to determine temperatures up to 900 K with a spatial resolution of up to at least 10 µm.

Looking back at your research, what are you most proud of?
The thing I am most proud of is the fact that a lot of people are now using the technique that I developed in Utrecht. Some of the showcases performed in my dissertation were done to demonstrate the potential of Luminescence Thermometry. However, there are also chapters in my thesis in which the research started with a problem statement and I helped by performing measurement to clarify the strange results. It seems it’s really applicable!

How do you look back on your time as a MCEC PhD?
I had a lot of fun in the MCEC group. For me, there has been added value. I enjoyed my time in Team Community, during the annual meetings and especially the social activities with my fellow MCEC colleagues.

What do you enjoy the most about your research?
Working together with people. I have a lot of students which I have to supervise and I really like to do that. Collaborations are also something I am actively looking for. At the moment I am supervising a student together with Anne-Eva. Jeroen, Anne-Eva and myself are looking at the possibilities for collaborations between our projects.
[Excerpt from the 2016 MCEC PhD Interview for the internal newsletter.]

Now that you’re (almost) done, have there been other things that you found enjoyable? Or is there maybe a different scientist or historical figure you’d like to offer a beer?
I also enjoyed writing my thesis and articles. Although it can be tedious, it also gives a lot of satisfaction once a work is finished, submitted, peer-reviewed, rewritten and finally accepted! I guess in that sense I would like to enjoy a beer now with the person who invented coffee as a drink. Really started to appreciate that more the last few months of writing!

So now that you can’t put off thinking about the future any longer (see final question in the 2016 interview), have you been able to make a well-balanced decision yet?
I actually already partially answered this question during the previous interview! I was really still in doubt what I wanted to do. I have thought about teaching and I followed some courses on this topic. However, I think I would be bored too fast with a pure teaching job. I think my new job still needs to have an element of research in there. I prefer to stay at the University (although I don’t think I would like to do a post-doc) and otherwise a job as scientist in a research institute or company also sound very appealing!

Balzan Prize for Detlef Lohse

We are very pleased to announce that Detlef Lohse will be awarded the prestigious Balzan Prize 2018 for his fluid dynamics research. The price, of 750,000 Swiss Francs, will be awarded during an official ceremony in Rome, in November.

According to two eminent jury members, Etienne Ghys (research director of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Lyon) and Carlo Wyss (former director of accelerators at CERN in Geneva), “Professor Lohse is assigned the prize for his exceptional contributions in the most diverse fields of fluid dynamics, such as the transition to turbulent regimes in the Rayleigh-Bénard convection, the study of multi-phase turbulent flow, sonoluminescence, the properties of bubbles and drops down to a microscopic level, micro and nano fluidics”.

Congratulations, Detlef, on this wonderful news!


Read more on the news page of University of Twente, or on the website of NWO in English or Dutch.


10 September 2018

New colleague: Daan van Arcken

Hello members of the MCEC Community,

My name is Daan van Arcken. I have recently joined the MCEC office in Utrecht as Communications Assistant. Before this, I worked as a bike messenger for De Fietskoerier Utrecht. I actually still do that part-time now.

Next to riding my bike, I’ve enjoyed working at many different companies doing many different things. For example, at Kugler Publications I was in charge of the digital publication process. I made sure deadlines were met, in-text citations referred to actual sources and the result looked somehow professional in the end.

My role at the MCEC Office will be to assist the program coordinator Nina and communications officer Christine. I am very enthusiastic about joining the MCEC team. I’ve already had the chance to meet some of the research group in Utrecht and I look forward to visiting Eindhoven and Enschede soon.

If you have any questions, want to go out for a bike ride or talk about music feel free to contact me at or via LinkedIn.

MCEC Call for 38 PhD candidates

MCEC is looking for highly motivated and creative PhD candidates in the fields of Chemistry, Physics and/or Engineering, who aspire to jointly and multidisciplinary address one of the grand challenges of today: sustainable energy conversion.

Please visit this page for more information (temporarily also accessible via the menu above, via Home).


20 July 2018

MCEC publishes in PNAS: Hot nanoparticles produce giant and explosive bubbles

When gold nano particles in water are illuminated by a laser, they get very hot: well above the boiling point of water. The formation of vapour bubbles caused by this, is well-known. New experiments, however, using a very high speed camera, now show that before this, a bubble is formed that is much larger and, subsequently, explodes violently. For energy conversion of the particles to the liquid they are in, this discovery of early phase dynamics is very important. MCEC researchers now publish these new results in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (PNAS).

Nanoparticles locally speed up the boiling of water when laser light illuminates them. At the surface of the particles, electrons collectively oscillate. Vaporization via these so-called ‘plasmons’ is much stronger than in case you would just locally heat the water using a laser. Until now, the ‘early youth’ of this bubble formation was not taken into account, while this first phase of nucleation and early dynamics determines the subsequent phases to a high extent.

Brandaris camera

Until now, the bubble behavior was studied at time scales of milliseconds. Thanks to the very fast camera ‘Brandaris128’, developed by the University of Twente, it is now possible to look even at the nanosecond timescale. A little while after the nanoparticle heats up, a bubble is formed that is a hundred times bigger in volume than the later bubbles. This bubble explodes, followed by smaller bubbles oscillating. In the end, the well-known mechanism takes over, of bubbles that grow by vaporization of water and by diffusion of the gas that is dissolved in water.

Pure vapour

Intuitively, you would expect the size of this initial giant bubble getting bigger with a higher laser power on the nanoparticle. In reality, it is the other way round. At a lower laser power, it takes more time for the bubble formation to start, but this is explosive. The size is also determined by the amount of gas in water: ‘gas poor water’ gives larger bubbles. Here, also the delay plays a role. Experiments and calculations show that the giant bubble is a pure vapour bubble and not a gas bubble: the maximum volume is linearly dependent of the energy.

Effective catalysts

By controlling the early-start dynamics and violence, the applications of the nanoparticles can further be exploited. The bubbles enhance energy conversion, but the explosive growth could even cause damage in surrounding tissue, in medical applications. Nano particles will be used as catalysts, for speeding up chemical reactions. For this application, the newly discovered explosive growth can be an advantage.

The research has been done within MCEC.  Contributors to the paper are from University of Twente, MESA+ and TechMed institutes, specifically the groups: Physics of Fluids, BIOS Lab-on-a-Chip, Physics of Interfaces and Nanomaterials,  as well as the Inorganic Chemistry and Catalysis group from Utrecht University.

The paper Giant and explosive plasmonic bubbles by delayed nucleation’, by Yuliang Wang, Mikhail Zaytsev, Guillaume Lajoinie, Hai Le The, Jan Eijkel, Albert van den Berg, Michel Versluis, Bert Weckhuysen, Xuehua Zhang, Harold Zandvliet en Detlef Lohse, appeared July 12 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS). 



This text is derived from the article written by Wiebe van der Veen, press relations University of Twente.
This article was first published on the website of UT and contains two video’s showcasing the bubble formation. Click here for the English version or the Dutch version of that article.


12 July 2018

Emiel Hensen awarded Take-off proposal grant

The NWO Domain Applied and Engineering Sciences had granted Emiel Hensen (TU/e) with a Take-off proposal grant for Vertoro. This start-up valorises the catalytic process for lignin depolymerisation, as developed bij Emiel Hensen and his team at Eindhoven University of Technology.

Lignin is a waste stream of bioethanol plants and paper mills. Vertoro, a spin-off of the InSciTe consortium Emiel Hensen is board member of, aims to scale up the above mentioned chemical process, to produce a so-called crude lignin oil (CLO). This oil will then serve as platform for resins, chemicals and fuels – just like fossil crude oil, but made out of waste.  At the start of 2019, a pilot plant will be ready at Brightlands Chemelot Campus in Geleen.

We congratulate Emiel Hensen and his team on this award!

L.t.r.: Michael Boot (TU/e fellow and Vertoro CEO), Panos Kouris (TU/e PhD and Vertoro CTO) and Emiel Hensen (Dean of the TU/e department of Chemical Engineering and Chemistry, and MC MT member).


You can read more about Vertoro and/or InSciTe here.


2 July 2018




MCEC PhDs in the limelight

MCEC is more than a research center: amongst other things, it aims to train its PhDs in reaching out to the public, by explaining complex research content to a general audience (from secondary school students to retirees with an interest in the matter, and anyone beyond and inbetween). PhDs who would like to practice their communication skills can do so by joining the team of authors and vloggers behind, or gain experience as a teacher by giving guest lectures.

Over the last two years, several MCEC PhDs have voluntarily contributed to the success of MCEC as a research center that not only crosses the frontiers of three universities and disciplines, but also reaches out from academia to society. We thought it high time to acknowledge their efforts.

First in line were Hai Le-The (UT), Anne-Eva Nieuwelink (UU), Álvaro Moreno Soto (UT) and Robin Geitenbeek (UU).
We sincerely thank you for your great work and we hope to see and read a lot from you in the future!



8 May 2018