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Organizing a tiny symposium

06 June 2012
Daniel Balasz (left) and Eric de Vries
Daniel Balasz (left) and Eric de Vries

If you’re a student on the very prestigious Top Master Programme in Nanoscience, you don’t spend all your time in the lab or in a lecture room. Part of the study programme involves organizing a one-day conference on your own student research project.

Eric de Vries is treasurer of the organizing committee, which means he also had to look for sponsors. ‘So we approached a number of companies who are active in nanotechnology. And they were willing to donate money despite the financial crisis.’ Eric had no previous experience in fundraising. ‘Neither did I’, adds Daniel Balazs. ‘In fact, only one of the fifteen students had done something like this before. But it was an interesting chance to try something new.’

The topic of the conference is ‘Where Physics & Chemistry Meet: Modern Microscopy, Organic Functional Materials & Self-Assembly’. The nanosymposium will feature the fifteen research projects of all of the first-year students of the Top Master in Nanoscience, a very competitive interdisciplinary Master’s programme for which prospective students are vetted and only the best are accepted.

Apart from the student lectures, guest speaker Bert Koopmans from Eindhoven University of Technology will give a presentation on ‘spintronics’, a method which can be used to make devices that combine electronic charge and magnetic moment.

Daniel and Eric
Daniel and Eric

Eric studied Applied Physics in Groningen and Daniel studied Chemical Engineering (with a strong emphasis on Materials Science) in his native Hungary. Both are enjoying the Top Master programme. ‘What is really exciting is that you are being taught by real world-class scientists’, says Daniel. ‘And they talk to you about their current research. Plus, a lot of the topics are really useful, like the design of new, ultra-efficient solar cells.’ Eric agrees. ‘And it’s good preparation for a PhD. That is the ultimate aim of this programme, to continue to a PhD.’

Even so, both are unsure whether they will stay in academia after their PhDs. ‘We’ll see, it depends on the options’, says Daniel. A PhD in nanoscience gives you different career options. One reason why sponsors were relatively easy to find is that companies need well-qualified employees. Eric: ‘One important thing we learn is to solve complex problems analytically.’ And you can do all sorts of jobs with those skills.

The original cartoon and the nanoscale version made by RUG-scientist Willem van Dorp. The text reads: 'Very impressive, colleague. But will it also work in theory?'
The original cartoon and the nanoscale version made by RUG-scientist Willem van Dorp. The text reads: 'Very impressive, colleague. But will it also work in theory?'

The distant future is uncertain, but the near future is clear: a symposium on 13 June. Both organizers will also present their own research projects. Eric has worked on a way to separate the two mirror-image (chiral) types of single-walled carbon nanotubes which consist of rolled-up sheets of graphene, a single-atom thick sheet of carbon. ‘These mirror-images interact differently with other molecules. They will eventually be used in new devices.’

Daniel will talk about his theoretical work for the Materials Science Group. ‘They wanted to do an experiment but needed some idea about the outcome.’ The group can actually draw with atoms. Daniel will show a nanoscale replica of a cartoon made by one of the scientists. How cool is that?

The symposium has its own website

On the Top Master Programme on the RUG website

Last modified:26 January 2016 11.34 a.m.
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