Student - 23 maart 2017

Brilliant theses

Linda van der Nat

Of course they had their moments of frustration, but the four winners of the Thesis Award 2017 generally enjoyed their graduation projects. ‘I never thought I would achieve this.'

Photo Remo Wormmeester

My research was published in PNAS

Justin Tauber, who graduated in Molecular Life Sciences, was given a 9 for his thesis Dopant dynamics in weak crystals’

‘At parties, I say that I do computer simulations with a model system and that my research may help the battery in your phone last longer. It’s highly fundamental research and difficult to explain in a couple of minutes. A common method for strengthening metals or making batteries is to add small quantities of a different element, also termed dopants. The speed at which the dopants move determines the efficiency of the battery. However you can’t observe the movement of atoms under a microscope. In the Physical Chemistry and Soft Matter department, they have developed a model system with tiny balls that move just like the atoms in a battery in certain circumstances. I simulated this particle system using computer software. That let me discover a relationship between temperature and the behaviour of the dopants. The research has also been published in the leading journal PNAS, which is quite unusual for a student. There wasn’t much experience with simulations within the group so I had to find out quite a lot myself. I was kind of a pioneer, together with my supervisor. I took to it like a duck to water. Now I’m a PhD candidate in the same chair group; the thesis convinced me that I wanted to continue in research.’

Photo: Hoge Noorden
Photo: Hoge Noorden
There is always an element of luck in research

Annemerel Mol, who graduated in Environmental Technology, received a 9 for her thesis ‘Bioelectrochemical battery’

‘I did the research for my thesis at Wetsus, the research centre for water technology in Leeuwarden. It is an inspiring place with lovely lab facilities, and it attracts researchers and students from all over the world. Every day, I felt so happy to be able to work there. I conducted research on the sustainable storage of renewable energy, such as wind power and solar power. If you are going to store sustainably generated energy in batteries containing lead and lithium, then that undermines the whole principle. Our department is the first in the world to develop a battery where a group of batteries converts electricity and CO2 into acetic acid when charging and another group of batteries converts the acetic acid back into CO2 and electricity when discharging. Exactly how a rechargeable battery works. We connected the battery up to a small propeller. We did have a small celebration when it started to rotate. There are many aspects to successful thesis research. You have to be motivated, quite bright and prepared to work hard. But I’m also convinced you need some luck. I regularly went for a walk in the afternoon to get some daylight because it was the middle of the winter. I often found four-leafed clovers; as a scientist you are not allowed to be superstitious but I do believe there is always a small element of luck in experimental research: everything has to go right at the right moment.’

Photo: Remo Wormmeester
Photo: Remo Wormmeester
I discovered a love of research

Joëlle Janssen, Master’s student in Nutrition and Health, received a 9.5 for her thesis ‘A new immune regulatory role of isoleucine and valine: Shaping macrophage polarization states’

‘I discovered a love of research in the lab of the Human and Animal Physiology group. I did a lot of lab work during my Bachelor’s in Pharmacy but the explanation was often not very clear so I usually didn’t have a clue what I was doing. As a result, I wasn’t very confident when I started my thesis. But it went incredibly well thanks to my supervisor; I got great training from him and other teachers. What I enjoyed most was the daily challenge of an idea, an experiment, failure, improvements, failure again, more improvements and sometimes a nice result. I investigated the effect of the nutrients isoleucine and valine — two of the amino acids that make up proteins — on the response of macrophages. Macrophages are immune cells that are also sometimes called omnivores. If a pathogen enters your body, they are one of the first to see the pathogen and actively get rid of it. I wanted to know whether isoleucine and valine could influence the macrophage response, which could be promising for the use of food to prevent and/or treat immune diseases. I will spend the next six months on an internship in Cambridge, after which I will start on a PhD project here in Wageningen. When I started on my thesis a year ago, I never thought I would achieve all this.’

Photo: Sven Menschel
Photo: Sven Menschel
I had a nice subject and loads of freedom

Jorieke Vaanhold, who graduated in Economics, Environment and Governance, received a 9 for her thesis ‘Price determination in the electricity imbalance market’

‘Students often find writing their thesis an awful experience. They toil away in the library from eight thirty to five. I decided from day one that I didn’t want that. I had a nice subject and loads of freedom, and I wanted to make use of that. I usually started working on my thesis at around eight thirty. If I was on a roll, I’d just carry on working but if I ran out of energy, I’d treat myself to an afternoon off. I also liked to go on a walk around campus or in the Arboretum after a morning of working hard. You often get different ideas outdoors than when you are sitting at your computer in the Lebo basement. My research was about determining prices in the energy imbalance market. The imbalance market ensures that the production of electricity matches the consumption at all times. That is becoming increasingly complex with the arrival of renewable energy because it is more difficult to plan the energy production of solar cells and wind turbines. I used a method that had not been applied before to predict the prices in the imbalance market. My research was very applied, which was important to me. If I had had the feeling while I was writing it up that it would end up in the back of a drawer, I would never have got a 9.’