Michiel sees conceptual design as a fundamental aspect of his research work

Michiel Raaijmakers works at AkzoNobel, researching ways of improving chemical-engineering processes. “I’m glad mine was such a broad-based degree programme. It means I can quickly switch roles with fellow specialists.”

Cooperating with others in project-based subjects

In 2005, Michiel opted for the University of Twente, even though Eindhoven was closer to home. “A pleasant atmosphere and a great campus were the deciding factors as far as I was concerned. What I wanted, above all, was a change of scene so that I could meet new people and make new friends.”

Chemistry was his favourite subject at secondary school. So, once he had obtained his pre-university education (VWO) certificate, Chemical Engineering was the logical choice. He found the process engineering aspects of the degree programme particularly interesting. “During my course of study I especially enjoyed the project-based subjects. How to make use of your knowledge? How do you translate that into something on paper? I had fun tackling these challenges in working groups. You cooperate with others to solve a problem. The University of Twente was quite right to pursue that approach in the Twente Education Model (TOM).”

Fundamental by preference

After graduating, Michiel opted for the Master’s track in Chemical Engineering. He discovered a talent for research, and entered the University of Twente’s PhD programme. “The idea of going straight from a Master’s degree to an engineering job in an industrial plant really didn’t appeal to me. Solving short-term and medium-term problems is just not my thing. Another option would have been a job with an engineering firm. The only problem is that conceptual choices about the type of reactor and separation technology involved are actually made long before a project gets to the drawing board. I much prefer delving into the fundamental background. That way, you can achieve major technological innovations over the long term. Why do things work the way they do, and how does that translate into processes?”

From experiment to design

As a PhD student, Michiel researched the use of membrane technology to separate gases. In the context of a major European research project, he worked on a membrane capable of separating gases at high temperatures. This was the stepping stone to his current job as a researcher at AkzoNobel.

“My current research explores ways of improving technological processes, by transferring materials and heat more efficiently, for example. This involves cooperation with experts from a range of different backgrounds, such as fluidics and distillation. It’s not a question of trial and error. First, we try to understand how something works. That means generating data in the lab, using computer models and translating the results into a chemical-engineering design. My job is all about conceptual design. I’m very glad to have been a student at Twente.”

Wondering what Michiel is doing at AkzoNobel? Watch the video clip: https://youtu.be/rOvCjrRXqiw.

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