PhD student Janneke about her research

Janneke Veerbeek (1990) wants to make energy out of water and sunlight. To that end, she develops a nanofactory on a thread. "Working fundamentally on a social problem, that is what appeals to me."

Janneke Veerbeek studied chemical engineering at the University of Twente. Amongst other things, she learned to design large chemical factories. It was only during her graduation that Janneke Veerbeek developed a taste for the world of nanotechnology. Now, she wants to bend water and sunlight to her will in order to produce energy.

Separate and still very close

Energy out of water? That sounds too good to be true, even though the theory is crystal-clear. Researchers have known for a very long time that water can be turned into hydrogen and oxygen with the help of sunlight. That hydrogen could then be used as a fuel for, for example, cars. The problem is that the production of hydrogen consists of two phases. These phases need to take place strictly separate from one another. Otherwise, water cannot be split. Nonetheless, the reactions must take place in each other's vicinity. Otherwise, lots of energy will get lost during the transport between the two reactions. The solution: nanotechnology.

Pioneering

In a sun-drenched refreshment room, Veerbeek draws a little bar on a sheet of paper. The bar's left-hand side is filled with black semi balls. The right-hand side with white semi balls. "Now look here," Veerbeek explains, "This bar is what we call a nanothread. In the black balls, we execute one step of the reaction. In the white balls, the other. This may sound very simple. But then what is the problem? Veerbeek: "Well, we know how to make the black balls. And we are also able to make the white balls. We manage to make the thread. But we still do not succeed in getting the black balls neatly on one side and the white ones neatly on the other. So, indeed, that is quite a challenge. But it is the pioneering aspect that appeals to me."

Combining Master and PhD

At the Twente Graduate School, where Veerbeek does her doctoral research, students can combine their master's programme, which normally takes two years, with their PhD programme, which takes another four years. This way, the entire scheme does not take up six years, but only five. However, Veerbeek deliberately chose not to combine her master's programme and her doctoral research. "I want to have the broadest possible education. I also wanted a taste of other, related subjects within the field of nanotechnology. In addition, some research methods are taught during the master. I wanted to take my time for that."

Fun

Veerbeek thinks she really has been lucky to study in Twente. "The combination of mathematics and chemistry really appeals to me. Moreover, I am working on a practical social application. So it is really clear what I'm doing it for." Does Veerbeek have any advice for future doctoral degree candidates? "Always choose something that fits your interests and is fun. After all, it will take four years of your life. In that respect, you are at the right place at MESA+ and at the University of Twente. You will always find something that fits."