International Women's Day The story of Sissi de Beer

8 March: International Women's Day 'one world, a thousand women'

The theme for International Women's Day 2024 is 'One world, a thousand women'. Women are all equally unique and different. How do you see the women around you? Are they an inspiration to you?

One of the inspiring women at our UT is Sissi de Beer. She is the programme director of the UT programme - Applied Physics (APH) - where she once graduated herself in 2007 and then decided to do her PhD there as well (2011). As Associate Professor, she has her research team working on, among other things, ReCoVR, a project working on the transition to a Circular Economy. Besides that, she also has all the ins and outs of the Applied Physics programme under control and makes sure everyone- students and staff alike- feels in her and his place.

Sissi de Beer

'Girls don't immediately think of Applied Physics when looking for further education after graduating from high school. That's a real shame because it's a very interesting field and an Applied Physics degree offers you many opportunities worldwide! When I was a student, you only saw 2 or 3 girls per year, which has fortunately increased to 20% of the yearly intake these days. But of course, it can still be much better!

Sissi de Beer

Why Applied Physics?

I chose this course at the time because it fascinated me to discover and understand the fundamental world. I was looking for answers to the questions:  Why is the sky blue? How do clouds form?  Why does an ice cube melt outside the freezer? And later - as an Associate Professor - I wanted to know how you can use your Physics knowledge to look for solutions to reuse raw materials via precision separation technologies without using too much energy.

I am trying to solve this last question within my research team through the ReCoVR project that uses the field of Statistical Physics (= microscopic ways of describing the world around you from molecules and atoms) to understand and develop new materials to enable new separation techniques.

Recycling waste materials into raw materials and building blocks

garbage in open waters

We all know that raw materials are running out and that we leave far too many materials lying around. We better start reusing these materials, so discarded materials become raw materials/building blocks. This is a complex process, and together with my colleagues, we are looking for precision separation technologies that will help us do this. Currently, e.g. within the (steel) industry, carbon monoxide (CO) is burned to heat the furnace. But then it is converted into CO2 and of course, you don't want that. We work with electrically driven energy (which can be generated via solar panels and/or wind turbines) to capture the CO so that it can then be used as a raw material to make new products. Here, we are working with several universities and companies to see how our 'discoveries' could work or be realised in society.

ReCoVR team

Avebe is one of these companies. Traditionally, they used potatoes to make starch. But they have recently discovered that the proteins in potatoes are also very valuable. We are now working with them to separate these proteins from potatoes in an environmentally friendly way so that they can be used as raw material for sweets (like Katja's piggies) or in vegan (and tasty!) cheese.  So a gold mine was thrown away before, while you can make such delicious products from it. At the same time, you are contributing to the Circular Economy by recycling raw materials.

Sissi in Applied Physics Lab

Photo from UToday artikel 

My job as Programme Director of Applied Physics

Sissi de Beer

On my first day as Applied Physics programme director, I immediately felt the togetherness within the programme, students and staff. We are one together! Everyone feels part of - a rather difficult - programme. Together we go for it and get the best out of ourselves. Everyone is part of the APH family, whoever you are and whatever your background/culture. As an APH-er, you belong, you are always welcome and the atmosphere is great!

Sissi de Beer

Besides my research work, I also really enjoy being the Programme Director of Engineering Physics. Training is incredibly interesting and gives you answers to questions you have about everyday topics. By understanding and improving how technical devices work, you can develop new technologies and thereby improve the lives of all of us a little bit. Within our Applied Physics programme, fundamental and technical worlds coincide.

Sissi during class

Like the theme of International Women's Day One world, a thousand women', we women (and men) can inspire each other but we can also learn from each other. The world is crying out for engineering graduates and we are missing out on potential by making it (mostly) done by men. So women, stand up and also consider Applied Physics if you are looking for a cool, interesting degree programme full of challenges and help build a sustainable future. After all, you can become anything you set your mind to - this is shown by our female graduates working today within companies like ASML, Thales, Demcon, DOW Chemicals, etc. And, of course, you can always decide to stay within the scientific world as a PhD student. The world is waiting for you!

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