"It can begin with just a little experiment producing strange reactions that we want to explain." Detlef Lohse, recipient of the Simon Stevin Mastership Prize 2009, is a researcher driven by curiosity.
Reflection and action - 'spiegheling en daet' in ancient Dutch - are the two principle concepts that guided the work of Simon Stevin, the namesake of the highest Dutch award for science and technology research. Centuries ago, the physicist and mathematician Simon Stevin claimed that there can be no reflection without action - no theory without practice - and vice versa. Prof. Detlef Lohse is a living embodiment of this motto. The University of Twente Professor of Fluid Physics regularly couples new physics insights with experiments that amaze the world.
Despite these accomplishments, Lohse did not consider this prestigious award a foregone conclusion. The STW Technology Foundation, which awards the Simon Stevin Mastership, believes the qualities of 'application' and 'valorization' to be of pivotal importance to technology research. Lohse is indeed renowned for his fundamental curiosity-driven research but is quick to point out that this does not preclude the most varied of applications sometimes floating to the surface voluntarily. "This award is in recognition of the fact that we are able to find a good balance between the two. It was a lovely surprise and a real boost for the whole team, not just me," said Lohse.
BUBBLES IN INKJET
Lohse deliberately chose an application-oriented research project for his presentation. "It was a tough choice; we've involved in so many great projects. I'd love to talk about them all. But I restricted myself to the research we're carrying out in collaboration with Océ. We are currently investigating various aspects of inkjet printing. This is an application close to home but one that also raises a wealth of fundamental questions, starting with the impact of a single drop of ink on a piece of paper. We also carried out acoustic tests in the ink channel, which appeared to be experiencing some interference. The cause: the formation of bubbles. It was the obvious answer. We recognized it immediately."
Bubbles and turbulence in liquids are a recurring theme in Lohse's research work. He gained worldwide renown with his conclusive explanation of the phenomenon of sonoluminescence wherein a bubble will emit short bursts of light when exposed to ultrasound. He hit the international headlines when his explanation on the loud popping sound produced underwater by the pistol shrimp was featured in Science. His group has also published research on subjects ranging from the phenomena of dry quicksand and leaping shampoo to the use of small bubbles to run fuel-efficient ships and develop new medical diagnostics.
What was the high point for you? "There are a lot of subjects dear to my heart, and it can vary from week to week or even month to month. But if I had to choose one topic, it would be heat-driven turbulence; the 'Rayleigh Bénard' convection. Ten years ago the physics community closed the book on this subject, believing there was nothing left to uncover. But then I was shown new measuring results while on a working visit to Lyon and thought: this isn't in line with the existing theory. It was during the flight back that I first began formulating ideas for a new approach. We're now ten years down the line and a lot further in our understanding of this subject thanks to new experiments being conducted across the world. And our new theory is still going strong!"
"It's often difficult to direct research. Sometimes it begins with a small experiment performed by a student in the lab, which produces a strange reaction that we want to explain - like a ball bearing falling into quicksand and creating a jet. These student projects are crucial to the development of new ideas."
In 2005, Lohse was awarded the Spinoza Prize and now he is also the proud recipient of the Simon Stevin Mastership. His colleague at the University of Twente, Albert van den Berg, did it 'the other way round': he first received the Simon Stevin Mastership back in 2002 and will be awarded the Spinoza Prize this coming November. "The order of events is indicative of our research capacities. Albert is stronger in practically-oriented research than I am and it's wonderful to see his splendid work begin recognized. For me, the practical applications come later. We work closely with Albert in the field of microfluidics and nanofluidics. I wouldn't miss his award ceremony for the world!"
For more information about Prof. Detlef Lohse's Physics of Fluids research department, please visit http://pof.tnw.utwente.nl/.
For more information about the Simon Stevin Mastership and the STW Technology Foundation, please visit www.stw.nl