Publishing a paper as a student is already special, but Leon Smook - dual master student in Chemical Science & Engineering and Nanotechnology - managed to do it 3 times. "I am quite ambitious, but without my supervisor Dr. Sissi de Beer this would never have been possible."
In early 2020, Leon began the final phase of his studies with an internship in Barcelona. However, the covid pandemic hit and he had to return to the Netherlands. Therefore, instead of his internship, he started his master research. He did this under the supervision of Dr Sissi de Beer. In his research, he worked on simulations of technology for an electronic nose that recognizes different gases. "It was practical to keep working theoretically, as lab access was limited due to covid measures," says Leon.
The simulations went well. De Beer was therefore immediately enthusiastic: "Leon is super talented and works extremely efficient. A few months after Leon started, he was already almost done with his original assignment and we were able to write the first paper." In that first paper, Leon published his results from the first simulations. "The simulations showed that two different gases affect each other on how well they are absorbed by the polymer brushes in the electronic nose," Leon explains, "For example, if the two gases like to stay close to each other, then the absorption of the first gas will also be able to enhance the absorption of the second gas."
Because Leon completed his original assignment so quickly, he was able to expand his research. This resulted in second and third publications. "I am particularly proud of Leon's second and third papers because they are the result of his own ideas," says de Beer. For his second paper, Leon simulated two polymers in the same sensor coating. "This creates surfaces where gases want to sit in between. In this way, you can attract very low concentrations of gas molecules to your sensor", explains Leon. For his third paper, he optimized the ratios of the different polymers in these polymer brushes to absorb as much gas as possible.
Leon's master's thesis has been finished for a while now and in September he will also finish his internship. He has not yet finished his research and is not done with publishing. After his internship and a holiday, he will start a PhD, also under the supervision of De Beer. Not on the electronic nose, but on the ReCoVR project, in which he will research functional coatings for cleaner separation technologies that lead to the reuse of raw materials from flows that would otherwise end up as waste. De Beer cannot wait for Leon to rejoin her research group: "I am looking forward to working with Leon in the coming years and I am very curious about the ideas that Leon will have in the future."
Leon's publications in the scientific journals Macromolecules, ACS Applied Polymer Materials and the Journal of Chemical Physics can be read below. Leon did his master's assignment under the supervision of Dr. Sissi de Beer and Guido Ritsema van Eck, in the Sustainable Polymer Chemistry (SPC) group within the Department of Molecules and Materials (Faculty of S&T) and the MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology.