Stories#033 Luca’s research into extremely thin layers

#033 Luca’s research into extremely thin layers

The story of Ruud’s tailor made approach is a story of Luca’s research into extremely thin layers

This autumn, PhD candidate Luca Bouwmeester will complete her research into the properties of extremely thin layers of material. And that's not the only thing she sinks her teeth into. She’s always looking to latch onto to something else. Business controller Ruud Slot appreciates her energy and decisiveness. Like Luca, he is convinced that if you nurture your talent, you will progress naturally. As a person and as an organisation.

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Monday 31 May 2021


Ruud: ‘Luca, I have to confess: your field is abracadabra to me. Can you explain to me what you do?’

Luca: ‘I can imagine that. I am conducting doctoral research into the material properties of very thin layers. Characteristically, thin layers have a lot of surface and relatively little mass, so materials behave differently than expected. And that's where it gets interesting! In the lab, my colleagues and I try to assign new properties to a material by positioning the atoms the way we want. That is a matter of trial and error, the end result cannot be completely predicted. But when we do succeed in assigning a new property to the material, we immediately take a giant leap forward and the material can be used for new applications. It's really cool to do this particular research.’

Ruud: ‘Clear to me now. The end of your PhD program is in sight. What stage are you in at the moment?’

Luca: ‘I have arrived at the “Big Writing Stage”. Now that our social lives are on hold, I can focus better on this particular stage. But I miss meeting up with friends or being able to go to a party – a lot. I’m also disappointed I can’t attend conferences, and therefore can’t present my research to colleagues. I really love that social interaction in my work.’

Ruud: ‘I read that you have anticipated the period following your PhD by starting as an investment analyst.’

Luca: ‘You read well, haha. I will be defending my PhD in September. I don't know exactly what I want to do afterwards; I’m interested in many things. So, I’ve had coffee with lots of people. That is how I came to know about Cottonwood, a company that invests in start-ups in nanotechnology, medical technology and renewable energy, among other things. I now work there for a few hours a week in addition to my research. At UT I study very small things, whereas as an investment analyst I zoom out and look at the possible applications of technology. I don't know yet whether this is my new dream job, but it’s a great combination for the time being.’

Ruud: ‘What drives you the most: ambition or curiosity?’

Luca: ‘I aspire to have a great career, although I don't know exactly in which direction yet. I live in the moment and usually let my curiosity guide me in what I encounter along the way. For example: I noticed that there weren’t any structural opportunities to talk to other PhDs and postdocs in the department in order to exchange experiences - which I really missed. I couldn’t imagine being the only person to lack that kind of contact with peers. That is why I suggested to organise them. They are nice meetings: we share our struggles and wins, and it has really increased mutual involvement within the department.’

Ruud: ‘It's great that you not only identify these things, but also really take action.’

Luca: ‘Thank you. The supervision of PhD students is mainly focused on substantive work. But at some point, many PhD students run into challenges of a different order: their motivation falters, writing becomes difficult, they lose sight of the broader outlines of their work. I think these challenges deserve more attention. I also raised this issue with the Shaping Expert Group Teams and Individuals at the end of last year. Together with people from the central HR department, Twente Graduate School and the Knowledge Transfer Office, I subsequently set up an interdisciplinary peer coaching process for PhD students. We have just started, but the initial reactions have been very positive.’

Ruud: ‘It is important that people feel good at work. From my position, this includes: what is the right balance between research, education and other activities for you? I don't believe in one size fits all.’

Luca: ‘Customisation is indeed important. Is that what People first means to you? That you look for what someone has to offer and how that is best expressed?’

Ruud: ‘Yes, there’s an enormous diversity in age, background, education and experience at UT. Everyone has different skills and talents. I think it's more important to value those than to squeeze everyone into the same mould.’

Luca: ‘I totally agree. I am fortunate that my professor knows how important my social life is to me. I would die if I had to spend all my time in the lab alone. That’s why I am currently exploring what the work of an investment analyst entails. I was really dreading writing for months on end, but now I am reloaded and enjoying the writing process alongside that new challenge.’ 

Ruud: ‘Do you have any advice for students and perhaps colleagues?’

Luca: ‘Do something you really enjoy. You don't have to stay within the framework you once started out in. If you’ve worked in the lab for years and suddenly you want something different: go for it. Don't be too reserved, or say "I can only work in a lab", but profile yourself as an independent worker who can quickly assess the complexity of problems - you can always go in a different direction. Especially for students: don't spend all your time on your studies, but make sure you meet a lot of people. For fun and to learn from them. Your college days are a great time to discover what you enjoy, precisely because you can make mistakes and pick yourself up again without too many consequences.’

Ruud: ‘A nice end to our conversation. I am very curious as to what your next step will be, Luca. Good luck with the home stretch.’

Luca: ‘Ha, yes, I'm curious about that too. Thank you, Ruud.’


obtained his Masters in Accountancy at Nyenrode Business University. After 13 years of working in business, he started working for UT in 2019 as business controller for support services. In December 2020 he started as a business controller at the Faculty of Engineering Technology.

Luca Bouwmeester (1993)

graduated cum laude in Applied Physics. Her thesis won her the Tata Steel Young Talent Award. Luca was also selected for a scholarship at Océ - part of Canon - and she did a four-month internship in Vancouver, Canada. Luca is currently a PhD candidate in Material Science at the Faculty of Science and Technology (TNW), Interfaces and Correlated Electron Systems (ICE).