Claas-Willem Visser

STAR interview: structure makes the difference

In this STAR interview, we speak to Claas Willem Visser of the Faculty of Engineering Technology (ET). STAR is an acronym for (S)ituation, (T)asks, (A)ctions, (R)esults. We also have many “star” colleagues at UT with an interesting story to tell. Claas Willem Visser works on structured materials that provide special functions, such as particles or foams. 


What is/was the situation (S) of your research/initiative?

Making our world a sustainable, healthy place is an enormous challenge, because many of the materials that we use are not sustainable and not healthy or even toxic. Therefore, materials that are bio-sourced, bio-degradable, and generally healthy are urgently needed, for example in health care, energy supply, and food. Much research is focused on green chemistries, but only controlling the chemistry is not sufficient to achieve desired functions of materials. With our team, we design and fabricate structured materials, tailor-made to their function and without plastics. Especially this structure is essential to achieve the desired function. For example, small particles in food are very important for its flavor as well as its healthiness, as they control where nutrients are delivered into the body. Similarly, small particles are used to control delivery of medicines into the body, to store energy, or to grow living cells.


What tasks (T) were or are you currently working on?

Our team is embedded in the interdisciplinary Thermal and Fluid Engineering department, where we connect directly with potential users as well as with colleagues who work on the fundamental aspects of our printing methods. Our 3D printing processes are based on forming and depositing droplets, similar to inkjet printers but aiming for functional materials. Recently, in a study led by Jieke Jiang, we developed particles that can and release capture CO2.

This research and development goes hand in hand with training of skillful engineers and scientists of the future. Many students join our research and, after graduation, continue working on high-tech sustainable solutions.

Dr. Ir. Claas-willem Visser

What makes me proud is to see students grow as an engineer, both technically and in their motivation to develop sustainable solutions in an ethical way. 

Dr. Ir. Claas-willem Visser


What actions (A) are you working on and who are involved?

Our research focuses on applications where particles or cellular materials can make a difference. For example, together with Mina Shahi, we develop materials for thermal batteries that store heat from summer for use in winter. With Wim Brilman, we fabricated particles for capturing CO2 from the air. The first ideas usually originate from tinkering in the lab. When the idea seems promising, we test the boundaries of the method: especially how it works or when it does not work is usually interesting to know. We then go in-depth and we apply new materials together with fellow scientists or companies. We usually publish the results with open access, so anyone interested can propel the idea forward. Importantly, our goal is that new solutions and new materials leave the lab and become used by others. Otherwise, there would be no benefit to society! Therefore, we publish the results and sometimes file a patent if this is required for a company to push the idea forward. Already, 2 spin-off companies originated from our work: IamFluidics and FoamPrint3D! 


What results (R) do you hope to achieve, and how will society (or UT organization) perceive them?

Our results show that controlling the structure of materials allows to achieve multiple functions at once. For example, the particles that we developed to capture CO2 are also mechanically strong, based on non-toxic materials, do not adhere, and have a perfectly controlled size.

However, materials in nature, such as in the human body, show what is possible with full control of structure and chemistry. Our bones repair themselves when cut or broken, have a life time of 80 years, they provide strength while being light and flexible, and they provide a healthy and energy-efficient environment for cells to grow. In comparison, human-made materials are shockingly simple. Therefore, there is plenty of room in developing hierarchy, by tailoring every length scale from sub-nanometer to multiple meters, and thereby achieve multifunctional materials.

drs. J.G.M. van den Elshout (Janneke)
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