New institute manager Martin van Breukelen: "Come and measure at DIFFER, I would like to say"

April 14th 2022

Martin van Breukelen (1980) will be taking up the position of institute manager of DIFFER on 1 July. He previously managed the stable isotope lab of the NFI and was the point of contact for HFML-FELIX in Nijmegen for the past eleven years. At DIFFER, one of the things he plans to do is to further open up the facilities to guest researchers.

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Martin van Breukelen.
(c) DIFFER

Can you tell us a little about yourself? Where did you grow up?
"I was born in The Hague. In my first year, we moved to Pijnacker. I attended secondary school in Delft."

And subsequently? Did you study? Got a Ph.D.?
"I studied geology at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. I really loved that study. I followed the sedimentary and environmental analysis track. After my studies, I wanted to continue in research. I started studying stalagmites in caves in Peru. These stalagmites are sometimes more than ten thousand years old. You can measure stable isotope ratios of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen in those stalagmites. This allows you to reconstruct the climate in the past. Before my Ph.D. ended, I started working at the NFI, the Netherlands Forensic Institute."

From cave research to forensic science?
"That transition is not as huge as you might think. At the NFI I was in fact co-managing the stable isotopes lab. And the equipment with which you can measure stable isotope ratios is something I was already familiar with from my Ph.D. research. At the NFI, forensic researchers use isotopes for research into provenance, among other things. For example, you can deduce from the isotope ratio in someone's body whether that person has spent a lot of time at sea level or in the mountains. That information can help to solve a missing person case."

After the NFI, how did you end up at the High Field Magnet Laboratory of Radboud University?
"That was in 2011. I lived in the vicinity of Nijmegen and that was quite some distance from the NFI in The Hague. Moreover, at HFML I could help to set up the EMFL, the European Magnetic Field Laboratory. From 2018, I was also working at the free-electron laser FELIX, which was previously at DIFFER in Rijnhuizen. As a matter of fact, at HFML-FELIX, I also got to know DIFFER a little more closely because the institute and ITER regularly feature in the lists of major research infrastructures."

What are your plans at DIFFER?
"I find that a bit difficult to say at this point. I am involved in many networks around large research infrastructures. At DIFFER, of course, we have Magnum-PSI and also, for example, the Ion Beam Facility. And in DIFFER's strategy, we say that we want to position ourselves even more as a user facility. I can see a part to play in this for myself. At HFML-FELIX I didn't only do the operational management either. I was also involved in the international guest program. I would like to say to everyone: come and measure at DIFFER."

And the people at DIFFER?
"I thrive in an organization that has a kind of family feeling on the one hand and the connection to the outside world on the other. I like that at HFML-FELIX and I expect to find it at DIFFER as well. And if not, I would like to advocate for that family feeling and a pleasant workplace."

To wrap up, DIFFER is the research institute for sustainable energy. How do you relate to that?
"I've done research on climate change myself, of course. That often involved time scales of thousands of years, but I was able to understand the influence of the sun. If there is little solar radiation for a while, for example due to a volcanic eruption, you will notice this in the climate history. I think it's great that DIFFER is trying to capture or imitate the sun's energy in all sorts of ways. For example, in fusion research and in research into solar fuels. Ultimately, of course, we have to get rid of fossil energy. Perhaps sooner than we imagined."

Dr. Martin van Breukelen is married, has two sons and enjoys running and volleyball. He will soon be moving into a "beautiful and sustainable new house."