Guus Aalbers won the second prize in the Gouden Spatel competition, the award of the Dutch Chemical Society, KNCV, for the best chemical bachelor thesis of hbo students. Aalbers wrote about the research during his internship at DIFFER in the group of Andrea Baldi. Jildau van der Werf won the Gouden Spatel 2021.
Guus Aalbers studied Applied Science at the Fontys Hogeschool in Eindhoven and chose chemistry. In his third year, he went to Canada for a six-month internship at the University of British Colombia in Vancouver. "That is where I really got interested in research," he says. "I felt I wasn't done studying yet, so the following year I started a pre-master's." He wanted to do something in inorganic chemistry for his graduate internship. "I found Andrea Baldi's research group very interesting. I am fascinated by things with light and that worked out well at DIFFER."
Light on nanoparticles
At DIFFER, he worked on fundamental research with the ultimate goal of developing materials for energy storage. Andrea Baldi's group was concerned with an effect that occurs when light interacts with nanoparticles: 'plasmon resonances'. You can exploit that effect, for example, to speed up chemical reactions, or in making hydrogen leak detectors. "One of the bigger questions was: why are chemical reactions accelerated if you shine light on a solution with nanoparticles? That is still pretty unclear. At DIFFER, I did my part to find the answer."
What Aalberts liked about the work was the surprising results. "The project went in a completely different direction after a few weeks. Something completely different came out than we expected, but that was actually more interesting. It worked out very well at the time to be able to identify, one by one, all the different underlying mechanisms of the so-called catalytic reactions that take place at the same time."
Aalbers was never a good English student in high school and yet he wrote a successful bachelor thesis. His internship in Canada did help him do that. "When you spend time in an English-speaking country, you are encouraged to speak and write the language. When writing reports, I also received help from my British supervisor. Moreover, I read a lot of scientific articles and then I adopted the style of writing." He can also recommend this to other students who want to write a good report. "I think you can get a lot of inspiration from that."
Currently, Aalberts is doing a master's degree at TU/e with the Molecular Materials and Nanosystems group researching new types of solar cells. Baldi's group has since moved to the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam.
During the official award ceremony, on 14 October 2021, Aalbers received the second prize of EUR 250. Winner Jildau van der Werf received EUR 1000.
KNCV Gouden Spatel