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Dr. Stijn Van de Vyver

DSM Science & Technology Award Europe (2013)

Postdoctoral fellow, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Dr. Stijn Van de Vyver receiving his award

Now working at the prestigious MIT, Stijn Van de Vyver has already notched up one patent, ten first-author publications and seven awards. The winner of the DSM Science & Technology Award 2013 took some time out from a busy schedule to talk about his most recent accolade…

I studied the design of new catalysts to break down and transform cellulose into platform chemicals. Specifically, my research was focused on reducing the mass-transfer limitations that hamper the processing of water-insoluble biomass.

I think my work provides some important results and new concepts that could find their way into future biorefineries. However, it is still a big leap to go from lab-scale experiments to a commercial catalytic process.

It was a great opportunity to present my results to a group of experts from both industry and academia.

The audience at the DSM symposium seemed to be very appreciative of our work. Also, I found that the scientific quality of the presentations was high, and so the competition was intense. I particularly enjoyed the diversity of the other research topics, ranging from the monitoring of crystallization processes to the development of new tools for bioprocess monitoring.

As for the prize money, I haven't decided how I will spend it yet, but I definitely owe my friends and colleagues a drink. One of the most rewarding aspects of winning this award was the large amount of messages I received from them.

I’m now working as a postdoctoral fellow in the group of Prof. Yuriy Román at MIT. We investigate new catalytic oxidation processes for the bio-based production of chemicals such as gluconic and adipic acid.

My first priority is to finish my current project. In the longer term I want to put my acquired knowledge and skills into practice. My ambition is to land a research position in an industrial lab, either in Europe or in the United States. As my brother told me, the only regrets are the chances not taken.

In terms of planning a scientific career, I want to share this quote that I heard from an entrepreneur here at MIT: “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”

The jury thought that Stijn’s research stood out through its scientific excellence - which was demonstrated by a large number of publications in high-ranking journals and patents.

The topic of his research has potentially high economic impact and the jury especially expressed their admiration for the unorthodox and daring approach that he took in a challenging field – as well as the originality of his thesis.