This is the first time that the annual academic awards have been presented as part of Dutch Technology Week. The projects belonging to the three winners are already on show this week - together with the work of another eleven of the thirty nominees - in the Klokgebouw in the form of posters, short films, prototypes and demo-setups. The winners receive 5,000 euros (for the PhD and PDEng Thesis Awards) and 2,500 euros (MSc Thesis Award) respectively.
Marina van Damme
The eponymous Marina van Damme grant in the sum of 9,000 euros is awarded annually to advance women engineers in their careers. This year the recipient of the grant is Elise Huisman, who was chosen from among sixteen applicants. Huisman graduated in 2010 from the Department of Biomedical Engineering and subsequently moved to the University of British Columbia in the Canadian city of Vancouver to gain her doctorate. While still a PhD candidate, she co-founded Arbutus Medical, a company that develops medical aids for developing countries.
The main product produced by Arbutus Medical is a sterile cover, the DrillCover, with which an 'ordinary' power drill can be safely used to carry out surgical procedures. This relieves doctors in poor countries, who are unable to afford a surgical drill costing 30,000 euros, of the need to buy a - cheap but less handy - sterile hand drill. When used in combination with the sterile DrillCover, so the thinking goes, a cheap cordless drill is sufficient.
The winner told her audience that worldwide five billion people have no access to sterile surgery. “That is a woeful situation. Oftentimes people who are wounded in a traffic accident, which is an increasing occurrence, have to wait months before they receive surgery. In all that time, they often have no income because they cannot work.”
According to Huisman, Uganda is just one of the many countries where doctors are very enthusiastic about the DrillCover, and it has already been used to perform thousands of operations. “We are now keen to test the impact on the outcomes of operations, but at Arbutus Medical we have no funds available. Thanks to this grant, we can go ahead and start this scientific study.”
The winner of the MSc Thesis Award, Ronen Kroeze, was already in the news back in 2011, when at the age of fifteen he passed his pre-university examinations with four 10s (the top grade). Judging by the Master's project that he carried out at Coherence and Quantum Technology, he also excelled in his latest academic study. His focus was a theoretical analysis of what is known as the Efimov effect, whereby particles bond in groups of three in such a way that if one of the three is removed, all three particles become separate.
Kroeze is now a PhD candidate at the prestigious Stanford University in the United States. Nonetheless, he was present at the awards ceremony, where at the request of presenter Isolde Hallensleben he spoke briefly about his work. The young scientist did so with great flair and in flawless American English. Nor did it escape his attention that his explanation was beyond the grasp of many audience members. “For anyone who didn't understand a word of that, there's also a poster,” he joked.
The work of Jaron Sanders, who received his doctorate early last year, is also of a theoretical nature. Sanders graduated in both Applied Physics (in the same group as Kroeze) and Applied Mathematics in the Stochastics section, where he subsequently carried out his award-winning doctoral research. His analysis of complex networks in which ‘random’ behavior plays a role is valuable to such diverse systems as mobile telephony and quantum computers based on ultracold atoms.
Sanders is currently working as a postdoc at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, but had booked a flight to the Netherlands before he even heard that he was a nominee, as he explained before the ceremony. “Coincidentally, a friend from my old group is receiving her doctorate tomorrow, and I didn't want to miss that. So the timing has been great.” Not that he had any expectations of actually winning: “Just being nominated by my department was a great honor in itself.”
The TU/e PDEng Thesis Award went to Evangelos Stamatopoulos. Commissioned by truck builder DAF, he designed what is known as an environment model for Advanced Driving Assistance Systems, whereby the vehicle takes over some of the driver's tasks. He compiled this environment model based on output from various sensors that equip modern vehicles, and he applied it in a prototype vehicle. At this stage, Stamatopoulos’ environment model was successfully combined with DAF's own Traffic Jam Assist functionality.
Stamatopoulos also took his Master's degree from TU/e, where his supervisors included Distinguished University Professor Maarten Steinbuch. The latter was present at the ceremony in several capacities: not only as supervisor, but also as proud father of son Yuri - nominated for the MSc Thesis Award.
But primarily he was the speaker who provided the entertainment between the presentation of the Academic Awards and the Marina van Damme grant. In his daring speech, he wasn't afraid to make some bold statements. In thirty years' time a single smartphone will be smarter than the whole of humanity - thanks chiefly to the Veldhoven-based chip-machine maker ASML - and ageing will be a disease that can be cured.
Steinbuch was quite keen on immortality, though his view seemed not to be shared by others present. “When my wife and I retire, first we'll rest up for a couple of decades and then we'll start over afresh. Do a new study, have a new career. Isn't it fantastic to be able to contemplate that?”