Science as seen by Wu

Dan Jing Wu of TU/e's Department of Biomedical Engineering is one of the new ‘Faces of Science’. This project run by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) encourages young researchers to offer a behind-the-scenes impression, via blogs, public appearances and so on, of what's cooking in their scientific lab.

photo Privé-archief

Communicating easily to a broad audience, mainly via social media, is something the TU/e PhD candidate takes her in stride - and her topics include not only her research, but also her own line of designer bags. But conveying an appealing and understandable message about science is another kettle of fish, acknowledges the 28-year-old Wu: “Your research is usually something you discuss with your colleagues, very often using the accepted jargon. For people outside the field, you have to use an entirely different way of speaking, and that means stepping outside your comfort zone”.

Whereas to her mind it is so important that the message of science is spread clearly. “Many people don't have any idea of all the things scientists do; their chief image is of someone who throws chemicals together in a lab. Yet the work of a scientist is highly varied. I enjoy letting people know this; talking about the research we are doing, how we do it and why it is important. In order to interest people in science, and hopefully to encourage school pupils to choose it as a study option.”

Personally, she is working on supramolecular biomaterials, more specifically the development and processing of responsive polymers (a special type of plastic), which react to, say, temperature, water or light. “As a rule, 3D-printed objects are stiff and immobile. Whereas what I want to make are mobile materials that you can stimulate in a controlled way using external factors - in the same way that muscle or heart tissue contracts. By taking this approach I want to guide tissue regeneration along dynamic lines. It would be so cool if, in the future, we could make an entirely synthetic heart capable of actually pumping."

All the Faces of Science remain active in their role for a full year after they complete their doctoral studies. Wu is now halfway through her PhD and so will spend the next three years or so talking about her work for KNAW. The biomedical engineer is the third person at TU/e to be appointed as a ‘Face of Science’, after Clara Stegehuis and Wouter Meulemans (both of the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science).

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