Timothy Noël. Foto | Angeline Swinkels

Talented chemist Noël moves to Amsterdam

Timothy Noël, associate professor at Chemical Engineering and Chemistry, is relocating with his team to the University of Amsterdam. There, commencing September 1st, he will become professor of Flow Chemistry. This Flemish native has often been in the news in recent years, for among other achievements his ‘artificial leaf’ in which he combines microreactor technology with light-driven chemical reactions. The appeal of Amsterdam lies in its community of related research groups.

photo Angeline Swinkels

“All the equipment I need is available in Amsterdam,” says Noël in explaining his transfer. “To collect certain data, I used to travel to Ghent, where my home is, or to a lab somewhere else. That’s doable if you have fewer responsibilities, but it has begun to take its toll on me.” This transfer brings another benefit: the fulfilment of his ambition to become a professor before the age of forty. “That pleases me. Throughout my scientific career I’ve been completely independent but in the Netherlands the system places you under the auspices of a professor. I’ve always found that annoying, although my relationship with the professors in question has always been good.”

In Amsterdam Noël will have his own lab, close to a number of other groups working in the field of homogeneous catalysis. “Since each of them has an entirely different approach to ours, we are perfectly complementary.” All doctoral candidates with more than a year to go are relocating with him. “One PhD candidate will remain behind, together with four postdocs who are nearing the end of their contracts. But I will be coming back to Eindhoven regularly, if only because I have promised to supervise the chemistry practical this coming academic year. I’ve always been given every opportunity here and have been greatly respected. Because my transfer was finalized only recently, I was keen to fulfil this responsibility.”

And certainly, his departure has not been spurred by frustration, the chemical engineer stresses. “It is simply that this is a unique opportunity for me. I have worked here for the past nine years, and it has been very enjoyable. The small scale keeps the lines short and it feels like one big family; I may well miss that feeling in Amsterdam.”

Artificial leaf

This Dutch-speaking Belgian has previously appeared in the international media with his crowning achievement to date: an artificial leaf, in which medicines, for example, can be produced using only natural light as the energy source. Further research on this technology recently earned him an article in the prestigious journal Science. Noël will continue this line of research relating to microreactors and light-driven activation in Amsterdam, he tells us. “I want to bring together chemistry and technology and in such a way explore terra incognita.”

Those interested in this work can follow the young professor on his blog and social media, where Noël has always been very active. “I have learned that it’s important for your career to be visible. Almost everyone I’ve ever hired has approached me on their own initiative because they have read about my work. This works much better than a formal job vacancy that draws dozens of letters of application. Social media takes time and you have to feel suited to it, but it has brought me great benefits.”

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