Surfaces and boundary layers
Joost Frenken is FOM programme leader at Leiden University and does research into surfaces and boundary layers. At the start of his career, he mainly focused on the static mechanics within this subject but over the years he has developed an increasing interest for the application-oriented component of processes such as catalysis and friction. He is also committed to the development of new measurement instruments, especially in the area of scanning probe microscopy and surface X-ray diffraction.
Frenken works with other research groups and companies within many consortia. He is also actively involved in several Leiden spin-offs. Leiden Probe Microscopy BV (2004) develops, produces and sells advanced instruments for research on boundary layers. This equipment is largely inspired by the instrumentation that Frenken's group developed. In addition to this Frenken is playing a leading role in the establishment of the new company Applied Nanolayers BV, which will focus on the commercial production of large surfaces of very high-quality graphene. "The fact that Frenken has undertaken these valorisation activities in an environment where the emphasis is on curiosity-driven research bears witness to his exceptional passion," says the jury.
Frenken will use the prize for new research in the area of catalysis using a combination of 'live' techniques under the hostile conditions of working catalysts. Frenken: "It is fantastic that we can use our knowledge of the fundamental physics of surfaces to directly recognise what is happening on the surface of an active catalyst under the complex conditions of flowing gas mixtures at high pressures and temperatures. We want to use the new scientific instrumentation and the fundamental knowledge acquired with this to make a worthwhile contribution to subjects with a direct practical interest, such as friction and catalysis. And if we are successful, we will be over the moon."
Former FOM PhD student Ernst Jan Vesseur gained his doctorate in July 2011 from Utrecht University for research he carried out at the FOM Institute AMOLF. He observed the behaviour of optical nano-antennae, which are very strong concentrators of light. If the antennae are illuminated with an electron beam then they can also emit light. In his thesis, Vesseur describes the various applications of this research, including a nanosensor for measuring the refractive index, a laser at nanometre scale, improved etching techniques for the production of submicrometer structures using ion beams, and a source of single photons as a possible component in a quantum computer.
A patent application for the single photons source has already been applied for. However, the most significant application from the thesis is the measurement technique that was developed to observe nano-antennae. The knowledge about this has been transferred to a commercial company, Delmic BV, where the imaging system with high-resolution (SPARC) has been developed further. The jury's comments are therefore full of praise: "Vesseur describes a wide range of applications for the scientific results and demonstrates that he has not only thought about the valorisation possibilities but has already started to actively pursue these."
Vesseur is currently working in Pasadena, California, at a start-up company developing new solar cell technology. Vesseur: "I think that fundamental science is at its best if it ultimately leads to an application. Thinking about this already during my PhD research was a useful and fun experience."
The FOM Valorisation Prize aims to encourage the utilisation of knowledge from physics research. The prize worth 250,000 euros is awarded each year to a Dutch researcher (or research group) within the field of physics who has successfully managed to make the results from his or her own research useful for society. With the annual FOM Valorisation Chapter Prize worth 5000 euros, FOM PhDs are encouraged to devote a separate chapter in their theses to valorisation aspects of their PhD research.