Research themes

Our faculty members increasingly form ad-hoc partnerships of different principal investigators (PI’s) for specific tasks, based not on their organizational position within a section but on the topic and opportunity at hand. As a result, we no longer identify the section structure as the basis of our themes. Rather, we recognize that the department strategy must be leading. For most of the evaluated period, our strategy has been to increasingly focus on “advanced materials for energy and health”, buiding on a firm footing in the “fundamentals of chemistry and chemical engineering”.

The theme fundamentals of chemical engineering and chemistry covers that stable basis of chemistry and chemical engineering that is needed for more applicationdriven research. In this theme, we identify the core of chemistry (organic, inorganic, physical, theoretical) and chemical engineering (rates of chemical processes a.k.a. reaction engineering, rates of physical processes a.k.a. transport phenomena, engineering thermodynamics and process design), as Fig. 1 shows.

The theme functional materials reflects the notion that chemical engineering is increasingly about complex materials that go beyond the classical “alphabet” molecules A, B and C. Making these materials requires the integration of molecular insight such as polymer chemistry, soft matter, thin-film, colloidal chemistry and the processing know-how to actually design and formulate/synthesize them. What differentiates us from material science departments is the focus on integration between materials design and process design, keeping a keen eye on manufacturability of our devices. Whether it is nanostructured hybrid materials for membranes, or complex quantum-dot architectures for solar cells, or thinfilm materials for sensors, our “science-art of making stuff” is increasingly about integration of function early into design of materials that make up devices that exploit that function.

The theme energy is one of our most important application areas for these advanced materials. This theme is broad, as it encompasses both traditional (fossil) energy sources and refining technology, much at the historical heart of chemical engineering, and new options in renewable energy. Society needs new sources of energy with a reduced environmental impact as fossil fuels decline, and it needs new storage of energy to deal with fluctuating generation and demand. We do not believe that there is a single silver bullet for energy needs in the foreseeable future, and we wish to play a role in all of these aspects of meeting society’s insatiable appetite for power.

Finally, the theme health encompasses the use of our materials and processing thereof for medical and health applications. This is a new area for us, slow to grow without a medical school at Delft, but increasingly relevant. We have and seek to increase collaborations with the medical schools of Leiden and Rotterdam, and work on applications where we contribute mathematical analysis and physico-chemical insights to understanding disease and curing it.