An alchemical symbol with the words ‘εν το παν’ (‘one is the all’) which inspired Kekulé in a dream to discover the structure of benzene.
Yoeri van de Burgt  

Yoeri van de Burgt: “Imagination and the ability to dream is essential. Most other logical and reasonable ideas have already been tried.”

An interview with Yoeri van de Burgt (Eindhoven University of Technology, Netherlands), the TOP 5 finalist of the Dream Chemistry Award 2019 with the project “Brain-Inspired Organic Modular Lab-on-a-Chip for Cell Classification”.

Your project works with neural network lab-on-chip based on artificial synapse. Where did you get this idea?
The field that covers artificial synapses, neuromorphic engineering, exists for some time already. However, the first-generation materials that I developed were quite new and exciting with some really novel characteristics, but really needed improvements and optimization. Next to that, the field has not yet capitalized on their promises, by really utilizing the nature of the low energy and easy tuneability. That made a lot of sense to me and the idea was born.

What attracted you to multidisciplinary materials devices?
Trained as an engineer, I found that my interests lie beyond only that and got interested in materials science. However, in my opinion, the strength of that field lies in combining materials science with engineering, to develop smart materials or even smart devices, where materials are at the core. This, naturally, also involves chemistry, applied physics concepts and other fields, to arrive at the ultimate goal or application.

How was preparing your Dream Chemistry Award project different from your day-to-day research work? Do you think it gave you another perspective?
The dream project proposal is closely related to what I have been dreaming to do for some time. I have written other proposals that this one is based on, so the day-to-day were not so different, other than, perhaps, now really looking beyond practical and achievable goals and really dreaming what could be done with this technology. I believe it is crucial to do so sometimes, to be creative and look for what lies further ahead than the coming 5 years or so.

How important do you think is imagination and the ability to dream for a scientist?
This is essential. Most other logical and reasonable ideas have already been tried.

In your presentation, you said that you don't even consider yourself a chemist, yet you and your projects obviously use chemistry in your toolset. What is your attitude to chemistry itself, not just the one you use, but also all the one you learned along the way?
I am most fascinated by chemistry as it seems to be a basic toolset, but there is so much more going on. Also, chemists sometimes consider themselves to be just chemists, but looking at these presentations, it is obvious that it also involves many other disciplines. But personally, I am most impressed at what chemistry can do and have done in the past to help improve our lives and I am happy that I know and even work with some of the best chemists in the world.

Is there anything else you would like to tell us?
Thank you very much for inviting me to this wonderful award and letting me part of your community!

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