During the celebrations to mark the 375th anniversary of Utrecht University on 25 March, honorary doctorates will be awarded to two researchers for their work in relation to sustainability – one of the mainstays of Utrecht University. The researchers are Carlos Duarte and Chris Murray. Duarte is researching the consequences of climate change and Murray is developing materials for a more sustainable energy supply system.
Carlos Duarte is Professor of Global Change at the Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies in Mallorca. His research focuses on the effects of climate change on marine ecosystems – varying from coastal waters to deep seas – and on how those systems interact with the Earth’s atmosphere.
According to his doctorate supervisor, Utrecht’s Professor of Geochemistry Jack Middelburg, Duarte’s research is extremely important, not only for a better understanding of the processes that take place in the seas and oceans, but also because it enables us to respond adequately to the challenges presented by modern-day climate change.
As Middelburg explains, “Duarte has shown, for example, that mangrove bushes play an important role in the carbon cycle in the Earth’s biosphere. He has also researched what will happen if the oceans get warmer and the oxygen content in sea water decreases as a result. He has published a really beautiful overview of the groups of animals and plants that will suffer the most.”
Christopher Murray is Professor of Chemistry and Materials Science at the University of Pennsylvania, USA. He caused a stir as a young PhD candidate when he developed a method of synthesis to form entirely flawless colloidal nanocrystals at high temperatures. “The article he wrote in 1993 to announce his discovery was very well received and has now been quoted almost four thousand times,” says doctorate supervisor and Professor of Condensed Matter Daniël Vanmaekelbergh respectfully.
Colloidal nanocrystals are miniscule little balls in a liquid that form regular superlattices when the liquid evaporates. According to Vanmaekelbergh, because the force between the balls is a lot weaker than the force between atoms, the crystals and their properties are a lot easier to manipulate.
“As well as making them extremely suitable for fundamental research into the thermodynamic and kinetic features of crystallisation and the properties of materials, nanocolloids are also the building blocks for constructing new materials. At the moment, research into the possibility of using nanocrystal superlattices instead of silicon when producing solar cells is looking especially promising.”
After his first article, Murray also demonstrated a few years ago that nanocrystal superlattices could be formed that consist of two different types of nanocrystals (e.g. insulating and metallic). Last year, Vanmaekelbergh and his employees at Utrecht University managed to use the Murray method to form the first superlattice consisting of three different nanocolloids.
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