Water and French Polynesia
May 28, 2020
For most students the semester is already over, but the Sensing Systems of Sustainability Project students have one last assignment to complete. This Thursday they will be giving their final presentations on the group projects they have worked on for the past 17 weeks.
Emil is part of team water – the one that is looking at phosphate and nitrite levels in river water, not to be confused with the team that is measuring levels of heavy metals in drinking water.
As students had to rearrange their original plans due to corona, they focused on data analysis. Team water were lucky enough to get permission to use some data sets collected by PhD candidate Kyle Neumann. Neumann collected data on agricultural runoff* in coral reefs in Mo’orea, French Polynesia. As students are working within the themes of sustainability and food this was a perfect fit.
Part of what Emil has looked into is the relation between nitrite and phosphate, infamous nutrients present in fertilizer which can cause damage on non-agricultural land and water. He also looked at whether there is a pattern between the levels of these nutrients and season (tropical, rainy, or dry) at the different measurement sites. He will be presenting his results in a larger context of water pollution later this week.
*Agricultural runoff is water which, due to irrigation or rain, flows from farm fields onto other areas. This water can contain pesticides, nutrients, or metals, which contaminate sources of water.
Future food and soil data
May 14, 2020
Until about two months ago, the Sensing Systems for Sustainability students were designing and building sensing systems; one group working with soil, another with air, and two groups are working with different elements in water. When the corona crisis began the groups scattered over the earth, and Dr. Ercan had to find a new way for them to learn what sensing systems are about in a hands-on way. Instead of designing in groups, the students got a chance to work with existing data collected by various scientists and organizations.
Ruben, a third year science major, was originally part of the soil group. His interest in soil health is linked to his family’s veggie patch, as well as his interest in technology related to agriculture: smart plant pots which signal when the plan needs water, and pixel farming. And the future of food is also a concern of Ruben’s: “I believe food is one of the biggest issues of today and the future and spend time considering the sustainability of various food products”.
Right now Ruben is working with data collected by the GROW Observatory, a “sustainable citizen platform and community to generate, share and utilize information on land, soil and water resource”. Some of the variables Ruben is examining are moisture, air temperature, light intensity, and fertilizer. All these variables are part of the data which the group had originally planned on collecting with their own sensor systems.
Originally the goal was to explore fertilizer trends as influenced by soil properties and air conditions. Right now the aim is to be able to make predictive recommendations on the minimum amount of fertilizer that needs to be used for effective growth rates. So now Ruben will be analyzing how various levels of moisture, air temperature, and light intensity will influence the growth of a specific plant, and therefore also how much of an extra “push” (read: fertilizer) the plant needs.
Ruben is using Python do to all the analysis and plotting. In the end of May he will present his findings, so to be continued!
A day in the life of Veerle and Emil
April 23, 2020
Follow early-bird Engineering majors Veerle and Emil for a day at UCR!
Have a look at what they are up to in- and outside the classroom; on land and on water.
April 9, 2020
Remember back in October when Veerle was interviewed for GirlsFuture magazine? You can now read the interview on their website (in Dutch)! Veerle talks about her experience studying Engineering at UCR, and about her sustainable solutions project within the Energy Transitions course of last semester.
Nooit Meer Werken
April 6, 2020
The Zeeuws Museum and UCR Engineering have been working together on a small student exhibition that would be taking place during the National Museumweek (20 – 26 April). Because of the current circumstances we have had to change our plans a little bit.
The Zeeuws Museum’s current exhibition “Nooit Meer Werken” (No More Work) reconsiders the communal aims, value, and social significance of work, in relation to technological developments. How does that fit in with what the Engineering students are doing? The students of the Sensing Systems for Sustainability project course have been working on microcontrollers with built-in sensors. This exhibition encourages them to consider the context and consequences of their design on people and work itself.
Last week the students took part in a digital tour of the exhibition with the help of Prezi (visuals) and Zoom (guidance and discussion). The teams brainstormed how they would design the casing for their sensors, taking into account how, why, where, and by whom their sensors would be used. The students also considered the societal implications of using sensing technologies and gathering data, particularly in terms of creating new jobs, and building/eliminating economies of labor.
The students now have two weeks to film 3-minute teaser videos that present the way their sensors would work, taking into the hows, whys, and wheres discussed during class. To be continued then!
March 23, 2020
Due to Covid-19, as of last week classes have been taking place online. The Sensing Systems for Sustainability class has had a successful first week of online education, using Zoom to communicate. Students have been collaborating from all corners the world: Zoe is in Taiwan, Derin is in Turkey, and Ruben, Laura, and Dr. Ercan are spread through the Netherlands. They even managed to do their midterm group presentations online! We look forward to more fun Zoom meetings after this week’s Spring Break.
March 11, 2020
This morning a class of about 20 VWO5 students from Scheldemond College came by UCR to take part in our Arduino workshop. They learned some basics about circuits and electronics, and pretty quickly got to work on their Arduinos in pairs.
They built circuits including LEDs (traffic lights or disco lights, depending on each team!), and incorporated motion and temperature sensors as well. The students had a lot of fun making everything work, and were clearly up for the challenge!
Engineering tote bag
March 10, 2020
Jule Schretzmeir, a Cognitive Science and Psychology Major at UCR, has designed a tote bag for the Engineering department! She was inspired by “His Master’s Voice”, the famous painting by Francis Barraud, and represents Engineering within the Liberal Arts & Sciences.
Next time you’re at UCR don’t forget to pick up a bag at the reception!
Guest Lecture on Biodiversity and Climate Change by Yann Hautier
March 9, 2020
On March 5th, Dr. Yann Hautier, from the Ecology and Biodiversity research group at Utrecht University, gave a lecture on the biodiversity experiments that they set up at UU and how they aim to include robotics with drone and sensors to measure plant traits (roots, specific leaf area, height, biomass etc..). Dr. Hautier leads grassland experiments/experimental sites for the Nutrient Network (NutNet), the Drought Network (Drought-Net), the NPKD Network, and the UU BioCliVE.
Here is a glimpse into what Dr. Hautier’s talk was about:
Using remote sensing to monitor trait responses to drought and flood in a novel climate change experiment.
The Earth’s ecosystems are experiencing an unprecedented rate of biodiversity loss. At the same time, they are confronted by changes in climate, which are predicted to lead to seasonal shifts in precipitation patterns and more extreme weather events. These two trends threaten the future stable provision of multiple ecosystem services essential to human well-being. It is therefore imperative that we are able to predict future ecosystem biodiversity, adaptability and functioning and define appropriate management strategies. This requires understanding the mechanistic drivers that dictate ecosystem responses. We set up a novel, large-scale climate and biodiversity manipulation platform to uncover the fundamental mechanisms that determine how grassland ecosystems will be impacted by future precipitation scenarios. We aim to move beyond phenomenological pattern recognition by adopting a multidisciplinary, mechanistic approach to decipher the drivers of ecosystem responses to future precipitation scenarios and the interaction with loss of diversity. This should be realized by coupling advanced robotic, species trait sensing systems, a novel large-scale climate and biodiversity manipulation research platform, dedicated mechanistic experiments and advanced modeling approaches. This unique approach will only be made possible by real-time tracking of plant traits via automated robotic systems and integrated with advanced modeling methods. Our multidisciplinary approach aims to provide the knowledge required to ensure the functioning and services of future grassland ecosystems.
Are you curious about learning more about the Engineering department and UCR life from a student perspective? You can reach out to Engineering student Kristina through Unibuddy! Chat away and find out everything you would like to know about studying Engineering at UCR.
February 24, 2020
Two weeks ago, the students of the Sensing Systems for Sustainability course visited Proefboerderij Rusthoeve in Colijnsplaat.
Rusthoeve is an agronomy research center, and focuses on innovative techniques, particularly GPS and Remote Sensing. Remote Sensing is used in crop classification, crop monitoring, and yield assessment, and one of the work-groups of the Sensing course will be diving into this field for their project. We look forward to see the sensing systems solutions they design!
UCR and Rusthoeve are project partners in CIMAT, an Interreg Project which focuses on innovative technologies based on robotics and sensors used in agricultural contexts.
February 19, 2020
Earlier today experimental marine biologist professor Klaas Timmermans (NIOZ) gave a guest lecture on underwater research in the Zeeland delta. Students from the Marine Biology (Science) course and the Sensing Systems for Sustainability (Engineering) course learned more about the use of sensors under water and data collection related to sea life. The NIOZ Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research provides students with wonderful internship opportunities and potential for senior projects so we expect future collaborations to take place!
Taste-testing of different disciplines
February 10, 2020
Last week a group of about 50 VWO3 students from Scheldemond college visited UCR and had a taste of five different disciplines! They spent some time discussing Roman “selfies” (sculptures) with Dr. Hochscheid, electronic sensors with Dr. Ercan, the genetics of X and Y with Dr. Rijkers, psychological testing with Dr. Santos, and literary film adaptations with Dr. Tak-Ignaczak! The students were divided into four groups of about 13 students and rotated into the different workshops. We really enjoyed having the students over, and they now have a few new things to think about before choosing their high-school courses!
February 6, 2020
UCR has recently acquired a new building in which classrooms, study spaces, meeting rooms and labs will be built! This building will also be the home of various Engineering spaces: a metal workshop, an electronics and robotics lab, spaces for material processing, (waste) plastic recycling, and bio-material processing. Construction is set to start soon, we are very excited to share the results with you in the fall!
January 28, 2020
On the 11th of March, 20 students from Scheldemond College will be joining us for a hands-on introduction to Arduino. We will cover the basics: what Arduino is and why you would want to use it, how to build a circuit on a breadboard, how to use the Arduino IDE (Integrated Development Environment), and of course how to get the LEDs on! We will also use temperature sensors to look at how this microcontroller can collect data, as well as different ways in which it can display information.
Does this sound like fun? Please contact Eva if you would like your class to participate in a workshop like this one!
January 20, 2020
Last week a group of VWO 4 students from CSW Middelburg visited UCR to listen to two lectures regarding the energy transition. Gerrit Rentier (Zeeuwind, and external PhD candidate at Utrecht University) gave a lecture on how the energy transition is linked to policy and economics, and Dr. Gudrun Kocher-Oberlehner gave a lecture on the challenge and importance of storing renewable energy. The students were engaged, and even though Dr. Gudrun’s lecture was done in English they were able to answer her questions and even teach her a couple of Dutch words in the process!
Energy Transition Project Course
January 17, 2020
The Energy Transition Project Course came to an end as students presented their finished prototypes. This 100-level course, led by Dr. Gudrun Kocher-Oberlehner, is part of a series of practical courses that are mandatory for all Engineering majors, and it focuses on effective team work. The purpose of the project courses is to guide students through the entire process of ideation, design, production, and testing of a new product.
As the theme of this course is energy transition, students’ products are focused on sustainable alternatives which are less energy demanding. One of the groups developed a leather-like material made of symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY), and the other created a thread made of nettle-fibers as a basis for fishing nets.
During the presentations, the students presented their prototypes, argued for the necessity of developing such solutions in their field and explained their process and what they learned along the way. The projects had a strong liberal arts and sciences character, as students considered perspectives of policy, legislation, and environmental science in their reasoning.
Students had been working on their prototypes for approximately 18 weeks. Next to their research and hands-on work on their products, they also visited a number of technology-based organizations in Zeeland and took part in workshops about working with different tools and materials.
Next semester a new project course will be taking place, led by Dr. Ilke Ercan, called Sensing Systems for Sustainability. You can read more about the student projects as well as the upcoming course by scrolling down!
Visit to Heerema
January 15, 2020
A small delegation of the Engineering department visited Heerema in Vlissingen today. The group was given presentations about the construction of the so-called jackets (offshore structures for energy related industry) as well as a tour of the yard. Even though civil engineering is not part of our curriculum, there is potential for cooperation particularly in the field of robotics, which Heerema are making use of in their construction process. We will be visiting again soon with the students!
Design Practice Today
January 13, 2020
Last week Sophie Krier led a workshop on Design Practice Today, particularly with regards to presenting a new product. The Energy Transition students brought their prototypes, which they will present to a wider audience this Thursday. They discussed what design is, different aspects of stylization, as well as visual communication. They then practiced pitching their products and were given tips on how to engage their audience and be persuasive.
Sensing Systems for Sustainability
January 6, 2020
In Spring 2020, the Project Course Sensing Systems for Sustainability will be offered for the first time! During this course, led by Dr. İlke Ercan, students will design, realize, test and evaluate a significant and innovative product related to future food or water quality. The teams will need to develop a Minimal Viable Prototype (MVP) on the basis of a robot or drone equipped with sensors to acquire data. Not only will they build this MVP, students will also perform field experiments and process the acquired data into a meaningful visualization.
Winter break has only just begun but we are already looking forward to next semester!
December 17, 2019
The semester is officially finished, but the Energy Transition Project course still has a couple of weeks to go. Students are putting the finishing touches on their Minimum Viable Products (MVPs), finalizing their reports, and getting ready for their big presentations! When the students return from the holidays in January, they will participate in some extra workshops: one of them led by Dr. Kocher-Oberlehner on how to pitch a project, and an Art & Design workshop led by Sophie Krier, called “Lost & found in translation”.
Right before the final presentations there is one last excursion planned for this course, to Heerema in Vlissingen, where the students will learn a bit more about the wind energy industry.
Robotics workshop TBA
December 16, 2019
Are you in VWO 4 or 5? Interested in learning coding and robotics?
Watch this space.
UCR acquires Porthos building for new facilities
December 11, 2019
Yesterday, it was announced that UCR has acquired a new building in the heart of Middelburg. The former Porthos building will be used for new teaching rooms and labs, particularly to facilitate the Engineering department. Read the full story here.
Engineering & Music
December 1, 2019
Florence is a French-German student in her 3rd semester, majoring in Science with a minor in Musicology. She follows courses in Physics, Cognitive Science, and since this semester, also in Engineering!
The last few weeks Florence has been busy writing a paper on the potential of osmotic power as a source of renewable energy for her Thermodynamics course. She researched two methods in which osmotic power could potentially generate energy, namely Pressure Retarded Osmosis (PRO) and reverse electrolysis. Together with a study partner she is currently working on the design/optimization course (see blog post below). The students have been asked to optimize and/or redesign a dual-process heat pump which needs to quickly cool plant-based materials (for preservation) and then dry it. Currently the company that has assigned this task is looking for feasible solutions for replacing their electricity-based process with an alternative design. That is where the Thermodynamics students come in. It is up to Florence and her partner to calculate and figure out if a heat-pump would be a realistic alternative for this company.
This course is an introduction to Engineering for Florence who wants to combine her interests in Music, Physics, and Engineering and work on Acoustics. Next semester Florence will be going on exchange to Chicago, where she will study Acoustics at Colombia College Chicago. After graduation she is planning on teaching windsurfing in France in the summer months, and following an internship or two before enrolling into an Acoustics Master of Science.
Design/optimization in Thermodynamics course
November 20, 2019
For the last three weeks of the semester, our students in the Thermodynamics course were asked to apply what they have learned in a design and optimization project. In the project, students have to redesign a drying-cooling process. In the new, green(er) version of the process, a heat pump will replace an electric- or gas-fired blower. The cold side of this heat pump has to be designed to replace the need of a separate refrigerator. The aim is to reduce the overall power consumption in the thermal processing of any company.
Engineering provides solutions to problems, but like the problems themselves, the solutions are very rarely straight forward. The term “optimization” means that there are various – sometimes contradicting – parameters to adjust. The most energy efficient sizing for the heat pump might be too large or too small for the rate of material to be processed, the most efficient heat exchanger might not fit the temperatures that are required, and how much water can the available air take on anyway?
Students will work on these and other topics in small groups and deliver a short report in which the installation is analyzed and optimized for various aspects (think of topics like energy, costs, CO2, availability, etc.) as well as give a short presentation at the end of the semester. We look forward to seeing the creative solutions they will come up with!
November 19, 2019
Last Wednesday the Engineering department went nuclear. Students and faculty members visited two facilities in Borssele, both related to the nuclear industry. We first visited the COVRA, the Dutch ‘Central Organization for Radioactive Waste’. They are the only company in the Netherlands that collects, process and stores radioactive waste. In addition to waste from the nuclear power plant, they also collect the waste from the production and use of radioactive isotopes used in medicine. The idea is that the radioactive material will be stored at COVRA for up to a 100 years, and after that the material will be permanently stored underground.
After an explanation of how they do their work, we were given a tour of the facility. We visited the buildings with low-radioactive material storage as well as those with high-radioactive material storage. Of course there were many safety procedures in place, including a permanent video life link of the crucial areas to the International Atomic Energy Agency. After a long tour we drove three minutes to their neighbors, the nuclear power plant.
The EPZ nuclear power plant is the only nuclear plant in the Netherlands. We again received a thorough explanation of the safety and security procedures, how everything works, and an extensive tour of the plant. In addition to our tour guide, two security people joined us to make sure we were safe. In the different areas of the plant we changed into special coats and helmets to avoid any risk of contamination. It is impressive to see how the entire installation is designed to withstand events like flooding and plane crashes.
Especially the reactor area was impressive to see. The attention to detail in the design and operation of the plant is amazing. We had lively discussions on all aspects of nuclear energy, and on what role it may or may not play in the future. We are grateful to all our hosts not only for being very welcoming, but also for openly sharing their ideas and experiences with us. It was very informative to see these facilities from the inside and meet the people who work there.
This is not a drill!
November 7, 2019
The engineering departments’ collection of machinery is growing! Students are learning how to work with heavier equipment and how they can incorporate them into their design and building process. Of course safety comes first, so lab coats, safety goggles and protective shoes are a must when working in this space.
October 29, 2019
Last Friday Veerle was interviewed about her experience as an Engineering student at UCR by GirlsFuture, a magazine for high-school students who are interested in pursuing a STEM-field study and career. We look forward to reading the interview in print and online in January!
You can see some more ‘making-off’ photos on their Instagram page
Energy Transition Project: midterm presentations
October 24, 2019
This week the midterm presentations of the Energy Transition project course took place! The two groups of students took turns discussing the progress they have made on their sustainable-material products. Both teams have been working on their first prototypes and they shared with us their objectives, the thought process and experimentation, as well as the obstacles they have run into and how they plan to overcome them.
Scroll down to The Energy Transition Project to read more about their work.
Solar Cells Masterclass
October 21, 2019
During the first Open Day of the academic year students participated in an Engineering Master Class given by Dr. Gudrun Kocher-Oberlehner. In this session Dr. Kocher-Oberlehner gave a short lecture on the conversion of light into electricity, known as photovoltaics. This included a demonstration of how light intensity influences the power output of a solar cell.
Students used multimeters to measure the change in voltage and current when the solar cells are connected in series versus when they are connected in parallel. They observed that when cells are connected in series the voltage adds up and the current stays (practically) the same. On the other hand, when cells are connected in parallel, the voltage in each string stays the same but the current adds up, which can results in an unfavorable by-product: heat.
The students then compared the effect of shading of part of a cell on the current produced when the cells are connected in parallel versus in series. They learned that shading has a much larger influence on the power output of cells connected in series compared to those connected in parallel.
In conclusion, when cells connected in series, even a little bit of shade on them will cause the power output to drop dramatically; but when cells are connected in parallel there’s a higher risk of fire (because of the high current and the heat). These are important aspects the students have learned to take into account if they ever intended to install solar panels!
October 14, 2019 – October 19, 2019
Students are currently enjoying their well-deserved Fall Break; after seven weeks of hard work and midterms, they now have the chance to visit their families, relax, and perhaps even do a little bit of studying and catch up on work.
In the meantime, do you have “the knack”?
Workshop in Woodworking
October 10, 2019
Last week the engineering students had their first workshop on woodworking, led by Erik de Jonge. They practiced drawing grids using a ruler and carpenter’s angle to design the letters T and F on plywood. They then went on to cut out the letter-shapes using a tenon saw and a scroll saw. Finally they sanded their works to erase the grid-marks and to smoothen the wood.
Along with academic skills it is important for the Engineering students to learn some practical skills. This includes learning how to work with different raw materials and understanding their mechanical (and potentially electrical, magnetic, thermal) properties. It is necessary for engineers to be able to build prototypes and put their knowledge not only on paper, but also into practice.
This workshop is part of a series of more hands-on work that the students do in their Project courses each semester.
The Energy Transition Project
October 8, 2019
Kristina (left) and Veerle (right) are members of two teams within the Energy Transition Project course. In this course teams of students are designing and making a product which they believe is a sustainable solution.
Both Kristina’s group and Veerle’s group are focusing on biodegradable materials: the former is developing a leather-like material made of SCOBY, the latter is developing a thread made of nettle-fibers.
Kristina explained that even though leather made of animal skin is a very popular choice in fashion, it is unsustainable. This is because in order to produce it enormous amounts of water are used, and leather takes a very long time to degrade because of the chemicals used to preserve it. While searching for innovative materials she came across SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast)– a by-product of kombucha, a fermented tea. All the team members are currently brewing their own Kombucha at home with slight variations, to see which method produces the best SCOBY. Kristina’s first “shitty prototype” is already on its way, as a SCOBY is growing on top of her batch of kombucha. The group believes that the most challenging part will be to dry the SCOBY in a way that will allow it to still be malleable and water resistant.
Veerle’s group was looking for a sustainable plant-fabric, but they did not want to focus on clothes or bags because they feel those items are already receiving a lot of attention and change is already on its way in that sector. Instead, they decided to design a thread from nettles to make fishing nets. Veerle told us that most of the plastic found in the ocean is deserted fishing nets, so biodegradable nets would be one way of considerably reducing ocean plastic. Veerle’s group has already dried and crushed some nettles to remove the fibers and will be soon producing their first threads. The group realized that even though this material is cheap to acquire (nettles are literal weeds), producing the threads is quite labor intensive. One aspect of the process the group thinks will be challenging is to find the right balance between solubility and sturdiness.
Both Veerle and Kristina seem to enjoy the creativity and problem-solving involved in their projects, and they have become very efficient in researching literature.
“It’s fun to work in groups, but it is definitely not less work!” Veerle said, laughing.
We look forward to following their progress and of course their final products!
October 2, 2019
University College Roosevelt, and therefore the Engineering department, will be represented at a series of fairs in the Netherlands by Eva (assistant to the Engineering department), Evi (recruitment officer) and student ambassadors!
Come say hi on the following dates, and ask us anything you would like to know about studying Engineering within Liberal Arts & Sciences at UCR.
4-5 October @ Onderwijsbeurs Noordoost (Zwolle)
8 October @ Careers Fair International School Groningen
13 November @ NXTLVL Apeldoorn
20 November @ Studiebeurs+ (Rotterdam)
And of course at our own Open Days at UCR on the 12th of October and 9th of November.
Would you like us to visit your school and tell you about more about our program? Do not hesitate to get in touch by sending an email to Eva at firstname.lastname@example.org
Visiting Lamb Weston/Meijer
September 25, 2019
This week our group visited the potato-processing facility Lamb Weston/Meijer, and more specifically their water-treatment plant. Colsen, a company from Zeeuws Vlaanderen with water purification expertise gave us an introduction to the biochemical processes that take place to clean the water. Tons of water are being purified with the help of bacteria, which only survive under very specific circumstances regarding temperature, pH, and more. Our students got an impression of the immense scale such facilities work in, and learned about the importance of purifying water for a cleaner environment.
Field trip to Saman Groep, Zierikzee
September 20, 2019
Kristina, one of our students from The Republic of North Macedonia, writes about our last field trip:
“On the 18th of September me and some other fellow pioneer students, together with some professors and staff from the Engineering department had our second field trip to Saman Groep. During our visit, we go to know how the company works and what is their purpose. Saman Groep is a company which aim is to make sustainable energy accessible to everyone. The company realizes both small and large-scale projects for both individuals and companies within the installation, electricity, construction and sustainable energy sectors.”
For more information on Saman Groep, click here.
September 19, 2019
In today’s class of the Energy Transition Project, our students received some training from Erik de Jonge, who has recently started at UCR and the Engineering department as our technical support! They practiced making isometric drawings, which is a skill necessary to be able to communicate ideas about design and structure precisely.
Who Are You? The Dean interviews Dr. İlke Ercan
September 16, 2019
For his weekly column, Dean Prof. Bert van den Brink interviews a Faculty member, a Staff member, or a student. This week, he spoke to associate professor Dr. İlke Ercan about her experience with Liberal Arts and Sciences, her values, and her ambitions. Read the interview below!
Who are you?
I am İlke Ercan, I am new engineering faculty at UCR. I am an electrical engineer by training and I have a background in physics.
Where are you from?
I am from Antalya, a seaside city in Southern Turkey. I was born and raised there. I moved to Ankara for college. I was at Middle East Technical University. As soon as I graduated I moved to the US for my master’s in Electrical and Computer Engineering. I did not originally plan to do a Ph.D. in engineering. But I was very impressed with the theoretical aspect of engineering research pursued in my lab at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, so I decided to proceed with the Ph.D. program in engineering.
What kind of lab were you working in?
It was a theory and simulation lab on nanoelectronics. I pursued my Ph.D. on energy efficiency of emerging nanocomputing systems. Since 1980s, the building blocks of modern computer processors have been shrinking in size steadily enabling us to progressively develop smaller circuits operating at increasingly faster speeds. However, there are physical limits to this trend, and numerous proposals are being set forth to overcome these limitations. In fields like medicine and engineering especially we do need more powerful computers for more advanced solutions — and they need to be more energy efficient too. In my doctoral thesis I developed a methodology that enables us to assess the performance of these different proposals, which did not seem to have a common ground at all. By using my background in physics I was able to create physical models of computing systems by which different proposals could be compared on an equal footing. My work on performance analysis of nanocomputing systems eventually led me to broader questions of energy efficiency and sustainability in Information and Communication Technologies, which is one of the things I will be working on here at UCR.
And I believe you had some liberal arts experience in the US?
I did. While I was still a grad student, finishing my Ph.D., I got an offer from neighboring Smith College to teach a course in circuit theory, but in a liberal arts context. I spent a semester there, teaching in their Picker program in Engineering, and it had such a strong impact on my academic career. I had originally planned to pursue a career at a research intensive engineering institute, however, my experience at Smith College showed how rewarding it is to work with small groups of highly engaged students interested in a broad range of topics who are eager to make research an educational experience! I loved being there and they loved having me there, so they asked me to stay a little bit longer — and I did.
My experience at Smith College has strongly influenced my decision to come to UCR. The students interested in engineering here are liberal arts and sciences students. We are not treating them as hardcore engineering students. They are more broadminded, adaptable and flexible than that — and engineers need to be in today’s world. As I noticed during my Ph.D. research, advancements in emerging technologies require us to adapt very quickly to new developments. I had a minor in philosophy of science and had taken courses in the sociology of engineering, which allowed me to make more informed decisions about my career and supported my pursuing an interdisciplinary path. That is why I believe that the breadth of knowledge characteristic of the liberal arts will make you a better engineer. And engineering can contribute to liberal arts as well; consider those interested in policy making and governance for instance. These students will benefit from a good grasp of modern technologies and their impact. The breadth of liberal arts and sciences makes engineering stronger, and specific knowledge about technology and engineering strengthens the quality of UCR’s program as a whole.
I know that when Smith College introduced engineering 15 years ago, worries surfaced that resemble those we have seen at UCR: the fear that a focus on technology and the funding available for it may cause the college to drift away from its core values. How do you relate to that?
I certainly understand these worries. A lot is about our vocabulary: students who engage in engineering at UCR are liberal arts students, just like students in sociology or art and design are. And I actually think that adding engineering is not the real problem. The college is going through some major changes with regard to the academic core and the languages. That development has made it a challenge for the wider community to welcome engineering. The two developments are not co-related, yet, the timing requires us to process both transitions simultaneously. Despite this difficulty, however, the majority of colleagues have been very welcoming; they invited us to classes, have introduced us to their ways of teaching, and we are discussing ways in which we can collaborate on a number of projects. So we are working our way around biases.
It is true that we are doing a lot at the same time. Bringing change to an institution is never easy, but we are getting there. But let me change the subject by throwing my final question at you: What is your greatest ambition?
My professional ambition is to make higher education as accessible as possible to as many people as possible. Education has changed my life. I come from what I would call a semi-educated family. My dad did not finish high school, my mom dropped out of college to marry my dad. I am the very first person in the whole of my extended family to ever get a Ph.D. I know how big of a privilege that is and I am immensely grateful to everyone who has supported me in following this path. I appreciate how much it has helped me to become myself. I want that transformational power to be accessible to as many people as possible. Education is both a personal and a social process. We need to make higher education as personal as possible, like UCR’s new motto on the website: an education built around you. I am a firm believer in one-on-one contact between students and teaching faculty. The personal connection is what enables us to help students find ways to integrate what they have learned at the theoretical level into their personal lives.
Ministries and provincial council visit the Engineering department
September 13, 2019
We were very happy to welcome a group of representatives from the Provincial Council of Zeeland, the Ministry of Economic Affairs, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Social Affairs , and the Ministry of the Interior today. As the Engineering department is part of the Zeeland region deal, they visited UCR during their tour to see what the new department is about and the role it plays in the Beta Campus Zeeland project.
Students Emil and Veerle, as well as Dr. İlke Ercan, discussed their experiences in the weeks they have been at the university, their expectations of the department, and what they are hoping to achieve during their time at UCR.
You can read more about the region deal here (Dutch).
First field trip
September 4, 2019
The Engineering group went on their first field trip this Wednesday to biomass power plant Duurzame Energie Sirjansland (DES) BV. They got an impression of what a power plant looks like and learned about DES’ process of using green waste (wood chips) to create heat for their glasshouses and CO2 for spurring plant growth.
As the power plant is situated on Schouwen-Duiveland, we took the scenic route and the students got to see the Oosterscheldekering, the beautiful Zeeuws scenery, as well as some cultural heritage (the Plompe Toren!).
The Engineering group will be visiting some more companies throughout their program to have a closer look at how the themes of energy, water, and food production are tackled in Zeeland.
Click here to see what exactly DES BV does.
Don’t try this at home: Setting crisps on fire to measure energy
August 23, 2019
On the final day of their Orientation week, first year students were invited to a ‘carousel’ of energy-related workshops around the UCR campus, organized by the Youth Energy Society Challenge (YESC). Dr. Ilke Ercan and Dr. Gudrun Kocher-Oberlehner presented the students with a DIY calorie measuring experiment. They burned high-fat-content crisps and, using the energy generated from that, heated up a small quantity of water. The temperature change of the water was an accurate predictor of the calorie content as stated on the crisp package! We look forward to more workshops and lectures related to energy within our Energy Transition project-course which is taking place for the first time ever in Fall 2019.
August 21, 2019
One of our new students, Emil from Oslo, spoke to the PZC about coming to study in Middelburg. Read the article (in Dutch) here.
“The streets of Middelburg are beautiful. The brick houses look so modern. The people here are quite similar to people from Oslo: very friendly and incredibly helpful.”
Welcome Class of 2022!
August 19, 2019
Today, the Class of 2022 has started their social Orientation. This will be the beginning of three years at University College Roosevelt. Six of them will be starting the Engineering Pioneering program, and will help the Faculty and Staff develop the curriculum. We wish them the best of luck!