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Ilse Denekamp, a PhD student working under the supervision of Prof. Gadi Rothenberg at the University of Amsterdam's Van ‘t Hoff Institute for Molecular Sciences, has 'translated' her PhD research in a short film. The one-minute animation highlights the advantages of novel tailor-made single-site catalytic materials for heterogeneous catalysis. Ilse Denekamp will defend her PhD thesis on 7 April.

Using a combination of computer-animation techniques, Denekamp produced an 'instruction manual' explaining her research in the language of Lego. In her PhD thesis she describes a building-block approach for making covalently-bonded polymers with tailored catalytic properties. These polymers are stable up to 400 °C, combining the specific metal sites of organometallic complexes with the stability and ease of separation of solid catalysts. While developing these materials, Denekamp and co-workers used Lego bricks as models. This gave her the idea of presenting the catalyst synthesis protocol as a Lego-animated instruction manual. From there, it was a short step to installing software, trying out different configurations and adding music and voice-overs.

Important tool in science communication

Prof. Rothenberg acknowledges that such efforts cost time and effort, but views it as time well invested. He sees short animations as an important tool in science communication and part of a set of skills that help people further in their careers. “Communication across disciplines and cultures is the key to successful collaboration these days. Being able to explain your ideas clearly to a broad audience is emphasised also in industry.” His group often uses short films to explain and highlight their research. Denekamp, who submitted her thesis 4 months before the end of her contract, had ample time to invest in showcasing her chemistry research as well as trying out new ideas.

Rothenberg, who has been teaching soft skills workshops across Europe for two decades, even sees a broader audience: "Attracting people to science is an important goal for researchers. We should do this at an early age and using the right tools. Animations such as these highlight the creative and fun aspects of science, as well as its importance in solving technological and societal problems."

Original open-access paper:

Ilse M. Denekamp, Connor Deacon-Price, Zhenhua Zhang and Gadi Rothenberg: Covalent structured catalytic materials containing single-atom metal sites with controllable spatial and chemical properties: concept and application. Catal. Sci. Technol., 2020,10, 6694-6700. DOI: 10.1039/D0CY01299H


Website Heterogeneous Catalysis & Sustainable Chemistry group
News September 2020: Designable catalytic materials combine the best of both worlds
News December 2017: Unilever Research Prize for Ilse Denekamp