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Champion in headwind and predictions

It is a stormy Sunday afternoon, with gusts of a whopping 110 kilometres per hour. Chemist Teun Sweere defies the enormous headwind on his city bike, and wins the NK Headwind cycling after 22,5 minutes. A new highlight follows six months later: his PhD defence (14 June).

Winning mentality

Teun Sweere shows up, towing with one leg. Nothing seems wrong with his mood though – he enters the office with an energetic and broad smile. Despite the injury, he is above all happy that he won the prestigious Chemisch Dispuut Leiden football tournament two days earlier. Because winning is what Sweere likes most. At the NK Headwind cycling, he only came to win. ‘So it was very nice to actually finish as the winner,’ he says.

Sports during lunch

Actually, skating is his sport. In his youth, Sweere decides to stop with football and focus entirely on skating. Even though he is only one place removed from participating, him being first back-up at the NK all-round in 2012 is definitely a highlight. ‘But I thought it was too much to focus on only one thing. If you want to become a top athlete, then your whole life is about this one sport. I didn’t want and didn’t dare to throw chemistry away,’ Sweere says. During his master’s internship, he suddenly gets offered a PhD-position. He starts in 2012, and it turns out to be not bad at all: ‘The University Sportscentre is around the corner, so I was there every day. Sometimes during the lunch, or during a computer calculation that took a long time,’ Sweere laughs.

Predicting miscibility

During his research, Sweere developed a computer model in order to predict the miscibility of fluids. ‘We all know that water and ethanol mix, otherwise vodka wouldn’t exist. But there are many fluids of which we don’t know if they mix,’ says Sweere. Such a model offers a solution for experiments that are too expensive, or even impossible to be carried out. ‘In drug development, millions of molecules are being screened. With a model like ours, you can predict if a promising molecule is soluble in water, without actually having to make the molecule in the lab. This can save loads of time and money.’

Goals in life

The perseverance and the focus on results from the world of sport can be found in Sweere’s academic career as well. ‘Currently, our model is not the most accurate model. But our model is based on physical equations instead of empirically found relations. That’s why I think that our model can be improved with extra effort. This also gave me a competitive element in my PhD, because I don’t like to become second.’ Sweere shows that sports and science go hand in hand. If he is going to make the best model in the world, remains unclear. ‘I’m currently working at the company of my PhD supervisor Hans Fraaije, but perhaps I will improve our model in the future.’