Rik Mom receives an NWO Tenure Track and returns to Leiden
Through an NWO grant, chemist Rik Mom has received a tenure track position at the Leiden Institute of Chemistry, where he obtained his PhD cum laude in 2017. Mom will study the storage of sustainable energy by means of splitting water. Using new methods, he will investigate on an atomic scale which properties determine how long the catalysts last and how efficiently they work.
You obtained your PhD in Leiden, after which you started a postdoc in Germany. Why did you want to come back to Leiden?
‘Leiden is the centre of fundamental catalysis research in the Netherlands. Whether it is the production of synthetic fuels or the electrochemical reactions that will enable us to store enormous amounts of sustainable energy in the future, this is the place to find out how catalysts work at the atomic level. And that understanding at the smallest level, of atoms and molecules, that's my scientific passion.’
What do you expect to achieve with this grant?
‘First of all, I am going to look at the reaction with which you can store electrical energy in hydrogen by splitting water. I will also look at how one can retrieve the stored energy later on by reversing this reaction. At the moment, the rare materials platinum, iridium oxide, and ruthenium oxide are indispensable to carry out these reactions efficiently. In the coming years, I want to find out what makes these materials so special and under what conditions they perform optimally.
‘To find out, I will develop (X-ray) spectroscopic methods. With these methods, I will be able to study the electrodes during electrochemical reactions. This will enable me to map out what the electrode surface and its surroundings look like at the level of atoms while the electrode is at work. By doing this under different conditions, for example by adjusting the acidity or the composition of the liquid in which the reaction takes place, I want to understand how these conditions influence the performance of the electrode. With this information, new strategies can be developed to optimise electrochemical processes.’
Three years back in time: cum laude for Mom
In 2017, Rik Mom obtained his PhD cum laude for a revolutionary way of investigating catalysts in action in detail. Watch here how he talks about his 'baby' Sputnik, the machine he worked on during his PhD.
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Mom: ‘A tenure track is a trial period of five years, during which you have the opportunity to prove yourself as the leader of a research group. During this period, I have to prove that I can come up with original research ideas and I have to obtain enough grants to be able to implement these ideas. If I manage to do this, I will get “tenure” from the University, which is a permanent position as an associate professor.’