The Executive Board has appointed Louis de Smet as personal professor of Advanced Interfaces & Materials (AIM), part of the Organic Chemistry chair group of Wageningen University & Research. De Smet has been affiliated with this chair group since 2016 and leads a research group there, that focuses on recognising and selecting ions and small molecules. He and his team are working on separating certain ions or molecules, which is for example relevant for recovering valuable substances from waste water. Since 2017, De Smet has also been affiliated with Wetsus, a research institute for sustainable water technology.
Selectivity in the agricultural sector
The researchers of De Smet's group are working on various selectivity issues in the agricultural sector. Together with Wetsus, they’re working on the efficient recycling of excess irrigation water, or nutrient water, that is not absorbed by crops. With research institute OnePlanet, sensors are being developed that are able to measure the concentration of nutrients in such water flows over a longer period of time. In another multidisciplinary NWO project, the AIM team is working on an electronic nose, in close collaboration with - among others - Saxion University of Applied Sciences, Delft University of Technology and the University of Twente. If chickens in poultry farms become infected or have parasites, specific odours are produced. In this project porous, organic materials of Wageningen are used to capture released gas molecules.
Although the Zeeland-Flemish native almost chose to study Architecture, in 1996 he started studying Molecular Sciences at what was then the Agricultural University. After a research internship at Newcastle University (UK), he started his PhD research in Wageningen. “I find the targeted influence of material properties using molecules, and especially the control of the interactions with the environment, very interesting. It forms a common thread in my research and teaching activities. Gradually I developed an interest in environmental issues in which physical-chemical aspects of surfaces play a major role.”
Macromolecules and molecular networks
After his promotion, De Smet left for Australia with an NWO Talent grant. In the period 2007-2016, De Smet worked as an assistant professor at the Department of Chemical Technology at Delft University of Technology. Through an NWO Veni grant he was able to delve further into polymers and build his own research group. Since 2016, De Smet has been working at his alma mater again. He further expanded his research group with, among other things, two personal grants (ERC Consolidator Grant, 2016 and NWO Start-up, 2017).
From batteries to water treatment
De Smet will soon start his NWO Vici project. “Materials with nanoscale pores, which have interesting properties for energy storage, can also be used to efficiently desalinate water through electrically driven separation processes. We want to add selectivity to this.” Other aspects that De Smet – together with Wetsus, the Madrid research institute IMDEA and various industrial partners – will be studying, are the material stability in water and the energy efficiency of the separation processes. The planned research is fundamental in nature, but the first steps towards scaling up are also planned.