First online defence of ETE PhD thesis

Published on
May 29, 2020

Because of social distancing to minimize spreading of the Corona virus, Wageningen UR implemented an adapted format to continue PhD defences: the whole ceremony and defence are taken online. An unusual situation, but for Karine Kiragosyan, the first ETE PhD student defending her thesis online, it was a good experience. ‘The technique worked well, I could see all opponents and also the Pedel was connected. And I even had an online party after the ceremony!’   

In a very short time, the Corona virus has changed our society dramatically. Social distancing has partly locked our society, but at the same time, creativity has resulted in solutions to keep life going on as normally as possible. To allow PhD students to gra-duate, despite Corona, Wageningen UR organizes the defences online. A quite unusual and unique situation, but for Karine Kiragosyan it all worked out well. ‘The student that defended his thesis before me had some technical issues with the connection’, Karine says. ‘That was nerve wrecking, but for me, the technology worked and it all went very smooth. After the first opening questions, I thought: ok, I can do this.’

Efficient method

Karine successfully defended her thesis: Maximization of sulfur formation in the presence of organic sulfur compounds in a dual-bioreactor gas desulfurization system. Together with company Paquell, she studied the removal of sulfur compounds from natural gas. ‘When only hydrogen sulfide (H2S) is present in gas, bacteria can oxidize it to pure sulfur, resulting in an efficient removal’, she explains. ‘But sometimes organic sulfur components are also present, like thiols, and these are toxic to bacteria.’ Using the patented double reactor system, developed by Paquell, Karine managed to develop an efficient method for sulfur removal. Her first step was to select bacteria that were resistant towards the thiol toxicity. Then, she identified the chemical pathways and reactions that were most efficient in converting all sulfurous compounds into pure sulfur.


Online party

For a smooth organization of her defence, a specially designated coordinator was responsible for the online connection. ‘When I logged in to Skype for Business and saw myself on the screen, I thought: OK, I’m live now’, Karine says. ‘But I really liked that everything was kind of similar to an ordinary defence: I could see all opponents, dressed up in their toga’s, and also the Pedel was present. That was all really nice!’ However, due to Corona rules, no Paranymphs were allowed to be present in the room with her, and they couldn’t participate through skype because the number of connections should be limited due to possible disturbance. Karine: ‘So, it was quite sad that my friends can’t support me by my side, but I knew that they were watching.’ The 45 minutes of the defence passed very quickly. ‘The words ‘Hora est’ from the Pedel, meaning ‘it is time’, came
as surprise for me’, the scientist says. ‘After the ceremony, I was relieved and wanted to party, but of course I couldn’t. However, my friends organized an online party. That was a great surprise!’