Professor Vancso Sets Sights on Route 14

Symbiosis of Science and Cultures

UT Nieuws - Weekblad van de Universiteit Twente, 26 February 2009

Julius Vancso, a former professor of chemistry in Toronto, Canada, could easily pen a handbook on the topic of internationalization. He has taught on three continents in his almost thirty-year career as a scientist, incorporating in his journeys a vivid symbiosis of science and culture. From Europe to Asia- where he holds a visiting appointment at the Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE) of A*STAR in Singapore- to him there are no borders. The world is his oyster.

Chair of the Department of Materials Science and Technology of Polymers Julius Vancso: `Internationalization should be done in harmony with traditional values and strengths.'
Chair of the Department of Materials Science and Technology of Polymers Julius Vancso: `Internationalization should be done in harmony with traditional values and strengths.'

Vancso, who was among one of the first foreign professors to be hired at the university 15 years ago, has always held an interest in discovering the latest advances in science - no matter where they are taking place. He favors increased international involvement to enrich mutual research efforts to advance science. `Everyone should put their hearts and minds behind the objectives in Route 14 and then we will succeed, but again, implementing things is where there will be a bottleneck. I think the proof of the pudding is in how we can execute these plans. You need to mobilize your people and appreciate their efforts to work - all the way from the top down to the last member of this community.'

Reminiscing about the milestones over past the 15 years, Vancso traces the roots of internationalization efforts back to the early 2000s, when he served as associate dean of the Chemical Technology Faculty. At that time, he and his colleague, Professor John Engbersen, set up the first international master's program in chemical engineering with a little less than 1,000 guilders, or the modern-day equivalent of 450 euros for each student per month. As Vancso recalls, `Bureaucracy was a lot more relaxed at that time. We could use funds from our projects to support students; obtaining a visa was easier; there were no high tuition fees for non-EU students; work permits were not required, and it was not a nightmare to find suitable accommodations for our foreign students.'

Since then the professor says, `Things have dramatically changed.' He has noticed a shift in the national government's policies. Heavy-handed restrictions on allowing foreigners into the country and the negative effects of bureaucracy have acted to slow down the responsiveness of willing partners at the university and could cause delays in the realization of many of the goals set in Route 14.

He points out the added value in providing a smooth parallel process at the university to accelerate efforts. A sequential process where, `B depends on A, and C depends on B and A' is a hindering progress. Vancso recommends restructuring logistical and structural support for students. International employment has been a `growing concern' of the central and faculty Human Resource departments (P&O). Vancso: `If we want to speed up the process then it should not happen that a permit for someone to enter the country takes three plus months. It should be possible, let's say, within a month. I would consider centralizing and streamlining this for the entire university and bundling the fragmented and sometimes ad-hoc efforts on campus.'

The polymer professor leads his life as a model example of a global thinker, making it mandatory for his foreign PhD students to take basic Dutch-language education courses, as part of their Training and Supervision Plan (OBP). `It's not mandatory to become a good or better chemist, but it's an essential part of becoming a more responsible, better-cultured member of human society,' he opined. At the same time, he believes the bachelor's curriculum could be `peppered' for Dutch students by gradually increasing the use of English from the second year on. He advocates offering `high quality, cheap and accessible English education for both groups of students.'

On one of his trips to the opening of the Fusionopolis complex in Singapore, Vancso heard the country's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong saying, `the commitment of the government by 2010 is to spend three percent of the GDP on science and technology,' giving further evidence of the growing global support for science. Though economically, the Netherlands commits far less funding than its Asian counterpart, he says the strategic goals planned in Route 14 to support an open international university are financially realistic.

He maintains despite the economic crisis, which might present a minor bump in the road, financing for both foreign and domestic students should not pose a real roadblock if done in an `integral fashion.' Vancso explains: `We should measure with the same scale, and should support everyone equally regardless of their country of origin. Foreign students are at a disadvantage in many areas when they go to a country far away from their home, and they should receive support that would make them equal and competitive with the Dutch students, nothing more, nothing less.'

Vancso argues the building of knowledge infrastructures in society hinges on making choices, setting priorities and reaching a societal consensus. `We need to maintain the strengths of our human capital. The preparedness of this society is declining and when you spend on public education, it is not just turning your money back to the economy to enhance the economic input.'

Chances in Singapore

UT Nieuws - Weekblad van de Universiteit Twente, 20 November 2008

The UT professor Julius Vancso, who has just returned from a visit to Singapore, thinks there are a lot of chances to spark up the UT's international ambition. The Singapore agency for Science, Technology and Research A*STAR provides at least one million euros a year to stimulate the exchange of master's and PhD students and to promote international research cooperation.

The professor in materials science and polymer technology maintains close connections with institutes in Singapore, in particular with the Institute for Materials Research and Engineering. `Three materials science students are working on an internship there and seven more vacancies are available to students. In addition there are PhD positions for those who want to conduct research in Singapore for a year. Lodging is provided and living expenses are partially paid. There is money for full-time equivalent (fte) positions per year,' says Vancso. He sees himself as a harbinger for the relationship with the research institutes in Singapore.

`Internationalization is an important factor in the Route'14 plan and this cooperation fits in perfectly. You could also send out post doctoral students to Singapore, not only master's and PhD students. These contacts might also be of interest for the graduate school, which the UT is planning to start.' Since 2002, Vancso has visited Singapore four times and just returned from an international congress on nanoscience and technology.

Singapore has two large universities: the Nanyang Technological University and the National University of Singapore, which both collaborate with MIT, the most important American institute for technological research. The close ties to these universities will offer a chance for the UT to contact other highly reputed universities in South East Asia. In the field of research, A*STAR strives to promote scientific knowledge. The organization consists of fourteen technological-scientific institutes, from electrical engineering to biomedical technology.

In the field of research, the UT and the Asian institutes are evenly matched, and in that sense there are plenty of possibilities for scientists to participate in complementary research. Scientists from Singapore work for different chairs in his faculty. In Vancso's chair, two post doctoral students and one PhD student are working who come from that area.

In order to strengthen the collaboration, a delegation from A*STAR will visit Enschede next year, said Vancso.


UT Nieuws - Weekblad van de Universiteit Twente, 2 October 2008

UT-hoogleraar Julius Vancso heeft een officiële uitnodiging ontvangen voor de opening van 'Fusionopolis' in Singapore: het nieuwe spectaculaire `powerhouse' voor wetenschap, technologie en media, op 17 oktober aanstaande. Vancso heeft diverse connecties met Singaporese instituten en universiteiten zoals het Institute for Materials Research and Engineering, die hem heeft gevraagd te komen. In een zeer futuristische en tegelijk groene omgeving worden in Fusionopolis wetenschap, technologie en business samengebald, compleet met woningen: een soort snelkookpan-versie van het Twentse Kennispark. De minister-president van Singapore opent het spektakel.

Container Transport on a Nano Scale

Nanotechnology World - September 2006

Lock one or more molecules up within a cage of nanometre dimensions. Take this “nanocontainer” to the desired spot and free the molecules. Or keep them locked up for a while and introduce other molecules into the container, for chemical reactions inside. By using polymers containing iron, it is possible to make intelligent containers of which the access of molecules can be regulated in a chemical way. A research team led by Professor Julius Vancso of the MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology has succeeded in fabricating these nanocontainers. The scientists foresee exciting applications in, for example, medicine, in adding additives to food or in ultrafast reactions in nano chemistry. They present their results in the September issue of Nature Materials.  

A true breakthrough in this research is the use of polymers having iron in their main chain. This is the material the containers are made of. By using iron, for the first time it is possible to adjust the permeability of the material via oxidation and reduction reactions. Scientist Mrs Yujie Ma and Dr Mark Hempenius, both from Julius Vancso’s group, succeeded in creating containers that can be opened and closed in this “chemical” way. Oxidants or reductants take care of the access: an oxidant can be iron chloride, for example, a reductant could even be Vitamin C.

Nanocapsules that didn't let any molecules pass, admit molecules thanks to oxidation in their close proximity. In this way, a moveable reaction container is formed. In this case FeCl3 is used as an oxidant or "chemical doorman" and a 4.4-kdalton dextran molecule can get in.

Chemical doormen
This selective access—one molecule gets in, the other won’t—is the result of the layered structure of the wall of the container. Polymer chains are layererd on top of each other and an electrostatic charge keeps them together. Influencing this charge with redox reactions, immediately influences the permeability of the wall. The container can contain a limited number of molecules, a soluble is already present inside.

As oxidation and reduction steps take part in numerous biochemical processes in water, the nanocontainers are useful for a variety of biological and biomedical applications. The scientists foresee applications in “green” areas such as food additives, medicine and cosmetics. In a more fundamental way, nanocontainers could be used in biochemistry to study large numbers of enzyme reactions at the same time and with high throughput.

The research, led by Professor Dr Julius Vancso of the MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology of the University of Twente, was carried out in close cooperation with the Group of Professor Helmuth Möhwald of the Max Planck Institut für Kolloid- und Grenzflachenforschung in Golm. The article “Redox-controlled molecular permeability of composite-wall microcapsules” is published in the September issue of Nature Materials (doi: 10.1038/nmat1716).