Science Research at UvA-VU: Centre for Analytical Sciences Amsterdam
‘The UvA and VU University Amsterdam are home to a high concentration of analytical chemistry professionals. In addition to our individual strengths, we offer a very special, highly unique combination,’ explains Peter Schoenmakers, professor of Analytical Chemistry at HIMS. All the more reason, in other words, to consolidate all our professional knowledge under a single banner: the new Centre for Analytical Sciences Amsterdam, or CASA for short.
Schoenmakers searches through a long list of PowerPoint files on his computer with the word 'CASA' in their title. As he explains, the centre was originally conceived of five years ago and comprises five chemical chair groups at VU University Amsterdam and the UvA. Three of these chairs were occupied by new professors over the past few years. ‘Our old staff were great, and the new team feels right as well. We're ready to get to work, in other words’, explains Schoenmakers as he clicks on a recent file.
Official launch year
It turns out to be a PowerPoint presentation that will be used to present CASA to colleagues from the UvA and VU University Amsterdam on 24 April; 2015 is set to be the centre's official launch year. CASA's research revolves around the analytical separation of complex mixtures, the detection and characterisation of the various components they contain and analysis of their interactions. Or, as Schoenmakers sums it up rather more succinctly: ‘We do the measuring.’ Analytical chemistry makes up a major part of the broader field of chemistry, he continues, which could not exist without measurement. Food safety would be a good case in point. ‘People don't want to eat food produced in a chemical factory. We eat a great deal of natural products, such as foodstuffs made from bacteria and yeasts.’ Every day, tens of thousands of staff in laboratories throughout the Netherlands conduct chemical measurements of food and other substances. Schoenmakers: ‘We're basically the top of that pyramid.’
This top is working to develop, improve and optimise chemical measuring methods. The five chairs – three of which are accommodated at the UvA and two at VU University Amsterdam – overlap significantly in fundamental areas. ‘Apart from me, they're all experts on mass spectrometry’, Schoenmakers illustrates. ‘We strive to achieve synergy without competition. Our respective specialisms lie in the practical applications.’ For example, Schoenmakers specialises in forensic applications. CASA also covers areas such as food, pharmaceuticals, the environment and polymers.
In addition to the five chair groups, CASA also comprises six part-time professors specialising in the five fields, as well as Art Studies. These professors are funded by and partly employed by businesses. CASA members also frequently conduct projects in collaboration with the business sector. ‘This form of collaboration offers a great deal of support, both in terms of relevance and funding.’
Finally, CASA will also offer joint education, comprised of both the existing Master's in Analytical Sciences and an Honours programme. In addition to their monthly meetings on the centre itself, the partners meet far more frequently outside of CASA. ‘There were weeks in 2014 where I'd start every day at the VU by preparing joint proposals’, Schoenmakers explains. CASA will offer chemists the critical mass they need to bring in larger projects, he emphasises. ‘We're now ready to get to work.’
Text: Jeroen Scharroo