Lecturer in the Spotlight: Bas de Bruin

‘When you’re enthusiastically telling your story and you see it sparks something in your students, that’s the best thing about teaching.’

23 February 2016

Bas de Bruin, Lecturer of the Year 2015, teaches courses in the first and second year of the Bachelor’s in Chemistry as well as courses within various tracks of the Master’s in Chemistry. The professor Bio-inspired Sustainable Catalysis knew from a young age that he wanted to study chemistry.

Lids stuck to the ceiling

When he was about 13 years old, De Bruin’s father regularly took him to the KEMA site in Arnhem. ‘There were all kinds of laboratories there, where researchers were working on – in my eyes – exciting things, and that was when I first had the idea that I wanted to study chemistry. I never changed my mind after that.’ Inspiring chemistry teachers at secondary school continued to fuel the fire: ‘Demonstration tests that got out of hand, with lids left stuck to the ceiling. I found that amazing, of course.’

Interactive teaching

Although usually in a less spectacular way, De Bruin also aims for lively interaction with his students during his own lectures. ‘For me, a lecture is successful if I get a response to what I’m explaining and students ask questions, and I manage to do everything within the allotted time. Managing that balance can sometimes be tricky. That’s why I like seminars so much: there’s direct interaction with a smaller group while you work together on assignments and finding solutions.’

He believes interactive teaching is about asking questions and expecting answers. ‘Simply with people raising their hands, you don’t need any devices for that.’ What is more, he has actually made a habit out of not putting absolutely everything in a PowerPoint presentation, but to use the blackboard too. ‘That forces me to go slower, so I cover the subject matter more clearly and comprehensibly.’

‘I think it would be fun and exciting to experiment with flipping the classroom some time. I believe letting students teach each other can work very well. My professors in Nijmegen always said that you learn best about a subject when you have to teach it yourself.’

Research to benefit teaching

In his own research, De Bruin focuses on developing and testing catalysts. ‘In short: catalysts allow reactions to take place at lower temperatures, at lower pressure, to create fewer by-products – and therefore less waste – and thereby contribute to making the chemical industry more sustainable.’ But he doesn’t see this as the primary aim of his research: ‘Many research groups promote their research as if it’s primarily intended to save the world or optimise industrial processes, but in my view research at the university is mainly intended to allow us to offer students an optimal education. Because they participate in world-leading research in the Master’s programme here, they learn the most they possibly can.’  

Combining teaching and research is no problem for him. ‘Of course there are scheduling conflicts sometimes, but it’s certainly not impossible. If you can explain your research with passion, then teaching is no problem. In fact, I often come across things and think, ‘I’ll have to mention this in the lecture’, and if you do that and you see it sparks something in your students, that’s the best thing.’ 

Published by  Faculty of Science