Interview with Pedro Mendes and Maria Ronda Lloret, founders of The Young European Catalysis Network
In a time where global energy demand is higher than ever there is an urgent need to cut down on fossil fuels dependence and decrease carbon release into the atmosphere. Promising applications of catalysis for clean energy conversion, fuel cells, water electrolysis, batteries, and CO2 to fuel conversion are all pillars for building a sustainable energy infrastructure that’s going to benefit us all. But they still represent a challenge for both researchers and industry.
The projected future electrification of our society implies significant scientific advances as well as a multi-disciplinary effort and cooperation if we are to develop these applications in time.
The Young European Catalysis Network (YEuCat) has accepted our invitation to join forces within Material Pioneers community and works towards building an integrated team approach in the field of catalysis, to reduce development time of new materials and create a new way of collaboration.
As a result of this, we will be informed more on the work of others, creating a better communication across disciplines, avoiding missteps and delays and creating a more optimized process of discovery and implementation.
The YeuCat is already setting an example of cooperation in this area and has gathered a diverse network of professionals active in catalysis, from both academia and industry. Their goal is to share knowledge, inspire and connect current and future generations of young professionals in catalysis across Europe to jointly address societal and technological challenges.
We sat down with two of the founders, Pedro Mendes, Postdoctoral Researcher at Laboratory for Chemical Technology at the University of Gent (BE) and Maria Ronda Lloret – PhD candidate at the Heterogeneous Catalysis and Sustainable Chemistry (HCSC) group, at the University of Amsterdam (NL).
We discussed about their desire to work in catalysis, what drives them in their work and the need for creating a young catalysis network for Europe. We also got some valuable insights on the importance of cooperation in science and breaking barriers between academia in industry, that hopefully will inspire others to do the same.
“Our dream is to work with companies that share our mission and empower young researchers to develop new catalysts. That is why we are now teaming up with you, because we share common values and we both believe that researchers should have the freedom to experiment in order to find good solutions.”
How did you decide that you wanted to work in catalysis?
Maria L: I started to work on carbon dioxide conversion, and I wanted to contribute to the solution of the sustainability problem.
Pedro M: In high school we made experiment with biodiesel and that was my first approach with catalysis. And then, when I came to college in the first few years, I started with an internship in the lab, I started working in catalysis and then I really liked it and made my master thesis about that.
Why are you building a European network?
It all started during an event of the EFCAT and they were trying to involve young generations in catalysis. That’s where it all started, a small group of people from that competition decided to team up and create something at the European level, Europe wants to contribute to the solution as well. So, we decided to unite forces and bring our gathering to the next level. In the US they already have the such institutions, so we also wanted to get together. Our policy is that we want to be open to partnerships with whoever is young and has a desire to work in catalysis. Maria joined in august, “they invited people to join the group and I really liked the idea of having a network of people working from academia and industry. We had the opportunity to be a part of the project and I am trying to help him making it possible.”
How do you see YEuCat between academia and industry?
We would like to involve people regardless of their background in order to make ground-breaking innovations trough sharing their ideas and doing networking. This network will have more collaborative projects for people to interact and develop their own ideas. In this platform there will be researchers at the early stage of their careers, so it would be the perfect timing to make meaningful connections for future collaborations. It helps a lot in communicating and connecting with industry.
How would you like to connect catalysis with wider topics?
People will have the chance to be connected with other networks, they will need to collaborate with people from other fields. In order to make a catalyst, you need people with different skills, so we think that the intersections will be needed more and more. We are planning further collaborations with other networks and get-togethers to achieve the best possible solutions.
How would you like to collaborate with companies and institutions?
Our dream is to work with companies that share our mission and empower young researchers to develop new catalysts. That is why we are now teaming up with you, because we share common values and we both believe that researchers should have the freedom to experiment in order to find good solutions.
How do you want to involve young generations and why do you think it’s important to act?
Our first goals are to empower young people to do what they want to do in catalysis. That’s for the people trying to achieve their goals in academia, for those who want to connect with industry or want to change their carrier towards catalysis. Networking will allow people to get more opportunities and thus join forces. Working in catalysis means giving your contribution in order to make the world more sustainable and to make circular -use materials. -use materials. Catalysis will play a big role in that.￼We want people to know that if they want to change the world and make an impact, they should follow a catalysis career.
What about diversity? Do you feel that there is a different energy in the group?
We are really motivated because there are people from many countries. Diversity is important, we take it for granted because we are foreigners working from different countries. For YEuCat we wanted to make sure that people would be as diverse as possible, we now have people from fourteen different countries and for us it’s important to have people from all around the world, working in Europe. We want to unite forces, and everyone is welcome to join the group.
Would you like to say something to inspire young researchers?
We defined our mission last year as” catalyze new generations” and we want to understand what is more important for people to work on, we want to develop things that are useful for people and to answer people’s needs. We want to be a network where everyone feels welcome and we want to take their hopes and visions and turn them into reality.