Solo Blog

Exploring Interdisciplinary Frontiers: A Student’s Journey Through Structures of Strength (SoS)

April 23rd, 2024

What is it like to be a part of Structures of Strength (SoS) as a student at the beginning of an academic journey?

In this blog, Lars van Broekhuijsen, a bachelor’s student finalizing his degree in Earth Science at Utrecht University, shares his transformative experience with SoS and its impact on his academic and personal growth.

“Halfway through my studies, I was undecided about my future direction. Surrounded by fascinating topics, I hadn’t found one that fully captivated me. I was searching for a subject I could be passionate about, unsure if it existed within my discipline. SoS provided the opportunity to explore vastly different fields, leveraging the knowledge I had already acquired,” Lars explains.

When selecting a bachelor’s degree, many students encounter Earth Science, partly due to the spelling in Dutch—”Aardwetenschappen”—which places it at the top of alphabetical lists. But many stay for more substantial reasons: it offers a rich blend of chemistry, physics, mathematics, history, and geography. For Lars, this was ideal as he did not want to confine himself to a single scientific discipline.

As his degree progressed, the dilemma of pursuing a career in academia or entering the private sector arose. Through the exploration of courses in his bachelor’s program, Lars discovered a course on porous media, which involved studying materials that recur across various disciplines. For instance, in the arts, he learned about the preservation of century-old paintings on wooden planks and how to de-moisturize them without damage; in construction, the focus was on how concrete saturation affects building stability; and in geoscience, the storage of hydrogen gases for sustainable energy was explored.

This diversity of topics was exactly what Lars was seeking, all interconnected with the knowledge he was already acquiring. His deeper engagement with this subject led him to Structures of Strength, where the interdisciplinary approach to porous media is central.

“At SoS, I work alongside top researchers from various disciplines, extending to major universities nationwide and internationally. The SoS network has provided access to specialized knowledge that was otherwise out of reach,” Lars remarks.

To apply his learning, Lars initiated a project on microbial fuel cells (MFC), requiring expertise in microbiology, chemistry, physics, and geoscience. Despite lacking a background in biology, through SoS’s resources, Lars was quickly brought up to speed, engaging with experts and even partnering with a company that had developed the world’s largest MFC.

This project led to the creation of operational prototypes aimed at powering self-sustaining cells for educational displays in schools and parks, to show public about the energy alternatives around us and thereby inspiring future interdisciplinary scholars. It offered Lars invaluable fieldwork and lab experience, a platform to share and refine his findings, and insights into academic life and new disciplines.

My experience at SoS has been incredibly positive, and I urge other students curious about various disciplines to explore this opportunity. You never know where you’ll find your true passion,” Lars concludes.