Dedicated to Materials Science
- Dominique (Nick) Schryvers, born in Antwerp, Belgium on 25 November, 1959, received his licence degree in Physics at the University of Antwerp (B) in 1981, his PhD in Physics at the same university in 1985 and his habilitation at the Free University of Brussels in 1991. After a post-doctoral stay at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, CA, USA, in 1986-1987 he became assistant and later Professor at the research group Electron Microscopy for Materials Science (EMAT) of the Department of Physics of the University of Antwerp. In 2006 he received the title of Full Professor at the same department. D. Schryvers teaches courses on experimental physics and gives lectures on materials science and microscopy for different curricula. He has also initiated the Honours Programme at the Faculty of Sciences. His main research topic is the application of advanced transmission electron microscopy techniques to the study of phase transformations in alloys, more specifically in systems displaying martensitic transformations but also diffusional transformations and precipitation mechanisms.
Materials Science is one of the hot topics in nowadays research projects worldwide. New materials will solve important technical challenges in different applications in the future. Imaging & Microscopy talked to Nick Schryvers, EMS Secretary from 2004 till 2016, dean of the Faculty of Science at the University of Antwerp and research member of the EMAT (Electron Microscopy for Materials Science) team about his career and research focus.
Imaging & Microscopy: How did you get in to Electron/Light Microscopy?
N. Schryvers: As many fellow students, I started physics because of my interest in astronomy. The possibilities of actively performing experiments and playing with external parameters influencing your experiment in the field of astronomy are, however, rather limited, and so I got interested in solid state physics, more particularly in defects and phase transformations, which I studied with ESR for my Master’s thesis. With the Antwerp Center for High Voltage Electron Microscopy, in the meantime transformed into the Electron Microscopy for Materials Science (EMAT) center, being close-by, I turned to TEM for my PhD work. I was lucky to be able to work with one of the first high resolution instruments (JEOL top-entry 200CX) which opened a whole new world for me at the atomic level (quite the opposite of my original goal).
What kept you in the field?
N. Schryvers: It’s fascinating to know that with every new sample you put in the microscope, you are in a position to witness something no one else has ever seen. Although every level of complexity has its own impact, it’s clear that all material’s properties are finally steered by the interactions at the atomic level. With the resolution of the instruments constantly being improved and the large variety of working modes available nowadays, EM is the best way to understand how and why materials really behave and respond the way they do to various external influences.
What are you doing right now?
N. Schryvers: At present, my main research concentrates on coaching post- and pre-doc researchers working in the field of metals and alloys at the EMAT research lab and, as Dean, running the Faculty of Science of the University of Antwerp.
For EMS I’m trying to properly forward the secretarial tasks to the new secretary and administration.
What was the most important lesson in your research career?
N. Schryvers: That even the natural sciences are far from exact and, certainly as an experimentalist, you have to learn to live with the limitations of the material and instrumentation. Also that science is not only a matter of knowledge, but maybe even more of how people deal with that knowledge. And that it’s impossible to know in advance on what topic you’ll be working a few years down the road. Which is what makes it the most exciting job around.
Did you have encounters with serendipity?
N. Schryvers: The fact that we found nanodiamonds in mm-sized carbon spherules collected from various soil samples around Europe. Till today, we still don’t know where they come from or how they have been formed (although it has been suggested that these are remnants of a cosmic impact). So some astrophysics after all!
What was the most unexpected outcome?
N. Schryvers: Maybe the fact that I have worked on such a large variety of materials (which I guess is typical for someone concentrating on a technique rather than a material). Starting with simple fcc-based alloys (personal choice at the time since complex crystallography is not my thing), I’ve looked at (and am still working on) various types of phase transformations (order-disorder, martensite, …) but I’ve also investigated precipitates, nanostructured metals for membrane technology, steel microwires embedded in epoxy, polymer capsules for self-healing, semiconductors, polar materials, zeolites, minerals, materials for the nuclear industry, Ag-halide crystals for analogue photography and old corroded photographs, metal nanoparticles in Roman and Medieval glass samples, soil samples from world-wide catastrophes, meteorite samples collected at the Antarctic and even drug infected livers of rats (and much more). All extremely interesting topics and impossible to predict in advance.
What would be the big issue to change or big thing (“magic one”) you would like to change if you could wave a “magic one”?
N. Schryvers: Bringing more students into the fields of natural sciences and mathematics. It’s amazing that in times when our lives are so dependent on science and technology, so few people have the knowledge or are even interested in these matters.
Is your work essential for the future?
N. Schryvers: Obviously. With the rise and impact of technology moving at ever higher speeds, the need to understand materials at the basic levels will only become stronger. Clear connections exist in the fields of energy (battery materials, storage materials, …), waste reduction (urban mining, …), medicine (nanoparticles, …), communication (sensors, …), … all topics that can never run optimal if we don’t know how the world works at the atomic level.
Where are we heading in your “passionated” field?
N. Schryvers: My guess would be a further improvement of quantification. With the rise of tomography, 3D data is now at the level of the single atom. That combined with the ultimate resolutions due to aberration correction, this now needs to be consolidated under various experimental conditions so we can not only study the structure of materials ex-situ but also the behavior of materials in-situ, i.e. 4D, at these exceptional levels of resolution and precision.
Eye on the horizon/frontiers?
N. Schryvers: Solutions need to be found for proper handling of the huge amounts of data we gather every day, but of which only fractions are used. This will even become more urgent when instruments are becoming more automated. Combining more varieties of microscopy into one experiment, so-called correlative microscopy, to collect even more complementary types of data than today is another strongly evolving field. As for EMS, many options are out there for an enthusiastic new team to lead the society towards a more professional organization which can provide various types of support for its members and the society at large.