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Eelco Ruijter

Full professor Faculty of Science, Chemistry and Pharmaceutical Sciences

“I find myself mostly working on sound design, which I think I enjoy very much for the same reasons I love organic synthesis – only making sounds instead of compounds”

Can you tell us who you are and where you are from?

Hi, I am Eelco Ruijter, born and raised in the countryside in northern North-Holland, but for the past twenty years I have lived in Woerden, about 35 km south of Amsterdam.

What is your area of expertise & why did you get into this area of research?

I am a synthetic organic chemist. My group develops new and efficient methods for the synthesis of complex organic molecules. During my studies, and further in my career, I became increasingly fascinated with how molecules react and solving the puzzle of making complex molecules – it is like a multidimensional chess game where pieces might move differently depending on other pieces on the board.

How does your work contribute to addressing broader societal or global challenges?

Most of all I simply want to better understand chemical reactivity. This will lead to the development of new, more efficient and therefore more sustainable chemical reactions to produce valuable molecules.
In other words, more efficient reactions means more efficient production of chemicals, and therefore less waste and more sustainable processes.

Tell us something we don’t know about you? Hobbies, interests…

Not many people know I am into electronic music. I own several synthesizers. Although I have lots of plans to make music, I find myself mostly working on sound design, which I think I enjoy very much for the same reasons I love organic synthesis – only making sounds instead of compounds. I also enjoy hiking and being in Nature in general. Like last year, I will spend my summer vacation in Norway with my family to enjoy the great outdoors. Oh and also, I love walking my dog.

What role do collaboration and interdisciplinary approaches play in your work?

Well, of course it plays an important role in all aspects of science. On one hand we do chemistry for the sake of it, on the other, we also need to analyse our work, which we collaborate with specialists in structure elucidation (NMR, X-ray crystallography) and with computational chemists to elucidate reaction mechanisms. We also work with biocatalysis experts to provide us with valuable starting materials, and we provide interesting compounds for microbiologists and virologists to test on their targets.

It is often said that chemistry takes a central position in the sciences; I would say organic chemistry plays a central role within chemistry.

What inspired you to pursue a career in science, and how has that motivation evolved over time?

It actually took me quite some time for me to be as passionate as I am now about science. I was a first generation student, as they call it. I had no idea what to expect from university and what scientific research would be like. During my research project as a student, I saw a complex molecular structure on a paper, on the desk of my supervisor at the time, and my first thought was “I want to be able to make that.”, so I discovered that I really like the journey of discovery that organic synthesis can be.

After my PhD, I still was not sure about what direction I would go; I saw the appeal in an academic career but at the time I still knew little about what that would require. I then did a postdoc in a rather different field, wherein I found out that I hated pipetting.

Afterwards, I was offered an amazing opportunity here at the VU as an assistant professor at the age of 29. For years I was very happy in my role as an assistant professor, but when circumstances allowed me to take a more leading position, I became more and more convinced that I wanted to move further up the academic ladder.

About Meet the Scientist

Our Meet the Scientist series asks our amazing AIMMS talent to step away from their experiments and tell us more about themselves. From impact they want to make to their favorite hobbies, this is our chance to learn more about these inspiring minds.