Vera Meynen works as a materials researcher for the University of Antwerp. She is also connected to VITO through a strategic collaboration: “You can achieve much more by combining expertise.”

Your expertise lies in materials research. What exactly does this mean?

I specialise in the surface modification of different materials. Together with VITO, I work on projects concerning membranes, catalysts and waste upcycling. Our first collaboration revolved around membrane functionalisation: we made hybrid membranes with organic and inorganic fractions to filter solvents. This technology has become true platform technology in the meantime. We also use it, for example, for its antifouling properties in water filtration.

How did you as a University of Antwerp researcher end up at VITO?

I have a degree in chemistry with a specialisation in materials research, but I’ve always had an eye for the application side. Which is how I ended up at VITO. VITO views technology much more from an application standpoint: what can we use this method for? One person can never gather enough expertise to conduct both fundamental technical and application-oriented research. A collaboration is thus a win-win situation for both parties. The membrane technology that we developed together already has many applications: solvent filtration in pharmacy, purification of surface and wastewater, filtering of olive oil … I enjoy seeing how my materials research leads to specific technological applications.

What does your collaboration with VITO look like in practice?

I have had a cooperation agreement with VITO since 2006. It was renewed and expanded in 2017. My salary is paid by the University of Antwerp, but one day a week – about 20 per cent of my time – I work at VITO. My VITO colleagues mainly come to me with technical problems regarding material modification. For me, these technical challenges are often an inspiration for new fundamental research. In recent months, the strategic cooperation between VITO and the University of Antwerp has been further expanded and even more of my colleagues are starting to work with VITO. It’s going well: everyone does his or her thing and recognises the expertise of the other. We achieve the best results with open innovation. I hope that we can continue to work together in this way for a long time.