Let’s help our students continue their experiments

July 1, 2020

Without compromises or delays

Work from home

By now, we’re all used to Teams-, Zoom- and Hangout-meetings. We’ve adapted to a situation nobody asked for as fast as we could. During the lockdown, students had to change their experimental work in the labs for theory that could be done at home. But for engineers and scientists, just talking and theory is not enough. Future engineers and scientists studying for their Master’s-, Bachelor’s or PhD degree need to do experiments at a world-class level. PhD students and Postdocs need (international) collaborations to achieve their goals.

While still not a true substitute for real-life human interaction, remote setups do help. Working on an experiment together with colleagues from other universities, institutes or companies is almost as easy as sharing a screen in MS Teams. Remote Setups will enable students to resume working on their joint projects and will allow new collaborations. It will also allow international students to do their internships without travelling. It will facilitate new collaborations across the globe that were not even thought possible in the past.

A time of creativity

Remote education has become the standard in a short time. It works for many students, but not for all. For example, for quite a few Physics students (Bachelors, Masters and PhDs), Postdocs and even senior scientists from TU/e. They have to conduct experiments in laboratories and not all of them can be accessed right now. Fortunately, this crisis has made us creative. Applied Physics PhD student Niels Hoof had already arranged his laboratory setup in such a way that he no longer had to be physically in the lab. Most of the actions were automated and he could log in remotely to view the progress and to make adjustments. During the complete lockdown in April and May, Niels could continue his work in the lab from home and he is now writing the first ‘home baked’ scientific manuscript. It gave us an idea: Remote Setups. Remote experiments. With webcams to watch from a distance and 1 student in the lab to perform small adjustments and to monitor the results of a group of 15 to 20 students working from home. This will make the students almost feel like they are in the lab. As close to real life and as safe as they can get under these bizarre circumstances.

Niels Hoof: “Sometimes quite a lot of people are involved in experiments. Until now they came here to work together in the lab. Of course, live contact with others, especially internationally, is important. But thanks to our concept, much can also be done remotely. This saves time, travel hours, costs and damage to the environment”.

There are also advantages for the education, which is mainly about theory now. Thanks to these Remote Setups, students can conduct scientific experiments from home. They watch the setups through webcams and operate them with a remote connection. In this way, their work is not only theory but also experimental. That is a valuable part of the education as engineers or scientists that we have been missing for a few months now”.

Lessons for the future

With Remote Setups, we can continue to work remotely in the future, after Covid-19. It is a major step in reducing the need to much of the expensive, time-consuming and polluting travel. All parties involved in the research can have the same level of access to the setups and the results, making research more open access and transparent. This will make Remote Setups the ideal solution for international collaborations with other scientists or with companies that will also benefit from real-time access.

Less turns out to be more

During the lockdown and with our remotely controlled experimental setup we learned something quite unexpected: the absence of people in the labs led to better, more consistent and more reliable results from our experiments. Less people mean less changes in temperature, lighting conditions, and other environmental variables and disturbances that influence sensitive measurements.

Productivity also went up noticeably as, with less people getting in each other’s way, experiments could run 24/7 uninterrupted.

Help is needed! 

We know this concept works. Our first and - currently – only remote setup proved that. But one is not enough. Therefore, we have started a crowdfunding action to cover the necessary investments to make 9 other setups remotely controlled. 10 setups will enable a group of 15 to 20 PhD’s, Master, Bachelor students and Postdocs to keep working or educating at even a higher level than before the pandemic. In addition, these setups will allow new collaborations with universities and companies across the globe.

You can help us to make the labs of the future by donating here

In these links you can find more information about the research that will be done in the future Remote Setups:

Photonics and Semiconductor Nanophysics group

Surface Photonics