Nanoscience Master’s is cutting edge

The Nanoscience Master’s degree at the University of Groningen has been marked as ‘excellent’ by the Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders. Caspar van der Wal, Professor in Physics of Quantum Devices at the Zernike Institute for Advanced Materials, is extremely pleased.

Wow, congratulations. Are you surprised?

‘Well, we already had a “very good” mark, so we knew we were doing well. This time we prepared meticulously for the visit of the committee – and it paid off, as we have been able to move it on one step further.’

The committee talks of a unique education programme. What is so special about it?

‘First of all, the Zernike Institute for Advanced Materials is itself a leading international organization. What makes this Master’s so special is the combination of physics, chemistry and biology research on nanoscale under one roof.

Nanoscience is a fast-developing field. Often results are so new they have not yet been published in textbooks. Therefore, the gap between scientific development and student lectures is small. Sometimes it’s easier to take students to our lab, to show them an experiment first hand, than talking about it with a PowerPoint presentation. So it’s very cutting-edge science and very hands-on.’

One of your strengths is the tough selection process. How do you choose your students?

‘First, they have to send in a written application. Then, of course we look at marks and, yes, generally a student with straight A’s (10 points) has a good chance. However, students with slightly lesser marks, like A minus or B plus (an average of eight points) also have a very good chance. It depends on their creativity and drive. Also, some international students have very high marks but don’t live up to expectations.’

What happens after that?

‘A small group – this year we have 15 Master’s students – is invited for an interview. They fly to Groningen for the second round and give a talk on a scientific subject, explain what kind of research they want to do and why.’

So they actually fly to Groningen for a position as a Master’s student?

‘We have students from all over the world. Generally, two thirds of our students are from abroad and one third are Dutch.’

Will this upgrade from ‘very good’ to ‘excellent’ make a difference?

‘Of course. It means the level of applicants will rise even further. If you’ve done your Master’s with us, other institutes will be interested in hiring you for the next step in your career. But more important is that this way we ourselves get the best PhD-students for our own Institute.’