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Interview With Prof. Dr. Philippe Heynderickx, Ghent University Global Campus

Interview with Prof. Dr. Philippe Heynderickx, Ghent University Global Campus


Dr. ir. Philippe Heynderickx

Ghent University Global Campus (GUGC)
Professor Dr. ir. Philippe Heynderickx
Dr. ir. Philippe Heynderickx


Professor Dr. ir. Philippe Heynderickx first arrived at the Ghent University Global Campus (GUGC) in February 2015, after an extensive stint teaching masters programs at Ghent University’s home campus in Ghent, Belgium. Outside of the classroom, Dr. Heynderickx has published several highly regarded studies, conducted advanced research in engineering and chemical processes, and has garnered several esteemed awards including the Young Researcher Award at the 14th International Conference on Catalysis in 2008, held in Seoul (COEX). Find out more about the work of Dr. Heynderickx, his experiences teaching around the world, his personal philosophy, and what he has in store for the future of GUGC.

Q. What exactly is the field of study you are involved in?


I received my Master degree in civil engineering at Ghent University, then moved on to receive a Ph.D. in Chemical Technology. Nowadays, I focus on catalysis and modelling of chemical processes, given my scientific background. I am currently conducting research with three Ph.D. students on cutting-edge projects at GUGC: one involving the conversion of sugars via so-called metal organic frameworks (MOF) into platform chemicals, which are essential building blocks in many industrial applications such as polymerization; another involving thermal conversion of waste seaweed into fertilizer materials and activated carbon as adsorbent for harmful gases; and another one utilizing sunlight as energy source with so-called ‘porous organic polymers’ (POP) to degrade water pollutants by photocatalysis.

Q. You have experience teaching at both the GUGC and at Ghent University in Belgium. What are some differences or similarities between the two campuses?


In regard to academics, the curriculum at GUGC and at Ghent are the same. Since the dual finality of the Bachelor’s degree in an Asian context is a fact, we prepare the students not only for Master’s programs but also for the job market. This comes along with extra course units in order to provide the relevant competences, such as social sciences, increasing awareness of employability and a rather substantial emphasis on the Bachelor’s project in their last year. There is more emphasis on technological and practical aspects and, hence, we seek some higher level of specialization at the end of the road. Also, 1/8 of the overall program is conducted at the home campus (Semester 1, year 4), displaying the high degree of internationalization of the GUC program.

However, the community of the two campuses is definitely different. At Ghent University, there are over 40,000 students while at GUGC there are less than 500 students, staff, and Ph.D. students combined. Ghent University also has an extensive, 200-year history while GUGC was established only five years ago. Ghent University was the first European university arriving at the Incheon Global Campus and ever since we build an Asian hub for excellent education, but also top-notch research in the field of life sciences. I think that both campuses can learn from each other to strengthen up in the future. Overall, the biggest strength is to know your weaknesses!

Q. What do you teach at the Ghent University Global Campus?


I lecture four subjects at the GUGC. The first, Organic Chemistry (part I and II), deals with the basics of chemistry like naming simple compounds, standard chemical processes and the basics of reaction mechanisms, i.e., how chemical reactions proceed in a detailed way. Although this course is quite textbook-based, my other courses such as ‘Green Chemistry and Technology’ and ‘Environmental Chemistry’ contain more discussion and can be considered to be more application-based. For example, in Green chemistry and Technology, the focus is to find greener alternatives to traditional chemical processes, which are most of the time quite polluting and waste generating processes. In Environmental Chemistry we identify for example environmental issues in South Korea, and come up with realistic solutions.

There are no fixed answers to these questions, which is great because it allows students to include reflections of their personal philosophies to the course. Of course, there is a certain amount of theory to understand the matter. Finally, in Process Engineering, we focus on applying engineering principles to heat and mass transfer processes. For example, we learn how much energy an air-condition system requires, which is quite a surprise for the students! My courses are challenging, but in my opinion, they prepare students to use their knowledge for realistic applications later in their job; as I like to say, “In order to speak the language, you first have to know the words.”

Q. What are some programs you have planned for the future?


Moving into the future, I want to continue to shape more research-based activities, to help students understand why they are learning what they are learning. Even though a strong foundation in the basics is crucial for advanced work, I want to stray away from the textbooks and have our students focus more on research-based applications of solutions to real issues. I am also in contact with certain companies to provide internship opportunities for our students. For example, Umicore (Songdo) specializes in designing catalysts for fuel cells. At a company like this, GUGC students can see firsthand how their education is applied in real life, while preparing for professional careers at the same time. Together with President Han Taejun, a close relation with the National Institute of Environmental Research (NIER) is currently materializing. Also, the expertise at GUGC regarding environmental sciences and can always be used to answer questions from the general public or other research institutes: everybody wants clean air and clean water!

Q. Do you have any words of advice for aspiring engineers or scientists at GUGC or anywhere else in the world?


My advice is simple: do not lose your imagination, and do not lose hope. Imagination is the foundation of the creative process, and the source of all inventions. As Dr. Albert Einstein puts it, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” Also, do not lose the driving force that will lead you to your goals; no matter how difficult the road ahead may seem. Looking back now, I have had quite a few difficulties on my own road, and I am sure there are many more to come. But I do not lose hope, I just enjoy the ride. My advice for you would be to do the same: enjoy every part of the process.

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