UT researcher wins Unilever Research Prize

| Rense Kuipers

Giorgos Kafkopoulos, now a PhD researcher at the Materials Science and Technology of Polymers research group, has won one of the Unilever Research Prizes 2018. Kafkopoulos receives the prize of 2500 euros later this month for his master’s research project.

Unilever hands out research prizes for innovative research focused on the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The young researcher looked on a nano- to microscale to contribute to one of the global goals. ‘My research has high potential to help take climate action,’ says Kafkopoulos, who graduated in Chemical Engineering.

‘Roughly 20% of the greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) of the EU are caused by the transport sector. If we manage to efficiently reduce the weight of the cars, we will lower the overall fuel consumption and thus the GHG emissions. My goal was to reduce the weight of plastic parts in our transport vehicles, by replacing conventional plastic parts with structural polymer foams with the same performance.’

Polymer foams

‘A polymer foam, in simple words, is a polymer material that contains bubbles,’ Kafkopoulos explains. ‘The inclusion of bubbles results in not only reducing its weight, but also provide a number of interesting properties depending on the size and morphology of the bubbles.’

Further expanding the work of the MTP research group on raspberry-shaped nanoparticles, the researcher and his supervisor Joost Duvigneau exhibited ways to control the size and morphology of the bubbles in semi crystalline engineering a unique way. ‘This introduces new possibilities towards designing sustainable polymer foams; tuning the size and morphology of the bubbles can be employed to control the final properties of the foam depending on the needs of each application,’ says Kafkopoulos.

Future plans

Although his master’s research did look promising, Kafkopoulos didn’t continue with the outcomes of it for his PhD. ‘I am driven mainly by curiosity, although I also try to think of how I can implement my findings. My PhD research also focuses on polymers, it’s about polymer metal adhesion in hybrid joints, to be applied in aeronautics. But it’s a very different perspective than my master’s research and I am looking forward to this new challenge.’