Lisa Tran selected as Utrecht Young Academy member

Assistant professor Lisa Tran has been selected as one of the eight new members of the Utrecht Young Academy (UYA). The UYA connects young academics from Utrecht University who have obtained their PhD less than eight years ago to exchange critical perspectives on academia, policy, and society. The members of UYA come from various backgrounds and disciplines.

Tran’s research is very fundamental in nature, which, in her own words, ’is essential for reaching a sustainable future’. Tran and her group aim to mimic structures found in nature to revolutionise coatings. Many paints are toxic or require environmentally invasive and exploitative practices. According to Tran, there is an urgent need for alternative paint materials to mitigate the negative impact of these current practices.

Poor conditions and toxic

For instance, two common green pigments are made of cobalt and chromium. Nearly half of the world’s cobalt reserves come from mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where labor conditions are tremendously poor. Chromium green, on the other hand, is itself not toxic, but when heated during production or repair, a carcinogen is produced, resulting in an increased risk of cancer from exposure.

As an international scholar, I see from my own work that science is at its best when it is open and collaborative

Lisa Tran, Assistant Professor

Jeweled beetle

In her recent Veni project, Tran studies the exoskeleton of the jeweled beetle (Chrysina gloriosa). In its exoskeleton, a natural biopolymer called chitin forms arrangements that give the beetle its non-iridescent, green appearance. Tran aims to control the ordering of particles made of biopolymers to mimic the beetle exoskeleton in the laboratory. These findings will lay the groundwork for the development of biodegradable and robust alternatives to paint additives.

Cooling coatings

Coatings are not just important for paints but can also be leveraged to control energy consumption. Due to climate change, temperatures increase, and people make more use of comfort-cooling. The increased energy usage in residential cooling can be mitigated with passive radiative cooling coatings, which are coatings that efficiently scatter sunlight to absorb less energy than they emit. In a cross-disciplinary, Science for Sustainability project partly under Tran’s supervision, researchers aim to reproduce the structures of the white scarab beetle (Cyphochilus insulanus) to innovate cooling coatings.

Science at its best

Lisa Tran is very excited to be a new member of the Utrecht Young Academy. "I look forward to learning from scholars outside of my field", she says. "As an international scholar, I see from my own work that science is at its best when it is open and collaborative. I believe that the university must continue to foster an environment that is welcoming to international scholars and interdisciplinary collaborations."