Mikkel Jørgensen
Mikkel Jørgensen wrote the best doctoral thesis at the Department of Physics at Chalmers in 2019. 
Image: Helén Rosenfeldt
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Awarded efforts to save energy and provide clean air

Nanoparticles play a key role in catalysis, which for example is used to clean exhaust gases from our cars. To save energy and provide clean air, it is desirable to understand how the catalytic reactions proceed over the nanoparticles. 
In his PhD thesis, Mikkel Jørgensen has developed simulation methods to do so. 
Now he receives the Best Thesis Award for his efforts. 
​​Catalysts are composed of nanoparticles that can be used to transform toxic gases into less harmful chemicals. Such a transformation takes place on the surface of the nanoparticle. Since catalysts often are composed of scarce metals, such as platinum, palladium, and gold; even small improvements in efficiency can have huge impacts on a global scale. 
 
“Therefore, understanding how chemical reactions proceed over nanoparticles is an achievement that can have tremendous consequences for global pollution control and chemical technology. Nanoparticles are used in about 90 percent of the chemical industry,” says Doctor Mikkel Jørgensen.

Today, computers are so powerful that it is possible to perform catalytic experiments solely on the screen. Computer simulations enable researchers to study how different parameters influence the reactions. Such insights may help answer questions on how to arrange and combine the atoms in nanoparticles to design a cheap, efficient, and sustainable catalyst.

"Mikkel has pushed the boundaries of computational catalysis by making several important contributions. The thesis is a solid and comprehensive piece of work that would not have been possible without his focus and genuine interest to solve difficult problems. I am very happy that it is recognized, “says his supervisor, Professor Henrik Grönbeck at the Department of Physics at Chalmers. 

Mikkel Jørgensen thinks that his work was appreciated because it offers a new approach. 
 “For the first time reaction kinetics is simulated on a full model nanoparticle with realistic parameters, derived from first principles. Moreover, the results show that a systems theory is necessary to understand the nanoparticle catalysts, which is often neglected when modelling such systems.”

What was the hardest part of the work?
“The hardest part of the work was the many hours of tuning simulation parameters and analyzing the many hundreds of gigabytes of data that was generated.  

… and the best part?
“The best part was every time we finally got these "aha moments" from all the data analysis. Another great part was the feeling of everything coming together at the doctoral defense. That day I will always remember, and I feel very grateful for all the people that made it special; in particular my supervisor, Henrik.” 

What piece of advice could you give to future doctoral students?
“Rome was not built in one day, but they likely built something every day.” 

What are you up to now?
“I currently work with data science and software development in Nordea. That is a super exciting business to be in if you enjoy mathematics and programming, which are some of my favourite topics. I am currently developing software for automatic cash management and forecasting of corporate earnings.”

Mikkel Jørgensen defended his doctoral thesis at the Department of Physics at Chalmers on 29 March 2019. The title of his thesis is Kinetic Simulations of Nanoparticle Catalysis from First Principles. 

The award committee selected his work for several reasons, not least for Mikkel Jørgensen’s pedagogical skills and the impact of his results. 

“The thesis is written in a very pedagogical way, such that a person outside of the catalysis and physical chemistry field could follow and understand both basic and advanced concepts. Moreover, Mikkel’s work has generated a considerable impact due to the substantial amount of high-profile peer-reviewed publications on which the thesis is based,” says Professor Timur Shegai, Chair of the award committee at the Department of Physics at Chalmers. 

Text: Mia Halleröd Palmgren, mia.hallerodpalmgren@chalmers.se

Illustration: Mikkel Jørgensen​


The Best Thesis Award at the Department of Physics  

The prize was founded in 2013 and is awarded annually to one or several doctoral students who have defended their thesis during that year. The awarded theses can serve as good examples for doctoral students in the early stages of their own thesis writing.
Besides the honor, the winner also gets a diploma and a monetary prize of SEK 10.000. The prize committee consists of researchers from every division within the department. 
This year's committee consisted of Paolo Vinai, Riccardo Catena, Björn Wickman, Julia Wiktor, Philippe Tassin, and Timur Shegai (Chair).

The committee’s full motivation for the award 2019:
“This year the committee has decided to award Mikkel Jørgensen. He did a great job on studying kinetics of nanoparticle catalysis from first principles. His thesis is well written, there is a coherent flow of information throughout the whole work. The thesis is also written in a very pedagogical way, so that a person outside of the catalysis and physical chemistry field could follow and understand both basic and advanced concepts. Moreover, Mikkel's work has generated a considerable impact due to the substantial amount of high-profile peer-reviewed publications on which the thesis is based. We were particularly impressed by Mikkel's outstanding contributions to these publications (the thesis is based on ten publications, out of which Mikkel is the first author of nine. Eight of the articles are written by only him and his supervisor). Altogether, this made us to choose Mikkel for the best PhD thesis award in 2019. The prize committee sincerely congratulates Mikkel and his supervisor Henrik Grönbeck on this achievement and wishes them success in the future.”

Previous award winners

Academic year 2017-2018

Ferry Nugroho
Sophie Viaene

Academic year 2016-2017

Maxime van den Bossche

Academic year 2015-2016

Greger Torgrimsson

Academic year 2014-2015
Carl Wadell
 
Klara Insulander Björk

Academic year 2013-2014

Erlendur Jonsson
 
Daniel Midtvedt
 
Mikael Svedendahl


Published: Wed 24 Jun 2020.