From fluid dynamics to blockchains and vice versa

8 December 2017

Some doctoral students know that their future does not lie in the academic world once they’ve gained their PhD. The physicist Sten Reijers, for instance, a third-year research assistant at the University of Twente, is going into business. Together with five friends, four of whom are also physicists, he recently launched his own company, Chaintip, that advises on blockchains. Remarkably, he is combining business with studies: NWO was prepared to alter his contract, allowing him to become a part-time PhD student from September onwards.

Photo: Sten ReijersPhoto: Sten Reijers

Reijers: “I’ve already been into blockchains for several years, and I wanted to carry on working with them in any way I could.” Rather hesitantly he took his idea for a business venture to his PhD supervisor Detlef Lohse, Professor of Fluid Dynamics at the University of Twente. Lohse’s reaction was positive. Reijers: “Detlef said that not all physicists could pursue a career in research, and that since he saw it as his job to do what he could to ensure his research assistants were successful, he wanted to help me realize my plans.

Feasibility

It helps that my PhD work is on schedule, with two articles already published and another two in the pipeline. I’m doing theoretical research into what happens when you shoot a laser into a drop of liquid.  That means I’m doing lots of computer simulations, so I don’t have to spend weeks on end working on a laboratory set-up. Detlef is convinced that I’ll complete it on time.”

Reijers and Lohse together submitted a request to NWO to have Reijers’ OIO contract altered. Reijers: “NWO wanted to know, quite rightly, exactly how I planned to complete my PhD, and I had to submit those plans. Once NWO had been convinced of the feasibility of the plans, the switch to a 40% contract was arranged within a month. Now I have until mid-2019 to work on my PhD. I’m very happy to have been given this support from NWO. Monday and Tuesday are now my regular university days; the rest of the week I devote to my business. And this arrangement makes me incredibly efficient. After all, on Tuesdays at the University of Twente I can’t just put something off and think ‘Ah, I’ll do it tomorrow.’”

Blockchain

The core business of Reijers’ company – providing consultancy on private blockchains – has no links whatsoever with his PhD research. He explains: “A blockchain is a distributed network of nodes within which truth is determined and established in a chain of data items on the basis of a consensus protocol. All the items in this chain are cryptographically linked, which makes it impossible to make later alterations. Experts regard this process as being extremely secure, because there is no central coordinating party that calls all the shots. This makes a blockchain massively resistant to hacking attacks. The first publications on these consensus protocols appeared in the 1908s and 1990s, but it was only when Bitcoin came out that the technology was used for financial purposes. This brought the technology to the attention of a number of large parties in the banking sector, and that led to an enormous blockchain hype.”

Reijers feels that he is getting into the business at exactly the right moment. “The blockchain hype means that there is now a strong demand for specialists. Ultimately, we want to launch our own Initial Coin Offering (ICO), paying investor dividends on company performance with a digital currency. This ICO will allow us to fund and kick-start the company. The prospects are good. I can’t say much more about it right now, but we’re in touch with some big names.”

Further information

Sten Reijers, s.a.reijers@utwente.nl

 

 

Source: NWO