Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Question and Answer with Daan Noort, ESEP

When Daan Noort, a research chemist and principal scientist from the Netherlands Organization of Applied Scientific Research (TNO), first pitched the idea of moving his family from The Netherlands to the United States for a few months, so that he could participate in the Engineer and Scientist Exchange Program (ESEP), his three children –all in middle and high school –were not enthusiastic.

“They had their friends and their routines, and did not want any change,” Noort explained. Now, five months later as Noort and his family are preparing to return to The Netherlands, his children are asking if the family could extend their stay.

“At this point, we like it here, and have really become a part of the community. Now the idea of leaving is hard,” Noort said. “Our time here has been smoother and more memorable than any of us imagined.”

Noort and his family spent five months living in Bel Air, MD while he worked at ECBC as a part of ESEP. ESEP is an international exchange program that promotes international cooperation in military research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) through the exchange of military and/or government civilian engineers and scientists. ECBC has been an active participant in the ESEP program for many years. Currently, ECBC employees are serving ESEP rotations in the United Kingdom, Germany, Chile, Australia and The Netherlands. The ESEP experience helps ECBC scientists create personal working relationships with international partners and have resulted in efforts such as mutually beneficial leveraging of technology between participating organizations.

“Having Daan work with us was very beneficial to our work, as well as personally and professionally enjoyable for our whole group,” said Jennifer Sekowski, Ph.D, DABT, Principal Investigator for the Systems Biology of Host-Toxicant Response Project in ECBC’s Biosciences Division. One of the projects Noort worked on at ECBC was to transition an assay from his laboratory at TNO to ECBC. Sekowski first started this project in summer 2013 during a week-long visit to TNO. Sekowski said it was invaluable to have Noort at ECBC working to continue that project with the rest of the team.

“His chemistry background and international perspective helped us develop important new tools and protocols which have opened new possibilities in our DTRA funded work. Already, the chemical analog probes he synthesized while here will allow us to publish an extra manuscript this year, an extra deliverable we can provide for our customer, DTRA. We also plan to follow-up on this and related work in future collaborative efforts of interest to DTRA and DHS.”

Before Noort returned to The Netherlands, he discussed his experiences working and living in a different country.

Why did you get involved with the ESEP Program?

In The Netherlands, I am in charge of running various projects at TNO, so I do not get the chance to get in the labs and do hands-on research. Participating in ESEP gave me that opportunity to get back in the labs as a scientist, and sharpen my skills in a completely different atmosphere and culture. During my five months with ECBC, I worked with the Biosciences, Chemistry and Toxicology Divisions, so I had the opportunity to gain multiple perspectives and see how differently each one operated. I truly feel like I was able to contribute a lot and learn a lot with each team that I worked with. I also wanted to participate in ESEP to get the international experience. I had been to the United States many times, but just for a few weeks or days, this program gave me chance to come here in a completely different way, and become a part of the community here.

What was it like to move your family to a different country for five months?

Moving the entire family –my wife and three children –to the U.S. for five months was difficult, but not as difficult as we thought it would be. The Harford County community was so helpful and welcoming, that it made our transition very easy, and makes leaving tough. The teachers at the local public schools my children attended took the extra time to help my children get adjusted to a new country and a new language. My children also made friends and participated in after school sports and other activities. My wife and I met several people in the community. We traveled a little bit and visited New York City, Niagara Falls, Washington, D.C., Baltimore and went to a large number of sport events. Although it was just five months, we were able to build a life here and get comfortable, so I thank the community for that.

What ECBC projects and programs did you support?

I spent some time working in the Synthesis lab in the Chemistry Division, and then I moved to the Proteomics Core lab in the BioSciences Division. Currently, I have just finished evaluating compounds that I have prepared. Working in both labs has given me multiple perspectives on different labs and how we approach similar questions. For example, while working on the Systems Biology of Host-Toxicant Response Project, I was able to synthesize a series of new “click chemistry” probes, opening up a new type of activity based protein profiling (ABPP) assay which should be able to more precisely identify proteins and peptide adducts that bind directly to chemical agents of interest.

What was the most important lesson that you’ve learned while with ECBC?

Being at ECBC and working in the labs again have reiterated to me the importance of details. In every experiment, you have to be sure that every detail is correct, or else it could ruin your entire outcome. You can’t think only of the big picture in scientific research, or you will miss something. Rather you have to focus on the small, solid details and slowly build a strong knowledge basis for your project. Although this is a basic research principle, I don’t work in the labs on a day-to-day basis back at TNO, so doing that here served as a good reminder for me that I can apply in my project manager role.

What is the biggest benefit to participating in ESEP?

After completing five months in the program, I can say that there is no better way to create meaningful partnerships and build trust with international colleagues, than to work alongside them for a few months. Now I feel like I can reach to the people I worked with at ECBC for anything, and they can reach back to me in a way that is more personal than before. We have become natural collaborators through this process, and I know that we will continue that relationship when I return to The Netherlands.

What will you miss the most about living in the U.S.?

I will miss how convenient everything is in this country. In the U.S., stores are open late, so you can go shopping after dinner if necessary. If you don’t want to cook, there is a restaurant on every corner and it is easy to get a table. Also, so many different types of food are available; you can try something different every day. I will also miss the space that we had in the U.S. Back home, we live in a small city, so our homes are not as big and we don’t have yard space or much personal space in general. I’ll miss having those types of luxuries.

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