KWR researcher Nienke Meekel wins 2020 Van Deemter Award

Intelligent data acquisition method is a prize-winner

The identification of toxic compounds in drinking water is an important issue for the drinking water sector. KWR has been researching the subject for more than forty years. This investigative work recently attracted extra attention in the announcement of the 2020 Van Deemter Award, which is awarded every year by the Analytical Chemistry Section of the Royal Netherlands Chemical Society (KNCV) to the best Master’s thesis, that has a clear analytical chemistry component and makes an important contribution to the field.

Nienke Meekel won the prize for her graduation internship at KWR, before she started working at the institute on 1 September. The award is a recognition for her outstanding contribution to the rapidly developing research area of ‘suspect & non-target’ screening; the jury found that her work stood out for its quality, productivity and scientific originality. The winner was announced during the online edition of  ‘The Analytical Challenge 2020’.

Toxic compounds in (drinking) water

In her award-winning research report, ‘Improved identification of toxic compounds in drinking water sources through HRMS based intelligent data acquisition’, Nienke describes the innovative application of data science in non-target screening and mass spectrometry. The research aimed to improve the identification of potentially toxic organic micropollutants during the intelligent monitoring of drinking water sources. Thanks to the development and application of an intelligent data acquisition method, the results of her research can make an important contribution to the unlocking of all information for the identification of toxic compounds in HRMS datasets in general, and in (drinking) water in particular. The development of HRMS measurement instruments has significantly contributed to the improvement and interpretation of acquired data, and the process is still in full swing. Drinking water utilities and their labs, in collaboration with KWR, are developing the means whereby this kind of analysis can be incorporated into risk-based monitoring.

Faster identification of toxic compounds

During her internship at KWR, Nienke did excellent work in which she distinguished herself most of all for her independence and exceptional expertise and intellectual ability. Her work focused on improving the acquisition of HRMS data for the faster identification of toxic compounds, which is evidently key in the monitoring (drinking) water quality. In doing so, she drew on several fields of research: analytical chemistry, toxicology and cheminformatics/programming. As an intern, Nienke demonstrated that she not only grasped the chemistry and toxicology, but was also able to combine the two fields. She mastered the programming language R for cheminformatics, data mining, statistical programming work, and the graphic representation of her results. The difficult conditions under which the work had to be carried out over the last few months, because of the Corona pandemic, had no impact at all on her persistence and motivation.

Van Deemter Award is a fine recognition

Andrea Brunner (KWR) and Marja Lamoree (VU Amsterdam, KWR) were Nienke Meekel’s daily supervisors. The internship was part of the TI-COAST talent programme for the MSc in Chemistry, Analytical Sciences track (UvA/VU joint degree). The Van Deemter Award is a fine recognition, and we are very pleased that Nienke joined our staff on 1 September and became a member of KWR’s Chemical Water Quality and Health team. The young researcher is working here on projects concerning intelligent data acquisition of potential toxic compounds in the non-target screening analyses, in which her talent at combining analytical chemistry, toxicology and cheminformatics will certainly come into its own.