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Rogier Braakman

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Hi everyone, I'm Rogier Braakman. I was born in Holland and grew up on the island of Curacao. I later returned to Holland where I studied chemistry at the University of Amsterdam. Currently I am working towards a PhD in chemistry at Caltech. My research focuses on the organic chemistry in star-forming regions of the interstellar medium. I’m interested in the chemical evolution of the universe, in particular in the transition from ‘prebiotic’ interstellar chemistry to biological chemistry in living organisms on Earth. In a more general sense, I am fascinated by complex behavior and how it emerges and evolves in Nature, and feel that the emergence of life is a natural expression of universal principles governing complex systems. I hope to learn more about some of these principles and the tools to study them this summer and I hope that by interacting with people from many different fields I gain a better perspective on how to apply these ideas to my own research.

Outside of research I enjoy many different things, although what I spend most time doing varies a lot. Recently I have been playing a lot of basketball and learning how to do pottery. I also really like seeing different parts of the world, so getting the opportunity to go to Beijing with its rich history is very exciting!

My answers to the 5 questions:

1. What topics do you have some expertise in and would you be willing to help others learn them?

A lot of my 'expertise' is in the area of molecular spectroscopy, which is probably not the most applicable topic for the CSSS (although i'd be happy to give anyone an overview). More interesting might be a general overview of organic chemistry in the interstellar medium and how it might tie in to the emergence of living organisms on Earth.

2. What do you want to learn at the CSSS?

Since most of my formal training is in experimental/observational techniques, i would like to learn more about the theoretical tools in complex systems studies as well as how to apply them to my own research. It seems like many of the tools that have been developed over the years have been applied quite succesfully in many different areas, but i have not been able to find much in the literature about applications in the area of interstellar chemistry. This might well be due to ignorance on my part, but in any case i would like to learn/think more about this. Specifically, i would like to learn more about emergent properties and about the evolution of complex networks.

Also, i would like to learn more about (biological) evolution. It is one of my favorite topics to read about, but i would definitely like to get a bit more of an insider's perspective on things like the mechanism of evolution on short time scales, rates of speciation, things like that.

3. Do you have any projects or research interests that would benefit from an interdisciplinary approach?

Hopefully all my (research) interest will benefit from my experiences this summer. I hope that my understanding of the evolution of chemical systems before the emergence of life will deepen by looking at the processes involved from a very different perspective.

4. Do you have any ideas for what sort of project you would like to do this summer?

Maybe something along the line of trying to organize information in interstellar reaction networks or molecular structures using complex networks tools. A more abstract project on the evolution of networks might also be interesting, like the emergence of complex networks from random networks or something, or something involving biological networks. My interests are pretty broad and i'm open-minded as to what i could end up working on..

5. Suppose you could travel one-hundred years in the future and ask researchers any three questions. What would those questions be?

1. If it has been discovered/described, what is the general algorithmic process that leads to the accumulation of complexity in the universe, of which Darwinian evolution is a sub-process describing living organisms?

2. Have any Earth like planets with signs of liquid water and biological activity in its atmosphere been discovered elsewhere in the Universe?

3. Since their bitter exit in 2006, how many times have Holland won the World Cup?