Brendan Dente ’18, a chemical engineer with a talent for product design and a yen for travel, has won a Fulbright scholarship to spend the next two years earning a master’s degree at one of Europe’s major STEM hubs, the Technological University of Delft (TU Delft) in the Netherlands.
He intends to spend his time there “delving deeply into molecular engineering,” a subject that focuses on the arrangement of molecules in chemical compounds in order to improve products.
“I’m interested in things that you see and experience every day, such as personal care products and food,” says Dente, who has spent the past several months interning at Colgate-Palmolive’s Global Technology Center in Piscataway, where he has been tinkering with formulas for underarm products and then testing their new properties.
“Process control and molecular design are areas that excite me because of the possibilities to advance product efficacy, sustainability and performance. If products can be made more useful to consumers or more beneficial for the environment, then the windfall would go beyond profits for the company,” he says. “They would start to have a physical impact on the people who use them and the environment around them.”
“I’m eager to work on the front end of this research,” he adds, figuring out ways to optimize the size of particles in a compound, for example, to enhance performance and sustainability. “One of the directions the field is heading is toward the use of natural resources in a more efficient way.”
He was introduced to these concepts, Dente says, during his very first experience designing a product – a clay pot filter for a rural village in Haiti for NJIT’s Engineers Without Borders chapter.
With advanced offerings such as Interfacial Engineering, Functional Ceramics and Molecular Quantum Mechanics and Spectroscopy, TU Delft is an ideal place to study. The city itself, home to astronomers, mathematicians and biologists, has a storied scientific tradition. One notable native son, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, invented the microscope there, thereby founding the field of microbiology.
But Dente, a member of the Albert Dorman Honors College who plays the alto saxophone and loves to hike, says it is not just research that draws him.
When Dente started college, he had never been outside of the U.S., although he was intrigued as a child to hear tales from abroad from family members who traveled widely. And then an eye-opening semester spent in Sydney (below), a city nearly 10,000 miles from home, changed all that.
When he was not fixed on solving differential equations in class at the University of New South Wales, he discovered exciting new vistas outside, including a surfing camp near the Seven Mile Beach National Park in New South Wales, which was “very exciting and very different from anything I'd done before.”
On a trip to New Zealand, he hiked along the Tongariro Alpine Crossing with its dramatic backdrop: the mountain used in the Lord of the Rings trilogy as the model for Mount Doom.
In his Fulbright proposal, Dente described his love of travel and the role it plays in expanding possibilities – and people themselves. This go around, he noted, he wanted to take himself further out of his comfort zone by studying in a country whose first language is not English.
In 21st century fashion, he’s starting with mobile apps. But he also plans to immerse himself more deeply in the language and culture that produced such feats as the discovery of Saturn’s moon Titan, the invention of the feedback control system and the creation of his favorite snack – the doughnut. He has already connected with Dutch Scouting groups and hopes to become an adult leader while there.
“I’m eager to see this other side of Scouting,” says Dente, an Eagle Scout, who notes that while the two countries’ programs were founded around the same time in the early 1900s, they have “evolved differently.” For one, Dutch groups are co-educational.
"I hope to experience the Netherlands most closely through its Scouting program. Having gone through one myself, I know what to expect, while also knowing that it will be completely different from anything I have ever experienced," he says. "I expect it will give me a much deeper insight into the people of the Netherlands and the country as a whole."
Named for its Congressional sponsor, Senator William Fulbright, the scholarship program was launched in the immediate aftermath of World War 2 as a way of advancing international good will through student exchanges. Scholars can apply to teach, conduct research or pursue graduate degrees.
For information on external fellowships and awards, including those involving international travel, click here.