When you win the Changemaker Challenge…

What do you do when you win the Changemaker Challenge? Book the first flight to a tropical island to work on your research there? Brigit van Brenk was one of the winners in 2017. We asked her how she’s doing. And if she moved to a tropical island yet.

Finalist against her will
Brigit didn’t even want to enter the competition. ‘My mentor sort of made me do it. And to my surprise I made it to the finals. I’m so glad I entered, because it was one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life. On World Water Day, I sailed across the Wadden Sea together with the Dopper crew, the judges and the other finalists. Everyone pitched their ideas on the boat and by the end of the day the announcement was made: I was one of the winners!’

Want to know what her research proposal was about? Well, it had to do with fungi which will rid wastewater of medication residue and (agricultural) toxic substances. Here’s some footage from last year:

Brigit on the radio
And then you step off the boat, victorious, like a famous explorer, ready to embark upon your quest. ‘It was kind of surreal. I was interviewed by the Frisian radio, there was a press release and the University wrote an article. I got a lot of attention and many professors contacted me to congratulate me. And I am now collaborating with a Dutch water treatment company on my research.’

From consultancy to PhD
When Brigit won the Changemaker Challenge, it changed everything. ‘It was never my intention to become a scientist. I thought I’d end up somewhere in consulting. The Changemaker Challenge had a huge impact on my research. It was supposed to be my Master Thesis, but after this year I hope to be a PhD student. I’m now working on a plan for the next four to five years and maybe I will even lead a team of students who will also be working on this research, my very own sidekicks.’

Big spender?
But what about the money, you ask? ‘I actually didn’t spend it yet. I am still running a lot of tests, and that is still covered by the University of Utrecht. We are also trying to get more funding, but this prize will definitely come in handy! I want to use it to expand my research to the tropical rainforest of French Guinea. It would be very interesting to research water conditions in such a secluded area to see if we can find medication residue or other toxic substances. It would be a bad sign if we do find these substances there, but at least we then know that we have work to do there as welll.’

Research to change the world
Brigit has high hopes for her research. ‘All researchers want to make an impact, change the world for the better. Of course I want to do the same. I am constantly asking myself ‘what do I have an influence on?’ It was my dream to combine biology with a water related issue. With this research I do exactly that. Hopefully, in four to five years time, we will have a working prototype to use in the Netherlands. And who knows what we will be able to do next!’