Life Sciences student Tan on the wonderful world of bioreactors and micro-organisms

Life Sciences student Nguyen Minh Tan (20) chose the Biotechnology specialization. He ended up in a complete new world.

Life Sciences-student Minh Tan volgt de specialisatie biotechnology

As a 17-year-old, Nguyen Minh Tan bravely left Hanoi for distant Nijmegen. Because there the Vietnamese student could find what he was looking for: a thorough education in Biotechnology. 

A very nice lab

“This study has not yet been developed very well in Vietnam. The only time I was in a laboratory at school, was to heat up some chemicals in test tubes during the chemistry course”, chuckles Tan, who chose his specialization in Biotechnology last summer after two years at the Life Sciences course. “In Hanoi I certainly would not have had such a nice lab as where I can now do my research at HAN.” 

This research in Nijmegen focuses on the many technological applications of biological knowledge. “Agriculturally, for example, where we conduct research into bacterial contamination in soil to minimize or even eliminate negative effects on crops. Or medical, where we test blood or stool samples for diseases in patients. But in my specialization the combination of micro-organisms and protein analysis is central.”

Exception for cheese

That is what Tan focused entirely on during his specialization year. And specifically on the production of – how Dutch - cheese. One of the few products from Dutch cuisine that he finds interesting. “Nijmegen is a very nice city with lots of green and clean air compared to Hanoi. But, no offense intended, in terms of food culture I really miss Vietnam”, says Tan with an apologetic laugh. Since this academic year, he has made an exception for cheese. 

“This year we have been busy developing sustainable cheese production. Not based on traditional animal milk, but with the use of micro-organisms that produce the most important protein for cheese production from cow's milk itself via fungi.” 

Nothing is pre-baked

This takes place in two phases. “Part one is upstream processing. First we built a bioreactor, an incubation place for micro-organisms in which we can control various parameters such as temperature, acidity and oxygen level. Screwed together myself, yes, definitely. In the first phase we let the fungi grow, in the second phase we stimulate the production of the protein.” 

Part two is downstream processing. “After production, we harvest and filter, so that we are left with purified proteins. These are the basis of the taste, structure and shape of the cheese. We combine the proteins from all the students to make the cheese. This is a fairly new field about which little is known. Nothing is pre-baked, so you are really exploring.” 

'So cool'

"The practical lessons are actually the same as the real world: the freedom to do your own research and if the results are different than you expect, you have to figure out what happened. I think that’s so cool.”

Do you also think it’s cool to work at technological applications for biological challenges? The specialization Biotechnology might just be the thing for you. Check it out at

Photo David van Haren