Behind the PhD degree: Rose Sharifian

A role model and entrepreneur that is Rose – Rezvan – Sharifian. This Iranian-born petrochemical engineer decided to change sides and now runs a CO2-capturing start-up – using the ocean to catch atmospheric carbon. “The technology was a fantasy a few years ago, or at least maybe something you could do at lab-scale. Now we are working on making it a large-scale must-have technology.”

The science behind the person, and the person behind the science.


“Sadly, in Iran, choosing what you want to become once you grow up isn’t as free as it is here. If you want financial stability, you’ll have to be a doctor, engineer or lawyer. I didn’t want to be a doctor or lawyer,” says Rezvan. But engineering seemed like a good enough profession. Now she is proud to be an engineer – better yet, a pioneer.

Oil is a major industry in Iran, so that’s where Rose started. ‘But I always wanted to see more of the world, so I decided to move to another country.’ Delft, the Netherlands, was the destination. At least before ending up in Groningen. “I never expected to do a PhD, or even have my own company, so I first went to look for a job – which I found in Tebodin as a project manager.”

But that didn’t quite scratch her itch. “I found myself spending less time with calculations and fundamental engineering than I liked to. I needed to be stimulated more and I couldn’t move from management to the engineering department. So, I decided to flip my life around – started looking into a PhD. And although I had never heard of it, I stumbled upon Wetsus. Jackpot! I saw a position in electrochemistry, which sparked my interest, and it was close to where I lived.” Though this was nothing like the petrochemistry she knew. CO­2 was now the focus in another way– how can we get CO2 from our environment was question number one.

From fantasy to reality

And she approached it like the engineer she is. She wasn’t here to reinvent the wheel but improve its design. First learning what’s been developed, but quickly moving towards an expert role. This quick adaption was crucial, as the field was developing at lightning speed. Rose: ‘In 2018, when I started on carbon capture using seawater was still like a fantasy – or at least not bigger than a lab-based concept. But now it is really a feasible way forward as more and more people see its potential.”

To grasp the challenges, she clearly spelled out what is happening in the ocean-based carbon-capture world. That was rewarded with a publication in Energy & Environmental Science, the journal for the sector. And she worked on improving such systems. Which she was determined in too.

So, when Ruben Brands approached Rose and David (Rose’s TU Delft supervisor) with the question of whether they could start a company together, the answer was yes. SeaO2 was born to further put the research into practice and scale it up.

“But Wetsus was a great place to start out. So many indirect links with so many companies and people spread over all sorts of disciplines. And now that I have started for myself, I realize even better how pampered we are at Wetsus with such an amazing analytical and technical team.”

The start of a new journey

It is quite the journey Rose made. “At some points, I was unsure whether I could finish the PhD. I like to be all over the place, but to write a paper, you must focus. You must have one message. But I got to the defense with great supervisors, a good balance of time, and planning.” And next to that, starting your own company and acquiring funding only proves her future readiness. With all she accomplished, Rose is more than ready to tackle the world’s challenges. A role model to be inspired by.

Read the story of SeaO2 too at