Page 1

FACULTY OF EARTH AND LIFE SCIENCES FACULTY OF SCIENCES

HIGHLIGHTS 2014


2 | FACULTY OF EARTH AND LIFE SCIENCES - FACULTY OF SCIENCES


Contents Foreword

4

Educational Highlights

6

Science in Amsterdam: UvA-VU

8

Grants

10

Facts and Figures

14

Publications

16

Science and Society

20

Personal Highlights

24

Study Associations

26

HIGHLIGHTS 2014 | 3


“IT WAS A BUSY AND FASCINATING YEAR, WITH SPLENDID DEVELOPMENTS AND NUMEROUS ACADEMIC HIGHLIGHTS” 4 | FACULTY OF EARTH AND LIFE SCIENCES - FACULTY OF SCIENCES


Foreword 2014 was my first year as Dean of the Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences (FALW) and the Faculty of Sciences (FEW). It was a busy and fascinating year, with splendid developments and numerous academic highlights. In both education and research excellent results were made within the three fields of discipline we work in: the fundamentals of science, focusing on getting new fundamental insights; the application oriented field, in which we aim to find solutions, design and create; and the field of societal challenges, where the social context is key. Unfortunately there were also low points. To ensure the future viability of the FALW, a reorganisation of Departments was inevitable. As a result we had to close Departments and say farewell to some esteemed employees. In 2014 the cooperation between the University of Amsterdam (UvA) and VU University Amsterdam was reshaped, the academic content playing the leading role. Academics of similar disciplines explore the possibilities and opportunities that more intensive cooperation will yield. Students also take part in this discussion. As Dean of the Science Faculties of both Universities, this is inspiring to see, although it inevitably also gives rise to various challenges. Thanks to the professional and positive attitude of all those involved, I have every confidence that, together, we can tackle these challenges and continue to make good progress in 2015. Given the size of our Faculties and all the superb research and education that takes place here, it is impossible to give a complete summary of all accomplishments in 2014; this booklet singles out a few of the highlights. Professor Karen Maex Dean of the Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences and the Faculty of Sciences VU University Amsterdam

HIGHLIGHTS 2014 | 5


Educational Highlights Incentive awards for Bachelor’s students

Four top FEW students receive an incentive award of 500 euros from the Royal Holland Society of Sciences and Humanities (KHMW). The winners of this award, also known as the Young Talent Award, are Diko Hemminga (Mathematics), Valentijn Pronk (Physics), Tom Roose (Chemistry) and Luc Veldhuis (Computer Science, left on photo). Every year, the KHMW presents the Young Talent Award to students who have obtained the best study results in their first academic year. In 2014, 51 ‘young talents’ in science and engineering in the Netherlands received this award. More than fifty percent of these students achieved an average of 9 or higher for the subjects examined. Since the need for talented young professionals in science and engineering subjects remains high, various organizations and companies encourage these students by means of awards of this kind.

6 | FACULTY OF EARTH AND LIFE SCIENCES - FACULTY OF SCIENCES


Computer Science in English

After changing the language of instruction for the Bachelor’s programme in Computer Science to English in 2013, the influx of international students accounted for a redoubling of the amount of students in this programme in 2014. The success of English-taught Bachelors programmes inspired Business Analytics to switch to English as well. From September 2015, the Business Analytics programme will be fully Englishtaught, hopefully attracting the same number of international students as the Computer Science programme. Both programmes are internationally oriented and, for now, unique in the Netherlands for international students.

Students examine 150 million-year-old dinosaur

In spring 2014, the Museon’s 150 million-year-old authentic Allosaurus was partially taken apart. Bachelor’s students Sifra Bijl, Jelle Heijne and Jasper Ponstein of Earth Sciences investigated the dinosaur. Supervised by VU graduate and Naturalis paleontologist Anne Schulp, the students drilled in the thigh bone and teeth of the skeleton and all bones were measured and described. The skull and trunk had to be removed to this end. The measurements carried out will make it possible to determine whether the Allosaurus migrated seasonally, at what age and how it died. With this information researchers gain more insight into old migration patterns. These patterns are largely driven by changes in climate and seasons. A great deal of research on the migration behaviour of extinct animal species is performed to improve the understanding of the behaviour of animals today.

Earth Sciences is ‘Top degree programme’ in Study Guide

The annual Study Guide for Higher Education (‘Keuzegids’) for Bachelor’s programmes gives the ‘Top Degree Programme’ quality stamp to the Earth Sciences programme. With 84 points, this makes Earth Sciences the number one in the ranking. The students speak very highly of the organizational and substantive aspects of the Earth Sciences Bachelor’s programme. Their lecturers are excellent and the students are very pleased with the academic education they are receiving. Furthermore, they are very satisfied with the skills they are learning. With 74 points, the Bachelor’s programmes Physics and Business Analytics both have also a very high rating in the Study Guide.

HIGHLIGHTS 2014 | 7


OPENING ADVANCED RESEARCH CENTER FOR NANOLITHOGRAPHY Sander Dekker, State Secretary for Education, Culture and Science, performed the official opening of the Advanced Research Center for Nanolithography (ARCNL) at the Amsterdam Science Park. The ARCNL is a public-private partnership between the Foundation for Fundamental Research on Matter (FOM), VU, UvA and ASML, manufacturer of lithography equipment. ARCNL focuses on the fundamental physics involved in current and future key technologies in nanolithography, primarily for the semiconductor industry.

8


Science in Amsterdam: UvA-VU VU and UvA present degree certificates during joint ceremony

In October 2014 the first joint degree certificates were presented to students of the Bachelor’s programme in Chemistry. In 2011, the VU and UvA joined forces with the aim of offering a broad Bachelor’s programme in Chemistry. From February 2012 on, students from both universities pursued a joint curriculum of lectures, practical training and project groups. Bundling both universities’ expertise, the Bachelor’s programme covers a wide spectrum of relevant chemistry disciplines. As a result, students get a clear picture of the variety of options and the diversity of this discipline.

Million euro funding for UvA-VU research on chiral molecules

A consortium of the VU Theoretical Chemistry group, the Molecular Photonics Research group of the UvA and two companies is awarded 1,2 million euros by The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). The researchers will develop a user-friendly analytical tool for determining the absolute configuration of chiral molecules. The aim of the public-private partnership is to make the tool accessible for application in the chemical industry, which is eagerly awaiting such a tool. According to VU professor Lucas Visscher and UvA professor Wybren Jan Buma the new tool will considerably speed up and enhance the determination of the exact spatial structure of crucial chiral molecules, which is important for the development of medicines. The professors expect to realise this enhancement by integrating spectroscopic methods with theoretical modelling of molecules.

Research centres on data science join forces

Amsterdam Data Science (ADS) was officially launched in November 2013 as an initiative of VU, UvA and the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (HvA). In 2014, the Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica (CWI) - the research institute for mathematics and computer sciencejoined as a partner. The collaboration unites the major research institutions in computer science within Amsterdam to tackle data science. In this way the ADS has access to the wide expertise at CWI ranging from user interfaces to data management. The partnership illustrates how the data science community in Amsterdam is united in the ADS.

HIGHLIGHTS 2014 | 9


Grants

JEROEN AERTS NWO VICI - Institute for Environmental Studies Subject: Is mankind in control of global flood risks?

IVAN INFANTE NWO VIDI - Theoretical Chemistry Subject: Modelling surface processes in quantum dot solar cells using first principles

HERBERT BOS NWO VICI - Computer Sciences Subject: Divining rod for security leaks

DIEGO MIRALLES NWO VENI - Earth Sciences Subject: Dry soils, a driving force of droughts and heat waves?

10 | FACULTY OF EARTH AND LIFE SCIENCES - FACULTY OF SCIENCES

HUIB MANSVELDER NWO VICI - Neurosciences Subject: Neurons for attention and control

SASKIA NIJMEIJER NWO VENI - Medicinal Chemistry Subject: Receptor proteins as a starting point for new medicines against brain tumours


MARTINE SMIT NWO VICI - Medicinal Chemistry Subject: Viral receptor proteins accelerate brain tumour growth

ANA MARÍA BALLESTEROS-GÓMEZ NWO VENI - Institute for Environmental Studies Subject: Do we live in healthy homes?

WIM VAN WESTRENEN NWO VICI - Earth Sciences Subject: Water on the moon

STEFAN WITTE ERC STARTING GRANT - Physics Subject: Lensless microscopy

DANIELLE POSTHUMA NWO VICI - Neurosciences Subject: Gene networks in psychiatry

RIENK VAN RONDELLE & BRUNO ROBERT ERC PROOF-OF-CONCEPT GRANT Physics Subject: Super-resolution microscopy for biological systems

HIGHLIGHTS 2014 | 11


Grants

Three grants for eScience

The Netherlands eScience Center awards three projects led by the Faculty of Sciences. Both Chris de Graaf (Medicinal Chemistry, AIMMS) and Lucas Visscher (Theoretical Chemistry) receive 500 thousand euros. De Graaf develops eScience technologies to improve the integration of chemical and biological data for the prediction of polypharmacological action of drug molecules on multiple proteins. Visscher and his colleagues are collaborating to fully eliminate time-consuming manual procedures while studying molecules. This automation allows researchers to become more productive and to study thousands of molecules simultaneously with parallel computers. In this way, prediction of the properties and stability of new molecules by quantum mechanical calculations can be performed faster. Lora Aroyo (Business, Web & Media) receives 125 thousand euros funding for her DIVE+ project (see photo). This project provides a basis for interpretation support in searching and browsing of heritage objects. Semantic information from existing collections plus open linked data vocabularies are linking these collection objects to events, people, locations and concepts that are depicted or associated with those objects. Beeld en Geluid, the Dutch archive and museum for radio and television, is partner in this project.

12 | FACULTY OF EARTH AND LIFE SCIENCES - FACULTY OF SCIENCES


Nine million for link between diet and depression

In 2014, Professors Marjolein Visser and Ingeborg Brouwer (Health Sciences) launched the MooDFOOD project. VU and the VU University Medical Center (VUmc) have a unique combination of expertise on food, obesity and depression. With 13 partners from all over Europe, VU researchers formed the MooDFOOD consortium to pool knowledge on nutrition, consumer behaviour, psychiatry and preventive psychology. With a budget of almost 9 million euros, the researchers are going to investigate how nutrition and eating behaviour affects depression and vice versa. Depression is a very common health problem in Europe. The disorder has a major impact on individuals and on those in their vicinity. Many factors play a role in the origin of depression, including nutrition and lifestyle. A high proportion of the European population is overweight and this, in turn, increases the risk of depression. Improving nutrition-related behaviour and nutritional status of people who are overweight could lead to a reduction in depressive feelings and the prevention of depression.

Physicist Wouter Roos participates in 5.7M euros programme

All sorts of cells excrete vesicles containing a lot of information about the cell and its environment. As tumour cells also produce these extracellular vesicles, such particles provide a useful target for cancer diagnosis and monitoring. Nine research groups from several universities and medical centres join forces with industrial partners to develop technology to identify and analyse these vesicles. The Roos lab of VU physicist Wouter Roos uses its part of 700 thousand euros to develop an advanced scanning probe technique for identifying and probing of the physical properties of these particles.

“NEGLECTED PARASITIC DISEASES (NPDS) FORM AN ENORMOUS OBSTACLE TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF COMMUNITIES ACROSS THE WORLD”

Medicinal Chemistry leads consortium tackling neglected parasitic diseases

Five academic institutions, two governmental institutes and two leading enterprises from Europe, Africa and Latin America join forces to develop novel drugs against parasites. The 4-year EU-funded project of 7.8 million euros is led by the research teams of Rob Leurs and Iwan de Esch of the VU division of Medicinal Chemistry. Neglected parasitic diseases (NPDs) form an enormous obstacle in the development of communities across the world. The diseases are classified ‘neglected’ as investments in finding cures for these illnesses are extremely low, especially considering their devastating impact on human and veterinary health. The NPDs addressed in this project collectively result in 6.6 million disabilityadjusted life years. But during the last 30 years, only 9 new drugs targeting these NPDs have come to market. The new international consortium combines various drug discovery approaches into one platform that is dedicated to developing drugs against parasite PDEs (PhosphoDiEsterase inhibitors).

HIGHLIGHTS 2014 | 13


Facts and Figures

FACULTY BOARD FACULTY OF EARTH AND LIFE SCIENCES

FACULTY OF SCIENCES

DEPARTMENTS ATHENA INSTITUTE

EARTH SCIENCES

ECOLOGY

INSTITUTE FOR ENVIRONMENTAL STUDIES

MOLECULAR CELL BIOLOGY

NEUROSCIENCES

CHEMISTRY AND PHARMACEUTICAL SCIENCES

COMPUTER SCIENCE

MATHEMATICS

BACHELOR’S PROGRAMMES

HEALTH SCIENCES

PHYSICS AND ASTRONOMY

MASTER’S PROGRAMMES

BIOLOGY

BIOMEDICAL SCIENCES

EARTH SCIENCES

BIOMEDICAL SCIENCES

BIOMOLECULAR SCIENCES

EARTH SCIENCES

ECOLOGY

EARTH AND ECONOMICS

HEALTH SCIENCES

HEALTH AND LIFE SCIENCES

ENVIRONMENT AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

GLOBAL HEALTH

HEALTH SCIENCES

HYDROLOGY

BUSINESS ANALYTICS

CHEMISTRY*

COMPUTER SCIENCE

MANAGEMENT, POLICY ANALYSIS AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP

NEUROSCIENCES

BIOINFORMATICS AND SYSTEMS BIOLOGY

LIFESTYLE INFORMATICS

MATHEMATICS

MEDICAL NATURAL SCIENCES

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

BUSINESS ANALYTICS

CHEMISTRY*

COMPUTATIONAL SCIENCE*

PHARMACEUTICAL SCIENCES

PHYSICS AND ASTRONOMY*

SCIENCE, BUSINESS AND INNOVATION

COMPUTER SCIENCE

DRUG DISCOVERY AND SAFETY

INFORMATION SCIENCES

MATHEMATICS

MEDICAL NATURAL SCIENCES

PARALLEL AND DISTRIBUTED COMPUTER SYSTEMS

PHYSICS*

STOCHASTICS AND FINANCIAL MATHEMATICS

INFORMATION, MULTIMEDIA AND MANAGEMENT

* JOINT PROGRAMME WITH FACULTY OF SCIENCE, UNIVERSITY OF AMSTERDAM

14 | FACULTY OF EARTH AND LIFE SCIENCES - FACULTY OF SCIENCES


EDUCATION FALW

STAFF

FEW

284 FTE 144 FTE 116 FTE

841 543 NEW ENROLMENT NEW INTERNATIONAL ENROLMENT

587

98

0

0

28

75

67 0

295

66

2195 X4

51

FULL PROFESSORS

48

23

AFFILIATED PROFESSORS

20

MASTER

BACHELOR

28

MASTER

PREMASTER

BACHELOR

99

ADMINISTRATIVE AND SUPPORTING STAFF

VISITING FELLOWS AND RESEARCHERS

782

PREMASTER

TOTAL NUMBER OF ENROLMENT

PHD POSITIONS

400

1611 1337

FALW

PHD DEGREES ACADEMIC PUBLICATIONS (IN 2013) PROFESSIONAL PUBLICATIONS (IN 2013)

411

FINANCE (IN K€) 28.226

RESEARCH

239 FTE 131 FTE 119 FTE

RESEARCH STAFF (WITHOUT PHD POSITIONS)

21.222

FALW

FEW

FEW

60 42 1162 678 57 5

52.566 K€

TOTAL TURNOVER

45.803 K€

-1.713 K€

INCOMING SHIFTING

-4.618 K€

50.853 K€

NET TURNOVER

41.185 K€

DIRECT FUNDING

CONTRACT FUNDING

RESEARCH FUNDING (NWO, KNAW, ETC.)

OTHER BENEFITS

X4


ECONOMIC TRADE TRUMPS GEOGRAPHY IN DETERMINING ISLAND BIODIVERSITY Matt Helmus (Animal Ecology) and two co-authors argued in Nature that economic trade supersedes island geography in what determines the number of species on islands. Focusing on anole lizards native to Caribbean islands, the authors illustrate that before European migration to the region, the number of anole species on any island was a function of geographic area and isolation. Today, however, these lizards colonize new islands in ship cargo, particularly in live plant shipments for agriculture and resort gardens. As global cargo shipping increased, so have the number of exotic anoles found on any island.


Publications Oldest ever engraving discovered on shell

About half a million years ago, homo erectus was already using the shells of freshwater mussels as raw material for tools and as a “canvas” for an engraving. Archaeologists, including José Joordens en Jan Wijbrans, reported on this in Nature. “Until now, it was assumed that comparable engravings were only made by modern humans (homo sapiens) in Africa, starting about 100,000 years ago,” says lead author Joordens. A team of 21 researchers studied hundreds of fossil shells and associated finds and sediments from the homo erectus site Trinil, on Java. The discovery of an engraved geometrical pattern on one of the shells came as a total surprise. The ‘zigzag’ pattern is clearly older than the weathering processes on the shell arising from fossilisation.

CO2 uptake by savannahs more important

Around a quarter of the carbon dioxide (CO2) we emit is taken up by vegetation on land; this is a kind of natural ‘service’ which mitigates climate change. In 2011, however, the uptake was considerably larger, equalling almost half of our emissions. An international team of scientists including Guido van der Werf and Niels Andela (Earth Sciences) has investigated why this happened. They report in Nature that the savannahs in Australia were largely responsible for the increased uptake of CO2. This was caused by a number of what are known as ‘La Niña years’ in which, generally speaking, there is more precipitation and thus more plant growth. CO2 is necessary for this additional growth. This conclusion is interesting from the scientific point of view because, until now, tropical forests have always been seen as the most important factors in this respect. Now it appears that savannahs may be equally important.

Chance determines cell death or normal sugar breakdown

Some cells fail by chance, and not due to a genetic defect, to properly initiate the molecular processes for the breakdown of sugar. This discovery was done by a multidisciplinary team led by Bas Teusink (Bioinformatics) and published in Science. Glycolysis is a core metabolic pathway to the energy generating activities inside cells. This pathway plays a key role in both disease and biotechnology. The scientists discovered that sometimes this process fails to start up properly, resulting in a metabolic ‘traffic jam’ hampering the movement of molecules through the pathway; a state that leads to death. Which cells end up like that, is a matter of chance. The researchers also discovered the mechanism by which yeast cells minimize the chances of this ‘traffic jam’ occurring. By understanding this mechanism, the fraction of cells that function properly can be enhanced to e.g. optimize biotechnological applications. On the other hand, the same insight can be exploited to reduce the number of cells that can cope with sugar and suggests potentially novel strategies for reducing the viability of unwanted (e.g. cancer) cells.

HIGHLIGHTS 2014 | 17


International team sheds new light on schizophrenia

In a study published in Nature, an international team of researchers among who neuroscientist Danielle Posthuma, have helped to identify over 100 genetic variants for schizophrenia in what is the largest genomic study published on any psychiatric disorder to date. The authors looked at over 80,000 genetic samples and found 108 specific locations in the human genome associated with risk for schizophrenia. Eighty-three of those loci had not previously been linked to the disorder. “The progress that we have made in just a few years is unprecedented”, says Posthuma. “Apart from identifying single genetic variants, we are now able to connect the multiple variants and discover genetic pathways important to schizophrenia, which for the first time allows us to begin to understand the disorder at a cellular level.”

DANIELLE POSTHUMA: “WE ARE NOW ABLE TO CONNECT THE MULTIPLE VARIANTS AND DISCOVER GENETIC PATHWAYS IMPORTANT TO SCHIZOPHRENIA, WHICH FOR THE FIRST TIME ALLOWS US TO BEGIN TO UNDERSTAND THE DISORDER AT A CELLULAR LEVEL”

Biodiversity determines decomposition of organic matter Will biodiversity loss in our forests influence key ecosystem services like the breakdown of organic matter? In Nature, ecologists Rien Aerts and Matty Berg and a team of international collaborators publish important new insights on this matter. It is well established that biodiversity has a positive effect on ecosystem functions, but its effects on the diversity of plant litter and of the organisms responsible for the decomposition are less clear-cut. The researchers examined litter diversity in parallel manipulative experiments at five sites ranging from subarctic to tropical, including both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Across all of the studied ecosystems, they show that reducing the diversity of litter or of detritivores (the invertebrates and microorganisms that break litter down) slows litter carbon and nitrogen cycling and the rate of decomposition.

18 | FACULTY OF EARTH AND LIFE SCIENCES - FACULTY OF SCIENCES


Global flood damage on the rise

Sizeable investments against flood damage are cost-effective, according to Jeroen Aerts, Professor of Risk Insurance and Water Management. Research published in both Nature and Science shows that the risk of, and damage due to, flooding has increased drastically over the last 20-30 years. Extreme flooding affects various countries simultaneously and coastal megacities such as New York City and Jakarta are becoming more and more vulnerable to flood damage. The researchers examined potential ways of reducing current and future economic losses resulting from floods. “Flood catastrophes show that we must estimate the risks and uncertainties better”, asserts Aerts. “Then we can take appropriate measures for the areas at risk: better building regulations, evacuation plans and resources for a compensation system. This is often only cost-effective if substantial investments are also made in prevention, such as stronger and higher dikes.” An annual investment of around 1.75 billion euros in the dikes in the EU could reduce the annual damage by 7 billion euros by 2050; a reduction of almost 30%. Aerts received the Lloyd’s Science of Risk Prize for his research on a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of flood risk management strategies in New York City.

HIGHLIGHTS 2014 | 19


Science and Society Programme on inclusive development and (mental) health in India

In 2014, the collaboration between the Athena Institute and various Indian Institutions, has started to bear multiple fruits. The collaboration entails three PhD programmes, in which also Harvard Law School and Harvard Medical School participate. Soumitra Pathare defended his thesis on discrimination against persons with mental disorders. The defence was accompanied by a symposium on ‘Grand Challenges in Disability’. Vandana Gopikumar defended her thesis on understanding the mental ill health, poverty and homelessness nexus, and developing strategies that promote distress alleviation on social inclusion. This defence was followed by a symposium on ‘Health for All’ on which international speakers were discussing the challenges posed by the high burden of mental disorders in low, middle and high-income countries. Also since 2014, the Master programme Management, Policy Analysis and Entrepreneurship in the Health & Life Sciences (MPA) is offered to students in Chennai. A Chennai based campus, accommodating classrooms for Master programmes as well as shared housing for women with a mental health problem, was built and officially launched

20

WWF finances Chair of Integrated Nitrogen Studies

Nitrogen is one of the most significant causes of the global loss of biodiversity. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is committed to acquiring more insight into the effects of nitrogen on the most important natural areas on earth, such as the Amazon River Basin. This is why the WWF, as from 2014, is financing the Chair of Integrated Nitrogen Studies at Earth Sciences. The chair is held by Professor by special appointment Jan Willem Erisman, Director of the independent Louis Bolk Institute for sustainable agriculture, nutrition and health. Erisman has occupied the chair, formerly financed by other parties, since 2009.


Spin-off Lumicks enables real-time imaging of molecular interaction

Lumicks enables the real-time imaging of interaction between molecules, such as DNA and proteins, something that has not been possible until now. ‘Real-time’ is important because this way researchers will be able to follow the dynamics of biological processes, such as the repair of DNA, as these happen, and under realistic conditions. The resulting knowledge will be useful for research into the occurrence and healing of cancer. A combination of the technologies of optical tweezers and super-resolution fluorescence microscopy (see photo) makes this possible; a technology that Physics Professors Gijs Wuite and Erwin Peterman have been developing for the last ten years. Lumicks has a licence agreement with VU University for access to the technology and related patents. The company launched the first products in 2014. Olivier Heyning, director of Lumicks: “With the establishment of Lumicks the Netherlands can boast a new high-tech manufacturer.”

HIGHLIGHTS 2014 | 21


Peel boundary fault important for drinking water and environmental development Earth scientist Ronald van Balen, the National Geological Survey of the Netherlands Institute of Applied Geoscience (TNO) and the Aa and Maas Water Board are jointly investigating the effect of the Peel boundary fault on groundwater flow and the development of the natural environment. The Peel boundary fault is a geological fault line owing its name to the Peel, a high peat moor, now almost extinct, on the border of Noord-Brabant and Limburg. A trench of four metres in depth and fifty metres in length has been dug across the fault. Van Balen expects to obtain more insight into the properties of the fault which, apart from other things, is important for the drinking water supply: “The fault is not very permeable to water due to a layer of fine-grain sediment along the fault surface. This affects groundwater flows, which – in turn – affect our drinking water supply.”

22 | FACULTY OF EARTH AND LIFE SCIENCES - FACULTY OF SCIENCES


Research helps to prevent overloading of websites

Websites regularly become overloaded if many people are online simultaneously. Computer scientists have developed a system that dynamically adjusts the number of servers to cope with demand. This mechanism is called ‘scaling out’. If demand is high, more servers are added and, once the peak is over, the machines are removed from the website again. In this way only the servers that are actually needed are used. Thilo Kielmann, Associate Professor of Computer Science: “A website that crashes when it receives too many queries is a sad anachronism. In the cloud era, any company can lease calculation capacity from providers such as Amazon, Microsoft and Google at a moment’s notice, should it be necessary. My group’s research focuses on the prediction of such peaks in interest by analysing recent behaviour and on instantly adding server capacity to absorb these peaks.”

One in three food bank recipients do not always have enough to eat

In spite of food aid from Dutch food banks, one-third of the Dutch food bank recipients doesn’t always have enough to eat. This was the conclusion of research carried out by Judith Neter, Coosje Dijkstra and Professors Marjolein Visser and Ingeborg Brouwer (Health Sciences) among more than 250 people making use of eleven different food banks throughout the Netherlands. It is well-known that people with a low socio-economic status often have a less healthy diet. Food bank recipients are a specific group of people with a low socio-economic status. Their nutritional intake largely depends on what they receive in their weekly food parcel. The content of the food parcels depends, in turn, entirely on donations from food businesses, supermarket chains and individuals. Food parcels are aimed to supplement a normal diet for two to three days. More than 70% of food bank recipients are food insecure. This means that they do not always have the ability to compose an adequate or healthy and varied diet. Apparently the content of the food parcels is not always sufficient, and not always healthy either.

Deloitte sponsors data science research project

The company Deloitte finances a study on how big data can be used to improve consumer decision making processes. Central to this study is a mobile sensing platform, in which mobile devices, large (big) data volumes and models to transform data into insights converge. Sandjai Bhulai (Mathematics) is part of the research team and the project is supervised by both Mathematics Professor Ger Koole and Marleen Huysman, Professor of Information, Logistics & Innovation Knowledge. The Amsterdam Center for Business Analytics (ACBA) is a newly founded VU institute that aims at developing, disseminating and exploiting business analytics and data science knowledge and applications by bringing together businesses and scientific research.

HIGHLIGHTS 2014 | 23


Personal Highlights Frank Biermann at the United Nations General Assembly

In April 2014, Frank Biermann, Professor of environmental and political sciences, gives a plenary presentation in the United Nations General Assembly in New York. He is the only scientist invited as plenary speaker for a special dialogue session, marking “International Mother Earth Day”. The main theme of this assembly is the promotion of a balanced integration of the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development through Harmony with Nature. Biermann is chair of the Earth System Governance research alliance, a global transdisciplinary research network that was launched in 2009. During his speech, Biermann called upon governments to embark on a fundamental reform of the United Nations Organization in order to speed up current political processes to protect the global environment.

Euro-Par Achievement Award for Henri Bal

University Research Chair Guido van der Werf - Earth Sciences Frank Bruggeman - Mathematics and Systems Bioinformatics Toby Kiers - Animal Ecology Desmond Tutu Chair Wilbert Bitter - Molecular Microbiology André Ran - Mathematics Rienk van Grondelle - Physics Fenna Diemer-Lindeboom Chair Ingrid Steenhuis - Health Sciences

Professor of Computer Sciences Henri Bal receives the Euro-Par Achievement Award 2014. Euro-Par is an annual series of international conferences dedicated to the promotion and advancement of all aspects of parallel and distributed computing. With this award, the organization has yearly honoured one computer scientist since 2008. Bal gave a keynote presentation about the shared research infrastructure for Dutch Computer Science, the Distributed ASCI Supercomputer. The award was presented in appreciation of Bal’s outstanding and sustained contributions to parallel processing in the Netherlands and abroad, including his research on parallel programming environments and his work on the DAS infrastructure.


JAAP SEIDELL: “FOOD IS MORE THAN JUST SPECIFIC NUTRIENTS; IT ALSO HAS TO DO WITH IDENTITY AND SOCIAL COHESION”

Food production and health in the broader context The book ‘Het Voedsellabyrint (The Food Labyrinth)’ is published on World Food Day, 16th of October. In this publication the knowledge of Professor of Nutrition and Health Jaap Seidell and psychologist Jutka Halberstadt is combined. They argue that eating more healthily is not simply a question of one’s own responsibility or of a good diet; the government, healthcare service, education sector, food industry and consumers should tackle the problem jointly. More locally produced products on the market, less use of pesticides and herbicides and eating less red meat are examples of change in food production and eating patterns. If carried out on a global scale, such changes can lead to a more sustainable society.

Seidell: “Food is more than just specific nutrients. It also has to do with identity and social cohesion. Eating together brings people together”. The objective of ‘Het Voedsellabyrint’ is to analyse the broader context of food production and health. In October 2014, Seidell lectured on this theme for the University of the Netherlands (Universiteit van Nederland), an initiative in which the best professors of the Netherlands lecture free of charge.

Maurits van Tulder number one back pain specialist Ranking organization Expertscape proclaims Professor Maurits van Tulder the number one global specialist in the field of back pain research. Van Tulder (Health Sciences) tops a group of 33,200 other researchers who were evaluated in this ranking. The ranking is based on a number of peer-reviewed academic publications in Pubmed, the medical/health science research database. Van Tulder has been conducting research into back pain and potential methods of treatment since 1992. It has become apparent from his research that remedial therapy is one of the most successful methods for treating back pain. Recent studies by the WHO have shown that back pain is the most common complaint in the western world.

HIGHLIGHTS 2014 | 25


Study Associations Anguilla Health and Life Sciences 623 members Highlight: “In 2014, we secured the organization of our own welcome days for new students. Until then, this was done in cooperation with study associations Gyrinus Natans and Salus. This privilege we gained due to the growth of our association: both in membership numbers as well as in fame!” Gyrinus Natans Biology, Biomedical Sciences 900 members Highlight: study trip to Krakau Salus Health Sciences 600 members Highlight: study trip to Budapest GeoVUsie Earth Sciences, Earth Sciences and Economics 723 members Highlight: “In 2014, our ‘student living room’ in the VU building was completely refurbished. The wooden floor is taken care of, all broken things are fixed and everything is cleaned very carefully. GeoVUsie has a brand new place now for the weekly gatherings.”

26 | FACULTY OF EARTH AND LIFE SCIENCES - FACULTY OF SCIENCES


Subliem Science, Business and Innovation 300 members Highlight: study trip to Silicon Valley, including visits to the company headquarters of Google and Facebook VCSVU Chemistry and Pharmaceutical Sciences 330 members Highlight: “In 2014, we celebrated our 50th anniversary during a festive week. The opening event was a celebration day at VU University, welcoming several graduates from Chemistry and Pharmaceutical Sciences. 350 people attended this day.” Aik Physics 100 members Highlight: study trip to Bologna and Geneva Mens Medical Natural Sciences 245 members Highlight: study trip to Japan, accompanied by Vice-Dean Hubertus Irth Storm Mathematics and Computer Sciences 600 members Highlight: “For a study association, the welcome days are the most important and fun days of the year. In 2014 we welcomed our new students with a camping weekend, where they had to compete with one another during several sportive tasks.”

HIGHLIGHTS 2014 | 27


This annual review is a publication of the Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences and the Faculty of Sciences of VU University Amsterdam.

Production and editing

VU Communications Department Laura Janssen, Mieke Tromp Meesters, Valeria Huisman

Photography

Naturalis (cover photo), Dirk Gillissen (page 4), Hilde de Wolf (page 8), Henk-Jan Boluijt (page 10), UN Photo/Evan Schneider (page 24), Ivar Pel (back side photo)

Design

vanhulzen•gummo•kicks VU Congres & Mediacentrum March 2015

Highlights 2014 FEW and FALW  
Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you