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FACULTY OF EARTH AND LIFE SCIENCES FACULTY OF SCIENCES

HIGHLIGHTS 2015


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Contents Foreword Educational Highlights

4

6

PhDs in the Spotlight

8

Grants

10

Facts and Figures

14

Publications

16

Science and Society

20

Personal Highlights

26

Study Associations

30

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‘THE GREAT THING ABOUT ALL THESE ACHIEVEMENTS IS THAT THEY ALWAYS CONTRIBUTE TO PUSHING FORWARD THE BOUNDARIES OF SCIENCE AND HAVE A BROAD, POSITIVE IMPACT ON SOCIETY.’ 4 | FACULTY OF EARTH AND LIFE SCIENCES - FACULTY OF SCIENCES


Foreword As dean of two great science faculties, I have the privilege of seeing a very diverse group of scientists and students work passionately on research and education every day. They sharpen their mind, inspire each other and achieve impressive results. In 2015, for example, scientists reached out to the general public via publications in Physical Review D and several issues of Nature, researchers obtained a grant from the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science and the Ministry of Economic Affairs for a promising startup, a VU scientist received the prize for the best dissertation on computer systems in the world, and a VU researcher explained to the Dutch royal couple in Washington how to use a tool that identifies flooding risks. Also in education several milestones were achieved. Three programmes were awarded the quality mark of ‘top programme’, a master’s student won the Shell Graduation Prize for Physics, and the research of another master’s student was picked up by the Canadian media and published in a scientific journal. Furthermore, an excellent lecturer received the NOACK-LABORATORIES Environmental Education award. The great thing about all these achievements is that they always contribute to pushing forward the boundaries of science and have a broad, positive impact on society; they advance fundamental scientific knowledge, encourage the application of that knowledge, or help find solutions for the many societal challenges facing us today. We accomplish this by looking at issues from different angles, and by paying a lot of attention to the intensive dialogue within our broad academic community of researchers, lecturers, doctoral students, postdocs and students. Cooperation with the Faculty of Science of the University of Amsterdam has once again intensified this year, in terms of both education and research. You can read more about this in the special publication Science in Amsterdam. I hope that you, like me, will enjoy this wonderful summary of exceptional achievements in research and education at our faculties. Professor Karen Maex Dean of the Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences and the Faculty of Sciences Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

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Educational Highlights NOACK-LABORATORIES Environmental Education Award for Kees van Gestel

Kees van Gestel (Animal Ecology) received the NOACK-LABORATORIES Environmental Education Award 2015 from the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) worth 1,000 euros. The award was handed to Van Gestel at the opening ceremony of the SETAC congress in Barcelona. He got this reward for his exceptional achievements in the field of environmental education. He is not only a very good teacher, but he is also the supervisor of – up to now – 35 PhD students, distributed over the world as the ‘Van Gestel school of soil ecotoxicology’. With this award, SETAC yearly honours activities in the dissemination of knowledge of environmental science to persons based in Europe, Russia, the Middle East and Africa.

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Master’s research reported on by Canadian media In November, the Canadian broadcasting company CBC used the results from the thesis of Tim Oosterveer, student of the master International Public Health, in an article on its website. Oosterveer’s research showed that the current primary healthcare policy in the Canadian province of Northwest Territories is not functioning properly. In this region, where Dené Indians and Inuit Eskimos live in isolation, a culture-specific policy is pursued, based on the deliberate employment of local healthcare workers. However, presented with this alternative to professional healthcare workers, people appeared to be reluctant to talk about their medical complaints, out of fear that the information will not be kept confidential. As a result, they do not seek local medical help for a long time – sometimes too long – but wait for the six-weekly professional medical service, for which they sometimes have to wait even longer due to extreme weather and distances. Oosterveer has also been successful academically: his research has been published in the International Journal for Circumpolar Health.

Master’s and bachelor’s ‘top programmes’

Both the master’s programmes in Hydrology (Earth Sciences) and Parallel and Distributed Computer Systems (Computer Science), as well as the bachelor’s programme in Earth Sciences received the predicate ‘top programme’, in respectively the Keuzegids Masters and Keuzegids Universiteiten. This means they are among the best programmes in the Netherlands. More than 750 master’s programmes were evaluated on ten quality aspects, and only 82 were awarded the overall assessment of ‘good’ or ‘excellent’. The scores are based for 70 percent on the National Student Survey (NSE); the other 30 percent is determined by the assessments of the Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders (NVAO). In the Keuzegids Universiteiten, 404 bachelor’s programmes were assessed, 52 received the predicate ‘top programme’.

Former student wins Shell Graduation Prize

Manon Wigbers, former master’s student in Physics, won the Shell Graduation Prize for Physics for her master’s research into the group behaviour of bacteria. She received 5,000 euros, to be awarded by the Royal Holland Society of Sciences and Humanities (KHMW). Wigbers graduated with distinction in Theoretical Biophysics. She investigated the group behaviour of bacteria at Princeton University in the United States, where she discovered how these unicellular organisms communicate with each other. Wigbers developed a mathematical model with which she explained how the bacteria cooperate with each other in order to set up this communication network. She discovered that the bacteria automatically form a group when they are elongated and move forward, but that the group falls apart when they move backwards and forwards at random.

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BEST DISSERTATION IN THE WORLD In October, Cristiano Giuffrida (Computer Systems) won the Dennis M. Ritchie Award for best dissertation on computer systems in the world at the ACM Symposium on Operating Systems Principles in Monterey, California. For his dissertation, titled ‘Safe and automatic live update’, Giufridda developed a system whereby computers do not need to be restarted after an periodic update, which is a big time and money saver. Giuffrida’s invention was not to be left unnoticed in Europe either: in 2015, he also received the Roger Needham Award, awarded yearly by EuroSys for best European computer systems dissertation. Giufridda is the fourth winner from VU, which is exceptional as no other university has won this prize more than once.

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PhDs in the Spotlight Dutch Pharmacological Society thesis prize

Saskia Nijmeijer (Medinical Chemistry) was awarded the triennial Dutch Pharmacological Society (NVF) thesis prize. Nijmeijer, now working as a postdoc at AIMMS and in the Division of Medicinal Chemistry, received her PhD degree in 2013 on her study of the G proteincoupled receptor (GPCR) histamine H4. An important part of Nijmeijer’s research focused on biased GPCR ligands. She investigated whether ligands that bind to the histamine H4 receptor are able to induce a biased signal. Both G-protein and β-arrestinbiased ligands were found, which will function as interesting tool compounds to further unravel biased H4R signaling. Nijmeijer currently studies the role of adhesion G protein-coupled receptors in glioblastoma, which is the most common and most aggressive brain tumour.

To Oxford: the Newton International Fellowship

Along with ten other European researchers, Gijsbert Werner (Animal Ecology) was selected by the Royal Society, the British Academy and the Academy of Medical Sciences for the Newton International Fellowship. With the 100,000 euros he received, he will spend two years doing research for his fellowship ‘The deep history of mutualistic cooperation’ at the University of Oxford. Werner: ‘I have a much broader interest in the phenomenon of mutualism. That is why I think it is great that I will be able to use this scholarship to do more in-depth research into the cooperation between two organisms from which both benefit.’ As one of seven promising young Dutch academics, Werner was also invited to attend the 65th edition of the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings.

Media attention for exercise games

Existing exercise games compete insufficiently with other computer games. Monique Simons (Health Sciences) obtained her doctorate on the basis of research into the extent to which exercise games can contribute to the prevention of overweight among young people. Her research shows that offering exercise games with a mild encouragement to play them does not contribute to the prevention of excessive weight gain, as young people prefer non-active games. However, active games could promote a reduction in the time young people are sedentary. Various national media paid attention to her research.

GIJSBERT WERNER: ‘I THINK IT IS GREAT THAT I WILL BE ABLE TO USE THIS SCHOLARSHIP TO DO MORE IN-DEPTH RESEARCH INTO THE COOPERATION BETWEEN TWO ORGANISMS FROM WHICH BOTH BENEFIT.’ HIGHLIGHTS 2015 | 9


Grants

SABINE SPIJKER NWO VICI (Molecular and Cellular Neurobiology) Subject: A prison for the mind: Limiting neuronal plasticity involving the extracellular matrix

WOUTER BOTZEN NWO VIDI (Environmental Economics) Subject: Improving preparedness for flood risk through insurance

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BAS TEUSINK NWO VICI (Systems Bioinformatics) Subject: Cellular change management: How cells adapt to dynamic and uncertain conditions

EUS VAN SOMEREN ERC Advanced Grant (Integrative Neurophysiology) Subject: Insomnia’s negative sequelae on mood


WIM UBACHS ERC Advanced Grant (Atoms, Molecules & Lasers) Subject: Physics beyond the standard model from molecules

JORIEN VONK ERC Starting Grant (Earth and Climate) Subject: Thawing permafrost: The fate of soil organic matter in the aquatic environment

PAOLA GORI GIORGI ERC Consolidator (Theoretical Chemistry) Subject: Making computational chemistry predictive by improving electronic structure calculations

HUIB MANSVELDER ERC Proof of Concept (Integrative Neurophysiology) Subject: Commercial application of photon counting in fluorescence signals

TOM GROSSMANN ERC Starting Grant (Synthetic & Bio-organic Chemistry) Subject: Peptide-derived bioavailable macrocycles as inhibitors of protein-RNA and protein-protein interactions

GIJS WUITE ERC Proof of Concept (Physics of Living Systems) Subject: Bringing acoustic force spectroscopy to the market

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Gareth Davies coordinates 9.95M euros EU programme

As part of their Advanced Infrastructure Programme, the European Union granted the Europlanet 2020 Research Infrastructure project 9.95 million euros. Gareth Davies (Geology and Geochemistry) is one of the programme coordinators and responsible for 6 million euros that will be distributed between thirteen institutions that offer lab or field site access. 600,000 euros goes to VU directly. The programme will address key scientific and technological challenges facing modern planetary science by providing open access to state-of-the-art research data, models and facilities across Europe. Its transnational access activities will provide access to world-leading laboratory facilities that simulate conditions found on planetary bodies as well as specific analogue field sites for Mars, Europa and Titan. Davies: ’Funding to VU will allow international researchers to apply for access to the state-of-the-art isotope geochemical facilities and the experimental petrology lab led by Wim van Westrenen.’

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Two grants for physicist Jeroen Koelemeij

The first step to a terrestrial GPS has been made: the research group of Jeroen Koelemeij (Atoms, Molecules & Lasers) received 1.4 million euros to demonstrate real-life SuperGPS positioning on a Dutch highway. Like ordinary GPS SuperGPS provides wireless signals for positioning and clock synchronisation. However, the accuracy and coverage of SuperGPS will go significantly beyond the performance of existing GPS. Eventually, the grant from Technology Foundation STW should lead to the development of an ICT infrastructure which does not only provide high-capacity connectivity, but also very accurate positioning and timing. The research will be conducted by VU and Delft University of Technology, in collaboration with KPN, VSL, SURFnet, TNO, Fugro Geoservices and OPNT. Furthermore, Koelemeij coordinates a 900,000 euros subtask from the 15 million euros European Union grant to the ASTERICS project, aimed at synchronising radio telescopes in Dwingeloo and Westerbork through SURFnet optical fiber. This technology will allow perfectly synchronised observations with large facilities in different locations on the continent, even while looking at different signals (‘multi-messenger’ astronomy).

722,000 euros for finding one cell in thousands

Under the current European Union law food producers cannot work with genetically modified organisms. Therefore, they need to improve strains and varieties by natural selection. This is not easy. ’Suppose that out of a population of a million lactic acid bacteria, you want to find the one bacterium that excretes a given substance that can impart a flavour you are after to yoghurt. It is like looking for a needle in a haystack’, says Bas Teusink (Systems Bioinformatics). Scientists have been able to isolate one cell from a population and study its characteristics. However, a cell that makes a particular product excretes that substance continuously, which then swirls around in that population of a million cells. It is impossible to tell which one of them made the product. With the STW Open Technology Programme funding, Teusink and his team will be developing a method for identifying a small number of cells within a large population, which (due to random mutation) produce more of a focus product.

Gijs Wuite and Erwin Peterman (Physics of Living Systems): 3.6 million euros - Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) Stefan Witte (Biophotonics & Medical Imaging): 700,000 euros – Technology Foundation STW Wouter Roos (Physics of Living Systems): 400,000 euros – Foundation for Fundamental Research on Matter (FOM) Gareth Davies, Jessica Flahaut and Wim van Westrenen (Geology and Geochemistry): 260,000 euros – Netherlands Space Office (NSO) Freek Ariese (Biophotonics & Medical Imaging): 260,000 euros – Netherlands Space Office (NSO) Raoul Frese (Biophysics of Photosynthesis): 235,000 euros – Technology Foundation STW

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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

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

LIFESTYLE INFORMATICS

MATHEMATICS

MEDICAL NATURAL SCIENCES

BUSINESS ANALYTICS

CHEMISTRY*

COMPUTATIONAL SCIENCE*

COMPUTER SCIENCE

PHARMACEUTICAL SCIENCES

PHYSICS AND ASTRONOMY*

SCIENCE, BUSINESS AND INNOVATION

DRUG DISCOVERY AND SAFETY

INFORMATION SCIENCES

MATHEMATICS

MEDICAL NATURAL SCIENCES

PARALLEL AND DISTRIBUTED COMPUTER SYSTEMS

PHYSICS*

SCIENCE, BUSINESS & INNOVATION

STOCHASTICS AND FINANCIAL MATHEMATICS

INFORMATION, MULTIMEDIA AND MANAGEMENT

* JOINT PROGRAMME WITH FACULTY OF SCIENCE, UNIVERSITY OF AMSTERDAM

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EDUCATION 960 617 NEW ENROLMENT

131

STAFF RESEARCH STAFF (WITHOUT PHD POSITIONS) PHD POSITIONS ADMINISTRATIVE AND SUPPORTING STAFF

NEW INTERNATIONAL ENROLMENT

74

5

158

1034 775 TOTAL NUMBER OF ENROLMENT

MASTER

PREMASTER

BACHELOR

136

482 FTE 286 FTE 262 FTE

VISITING FELLOWS AND RESEARCHERS (WITHOUT ENDOWED PROFESSORS)

775

FULL PROFESSORS

98

ENDOWED PROFESSORS

37

X7,75

FINANCE (IN K€) 50,956

RESEARCH PHD DEGREES

ACADEMIC PUBLICATIONS* PROFESSIONAL PUBLICATIONS*

107 1900

174

* BASE YEAR 2014

TOTAL TURNOVER

93,998 K€

INCOMING SHIFTING

-2,343 K€

NET TURNOVER

91,655 K€

DIRECT FUNDING

CONTRACT FUNDING

RESEARCH FUNDING (NWO, KNAW, ETC.)

OTHER BENEFITS


TRAITS EVOLUTIONARY SUCCESSFUL PLANTS FINALLY UNRAVELLED In December, Hans Cornelissen (Systems Ecology) published twice in Nature. Together with two international research teams, Cornelissen found that despite the large diversity of vascular plants, evolutionary successful plants only possess a limited variation of traits that enable them to survive. These characteristics tend to combine with each other in only a few ways; there is no such thing as a ‘super plant’ that possesses all these traits optimally. For the first time a global study on functional traits of plants has been conducted. The plant trait spectrum that has been demonstrated provides means to generally describe what plants can and cannot do, whereas before, plants were only known by their species. This facilitates a more realistic incorporation of plant diversity in ecosystem and climate models, and thereby the quantification of the changing impact of vegetation in different regions on Earth on the global climate.

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Publications The power of evolutionary problem solving

Natural evolution has been a great inspiration for the research group of Guszti Eiben (Artificial Intelligence) on computational science. ‘Evolution has provided a source of inspiration for algorithm designers since the birth of computers. The resulting field, evolutionary computation, has been successful in solving engineering tasks ranging from the molecular to the astronomic. Today, the field is entering a new phase as evolutionary algorithms are developed that take place in hardware, opening up new avenues towards autonomous machines that can adapt to their environment.’ Eiben discusses how evolutionary computation can be compared with natural evolution and what its benefits are relative to other computing approaches in Nature. By reflecting on a number of successful applications and features that make evolutionary algorithms so successful, and giving their perspective on future developments, Eiben and his co-author Jim Smith argue the power of evolutionary problem solving.

Protective effect of iron atom in photosynthesis

Iron atoms in the photosynthetic system can prevent the formation of free oxygen radicals, which are harmful to and even kill living organisms. This was discovered by Desmond Tutu professor Rienk van Grondelle (Biophysics of Photosynthesis), who published on this topic in Nature’s Scientific Reports. It was a known fact that iron atoms are present in the photosynthetic reaction centre, but it had never before occurred to and been demonstrated by anyone that iron plays this protective role in photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is a process by which plants, algae and bacteria convert the energy of the sun into a stable chemical compound. However, too much sunlight is not good for photosynthesis. In that case free oxygen radicals are formed, which are dangerous because of their reactivity: they combine with everything they come across. This will kill both plants and humans. Van Grondelle and his co-authors discovered that the magnetic iron atom considerably reduces the risk of a situation in which dangerous oxygen radicals are formed.

High economic costs Australian heat waves

According to Wouter Botzen’s (Environmental Economics) paper in Nature Climate Change, heat stress may lead to significant absenteeism and reduced productivity in the workplace. By surveying 1,726 adults in the Australian workforce to establish how hot temperatures affect employees’ productivity, Botzen and his colleagues found that it made them less productive and sometimes even skipping a day of work. They estimate that the average loss due to reduced productivity amounts to 932 U.S. dollars per person per year, while it costs an average of 845 U.S. dollars per year for each person taking time off due to heat stress. To avoid significant economic losses if heat waves become as frequent and intense as predicted, the researchers suggest that workplaces should implement strategies such as reducing heat exposure and improving access to drinking water and fitness programmes.

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One step closer to solving the dark energy puzzle

In Physical Review D, PhD student Atta Almasi (Astro-Particle Physics) published about a new kind of experiment, designed to detect dark energy interactions. The first test results of the ‘CANNEX’ experiment are an encouraging prospect of the expected sensitivity to dark energy interactions. The research of Almasi and his fellow researchers Davide Iannuzzi and René Sedmik (Biophotonics & Medical Imaging) is important, because it will get scientists closer to a correct understanding of dark energy, which is 70 percent of the universe. This table-top experiment could verify or rule out a theory seen as a promising candidate for explaining the nature of dark energy: a model called ‘chameleon’, aiming to describe the cosmic forces behind dark energy. While acting strongly over the vast empty spaces between galaxies, the predicted forces would be vanishingly small in an experiment here on Earth. The physicists nonetheless, came up with a simple trick that could make detection feasible, or at least allow them to dramatically lower the current boundaries on the parameters of the model.

GUIDO VAN DER WERF: ‘DURING MEASUREMENTS IN INDONESIA, I MEASURED HIGHER AEROSOL CONCENTRATIONS THAN IN THE MOST POLLUTED CITIES. LOCALLY THIS LEADS, FOR EXAMPLE, TO THE CLOSURE OF SCHOOLS.’

Peat fires cause global increase in CO2

In Nature Geoscience, Guido van der Werf (Earth and Climate) and an international team of researchers demonstrate that peat areas are increasingly susceptible to fire. In tropical peat areas this is mainly due to the fact that those areas are drained, while in northern regions the warming of the earth is the main reason. As a result, peat areas dry out more quickly and can easily catch fire. Peat fires have always been overlooked in science because they are far less spectacular than forest fires, but an increase in peat fires does have a negative impact on public health. Because of the large number of aerosols released, the emission of the greenhouse gas methane is much higher than in other types of fire. Van der Werf: ‘During measurements in Indonesia, I measured higher aerosol concentrations than in the most polluted cities. Locally this leads, for example, to the closure of schools.’

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Biggest twin study so far ends nurture/nature debate

The biggest twin study so far revealed more than ever before about the heredity of human traits. The study, led by Danielle Posthuma (Complex Trait Genetics), puts an end to the eternal, ongoing nature/nurture debate among geneticists about the question which plays a more important role in human traits: heredity or environment. Posthuma: ‘When we consider all traits together, the average contribution of heredity is 49 percent, and the environment accounts for 51 percent.’ The insights are relevant to all kinds of disciplines: from medicine to psychology, and from social sciences to biology. ‘We also demonstrate that every single human trait we have investigated is hereditary. So it can never be the case that certain behaviours can be fully ascribed to environmental factors. For a long time it was assumed, for example, that nurture in particular (a bad upbringing) plays a part in antisocial behaviour, but our research shows that nature and nurture are equally important for antisocial behaviour. This can encourage scientists to research biological factors for this behaviour.’ The results have been published in Nature Genetics, and the researchers also made their data freely available to others in an online web tool.

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Science and Society A world without marine litter

What should be done to make the seas litter free? The ‘CleanSea’ research team (Chemistry and Biology) immersed itself in this question. Together with six companies, a non-profit organisation, fishermen, waste coordinators, harbours and many coastal towns, the researchers from eleven European Union member states developed new methods for studying the effects of waste on the marine environment. They also analysed the policy measures which European governments and the private sector could use to combat the plastic soup. The team concludes that individual actions, technologies, voluntary measures and government policy, such as promoting a circular economy, are all necessary in order to clean the oceans and keep them clean. The results were presented in the EYE Film Museum in Amsterdam in December. Completely in tune with the location, this was followed by the screening of the documentary ‘CleanSea’, in which the research process was presented.

Tool enables intuitive information collection museums

On World Animal Day (4 October) the Rijksmuseum hosted a birdwatching day. For this purpose COMMIT/ SEALINCMedia, a consortium of researchers from VU, the Dutch National Research Center for Mathematics and Computer Science (CWI) and Delft University of Technology, developed an online web tool for the museum. With this tool, called Accurator, common and scientific names of species depicted in artworks can be recorded in an intuitive way. Knowledge from bird enthusiasts can be collected directly and applied to enrich the Rijksmuseum’s art collection and that of biodiversity center Naturalis that will also use the tool. 20 | FACULTY OF EARTH AND LIFE SCIENCES - FACULTY OF SCIENCES


Tool identifies and maps flooding risks

Also digitally the Netherlands is a frontrunner in the field of water technology. Philip Ward (Water and Climate Risk) has developed an online web tool which identifies and maps flooding risks better and quicker. The Aqueduct Global Flood Analyzer is public, interactive and unique. The tool shows the impact of river floods on the gross national product, the affected population and the damage in cities. It converts complex data into practical information and shows the risks by country or by area, but shows also possible gains. Using this tool, the United Nations and the World Bank, for example, can assess which investments in strategies for the natural limitation of disaster risks will be fruitful. Insurance companies can quickly analyse risks and anticipated trends. The Global Flood Analyzer also provides a glimpse to the future. While currently 21 million people are affected by river flooding every year, this number will increase (due to climate change) to about 54 million in 2030. Ward was asked to explain his tool to King Willem-Alexander and Minister Bert Koenders (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) during the ‘Global City Teams Challenge Expo’ in Washington.

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LUMICKS gets loan for unique microscope

VU spin-off LUMICKS has received a grant in the form of a loan of 250,000 euros from State Secretary Sander Dekker (Ministry of Education, Culture and Science). The loan is part of the scientific programme Take-off of the Ministries of Economic Affairs and Education, Culture and Science. In January, Dekker awarded Take-off loans at VU to eight scientific start-ups. LUMICKS will use this money to build a demonstration device, with which live videos can be produced of the interaction between protein molecules and a DNA molecule. This will make it easier to understand the processes in which DNA is damaged, as is the case with cancer. Over the past ten years Gijs Wuite and Erwin Peterman (Physics of Living Systems) developed this unique, innovative method; it can play an important role in research into diseases such as tuberculosis, breast cancer and Alzheimer’s. During his visit, the State Secretary was given a guided tour of the prototype of the LUMICKS microscope, and was even allowed to briefly operate the high-tech equipment.

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Yoghurt bacteria culture fights diarrhoea in Africa

Diarrhoea is one of the main causes of child mortality in Africa. Remco Kort (Molecular Cell Physiology) wanted to do something about this, and together with an international team of researchers, including three VU scientists, he developed a starter culture by means of which African farmers can multiply a probiotic strain in locally produced milk. A specific strain of the probiotic bacteria Lactobacillus rhamnosus can reduce the duration of diarrhoea associated with rotavirus. As early as 2009, Kort and microbiologist Wilbert Sybesma founded the non-profit organisation Yoba for Life, which aims to contribute to the health and prosperity of people in Africa by means of probiotic yoghurt. Some 40 producers in Uganda now jointly make around 5,000 litres of drinking yoghurt per week with the Yoba starter, and there are already 30,000 consumers. With 1 gram of the powder, which contains 10 billion bacteria, farmers can produce 100 litres of drinking yoghurt. The Yoba starter is distributed locally against cost price and is also produced locally, enabling farmers to generate a source of income.

Bio-manipulated hearts hit museums

Science and art unite: together with artist Isaac Monté, Toby Kiers (Animal Ecology) designed and bio-manipulated 21 organ transplants. ‘The Art of Deception’ is the result of both Monté’s and Kiers’ interest in how humans use deception to obtain perfection in society, art and science. They are pushing the boundaries of organ manipulation by presenting designer organ transplants for public viewing. Using techniques such as injecting fluorescent dyes to make hearts glow, expand and change colour on cue, tattooing and engraving organs, the project aims to explore a future when transplanted organs will be manipulated for aesthetic and fashion purposes. The designer hearts were created with a ‘decellularization’ technique. This rapidly emerging technique will soon allow science to shape and re-form bodies for medical and esthetical goals. The project won a NOW Bio Art & Design Award 2015, worth 25,000 euros. The work has been displayed in the Van Abbemuseum and MU artspace in Eindhoven.

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Weekend van de Wetenschap

VU was one of the participants in the Weekend van de Wetenschap in 2015. During this national event, children and their parents were able to take a look behind the scenes of science. Academics from the science faculties were prominently present. The workshops included: Bernd Andeweg (Geology and Geochemistry) explaining about moving continents in the Teclab; Nico van Straalen (Animal Ecology) illustrating the evolution of human beings based on skulls; Hans de Moel and Toon Haer (Water and Climate Risk) on flooding hazards; Herbert Bos and Victor van der Veen (Computer Systems) allowed you to be a hacker; in the workshop of Guszti Eiben and Jacqueline Heinerman (Artificial Intelligence) you could programme your own robot; Joost Hulshof (Mathematics) made a link between maths and slices of pizza; and Piet Mulders (Astro-Particle Physics) explained in a nutshell how the world works, from atom to cosmos.

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Sedentary lifestyle of elderly people takes its toll

Elderly people spend more time during the day lying down or sitting in a chair than the average person in any other age group: 10.3 hours. This sedentary lifestyle of elderly people is taking its toll: 25 percent of the most sedentary elderly people are 83 percent more likely to die within 4.5 years than older people who spend less time sitting or lying down. According to the Dutch Standard for Healthy Exercise, people aged 55 should exercise intensively for at least half an hour, five days a week. ‘If they do not meet this standard they are physically inactive, but that is not the same as sedentary’, says researcher Marjolein Visser (Nutrition & Health). ‘They may still move around a lot inside and outside the house: work in the garden, walk the dog, do domestic chores. Activities that define a sedentary lifestyle require little energy and are done during the day while lying down or sitting in a chair. So even when an elderly person meets the standard of healthy exercise, he or she can still have a sedentary lifestyle, with all the risks this involves.’

Leak discovered in Google

Google makes it easier to hack Android phones. This was discovered by Radhesh Krishnan, a master’s student in Computer Science, who subsequently together with Herbert Bos and Victor van der Veen (Computer Systems) looked for ways in which criminals could take advantage of this leak. The problem is caused by a Google feature which makes it possible to send random apps to your phone from the browser on your computer, without your phone having to give permission for this. That means that if your computer has been hacked, cyber criminals also have control over your phone. They can, for example, switch on your camera and read your private details. The researchers first of all reported this flaw to Google. However, Google has done nothing with this information so far. They also reported the problem to several banks, the National Cyber and Security Centre and the High Tech Crime Team of the police, which did take it seriously.

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Personal Highlights

EuroSys Lifetime Achievement Award Andrew Tanenbaum

At the EuroSys 2015 Conference in Bordeaux, Andrew Tanenbaum (Computer Systems) won the EuroSys Lifetime Achievement Award. The award was granted for the first time ever. Although retired in 2014, Tanenbaum is still guest professor at VU. Tanenbaum has been awarded many times for his research and teaching activities, and has received several honorary doctorates. He was one of the cofounders and first dean of the Advanced School for Computing and Imaging (ASCI), set up by the Dutch government to create thematically oriented research schools that spanned multiple universities, amongst which VU. His computer science textbooks are regarded as standard texts in the field.

ANDREW TANENBAUM

Vera van Rijn wins Albert Schweitzer Prize

Vera van Rijn (Methodology & Applied Biostatistics) has won the Albert Schweitzer Prize 2015, worth 5,000 euros, for her efforts to combat lung diseases in Uganda. Van Rijn is fighting against pneumonia and COPD in Uganda by creating outdoor cooking facilities. This means people no longer have to cook indoors on charcoal fires, which have a negative impact on the indoor air quality. An extra 5,000 households can be helped with the awarded sum. The jury was particularly impressed by ‘the simplicity with which this project deals with the big problem of lung complaints as a consequence of indoor cooking’.

VERA VAN RIJN

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JO VAN DEN BRAND: ‘WE NOW HAVE SENSORS WITH THE GREATEST SENSITIVITY AND DYNAMIC REACH IN THE SEISMIC INDUSTRY, AND WITH THIS PRIZE MONEY WE CAN FURTHER EXPAND OUR LEAD.’ Jo van den Brand wins FOM Valorisation Prize

Jo van den Brand (Astro-Particle Physics) has received the FOM Valorisation Prize 2015, worth 250,000 euros. The jury appreciates his ‘efforts towards the valorisation of the very fundamental knowledge and expertise resulting from his research in subatomic physics’. As part of the FOM research programme ‘Gravitational physics’, Van den Brand and his research team try to detect gravitational waves. For this purpose, the team uses interferometers with arms that stretch for kilometres: the Virgo experiment in Italy and the LIGO detectors in the United States. Van den Brand adapted the system for industrial applications, such as sensors for oil and gas exploration. He will use the prize to further develop sensor technology. ‘We now have sensors with the greatest sensitivity and dynamic reach in the seismic industry, and with this prize money we can further expand our lead.’

The 1% most frequently cited scientists

Four scientists from the Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences belong to the 1 percent most frequently cited scientists in the world, according to the Highly Cited Researchers 2015 list of Thomson Reuters. This list is drawn up annually on the basis of the number of citations of individual scientists in scientific journals. The citation list of 2015 mentions 3,126 scientists, including Hans Cornelissen (Systems Ecology), Marjolein Visser (Nutrition & Health), Jacob de Boer (Chemistry and Biology) and Guido van der Werf (Earth and Climate).

Marcel Merk at LHC restart in CERN

Last June, CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) started collecting data again for the first time in 27 months. Marcel Merk (AstroParticle Physics), LHCb programme leader at Nikhef, was there. The start of the second season of the LHC opens the door to new discoveries. During Run 1 of the LHC, the ATLAS and CMS experiments announced the discovery of the Higgs boson. This is the last piece in the jigsaw of the Standard Model: the theory that describes the elementary particles from which all that is visible in our universe has been formed. Since the discovery of the Higgs particle, the researchers have been eager to find out how the Standard Model can exist and how dark matter fits into this. Merk: ‘Run 2 of the LHC gives the LHCb experiment a unique opportunity to delve even deeper into the quantum structure of nature.’

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BART BOSSINK Professor of Science, Business & Innovation (Science, Business & Innovation)

PHILIPP PATTBERG Professor of Transnational Environmental Governance and Policy (Environmental Policy Analysis)

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JAN DRAISMA Professor of Discrete Mathematics (Mathematics)

JOOST FRENKEN Professor of Nanoscale Surface Physics (Nanolayers)


FRANK BRUGGEMAN University Research Chair of Interdisciplinary Life Sciences (Mathematics, and Systems Bioinformatics)

PATRICIA LAGO Fenna Diemer-Linderboom Chair: Professor of Software and Services (Information Management and Software Engineering)

GUIDO VAN DER WERF University Research Chair of Global Carbon Cycle and Land Use Change (Earth and Climate)

TOM SHIMIZU Endowed professor of Experimental Physics of Behaviour (Systems Biology)

KLAAS SLOOTEN Endowed professor of Mathematics for Forensic Genetics (Mathematics)

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Study Associations Anguilla

Health and Life Sciences 547 members Highlight: ‘In 2015, one of the highlights of Anguilla was the study trip to Berlin.’

Anguilla

GeoVUsie

Earth Sciences, Earth Sciences and Economics 877 members Highlight: ‘At the end of 2015 we celebrated the 35th anniversary of GeoVUsie. We did this by planning several lustrum activities, like a symposium, reunion and five iconic themed social drinks from the past. We ended the lustrum with a spectacular gala on a breathtaking location: a castle in Heemskerk.’

GeoVUsie

Gyrinus natans

Biology, Biomedical Sciences 950 members Highlight: ‘Our “Mussel month” in November, which was highly visited by members and faculty staff.’

Salus

Health Sciences 400 members Highlight: ‘Our own introduction days at VU.’

Mens

Medical Natural Sciences 280 members Highlight: ‘The celebration of our 3rd Lustrum. The whole month of November was full of activities and fun!’

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Salus


Aik

Aik

Phyiscs 45 members Highlight: ‘Throughout the year we have organised many fun activities, amongst which π-drinks, laser games, and culinary nights where our members showed off their cooking skills. But for us, 2015 had a great start off as we celebrated the new year with a splashing gala.’

Storm

Mathematics and Computer Science 573 members Highlight: ‘Our member days, during which our members were divided into small groups and conducted different assignments. When they arrived in Nijhuizum at the end of the day, we partied the whole night through.’

Gyrinus Natans

Subliem

Subliem

Science, Business and Innovation 340 members Highlight: ‘In November, we travelled to Gent and Brugge. Accompanied by a personal guide, we strolled around the cities and learned a lot about their history. It was a great trip.’

VCSVU

Pharmaceutical Sciences 350 members Highlight: ‘Our very first “speaker drinks”, where three professionals from three different disciplines held a talk about the choices they made throughout their careers. We closed off with informal drinks, so that students could network with the professionals.’

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This annual review is a publication of the Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences and the Faculty of Sciences of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. www.falw.vu.nl www.few.vu.nl

Production and editing

Communication & Marketing, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam: Sarah Duisters, Mieke Tromp Meesters, Valeria Huisman, Laura Janssen

Translation

Metamorfose Vertalingen

Photograhpy

Yvonne Compier (page 2, 4, 11, 22), Hilde de Wolf Fotografie (page 7), Sarah Duisters (page 8, 10, 11, 28, 29), Studio van der Valk (page 10, 26, 29), ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum) (page 12), Peter Smith (page 19), D-taled.nl (page 21), Hanneke Wetzer (page 23), Monica Monté (page 23, back side photo), Caren Huygelen fotografie + film (page 24), Simone Karis (page 26)

Design

vanhulzen•gummo•kicks, Voorschoten Congres- en Mediacenter, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Printed and bounded by Schrijen-Lippertz, Voerendaal April 2016

Highlights 2015 FEW and FALW  

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam