October 11, 2022
From healthy food to organoids and from circular hospitals to laboratory animals: last week’s Utrecht Science Week was proof positive that a science week does not have to be boring or theoretical by any means. The eight-day event at Utrecht Science Park gave visitors the opportunity to get acquainted with all the wonderful things the science park has to offer and brought partners who contributed to the diverse programme closer together.
There was almost no getting around them last week on the bus or tram to Utrecht Science Park: the ubiquitous flags with “Utrecht Science Week” in oversized font. Officially, this was the second edition of Utrecht Science Week, but it was the first time that the event lasted an entire week and that the programme did not take place online, but at Utrecht Science Park itself.
With a variety of stages and a full timetable, the multi-day event almost felt like a festival, only with lectures and scientists instead of concerts and artists. The festival atmosphere was only reinforced by the presence of the “pavilion”: a large circus tent at the Botanic Gardens where interesting speeches, lectures, workshops and debates took place all week long.
The layout of the pavilion was changed again and again, making for dynamic surroundings, with the location being adapted to each individual activity. On Monday, for example, Lidwien Smit and Franck Meijboom took to the stage to discuss “animals and people co-existing in a healthy and sustainable way”. This discussion was led by Debbie Jaarsma, Dean of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. Different statements related to animal welfare, the livestock industry and public health were put forward from the stage. Jaarsma had people from the audience come on stage, sit down on wooden chairs and give their opinion, after which Franck and Lidwien shared their views on the statement from the perspective of their respective fields.
At the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM)’s interactive session, in which the subject of choosing healthy and sustainable foods was discussed, all of the furniture was pushed way back to the sides. Using cards, the audience was divided into different sectors, including consumers, the food industry, farmers or environmental organisations, after which the pavilion floor was used for taking a position with regard to public support for and the effectiveness of certain measures aimed at encouraging healthy food choices.
In more intimate surroundings, Charisma Hehakaya led a discussion about her First Generation Fund. The audience and speakers, ambassadors and interested parties all sat together around a big table at the centre of the tent. First-generation students and scientists shared personal stories and the homely surroundings set the perfect tone for the discussions with the audience.
The versatility of the pavilion at the Botanic Gardens fit in well with the extremely diverse programme of Utrecht Science Week, as a varied programme was organised from 30 September to 7 October all over the science park, not just inside the pavilion. Visitors were also encouraged to take part in the programme, which included workshops, interactive sessions, games and other activities – all of which were in keeping with the slogan of the science week: “Creating a healthy, sustainable society together”.
That aspect may have been the most striking one during the week: being involved in, developing or solving something together. Scientists, speakers, visitors and guests: everyone was invited to provide their input, share their thoughts and ideas and participate. During Sustainability Day, for example, dozens of visitors discussed current subjects in groups after a joint opening on Padualaan. During the Hackathon at UtrechtInc, participants worked on smart solutions in the area of circular hospitals.
Innovation at Utrecht Science Park
The innovation, development and progress that take place on a daily basis at the science park were highlighted at the Healthy Living theme day on Thursday at the Princess Máxima Center. During a day-long programme, speakers from UMC Utrecht, Utrecht University, HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht, the business community, interest organisations and the world of politics presented new developments on all kinds of relevant subjects, with an emphasis on health.
A wide variety of different topics were discussed: the treatment of cystic fibrosis with the aid of organoids, innovations to help reduce the required number of laboratory animals and the application of data science and AI in health care. The day ended with a college tour with Jaap van Dissel, the now-familiar public face of RIVM.
The importance of Utrecht Science Week once again came strongly to the fore on this day. The interdisciplinary collaborations at the park make all innovations that were discussed possible, but the visitors could also participate in the conversations and in that way contribute something of substance to complex issues.
Conclusion of Utrecht Science Week
The last day of Utrecht Science Week kicked off with the First Utrecht Science Lecture, in which a prominent Utrecht scientist talks each year about current scientific knowledge in the area of healthy and sustainable living. This year’s guest speaker was Hans Clevers, world famous for his pioneering research into stem cells and organoids. At the Hubrecht Institute, where he still works, he treated the audience to an intriguing presentation, covering everything from the history of research into stem cells and organoids, to new research and revolutionary techniques which in future will dramatically improve health care as we know it.
Like last year, the week ended with the presentation of the prize for the Sustainable City Challenge, held this time in a pavilion that was packed to the gills with an audience in the mood for celebrating. Teams of students, which had worked throughout the week on a smart solution to a current urban issue, presented the solution they had come up with at the event. The winning team had created a game in which a city’s inhabitants could give nature a say in development plans. The prize was awarded by deputy mayor Dennis de Vries, after which the victory, all of the wonderful ideas and the conclusion of this Utrecht Science Week were celebrated.
This marked the end of Utrecht Science Week, but the week was only the beginning of an even closer relationship between the partners at Utrecht Science Park. Whereas all kinds of fantastic collaborations came about last year after only two days, this edition once again witnessed the beginnings of all kinds of new developments and initiatives. We are curious and look forward to everything the coming year will bring!