On Monday, October 9, 2023, demissionary Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Minister of Education, Culture, and Science Robbert Dijkgraaf paid a working visit to the NWO institute SRON. It was a special occasion for SRON Leiden to host these two prominent guests. The organization is enthusiastic about the recognition of the scientific breakthroughs happening in Leiden and their valuable contribution to the field of science.
The visit was considered extensive and diverse by the gentlemen. Rutte and Dijkgraaf attended two lectures on space instruments, which are excellent examples of the international impact of Dutch research. Following this, they received a lecture from earth scientist Ilse Aben about the space satellite TROPOMI. This instrument, developed in the Netherlands, conducts millions of daily measurements and detects significant methane leaks worldwide. Addressing these methane leaks is a way to mitigate global warming in the short term. The satellite plays a crucial role in a United Nations global alert system. Finally, a brief presentation was given on research about black holes, including the space telescopes Athena and LISA.
After the mini-lectures, Dijkgraaf and Rutte participated in "speed-dating" sessions, engaging in conversations with researchers from various fields, ranging from behavioral science to food technology and from planetary health to petroleum engineering. Rutte was highly impressed by the discussions:
"They were all fantastic conversations. First with the people here at SRON who are engaged in top-quality research that makes you say, 'Wow, we have this in the Netherlands!' But right after that, we talk about very practical topics that immediately benefit society."
Rutte displayed a keen interest in the motivation of different researchers. He spoke with Rudy Negenborn (TU Delft) and Loes Kreemers (Hogeschool van Amsterdam) about cleaner shipping and sustainable and autonomous navigation, as well as the hidden urban nature. Dijkgraaf was deeply inspired and enthusiastic after the lectures and speed-dates. He spoke with Rose Sharifian (Faculty of Impact), who, through her start-up Sea-O2, works on removing and storing CO2 from the oceans.
Exploring the (un)expected was a central theme during the visit to NWO and SRON. The organizations believe it is essential to maintain a balance between all forms of science, whether applied, practice-oriented, or fundamental. These three aspects are crucial because they contribute to the advancement of the Netherlands on scientific, societal, economic, and social levels.
Strength of the Netherlands
Rutte and Dijkgraaf believe in cherishing and investing in science to ensure the Netherlands maintains its international standing. Rutte concluded his discussions with the researchers with a grand gesture and a deep bow in recognition of their work.