4TU takes action for ‘high tech for a sustainable future’

| Sandra Pool

The 4TU.Federation presented five new educational programmes in The Hague yesterday. 22 million euros were allocated for the realisation of the initiative. A total of 44 tenure trackers and 29 postdocs are working on the research cores. The overarching theme is ‘high tech for a sustainable future’.

Photo by: Bram Saeys

The TUs are studying personalised healthcare, disease prevention and treatment, ‘smart’ industry, a more resilient society, and global food demand. Aided by videos, animations and performances, each research group presented itself to the public consisting of fellow scientist, business and government representatives.

Within the programmes, the universities of Delft Eindhoven, Twente, and Wageningen are working together. By joining forces and sharing knowledge, they are dedicated to innovation in research.  With the appointment of 44 tenure trackers, the 4TU is investing in research for the long run. This involves permanent positions within the TUs. The objective is for the researchers to work within the themes to establish own research projects, acquire financing, and hire PhD candidates.

‘Unique investments’

Among the attendees was Marjolein Dohmen-Jansen, Managing Director 4TU Centre Resilience Engineering and involved in DeSIRE. ‘What we’re doing here may not seem large-scale,’ she explains, ‘but it certainly is. It is very unique that investments are being made in such a large group of tenure trackers in one go. We also refer to it as seed money: the tenure trackers eventually establish their own research projects, and in turn bring in subsidies and appoint PhD candidates. What the 4TU is doing is investing in the long run. Tenure trackers occupy a permanent position within the university and continue to grow. This makes these research programmes unique.’

‘Guarantee that the research lines will remain intact’

Michel Versluis, programme leader for Precision Medicine and UT professor of medical acoustics physics of fluids group is also aware of the added value of the joint programs.  ‘4TU enables us to utilise the broad spectrum of all disciplines. Wageningen, for example, adds completely different standpoints than the other technical universities. Additionally, everyone brings along their own network, and we can utilise each other’s connections. This includes all of the specialised clinical institutions, medical centres, academic hospitals, and the business community with a focus on medical equipment. It is the golden triangle. The research may still be in the early stages, but the appointment of tenure trackers is a guarantee that the research lines will remain intact.

The research proposals correspond with the focus subjects from the top sector policy, the Dutch Research Agenda, and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The available amount of 22 million euros is drawn from the profiling budgets of the four TUs. These budgets are intended for research which contributed to the Dutch Research Agenda (Nationaal Wetenschapsagenda, NWA).

‘This is just the beginning’

‘I’m very impressed by what we’ve seen today,’ states 4TU president Victor van der Chijs, ‘and this is just the beginning. It’s made me very curious to see which direction the research will move in.’

He recalls: ‘The 4TU was established twelve years ago, and Wageningen joined three years ago. I see a lot going on within the federation. But many challenges still remain, such as the provision of sufficient technicians. This is why we are making choices. Choices for the future, including today. We are doing this for the long run because this is the only way for us to make a difference and be leaders rather than followers.’

After his words, Van der Chijs handed the 4TU chairman’s hammer to Louise Fresco, chairman of the Executive Board of Wageningen.

Overview of the five research programmes

The UT professors Tatiana Filatova, Herman van der Kooij and Michel Versluis are programme leaders of three of the five 4TU studies.

DeSIRE - Designing Systems for Informed Resilience Engineering

Programme coordinator: Professor Tatiana Filatova, University of Twente (UT)

New insights in the field of resilience engineering are linked to knowledge in the field of economic and social resilience. The research programme focuses on three challenges: Thinking resilience and designing resilience, establishing measurements and quantification for resilience, and related governance challenges. The city and all of its challenges and threats are central to this research. Researchers begin by asking ‘what if?’. What if the power goes out, what if the heat lingers in the city, and what if the rainwater no longer drains away? Scientists use the resilience of technology, society, and economy for the design, construction, and integration of vital urban infrastructure.

Precision medicine

Programme coordinator: professor Michel Versluis, University of Twente (UT)

Two research lines unite here: a type of artificial intelligence, called deep learning, and medical imaging techniques. With this integration, researchers aim to connect more relevant medical information, raise diagnostics to a new level, and develop new technologies. The one-size-fits-all diagnostic approach is shifting toward a customised, personalised approach. According to scientists, this is the solution to preserving the long-term accessibility and affordability of healthcare.

Soft Robotics
Programme coordinator: professor Herman van der Kooij (UT/TU Delft)

Robots which operate within society require a ‘soft touch’. Industrial robots are exceptionally precise and fast, but also rigid. They are less suitable when it comes to physical and safe contact with people or to collect certain foodstuffs, for example. This research is inspired by nature, such as the tree frog’s soft grip or the squid’s flexible arms. The form, flexible movements and softness are the guiding principles for soft robotics. An elephant is capable of picking up an apple with its trunk without crushing it. This programme unites organic knowledge, new regulation technology, and innovative robotics design.

Pride and Prejudice - Tackling chronic disease prevention through real-life monitoring and context-aware intervention design

Programme coordinator: Professor Aernout Brombacher, Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e)

The research focuses on the personal, group and social levels. The objective is to help people take responsibility for their own health.

Physical activity and nutrition are two essential factors for a healthy lifestyle. However, this is difficult to measure. People are very diverse in terms of exercise and food. This research combines monitoring in real-life, such as food intake, physical activity, and health parameters, by utilising sensors (e.g. a fit watch) with the development of design interventions. For example, there is an app that provides healthy alternatives in the supermarket upon scanning an unhealthy product; this aids the consumer in making more health-conscious decisions.

Plantenna - Botanic sensor networks, towards an internet of plants
Programme coordinator: professor Peter Steeneken, Delft University of Technology (TU Delft)

Researchers are focused on the development of sensor technology which gathers information from within plants concerning the state of the crop and the surrounding environment. By connecting sensored plants in networks , an ‘internet of plants’, scientists can use the data gathered for climate and weather monitoring, and for higher crop yields by employing more efficient fertilisation and irrigation.

The UT serves as programme leader for three research programmes.


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