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1. Social influence of research and institutes

Radboud Reflects attracts 167,000 viewers

The second year of the pandemic was remarkable for lecture series Radboud Reflects. Programming head Anouta de Groot: “It took a lot of extra energy to get everything organised online, and we missed our audience.” But those efforts paid off: many viewers tuned in for the lectures’ livestreams, watched them later or listened to the podcasts.

Of the 63 public lectures organised in 2021, 11 were held in-person in the auditorium and the rest were available online. 17,000 viewers watched the public lectures live, and there were another 150,000 views of the recorded lectures. On average, each lecture reached 2,650 people, a much larger audience than in ‘normal’ years. Not all the lectures are streamed in normal circumstances because of the extra costs and effort involved.

A high point of the year was the interview with American political philosopher Michael Sandel in March, which was followed live by 750 people and viewed 40,000 times afterwards. Another highlight was the programme De Nacht, an ode to nightlife, with 100 live participants in Doornroosje and 6,200 viewers who listened to the Radboud scientists and enjoyed the live music at home behind their screens.

OnePlanet succeeds with two new AI labs

In 2021, the campus gained two new labs that use artificial intelligence (AI) to help solve societal challenges. The labs are part of the 24 AI labs that now operate within ICAI (Innovation Center for Artificial Intelligence, a national network that focuses on technology and talent development between knowledge institutions, industry and government in AI).

The first new AI lab on campus in 2021 was Precision Health, Nutrition and Behaviour , a partnership between Radboud University, OnePlanet Research Centre, Radboud university medical center and Wageningen University & Research, among others. Nine industry partners are also involved. In the new lab, eight PhD candidates and three postdocs are working on developing new sensors, algorithms and chatbots that provide personalised support in the field of health and (eating) behaviour.

Tibor Bosse, professor at the Behavioural Science Institute and one of the lab’s directors: “A huge amount of data about healthy behaviour is already being collected. By employing AI intelligently, we can combine this data and use it to support people in a personalised way to adopt healthy behaviour.” For example, the lab is developing smart chatbots to motivate people to eat more healthily or stop smoking.

The second new lab in ICAI is AI-RONDO (Risk Profiling and Decision Support). It was set up with support from OnePlanet and is a collaboration between the university, Radboud university medical center, Imec and a range of industry partners. This lab is working on earlier detection of Parkinson’s disease and on developing digital tools such as apps and avatars for better support. These can give people a signal when their disease changes so care providers can intervene in time.

One of the three scientific directors of AI-RONDO is Marjan Meinders, a researcher in the IQ Healthcare department at Radboud university medical center. She points to the bulk of data already available about Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. “We can make new connections by applying AI algorithms and models to this data and, for example, identify groups that are at increased risk of developing complications.” The enhanced data can also support treatment by identifying signs that something is wrong, such as speaking more softly, articulating less clearly, or changing walking patterns or heart rate. “Knowledge of such signals helps a care provider prevent further deterioration”, Meinders explains.

Centre for Parliamentary History celebrates 50th anniversary

In February, the Centre for Parliamentary History (CPG) at Radboud University celebrated its 50th anniversary with an online party and the launch of an anniversary webpage. The CPG is the university-affiliated institute for systematic research into Dutch parliamentary history. It was founded in 1971 by professor of constitutional law Frans Duynstee. Since then, one of the centre’s key tasks has been the publication of the series Parliamentary History of the Netherlands since 1945, which is considered a standard in the field.

Many more tasks have been added over the years, such as teaching students and publishing the Yearbook of Parliamentary History. The 23rd edition, published in November, focuses on the tense relationship between science and politics. National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) director Jaap van Dissel attended the festive launch of the yearbook.

Another long-term project of the CPG is a series of biographies of former prime ministers. Political biographies of Dries van Agt and Piet de Jong, among others, have already been published; Ruud Lubbers’ biography is currently being written.

The CPG also publishes studies on retiring members of government and cabinet formations. Because of its expertise, the CPG is regularly commissioned to carry out assignments for The Hague, such as the request from the Lower House to evaluate the first cabinet formation without the directing role of the King.

According to director Carla van Baalen, Professor of Parliamentary History at Radboud University, the CPG is vitally important for documenting and researching our parliamentary history. “Our systematic research is extremely valuable for our collective political memory, which is now in the process of declining in The Hague due to the high turnover rate of politicians”, she says. According to Van Baalen, the CPG therefore remains an indispensable research institute. “People without a memory have difficulty functioning, and the same goes for a collective, a country as a whole.”

“Our systematic research is extremely valuable for our collective political memory.”

Carla van Baalen, director of the Centre for Parliamentary History and Professor of Parliamentary History

Astronomical research as a form of development cooperation

The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) worldwide telescope network – known, among other things, for producing the first-ever image of a black hole in 2019 – will be expanded with the addition of a telescope in Namibia. The Africa Millimetre Telescope (AMT) project was made possible in part by a guarantee from Radboud University. The AMT will be the first radio telescope in Africa that is sensitive to millimetre wavelength radiation. It is part of a large collaborative project between Radboud University and the University of Namibia (UNAM).

“The addition of the AMT to the EHT network will increase the number of possible connections between the telescopes, allowing us to take better images and videos of the black hole at the centre of our galaxy. This will help us further test our theories on black holes and understand how they can generate gigantic amounts of energy”, says Professor of Astrophysics Heino Falcke, initiator and scientific leader of the project

The UNAM, together with local companies, will be responsible for the management of the telescope. This will offer unique opportunities for Namibian astronomers to conduct their own research and strengthen their position in science. To prepare the next generation of Namibians for the AMT, the project has its own education programme, which will be supported by the Radboud Radio Lab. The first Namibian PhD candidate in the AMT Fellowship Programme began work in January 2022. Marc Klein Wolt, director of the Radboud Radio Lab, speaks of “excellent science in Namibia and with Namibia”. Moreover, the AMT will strengthen the collaboration with existing partners including numerous renowned international institutions (the University of Amsterdam, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Oxford University, the University of Turku, Aalto University, the Joint Institute for VLBI-Eric (JIVE), and the UNAM).

Klein Wolt says it is inspiring to be able to contribute to the development of Namibia. “I’ve been talking to scientists, farmers, people in government and people from different companies. I’m always looking to expand, and I’m trying to find something that will benefit everybody.” One example is the impact of the research on primary school children, whom he introduced to a mobile planetarium at school. “It was great. A bunch of kids came up to me and asked: ‘Are you the astronomer? We want to be astronomers too!’ That enthusiasm is exactly what we’re aiming for, and it must be possible to educate children in that direction. We want to contribute to that.”

Dr Ellen Ndeshi Namhila, UNAM's Pro Vice Chancellor, Administration and Finance and Marc Klein Wolt, Radboud Radio Lab director, at the announcement of Radboud University’s guarantee for the AMT project / Photo: Barbara Kerkhof, Radboud Radio Lab.

Citizen science project will map Surinamese society

A large citizen science project began in September in which historians from Radboud University are working with citizen volunteers to map the entire Surinamese population between 1830 and 1950. The historians want to gain more insight into the effects of slavery and the colonial era on Surinamese society.  The project builds on the Surinamese slave registers that have already been made available online. Like the registers, the results will be published online for the general public. The project is a collaboration between Radboud University, the Anton de Kom University of Suriname and the National Archives of Suriname and the Netherlands.

“With the publication of the Surinamese civil registry, it will finally be possible to trace all free inhabitants of Suriname between 1830 and 1950, including all people released from slavery in 1863”, says project leader Coen van Galen, a historian at Radboud University. For Van Galen, Suriname is also a model for other former colonial societies. Because the population of Suriname was relatively small (rising from 55,000 people around 1830 to 177,000 in 1950) and because the Dutch colonial administration registered almost everything during the colonial period, this society offers structural insight into the effects of slavery from generation to generation.

Van Galen knows from his previous project that many volunteers find it a very rewarding project. “Solidarity is great. And by working with them, you learn a lot about the people and the society they lived in. For many volunteers, it was almost like Sudoku: every document was an exciting puzzle to solve.” More than 300,000 pages of personal records have to be entered as part of the new project, work estimated to take three years. “We hope that as many volunteers as possible will help us.”

Fit4Surgery : Getting patients in the best possible shape for surgery

The fitter you go in, the fitter you come out. That is the simple idea behind Fit4Surgery , a programme that aims to prepare patients for surgery by giving them lifestyle advice. This year saw the release of results from a two-year pilot project involving patients who had surgery for colon cancer. It showed that patients who participated in Fit4Surgery were 50% less likely to have complications and spent two days less in hospital.

This year, the programme was extended to include other types of cancer, such as liver cancer, soft tissue tumours in the abdomen, and peritoneal cancer. If the results remain as positive, new patient groups will be added regularly. The programme consists of physical training, improving and supplementing nutrition, mental counselling and quitting smoking and alcohol. An operation is like a marathon, as the programme’s motto suggests: the fitter you are going into surgery, the better you will come out.

Contributing to awareness of privacy risks

Digital passports, smart devices in every room of your home, complex reservation systems for the coffee bar around the corner: society is digitising at a rapid pace. Remaining digitally anonymous is becoming increasingly difficult. Is there any way back to privacy-friendly solutions? In his book Privacy is Hard, and Seven Other Myths , published in October, privacy researcher Jaap-Henk Hoepman makes the case for a new approach. “It’s an important theme in modern society, but for many people it is still barely manageable”, Hoepman explains. “Unfortunately, I noticed that there is still little study material that discusses privacy for a wider audience. Privacy affects us all, and with this book I want to explain to people how all this technology works and what can be done differently.”

The book explores myths such as ‘I have nothing to hide anyway’ and ‘We don’t collect any personal data at all’. Hoepman explains that there is more behind these ideas, and it is still not too late to tackle the root of the problem. “We have simply become too used to the current systems. I call that technological determinism: the idea that now that the internet has grown in this direction, it should work like this forever. But the internet is something that we as a society are developing together, and it can also grow in the other direction.”

Canonisation of Titus Brandsma comes closer

Titus Brandsma is one step closer to canonisation. In November, Pope Francis acknowledged the miracle attributed to Brandsma: the healing of Father Driscoll. He is said to have been cured of stomach cancer thanks to prayers from onlookers directed at Titus Brandsma. The bishops and cardinals of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints had already acknowledged this miracle, and now that the Pope has adopted their recommendation, it is just a matter of time before the canonisation occurs.

Titus Brandsma was Rector Magnificus and Professor of Philosophy at Radboud University, or the Catholic University of Nijmegen as it was then known. He died in Dachau concentration camp, some six months after the Nazis arrested him for his opposition to National Socialism. In 2005, he was voted Nijmegen’s Greatest Citizen of All Time. The Titus Brandsma Institute at Radboud University has launched a special website in honour of his impending canonisation.

Thomas Quartier appointed National Theologian

At the end of November, Thomas Quartier (1972), Professor of Liturgical Studies at Radboud University, was appointed National Theologian for 2021–2022. That means he will be the ambassador of theology in the Netherlands this coming year. Quartier, the eleventh National Theologian, is a monk at Keizersberg Abbey in Leuven.

In his public presentations and academic work, Quartier is an advocate of the monastic tradition. Speaking to presenter Jacobine Geel on the occasion of the announcement of his appointment, he said: “I want to try to let unexpected, perhaps radical voices be heard from the monastery.” And: “When I look at the weariness that coronavirus has brought about in society, then I, as a monk, can be a mirror.”

“I want to try to let unexpected, perhaps radical voices be heard from the monastery.”

Thomas Quartier, Professor of Liturgical Studies and National Theologian

The jury praised how Quartier, as an academic and a monk, draws attention to the value and beauty of monastic life in the Netherlands and relates it to current themes. He has expressed his position on open borders in various interviews: “The Rule of Saint Benedict from the sixth century states that you should receive every stranger who knocks at your door as God himself. I can only conclude from this that you must not reject anyone who comes to your borders. A utopian thought, perhaps, but still, from my own radical way of life, I find it my duty to make that thought heard. And to ask a radical question: Where do we get the right to speak about ‘our country’?”

Philosopher Laureate also hails from Radboud University

In March, Paul van Tongeren was appointed the new Philosopher Laureate. Van Tongeren, who until his retirement in 2015 was Professor of Practical Philosophy at Radboud University, will hold this position for two years.

Van Tongeren is a philosopher and a theologian. In 2013, he won the Socrates Cup for the best, most thought-provoking Dutch philosophy book for his work Leven is een kunst [Life is an Art]. He is one of the foremost Dutch experts on the work of Friedrich Nietzsche.

According to the organisers, a Philosopher Laureate is someone who is able to “place the hectic nature of the news in a larger context”. “In that way, they not only deepen the current affairs and the public debate, but also make philosophy attractive to a broad audience.”