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Lorentz Center to receive structural support from NWO and Leiden University

The Lorentz Center is a melting pot that is visited by researchers from around the world. ‘Miracles happen’ during the five-day interactive workshops at the Center. And there is an extra reason to celebrate the center’s 25th anniversary. On 28 April, the Dutch Research Council (NWO) and Leiden University signed a new agreement for the center. NWO and all faculties of Leiden University will now structurally support the Center.

One week astronomers will be sharing their knowledge, and the next a diverse group of theologians will be discussing evolution theory. ‘That’s what makes the center so unique in the world,’ says institute manager Anna Tudos: ‘‘The Lorentz Center is a place where all disciplines and everything in between come together. Imagine, you are a mathematician who has developed a model, and you think it might also be useful in biology and linguistics. So, what do you do? You invite scientists here for a focused exchange of ideas.’ 

Who do you invite? Maybe not that winner of the Nobel Prize

As a researcher, you can organise a workshop at the Lorentz Center of in principle five days. You decide on the theme in discussion with the Lorentz Center and one or more of its eight scientific councils. The Lorentz team will then be closely involved in the design of the workshop. They also advise on who to invite. Tudos: ‘Organisers tend to want to invite that one Nobel Prize laureate or some other hotshot, but is that really the best way to achieve the objective of the workshop? And it’s also a good idea to invite a couple of scientists who may not themselves contribute anything special, but who will take away new knowledge with them.’

Eighty workshops a yearat two locations

Interactive break-out sessions are a crucial part of Lorentz Center workshops, and the Lorentz team is increasingly being asked to moderate the sessions. During each of the 80 or so workshops per year that are held at two locations, several dozen researchers work on a problem or exchange insights. Director Arjen Doelman, who is also Professor in Applied Analysis at the Leiden Mathematical Institute, has experienced this himself. In 2014, he organised a workshop with ecologists and mathematicians that gave them some important insights into the resilience of ecosystems. Doelman: ‘That brought it home to me again that these workshops really do work.’ A publication in Science at the end of last year was partly thanks to that workshop.

Funding from Leiden University and NWO

The Lorentz Center is funded by NWO and Leiden University, where it is also located. To date, the NWO funding has been provided in cycles of five years, but that will now change. The agreement signed by NWO and Leiden University on 28 April states that, from now on, both NWO and Leiden University will provide structural funding for the center.

Hester Bijl, Rector Magnificus of Leiden University: ‘The Lorentz Center helps researchers not only to dig deeper, but also to look beyond the boundaries of their own discipline and to acquire new insights in doing so. I am really pleased that we can now structurally facilitate this together with NWO. We can enable and encourage that interdisciplinary collaboration even more now that all of the faculties are supporting the center. This collaboration also includes future plans to organise workshops shorter than five days, which will still retain the essential ingredients of active involvement and interaction.’

Marcel Levi, President of NWO: ‘NWO supports the Lorentz Center because of the connections it creates between researchers across all disciplines. The Lorentz Center is a unique place where international researchers can organise workshops within and between all disciplines in the natural, social and medical sciences as well as the humanities.’


Marcel Levi and Hester Bijl sign the agreement

The network grows with each workshop

A typically Dutch aspect of the center, according to Doelman, is the relatively low cost involved. ‘We have an outstanding reputation among researchers and our network is growing with each workshop. Researchers like to come here even if that means that they have to pay for their travel and accommodation costs themselves.’ However, the Lorentz Center also tries to help guests who have less financial leeway. And there is a special budget for researchers who, for example, have just had a baby and who could not come to Leiden without that extra support.

Also for the public, companies and policymakers

The researchers who visit Leiden for a Lorentz workshop are often  engaged in research that is also of interest to a wider public. Tudos: ‘We work together, for example, with the Rijksmuseum Boerhaave, which organises public lectures by some of our visitors.’ And researchers increasingly also involve companies or policymakers in their workshops. As a result, knowledge is not just shared among researchers, but gets disseminated and implemented in society, a process that is initiated at the Lorentz Center.

More information:

  • The agreement between Leiden University and NWO about the Lorentz Center was signed on 28 April in The Hague.
  • The Lorentz Center will celebrate its 25th anniversary on 23 June.
  • The KNAW Lorentz Medal will be presented on 10 November.
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