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New SSH Sylvius labs: ‘The basis should be good’

Before the SSH labs in the Sylvius building will open their doors in the new academic year, there are still some obstacles to overcome. But when everything has been taken care of, the laboratories will be a place ‘where you can do almost everything you would ever want to do in your lab research.’

On the first of September 2023, the new SSH Sylvius labs will be officially opened to the first FSW and FGW researchers. The new labs will then offer a wealth of possibilities and opportunities. But before and after the labs’ completion on 23 June, a great amount of work still needs to be done that will keep the working groups busy for most of the summer. The tasks at hand include arranging equipment and furnishing, moving from one building to another and the recruitment of a lab manager. An important task is identifying the labs’ future users’ needs as well as making sure that these needs will be facilitated as much as possible.

‘The new laboratory is unique, I wouldn’t know of any other example where so many different SSH research facilities have been brought together,’ says Maureen Meekel. She is a research technician at the Social Sciences faculty and for now is almost full-time engaged in the various SSH labs working groups. Rob Goedemans, information manager and involved in the project on behalf of the Faculty of Humanities, adds: ‘There will be a virtual reality lab that is so spacious that you can carry out dance-oriented research there, as well as a lab that has been set up like a real classroom. Also, there will be a noise proof lab, which allows you to use music in your research setting.’

Drinking coffee together

The SSH labs boast yet another unique feature: FSW and FGW are working very closely together in establishing the new setup. Goedemans: ‘We do not only collaborate in realising the laboratories themselves, but we are also jointly developing other issues, such as governance, protocols and research support.’ The expectation is that once the labs have opened their doors, this collaboration will be carried on by other colleagues as well. Meekel: ‘In the new labs, researchers from various departments and faculties will naturally meet each other. This gives them the opportunity to discuss their research projects, their methods, and to drink a cup of coffee together, which may even lead to the joint development of new lines of research.’ FSW and FGW researchers will be the first users of the laboratories, but there is a chance that colleagues from other faculties, such as Law and Archaeology may join them at a later moment.

Settling in

Lotte van Dillen, the institute’s research director, stresses that the new labs’ quality will be much better than that of the current labs. This is particularly the case because the equipment and design will offer many new research opportunities. ‘It is to be expected that the labs will stimulate collaboration between various disciplines, which is a good thing. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. At the same time, I feel that interdisciplinarity is something that will be realised in the longer term. Our first priority should be to make sure that the basics are all taken care of, and that everybody feels comfortable in this new place. After all, this is also how it works when you’re moving house. It may take a while before you’ve settled in and have gotten used to your new surroundings. It is only then that your curiosity for new opportunities is sparked.’

Strong basis

Therefore a good basis is key, Van Dillen says. This holds true for the new laboratories themselves, but also for the relocation of current facilities used by the institutes  Psychology and for Education and Child Studies. Part of that strong basis is to provide answers to the questions that staff may have. ‘There is a great deal of uncertainty among academic staff. A large part of our existing lab facilities will be moved to the new location. Will the researchers be able to carry out the kind of research they wish to carry out? And will they be able to do this in the way they want? I do understand their questions. This why we will certainly work on these kinds of issues. Right now, one of the project working groups is therefore involved in collecting this information from the researchers. In addition, presentations will be organised.’

The appointment of a lab manager is an important issue. Van Dillen: ‘I am motivated to make sure that this position will be filled by somebody who understands the world of the researchers from experience. Somebody who is able to act as the link between different disciplines and who has an eye for the researchers’ – at times diverging – interests.’

Innovative power

Van Dillen indicates that the members of the working group in the next few weeks will be visiting all departments in order to identify the staff’s thoughts regarding the Sylvius labs. ‘Now is the moment to make your wishes and also your concerns heard. We can then discuss them and try to find good solutions. I feel it is important that everybody participates. As an institute, we have so much innovative power at our hands. Just take all these people whose job it is to reflect on complex research. Let’s use that innovative power in a constructive way.’

Facilitate wishes

Antoinette van Laarhoven, assistant professor at the institute, is one of the people who is about to meet with the departments’ researchers in order in order to identify what they need to carry out their research. She has been working as the Health, Medical, and Neuropsychology unit’s lab coordinator for nearly ten years and employs this professional experience in the working group for developing the SSH Sylvius labs. ‘Of course this is a challenge, so many people are involved. The working group’s aim is to facilitate the researchers’ wishes as much as possible.’

Van Laarhoven gives an example: she analyses, in collaboration with the research coordinators, lab coordinators and PI’s for which of the research projects the Sylvius labs will be the best match, and for which projects the Pieter de la Court Building is the better suited location. ‘In the longer term the Pieter de la Court labs will be renovated and improved. Some of the labs will then be replaced by educational areas. We want to anticipate this situation as well as possible by mapping future research projects. In that way we will know what is needed, before and after the renovation.’

Recruiting test subjects

Van Laarhoven is also identifying possible solutions to potential bottlenecks, for example regarding the recruitment of test subjects. ‘The test persons will have to find their way to the Sylvius building. That is an issue where we will pay extra attention to. Joint recruitment by researchers involved in different projects may be an idea. This may make it easier to find test subjects.’ Recently she was shown around on the Sylvius building’s second floor where the SSH labs are being built. ‘I was genuinely impressed. There are so many different labs, and each of them is very spacious. Also, there will be so many facilities. In these labs you can do almost everything you would ever want to do in your lab research.’


  • 15 May 2023 – tour of the SSH Sylvius Labs, second floor of the Sylvius building
  • 25 May 2023 – Information session for FSW researchers by the project group
  • May – June 2023 - discussions with FSW researchers in order to determine the research planning
  • June 2023 - information activity for FGW researchers by the project group
  • 23 June 2023 – completion of the SSH labs in the Sylvius building
  • 29 June 2023– walk-in at the SSH labs in the Sylvius building for all those interested
  • 1 September 2023 – SSH labs in the Sylvius building ready for use
  • In the longer term – renovation of the FSW labs in the Pieter de la Court building
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