On Friday 26 April, Prof. Jacquelien Scherpen has been appointed Knight of the Order of the Netherlands Lion. Scherpen (Schoonebeek, 1966), Professor of Discrete Technology and Automation of Production at the Faculty of Science and Engineering of the University of Groningen, is one of the world’s leading scientists in the field of measurement and control technology. She is known as a very gifted, enthusiastic scientist and teacher, a source of inspiration to students and a strong researcher with a tremendous drive for finding innovative solutions to challenging problems stemming from professional practice. She contributes significantly to the development of new technologies that are indispensable for highly socially relevant applications, such as robotics, digital factories and smart energy grids.
Scherpen has an exceptional scientific reputation and her work is internationally recognized for its innovative and ground-breaking quality. Her research is at the intersection of fundamental mathematics and its applications in engineering and industry. More specifically, her research focuses on a range of applications of control technology: her algorithms and mathematical equations ensure that complex systems, such as robotic arms in industrial automation, machines that inspect dikes and smart energy grids, are able to function. She combines complex control systems with economic models for smart energy systems. Such systems can be used, for instance, in letting washing machines run at a later moment when an adequate supply of sustainable energy is available. Her preferred approach to research is interdisciplinary, because she is convinced that only working together will create the required level of support for the necessary transition in society towards smart and sustainable energy systems. For example, she works together with behavioural scientists and economists and has a great aptitude for linking mathematical knowledge to social factors: what will people accept, what are their wishes and which choices do they want a say in?
She is the driving force behind the strengthening and broadening of engineering research and teaching in Groningen. As a result of her work, Groningen is considered to be among the best in the field of measurement and control technology and the engineers who complete their studies under her supervision are highly desired professionals. She heads the highly successful Discrete Technology and Automation of Production research group, and has recently set up the Smart Manufacturing Systems group. Under her enthusiastic leadership as scientific director, the Engineering and Technology Institute Groningen has grown strongly and is very well regarded. With her formidable commitment, she has contributed to a stronger technical profile for the UG.
The scientific excellence, productivity and impact of her work is clearly indicated by the list of her publications (including 75 publications in scientific journals, 4 edited books, and 13 chapters in scientific books edited by others) and the many lectures that she has delivered at various international, leading scientific gatherings, conventions and symposia. She has also been appointed a member of the Royal Holland Society of Sciences and Humanities.
Scherpen is also considered to be the driving force behind new developments in academic teaching. She has set up various innovative subjects and ensured that students in other disciplines could also follow course units in control engineering. Recently, she set up the Master’s degree programme in Mechanical Engineering, a broad programme in mechanical engineering. Students find her to be a passionate teacher and a great source of inspiration. As a mentor she offers valuable support to young researchers, contributing to the development of a new generation of scientists in control engineering. During her lectures, she consistently links theories and concepts to examples from professional practice. She sets the bar high for students and for herself, while applying the human dimension: an understanding for people, consistency and clarity in her business-minded message.
As a woman in a technical and still dominantly male professional field, Scherpen fulfils an important exemplary role. She thinks that the fact that the percentage of female researchers in systems and control engineering is relatively low is partly a consequence of secondary education, where girls are often subconsciously presented with the message that mathematics would be too difficult for them. As a role model for her female students, she motivates them to opt for a scientific career and gives them the confidence that they are capable of solving mathematical problems independently. As a mentor, she is always willing to support and motivate women who choose a life in science.
Scherpen tirelessly combines her academic work with major administrative efforts for science, both domestically and internationally. By virtue of her reliability and strong drive, she plays an administrative role in all scientific organizations relevant to her field. For example, as a board member of the interuniversity Dutch Institute of Systems and Control research school, she has strongly increased the prominence of Dutch research. She has also made the Groningen Engineering Center (GEC) a great success, which has made the engineering teaching at the UG stronger than ever before. Because of her impressive reputation, in 2018 the Royal Institute of Engineers asked the UG to be the first broad-based university to organize the annual ‘Day of the Engineer’. During this day, among other events, the prestigious Prince Friso Engineer Prize was awarded in the presence of Princess Beatrix and Princess Mabel. It is also largely in consequence of Scherpen’s stature that the UG is now in the unique position of being fully involved in conversations among technical universities when technical funds are distributed.
Scherpen has given a strong boost to the bonds between the UG and its regional surroundings. She works closely with industrial partners in the Northern Netherlands, in order to deepen the interrelations in different partnerships between the university, industry and small and medium businesses in the North, and to create employment opportunities. To strengthen the bonds with business and to keep technically educated academics in the North, she recently founded the Groningen Engineering Business Center. Seven business cooperatives, representing a total of more than 100 regionally-based companies, have joined the initiative as partners.
The impact that Scherpen has on the engineering research and teaching at the UG is enormous. With her boundless commitment, she has ensured that the UG now carries a clear technical profile and that the connections between the University and the region have deepened. In an international context too, she has firmly put the UG on the map, specifically in the areas of high-quality teaching and technical research. It is not a coincidence that researchers from all over the world come to her laboratory to be trained by her. She is a true ambassador of science: she does not cease to build bridges between different disciplines and fields of research, she brings people into contact with each other and works to raise enthusiasm for plans that she then executes in a successful manner, preferably with partners inside and beyond the University.
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