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Discover your biological clock at the University Museum

And contribute to scientific research
07 April 2022
Impression of the exhibition

Experience how you perceive time with the help of experimental set-ups: starting on Thursday 14 April, you can do that at the University Museum in Groningen as part of the interactive TIME WILL TELL exhibition. Visitors can participate in experiments that comprise part of a real scientific research study into the biological clock inside the human brain. The exhibition was created in collaboration with the Experimental Psychology department of the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences at the University of Groningen.

Why does time fly by so fast when you are on holiday, and why does it slow down when you are waiting for the bus? This has to do with the ‘internal clock’ inside the human brain. Professor Hedderik van Rijn is researching this phenomenon together with his colleagues at the University of Groningen. Our mind perceives time constantly, even if nothing is happening. How is that possible? Van Rijn replies: ‘I am very intrigued by that and I really wanted to research this question, since we still do not know how our brain perceives short time intervals.’ He and his colleagues had research participants complete small tasks, through which they measured how the participants registered time in their brain. This research forms the basis for the TIME WILL TELL exhibition at the University Museum.

Learning through tests

In addition to discovering the way that they perceive time, visitors can learn why it is so difficult to close their eyes for 60 seconds without counting. They can also find out whether their abilities to measure time without counting are different from those of an average visitor. With the visitors’ permission, the results of the experiments will be used for the research conducted by Van Rijn and his colleagues. Van Rijn explains: ‘It is important for us, as experimental psychologists, to collect data from as many different people as possible. In the lab we mostly test young adults, but at the University Museum we can encounter people from all age groups. If we have children and elderly people complete the tests too, we will finally be able to see how the biological clock changes with age.’

Unique for the Netherlands

With this exhibition, the University Museum in Groningen and Van Rijn’s research group are bridging the gap between scientific research and a visit to the museum. Exhibitions that allow visitors to participate in experiments at this scale, similar to how psychologists conduct experiments in the lab, have never been done in the Netherlands before. This way, museums and academia can start discussing the importance of research with the public, but also gain access to new data. In this instance, the data will be used for new publications on the topic of the exhibition: the perception of time.

Gerard Heymans

In addition, the TIME WILL TELL exhibition includes the unique collection of scientist Gerard Heymans (1857–1930). Heymans is seen as a pioneer in the field of psychology in the Netherlands and he laid the foundation for experimental research in Groningen. His exceptional nineteenth-century experimental set-ups form a part of the exhibition and showcase the history of time perception research.

The TIME WILL TELL exhibition is supported by the University of Groningen, the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences, the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds fund, and the Mondriaan Fund.

The University Museum in Groningen is open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 12 noon to 5 p.m. The University Museum is also open on Mondays during school holidays. For more information, please visit

Last modified:07 April 2022 12.12 p.m.
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