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Bridging the gap between society and science

Forty years of UG science shops
22 March 2019

The 40th anniversary of the six UG ‘science shops’ was celebrated in style at the University Museum on Thursday 21 March. The Museum’s upstairs room was adorned with scientific posters presenting research carried out by the science shops. Afterwards, all visitors (including students, alumni and members of staff) had the opportunity to enjoy the ‘Beyond the Lab’ exhibition.

The afternoon was opened by Henk Mulder, coordinator of the science shops. He introduced the first guest speaker, Frank de Vries, planner of the Nationaal Programma Groningen (National Programme Groningen). With this programme, the Cabinet has made € 1.15 billion available for Groningen: for village and neighbourhood renewal schemes, for strengthening the economy and for improving the quality of the living environment in the province.

Frank de Vries during his opening speech | Photo Science LinX
Frank de Vries during his opening speech | Photo Science LinX

De Vries: ‘Everyone can be involved with the Nationaal Programma Groningen, students included. Groningen is an agricultural province and that is reflected in the research carried out here, such as research into better agricultural practices and sustainability.’ Alumna Fiona van Gelder opened the second poster session round. As part of her Communications degree, she carried out research at the Language, Culture and Communication science shop, where she studied multilingualism in children with one or two non-native Dutch parents.

Win-win

The Science Shops in Groningen have been in existence since 1979, with the aim of bringing the University and society closer together. Mulder: ‘All kinds of social non-profit organizations that have a research question can come into contact with the University through us. We are in fact process managing. We are looking for students who can carry out research to gain credit points. The service is free of charge for the social organizations.’

The students carry out the research under supervision of instructors. The student is learning, the social organization receives help, the instructor increases his social contacts and has motivated students. It is therefore a win-win situation.

The research projects are mainly regional projects. Not only because other regions and countries have similar organizations, but also because of the importance of the personal contact between students and clients. Mulder: ‘Some national organizations also end up in Groningen, for example for energy-related research because a lot of such research is carried out in Groningen. The same is true for patients’ associations that are very specialized. We try to keep with the three northerly provinces as much as possible to make the personal contact between clients and students easier.

Henk Mulder, coordinator of the Groningen Science Shops | Photo Science LinX
Henk Mulder, coordinator of the Groningen Science Shops | Photo Science LinX

The research that is carried out via the science shops is sometimes too extensive for just one student. The science shop makes sure that the research question is split, making it possible for several students to answer the question together. Mulder: ‘My colleagues Karin Ree and Karin de Boer are responsible for keeping in contact with the social organizations and the university. They will figure out what the exact question is and look for the most suitable researchers and students.’

This partnership between the university and social organizations was highlighted during both poster sessions by students from the six science shops. The research encompassed wide-ranging themes, from microplastics in the environment to language acquisition among refugees. The common factor is the direct link between the research and society. International students too have contributed to the research carried out by the science shops.

Microplastics

One of the posters – on microplastics – was entitled ‘Dirty Laundry’. Two students independently researched this theme. Master’s student Caecilia Satyawan carried out a literature study to find out the extent of the problem. She mainly focused on the role of microplastics from clothes and supplied theoretical solutions that could stem the flow of microplastics from clothes. Satyawan recently completed her High Tech Systems and Materials (HTSM) Honours Master’s research at the Beta Science Shop.

Caecilia Satyawan next to her poster on Dirty Laundry | Photo Science LinX
Caecilia Satyawan next to her poster on Dirty Laundry | Photo Science LinX

Standing next to her poster, she talks about the problem and the possible solutions: ‘Every time you wash your clothes, all kinds of synthetic particles come away from your clothes. These will then be carried along in the wastewater and ultimately end up in the ocean,’ explains Satyawan. Industrial Engineering and Management Bachelor’s student Thomas den Hartog carried out experimental research into the filter system of wastewater treatment plants. Satyawan also talks about his contribution: ‘The filter systems for wastewater treatment can be adapted so that they can catch these microplastics.

This is not an unnecessary luxury; the microplastics are a serious problem: ‘Research has shown that microplastics are present in human faeces. This means that they are already present in our food chain, especially in fish,’ says Satyawan. The research that she carried out together with Den Hartog was carried out in collaboration with the water authority Waterschap Hunze en Aa’s (district water board for the Hunze and Aa’s region).

Multilingualism

As part of her Communications degree, Fiona van Gelder carried out research into multilingualism at the Language, Culture and Communication Science Shop. The research question was put forward by Finnish mothers who were living in the Netherlands and who were concerned about the way in which primary schools were dealing with multilingualism. They also wondered about the best way of raising children multilingually. Van Gelder was familiar with this problem since she herself had a multilingual upbringing.

The parents who put their question to the Science Shop were of the opinion that schools did not inform them adequately about how to deal with their multilingual children. ‘They were often told that they should speak Dutch at home. But the mothers always asked why? I don’t speak Dutch well myself and my mother tongue is important too, isn’t it? My English mother also spoke English to us.’

Discussion next to a poster | Photo Science LinX
Discussion next to a poster | Photo Science LinX

What is the best approach? As a parent, speak in your own mother tongue to your children. That was the conclusion drawn by Van Gelder, based on a literature study and a questionnaire among teachers and parents at 31 primary schools in the city of Groningen. She did notice a change in Groningen society. ‘I think that multilingualism is better understood these days than it was 15 years ago. That is probably due to the increasing number of international members of staff.’

The science shops receive research questions from governments and social organizations, but also from members of the general public. These questions have a direct link with societal issues that sometimes concern everyone, such as the microplastics in laundry, and sometimes concern a very specific group, such as multilingualism in children with non-native Dutch parents. Mulder: ‘Universities carry out fundamental research, but also research that has a direct link with current questions raised by society. All of this is important to us.’

The UG’s six science shops are: the Beta science shop, the Economy and Business science shop, the Medicine and Public Health science shop, the Education science shop, the Language, Culture and Communication science shop and the Philosophy Knowledge Centre. The science shops are established in multiple faculties so that they have expertise in a wide range of societal issues and can contribute to solving these. For more information, see the science shops website .

Report: Mónica Espinoza Cangahuala

Last modified:02 May 2019 3.16 p.m.
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