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Faculty of Science kicks off academic year sustainably with electrocatalysis and a surprise

In a full lecture hall C1 the Faculty of Science started off the new academic year on Tuesday 5 September. The theme of the meeting was, just as it had been at the university's opening the day before, sustainability.

Education about sustainability, research on sustainability and also: acting sustainably yourself. That was the key message of dean Geert de Snoo during his word of welcome at the facultary opening of the academic year. It is for a good reason that Leiden University rose to a third place in the Dutch higher education sustainability rankings, De Snoo told. To illustrate his point, he showed figures from the university's sustainabilty website. In a year, the new Gorlaeus building only uses 87 cubic meters of gas, whereas an average Dutch household uses 1,500.

Jules Verne

‘Water will be the coal of the future.’ After De Snoo, chemist Marc Koper continued by delivering a lecture about chemistry and renewable energy. He started off with a text fragment form Jules Verne from 1875. In it, the main characters discuss how one day ‘water shall be decomposed into its primitive elements’: hydrogen and oxygen. ‘Together, they will furnish an inexhaustible source of heat and light, of an intensity of which coal is not capable’, Verne wrote.

Hydrogen form water

This forecast hasn’t completely come true in 2017, but as far as Koper is concerned, this will soon be changed. So when will we see the first cars, fueled by hydrogen from clean sources? For now, fossil fuels outperform renewable sources when it comes to costs. 'But that comparison is not fair,' Koper said, 'as fossil fuels produce waste that right now, nobody is paying for.'

Fundamental research

In his own research Koper tries to contribute to replacing fossil fuels in several ways, he told. For example: catalysts needed for clean production of hydrogen often contain platinum, which isn't cheap. So Koper is looking for alternatives, or ways to se platinum more efficiently. For that, fundamental research into the chemical reactions involved is needed.

Surprise: no surprise act

De Snoo had already dropped it during his word of welcome. The surprise act that had been announced, was surprisingly not present because of a last minute cancellation. But eventually, after some keyboard struggles, a worthy replacement appeared on the screen in front of the lecture hall. It was the YouTube-clip of comedian Gregor Bak, who in 2015 sang the We are Science-song for the faculty's lustrum.

Student challenge

Last up was brand new student assessor Bernice Dekker, who closed the meeting by announcing a new competition. The Faculty of Science already hosts competitions for researcher and teacher of the year, Dekker told, now the Student Challenge is added to those. In the upcoming months, students are welcomed to submit their ideas for a better faculty. The theme of the competition will be, not surprisingly, sustainability.