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Science & Society

Academic institutions are of vital importance to our society. Universities are breeding grounds for innovation, collaboration and entrepreneurship. Research and education at universities do not take place in a vacuum: they have direct impact on society in many ways.

Our research leads to innovation and new products and patents in various areas, such as the novel type of solvent NADES or a prediction app for soft tissue cancer. It also helps finding solutions to societal challenges and supports societal issues in several ways, with our research on programming for blind kids being only one example. In addition, we broadly disseminate new insights and achievements through events and lectures for a broad and diverse audience.

Science & Society

Programming is an excellent career option for blind children, and a way for them to have fun and express themselves. But the existing tools for programming are often not suitable for the blind and visually impaired. Félienne Hermans’ group focuses on programming education and aims to change this. For instance, blind programmers usually use a screen reader, a tool that reads texts aloud. ‘But sadly these things are made to read natural language and not source code’, says Hermans. In order to make programming education accessible to blind and visually impaired children, her group will examine whether the existing tools are suitable for this group. After this, they will draw up guidelines that teachers can use to assess programming tools for inclusiveness.

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What once started as an assignment for the Master Programme Media Technology, has grown into the international market leader in the field of virtual reality exercises for the elderly. With Bike Labyrinth, co-founders Ella Keijzer and Job de Reus deliver virtual cycling tours to care institutions all over the world. People can take interactive cycling tours in more than 400 different places. A screen showing the lifelike cycling routes is connected to a home trainer or exercise bike. People who cannot cycle independently outside can still discover the world in this way. In addition, they are encouraged to regularly perform physical activity.

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Researchers from the Mathematical Institute and the Leiden University Medical Center have developed a prediction app for patients suffering from soft tissue sarcoma, a type of cancer. Tumor growth at the site of surgery and at other sites is common, but there is considerable variation between patients. Clinicians can now use the new prediction app. It predicts a patient’s probability of surviving 3, 5, and 10 years from time of surgery, as well as the probabilities of developing a local recurrence, based on patient- and disease-specific characteristics. The model also provides information on treatment options.

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A medium that is neither really solid nor liquid: meet NADES. In 2011, Leiden biologists discovered and patented this novel type of solvent, which is formed by combining solids into a viscous liquid. It is able to solve substances which are not water nor lipid soluble. Meanwhile, the industry has picked up this new solvent. In 2018, NADES was incorporated in an anti-aging product and a new chicken feed product. The applications are endless, and include drug delivery systems and long-term vaccine storage. 'The discovery of NADES has now progressed from science to industry and is starting to impact on society', say inventors Young Choi and Rob Verpoorte.

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Discovering whether a chick is male or female while it is still in the egg: it could save 3.2 billion on-day-old male chicks annually. Leiden biotech company In Ovo, a spin-off of our faculty, has been given an investment of several million euros to further develop its unique test method. Founders and alumni Wouter Bruins and Wil Stutterheim are now set to market their successful prototype. Their method will benefit animals, farmers and the environment. 

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Every year, Leiden University organises Ladies’ Days together with National expert organisation on girls and women in science and technology VHTO, especially for girls. The event started as the Ladies’ Physics Day, and was later extended with astronomy and computer science in 2016. Ladies’ Days aim to let girls in 5th and 6th grade of pre-university education get acquainted with an academic study in astronomy, physics or computer science. During the event, girls learn more about what these studies comprise, and what possible future job opportunities there are. They also get to know female students, staff and alumni.

Every year, Leiden University organises Ladies’ Days together with National expert organisation on girls and women in science and technology VHTO, especially for girls. The event started as the Ladies’ Physics Day, and was later extended with astronomy and computer science in 2016. Ladies’ Days aim to let girls in 5th and 6th grade of pre-university education get acquainted with an academic study in astronomy, physics or computer science. During the event, girls learn more about what these studies comprise, and what possible future job opportunities there are. They also get to know female students, staff and alumni.

Anyone, from student to staff member, who once was, or still is, connected with the Leiden Observatory is welcome to become a member of the VO-S. The VO-S organises a wide range of events on recent developments in astronomy, from scientific lectures to community events. It also accommodates each year’s Oort lecture. This year, the VO-S celebrated its twentieth anniversary together with Astronomy student association L.A.D.F. Kaiser.

Hortus botanicus Leiden, founded in 1590, is the oldest botanical garden in the Netherlands and one of the oldest in the world. The Hortus is a renowned institute for its plant collection and (living) plant research. This year, the Hortus welcomed 171,000 visitors. In April 2019, the three-year Horizon 2020 project Big Picnic will come to an end. The Hortus was one of the 19 participating parties. Within the framework of this project, the Hortus organised several Science Cafés about various subjects, such as potatoes, beans, pollinators, vanilla, and grain. Due to its success, the Hortus will organise another series of Science Cafés in 2019 and 2020. The Science Cafés proved that a botanical garden is a great place to let science, public, professionals and the business world talk to each other, taste together, and let young and old feel at home.

The Lorentz Center is an international center  that coordinates and hosts workshops, based on the philosophy that science thrives on interaction between researchers. For more than two decades, the center has facilitated international groups of researchers to discuss scientific problems. The focus lies on brainstorming and sharing ideas in a low-key setting. This year the Lorentz Center introduced a diversity fund, ensuring that anyone can join their workshops. At the end of 2018, the center organised the workshops Life Sciences with Industry and Physics with Industry, in collaboration with NWO. The Lorentz Center hosted 79 workshops in 2018, for more than 3100 academics from 60 countries.

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