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Science & Society

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

Our research leads to new products and patents and helps to manage societal challenges but also supports our society in others ways, for instance with our sport data research. We disseminate academic insights for general audiences through organising events and lectures for a broad and diverse audience, and by opening windows on science with fun initiatives such as the Leiden mural formulas. The Junior Science Lab, Universe Awareness and our Living Lab bring science into classrooms of primary and secondary schools, encouraging the young generation to be curious and open-minded and to enjoy the magic of science.

Science & Society

This outdoor laboratory has partly been made possible by a successful crowdfunding campaign. The 38 separate ditches were dug in November 2016, and were officially opened in 2017. The Living Lab is not only a research facility, it also offers room for education to enthuse children for nature and research. Together with Technolab, the Living Lab organises weekly school class visits in which they teach young children about research and nature in a playful manner.

Universe Awareness (UNAWE) is an international education programme that takes astronomy to disadvantaged children in over sixty countries. In 2017, UNAWE was recognised as one of ‘HundrED's 100’ Global Inspiring Innovations in Education for their innovative approach to ensure that teachers and parents around the world will have excellent educational material available for making children aware of the Universe and achieving its two goals: to show that science and technology are exciting and to foster the spirit of world citizenship.

Every year, Leiden University organises Ladies’ Days together with VHTO (National expert organization on girls/women and science/technology), especially for girls. What originally started in Leiden as the Ladies’ Physics Day is joined by astronomy and computer science this year. Ladies’ Days serve to let girls in 5th and 6th grade of pre-university education (Dutch vwo) 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.

To be able to perform optimally in top-class sport, optimal conditions are essential. Super computers offer help. The KNVB and scientists from Leiden University’s Sport Data Center cooperate under the flag of Sportinnovator. This programme aims to stimulate cooperation between sports, businesses, the authorities, and sciences. Last summer, a large data research project provided the background of the European Football Championship for Women. With the use of extreme computing power, all matches were evaluated from a mathematical point of view, looking at players as if they were moving parts. The data research is expected to uncover links that have thus far remained hidden in order to enlarge the output of knowledge and innovation in sports, and ultimately aims to answer the question of what it requires of a sports professional to perform at the highest level or, in other words, to reveal the so-called Golden Standard.

Approximately 2,000 Kenyan lions share their country with a growing human and livestock population. Both a growing demand for land and climate change have a severe impact on the lion population: their number is decreasing. Although lions are mostly found inside national parks, they also regularly leave parks and enter the human-dominated landscape. Here, people and livestock are confronted with the lions. During a ten-year-lasting cooperation between the Institute of Environmental Sciences and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), researchers and students used satellite collaring on lions in order to get GPS data about movements, diet, and social structure of the lion populations. This information is now used for science-based management and conservation by KWS, resulting in a unique combination of university research and practical conservation management.

A fun and informative initiative to explore the beauty of mathematics even more is the Math trail, developed as part of a final project of the master’s specialisation Science Communication and Society of Leiden University. The trail starts and ends at the Boerhaave Museum and leads through the Leiden city centre, showing all of the city’s highlights while offering a variety of challenging mathematical questions. The trail both shows how much math can be hidden in a city and teaches us about the history of it.

When you stroll around the historic centre of Leiden, you will find beautiful poems painted on random walls in the most exotic languages. These poems are now accompanied by ‘poems’ in the language of mathematics: formulas. Each formula has a direct connection with Leiden city’s impressive history in scientific discoveries. In 2017, three new wall paintings were added: the formulas for Lorentz contraction, Oort constants and electron spin. Visitors and inhabitants may now come across six formulas. The wall formulas are spread across the Leiden city centre and are painted by the artists of Stichting tegen-Beeld.

The alumni network NGL, freely translated as the Leiden Society for Natural Sciences, has close bonds with the Faculty of Science. Founded in 1870 by enthusiastic Leiden professors, the NGL organises lectures and excursions about socially relevant topics from a scientific point of view. Eminent speakers in the past year were professor Miranda van Eck and professor Joost Kok, among others. The collaboration with the Faculty of Science and NGL was formally established in 2015, and was renewed in 2017, enabling the NGL community to flourish further and to broaden the Faculty’s activities for our alumni.

Another Leiden alumni association in its broadest sense is the VO-S, the association for former Leiden Astronomy members. Anyone, from student to staff member, who once was, or still is, connected with the Leiden Observatory is welcome to become a member. The VO-S organises a diverse range of events on recent developments in astronomy, from scientific lectures to community events. They also accommodate each year’s Oort lecture. In 2017, VO-S organised the Oort lecture held by professor Andrei Linde (Stanford University); he is one of the inventors of the theory of chaotic inflation.

The 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 it’s plant collection and (living) plant research. It’s mission is to manage the plant collection for research and education purposes as well as for public interest and enjoyment. In November, the 175.000th visitor in 2017 was welcomed: an all-time high. The Hortus remains strongly rooted in its scientific mission: Hortus prefect Paul Kessler delivered his inaugural lecture as professor by special appointment of Botanical gardens and botany of South East Asia in April. Consequently, the systematic garden which was established in 2005 underwent a complete revision. It now represents the latest scientific insights in the field of plant classification, made understandable for a wide variety of visitors, from researchers to school classes.

The Lorentz Center is an international centre that coordinates and hosts workshops, based on the philosophy that science thrives on interaction between researchers. This year, the Lorentz Center celebrated her 20th anniversary. For two decades, the Center has facilitated international groups of academics to examine a single scientific problem. The focus lies on deliberation, brainstorming and sharing ideas in a relaxed setting. They do this in workshops that can last up to five days and can be about anything. Many concentrate on the future of a discipline. Participants work on a joint research agenda that aims to result in a grant application. Since 2010, sessions for academics and industry were added. In 2017, 84 workshops were hosted for more than 3000 academics from over 50 countries.

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