Last Friday, Wageningen University celebrated its centenary during the dies natalis. The university went all out; the orators and music were of very high quality.
Presentation by Lee Cronin. © Guy Ackermans
British chemist Lee Cronin held a keynote speech. The central question was: hoe did life on Earth come to be and how can it be studied in a lab? However, only few listeners were able to reproduce what Cronin had exactly proposed in his rapid yet smooth presentation. But his creative and inquisitive lecture was very inspiring, as it set one’s mind to thinking, said several students and PhD candidates afterwards.
The presence of trumpeter Eric Vloeimans and his band Levanter was probably accompanied by a hefty price tag, but it was worth every cent. The jazz trio played fantastically – a completely different level than what we usually get at the university.
Afterwards, it was time for the most formal part of the afternoon: the presentation of the honorary doctorates to the scientists. One by one, Russian evolutionary biologist Eugene Koonin, Chinese plant scientist Fusuo Zhang, Swedish ecologist Carl Folke and British environmental sociologist Katrina Brown were called to the stage. The Wageningen professors who had nominated them each held an identical standard speech, after which the honorary doctors were given the chance for a short word of thanks. The protocol was skilfully and soberly led by Rector Magnificus Arthur Mol.
Carola Schouten, present on behalf of the Dutch government as the Deputy Prime Minister of the Netherlands, held a lovely speech on the merits of the centenary, but she also glanced to the future. We should critically discuss whether everything that is scientifically possible is also socially desired, she confronted the audience. ‘For the answers, I turn to Wageningen. Give us the facts, but also the nuances.’
President of the Executive Board Louise Fresco closed the gathering. ‘Your questions soundly resonate with our ambitions’, she answered the Minister. ‘We want to strengthen the collaboration between universities and research institutes. And the primary matter is the dialogue with society.’
According to Fresco, the most important assignment that the university has is to improve the food supply ‘while saving the planet’. But even she does not know what changes that will require in the next 100 years. We have no idea what the post-fossil society, partially run by robots and artificial intelligence, will look like. ‘Our job is to formulate unknown questions.’ Such as the questions shared with the audience by Lee Cronin earlier that day.