News - March 1, 2015

Winners of the Thesis Award talk about their Master’s thesis ‘The writing was pretty quick and painless.’

Text:
Linda van der Nat

The thesis, the final piece of your degree programme. For one person, it’s the last obstacle on the way to a qualification, for another the crowning achievement at the end of four years of hard work. In any event, Lena, Uros, Nick and Berend made such an effort to do their best that their Master’s thesis won them a prize. In their own domains they each wrote the best Wageningen thesis of 2014. On 9 March, during the Dies Natalis, one of them will be chosen as the best of the best.

'Being curious isn't the only reason I do research'
‘Wedging the Emissions Gap in Agriculture: potential of a possible bottom-up initiative to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture’
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‘I find agriculture fascinating. Food is essential, but agriculture causes a lot of environmental problems, such as greenhouse gas emissions. For holidays involving long-haul flights you can say, we won’t do this anymore. But with food, you can’t do that. I have done research into reducing greenhouse gas emissions by means of voluntary initiatives in agriculture. Farmers can give cows more digestible food, for instance, so that the cows produce more milk. That brings down the emission per litre of milk. I always feel a strong need for my research to have a practical application. Being curious isn’t the only reason I do research. The coolest thing is if people really take your results forward. A highlight was my participation in a climate conference in Bonn. This was partly about the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture. So for me the conference was an opportunity to see how research like my thesis is being used to make climate policy. Although my thesis earned a 9.5, I didn’t expect to win the Thesis Award. I thought: someone else has surely done something more creative than I have. I’ve only done a literature study and so I have mainly summarized information.’

Lena Schulte-Uebbing - Climate Studies

 

'I didn't want to leave anything undocumented'
‘In Honduras it is a Sin to Defend life’: An Etnography of the Discourses, Practices and Dangers of Opposition to Mining in Honduras’
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‘The mines in Honduras cause water contamination and this leads to serious health problems. People who protest about this, are putting their lives at risk. My thesis is about the opposition to the mining industry. I interviewed the people involved, and participated in community meetings and workshops. And I analysed countless videos and documents. At times the fieldwork was pretty heavy going, especially emotionally. People who you learn to appreciate for their activism feel threatened. I spent entire days on buses moving from city to city. During these bus trips I saw signs of the violence that afflicts Honduras. Everywhere you go, you come across military checkpoints. In my thesis I tried to convey my experiences vividly on paper. I didn’t want to leave anything undocumented. Perhaps that’s why I’ve won a prize. I’d like to continue doing research and I want to stay involved in Central America. I’ve got ideas about how to combine sociological fieldwork and the monitoring of the human rights situation. A specific form of activist research, as it were. At the moment I am doing an internship at the Dutch Embassy in Costa Rica.’

Nick Middeldorp - Sociology of Development and Change

 

'I always enjoyed going to the lab'
‘Cooperative dynamics of two-dimensional soft colloidal systems - Both in equilibrium and out-ofequilibrium’
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‘When I’m at a party and I explain what my thesis is about, I always say that we are looking at how crystals react when we introduce a disturbance into the crystal using a focused laser beam. It is reasonably well known how a crystal changes in response to external forces, but that’s absolutely not the case when the forces come from within the crystal. My thesis phase was really fun because I think this a really interesting subject. So I always enjoyed going to the lab. What’s more I was given a lot of freedom to contribute ideas and to carry them out. Whenever I had a meeting with my supervisors I left full of enthusiasm to try out new things. And because it didn’t take me long to build an experimental set-up and get it working, I had all the time in the world to do that. I did various experiments and whenever we made an interesting discovery, I researched it extensively and wrote it up neatly. They were pretty original experiments so I imagine that’s something the jury rated highly, as well as my analyses.’

Berend van der Meer - Moleculair Life Sciences


'I don't actually find writing that enjoyale'
‘Hearing in the field cricket Gryllus bimaculatus (de Geer): directional sensitivity in absence of frequency tuning’
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‘I researched how the vibrations of the cricket’s eardrum change as the direction or the pitch of the sound changes. Females use their hearing to find the singing males, so it is an important sense. I can’t say too much about the conclusions because we are now writing an article about them. For my research I used many techniques and methods, such as experiments and computer simulations. I also studied the auditory system with CT scans and by dissecting crickets. I think that’s what helped me win the award. I don’t actually find writing that enjoyable, but my supervisors kept on giving me very good and constructive feedback. Consequently, the writing was pretty quick and painless. The hardest thing was making it into a coherent story. That’s because the results gained with the computer model and the experiments didn’t match. For my PhD research I am studying how certain parasitic wasps move their ovipositor, a drill-like appendage, very flexibly in order find their host in wood or leaves. We are using the results as inspiration for the development of slender, flexible surgical needles capable of manoeuvring around blood vessels and nerves.’

Uros Cerkvenik – Biology