Several scientists at WAU and other universities are trying to unravel the basis of life on earth, photosynthesis. How do plants and bacteria change sunlight into useful energy? The scientists know what kind of proteins and pigments are the main protagonists in the process, but photosynthesis itself remains unexplained. It is a very disorderly and quick process: within one second, a billion (1012) energy transfers are made in the plants. This makes it very difficult for the organic chemists at WAU to imitate the process of photosynthesis.
WAU graduate Bart de Steenhuysen Piters did an unusual thing this year: after obtaining his PhD, the crop scientist went back to Africa to discuss his thesis with African scientists and users. I can recommend doing this to everybody." According to De Steenhuysen, diversity is essential to African agriculture - farmers make use of different plant varieties and soils in order to secure the harvest. Because agronomists and extension officers have not taken notice of this, they fail in their attempts to develop agriculture, says De Steenhuysen. I noticed a reaction of relief in Africa when I told them that there is now scientific proof that diversity is not a problem." The graduate combined farming systems analysis developed by crop scientist Louise Fresco with the notion of farming styles from sociologist Jan Douwe van der Ploeg at WAU.
WAU's Executive Board intends to change the structure of education programmes drastically. It wants to introduce modular courses lasting only several weeks, omit the names of the course specialities and implement institutes which would divide the available money up among the degree courses. The main criticism from the programme committees at WAU is that the Board will not improve the quality of education by changing the organisation. Instead, the Board should facilitate the process of adapting the programmes to new scientific and social issues.
Aat Schaftenaar, recently graduated from WAU in biology, broke the Dutch record for bird twitching last year. He spotted 314 varieties of birds in one year. Aat went out to spot birds every day; this was a one time only experience". He spotted most of the rare birds near the Dutch coastline. Aat has a bleeper, as do 130 other bird twitchers. They use these to inform each other where they have spotted a rare bird. Although the competition among them is hard, most of the twitchers inform the others reliably. Aat has spotted 342 birds in Holland up to now, but the record stands at 396. I'll never beat this guy", says the biologist. I would have to stay in Holland if I want to beat him, but I like travelling."