Wetenschap - 23 mei 1996

MSc student receives C.T. de Wit-prize

MSc student receives C.T. de Wit-prize

On Wednesday May 8th MSc student Jose Antonio Martinez Casasnovas from Spain received the C.T. de Wit-prize for his thesis Hydrographic information abstraction for erosion modelling at regional level. The same day he also presented his work at an international congress on geophysics in The Hague. Martinez is the first MSc student ever to win the prize, which has been awarded annually since 1985 to students from Wageningen Agricultural University (WAU).


Jose Antonio Martinez Casasnovas is a modest man. He had already received a grade ten for his thesis upon graduation, and now he has been awarded the C.T. de Wit prize as well. Moreover, it's not the first prize Martinez has won. As an agricultural engineer he received an award from the Association of Agricultural Engineers of Catalonia in 1989, for a project on the improvement of saline soils. Martinez smiles when I compliment him because he doesn't consider himself a brilliant student. It really came as a surprise to me," he explains as all prize-winners tend to do, My professor sent the thesis to the examination board without my knowledge. I don't consider myself that intelligent, I just worked very hard."

Prestige

For the past twelve years the WAU has awarded the C.T. de Wit-prize of 1,500 guilders and a certificate to six theses each year. The theses are selected by the departments and judged by members of the examination board. The departments are allowed to send in one term paper each. Martinez is the first MSc student to receive the prize. The 33-year old Spanish student came to the Netherlands in 1992 to take a GISRA-course (Geographical Information System Applications for Rural Development). He spent his first year at the International Institute for Aerospace Survey and Earth Sciences (ITC) in Enschede, and his second at WAU, where he graduated in July 1994. He became an engineer at the University of Lleida, northeast Spain. The university specialises in forestry and agriculture and has 2,000 students.

Martinez: Wageningen is considered one of the best agricultural universities in Europe by the students at Lleida. I wanted to take the course here because of the prestige and because of the fact that most Spanish students prefer to go to the United States. I think the level here is equal if not better."

1994 was a busy year for Martinez. While writing his final thesis for the GISRA-course he was also asked by his own university to give a six week lecture course on a totally different subject. I really don't know how I managed to write the thesis after all," he recalls, I was working so hard." Besides, when he came to Holland he'd only had 25 hours of English lessons. However, writing the thesis wasn't that much of a problem. I have liked writing since I was a little boy," Martinez tells, I often used to accompany my father who is a sports reporter."

Erosion maps

In his MSc thesis Martinez developed a computer model which automatically generalizes detailed information from erosion maps to a regional level. This approach tries to reproduce the human interpretation - expert knowledge - of the basic hydrographic elements that could be mapped as area features at the required scale. In order to do this Martinez applied selection, elimination, aggregation and reclassification operations. The generalisation of information can be helpful in the identification of priority erosion areas. One of the main advantages of this model is that it requires only a small amount of data in order to produce an erosion map of the regional level. The data can be obtained from aerial photographs and a small amount of fieldwork. The model should be seen as a first stage in the conceptualisation of a methodology to analyze causes of erosion at the regional level. Martinez: This model can be very useful. It can be run using very basic information like drai
nage patterns, which can be found anywhere. Even with a minimal amount of information you can produce an erosion map. Students can also apply this methodology, they don't have to be experts themselves."

Now, two years later, Martinez is busy with his PhD research and working as a teacher at the University of Lleida. He's lecturing on two subjects at the moment: Remote sensing and Aerial photography interpretation. Furthermore he's involved in the setting up of a GIS section at the Department of Environment and Soil Science at Lleida. At the moment I am the only one at Lleida who knows about the subject, but we are creating a school."

Invasion

Last week Martinez was in Wageningen for the first time since his graduation. It immediately felt like home again," he tells while drinking coffee on the corridor at Asserpark, I know the way of life over here, you know, the cycling, the shopping. I also was good friends with some Dutch students, although I found them a bit cool at first." Life in Lleida is very different. Corridors don't exist there and the university is not so internationally orientated. However, we've recently started exchange programmes with some South American universities and we now have some Erasmus students."

Martinez had no problems finding a place to stay this week even having been away for two years. I had a choice of four places to stay," he tells. At the moment he's a guest at Asserpark 1C where Laura, an Erasmus-student from Lleida, is living. Two years ago I had this chair," Martinez laughs, This week it was back in Laura's room after having had several other owners in the mean time, so I really don't feel a stranger here." Martinez is very proud that Laura is in Wageningen. He explains, After I went home I asked one of the directors from the MSc course to continue the relationship with Lleida." A third student from Spain also lives in Asserpark. They already call it the Spanish invasion."

Martinez flew back to Spain last Sunday, but this summer he'll be back in Wageningen for several months to continue his research at the Department of Land Surveying and Remote Sensing. That's if they will accept me to continue my research, of course." Yes, Martinez is a modest man.

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